Thursday, June 30, 2011

Valiant Chrysler Charger E49

The 1971 VH Valiant Charger was based on the Valiant VH, but was a short-wheelbase 2-door version. It could be equipped with a slant six, small V-8, or the "ordinary" 265 Hemi, an engine originally created for trucks, but abandoned in the US and developed to its full potential in Australia. The "ordinary" version had 203 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, making it competitive with V-8s. The high-performance version was reserved for the Pacer - for now.

The Charger R/T had lower ratio differential; six-inch rims; front anti-roll bar; a tachometer and an oil pressure gauge. Stock, it could run a 15.7 second quarter mile. Optional was the "six-pack" package, using three two-barrel Webers to put the 265 up to 248 hp. The final option was the E38 engine, with a higher compression ratio, different gear ratios, and 280 hp - about 80 hp more than the standard 265! This brought the quarter mile down to 14.8 seconds, with a single gear change. Zero to 60mph was 6.3 seconds. Handling was "exceptional," possibly due to the light engine.

The 1972 E49 Charger was a significant move forward, and not just because it was the first to get a four-speed manual gearbox. The E49 pushed the 265 engine to a full 302 hp, and had the quickest acceleration of any Australian production car - 14.4 seconds, respectable even when compared to American big-blocks.

The 340 V-8 was Chrysler's last high-performance V-8 intended for cars. In the American Dusters, it was a match for many big-blocks, but was often underestimated in the US. The VH Charger was given the 340 as an option but it was used mainly as a status feature. It was only available in the Charger 770 E55, a full-luxury version of the Charger. With an automatic, its performance was better than the manual XA GT Falcon. Zero to 60mph was 7.2 seconds, and the quarter mile was an impressive 15.5; top speed was over 125mph! The camshaft was nonperformance and the exhaust was restrictive, so it was capable of much more.

The VJ (1973 - 1975) and VK (1975 - 1976) Valiant Chargers could be bought with the 318 or the 360. The 360 was only a little faster than the 318 (quarter mile in 16.2 rather than 16.7 seconds, 0-100 mph in 25 rather than 26 seconds) but was less fuel efficient.

The final model was the CL (1976 - 1978) Charger. The Valiant name was dropped.

The R/T Charger is a rare car these days. Clone R/Ts are also fetching good money these days. The later model Chargers are generally less desirable here as they are back in Australia so they have not appreciated as rapidly. There are some limited edition (White Knight/Drifter) are going to be good examples to hang on to. Not only do the Mopar fans love these cars here in the USA, the appeal is wide spread across all aspects of car enthusiast.

Dodge Charger R/T 440

The first Dodge Charger was the 1964 show car, based on the Polara and fitted with a 426 Wedge engine. Jim Rodebaugh created a convincing replica (though in silver rather than the concept’s ruby red), with a 413 V8 dressed to look like the 426 Wedge. This replica is currently for sale (Jim is at 918-333-5573), with a much lower asking price than the original, which went for $1.1 million in 2007.

There was also a 1965 Dart produced with the “Charger 273” name. 180 were made at the factory, and 300 kits were available to be dealer-installed. It was based on a Dart GT hardtop or convertible; all were yellow with a black top and interior, with the 273, 13X6 Cragar mag wheels, and Charger emblems. Lewis wrote that it had glass-pack mufflers for a nice roar, Cragar wheels, and Charger emblems for the engine bay.

Burton Bouwkamp wrote: “The Chrysler turbines had reached the point where production would be practical, and the decision to make a special, limited-production turbine car with different styling was reached. Tom Golec, supervisor of car development, said that low-volume tooling for a 500-vehicle production run had already been ordered, and a no-slip clutch unit was developed (but not used because of its cost). The project was cancelled, and the special body became the Charger (but with a different grille).”

The unique dashboard featured high-clarity backlighting at night, and a large tachometer sitting among the other instruments, rather than down in the console — where a clock sat. The standard engine was a 230 hp 318 V8 (roughly 150 hp, net), with an optional 265 hp 361, 325 hp 383, and 425 hp Hemi. Transmissions were the three-on-the-tree (318 only), four-on-the-floor, and three-speed automatic.

The Charger body was based on the Coronet, but with a fastback roofline and unique (if similar) front clip that resembled the Coronet, but had retractable headlights, giving the car a sporty look. A round Charger crest was featured in the center of the convex grille, and the Charger name was spelled in block letters across the full length of the single, full-width tail-light. The rear bucket seats - unusual at the time - folded forward individually - also unusual. The instrument panel was actually unique to the Charger (unlike the current Magnum/Charger), featuring four large, round pods directly in front of the driver (like the new Charger). Both sticks and automatics got a floor shifter in a full-length console between the front seats.

The Charger came standard with a sturdy 318 V-8, then still new and producing 230 hp (gross; about 170 net?) at 4,400 rpm. The 2-barrel 361 and 4-barrel 383 were also options; the Hemi came in mid-year. The 318 Charger came standard with a 3 speed manual, and the bigger engines came with either a 4 speed manual (with Sure-Grip differential) or the Torqueflite automatic.

For more photos, go to the bottom of this page!

The 1966 Dodge Charger was introduced on New Year’s Day, and it didn’t take long for the 1967 model to replace it, with few changes. The 318 lost 55 pounds of weight without any disadvantage; the 361 was replaced by a mild two-barrel 383; and the 440 Magnum became available with 375 hp. Trim was upgraded, with new chrome and fender-mounted turn signals, as well as a new center section in front and optional split seats. The Charger had all the Coronet 500 luxury features, and both years had fold-flat rear seats, for 7 feet of cargo area, as well as a tachometer and full instrumentation. More serious options included a heavy duty suspension with stabilizer bar, towing package, and big 11 inch front disc brakes.

