A few days ago, I posted a photograph of a Volvo 480ES which I had taken in the parking lot of Volvo Corporate Headquarters in NJ, sometime in early 1987. I added a comment of my own at that auction, and posted a link to the photo, promising that I would flesh out the story, as I have below.
I started working at VCNA (Volvo Cars North America) in October of 1986. My recollection is that I spotted a Volvo 480 in and around the corporate industrial park within my first few weeks. I also recall meeting Bob Austin, head of the Public Relations Department for the company, around the same time, and his ‘company car’ was a 480ES! It may have been the only one the company had, or they may have been others, of that I’m not sure. But it was well-understood among the employees that VCNA intended to begin importation of this Dutch-built car, planning on a 1987 launch. Volvo dealers had been clamoring for a less-expensive model, and management thought that this new 480 could be it. In 1986, VCNA was selling 240- and 740-series models, carrying MSRPs between $15,000 and $21,000. (The 760 models were more expensive still.) The 480 would need to slide in under that to make sense.
Not only was the 480 Volvo’s first FWD car; if imported, it would become the first U.S. Volvo brought in from Volvo BV, based in Holland. The factory was co-owned: 30% Volvo, 70% the Dutch government. As an insider, I sensed that there were some concerns: Would it be perceived as a “true” Volvo? Would it be up to the same quality standards as the existing U.S. models? Would the new FWD technology be embraced? (Some of the company’s marketing in the 1980s bragged about our RWD powertrain.) And perhaps most importantly, could it be priced below the 240s, but also at a number which would make it competitive against other like-sized models?
My copy of the book “Volvo The Cars – From the 20s to the 80s”, by Bjorn-Eric Lindh, was published in 1986. Interestingly, there is a two-page spread on the 480 (b&w images below). The book’s text states in part:
“Given Volvo’s world-famous reputation for quality and durability, the new 480ES is almost certain to become a major competitor in its class, particularly in the USA…. Initially, annual output will total approximately 35,000 units, 25,000 of which will be destined for the American market.”
Those are heady numbers, given that during the years 1987 through 1989, U.S. Volvo sales totals were between 98,000 and 106,000, meaning the 480 would represent 25% of that. However, after months of planning, VCNA management realized that the exchange rate would be a roadblock to any plan to sell the 480 at the right price (at least that was the official line as spelled out in the letter sent to all U.S. Volvo dealers).
America would have to wait until model year 1993 for the launch of the all-new Volvo 850, our first FWD car, and one designed and built in Sweden to boot. In the meanwhile, the 480 sold respectably well in Europe. I have a Volvo internal publication which states that the 480 existed from model year 1986 to model year 1995, and that the company built 76,375 of them (making that earlier prediction a bit of a stretch!). I suspect that Volvo felt the car was a success, and despite its Dutch parentage, it likely gave the company some needed experience in FWD technology.
If any of my fellow former-VCNA colleagues have any additional recollections (or corrections), please share them!
“Hey, how you doin’?” Jason exclaimed as I vaulted through the front door of Flemington Volkswagen. He recognized my masked face, even though he hadn’t seen me since 2017, when I returned the Jetta I had leased from him. Like the good salesperson he is, he remembers customers (and admittedly, he was expecting me since I had booked this test-drive with him last week). “I’m just finishing up with this customer and I’ll be with you in a few”. That was fine with me, and gave me a chance to do my own brief walk-around of the ID.4 on the showroom floor.
To bring you up to speed, Volkswagen, after the debacle that was Dieselgate, changed directions as a company. This was partly forced upon them as part of their governmental settlements, and partly done voluntarily as a way to reinvent their future. They have established an all-electric sub-brand called “ID”, with several models already available in Europe. Here in the States, the first of them, the ID.4, has been launched, with online ordering having started a few months ago. The “1st Edition” launch model is sold out.
Once Jason was free, I sat at his desk, we exchanged pleasantries, and I asked him a few questions about the ID.4. He quickly brought me up to speed from the dealer’s perspective: cars are trickling in very slowly; aside from demos, every unit that arrives is pre-sold; if I (or anyone else) want one, it’s best to simply go online and order one; expect to wait ‘about a year’ for it to arrive; and on the chance that someone cancels their order, you might get lucky and move up the line.
He fetched the key and a dealer plate, and gave me a choice to either wait a few more minutes for him to ride along, or take the car out on my own. I told him that I was comfortable doing a solo test drive, so once he showed me the most basics of basics, I was off. Actually, I drove the ID.4 into the back lot to spend a few non-distracted minutes familiarizing myself with the interior controls.
The dash layout doesn’t necessarily scream “EV!” but it is spartan by my standards. There are two screens: a small one directly in front of the driver (which moves along with the up-and-down adjustments of the steering wheel, a nice touch), and the larger, primary screen in the center console. There are very few physical controls. The steering column keeps the two conventional stalks for lights and wipers. On the right side of the smaller screen is the “shift quadrant” such as it is: a spring-loaded knob which can be rotated forward or back changes the gearing from P to R to D/B. What’s D/B? It’s your choice between conventional “D” for Drive, or “B” for Drive with regenerative braking. More on that later. A button in the side of the knob engages “P” for parking brake.
The interior, also spartan, is not unattractive, except for that bright white steering wheel. The white interior accents may be part of the launch edition cars, but I would need to see some other color choices in there. I don’t drive with dirty hands (most of the time) but cannot imagine that wheel staying white.
The center screen has all the controls for the HVAC system, sound system, phone, nav, apps, etc. At the bottom of the screen are “slide bars” that don’t physically move, but swiping one’s fingers left or right will raise or lower temperature, volume, etc. There are no conventional knobs. Considering I had no tutorial, I did ok with it, but did not find it as intuitive as other vehicles. However, learning the center screen was not my primary objective: I wanted to experience how the ID.4 drove as an EV.
Tip-in was like the other EVs I’ve driven: the torque is there with zero delay. I should mention right here that ALL 1st Edition ID.4 models are rear-wheel-dive only, with an electric motor only at the rear axle. According to Car & Driver magazine (VW’s website frustratingly hides the vehicle specs, and only presents marketing info with as little technical detail as possible), the RWD car makes 201 horsepower and 229 lb. ft. of torque. Acceleration was perfectly adequate, although it came nowhere near the neck-snapping jolt I experienced in the Polestar 2 (not an apples-to-apples comparison, with a 20 grand difference in prices).
The car was mostly quiet inside, but coast-down produced an annoying sound of a motor winding down. Intentional? Don’t know. The biggest surprise during the test-drive was reverting to “B” mode, and feeling very little in the way of regenerative braking. The only time the car brought itself to a complete stop was at parking lot speeds below 5 MPH. In every normal driving situation, I needed to use the brake pedal. Not a big deal compared to an ICE car, but the fabulous one-pedal driving in the Polestar is not to be had here.
