Greek Automakers, The Full List

Greek Automakers, The Full List

I had a feeling that after they filmed that horrible ABBA movie, something bad was going to happen to Greece.  Now it has, and the country is riddled with violent protests and bank bombings.  Fearing a complete collapse of the government, people around the world are focused on Greece and preparing for the worst.  These problems are just a part at the issues surrounding countries like Portugal and Spain, and could spell disaster for economies around the world.  With this in mind, I thought this would be the perfect time to celebrate Greek contributions to the automobile industry.

Not many people know that Greece builds cars, and even fewer care.  In spite of that, I will make a list of Greek vehicle manufacturers, and every achievement.  First, I need to find myself a Greek car expert.  After searching through the dark recesses of Greek car forums, I found Grigoris Sokratis, who is not an expert, but at least sounds like one.

According to Mr. Sokratis, Greece is famous for more than back hair; they once had a thriving little auto industry.  Vehicle manufacturing in Greece started at the turn of the century, but did not blossom until the mid 1960’s.  By 1984, however, the government enacted laws that restricted the industry and most car companies collapsed by 1990.

Fortunately, because of the short time period, we are able to sum up all the achievements made by the Greek auto industry in just three words: trucks, three-wheelers (I know, but it counts) and buses.  What follows is the most accurate and complete list of Greek automakers ever compiled: Theologou, Biamax, Sfakianakis, Saracakis, Namco, Neorion, ELBO, Petropoulos, Malkotsis, Scavas, AK Hellas, Attica, DIM, AutoDiana, Balkania, MAVA-Renault, MEBEA, Motoemil, Ros, SAM, and Styl Kar.

Hope you enjoyed yourselves, I know I did.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond
Photos courtesy of skyscrapercity.com

Eco People Hate Me

Eco People Hate Me

Eco people hate me.  I don’t know why because I recycle, I bring my own bag to the supermarket and I rarely ever turn on the heat or anything electrical.  All I know is that whenever I am at a stoplight next to someone in one of those green eco cars I get the same gesture every time.  I can tell you every person in my city that has a hybrid, and whether they have a manicure.  No matter who I see, they all are ready to kill me.

These people seem a little uptight, and I think it has to do with all the pressure on them.  They are not just looking to get better mileage, they’re charged with saving the world.  Instead of just buying a car that provides cheap and reliable transportation they are forced into a group that must single handedly reduce out dependence on foreign oil.  This belief is promoted by the automakers, the government, the media and every environmental group out there.  The poor owners just start out wanting to do something good for themselves and the country but then something happens.  Not long after, they are composting on the front porch and tacking solar panels to their adobe addition roof.  Everyone doesn’t have to be completely nuts about the environment, that’s what we have Ed Begley Jr. for.

I know how crazy they can be because I drive a Jaguar XJS Coupe with a humungous V12 engine.  They know about the engine because of an equally huge V12 badge on the back of my car.  As they are driving up beside me, that badge is like a billboard for seal harvesting.  The engine is something like 7 feet long and I am sure the tailpipes look like a coal plant belching out plumes of Black Death.   I’ve thought about removing the badge, but I don’t want to ruin the car, plus I know BMW and Mercedes have big V12’s too, but they hide that fact.  I wish everyone in a hybrid just tried to understand us as being sad people consigned to drive our ancient Hummers, Jags and Escalades because we can’t buy a new car.

It’s not like my car runs on sliced polar bear, it just drinks a little heavier at the bar, like Mel Gibson.  What’s funny is that I am probably doing as much to help the environment as they are, at least for the next 10 years.  That little Honda or Prius has to be created from nothing, and in order to do so it will need steel (strip mining and CO2 emissions) and plastic (drilling and petroleum product manufacturing) using energy (coal) to put it all together.  My energy was used ages ago during the renaissance by English people who burned peat, so something called my “lifecycle CO2 emission” is low.  The idea is that in the 15 years I’ve owned the car, I would have normally bought at least two new cars.  Therefore I have a smaller carbon footprint, of sorts.  In fact, my car is at this moment trying to recycle itself back into my driveway it’s so green.  Plus, I don’t use Biofuel, so I am not contributing to the massive escalation of corn crops for fuel.

