My Dream Car: Seven Essential Elements

My recent piece on EVs and the introduction of a number of EV pickup trucks within the next 6 to 18 months drew more comments than almost any blog post I’ve previously written! Actually, all the comments were sincere, insightful, and worthy of entering into the dialogue. I intend to write an EV follow-up piece later in the year, specifically waiting for the production version of the Tesla CyberTruck to hit the market….

That EV piece was written while wearing my daytime hat. As part of that gig, I’ve also contributed several articles to the website medium.com, and in scrolling through that content over the weekend, I found another piece that might generate some feedback, if not quite as controversial as the gas-vs-electric situation. I had been challenged by a colleague to write a piece on my “dream vehicle”; if money were no object, what would I drive? I quickly realized that there is no one all-around best car, and instead, I tackled the assignment by thinking about which automotive attributes are most important to me, and then selecting the cars which fulfilled those attributes.

You can read my selections below, and feel free to let the rest of us know which vehicular features are most important to you and which cars or trucks satisfy them. You can find the original article here: My Dream Car: Seven Essential Elements.

My Dream Car: Seven Essential Elements

Do you have a “dream car?” Is there one vehicle that is your dream machine? With an unlimited budget, which singular vehicle would you make your own? It’s fun to fantasize about such a choice. It’s likely that you’ve seen a car parked on the street, or in a new car showroom, and said to yourself, “if only I had the funds!” Or maybe it’s a car you’ve only gazed at in a photograph, some valuable classic from many years ago.

Even if finances allowed it, that dream car would probably not suffice for everyday use. It might be too cramped, too noisy, or too fuel-inefficient to drive regularly. This is why each of us drives a (insert your make and model here) for commuting to work, dragging home supplies from the home improvement center, and taking the family on vacation.

In spite of those necessities, it’s fun to think about that dream car. For me, a Ferrari from the 1960s with a big V12 engine in the front driving the rear wheels has been a dream for decades. But drive such a beast all the time? It would have no traction in the snow, would get about 9 miles per gallon, and where do I put the 2x4s from Home Depot?

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(Above: Ferrari Daytona)

What if I could build a fantasy car, taking all the best attributes from all my favorite vehicles, and combine them into one super-duper dream machine? Now that’s what dreams are made of! The best way to start is with a list of the features most important to me. Here are my top seven attributes, ranked in order. If I can identify a vehicle that embodies the attribute, I’ll include it in the description.

#1: Driver positioning. I love to drive, and typically put over 20,000 miles a year on my vehicles. I know what it’s like to be behind the wheel for an entire day, sometimes over multiple days. Nothing is more important to me than feeling both comfortable and in control. The seat must be supportive without being too hard; the steering wheel, pedals, and shifter must all be within comfortable reach; and the instrument panel must be legible without taking my eyes off the road but for a nanosecond.

For seat comfort, every Volvo I’ve owned, including my current 2016 V60, has excelled in this area. For overall positioning, a Mazda Miata comes close to perfection, provided you can fit in its rather tight passenger compartment.

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(Above: Mazda Miata)

#2: Outward visibility. Driving involves all kinds of lighting conditions in all kinds of weather, so I need to be able to see out of the car. Too many cars fail in this regard. Narrow windows, wide roof pillars, and thick rear quarter panels create blind spots. I think stylists sometimes forget that function must take precedence over form.

Admittedly, safety comes into play here, as a car that has an airy “greenhouse” (the term for all the glass) may not offer great crash protection. But to me, a Fiat 124 Sport Coupe (which I once owned) has a greenhouse that is aesthetically pleasing while providing expansive outward vision.

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(Above: Fiat 124 Sport Coupe)

#3: Vehicle responsiveness. Being in control when driving extends to knowing that the vehicle will respond to driver inputs in an expected way, while also providing a level of sportiness. Steering should be precise, with no freeplay. Braking should be firm and easily modulated. The car should ‘hold the road’ and take curves with no body lean or tire squeal, yet without harshness delivered through the suspension and into the passenger compartment.

Since their introduction, the Porsche Boxster/Cayman twins have gotten consistently rave reviews from the automotive press for their responsiveness on the road. I got the chance to drive a Cayman a few years back and I would concur!