Standard features included concealed headlamps and turn signals, backup lights, center console, lighting package, front and rear bucket seats, carpeting (in the trunk and cabin), security panel (to cover the trunk contents), lap belts for four people, self-adjusting brakes, front sway bar, internal hood release handle, tachometer, oil pressure gauge, and tinted rear window. Options included air conditioning, remote controlled rear-view mirrors, electric windows, trunk light, and other common items. The powertrain warranty was good for 5 years or 50,000 miles, provided stringent maintenance rules were followed; and it didn't apply to the Hemi cars.

The Charger did very well on the NASCAR circuit, winning the manufacturer's championship, but sales were poor, with only 37,344 1966 Chargers sold, a mere 468 with the 426 Hemi engine (which sold for about 1/3 of the car's base price!). In its second year, a mere 15,000 were sold, including 118 Hemis.

In 11 years of racing, the Dodge Charger — running in close to stock form — won 124 NASCAR Cup races and took three drivers to five championships. Richard Petty won three of his seven titles behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger, according to Dodge.

“Charger is a luxury car that is nimble enough and quick enough and challenging enough to make you glad you can't afford a chauffeur. It's a lot of excitement in a package 17 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 4 1/2 feet high.”

Audi Quattro

There aren’t many true landmark vehicles in the history of the car, but the Audi Quattro has a strong claim to be one of them. It introduced four wheel drive to road cars, and provided a way of harnessing very high levels of power to make high performance driving in all weathers and on all types of road more than enough excellent fists to make it a real contender for landmark vehicle status. The outcome of such innovation was a car that was both easier to drive and quicker point to point than a traditional supercar. It was also a huge success on the rally circuit. Not surprisingly, other manufactures could be seen making a very hasty and undignified rush to copy the format. The Quattro was based on the two door coupe version of the 80 saloon, and borrowed its transmission form the VW lltis military vehicle. Initially it was powered by a turbocharged 2.1 liter five cylinder engine, and divided the 200 bhp on tap equally between the front and rear wheels. Inside, the driver was provided information by the then futuristic digital instruments, adding a touch of science fiction innovation to the classically high standards of engineering and build quality that the ground breaking Quattro represented.

The Quattro concept was refined over the best part of decade, culminating in the 20V version. This had a new 2.3 liter turbocharged 20V engine, and the derivation had a ‘Torsen’ differential, the term is an acronym for torque Sensing, which could automatically send more power to the wheels to provide the most grip. It is still hailed as one of all time motoring greats, and its replacement, the S2 coupe could never deliver the Quattro raw edge thrills.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S

The Aston Martin Vantage secured its position as the automaker's sportiest model when it was introduced at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show for the 2006 model year. Like the DB9, the then-new two-door utilized the now common VH Architecture (the chassis is constructed with extruded and bonded aluminum panels). Today, the platform is also shared with the DBS and Rapide.

The four basic body styles in the Aston Martin lineup have much in common, but the Vantage holds the trump card when it comes to handling. Unlike its architecture-sharing siblings, the Vantage is shorter by a foot and its wheelbase undercuts the others by nearly six inches – the reduction in overall size translates to a lighter curb weight (3,549 pounds Coupe, 3,726 pounds Roadster) and greatly improved handling.

Aston Martin offers its Vantage in a dozen flavors these days, from the entry-level V8 Vantage Coupe($120,350) to the flagship V12 Vantage Carbon Black ($194,995). Following on the heels of the limited-edition sport-tuned V8 Vantage N420 models, introduced less than a year ago, are two new models both wearing the automakers coveted 'S' badge - the 2011 Vantage S Coupe and 2011 Vantage S Roadster.

While their aluminum platforms are virtually identical to the standard coupe and roadster models, the British automaker is targeting driving enthusiasts with these heavily upgraded Vantage S variants. Under the hood of each is a specially-tuned version of the familiar all-alloy 4.7-liter V8. Fitted with an adjustable air intake (engineered to open nearly unrestricted at 3,500 rpm), more aggressive spark mapping and the ability to take advantage of higher octane fuel, the engine delivers 430 horsepower at 7,200 rpm and 361 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm (its power rating tops the N420's output by about ten horsepower). We estimate the Vantage S will hit 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds (Aston Martin lists the maximum speed at 189 mph).

The Vantage S also boasts a new transmission. The six-speed Sportshift gearbox (a single-clutch automated manual transmission) fitted to the standard Vantage models and the N420 has been superseded by Aston Martin's all-new seven-speed Sportshift II. While it remains a single-clutch automated manual transmission (rumor has it a dual-clutch unit won't fit), Sportshift II is 52 pounds lighter than Sportshift I. Plus, it is at least 100 pounds lighter than a dual-clutch transmission, reports Aston. Specifically designed with the performance of the V8 Vantage S in mind, the transmission is engineered to operate automatically in Drive mode, or to be manually commanded via column-mounted magnesium shift paddles (the new transmission is reportedly able to select gears 20 percent faster than the older gearbox, in both modes). The rear-mounted gearbox is also now air-cooled, not oil-cooled like its predecessor, helping to shed an oil pump and other unnecessary ancillaries.

The exhaust system is also unique to the V8 Vantage S (it shares some commonality with the aggressive muffler system used on the V12 Vantage). Its overall capacity is larger, and the bypass valves are engineered to open earlier in the rev range to produce a throatier sound and more "crackle on the overrun," says the automaker.