Is it selfish, and just rationalization?  I don’t think so, in fact I’m thinking of going even greener…Didn’t Lincoln make a V16?

Photos courtesy of Ridelust.com and Freakingnews.com and blog.infinitylimited.net

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Is Alfa Romeo Coming Here?

Is Alfa Romeo Coming Here?

Alfa Romeo is back!  Those are the words we need to hear from Chrysler sooner rather than later, and that one simple phrase will return a true Italian icon back to American roads.

Alfa Romeo has been building cars since 1910 and is renowned for some of the most beautiful cars in automobile history.  Not a single Concours d’Elegance event around the world can occur without an Alfa in attendance.   In fact, Enzo Ferrari himself once worked for Alfa, and the company has a long history of race victories at events like the Targa Florio, Mille Miglia, Le Mans and Formula One.  There is one important rule in the car world:  “In order to be considered a true gear head, you must own at least one Alfa Romeo”.

Now that Chrysler is teaming up with Fiat, who owns Alfa, there is a better than good chance that we will start seeing great cars like the new Giulietta.  Instantly recognizable by the Alfa grille, this car is powered by a choice of three hot little turbocharged engines, making up to 235 horses and is designed around a new architecture called “compact” designed which improves road holding, agility and safety.  The suspension is a mix of MacPherson front suspension and multi-link rear suspension all controlled by a “DNA” selector, which allows dynamic, Normal and All Weather driving.  The overall design is similar in style to other Alfas but in a smaller, more compact body.

Essentially a 5 door companion to the Alfa MiTo, this car wears a nameplate that comes with almost 5o years of history.  The original Giulietta coupe was introduced in 1954 and instantly became a classic.  This car may not make it to that status, but it would be fun to see it here.  Plus, Alfa seems to always be in a situation where its future is unclear, so an open US market could help secure the brand.  I know I’ll be first in line to buy one.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

GM’s Campaign of Half Truths

GM’s Campaign of Half Truths

Have you seen the “New GM” TV ad in which Chairman Ed Whitacre claims that, “We have repaid our government loan in full, with interest, five years ahead of the original schedule”?

I was thrilled when I saw it.  This repayment reaffirmed my belief in both the administration’s decision to bail out the auto industry and the automakers themselves.  But like so much in the media today, it was only a half-truth. The devil lies in the details.

GM, or should I say “the new GM,” has paid back its government loan in full, but here’s the caveat: The money used to repay the loan came from a $13.4 billion dollar working capital escrow account given to them by the Obama administration.  So GM is using government money to pay back government money.  Hold on. It gets worse.

The reason they were allowed to use this so-called “working capital” to pay back the loan is so the White House could give them another loan (for $10 billion) to help them meet the new CAFÉ emissions standards, which were themselves imposed as a condition of the original bailout.  In other words, the feds knew handing GM another $10 billion would not go over well with taxpayers, so they allowed GM to pay back its original loan with the government’s own money to make the new “bailout” a little easier to swallow.

If you think that’s appalling, how about this? GM was given either $49.5 billion or $52 billion as part of the bailout, depending on who you ask.  After the loan repayment, the balance is about $42.8 billion or $45.3 billion, in which the US Government holds a 60.8 % stake in common and preferred stock.  GM is planning to pay this money back through a public offering later this year. Unfortunately, GM’s market cap has never been $50 billion dollars, let alone 60% of it, so there is no way they are going to be able to pay back the full amount at that time.  In fact, according to many sources, the US taxpayer should expect a loss of at least $35 billion dollars from the auto bailout.  This doesn’t include the loans made to GMAC, the financing end of General Motors.