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(Above: Porsche Boxster)

#4: Comfort and convenience features. I may be showing my age, but after years of only affording no-frills cars, then tolerating noisy, drafty, bare-bones sports cars because “that’s how sports cars are,” I can’t live without certain creature comforts. At a minimum, air conditioning, cruise control, heated seats, and a basic stereo must be in the dream car. At best, climate control, adaptive cruise, a heated steering wheel, and SiriusXM (along with a backup camera) will all add to my ability to remain comfortably ensconced all day long.

My boss’s Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG, which I got to ride in once, fit the bill nicely and then some!

#5: Powerplant (type, placement, and power output). The gearheads among you are rejoicing because I’m finally getting to the heart of the matter: the motor that provides the “go” to the dream. The recent surge in hybrids and pure electric vehicles means I should at least consider those powerplant options. If I really want to be all-inclusive, I should include diesel and even steam as considerations.

While hybrids have advantages, and EVs are definitely the future, my dream car will stick to good old gasoline. That’s based on both the type of power delivery I desire, as well as the availability and convenience of replenishment (pumping gas versus finding a recharging station).

The dream machine should be a mid-engine design, and that’s very related to my desire for responsiveness. It’s been proven that the best handling car is a mid-engine car. Be sure to make the distinction between “mid” (like Porsche Boxster) and “rear” (like Porsche 911). Rear engine cars, with the weight behind the rear axle, are too tail-heavy. A mid-engine placement puts that weight behind the front seats, but ahead of the rear axle, for near perfect weight distribution. Look no further than the new mid-engine C8 Corvette to see the latest embracement of this feature.

Modern engineering has given us four-cylinder turbocharged engines that kick out copious amounts of horsepower yet still enable us to whiz past gas stations. My favorite engine currently fitted to a new car is the 2.0-liter inline-four in the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan. This engine makes 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque, yet delivers a combined EPA rating of 28 mpg (33 mpg highway). This fuel economy rating is especially impressive given the Giulia’s curb weight of 3,500 pounds. This Alfa’s engine outshines almost all the competition in its specs when compared to similar engines.

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(Above: Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan)

#6: Carrying capacity. This one is simple. I need two seats, one for me and one for my passenger. And I need room for the occasional hauling job. The simple answer is your basic, regular cab full-size American pickup truck. Is it any wonder that the pickup is the #1-selling body style in the country today? A lot of guys and gals will tell you that they’re already driving their dream machine when pointing to their Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, or Ram 1500.

#7: Exterior design. I’ve ranked this attribute last but still felt it important to include, because my dream car’s design should be something that stirs my emotions and gives me pride of ownership. Although I can’t see the car’s styling from the driver’s seat, others can, and who doesn’t enjoy admiring glances!

There have been many beautifully-designed cars through the decades, and everyone has their favorite. From a pure design standpoint, I think the Jaguar E-Type, also known as the XKE, is the most beautiful car ever built. And while I didn’t pick a Ferrari, you should know that Enzo Ferrari himself said the same thing about that Jaguar!

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(Above: Jaguar E-Type)

The car aficionados among you may be shocked that I did not mention the dream car’s transmission, to wit, “you didn’t say it should have a six-speed manual.” You are correct in your observation. While I own two older vehicles with stick shifts, my daily driver has an automatic, and I’ve discovered that I’m less fussy about transmission choice. To me, the attributes I have chosen all override the choice of a gearbox.

Is there a vehicle available today that encompasses all of my dream car’s features? I want a command cockpit with excellent outward visibility. The car should have a mid-mounted gas engine that makes around 250–300 horsepower yet still delivers fuel economy in the 25–30 mpg range. Steering, braking, and handling should all provide precise control, good feedback, sticky handling, and on-road comfort. Speaking of comfort, my interior must have AC, cruise, and a decent sound system to blast the tunes. It’s got to look great on the outside, and be able to make those hardware store runs….

If not for that last point, a car like the Porsche Boxster comes close to fulfilling my dream car fantasy. For visibility, I’d need to drop the top, which I’d do whenever weather allows anyway. Could I attach a hitch and pull a trailer to the store? It’s worth a try! This was a fun exercise, and I hope that this encourages you to assemble your own “dream car,” if only in your dreams.