The steering rack has been modified with a quicker ratio (now 15:1, as compared to 17:1 on the standard Vantage models), dropping the number of wheel turns (lock-to-lock) down to just 2.62. The suspension has also been overhauled with retuned passive damper valves, revised rear spring coil rates and revised bump stop rates and lengths.

The braking system delivers more stopping power, thanks to larger 15-inch slotted front rotors with six-piston calipers. While their overall diameter has increased over the standard Vantage, their weight has done just the opposite (credit an innovative two-piece system that uses a lightweight aluminum hub with a durable iron braking surface). The rear 13-inch rotors are cast iron, with four-piston calipers. The braking software has been refined to take advantage of existing brake-related systems (ABS, electronic Brake Force Distribution, Traction Control and Positive Torque Control), and the three-mode Dynamic Stability Control has been specially calibrated for its new enthusiast-tuned role. The Vantage S is also the first Aston Martin to be configured with Hill Start Assist (the brakes are automatically used to hold the vehicle stationary on a steep grade for two seconds, or until the accelerator is pressed).

Visually differentiating the Vantage S from its other siblings, Aston Martin has resculpted the front bumper and added a carbon fiber lower front splitter (its larger intake channels more air to the engine and brakes). There are larger side sills with styling derived from the GT4 race car, and a new carbon-fiber rear diffuser. Lastly, the rear decklid features the slightly raised "flip" shared with the V12 Vantage. All of the design elements contribute to lowering the coefficient of lift and drag, thus increasing high speed stability.

The wheels are also unique to the Vantage S lineup. Standard fitment is 19-inch "V-spoke" cast aluminum alloys, wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE050 performance tires (245/40R19 in the front and 285/35R19 in the rear - the rears on the Vantage S are 10 mm wider out back when compared to the standard Vantage). Forged 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, saving additional unsprung weight, are optional.

A glance at the interior reveals that it, too, has its own unique look. The cabin has been upgraded with distinctive three-track stitching on the door panels and seats (Aston Martin says the design element "echoes the gills of a shark"). The steering wheel can be covered in Obsidian Black leather (or Alcantara) with matching or contrasting stitching and there is an option to specify a Piano Black package, complete with a piano black center console, door handle surrounds and handles. The option list for both Vantage S models reads nearly identical to the other Aston Martin siblings, whether one is seeking a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen BeoSound audio system, satellite radio upgrade or a boot-mounted umbrella. Track junkies overseas will want to opt for the extra-cost carbon-fiber and Kevlar bucket sport seats, with soft leather faces, saving nearly 40 pounds of weight (sadly, the DOT won't certify them for the States).

Aston Martin is offering the 2011 Vantage S in two body styles. The standard V8 Vantage S Coupe (with mandatory Sportshift transmission), starts with a base price of $138,000. The V8 Vantage S Roadster with a power-operated soft top (also only fitted with Sportshift) will set you back $151,000. The pricing puts the two new models comfortably mid-pack in the Vantage lineup. (All pricing includes gas guzzler tax, but exclude the $1,615 fee for delivery and destination.)

By luck of the draw, I'm on the track in the first round. My fortune is short-lived, however, as I quickly realize my dallying in the heated lounge has cost me first choice of vehicles – I'm left holding the glass key to a bright blue right-hand-drive model. The minor annoyance accepted, my six-foot, two-inch frame settles comfortably into the optional sport seats (as mentioned, the nice carbon/Kevlar buckets won't be offered in the States). Strapped in place with the standard three–point belts, I slide the white open-face helmet over my skull. I have plenty of wiggle room.

The new Sportshift II, like its predecessor, doesn't have a traditional PRNDL gate on the lower console. Instead, there are four round buttons ("Sport," "R," "N" and "D") high on the center stack. The Vantage S, like all Aston Martins these days, is started with the signature key held in place for a few seconds. The V8 fires over and settles to a tempered growl. I step on the brake and tap the "D" button, followed immediately by the "Sport" button – it electronically changes transmission maps so the new gearbox will shift more rapidly and hold each gear longer through the counterclockwise sweep of the tachometer. The sport mode also alters the flapper in the exhaust to give it a more aggressive note.

With an open track beaconing, and a flagman waving a bandera verde, I bury my right foot on the metal accelerator pedal. There is a very reassuring growl from the ass-end of the coupe as the 4.7-liter forces me back into the seat.

It takes about three full laps of the 3.1-mile circuit before I am comfortable with the layout. There are twenty-six corners, so much of the orientation is spent memorizing entry points (speed will come). With most committed to my internal RAM, I increase my velocity gradually. I immediately find the Vantage S very docile - it is nearly perfectly balanced (49:51 front to rear) and the steering is nicely weighed. I'm pleasantly surprised.

After ten minutes, I'm starting to really enjoy things. The Bridgestone Potenza tires are getting some good heat into them, as are the brakes. I push harder. At about eight-tenths, the Vantage S transforms from being a street car on a track to a showroom-ready racer. The back end starts to break free if power is applied on a lightened rear end (easily corrected with some opposite steering input) and a bit of understeer in the sharper corners becomes an issue. It's time to crank things up.

At nine-tenths, I'm grinning ear-to-ear. Diving into the hairpin corners, I use trail braking to help rotate the Vantage S (masking much of the understeer). Body roll is minimal, and there is plenty of low-end torque to control rotation and bring the coupe back to speed upon exit. The width of the Vantage requires some caution in the tighter areas (unless you enjoy unsettling impacts with curbs), but nothing overly distracting. That same low stance does contribute to ample, and welcomed, grip on the small and medium-size corners. On the larger sweepers, I find it easiest to keep my foot down until I feel the rear end get light. Then I just hang it there and enjoy the ride.