GM has cut back to the bare bones, and in the process eliminated tens of thousands of jobs while cheating people out of legacy benefits through a bankruptcy which wiped out $95 billion of debt.  GM has posted a loss of $3.4 billion for the fourth quarter of 2009 and a staggering $88 billion loss from the last time it was profitable.

GM has lost the loyalty of the American people and having Mr. Whitacre tell half-truths is not the way to regain that support.  I hope Chrysler, which is performing even worse than GM, will not follow in the same footsteps.

Photos Courtesy of General Motors and ericsundwall.com

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Great Car Photos!

Great Car Photos!

Here are some cool photos from a website called Crank & Piston.  I have it saved as one of my favorite sites because of one photographer, Phil McGovern.  This guy takes some of the best pictures on the web and seems to be almost everywhere there is an event happening.  Check out some of the shots from the track, the scale and movement are amazing.  You should also check out the desert shots where the lighting is fantastic.  Below is just a sampling of some of the best shots from the site.  Let me know if you like the photos, and I can add some more to the galleries.

Photos via Crank & Piston

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Hope For The New Chrysler

Hope For The New Chrysler

I am going to say something I thought I would never say in my entire life, and something I assumed no one on the face of the earth would ever say again:  “I am excited about Chrysler’s future.”

These days, most Americans know Chrysler as the car company that files for bankruptcy every few years and may or may not still be in existence.   For the past three decades, their cars have been a bizarre combination of crap and brilliance.  I liked the Viper, the 300 and the Magnum wagon.  I even thought the Prowler was kind of cool the first time I saw it. But everything else was garbage.  Even Jeep, which was always a great brand, was ruined by Chrysler’s diet of pure fat and cheap parts.

But now a very strange thing is happening:  Chrysler, which made crappy cars, has joined with Fiat, which also made crappy cars, and the result could be some really amazing vehicles.  Fiat has spent a lot of time and money developing some great little cars, including the 500, which has gone from a quirky little Italian roller-skate to sexy European status symbol.

There is also talk that we may see the Grande Punto, Bravo, Linea and yes, dear reader, the Alfa Romeo.  Anyone who is a gearhead knows you must own at least one Alfa in your lifetime. And one more thing:  Fiat owns Lancia. Think of the possibilities.

Fiat has plans to change the way we think of Chrysler and has the muscle to actually pull it off.  Imagine all those beautiful engines making sweet noise on your local streets.  Newark would be transformed into Modena, Des Moines would look like Milan, Oakland will become Turin and beautiful people would glide gracefully past your house wearing scarves and dark glasses.  Chrysler has been reborn before, but this would be an Italian renaissance.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

My Personal Car History

My Personal Car History

I recently bought a new scanner and decided to scan pictures of every car I’ve owned and write a self- indulgent fluff piece about my personal car history.  The next 30 or so pages will list every car I have owned and the reasons you should rush out to your local salvage yard and buy one.  Enjoy.

1953 M381A Military Jeep

I learned to drive on one of these babies during the Vietnam War. (I was a 15-year-old living in Massachusetts at the time, but it was during the Vietnam War.) It had no doors and no roof. It had one of those old starter buttons on the floor and a wartime blackout light system.  How many kids could say that about their first car?  Among all my friends, I was the most prepared for a Russian invasion.

1973 Ford Galaxie 500 Sedan

Lulubelle was my first official car.  It was named after a tank in a war movie because you could ram it into anything and still come out alive.  The rear fenders grew rust holes that allowed the trunk contents to slide out, and major parts of the car fell off on a regular basis.  By the time I junked it, it was just a seat and a steering wheel, but it still handled quite well.

1965 Ford Mustang Notchback Coupe

A hand-me-down from by brother.  I couldn’t fix it so I sold it to someone who could and he made a boat-load of money off it. I got the last laugh, though, when I drove it into a pond.

1973 Volkswagen 412 Station Wagon

This car never made it past than the end of the driveway, but it had a cool German interior.