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Remembering Irv Gordon

Irv Gordon passed away last week. It is almost impossible to be in the old-car hobby and not know about Irv and his claim to fame. In 1966, he purchased a brand new ’66 Volvo 1800S coupe, and proceeded to spend the next 50 years driving it everywhere. He eventually surpassed three million miles in the car, and although he spoke of retiring it (Volvo corporate had already gifted him 3 new Volvos), I read that at the time of his death the 1800 had 3.2 million miles on it.

As an employee of Volvo Cars North America, I had more than a passing relationship with the man. While I likely had met him at one corporate event or the other in the 1990’s, it was during my time as a field service representative on Long Island that he and I became friendly.

As I strolled into the service department of Volvoville one morning, there was Irv, sitting in the service area, shuffling some paperwork. At that time, in the late 1990’s, he had a part-time gig at the dealer, performing test drives and attending to some administrative chores. Parked on the street around the corner from the store was the red 1800, of course, as he used it to commute to work. He used it to fetch a cup of coffee in Boston, and he used it to join dealer events in Oregon. How do you think he got to 3,000,000 miles?

Early in our friendship, I asked him, “Irv, what’s the secret your success?” With a pause and a twinkle in his eye, he replied “a strong bladder”. Watching him in action, he had a ready smile, a quick wit, and the patience to answer whatever questions were put to him. Frequently, he would be standing near the car while being questioned, and not one to waste a moment, he’d check various fluids as he spoke. I learned about Irv’s fastidiousness when I watched him pull the dipstick to check the oil level, but then use the few droplets on the end of the stick to lube his hood hinges!

Later, in the early 2000s, I traveled to SEMA with a group of fellow VCNA employees, and Irv was on that trip too. Watching him at SEMA was like watching a rock star, but one who had some degree of modesty attached. Generosity was another trait that perhaps few saw, but I clearly recall one holiday season at Volvo HQ when Irv showed up with several cases to wine to give out to employees.

Irv’s C70 coupe at my house; it may have had “only” 100k on it

In the summer of 2010, my wife and I hosted a breakfast at our home for a few of our hobbyist friends. Irv was on the invite list, and I was thrilled that he accepted. The day before breakfast, Irv called me. “Hey Rich, do you think the guys will mind if I drive the C70 coupe instead of the 1800? To tell you the truth, it’s hot, and I wouldn’t mind riding in A/C.” (Do I need to point out that the ’66 did NOT have air?) I said “Irv, I don’t think this crowd gives a hoot what you show up in. We’re just glad to have you join us.”

Irv and Nick debate who will finish the pancakes

As Larry and I took over the reins for our Sunday morning breakfast runs, Irv was on our distribution list, but rarely joined. He always had some lame excuse, like, “I’m driving to San Antonio that weekend”. However, in October 2010, he did come out for one of our drives, and even brought the 1800. This was probably the last time I saw Irv.

 

Irv, in the seat he knew so well

 

Oct. 2010, breakfast, when we were lucky to get 12 people to join us

 

Always smiling Irv

I’m glad to have known you, Irv. It was an honor to call you a friend.

All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

COLLECTOR’S CORNER: Bill Whited’s Corvettes

After almost two years of blogging about my automotive adventures past and present, it’s time to turn the blog in a different direction.

It’s been my good fortune to have participated in the collector car hobby by attending car shows, working on restorations, and driving in rallies. Throughout these adventures, I’ve met many similar-minded men and women. As I’ve gotten to know my fellow enthusiasts, their stories have come out. I’ve realized that this hobby is really about its participants. Old cars, by definition, have a history to them, and every owner knows at least some of the story behind their car, and is usually happy to share it.

A while back, while chatting with some friends at a show, it hit me: I was enjoying the conversations and camaraderie more than I was enjoying the sight of their 1960-something Sport-mobile. I asked myself “why isn’t someone capturing these tales, and putting them out for others?” In fact, there have been some attempts to do that; however, from my observation, these efforts have been scattered, and still put too much focus on the machinery and not the personality.