The Vantage S is truly one of the more enjoyable vehicles I have ever driven on the track. The engine pulls with gusto (it prefers to spin at the top of the tachometer, so be wary of the fuel cutoff), the exhaust sounds tremendous (even through a helmet) and the brakes are more than competent for the job. And one has to mention the chassis – it is a spectacularly stiff platform. Aston Martin takes some abuse for using the same VH architecture on all of its models. I say, who cares? It works.

Yet hold your applause.

Even with its sexy styling and eight-cylinder rumble, there is something working against the Vantage S. It's the darn brand-spanking new Sportshift II gearbox. While it is admirably lighter and quicker than its predecessor, it still trails the pack when compared against the dual-clutch offerings from the competition (there is no prize for inventing the ultimate VHS machine these days). Even when the transmission is in manual-shift mode, there is an agonizingly noticeable delay between gears. Aston Martin's redesigned single-clutch gearbox may finally be quickest of its kind, but the industry moved on. Several years ago.

With my helmet back in the lounge, I grab the keys to another Vantage S and depart Ascari Circuit on two-lane public roads for the small Spanish villages of Cuevas del Becerro, Setenil de las Bodegas and Arriate. In a relaxed manner, the transmission is left in "D" allowing the electronic nannies do the shifting. Once again, I find myself flustered with the slow gearbox, so it's back to manual mode (thankfully, it only takes a brief tap on the paddleshifter to kill the autobox and the system doesn't revert back to automatic without pressing the "D" button again). With my brain in control, and my fingers doing the work, the Vantage S is a fun scalpel to carve local Spanish roads. I am smiling once again.

The British automaker doesn't hesitate when asked to put the crosshairs on the Vantage's direct competition. It understandably comes from the volume-selling rear-engine Porsche 911. Granted, Aston Martin money ($138,000-plus) will buy every single naturally-aspirated 911 in today's lineup, and get you in a standard 911 Turbo – an established segment benchmark.

Aston Martin Vantage S verses Porsche 911 Turbo. That's a tough dilemma.

If asked to choose a weekend track car with those lottery winnings, I'd toss both aside and place my money on the Porsche 911 GT3 RS – that lightweight slot car is a no brainer. But, if asked to pick a sports car to fill the void in the third garage slot, one that would shuttle me to work a couple days a week, get front billing with the valet at the country club, provide me with an engaging driving experience up Mulholland Highway on days off and make me look over my shoulder each time I park, I'd choose the new Aston Martin Vantage S. But, really... can I get one with a manual transmission?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cord 812 Supercharged

In 1937 the 812 was offered with an optional supercharger and it became the ultimate Cord before the company closed indefinitely the same year. While the supercharged option didn't save Cord, the car was much better sorted then the first cars badged as 810 models.

Central to the Supercharged Cord was a Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger that was attached to the L-head Lycoming V8 engine. With 6 psi boost, it produced roughly 185 to 195 bhp. This was good enough to propel Ab Jenkins at an average speed of 101.72 mph for 24 hours on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Like the 1936 models badged 810, the 812 had eccentric styling designer Gordon Buehrig which was matched by some unorthodox engineering choices. To allow for more cockpit room, a bespoke transmission was fitted aft of the engine which initially caused many problems with reliability.

Four different bodystyles were avalble directly from Cord including the Convertible Coupe also known as the Sportsman, Beverly Sedan, Custom Beverly, Custom Berline, Phaeton, and Westchester Sedan.

Facel Vega HK500

It’s been said that nothing succeeds like excess. It sure did in the Fifties -- which may explain why the second-generation Facel Vega, the HK500, was simply more of the same. Announced in 1959, the new HK500 retained the basic chassis design of the original FVS, but had updated running gear and a restyled body of altogether more “transatlantic” character. The result, said veteran Mechanix Illustrated magazine tester Tom McCahill, was “sexier than the Place Pigalle and throatier than a Russian basso...a sporting piece of equipment that looks like money, which is exactly what it costs [$9,795]...a car to be appreciated as a remarkable and wonderfully satisfying road companion.”

The HK500 continued on the 105-inch wheelbase of the last FVS, so accommodation remained more 2 + 2 than full four-seater. (One British scribe said it helped if you had very small friends for back-seat passengers.) Still, the new envelope was smarter and more contemporary. The FVS had been somewhat rounded, more Forties than Fifties, but the HK500 was crisper and more Detroit-inspired, right down to stacked quad headlamps and a fully wrapped windshield with “dogleg” A-pillars.

The HK500 also continued Facel’s fondness for Chrysler V-8 power. Early examples carried the 325-horsepower, 354-cubic-inch hemi engine as in the ’58 FVS, but this gave way within a year to the American firm’s new 383-cid wedge-head unit, with two four-barrel Carter carburetors and a rated 360 bhp in this application.

As the HK500 weighed little more than the FVS, the bigger motor gave truly formidable performance. Top speed was at least 140 mph, and the 0-60 mph sprint consumed less than 8.5 seconds. Fuel economy, though, was more dismal than ever: only about 14 mpg, a big drawback in Europe. Pont-a-Mousson 4-speed manual and Chrysler 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic were available as before. So were the Dunlop all-disc brakes, but Facel sensibly made them standard equipment from 1960 on, along with power steering.Though faster, more stylish, and more roadworthy than its predecessor, the HK500 was still mainly a grand touring machine a comfortable, lavishly equipped high-speed cruiser of obvious quality.

