[The discussion jpcavanaugh started with his suggestion that GM should never have taken the B-Body Caddy out of production reminded me of this piece I wrote back in 2008. Before you flip your wig at one (or more) of my suggestions, keep in mind that taking me too seriously (ever) is the ultimate CC Deadly Sin]
For the third time (this is 2008), a dramatic oil price spike has thrown the auto industry a curve ball. And once again, after years of supersizing, manufacturers are lacking the right-sized, economical products for which the market is desperate. Instead of spending three to five years developing new cars from scratch, it’s time to dust off the best from the past and put them back into production. An air bag here and some updated engines and technology there, and these seven classics are ready to save the day in each of the major categories:
SUV/CUV: Gen1 xB. When a “compact” CUV weighs 4200lbs (Saturn Vue) a radical gastric bypass is the only solution for this whole bloated category. The classic xB equals or exceeds the front and rear leg/headroom of the Tahoe, weighs half as much, and gets almost three times the mileage. It will happily carry four oversized Americans on their rounds. Towing? The ski boat got repossessed (along with the Tahoe and the house), and it cost too much to run anyway. Throw in the 128hp 1.8-liter engine from the xD, and freeway ramps won’t seem quite so intimidating, especially when the occupants haven’t had their bypasses yet.
Pickup Truck: Toyota T-100. In this new era, pickups will be for serious but economical work only. The original T-100 long-bed with the torquey 2.7-liter four and five-speed stick is still in great demand with professionals who make an honest living with their trucks: landscapers, carpenters, farmers, and other sober folks who never bought into the Mega-truck fad. It can haul a load of gravel, and hit 25mpg. It’s the spiritual successor to the rugged, simple six-cylinder pickups of yore, and what I would replace my Ford F-100 with, if I had to (or could find one).
Sporty two-seater: Honda CRX-Insight. The CRX was a category buster. It created its own new genre of fast, economical and cheap fun. The Insight was Honda’s not-so hot too-small hybrid. But it was absurdly light (1850lbs) with extensive use of aluminum and magnesium and had super aerodynamics. Drop in a Civic Si engine with 197hp, and you’re looking at a wicked power-to-weight ratio, better than an STI. And mid-40mpg fuel economy to boot, if you can stay away from that 8,000rpm redline. The prototype has already been built.
Upscale Sedan: W-124 Mercedes. The 300E/W-124 from 1985 through 1995 was the last Mercedes to be “over-engineered.” The streets are still full of them, the last standard bearers of Mercedes’ one-hundred year tradition of ultra-solid, reliable and economical transportation. It has the potential to restore MB’s tarnished image. And with a little updating under the hood, it can be leading-edge economical too. Drop in MB’s latest 1.8-liter direct-injection Kompressor gasoline four or latest turbo-diesels, and combined with the W-124’s almost Prius-like aero cD of .28, superb mileage and excellent performance is unvermeidbar.
4 X 4: Suzuki Samurai. The Suzuki LJ and SJ series were/are the Jeep Wrangler for the rest of the world, where gas was never that cheap. The little Suzukis gained a cult following with their serious off-road capability, reliability and efficiency. A Samurai holds the Guinness world record for highest elevation (21,942 feet). In the US, the Samurai was vilified by Consumer Reports for its tippy tendencies through the slalom. Slap on ESC (with an off switch), an updated 1.6-liter engine, and it’s ready take on the Rubicon at twice the mileage of that pig Wrangler.
Minivan: Chevrolet Lumina (aka “dustbuster”). OK, you can get up off the floor now. Seriously, the Lumina was just a decade behind, or ahead of the times, depending on your perspective. It was aerodynamic, low, light, and its looks were…controversial. Just like the Prius. And therein is its redemption: the first hybrid aerodynamic van. Drop in the two-mode hybrid transmission from the upcoming Saturn Vue, team it up with the 1.4-liter turbo Eco-Tec, and the future is… on GM’s shelves, waiting to be assembled (lovingly, we can hope). Bob Lutz, this is your last chance to “leave our well-thought-of Asian competitors in the dust(buster)” [Update: Volt-tec instead?]
RWD Ponycar: Mustang SVO. GM may be dropping hints about a forced-induction four in the new Camaro, but Ford has already plowed that field. After the 1981 oil shock, Ford set out to create a new paradigm for the traditional V8 ponycar. Starting with a light-weight (3,000 lbs.) Fox-body Mustang shell, it bestowed the SVO with state of the art components: ventilated four-wheel discs, Koni adjustable suspension, 16” wheels, and an intercooled turbo four that cranked out 200hp. It was ahead of the times, yet behind too. By the time it saw the light of day in 1984, gas was cheap again, and so was the 5.0-liter liter V8 Mustang GT. Drop in a twin-turbo 330hp four, and say goodbye to turbo lag and hello to the perfect drifter, with a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution.
Any other nominations (four cylinders or less)?
[Update: these Classics were all picked for being available in four cylinder versions. The Chevy Caprice? Why not with with a turbo four? It worked for the Eco-Boost Edsel. And I argued very strongly that it should never have been put out of production in my CC of it]