This is the first installment of a new blog series called “Collector’s Corner”. The plan is to make this a semi-regular feature on the blog. If you know of anyone who might be interested in participating, or if you yourself would like to be featured, please let me know.

About this week’s featured collector: I’ve known Bill Whited professionally and personally for over twenty years. He is a warm, engaging man, and passionate about the automotive business and hobby. One evening several weeks ago, he graciously invited me to his north Jersey home, and we sat and spoke about his lifelong involvement with cars. Below are excerpts from our conversation. We welcome your comments and questions.

 

  • What is your earliest memory related to cars?

My mom told me that my first word as a baby was “car”. I grew up without a dad, so I had no influences from anyone else except TV. I remember the TV show Bonanza with those Chevrolet commercials. I aspired to those cars, especially the Corvette, thinking that I could never afford one.

  • What do you remember about the family cars from your childhood?

I remember when I was about six years old, my mom and my uncle took me to the local Chevy dealer. My mom was going to buy a new Chevrolet. I gravitated to a beautiful black Bel Air. But my mom got the 210 model. That was the in-between model, not a 150, but it wasn’t a Bel Air either. It was pink, like a salmon color, with a white top. It was a 6 cylinder, with Powerglide, no power steering, and no power brakes. When I turned 17, I got my mom’s car, and that became my first car. By that time it was battleship grey, after I had convinced my mom to go to Earl Scheib for a paint job!

  • Which cars followed your first car, that ’57 Chevy 210?

My first job was in a local department store, and my grandmother had passed, so I had a little money from her. At 17, my mom and I went back to the local Chevy dealer. I picked out a used 1963 Impala SS, royal dark blue, with a 283 V8. I kept that for about a year. When I was a senior, I flipped that one for a ’65 Impala. The ‘65 was not an SS; it was yellow, with a bench seat! My mom would finance the cars for me.

After high school I went to Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ, and was working after school at UPS. I traded in the ’65 for my first Corvette, a 1966 convertible. Again, my mom was along with me, co-signing for it. So at 19, I’m already on my 4th car. The Corvette was maroon with a saddle interior, with a 327/350 and a 4-speed. Of course, I blew the motor racing someone on 9W. At the time, GM had a parts warehouse in Englewood NJ. A friend ordered a replacement block, 327/375 solid lifter motor for $350!

During my second year of college, I was called up to the National Guard. Just before leaving for Louisiana, I was driving in the snow and had an accident. In those days, you put snows on and drove year-round; the Corvette was my everyday car. I limped the car home, and left it with my friend’s gas station to be fixed. I was away for 5 ½ months, and when I got back, it still wasn’t finished.

I got back from the Guard, finished college, and was introduced to the car business. I started with 25 others on the sales floor of this Ford dealership. At the same time, I had part-time job at a Buick dealer running parts, and from their used car lot I bought a 1966 Opel Kadett, with the fenders falling off. I had the Corvette AND the Kadett – two cars at this young age. I had no money, but I had cars!

  • Tell us about your start in the automotive industry.

In late 1972, at the age of 22, I had been at the Ford dealer for about 9-10 months. I was already the third-best salesperson by volume, so I got to pick out my first demo. The 1973 models were just coming out, and I picked a brand new Gran Torino Brougham. I was living at home, saving my money, and driving a dealer demonstrator.

But I didn’t like the Ford dealer, because they wanted you to lie to customers. I thought perhaps I’d try to sell foreign cars. So I interviewed at Bergen Volvo. During the interview, I asked about a demo, and was told “no company cars”. I told him, if there’s no demo, then I guess I’ll stick with Ford, but you’re missing out on the best salesman you could hire. By the time I got home, my mom said that the dealer had called back, and they said we’ll give you a demo, but you need to prove you can sell. And I did. That first demo was a Volvo 164E, powder blue, with a stick shift.

  • In the meantime, did you still have the ’66 Corvette?

Yes, I kept the Corvette for seven years, but as soon as I sold it, I regretted it. There was someone around the corner from me who had a 1962 Corvette, fawn exterior and interior, 327/340, 4-speed, 2 tops, all original. I bought that car for around $2,500. Because I had dealer demos, these Corvettes were just fun cars, weekend cars.