I stopped for a bit, took some pictures, and opened all the cavities. The rear hatch is electrically-powered and opens wide. I did not fold down the rear seats, but the lack of a mechanical drivetrain might make for a smidgen more cargo room (the ID.4’s wheelbase beats its two competitors by several inches). There is no “frunk” storage, that space consumed by other stuff. So resign yourself to putting your shopping bags in the wayback.
Resuming the test-drive, the best I could muster was to tell myself that the driving experience was fine. After a few minutes to become acclimated to the lack of exhaust noise, it drove like many other cars. The touchscreen controls will require a learning curve (I couldn’t figure out how to pair my phone), but VW fans and really anyone looking at small crossovers who’s willing to also consider an EV should add the ID.4 to their shopping list.
I got back to the dealer and returned the key to Jason. We chatted a bit more about electric vehicles in general. He expressed some frustration about the lack of stock from which to sell, but acknowledged that with the sold-out status of the 1st Edition, this might not be a bad problem to have. Then Jason shocked me by stating that VW, as part of the sale price, is offering “free charging” for the first three years of ownership. Sure enough, I found this statement on VW’s website:
The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 comes with 3 years of unlimited charging at Electrify America DC Fast Chargers at no additional cost. Electrify America chargers can be found along most major highways.
Kudos to VW! That fact alone will go a long way toward alleviating some shoppers’ charging concerns. Jason stressed that the free charging offer also applies to the chargers installed at the dealership. Depending on your proximity to such things, this offer could sway someone on the fence about an EV.
The ID.4 is continuing the trend of building EVs that look normal. Is it new and stylish looking? Yes, somewhat. But it’s not different for the sake of it. As a CUV (compact utility vehicle), it’s sized to go head-to-head with two of the best-sellers in this segment as these specs bear out (figures courtesy of Car & Driver):
overall length (in.)
overall height (in.)
passenger volume (cu.ft.)
Looking at the Monroney, I think that the well-equipped 1st Edtion, at $42,995 plus $1,195 shipping, is a compelling offer. The car is eligible for the full $7,500 Federal tax incentive too. One issue with the 1st Edition is that RWD for most of us in the Northeast is a deal-breaker (the last time VW sold a RWD car here was the 1979 VW Beetle convertible). According to VW’s website, adding a 2nd electric motor to make it AWD adds $3,680 to the check you’re going to write, and the website states that the option isn’t available until “Oct-Dec 2021”. Oh well, you’re waiting for the car anyway.
Points in favor of the ID.4 include a ‘right-sized’ CUV, VW quality, a well-equipped car at this price point, and the bonus of 3 years’ worth of free juice. On the flip side, it’s RWD for now, the regen braking is poor for an EV, the AWD option adds almost four grand to the bottom line, and there’s a long wait for a car once you commit to placing an order. You also need to like that interior.
If price weren’t a factor, I’d jump at the Polestar in the time it takes an electron to (never mind). But price is almost always a factor. The Mustang Mach-E, with a starting price close to the ID.4, offers a nicer interior and (probably) a little less cargo capacity. I personally greatly prefer its looks versus the ID.4. The Mach-E’s AWD option is pricier than it is for the ID.4, and it also lacks the free recharging. The fun part is, more and more EVs are going to be introduced over the next 12-36 months. Competition makes everyone’s game better. If the VW ID.4’s size, shape, and cost hit your sweet spots, go for it. For me, I’m waiting to see what ‘s coming next. I’ll be ready to move into an EV in about two years. I’ll keep you posted.
Until the day arrives when we are ferried to and fro in anonymous autonomous pods, THIS is the future of human-piloted automotive transportation.
After 48 hours, I didn’t want to give it back. My extended test-drive of a Polestar 2 began when I signed up for a 30-minute drive, and the return text message asked: “would you like to take the car home for the weekend?” (It helps to be good friends with a former colleague who is a Polestar exec.) I didn’t need to be asked twice. I drove up to Volvo/Polestar HQ in Mahwah NJ on Friday afternoon, left my Volvo V60 in the lot, and returned home in the “2”. Sunday afternoon I reversed the process, putting about 200 miles on the vehicle during my time with it.
Polestar is a name which has had an ongoing connection to Volvo since the first decade of this century. Starting as Polestar Racing, the company prepped modified Volvos for competition. By 2009, Polestar was the official performance outlet for production cars, analogous to Mercedes-Benz’s AMG or BMW’s Dinan. As Volvo grew under ownership of China-based Geely, Polestar was designated to serve as an upscale, breakout brand for hybrid and fully electric vehicles (EVs). The first Polestar-branded vehicle, Polestar 1, is a two-door hybrid, built in very limited numbers (see Sidebar). The next model to be released, and the first with some volume aspirations, is the Polestar 2, a five-door hatchback sedan.
It simply is not going to be possible to cover everything there is to say about this automobile. I’ve broken down my observations and comments as: the vehicle as an upscale brand, the vehicle as transportation, and the vehicle as an EV.
AS A BRAND
While the desire to project an image of Polestar as a notch above Volvo is understandable, the car has Volvo genes, and that’s a good thing. This isn’t some unknown startup launching its first-ever automobile. (It’s not been widely publicized, but Volvo has been working with EVs at the concept level for at least a decade.) It is comforting to think of this vehicle as “Volvo+”.
These attributes include quality, attractive minimalist (Scandinavian) design, and safety. An exterior walk-around assures the viewer that fit and finish are top-notch. Doors and front and rear lids open and close with authority. Interior components are well-trimmed and operate like precision machinery. It was very easy to find a comfortable seating position and adjust everything to the driver’s needs. Anyone who has spent any time behind the wheel of a late-model Volvo, or indeed any European luxury car will quickly feel right at home.
Volvo has owned “safety” for its entire time in the U.S. market, and although the competition keeps threatening to catch up, Volvo, and now Polestar, work at staying ahead of the pack. There are no optional safety features on the Polestar 2: a full suite of air bags, front and rear collision mitigation, run-off mitigation, cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, 360 camera, and more, are all standard.
AS A CAR
Eric greeted me at the Polestar pod, informed me that he was expecting me, and told me that my car was ready. The model I was given had two major options: an all-leather interior upgrade, and the Performance Package. My car, finished in black (Polestar calls the color “Void”) was offset by an interior trimmed in gorgeous tan leather with birch-looking wood trim. The most eye-catching accents are the gold calipers (Brembo in front) and matching gold seatbelts. It’s just enough bling to let you know you’re in something special.
