Since I’ve been visiting the annual auto show in Detroit since 1988, I feel inclined to offer my opinions of some of the highlights, but please allow me to qualify my title. I’m an Midwestern old car guy. New cars have always left me wishing they were old cars, so I’m (by a hair) unqualified to deliver reports of the world’s latest and greatest. Additionally, my Michigan roots have fostered a relative disdain for anything lacking big-three branding. I may appreciate cars from abroad, but I’m unlikely to buy one, regardless of its American content. Finally, I hate SUVs. With that being said, away we go on a surprisingly evenhanded jaunt around Cobo Center! ***Warning–This post will be picture-intensive***
I’ll begin with what was perhaps the most sensational new car of the show, the Ford GT. It’s striking, but in a little kid’s Countach on the wall way. My prediction is that it will look equally dated 20 years from now. In the meantime, it was the obvious showstopper, with throngs of people almost visibly drooling over its incongruous flanks.
Underneath its carbon fiber skin, its Ecoboost V6 is somewhat controversial, but with over 600 horsepower and a ticket to world homologation at races like the 24 Hours of LeMans, complaints tend to get lost in the wash. Like it or not, “EcoBoost” is Ford’s new mantra, so it makes sense to use a proven engine that is currently propelling several Daytona Prototypes to high-profile victories.
As if to accentuate the over-the-top virility of the new GT, and give a knowing nod to its origins, Ford brought an original to display. Still one of the most heart-arresting race cars of all time, its timeless, understated beauty is everything that the modern one is not.
In fact, the Ford GT from 10 years ago featured lines that were obviously influenced by the original. It wasn’t an outright forgery, but that is only obvious when the two are parked side-by-side. That the original design was forward-thinking enough to still look fresh 40 years later is a testament to its beauty. As a result, this GT is worth even more today than it was new, one of the few modern vehicles to actually appreciate.
On a nearby stand was the Shelby GT350R, Ford’s new Z/28 fighter, with a flat-plane cranked 5.2-liter Coyote-based V8. As is typical with any storied nameplate, the new Mustang is polarizing. I like it, but sometimes wonder if Ford took too evolutionary a step with it. It’s also too heavy.
Nearby, to make me feel at home, was a ’65 GT350R, which today is certainly more valuable than the new one (but also far less capable).
Over at the Acura stand, the production NSX revolved in a ravishing red, obviously upstaged by the GT. I like it.
For a supercar, the NSX is actually quite subdued, lacking some of the evident aerodynamic frippery of the GT. Cleanliness compels.
Over at Mazda, the new MX-5 Miata rocked a lurid red-orange pearlescent hue. Give me a helmet and an autocross event and I’ll be right back. Even though the Miata remains true to its original purpose, it has not escaped the creeping bloat that hamstrings many long-running nameplates. Park one side-by-side with an original and it’s obvious.
From what I’ve read, the Alfa Romeo Spyder that was in concurrent development (and based on the Miata platform) is now a no-go. Alfa just can’t get a foothold in the States, it seems.
While on the subject of Alfa, the 4C was on rotating display with some vintage racers that I couldn’t effectively photograph. They also had, arguably, the prettiest models of the event, because the Italians always bring the flair. Many pundits have declared the 4C a modern work of art, but I’m not entirely sold. It’s tall, wide, and short, but still attractive.
This is the Mini Superleggera concept. It only looks like a Mini from the front.
From the rear, it looks more like a Valiant XNR concept with Union Jack taillights. The modern Mini is a nonstarter of a topic as far as I’m concerned, but this concept is one that stopped me at the Mini display for perhaps the first time.
Over at the Chevrolet stand was the new Bolt concept, which is fully electric. Not that I’ve paid much attention, but journalists were hailing this as a Tesla competitor. Uh, OK. Someone, somewhere must be drooling over this, but the crowds weren’t exactly pressing in for a closer look.
Luckily for me (a man whose natural odor is car exhaust), Chevy also displayed their new Z06 convertible. The Z06 makes me wonder if the horsepower pendulum hasn’t swung too far in the other direction. Is is responsible to unleash 600-700 horsepower on a public whose capabilities as drivers is based on their incomes? Hypocritically, I wouldn’t mind driving one, but I’m a public employee and its near-$100,000 price tag is just a hair out of reach.
Compared to Chevy, Buick didn’t fare as well, in my opinion, for several reasons. First, can we stop just rebadging Opels and shipping them to America? They’re nice as Opels, but this car underscores the idea that Buick no longer has any identity at all, not even as a car for the elderly. Second, please give the car a name that can be defined as an English word. Cascada? Isn’t that a laundry detergent? Finally, yuck. I’m not sure anyone in the world could make a convertible more bland than this. It is innocuous.
Buick also introduced the Avenir concept (is that a brand of cheap jewelry?), which is a little more intriguing (is that an Oldsmobile?) than the Cascada. It has a bit of boattail in the rear window and trunk area, but it would be nicer as a two-door with a Riviera badge. Unfortunately, people just aren’t buying big two-doors these days, so I understand why it’s not.
With that being said, the Cadillac stand showcased one of my favorite new cars, the ATS-V coupe. The last generation CTS coupe was dramatic, but its rear end was so comically gigantic that I couldn’t quite buy in. This one’s a beauty. It’s understated in appearance, but outrageous in twin-turbocharged power. Regarding the color…it’s a matte white, and I’m sure it’s an expensive extra cost option. When did having a car that looks like you slapped a coat of primer on it in the garage become fashionable?
Regardless, if I didn’t spend all my money on old cars, I’d likely buy one of these (a year old) or a new Mustang. At first, I thought they were too plain, but after seeing them in person a few times, I was hooked.
Nearby, the new CTS-V conceals a Z06 engine under its matte bonnet. The CTS sedan is attractive, too. A coupe may be better, but it’s unlikely to happen.
As the poster child for the more money than driving ability crowd, here’s the new Challenger Hellcat engine. At 707 horsepower and roughly 20 miles per gallon, it really is an achievement.
I’ll finish off with a few global entries. This Jaguar F-Type is one of the most seductive new cars on the planet, but it’s still hippy and girthy compared to an original E-Type. Modern safety equipment and amenities are nice, as is a large tire contact patch, but it all has to fit somewhere.
On a less expensive note, I’ve admired the Scion FR-S since they were introduced. Considering that I could get a nice V6 Mustang for the same price, however, it wouldn’t exactly be on my purchasing radar. Still, one of these on Brockway Mountain Drive in the Keewenaw Peninsula would equate to a pleasant day.
Godzilla, as he often attempts to do, will bring an end to our proceedings. The Nissan GTR Nismo is perfect for a quick getaway, even if it isn’t quite my style. The North American International Auto Show is an extremely crowded event, but one not to miss, even if only to reaffirm one’s love for outmoded forms of transportation.