1972/1976 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency Coupe

Imagine its 1979 and most of the kids your age are driving beat-up Chevy Vegas or Novas.  Now imagine that you’re driving a luxury yacht with the biggest engine and back seat in automotive history.  That was me during my high school years.  My parents bought a pair of Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency Coupes and my best friend had a 1976 Cadillac Coupe Deville with curtains in the back window, and the two of us took these monsters around to parties. Those were the days.

1981 Ford Escort L

I had this car custom ordered with every option available and then drove it into the ground.  It didn’t get its first oil change until 65,000 miles. Eventually, the driver’s seat broke and I had to lean to the right every time I got behind the wheel.

1976 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency Pillarless Hardtop

Words to describe this car include “massive,” “behemoth,” “leviathan,” “herculean” and “titanic.”  Under the runway-sized hood was a 455 cubic inch Rocket engine, and inside were recliner-sized front “flight” seats made with leather and velour.  It was roughly the size of Giants stadium and could seat 60,000 comfortably.

1979 Cadillac Series Seventy Five Limousine

I started my own Limousine Company at 21 years old and this was my first limo.  It was a factory car without a solid divider and had a custom wood bar and one of the earliest Harris radiotelephones.  The phone had a control box in the trunk the size of a small stove and rarely worked properly.

1983/1986/1989 Lincoln Town Car Stretch Limousines

This car was a double-cut Armbruster Stageway, stretched once in the middle and once again behind the rear door.  It was originally a gift from Liza Minnelli to Tommy Tune and was equipped with one of the first “Billy Bars,” named after Yankee manager Billy Martin.  The next car was a 1986 Lincoln Town Car Stretch Limousine made by Carlos Allen.  The car featured a single stretch with a raised formal roof, double side bars, and custom burled mahogany woodwork.  Then I bought a 1989 Lincoln Town Car Stretch Limousine built by Bradford Coachworks, which was given to a customizer in Texas who added Level 2 Armor to the car, which is why none of my clients were ever assassinated while I was driving them.

1977 Ford LTD II / 1989 Mercury Grand Marquis

The Ford was named “Lurch” because that’s all it did. The Mercury was a floating island.

1990 Ford Probe LX

My next car was a Probe with a big V6 engine.  This car was all torque and cost me a ton of money in speeding tickets, but it was worth it for all the chicks I didn’t get.

1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera / 1999 Nissan Altima / 2000 Mercury Mystique

These were appliances, not cars, and the Nissan destroyed my belief that the Japanese could make a decent automobile.

1977 MGB Roadster

The MGB was my project car.  Purchased for $700, I took it apart, stripped it with a grinder and then let it sit for a few years at my brother’s house.  It was a fun car that made me feel like I was riding through the English countryside even when I was being carjacked by street thugs.

1994 Jaguar XJS Coupe

I always wanted to own a Jaaaaag.  This one is a cool Grand Tourer with a wide front and a tapered back. It’s stunningly beautiful from every angle.  The interior is layered in Connelly leather and Burled Elmwood and has the best concert stereo I’ve ever heard and even a weather band radio.  It has inboard and outboard rear brakes and takes 12 quarts of oil.  It has dual oil coolers, dual fuel pumps, dual blower fans, dual cockpit fuse boxes, dual everything and is only seven inches taller than a Ford GT40.  You can drive 150 mph down the highway and never spill a drop of your champagne.   I named her “Sarah” and love the reaction I get when I drive her around. This is the best car I have ever owned.

2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring Edition

I needed to get a “normal” car, but not too normal and I’ve always heard good things about the Miata, so I searched around and bought a beautiful Copper Red roadster.  More fun than my MGB, and more reliable than my Altima, this car is a blast to drive.  It has an automatic transmission that can be switched to manual, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, an upscale leather interior and the easiest convertible top I have ever used.  The Miata is a tiny two-seater with no space for anything, but it’s tons of fun and worth every penny.