Controls were easy to find and intuitive to operate. I set the power seat and mirrors, and adjusted the wheel for reach and rake (it’s manual, which may irk some, but a power-adjustable steering column is overkill).
The vertically-oriented center screen uses large-font typeface and large icons, a boon for operating while driving. I didn’t want to be too distracted while driving a car that didn’t belong to me, but I was pleasantly surprised by its ease of use. Polestar uses Google as its screen Operating System, and once your phone is paired, using the various features (navigation, phone calls, plus any app that’s on your phone) is a snap. Voice commands were especially reliable (“Hey Google, navigate me to 777 MacArthur Boulevard in Mahwah New Jersey” was correctly understood on first try each time). This stuff is far from my area of expertise; I’m convinced that if this were my car, I’d learn a lot more about it the more time I spent with it.
There is no “ignition” – with key in proximity, once the driver is seated and belted, the gearshift can be moved from P into either R or D, and a tap on the accelerator (can’t say gas!) starts it rolling. At first, the quiet is eerie. Once you’re at or above 30 mph, tire noise is the predominant sound, but is not obtrusive. The car is so much quieter than an ICE vehicle, and it’s a quiet that you quickly accept, then appreciate.
The Performance Package concerned me, with its 20-inch wheels shod with Continental high-performance summer tires. I expected a harsh ride as a tradeoff for good handling. My concerns were assuaged within the first five minutes of driving. The suspension tuning provided both a quiet and comfortable ride along with rail-like handling.
Once I pulled out of the parking lot, with Nav set for “home”, I was on local roads for about 15 minutes before reaching the Interstate on-ramp. I rounded the curved ramp at about 35, and a quick glance in the mirrors showed that both middle and right lanes of the highway were empty. I said to myself ‘what the hell’, and floored it. The acceleration caught me by such surprise that I slammed the back of my head into the head restraint. The car jumped from about 35 to about 75 in 2.5 seconds. I have never experienced automotive acceleration like that in my life. The problem is it’s addictive: it happens so quickly and so quietly, with so little drama (aside from the self-induced headache) that you’re only discouraged from this behavior by its effect on battery life (and the threat of summonses).
Forward and side visibility are very good to excellent; to the rear, the fixed rear seat head restraints and blocky rear pillars limit your view (which is where the 360 mirror comes in handy). Braking is superb, but really deserves to be discussed as an EV-attribute.
Some final comments about styling: from the front, it looks like a mid-size 4-door car, although you will also notice it sits a little higher than a typical 2021 sedan (the matte black wheel-well trim provides an accent for its slightly higher ride height). From the rear, the hatchback is not obvious (the long sloping rear has become a styling cliché on late model sedans). Opening the hatch and folding the rear seat backs forward reveals a generous cargo hold that it limited only by its lack of a vertical tailgate.
Some of you may be thinking “sedans are dead; EVERYONE wants an SUV”. Yes, well, maybe most, but certainly not everyone. It’s time to bring up that T word for the first time (5 letters, ends in A, last name of electrical engineer Nikola, company founded by that guy Elon something….). If sedans are dead, how is Tesla doing so well with its Model 3 sedan, the best-selling EV vehicle in America? “Oh that’s different” you might say. How so? I don’t know Polestar’s future model aspirations, but I think the Polestar 2 neatly splits the difference between “sedan” and “SUV”.
AS AN EV
Aside from a 10-minute test drive in a BMW i3, and several rides in EVs (most recently, a long test-ride in a Mustang Mach-E), I have not driven a pure EV long enough to get some sense of what day-to-day living with one might encompass. I had that chance this weekend, and I am a convert.
Starting with the driving experience, the quiet, the acceleration, and yet the normalcy of cruising down the highway brings you to the understanding that it’s still a car, and as long as it’s a good car (which the Polestar 2 is), it could be your daily driver.
Earlier, I mentioned braking and said that my comments will fit better under the EV discussion. The “2” has adjustable regenerative braking. The screen calls it One Pedal Drive, and the 3 modes are “off”, “low”, and “standard” (which is full regenerative). When turned off, releasing the ‘go’ pedal will allow the car to coast for as long as momentum and gravity will let it, just like an ICE car. At “full”, the accelerator is like an on/off switch. As soon as it’s released, the car starts to slow down. If you’re at very low speeds, the car stops almost immediately; at higher speeds, it will roll for a few yards, but you’ll sense that the brakes have been applied. If this sounds weird, I gotta tell you: I got used to it in about 30 minutes. One pedal driving. It’s easy. It’s safer. It’s fantastic. I wish all my cars had it!
I tried the “low” mode and frankly didn’t see the point. It’s an unnecessary compromise. I suspect drivers will either get used to and enjoy “full” or will want it to be as much like an ICE car and turn it off. When you do need to quickly get on that brake pedal, those front Brembos haul this 4,700 lb mass to a stop quickly and quietly. Those batteries are heavy, but the car does not have a heavy feel when driving.
I was provided with charging cables for home use, both 120V and 240V. I do not have a 240 setup at home, so I plugged into a 120 outlet in my garage, snaked the cable under the garage door, and let it charge overnight. Admittedly, the battery was only 25% depleted when I started, but I had a full charge in the morning. I was told that at 120V, a full charge from 0 to 100% would take 24 hours. The 240V charge would happen much more quickly. Owning this vehicle would really require the one-time investment of a dedicated home charger – figure roughly a grand for that.
I cruised by two public charging stations, both within a 15-20 minute ride from my home. Spots were available, but I did not take the time to top off the battery. At one (Charge Point) juice can only be purchased if the app is downloaded to your phone. The other, Electrify America, offers the option of an app or will take a credit card at the charging station.
The following comments are true for all EVs, not just Polestars: not enough has been made of the savings in repair and maintenance costs. Starting from the moment of purchase, you will never need to be concerned with spark plugs, engine oil, oil filters, transmission or gear oil, oxygen sensors, charcoal canisters, exhaust systems, radiator coolant, belts, or hoses. There’s nothing to leak. I’m having a difficult time imagining what happens at a dealer service visit: check your tire pressure and fill your washer solvent bottle? Your “consumables” are reduced to tires, brakes, suspension bits like shocks and bushings, wiper blades, light bulbs (less and less of an issue with LEDs), and…what, THE BATTERY? By that time you’ll be trading in for a new one.
