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Love It Or Hate It? BMW M Coupe

November 28, 2014 by Matt

BMW M Coupe Z3 Silver

It’s awkward. But is it awesome?

The 1998-2002 BMW M Coupe was the German automaker’s attempt to graft a roof onto their Z3 convertible, introduced in 1996. Eschewing a traditional fastback look, BMW graced its new coupe with a shooting-brake-style boxy profile, with a predominantly flat roof and a more upright backlight.

The automaker also offered a non-M Z3 Coupe concurrently with the top-of-the-line M model; the lesser car shared the M Coupe’s roofline without its swollen fender flares and other aero bits. For our purposes, I’d like to focus on the M Coupe, since it represents the fullest expression of BMW’s styling intentions.

BMW M Coupe Z3 Blue

Dynamically the car was a hoot. Powered by a 315-hp version of the M3’s S54 straight-6 for the last couple of years of its model run, the M Coupe’s compact wheelbase, muscular engine and warmed-over version of the then-15-year-old trailing arm rear suspension from the E30-generation 3-series made it quite a handful at the limit. While capable of a 4.8-second sprint to 60 mph, from a handling standpoint, Car and Driver noted “The M coupe provides the performance pieces and says, ‘Good luck.'”

BMW M Coupe Z3 Interior Inside Cockpit Console

The cockpit reflects the gothic pretensions of the exterior styling with its chrome-ringed instruments and secondary controls. It’s a bit of a jarring statement from an automaker known for its aesthetic restraint. On the other hand, maybe BMW finally “cut loose” with the M Coupe’s styling and dynamic qualities. As different as it was from the rest of their understated lineup at the time, it’s easy to view the M Coupe as a back-of-the-napkin project, the kind of endeavor designers and engineers cook up on their lunch breaks and weekends. That quality gives it a kind of “Skunk Works” appeal.

I hate the way it looks, but I can see why it’s the holy grail of many BMW enthusiasts. It integrates visual and driving character like few sports car have. It looks fast, fun and ugly—and that’s exactly how it drives. What you see is what you get. In many ways it’s the Dodge Viper of BMWs, but with an ever-so-slight dose of German refinement just to make the whole experience bearable.

The 1998-2002 M Coupe polarizes enthusiasts as few do. Maybe, in the end, that’s the measure of its success?

Image credits: netcarshow.com, caranddriver.com

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A Look at the New Toyota Supra’s Inspiration:
The FT-1 Graphite

November 14, 2014 by Matt

Toyota FT-1 Graphite

Much like the 1993-1998 Supra was criticized for being a mashup of details lifted from various sports cars, Toyota’s FT-1 Graphite concept, allegedly the inspiration for the upcoming resurrection of a Toyota sports GT, reveals various styling influences.

I think it’s a great looking concept. I appreciate the fact that the nose is “enclosed” and doesn’t feature a gaping maw like the latest designs from Toyota’s upscale brand, Lexus. However, the nose does recall those on two of the most aesthetically-successful Lexus designs: The first-generation SC coupe and the latter-day LFA. As styling inspirations go, Toyota could certainly do worse.

Toyota FT-1 Graphite

The deeply-drawn nose intakes give the nose and fenders an almost separate, “podded” look. Toyota pulled the plug on its factory Formula 1 team five years ago, but the visual similarities between the FT-1 Graphite’s front clip and the nose and front wing area of an F1 car are hard to deny. I see some of Panoz’s paradigm-bucking, front-engined GTR-1 endurance racer in there as well.

Toyota FT-1 Graphite

The new concept’s most obvious connection with the late, great Supra is in profile, where it adheres to the classic hunkered-down road-eater aesthetic featured by its predecessor and common to all great GTs. It’s a traditional long-nose, short-tail look that even the complex body sculpting doesn’t overpower. The quarterlights are a bit of a head-scratcher, though, since they sport a very Nissan Z-Car-like turn-up kink as they taper toward the rear. From a visual standpoint, it works, but it will probably be difficult for Z-Car buffs to ignore that detail.

Toyota FT-1 Graphite Interior Inside Cockpit Console

The interior is more traditional, if unadventurous, concept car territory, which is to say it looks like Ikea designed a fighter jet cockpit. At least it has a slight nod to the Supra’s interior styling with the quasi-wraparound element to the right of the steering wheel. Naturally, there’s no hint of a third pedal because, well, that’s the way the performance car world turns these days.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the FT-1 Graphite is a winner. A few things remain to be seen, among them how much of its styling Toyota intends to translate to a production car and the all-important question of what exactly will motivate the resultant Supra sequel. My money’s on either the Lexus RC-F’s V8 or, more likely, a cutting-edge hybrid setup that would allow the automaker to leverage the expertise it’s gleaned building hundreds of thousands of Priuses in a more performance-oriented direction. Naturally, I would love to see a revival of the turbocharged inline-6, a configuration the Supra utilized to spectacular effect but effectively extinct from the modern car marketplace except for BMW’s efforts. We’ll see.