Holden Torana A9X Hatch

The Holden Torana A9X Hatch is possibly one of the most desirable cars for Australian collectors … after all there were only 100 of them built for sale to the public between August and December 1977.

The very first Holden Torana A9X Hatch for sale to the public … serial number J590981 … would have to be the most desirable of all the Torana A9X vehicles that are around today and you can have it if you’ve got somewhere between $270,000 and $290,000.

That’s what this almost pristine car is expected to go for at Meguiar’s MotorEx auction to be held at the Sydney Showground over the weekend of July 24-25.

This vehicle was originally acquired by Ron Hodgson … a well known car dealer in Sydney … and has only traveled 16,000 km since new. Back then the A9X could be bought off the showroom floor for a mere $10,600 … oh to have had ten grand back then to snap up a vehicle like this (I think I was driving a Renault 12 in 1977).

The A9X was actually a ‘Performance Equipment Package’ available on a range of LX models fitted with the 5.0 litre, 308-cid engine and was introduced in August 1977 to ensure that it was eligible for the Bathurst 1000 of that year.

Although the A9X didn’t win Bathurst that year it did go on to be the most successful Australian Touring Car ever built by Holden.

While race versions were equipped with the L34 engine, T10 gearbox, roll cage, wide wheels and long-range fuel tanks, new Australian Design Rules and Emission laws dictated that all A9X Toranas rolled off the assembly line in the same, more basic specification, fitted with Holden’s stock L31 5.0-litre V8.

Significantly, the Holden Torana A9X was the first Holden ever to be fitted standard with rear discs and its Salisbury differential also meant the extra tall 2.60:1 final drive ratio could be used to advantage on Bathurst’s long Conrod straight.

The cars were also clearly identified by their new rear facing, bonnet-mounted carburettor induction scoop, one of the 100 or so differences that set the A9X apart from standard LX Toranas.

2011 Kia Sportage

After almost a decade on the market, the Kia Sportage has been replaced by a new model. It carries the same name, but the 2011 Sportage isn't anything like it was--now, it's a smarter blend of hatchback virtues and cute-ute styling, with more emphasis on economy than off-roading.

We're rating the Sportage a 6 here at FamilyCarGuide. It's useful for young families with smaller children, and scores well in safety tests, and has a stash of standard equipment that hits a sweet spot for today's in-touch drivers, though it's not quite as large or as practical as the Honda CR-V or Ford Escape.

Like its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Tucson, the 2011 Kia Sportage has hit the game-reset button. In replacing the Sportage, not refreshing it, Kia stretched it in most every direction to provide more interior room for people and cargo. It's most noticeable in front and in the cargo hold: good head and leg room are carved out of the Sportage's fun, blocky shape in front, and there's more storage space than ever.

The second-row seat is where you'll notice the Sportage still isn't quite as spacious as the CR-V or the Escape. Big adults will touch the headliner and the back of the front seats on a regular basis, though kids will have no problems, and though the rear doors are wide enough to load in a car seat with reasonable ease. The back seat folds down nearly flat, which means in theory, a Girl Scout troop's sidewalk cookie sale could move from hot spot to hot spot in one trip.

Kia's upped the safety profile of the Sportage, with standard curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control. For that, it's earned a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). None of the more exotic features you'd find on bigger SUVs can be had, even as options, but a rearview camera comes with models equipped with the available navigation system.

Performance is much better than before, and the new Sportage offers a choice of four-cylinder and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The base car will feel adequate for everyday driving, and its fuel economy is at the top of the segment, thanks to an available six-speed automatic. It's not particularly free-revving, but when it's combined with the Sportage's more lively steering feel and much more controlled--sometimes overly taut--ride, the crossover sheds forever the disconnected, bobbly feel that was a hallmark of the prior model. The turbocharged SX model is a bit of a surprise: it doesn't feel quite as quick as all that power would imply, but it does get minor tweaks that give it a distinct edge when compared to the ride and handling of the similar Tucson.

The Sportage's styling has been a hit with High Gear Media's reviewers from the word go. From some angles it owes much to European hatchbacks. The fenders and tough front end have more in kin with the bigger Sorento SUV (and the one-hit wonder, Kia's 2009 Borrego). The cockpit's even more swell, with better materials and fit than we've seen on pricier cars, and an available UVO voice controller for the phone and entertainment system that works much like Ford's SYNC setup.It's more expensive than before--a Sportage SX nudges the $30,000 mark--but the 2011 Kia Sportage is also much more composed, much more safe, and much more family-savvy than before. Sure, it's pint-sized in the grand SUV scheme of things--but sometimes, all you need is a clever crossover with a lighter touch on the gas than it leaves behind on the trail.

2011 MINI Cooper Countryman

Every luxury automaker, except for a few exotic holdouts, now builds a crossover vehicle. MINI joins the group in 2011 with the Countryman, a pint-sized cute-ute that's a good compromise for families that want some driving fun along with their all-weather, tall-wagon capability.

We're rating the 2011 Countryman a 6 here at FamilyCarGuide. The Countryman has a surprising amount of room in the back seat, and it's pegged the safety needle, but the cargo area is small and for now at least, MINI only offers the crossover in a four-seat edition. It's entertaining to drive, but it also gets pricey with all the customized graphics and add-ons MINI offers buyers.