TO THE NAYSAYERS
I know that some of you, including friends and colleagues of mine, don’t agree that the advantages of an EV outweigh the disadvantages. Listen, I get it. You should drive what you want to drive. However, living with this Polestar 2 for 48 hours also brought me to the conclusion that many of the stated opinions why EVs won’t replace ICE cars are excuses. Let’s address some of the commonly-cited issues about EVs:
“Range is too short”
Three factors influence range: the size of the fuel tank (or for EV, energy supply, i.e., the battery); the fuel economy of the engine (for an EV, its ability to efficiently consume that energy as motive power); and finally, the driver’s influence (local vs highway driving, frequent stops, idling, heavy accelerator usage, etc.).
The range on the Polestar 2 with 100% battery is 230 miles. Some critics have knocked that as not up to Tesla standards, and it’s not. But how large a factor is that in the purchase decision? It’s never been for me; fuel economy, yes, but my earliest car purchases were vehicles with 10-gallon tanks, so 30MPG still only netted a range of 300 miles, and that’s if I drove it dry, which I never did. Realistic range was 250-275 miles (and that’s what it is in my Miata, also with a 10-gallon tank).
Committing to a purchase of an EV, I now realize, requires a mental shift and a mindset change. Some planning ahead will help ensure that you’ll get there and back. You do the same thing now with gasoline: if you’re leaving early in the a.m. on a 300-mile trip, you’ll likely fill up the evening before. Why wouldn’t you do the same with an EV? Yes, with an ICE, you’ll always find gas stations to refuel, no waiting. The Polestar 2 has tools to overcome “range anxiety”.
“Range anxiety means I’m nervous about venturing far from home”
Google Maps very happily responds to the voice command “Hey Google, where are the nearest charging stations?” by displaying a list of EV chargers within sight on the map. Amazingly to me, this list includes information about the total number of chargers at the site, and how many are presently occupied.
Wouldn’t that be neat to do for the local Exxon station? “Hey Google, how many Exxon stations are nearby?” and you not only get a map of them, you see that “Ed’s Exxon” has 6 pumps, and 4 are being used at present.
“Ha!” You laugh at this notion. “Who needs that? There’s never a wait at a gas station!”
I’m convinced you have short memories. Many of you were driving in 1979, when we had our 2nd fuel crisis of the decade, with OPEC turning off the taps, leading to oil shortages, and eventually, rationing. At that time, I was making an 80-mile round-trip to work, and I could only purchase fuel on “even days” based on my license plate. I could do no extra driving outside of my commute during the week. In 1979, I had range anxiety, although we didn’t call it that.
How stable is the Middle East today compared to 40 years ago? Let’s see: Iran’s nuclear buildup, the wobbly Iraqi government, civil unrest in Syria, the Khashoggi murder by Saudi Arabia; I guess we can expect unlimited oil supplies to continue from the region …. The truth is we don’t know what could happen in one, five, or ten years down the road. I would not bet against another large price jump or oil shortage.
“I can’t charge my car if there’s a power failure”
This is very true. Actually, there are a lot of things you can’t do if there’s a power failure. At my house, loss of power means we can’t charge our phones, keep our refrigerated food cold, wash dishes, take showers, flush toilets, light up rooms after sundown, use the microwave, or watch TV. The last time we had a lengthy, large scale power outage was during Superstorm Sandy in 2011, when the neighborhood lost power for four days. At least we weren’t alone in our misery: a quarter-mile away from me is a Shell gas station. They lost power too. You know what they couldn’t do?
They couldn’t pump gasoline.
“I can’t fill up my car with gas if there’s a power failure”. What WE did, based on the forecast, was fill both cars before the storm arrived. Then we didn’t go anywhere anyway. True, we don’t always know when the power will go out. But if I had an EV and we were expecting a major outage, I’d top up. And probably not go anywhere anyway.
“I’ll miss that incredible thrust from that massive V-8”
Anyone who says that has not driven an EV like the Polestar 2 with its instantaneous 487 lb-ft of torque. End of that discussion.
NITS TO PICK
Trying my best to be objective, there is nothing I found that would be a deal-breaker if I were in the market for an EV in this price range. Like so many other vehicles today, the exterior and interior color palette is limited. To my eye, the “2” looks better in lighter colors. I wish there were interior options between the basic grey/black synthetic and the full-zoot tan leather. My V60 has power-folding rear seat head restraints; I miss them here only because I have them already. The buttons on the side of the little black key fob are ridiculously small for my old eyes (yet admittedly I didn’t need to touch them once). That’s all I can think of.
HOW DOES IT COMPARE?
I would spec it out in white with the tan leather (I would spring for the upscale interior and skip the $5,000 Performance Package). All Polestars are eligible for the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit. $59,900 plus destination, metallic paint, and leather interior, minus the credit, puts me right at $59,000. Don’t forget to factor in the fuel and maintenance savings.
I’m hard pressed to think of another $60,000 sedan, ICE or EV, that beats this car in equipment, safety, driving dynamics, and environmental care. Teslas have their advantages, including a dedicated charging network, and extensive range. The Model 3 is smaller and has less equipment than the “2”. The Model S is closer in size, yet is priced starting at $10,000 above the “2”, is no longer eligible for any Federal Tax Credit (no Tesla is), and have you seen that yoke of a wheel? How is that thing even legal? A close competitor might be the Volvo S90; I’d hate to suggest that Polestar would cannibalize its own sibling, and the choice might come down to preferences over things like colors and motive power.
When I was checking out one of the charging stations, a guy in a pickup truck stopped and yelled out the window: “Nice car! What is it?” When I responded “a Polestar”, he asked “where do I get one?” I told him NYC. Hope I made a sale.
SIDEBAR: THE POLESTAR 1
There were seven of these beauties lined up in the same lot where I picked up my loaner. This was my first time seeing this car in person. It’s lower than I expected; at first glance, I called it the “Swedish Camaro” – it has that pony car stance.
On closer examination, I began to see hints of the P1800 coupe from the 1960s. Make note of the jutting grille and the sweep of the roof’s rear pillar. The taillights are current Volvo design language. Hoping for a drive in one of these on my next visit.
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?
(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.
(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.
(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!
(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.
(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!
(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.
Happy 2021! After a longer-than-expected break from blogging during this holiday season, I’m back! It’s too obvious to state that my fellow car hobbyists and I are all hoping for better things this year, but I’ll say it anyway. With fingers crossed (and with planned vaccines in my arm), I’ve begun to make plans to attend various shows and events in the next few months, provided that they’re still on the calendar. These events include:
If even just two out of five of these events manage to happen AND if I feel safe enough to attend, it will be a win. Right now, I’m practicing patience and hoping for the best, as it’s all I can do.