That’s it. I’ve had 22 cars, most of which are listed here.  I think a person’s car history tells you a lot about them, and I enjoyed every car I’ve owned.   Let me know about your car history in the comments section.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

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My Favorite Old Car

My Favorite Old Car

In my life I have had the pleasure of owning 25 cars, which is a lot considering I am not that old.  The list includes cars that I purchased new and cars that were hand me downs from family members looking to pawn off damaged goods.   It is a strange selection, from a tiny MGB Roadster to three massive Lincoln Stretch Limousines.   I’ve owned classics like a 65 Mustang and a 94 Jaguar XJS Coupe to the not so classic VW 412 Wagon and Nissan Altima.  I have no skills as a mechanic, but have been fortunate to work on cars as varied as a NASCAR/North ACT Series Racecar to a rare Hispano-Suiza.

Each car has a story that goes with it, a memory that makes me smile.  Driving my MGB made me feel like I was always in an episode of the “Avengers”, while driving my Mazda Miata makes me feel like I am Michael Schumacher.  But the one car that gave me more happy memories than any other was my 1976 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency Brougham Pillarless Sedan.

I purchased the car from an advertisement in the newspaper, sight unseen, and picked it up the very next day.  The car was a leviathan measuring over 232.2 inches or almost 20 feet long.  It weighed almost three tons and needed a 7.5 Liter 455 Rocket engine to push it around.  This car was one of the last American whales, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier; with a hood long enough to launch fighters from.  The rear taillights reminded me of gothic windows in a cathedral, and the interior was like a private business jet with velour pillows on top of leather flight seats.  Even though the car drove like a canal boat in traffic, once on the highway the feeling was similar to lying on a raft while floating through gentle waves.  That floating sensation was once of the best things about the car and made me feel separate from the rest of the world.  With the windows up and the radio on, the car isolated you in a cocoon of velour and soundproofing.  The outside world became unimportant, and the worries of mere mortals didn’t concern me.  I was driving one of the biggest cars ever made, and it was a blissful experience…until I had to turn.  This would cause the car to start bouncing sideways, floating ever closer to the curb.  Using the brakes would make the hood dive until the car came to a stop, and then bounce back to its previous height.  This bouncing would continue for a long time unless you slammed the gas down again.  The suspension was so soft that even leaning on the fender would make the car bounce and the sound of the engine was overpowered by the sound of air rushing from the tailpipes.  Inside the car had every amenity of the period, from tilt wheel to accent lights placed under the dash lip to highlight the wood grain.  It even came with a Sterling Silver key that could be dropped in any mailbox when lost and a gold Tiffany & Company clock on the dashboard.

I miss that car, and still search eBay every week in search of another.  It was the car that everyone would pile into on an early summer evening to get ice cream.  The lines of the car looked best with all the windows down, highlighting the Pillarless look and I have pictures of it like that in the dead of winter. She was beautiful, but she also was expensive to maintain.  In order to get 10mpg from the car it had to either be going downhill or on the back of a tow truck.  One thing the car never suffered from was rust, which was very unusual for that year.   My parents had previously purchased a pair of Ninety Eight Regency’s and both had eroded slowly into the driveway.  My car remained pristine until the day I sold her, for a Ford Escort.  I have owned bigger cars like a Series 75 Cadillac Limousine or any of three stretched limousines, but none gave me the ride or the sheer enjoyment as that grand old lady.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Britain’s Death Row For Cars

Britain’s Death Row For Cars

Take a look at the photo below, and see if you can fathom the amount of cars sitting there on that British runway.

Shown are more than 14,000 cars waiting to be destroyed as part of the British version of “Cash for Clunkers”.   According to the Daily Mail Online, these cars are only a small part of the 400,000 being scrapped as part of a 28 million pound government program which gives owners 2,000 pounds back on the purchase of a new car.