A "big MINI" sounds like an oxymoron, but in the Countryman's case, there's real adult room to be found inside. This MINI's been planned out for more all-around utility than the smaller, three-door Cooper Clubman. It's taller, wider and longer, and it shows up inside particularly in the rear seats. Up front, the decent knee and leg room are a footnote compared to the cathedral-like headroom, with some to spare even when the optional sunroof is fitted. It's the same in the back seat, where grown-ups will touch their knees to the front seat backs, but won't hit the headliner even if they're tall. The downside: MINI only offers a pair of bucket seats split by a console in back, but there may be a five-seat version coming soon. The cargo hold is just 12.2 cubic feet, big enough only for a few roll-aboards, limiting the Countryman's use as a people-and-cargo hauler.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the Countryman's a 2011 Top Safety Pick, and backing up the scores are standard features like curtain airbags and stability control, with all-wheel drive available as an option.

For all it's given up to become a bigger, more useful MINI, the Countryman surely looks the part. All the typical MINI cues are present, or available from the order sheet. The grille and headlamps are immediately recognizable as a Cooper. The roofline jogs down at the rear, and when the roof is painted white (one of the hundreds of styling options), it's unmistakably a MINI. The interior's a bit less retro-tinged than other Coopers, and that's a good thing--there's less chaos in its controls, fewer toggles and switches to memorize.

On the road, the front-drive and all-wheel-drive Countryman both have the essential feel that MINI prizes in its cars. The steering's quick--maybe a little too quick--but the handling isn't like any other luxury crossover we can name. It simply begs you to wind up its free-revving four-cylinder engine, whether it's a turbocharged version or not, and even the optional automatic six-speed gearbox knocks off clean shifts willingly. Fuel economy of up to 35 mpg highway is a highlight.

You'll find power features, air conditioning and cruise control on every Countryman. From there it can be a dizzying, expensive walk through the options sheet. You can opt for leather trim; a sunroof; all-wheel drive; audio systems with navigation, satellite radio, and apps for connecting portable music players; and Bluetooth connectivity. Then there are dozens upon dozens of choices for wheel styles, paint colors, interior trim, add-on decals and graphics, cargo accessories and the like--almost guaranteeing that no two American-market Countrymen are alike.

2011 chevy cruze

With the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, General Motors finally has a world-class compact car that can compete with the likes of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla--even beating them on key features such as fuel economy and safety scores.

We're awarding the Cruze a score of 8 here at FamilyCarGuide. It's a compact car, and rear-seat space isn't spectacular, but the Cruze's exemplary performance in crash tests and its 40-mpg fuel economy rating in some versions makes it a great choice for smaller families.

Chevy's done well by families that need more front-seat room. There, legroom is phenomenal, with a couple extra inches of seat travel than you might find in other compacts. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, too, for a good driving position. Only the new VW Jetta comes close to the Cruze's front-seat space. In back, however, the Cruze reveals its compact nature. It's not wide enough for three adults to sit in back; two will fit, but barely, and head room is tight for taller passengers. The rear doors are short, too, so getting in or mounting a bigger car seat could be a challenge. The trunk, though, is 15.4 cubic feet, large by even mid-size-car standards.

The 2011 Cruze absolutely aces crash tests not only here in America, but around the world, since it's a global car. The IIHS and the NHTSA both give the Cruze their top awards, and features such as ten airbags and stability control are standard, while a rearview camera is an option.

The Cruze's base 1.8-liter four-cylinder is fine for many buyers, but we recommend the available turbocharged 1.4-liter four. Not only is it a better performer, it's also more fuel-efficient. In a special Eco version, it earns the Cruze a 40-mpg EPA highway gas mileage rating. It's offered with manual and automatic transmission options. The Cruze isn't our idea of a truly nimble car, but it has a nicely absorbent ride that works well with its well-sorted steering feel. It drives like a larger car than it is, which could be comforting to first-time compact buyers.

The Cruze also looks conservative in a handsome way, but it's a shape that breaks no new ground when compared with the newest Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra. It's more contemporary inside, where fit and finish are some of the best we've ever seen in a Chevrolet. Rich surfaces and high-quality materials telegraph how much progress GM has made in transforming itself.

The Cruze also has picked up its game in terms of standard and optional features. It's priced at a slight premium, but the Cruze has standard power features, air conditioning and cruise control. Bluetooth and a USB port are offered on most versions, as in the Elantra and Focus. GM also offers two flavors of navigation systems, one based on its OnStar system, the other a more expensive, car-based system.


There's no doubt that 1966 is one of the most popular Ford Mustang model years in the history of the car. In fact, March 1966 marked the creation of the millionth Mustang.
Although the first few years were definitely good for Ford and its sporty Mustang, 1966 was the year all that hard work truly began to pay off. By 1966, most people began to associate the Ford Mustang with power and performance. It was the car to have if you needed a daily driver and it was the car to have if you needed a weekend cruiser with a sporty edge.

1966 Ford Mustang Production Stats

Standard Convertible: 56,409 units
Luxury Convertible: 12,520 units
Convertible w/Bench Seats: 3,190 units
Standard Coupe: 422,416 units
Luxury Coupe: 55,938 units
Coupe w/Bench Seats: 21,397 units
Standard Fastback: 27,809 units
Luxury Fastback: 7,889 units

Total Production: 607,568 units

Retail Prices:
$2,652 Standard Convertible
$2,416 Standard Coupe
$2,607 Standard Fastback

Advertisements became popular reminders of the Mustangâs youthful spirit, such as one featuring two mature adults sitting in a new Mustang with the words, âYouth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.â It was the car to have it you were seeking the fountain of youth. It was the car to have if you were looking to win over your neighbor or hit the road for fun and adventure.