In the meantime, I’m going to use this blog in a way that I haven’t done before, which is to promote some of the ‘professional’ writing that I’ve been doing these past few years. A current auto industry topic which I’ve been closely following and which I personally find fascinating is electric vehicles (EVs). I published a blog post a few months back about my in-person experiences with the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Since then, the Ford Motor Company has revealed that their annual production supply of 50,000 is “spoken for”. That doesn’t mean that there’s a retail name attached to every unit, as many may have been ordered by dealers for stock. Still, this is a tremendous achievement, given how reluctant the American public has been to embrace EVs (except for Tesla).
The year 2021 may be “the year of the electric pickup truck”. Most folks know how popular full-size pickups are in the U.S., with the Ford, Chevrolet, and Ram trucks occupying the #1, #2, and #3 sales slots for years now. With only months to go before the Tesla CyberTruck, Rivian R1T pickup, and GMC Hummer EV pickup are launched, the perfect storm may be brewing as traditional truck buyers check out the EV competition. (And don’t downplay the competition: the Launch Editions of both the Rivian and the Hummer are sold out.)
This article below was penned by me on behalf of my employer, and was published on the excellent website www.automoblog.net. Give it a read-through, and add a comment. I’d be more than happy to entertain your opinion, even if (especially if) you completely disagree.
New Truck Launches & Big Business Partnerships Indicate a Strong Year Ahead for EV Adoption
According to Allied Market Research, the global vehicle electrification market is projected to reach $140.29 billion by 2027. Consumer interest in electric vehicles (EVs) has grown steadily since the Nissan Leaf, the longest-selling EV nameplate still available today (the Leaf was launched just over 10 years ago). The current EV market is much more diverse, with offerings available from legacy manufacturers, industry disruptors (like Tesla), and start-ups.
Flashy new model launches have sent pre-sale orders through the roof. Transportation and utility companies that own thousands of fleet vehicles have begun shifting to electrified platforms. Governments worldwide have engaged in legislative and regulatory actions that could boost EV manufacturing and clean transportation infrastructure. With all this activity, how does widespread EV adoption look in 2021? Let’s take a closer look.
In the United States currently, 22 out of 38 major auto brands offer at least one EV model. Up to 50 new models are anticipated to enter the market in the next two to three years. In recent months, EV launches have generated big headlines, particularly truck and SUV models based on ground-up designs. These launches have broken the mold of compact EVs based on existing internal combustion engine (ICE) platforms.
Pickups will see a lot of attention this year. While met with mockery upon launch, Tesla’s CyberTruck is set to begin production in late 2021. Rivian, which has received investment from Ford and Amazon, is showcasing its R1T EV pickup, including a sold-out Launch Edition due in June. And GMC made a splash with the Hummer’s return as an EV. The Edition 1 (starting at a whopping $112,595!) has sold out of its first-year production run of 10,000, although lower-priced models will be introduced from now through spring 2024.
In a turn of events that shocked many car enthusiasts, Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric SUV that’s giving Tesla a run for its money, was awarded the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year for 2021. What’s more, the New York Times recently reported that Ford has already taken orders for all 50,000 of the Mach-Es it plans to produce in 2021. Another notable mention: the pre-orders for the launch edition of Volkswagen’s ID.4 electric SUV have already sold out.
Will Fuel Prices Impact EV Sales?
Even with popular models generating buzz and selling out quickly, a few things need to change to tip the EV sales scale more significantly in the coming years, starting with fuel prices.
Since 2014, fuel prices have been on a gradual decline, averaging between $2.00 and 2.50 per gallon between 2016 and 2019. They are presently at a 30-year national low, meaning buyers don’t necessarily have to consider fuel economy a top factor when shopping for a new vehicle. Nothing illustrates this point better than how full-size trucks from the domestic Big Three continue to hold the first, second, and third positions in the sales race. Mid- and full-size SUVs, many with large six- and eight-cylinder engines, are also selling well.
Battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds, with many newer EVs boasting 200- and 300-mile driving ranges. But for drivers unfamiliar with EVs, the concept of “range anxiety” weighs heavily on any purchase decision. Yes, your vehicle will be able to support your daily commute with its battery capacity and an overnight recharge at home. But will you have adequate access to charging stations during a multi-state road trip? In many parts of the country, the lack of charging infrastructure poses a significant challenge that might push consumers away from fully electric models.
Commercial & Industrial Adoption
Regardless of how many consumers are willing to take their own EV on a family road trip, many of the world’s largest companies are already integrating EVs into their business models. Unsurprisingly, Amazon is among the first to make moves in this direction. Amazon announced a plan to bring custom electric delivery vehicles, manufactured by Rivian, to the roads by the thousands over the next decade. The first of these are expected to roll out this year.
Everyone shops for everything online these days. This became even more true when COVID-19 cut off access to brick-and-mortar retail for many. So, it should come as no surprise that major automakers, including GM and Ford, are looking to expand their commercial delivery solutions. Potential partners, such as FedEx, have expressed a desire to migrate to electric fleets for moving consumer goods. As of this writing, GM is working on a pilot program with FedEX to introduce lightweight, electric vans complete with the latest safety, diagnostics, and route optimization technology.
Moving away from fleet management and the supply chain, a new commercial market for EVs has emerged that could tip the scales in favor of these technologies. That new and emerging market is utility and construction management. For instance, Lordstown Motors, an EV startup, recently announced it has more than 100,000 orders for its Endurance electric truck. Lordstown is targeting utility companies and other commercial entities, rather than individual consumers, with this rollout.
With more companies and municipalities working toward ambitious emissions goals, we can expect to see more EV vans, trucks, and SUVs pop up for commercial use in the coming years.
Shifting Political Factors
We can’t have a discussion of EVs or any clean energy technologies in 2021 without mentioning the changing political landscape. President Joe Biden entered office with an ambitious climate plan that could enable broader adoption of EVs in the coming years. It’s still far too early to tell how these actions will play out but there are already a few notable storylines the automotive industry has its eye on.
This includes a plan to install 50,000 EV charging stations, capable of covering an estimated 57 percent of charging needs by 2030. Additionally, Jennifer Granholm, President Biden’s nominee for Energy Secretary who secured $1.35 billion in federal funding for EV and battery development as governor of Michigan, is expected to help lead U.S. efforts to compete with China in the EV sector.
Following the unpredictability of 2020, many have started 2021 with high hopes. Even without knowing how the political and economic landscape might boost these technologies, there’s no doubt that EVs have gained serious momentum. More models are available than ever before and manufacturers are working hard to expand the market into the lucrative pickup and SUV categories, making it possible to find an EV that suits any lifestyle.
Elsewhere, corporations and commercial entities recognize that pivoting to electric transportation solutions is a crucial piece in broader clean energy and low-emissions initiatives. Of course, other factors and market forces could change things at the drop of a hat. While it’s too soon to declare 2021 a breakout year for EVs, there will be plenty for consumers and industry experts to keep an eye on in the coming months!