  • What’s in the garage right now?

Right now, I have three Corvettes in the garage; I love my Corvettes! It’s a small collection. I learned my lesson, because in the early ‘90s, I had up to 11 cars, which was too many! Some may love to have that many; after all, everyone is different. For me, less is more when it comes to multiple car ownership at one time, because I enjoy driving them, and it takes quite a bit of upkeep to keep the cars right.

First: I have a 1967 Corvette coupe, in blue, with a 427/400 tri-power.

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I‘ve owned this car since 1993. It’s a matching numbers original car. I found this one in Hemmings; the car was in Massachusetts. The car was advertised for $36,500. The restoration was eight years old. The market had taken a downturn at that time. Two years earlier, an appraiser had appraised it for $65,000. I drove up, looked at every number on the car, and it was all legit, so I bought it.

In 2015, a friend suggested that I show this car at the AACA meet in Hershey. I’ve never been a ‘show car’ kind of guy. The outside looked pretty good, but I had never detailed the engine compartment, so I cleaned that up. I drove it out to Hershey, and lots of people were looking at the car. The class of cars was a tough one: all ’63-’67 (C2) cars. To my surprise, the car got a 3rd Junior its first time out.

The best part of the show was when someone questioned the color of the crossed-flag emblems. The question was “shouldn’t they be white, not black?” At that moment, a fellow came up to the car who happened to be the guy who restored the car. He verified that the emblems were never replaced, and that the originals were black, the way they were supposed to be!

The second car in my current collection is my 1961 Corvette.

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It’s my 5th solid-axle (C1) car. When I had sold my business, I had a ’61 which I had owned for about 10 years. I sold it in 2012, but I missed having a C1, so I started looking for another. I like the ’60 to ’62 cars, those are the sweet spot for me.

I drove to Maryland to look at a car, but a lot of things weren’t right on it. I drove to Forked River NJ to see another, but it had the wrong motor, it was more like a drag strip car. Then I found one on eBay, slightly underpriced, a ’62 with a 327. This car was in Boston and I decided to take a look. I was halfway there when the seller called me to say that someone had given him his “Buy It Now” price.

By now, I was frustrated. Meanwhile, my wife was looking for a certain kind of sponge for a decorating project. I took her around to some stores, but she couldn’t find the sponge she needed. I decided to try an auto parts store near me in Wykoff. At the store, I noticed a sign in the store window: “1961 Corvette for sale, call Tony”, with no price.

I asked inside the store, and they knew Tony. He and the car were right around the corner. We went to look at the car, and within 20 minutes, I bought it. After all that time, I found my car right around the corner from me. I’ve had it for about a year and a half, two years.

My third Corvette is a 2006 Z06, which I bought in 2014. It’s my fourth Z06.

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I missed my other ones, so I went on the hunt and found this one online on AutoTrader. It was in Westchester County NY. It was a two-owner car. The Carfax showed that a police report had been filed after someone backed into the car, which cracked the headlight and scraped the front bumper cover. The previous owner replaced both, and there was no obvious damage. I made him an offer, we negotiated a bit, and I got the car.

The car has its original paint in Machine Silver Metallic. I have a copy of the build sheet and the window sticker, showing a list price of $72,000. This was the first year of the C6 Z06; 2004 was the last year of the C5 version. That one had 405 horsepower, and this one is 505 horsepower. It’s only available with the six speed manual transmission. It’s a light car, with a full aluminum frame, carbon fiber front fenders, and floorboards of balsa wood sandwiched with carbon fiber.

GM had a recall on the 2006 roof panels; the glue that bonded the roof was bad, and roofs were actually flying off the cars. The previous owner had the recall done, and since the dealership had to remove the roof, he had it painted in dark grey metallic (along with the band behind it) to duplicate the ZR1 that came out in 2009. The full rear spoiler is also not stock; it’s in flat black, again, like the ZR1 model.

  • Bill, any final words for us?

I have been blessed by God to have been able to purchase all these cars over the years as He guided me in my automotive career. For 40+ years as an auto dealer I’ve had the luxury of being able to afford my dream cars. Thank you Lord for all your blessings, and thank you, Richard!

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All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.