1966 Model-Year Highlights
  • New Wheels
  • New Grille Pattern
  • New Automatic Transmission Option for âHi-Poâ V-8 Models
  • New Instrument Cluster
  • New Rocker-Panel Trim
  • Revised Side Scoops

Model-Year Overview

In all, there were minimal changes to the Mustang in 1966. Production began in August of 1965 and featured a line up of: Coupe, Convertible, and Fastback. In all, Ford produced 607,568 total Mustangs in 1966. The car sported additional new colors, a redesigned grille, new instrument cluster, and new styled wheels. An automatic transmission became available for the âHi-Poâ V-8. Side scoops featured chrome trim with three wind-splits, and GT models received a new gas cap and driving lamps as standard equipment.
Ford offered a choice of four different engine configurations in 1966:
  • Engine Code T: 200 cubic inch I-6 engine @ 120hp w/9.2:1 compression and a one-barrel carburetor 
  • Engine Code A: 289 cubic inch V-8 engine @ 225hp w/10.0:1 compression and a four-barrel carburetor
  • Engine Code K: 289 cubic inch V-8 engine @ 271hp w/10.5:1 compression and a four-barrel carburetor
  • Engine Code C: 289 cubic inch V-8 engine @ 200hp w/9.3:1 compression and two-barrel carburetor

Vehicle Identification Number Decoder

Example VIN #6FO8A100005

6=Last digit of Model Year (1966)
F=Assembly Plant (F-Dearborn, R-San Jose, T-Metuchen)
08=Body Code (07-coupe, 08-convertible, 09-fastback)
A=Engine Code
100005=Consecutive unit number

1966 Ford Mustang Model lineup
1966 Ford Mustang Convertible
1966 Ford Mustang Coupe
1966 Ford Mustang Fastback

1968 Dodge Dart

The Dart is a car that never should have existed, given the Chrysler Corporation structure and hierarchy, but exist it did, and it was a sales success for nearly its entire run. The 1963-66 models were true compacts, with barely enough room under the hood for a 273 cubic inch V8; the 1967-81 models were wider and larger, with “big car” styling and enough room for a fire-breathing 340. (In the United States and Canada, these models ran from 1967 to 1976.)

In 1960, Chrysler had brought out the successful Valiant. Dodge managers demanded and received their own version; the resulting Dodge Lancer was essentially a Valiant with fancier trim. Its sales neared 75,000 units - disappointing in those days. Dodge product planners then moved the name of their “compact” Dodge Dart (700 pounds heavier and nearly two feet longer than their Lancer), whose sales had fallen from 300,000 in 1960 to 148,000 in 1962, to an extended-wheelbase version of the Valiant, a formula that proved more successful.

1967 brought new bodies that would carry the Dodge Dart to its end, nearly ten years later (the platform continued past that in export markets). Many consider the earlier Darts to be superior; they weighed less, felt more solid, yet had better cornering and, some say, a better ride. The 1967 and newer Darts were designed to handle larger engines, though, enabling the eventual use of the 318 and 340 cubic inch engines. They could also support a more conventional and, later, a more formal look that would be maximized in the successive generations that, while they eschewed the Dart name, were essentially the same car — the F-bodies and M-bodies.

In 1967, the Dart had V8 power from a 273 cubic inch engine as well as the 170 or 225 cubic inch slant-six. Three models were available, the Dart (170), 270, and GT, each with different options. The grille had a clear Coronet influence, while the tail was unique among the Dodges. The 270 was the most popular series, followed by the base model, wagon, and, trailing, the GT; only about 10,000 GT V8 models were made (along with fewer than 9,000 GT sixes). Outside of the GT, the sixes easily outsold the V8s, but the V8 was unquestionably popular. Nearly 113,000 Darts were sold in 1966 (not far from the Valiant’s sales).

The 1968s gave up different styling for the Dart and Valiant, for the most part; the front and rear clips remained unique, and the Dart kept its longer wheelbase... for a while. Hurst assembled a number of 1968 Darts for racing purposes, installing a full 426 Hemi into the small car, using parts supplied by Dodge; “Mr. Norm” started rebuilding existing 1968 Darts to make Hemi-powered 1968 Darts in 2007.

The Swinger model, an upscale version of the Dart (mostly sold in two-door form), was sold starting in 1969 as the cheapest two-door model (replacing the two-door sedan of 1968), and was also sold by Plymouth in two-door form as the Scamp.

The hot version was the Swinger 340, a Swinger with, not surprisingly, a 340 cubic inch V8, which made the Swinger into a fairly hefty muscle machine. The other two-door hartops were Custom, GT, and GTS; GT and GTS were gone when the 1970 models were introduced.

For 1971, Dodge introduced the Demon, essentially a Plymouth Duster, and the Demon 340 replaced the Swinger 340; the Custom hardtop became the Swinger, and the old Swinger became the Swinger Special. All were sold with much less success than the Duster; and when Plymouth returned the favor by bringing out the Scamp, a clone of the Swinger, it sold moderately well, but not nearly as well as the Duster itself. Canadians got a Scamp Special in 1971; Americans had to wait until 1976.

Road Test magazine tested the 340 Demon (similar to the 340 Duster) in April 1971. They got from 0 to 60 in a quick 7.8 seconds - remember, this is with an automatic and bias-ply tires - and ran through the quarter mile in 14.6 seconds at 96 mph, with a top speed of 127 mpg. Gas mileage was at 14 city, 17 highway, not far from the standard 318 and reasonably close to the slant six. Cornering, finish, luggage, performance, steering were rated excellent; details, instruments, quietness, ride, visibility, overall were rated very good. The base price was $3400 including tach, stereo cassette, and automatic.