Image credits: netcarshow.com

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A Local Find: 1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

November 6, 2014 by Matt

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

This would test the dedication of even the most diehard Alfa Romeo enthusiast. It would be a labor of love, no doubt about it.

But really, what better car is there to fall in love with an than an Alfa GTV?

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

This 1972 model is obviously pretty far gone. The external rot is just the beginning; it’s a certainty the cancer extends far underneath the skin.

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

Still, the GTV’s classic proportions shine through. Restored and sitting on some proper period wheels (maybe a set of Minilites/Panasports?), the little Alfa is a real head-turner.

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

The large bumper overriders detract a bit from the purity of the car’s lines. I wonder how feasible an earlier bumper swap would be? At least hideous, blocky 5-mph impact bumpers hadn’t yet been mandated in 1972.

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

The interior is, as expected, completely trashed. The dash is cracked, plastic instrument bezels are glazed and the seats are in a sorry state.

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

The interior restoration might prove more time-consuming than the bodywork. A multitude of clips and trim pieces need to be refurbished or sourced and replaced. Attention to detail counts for a lot here.

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

The GTV’s 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine was rated at 130 hp and was fuel-injected, all the way back in 1972, giving the 2,200-lb car sparkling performance for the day. It wasn’t quite as fast as a 240Z, but very competitive with a BMW 2002. Not only that, the Alfa had real handling chops and a competition pedigree; its beauty was more than skin-deep.

1972 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000

The seller is asking $4,450. It sounds high, given the car’s decrepit condition, but consider that a nicely restored example can command $15,000 or more…

What do you think?

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Styling Misfires:
The 1989-1997 Ford Thunderbird

October 29, 2014 by Matt

Ford Thunderbird Beige

They never could figure it out.

The nose, I mean. They tried four times—four—over the course of the tenth-generation T-bird’s eight-year model run and still couldn’t get it right.

Sure, the various noses were representative of certain engine options and trim packages, and it’s common for automakers to tweak a car’s appearance based on the extras the buyer specifies, but still—it’s noteworthy that none of Ford’s fascia treatments of the ’89-’97 car is successful.

Ford Thunderbird Red

The design of the rest of the car isn’t much to write home about either. It clearly apes the proportions of the BMW E24 6-Series in profile—not a bad car to copy styling-wise—though with far less panache and character. That said, the lines are relatively straightforward, so it shouldn’t be that hard to pen a fascia that coheres with the rest of the car, right?

Ford Thunderbird Blue

What’s the issue? Simply put, the bumper is too big relative to the headlight-grille area. The bumper-to-grille ratio of the ’89-’97 T-bird’s inspiration, the BMW E24, is much more balanced and thus, successful. Compounding the problem is the fact that in two iterations of the car’s nose, prominent bumper intakes draw far too much attention to the ill-proportioned area, like a pimple on an oversized nose. Furthermore, the later “refresh” cars’ bumpers and headlights (shown above and at top) have a curvy, organic quality completely at odds with the boxiness of the rest of the car. There’s a huge disconnect.

Ford Thunderbird Blue

Arguably the most successful nose is that of the pre-refresh non-Super Coupe car, shown above. The area around the emblem is closed, and the visually-overpowering bumper intakes are absent. It’s more understated—but very bland, and still a long way from attractive.

Underneath the skin, the tenth-gen T-bird was a nice car, if a couple hundred pounds overweight. It was technically interesting, featuring independent rear suspension and the option of a supercharged V6 and 5-speed manual transmission. Later cars could be spec’d with the 4.6l SOHC version of Ford’s very competent Modular V8 engine, albeit only with an automatic attached to the back. It’s a shame the styling didn’t live up to the chassis and powertrain’s promise, contributing to the ’89-’97 car’s demise, and ultimately, except for the last-gasp, retro-themed ’00-’05 car, the end of Ford’s storied line of personal coupes.