Now take a closer look, and you will see newer Land Rover, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes cars in the mix all waiting for the end to come.  Like the American version, the Cash for Clunkers rule there requires that all these cars be scrapped, recycled and have their “shells crushed”.  Not one of these vehicles can be used again.  As a car guy, it bothers me to know that all these beautiful cars go to waste.  I can only imagine how many low income families would have loved a donated car for their use, or how much fun we could have had trashing them around the same runway.  What a waste.

Source: Daily Mail Online

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Back To The Future

Back To The Future

Do you remember daydreaming of a tomorrow in which cars would fly, food would come in pill form, everyone would live in glass bubbles, and extremely life-like female cyborgs would fulfill your every desire no matter how sick and twisted?  Okay, maybe that last one was just me.  Anyway, here is a great find to bring you back to the 1950’s.

How many of the things in that movie exist now?  None.  All we got was cell phones.  Many, many different kinds of cell phones. Oh well, maybe in another 50 years.

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

GM Tests New Test Drive Program

GM Tests New Test Drive Program

GM is either about to do something great, or one of the dumbest things I can imagine.  GM is making a change in the way they conduct test drives in a few key cities.  Buyers in Chicago, Philly, LA and Miami will be taken on a ride in a new Malibu, Equinox and Traverse and then given the chance to test cars from Ford, Toyota, Honda and others.

Now, I know the Malibu is a really nice car, but how will it fare when compared to a new Honda?  Plus the buyers can take their time trying other brands.  I think this is just going to create an opportunity for a better salesman to grab a sale.

GM is a company with a long tradition of bad quality products, terrible management and bankruptcy.  They have a lot of hurdles to overcome from the start, and giving people the opportunity to test drive the competition may not be a very smart idea.  But wait, they have an ace up their sleeve…GM plans on drawing attention to this program by using pop-ups on certain websites.  That’s right, pop-ups like in children’s books.  Who said things would never change in Detroit.

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Maybach Closing?

Maybach Closing?

News that the posh Maybach line may be closing its doors soon.  Sales of the car have been bad since 2007, with only 57 cars sold from November of 2009.  Daimler, which owns the company reported to the British magazine Auto Express that a plan has been created and is under consideration.  The Mayback just underwent a facelift, with a new grille, freshened look and a new hood.  It will be a sad day when this beautiful car is gone.

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Boring Car Design

Boring Car Design

Cars today are ugly.  Worse than that, they are boring.  They have become horrible blobs with hiked up rear ends, scoopy fronts, and lots and lots of cheap plastic.  They all wear the same silver or beige paint and have stances like a Rottweiler defecating.

Sure there are exceptions, which the manufacturers never cease to tout, but the average American family doesn’t have many choices.  Their cars are aerodynamic and plain and come with cloth seats and bulky controls.  The average family buys cars that are simple and affordable; safe and reliable little toasters recommended to them by Consumer Reports.

To demonstrate that today’s cars are interchangeable, I’ve devised a little quiz. Take a look at the six cropped pictures below.  Can you name the make and model of each picture?  The answers and full pictures are at the bottom of this post.

That trend is not the fault of the designers, however.  Go to any auto show and you will see some of the wildest concept cars imaginable.  Take a look at design boards throughout the industry – in design schools and on the web – and you will see cars that are truly amazing.  These cars never make it to the public because some bean counter or project manager decides the risk isn’t worth it.  Granted, it can sometimes take a billion or more dollars to create a new car, but too much caution is as bad as none at all.

Automakers need to take chances with design.  Back in 1955 American cars were huge monsters just beginning to grow fins and painted like Easter eggs in pastel blues and greens.  At that same time small European car companies revolutionized design with cars like the Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing, the Jaguar XK140 and the Citroen DS.  It can be done.  Great design doesn’t have to be only for Ferrari and Lamborghini.  People want to care about what they drive and one good design can bring a company back from the dead.  Just ask Bugatti.

Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Ford Taurus, Toyota Camry, Mitsubishi Galant, Chrysler Sebring

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

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