Last week, I received an email from Ford inviting me to attend a preview of the Mustang Mach-E at my local Ford dealer, which is Flemington Ford, about a 15-minute car ride from home. I replied in the affirmative to the invite, scheduled for Monday November 16. My appointment time was 4 p.m., and I was advised to arrive at least 5 minutes early.
The day was sunny, if a bit windy and chilly, but fine if the event was to be out of doors. Walking toward the showroom at about 3:45, I saw two of the vehicles outside, and as I entered the sales area, spotted one on the floor. I checked in with Mike, he from “the Big D” (Dearborn) as he put it, whereupon he told me to take my time examining the car on display inside.
This car was a dark grey with a black interior, a somewhat dour color combo, but aside from that, I liked what I saw. The first thing to notice are the outside door handles. Each door has a round button above the belt line, about the size of a house doorbell. The doors unlatch electrically (no word on how you open a door if the battery is dead). I sat in the car and examined the two screens: a smaller one directly in front of the driver, and a large, tablet-like one in vertical format in the center. With the vehicle “off” there wasn’t too much to see there, so I got out and did several walkarounds, taking in as much detail as possible. Overall, I was impressed by various design details as well as the fit and finish.
Mike came over to answer any questions I had. Range? About 210 miles with the Standard Range batteries, and about 270 miles with the Extended Range batteries. Interior colors? Black or white, and one upholstery choice only, a “vegan leather” which looked and felt like high quality vinyl. Frunk? He popped open the front lid to show me that storage area. Availability? The cars here are production vehicles, so depending on whether you have an existing order or not, cars are on their way to customers, first come first served.
Next up was the test ride. Customers were not allowed to drive, but there were other FoMoCo employees on hand to take you for a ride. I met Joe, another corporate employee (actually a field guy), and we hopped into the white car outside. The very first impression one gets in an EV is the quiet. No engine sounds, no exhaust, no gears. There are no piped-in sounds either. Frankly, I expected there to be more tire noise than there was. Given that we were riding on 19”s, the ride was not only quiet, it was compliant and comfortable.
As he was driving, Joe was more than happy to show me the center screen, which apparently is “Sync 4”, Ford’s 4th generation of its Sync infotainment system. Joe was scrolling up and down, swiping left and right, all while handling the wheel. I said “Wait! Show me how the driver controls the LIGHTS and the WIPERS.” Joe laughed and grabbed the left and right stalks hanging off the steering column. Thankfully Ford kept those controls where most drivers would be used to finding them.
I asked Joe about the infamous one-pedal driving that can be done on many EVs. He said that there is a way to turn that on and off in the center screen menu. He personally is not a fan of it, and he said when he drives he leaves it off.
We made a right turn onto a road with a long straightaway in front of us. Joe stopped, turned to the screen, and selected the most powerful of the three driving modes, cleverly named “unbridled” (get it?). He floored it, and except for the (lack of) noise, I felt like I was in a plane accelerating for takeoff. We got up to 60 and he backed off. Was it the fastest I’ve ever experienced 0-60? Not at all, but that’s not the point. The Mustang Mach-E has plenty of get-up-and-go when you want it, but just like a gas engine, you’re going to consume a lot of juice if you do that at every light change.
We got back to the dealer, I took a few more shots outside, and I meandered back into the showroom. There were three or four other groups of people folding themselves into and out of the various Mach-E models on display. I waited for a salesperson to approach me with a closing pitch, and perhaps was just a tad disappointed that none came. (The Flemington group of dealers is known for their low-pressure sales approach.) I thanked Mike and Joe and headed out.
Once I was home, I opened my access to the Ford AXZ plan (employee and retiree pricing), fully expecting that the Mach-E would be an excluded model, but it’s not! The employee pricing was right there on the screen. I’m not in the market for a vehicle right now, but I certainly have been weighing a pure EV as a possible future choice. The Mustang Mach-E just rose a few notches higher on that list.
In the latest edition (June 2020) of Sports Car Market (SCM) magazine, a reader wrote a letter to the Editor, requesting an explanation of the so-called “frequent flier” phenomenon (referring to the same vehicle appearing at multiple auctions over a short period of time). I will quote part of his letter:
“… often in the auction reviews, you note a car has been at or across the auction block three or five times in four or six years. Is there a story here? ….Is there a certain type of car which attracts this ‘flipping’ activity?’ …. Is there a certain type of buyer/seller involved in this? The easy answer is ‘speculators hoping to make a quick buck’…..”
I think that SCM dodged providing a real answer when they responded: “There is indeed a certain type of seller – we suspect possessing a world-class stubbornness – who trucks a car to several auctions in a short period of time. … (these) cars mostly have an impact on the bank account of the present owner….”
Whether the individual who posed the question intended this or not, the answer presumes that the ‘frequent flier’ vehicle never gets sold, so the same owner incurs transportation costs, auction fees, and the like. From my own observations of the auction market, the reality is different. Many frequent fliers DO get sold, chalking up multiple new owners over the short haul.
The obvious next question is: did the seller make a profit? Here’s the crux of the issue. Why would any owner of a special-interest vehicle consider selling it within the first year or two of ownership? While there could be any number of reasons (needs the money/found something else/didn’t meet expectations), was the car principally purchased as an investment?
The subheading on each month’s cover of SCM is “The Insider’s Guide to Collecting, Investing, Values, and Trends”. I’ve been a subscriber since 1997. I enjoy the magazine. It’s always done a great job of reporting auction results worldwide, in a timely fashion for a print periodical. What SCM cannot do, and no one can, is predict the future. This is not a knock on the magazine. A vehicle, or a class of make and model vehicles, rises in value faster than the overall market for a multitude of reasons. Many of these reasons have no basis in rationality. Several of my car buddies agree with me that the #1 rule is to buy what you like, enjoy it, and don’t worry too much about values. Yet it’s always interesting to speculate what would have happened if I bought X instead of Y.
Late in 2003, I bought a 1968 Mustang ‘California Special’ aka GT/CS. At that time, average selling prices for cars with the small block 289/302 V8 were around $15,000. There was a 20% premium for the ‘S’ code (4 barrel carb) big-block 390. I found a car for sale with the ‘X’ code 2-barrel 390, and paid $16,000, which I thought was a fair price, not a steal, but perhaps slightly under market. I liked that Mustang a lot, drove it to many shows and events, and sold it nine years later. The irony is, I had been considering some vehicles other than the Mustang, including an older 911, but it wasn’t so serious that I actually sought out or test drove one.