The 1972 Dodge Dart brought many changes, especially considering the neglect the Dart would suffer from 1974 to 1976. The updates were both functional and cosmetic, and included new interior and seating options, with alterations to the grille, exterior lighting, door panels, seats, antenna (changed for FM reception and vandalism resistance), side marker lamps, backup lights (brighter), the gas cap, shift linkage, and bucket seat-back release. An FM radio became optional, along with an inside hood release. The alternator was upgraded, transmissions made quieter and smoother, electronic ignition added to the 340, and hardened valve seats installed on the slant sixes.

For 1973, the Dart had a 111 inch wheelbase and torsion-bar suspension (Dart Sport was 108 inches); new features for 1973 included standard electronic ignition and an optional sliding metal sunroof on two-door models.

The Dart 340 Sport, formerly the Demon, kept its 340 four-barrel V8; it was still quite a hot car, with a whoping 240 net horsepower and fairly light weight. The Dart Sport had an optional utility package providing six and one half feet of carpeted cargo area with the security panel and rear seat folded down; or a capacious (especially compared with the standard Dart) trunk with everything in the normal position. Both front and rear seats folded down (except the driver's seat). An electric heated defroster was available for the rear window. The 198 slant six was still available (except in California), along with the 225 slant six; the 318 was optional except on Dart 340 Sport, for obvious reasons.

The Swinger was essentially a two-door Dart with styling similar to the four-door. Standard equipment included a vinyl front seat (except Sport, Swinger Special, and Dart Custom, which got cloth and vinyl), simulated woodgrain, two-speed wipers, front armrests, deep pile carpet (except Dart and Swinger Special), dual horns on Custom and Swinger, and a heater/defroster. The base transmission was a three-speed manual, with an optional Torqueflite; the Dart 340 Sport could also have a four speed manual.

In 1974, the Valiant was finally put onto the Dart wheelbase, ending the main difference between them; Plymouth sales shot up, and Dart sales fell. For the first time, indeed, Valiant sales were nearly double those of the Dart. But in 1975, sales of both models, now considered to be too old, fell; neither had received a significant facelift since 1974. Changes for 1974 included a three-speed vent fan.

1975 Darts were on their way out, but Dodge still made numerous changes, switching to an economy rear axle for 318 models, increasing the heat/defrost system capacity by 14%, adding a resonator to 318s and slant sixes with the sound insulation package, making two-speed electric wipers standard (three speeds on SE), adding optional cruise control, speeding engine warmup with a heat valve in the exhaust manifold, and using a new molded dash liner to cut noise.

For 1976, the primary change was switching from clear front parking light lenses with amber bulbs, to amber lenses with clear bulbs. But by then, as Consumer Reports urged, customers were switching to the new generation compact car — very similar in construction, aside from the new (and less reliable) front suspension, — the Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen. 1976 customers who followed this advice would regret it — while those who stuck with the trustworthy Dart could gloat. Dodge and Plymouth A-body sales were nearly identical in this final year, but both sold at their lowest rate since introduction in 1960 and 1963; even then, the pair sold over 100,000 units. Today’s Chrysler would consider them a sales success even at their lowest point.

The Dodge Dart continued after 1976, in different forms; in Brazil, the Dart continued until 1981 with few differences, keeping the 1974-76 body style

In Mexico, the Dodge Diplomat was sold as a Dart starting in 1980; it had both two and four door versions, with six and eight cylinders, using the Aspen front clip on the Diplomat body.

1964 Dodge Polara

The start of the Sixties saw several new types of cars sprouting up in America as Detroit began fine-tuning its marketing. The 1962-1964 Dodge Polara 500 was one example. Aside from compacts, there were also "personal-luxury" cars and high-performance specials built to a formula that included V-8 engines, unique trim, and bucket seats. When Dodge mixed these ingredients, it cooked up the 1962-1964 Dodge Polara 500.

Imagine you're on some Survivor-type TV program, alone out on the vast Utah salt flats. It's dark, desolate, and there's a chill in the air. Out in the distance, three cars are quickly moving toward you, all with their low- and high-beam lights blazing. From among those 12 circles of light, your test is to distinguish the 1962 Dodge Polara 500 from the 1963 and 1964. How do you do it?

If you know your Polara 500s, it's easy. The car with the inboard lamps higher than the outboards is the 1962; the car with the inboard lamps lower than the out-boards is the 1963; and the car with all lamps at the same height is the 1964. (Hey, you never know when this information will come in handy!)

The 1962 Polara 500 was Dodge's first attempt at a personal-luxury car with performance overtones. As such, it was the product of many powerful forces at work in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Some -- the introduction of smaller cars and the sudden demand for bucket seating -- involved the entire American automobile industry. Others were peculiar to the Chrysler Corporation. A quick look is in order.

Despite all the fuzzy-dice fondness for the decade, the last few years of the Fifties were turbulent ones for the American automobile companies. After a record-breaking 8-million-car year in 1955 and a second-best 6-million-car year in 1957, the industry suffered with the rest of the American economy in a short, but deep, recession in 1958. Simultaneously, an unexpected slump in the medium-price car market eliminated Nash, Hudson, Packard, and DeSoto, and gutted Mercury. It turned the Edsel, Ford's new medium-price entry planned in the halcyon days of 1955, into a marketing and financial fiasco.

Moreover, as sales of these high-profit cars were declining, the rising popularity of the Volkswagen Beetle and George Romney's Rambler drove the Big Three to introduce new smaller "compact" cars in the fall of 1959, cars that yielded diminished profit margins. The car market was undergoing what we'd today call a "sea change." All over Detroit, product planners were asking, "What kind of car should we build?" Big or small? V-8 or six-cylinder? Front-engine or rear? More chrome or less? It was a time of great uncertainty and, therefore, great risk.