Why hadn’t someone told me 911 values were going to go through the roof? Is it because no one knew?
I subscribe to, and keep old copies of, the price guide known as Cars of Particular Interest (CPI). The book publishes retail values for cars in excellent (#2), good (#3) and fair (#4) value. I decided to have some fun with this by going back to the January 2004 edition and looking up 10 cars of interest to me whose #3 value was very close to my Mustang’s purchase price. (That copy of CPI had my Mustang at $18,600 for a #3 car.) I then compared those numbers to their 2020 CPI values, and calculated the percentage increase (none lost value). The chart is arranged in order of value increase from smallest to largest.
Barracuda 340 coupe
E-Type Ser. II coupe
Cougar GT-E 427
356 S90 coupe
Continental 4-dr conv.
911 S coupe
Again, we’ve kept things apples-to-apples by using CPI and by using #3 condition values. I’ll make the following observations:
It surprised me to see that the 3 cars with the smallest value changes are all domestic. None of those cars are performance slouches, and given the general trend that “muscle sells”, I expected higher numbers.
The other two domestic cars posted extraordinary results. The big-block Cougar rose over 400%, and the Continental disproves the adage that 4-door cars aren’t collectible.
The value of the Montreal seems artificially low to me, and I say that only as an Alfa owner who follows the market. However, the Jag value looks spot-on for a Series II coupe.
The two ‘ringers’ are the Porsches. Note that in 2004, the 356 was actually valued higher than the 911S! And in 2004 dollars, the 911 is the lowest-value car here, tied with the Continental.
What does all this mean? Nothing. (Like Seinfeld.) Seriously, it means that no one saw any of this coming. Looking at this with hindsight, do I have a twinge of regret? Ever so slightly, but not really. The Cougar is the same year as my Mustang, but would not have looked as unique as my car. I adore E-Types, and perhaps missed the boat my not snagging one when I could have. But making those statements does not take in the complete picture:
When I bought the GT/CS, it was in Maryland, about 3 hours away. I felt lucky finding one within a day’s round trip drive. Who knows where I would have found any of these other cars?
The Mustang was comparatively easy to work on, and I did most of my own maintenance and repair work.
Wrenching on a Jag or Porsche of any flavor means exponentially higher parts prices, and greater levels of complexity.
The Cal Special was very reliable. I drove it to Nashville, and on two complete New England 1000 rallies. Who is to say that any of these others would have been equally reliable?
I sold my GT/CS in 2012 for $20,000. You think I made a profit? Adding up insurance, routine maintenance, and repairs, it’s closer to the truth to say I broke even. But I had nine years to enjoy the hobby in it, and there’s no telling what kind of experiences any of these other vehicles could have delivered. So no regrets at all.
Can anyone predict which collector cars of today will show value increases of 400% over the next 15 years? It’s fun to talk about, but I won’t be using real money to place any wagers. I’d rather get out there and drive.
Part of my frustration in putting that blog post together was the lack of any hard information about Auburn Speedster values, either based on recent sales or on numbers published in price guides. So I was pleasantly surprised when I leafed through my copy of the 2020 edition of Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market Pocket Price Guide, and found figures for Auburn Speedsters!
First, there was an 8-cylinder Speedster made from ’31-’34, which I had neglected to mention. The SCM median price for that model is $245,000. The V12 Speedster from the same vintage is shown with a value of $410,000. The 1935-1936 Speedster (they are all boattails) with the supercharged straight 8 sits at the top of the heap: SCM claims a median price of $756,000.
These numbers baffled me, because I expected the V12 to be more highly valued than the 8, even if the 8 was supercharged. Googling some further images solved that puzzle. The ’31-’34 Speedsters, while attractive cars, carried over a linearity from the 1920’s in their styling. A vertical grille, standalone headlamps, dual sidemounts, and bulky running boards stood in stark contrast to its reclining windshield and new-fangled boat tail.
When I compared this model with the updated ’35-’36, I understood why market values are higher for the newer car. All its features are swept back, making it look like it’s going 90 standing still. The fenders have started to become integrated with the body. The entire exterior appears to be more of a single piece of sculpture. While each car would draw a crowd today (and certainly did in the 1930s), there’s no mistaking the supercharged model as the prettier ride.
By the way, supercharging, like turbocharging, provides a lot more grunt with fewer cubes. The Lycoming V12, with 392 cubic inches, produced 160 horsepower. The I-8 with 280 c.i. pushed out 150 boosted ponies, impressive for 1935.
Let’s also quote some interesting sales facts from this article:
A writer from Sports Illustrated magazine in attendance claimed that “the standing record price for a car at auction was $45,000 for ‘the legendary ‘Harry Johnson’ Mercer back in 1968”.
A Duesenberg Le Baron Phaeton was reportedly bid to $66,000, but did not meet reserve and was declared a ‘no sale’.
The highest sale price of the auction was $20,000, for a 12-cylinder Auburn Speedster. It was reported that the new owner planned to drive the Auburn from the auction location in Philadelphia back to his residence in Indiana.
Reading some of these numbers from the perspective of 2020 is dizzying. The $45,000 record sale price would today barely get you into a near-luxury sedan or SUV. Checking my June 1971 Car & Driver, I see that a new 1971 Corvette with a 454 LS6 engine listed for $7,619. A new 1971 Volvo 142E had a list price of $4,032. The back cover ad for the de Tomaso Pantera stated that the car is “around $10,000”. So twenty grand in 1971 dollars for any car, much less an old Auburn, was a lot of coin.
A 12-cylinder Auburn Speedster is, of course, the striking boattail. My reference books indicate that the V-12 Speedsters were made for two model years only, 1932-1933. The 1933 model cost $1,745 new (a 1933 Ford V8 cabriolet was $585). This was during the Great Depression! It’s a coveted model today, so coveted that an entire cottage industry has sprung up building replicas which tend to sell in the $40,000-60,000 range, if Mecum’s recent sales of them are an indicator.
The 1971 sale car was a real one – the ‘tribute’ market had not been born yet. In 1971, $20,000 could have bought 2 Panteras, or 3 Corvettes, or 5 Volvos, any of which would have served as more reliable daily drivers than an Auburn. So spending twenty large ones on an old car was a real indulgence. Did the owner keep it? If so, for how long? When he sold it, did he earn a profit on the sale? If he or his heirs still own the car today, what is it worth?
There are very few recent documented sales of real Auburn boattail Speedsters. Mecum, at its January 2020 Kissimmee auction, sold a RHD one that needed extensive engine and other mechanical work for $440,000. There is exactly one on Hemmings.com at present, with a supercharged 8 and not a V12, carrying an ask of $795,000. If we split the difference and state that an Auburn Speedster might be worth $600,000 in the real world, that’s a 30-fold increase in value over 49 years.
Wait. We have no idea of this Auburn’s condition in 1971. Sure, it was reported that the new owner planned to drive it back to Indiana, which doesn’t mean that the paint and interior were pristine. Once home, he had to garage it; insure it; perform routine maintenance on it; refresh its cosmetics; acquire a tow vehicle and trailer so as not to sully its refreshed cosmetics; make repairs as items wore out or broke; replace the battery, fluids, tires, brakes, and rubber parts on a regular basis; and so on.
If the car saw any regular use, chances are it would have reached the point where it needed a complete restoration. Even without regular use, cars which sit deteriorate. Depending on how it was stored, maintained, and used, it’s not unreasonable that decades later, it may have needed yet another restoration. Any calculation of ‘final sale price’ as an indicator of profit ignores the decades of maintenance and repair necessary when a valuable old car is under your care.
Old-car enthusiasts who are not active owners seem to presume that all old cars increase in value. I’ve heard it, I’ve read it, and I’ve had it said to me when showing one of my own cars at an event. The conversation goes something like this:
Show-goer: “Hey, nice car! I bet that thing is worth some money!”
Me: “Well, maybe it is, but I’m in the hobby to enjoy the cars and the people”.
Show-goer: “Hey, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s that thing worth?”
Me: “Well, I’m not really sure. Any number I quote is just a figure from a piece of paper anyway”.
Show-goer: “Well, I bet you’re sure that you’re gonna make a killing on that thing when you go to sell it!”
Me: “We’ll see. It’s not for sale, and like I said, I’m in this hobby to enjoy it without focusing on values too much”.
Do classic cars increase in value? The answer is almost certainly “yes”. However, the intrinsic value of the car, its condition, and the length of time between two sale points all play significant roles in any potential value increase. A 1933 Ford 4-door sedan is very likely worth more today than it was in 1971. But there is no comparing such a car with a genuine Auburn boattail. Perhaps the biggest argument against the Ford would be its lack of desirability in today’s collector car market.
I still see too many ‘collectors’ who are more focused on future values than they are on the enjoyment that the hobby can bring. Following recent auction trends, it’s not unusual to see the same cars repeatedly dragged across the block, and either failing to meet an unreasonable reserve, or actually selling for less than the car sold for the previous year. It’s a complete oversimplification to look at this 1971 Auburn sales result and exclaim “I told you that there’s money to be made doing this!” Sure. Would you have had that kind of spare cash in 1971 AND have been able to wait 49 years before reselling? I didn’t think so.
If I had known when I met Kirk White that he did indeed kick-start this entire collector car auction mania, I would have personally thanked him. Are all car auctions great? No. Does every vehicle sold at auction hammer for a number higher than its previous sale? Absolutely not. Have auctions brought many more people into the hobby and served as a source of education and entertainment for collector car enthusiasts? We can only answer that with an unqualified ‘yes’.
During the five years I’ve been hosting this blog, I’ve made it an unwavering tenet to avoid any post which primarily consists of a link to another website. My goal has always been to provide original content, based on my own previous and current automotive adventures.
This post breaks with that tradition for the first time. Sorta.
Below is a link to an article published on Ward’s Auto (www.wardsauto.com). The article, “Keeping Cars Germ-Free While Preserving Surfaces”, is a somewhat general treatise about doing our part to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus as we get into and out of our vehicles (with less and less frequency, it seems). You’ll note the author’s name, as this was created while performing my day gig.
I’ve also taken the liberty of copying the text verbatim below. Stay safe, everyone!
As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread throughout the country, many people are looking to disinfect anything and everything they come into contact with on a regular basis. In addition to household items, devices and doorknobs, don’t forget to clean and disinfect your trusty vehicle!
It’s important to ensure that you’re properly sanitizing all aspects of your ride. To stop the spread of germs, it’s crucial to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and EPA standards.
Without a doubt, when cleaning and disinfecting the interior of your car you should exercise more care than you do with many items around your house, such as a light switch or bathroom counter. It’s important to ensure you’re effectively cleaning all your interior surfaces while at the same time not damaging materials such as vinyl, plastic and upholstery.
According to the CDC, cleaning removes germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces, rather than killing them, and reduces the risk of spreading infection by lowering the number of germs on a surface. Disinfecting, on the other hand, kills germs on surfaces and takes the work of cleaning one step further.
You may be thinking, where should I begin? Luckily, properly cleaning and disinfecting your car is not super complicated and with just a few key steps, you can accomplish it in no time!
First, to effectively clean and protect, you should begin with a thorough vacuuming of the entire interior. It’s important to spend time getting into the areas that accumulate the most dirt and dust, which will make cleaning and disinfecting much easier and more effective when you reach that step. If your vacuum has attachments for getting into crevices and tight spots, use them!
Once that’s complete, assess your cleaning products and check the EPA’s list of registered disinfectants that meet the criteria against coronavirus.
Now it’s time to find the proper products, depending on your vehicle’s interior and the materials found there. A very important tip: do not treat all these surfaces as one and the same. While there are combination cleaners that can cover more than one area, it’s important to identify your interior’s material and select the most appropriate and effective cleaning products for the type of material.
Vinyl and synthetic interiors. Since this material doesn’t absorb anything, it’s easier to disinfect. To be cautious and prevent damage, avoid using cleaners that contain alcohol or bleach. Be especially wary of plastic compounds, which are used frequently in consoles, dashes and door panels. They are especially vulnerable to alcohol-based cleaners.
Leather interiors. If you are using an alcohol or detergent-based cleaner on leather seats and dashboards, don’t forget to apply a leather conditioner afterward to restore moisture.
All interiors. As a best practice across the board, it’s worth avoiding all solvents, which include acetone, kerosene and alcohols, when possible.
With that, it’s critical to be especially cognizant of frequently touched items. Make sure to give your steering wheel, seat belt buckle, door handles (inside and out), shift knob and dashboard controls a thorough wipe down with antibacterial products. If you have a touchscreen, do not overly wet it, and use a product specifically for screens.
If you have any doubts about how certain surfaces will respond to harsher cleaners and disinfectants, test the product first on a less-conspicuous spot to ensure it won’t cause damage before performing a more thorough cleaning.
Overall, it’s important to routinely sanitize all surroundings you have access to in order to do your part in reducing the spread of germs and infections. If your vehicle is regularly driven by more than one person, each driver should share in the cleaning responsibility (or appoint one person to be in charge).
Lastly, of course, always defer to the CDC’s guidelines for personal and environmental hygiene to learn more about how you can do your part to keep yourself and those around you safe and healthy!