Image credits: binatani.com, auctionsamerica.com, autoevolution.com

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein we discuss unsuccessful cars whose styling was their overlooked (or denied) Achilles heel. Read the other installments here:

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Bring It Over: The New Mazda 2

October 24, 2014 by Matt

2015 Mazda 2 Demio Red

The new Japanese version (Mazda Demio) of what’s badged in the rest of the world as the Mazda 2 has won its home market’s coveted car of the year award for 2014, Autoblog reports. Fortunately, it appears the car will be sold in America, despite rumors the US market—historically unfriendly to tiny hatchbacks—would be excluded from the worldwide rollout.

2015 Mazda 2 Demio Red

I might be even more excited about the new 2’s introduction than I’ve been about its “new wave Mazda” predecessors, the CX-5, 6 and 3. The first-generation Mazda 2 was a highlight of the small car wars and a personal favorite. It maintained Mazda’s signature emphasis on the fun-to-drive factor despite the cost-cutting demands of its market niche, and I also found the design quite sharp-looking. Yes, the 2010-2013 model was a member of the previous Mazda “smiley face” design class, but its grin was much more restrained and less absurdly happy-looking than previous-generation Mazda 3’s. And now the styling has gotten a complete makeover, ditched the face and given the flanks and rear a few well-placed creases. It looks like a million bucks.

2015 Mazda 2 Demio Interior Inside Cockpit Console

As sharp as the exterior lines are, the new 2’s interior may be its trump card. Cribbing liberally from the new Audi A3’s cabin themes, the new Mazda’s interior treatment looks fresh, clean, tidy and above all, upscale—something that can be said of all recent Mazda interiors. On first glance, I can honestly say I’d rather spend time in the $15K Mazda 2 than in many cars costing several times as much.

Fundamentally, between the inside and outside styling, the engine, powertrain and chassis, the new 2 seems completely resolved. There doesn’t appear to be anything transitional or ill-advised in any element, and that confidence prompts me to reiterate the declaration I made in my post on the 2010-2013 car: If I were in the market for a small hatchback and I had to buy new, a Mazda dealership would be the first stop on my shopping list. If I get a chance to do a test drive review, I will. Stay tuned.

Image credits: netcarshow.com

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Underrated Lookers:
The ’89-’91 Oldsmobile
Cutlass Supreme Coupe

October 17, 2014 by Matt

1991 Olds Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme White

Let’s get a few things out of the way here:

  1. Am I reaching a bit? Maybe.
  2. I hate the name. Hate everything about it. As I wrote in my post on car names, it sounds like a pirate’s dessert. Yarrrgh.
  3. Is it FWD and a turd to drive? Yes and probably.

Still—whenever I come across an ’89-’91 Olds Cutlass Supreme coupe during my commute, I notice it. It’s the proportions that really distinguish it. Examine the car in profile, and a clean, if somewhat boxy teardrop shape emerges. Most of the credit for that goes to the expansive, gently-tapering backlight and the way the rear quarterlights meet the back glass in such a way that they conceal the C-pillar, creating a kind of wraparound “cockpit” look. The nose detailing, too, is very understated and clean. The front overhang is a bit long—thank the Cutlass’ FWD platform for the way the wheels are pushed back—and keeps the car from exhibiting truly European sports sedan proportions, but it’s not a glaring aesthetic flaw in the vein of Chrysler’s cab-forward styling phase. The mounting of the door handles on the B-pillars is an unnecessary touch, but it’s not a debit, and it does clean up the car’s flanks a bit.

1991 Olds Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme White

The ’89-’91 Cutlass coupe’s cheapness and the fact that it’s a bit of an unsung hero from a design standpoint means more than a few have been uglified and tarted up with all kinds of stripes, stickers and chrome appendages, obscuring the fact that underneath it all, it’s basically a very handsome car. The big Olds coupe underwent a styling refresh for the 1992 model year, in the process adding a dollop of superfluous body cladding and replacing the crisp headlight treatment with an ill-advised “hex-mini-light” design. The proportions are still there, but the details are overdone and distracting. As for the original ’89-’91 Cutlass coupe, it’s a shame it doesn’t get more credit.

Image credits: cardomain.com, edmunds.com

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design we find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

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Another Boxy ’80s Audi:
The Early Coupe GT

October 10, 2014 by Matt

1983 Audi Coupe GT

I think this might have been what I always wanted. I just didn’t know it.

I’ve written about the ’81-’87 Audi Coupe GT before; it’s a personal favorite of mine. I daily-drove a 1986 Audi 4000 quattro for a couple of years, a car that shares the Coupe GT’s interior, engine and basic structure, only with a pair of rear doors and AWD instead of the Coupe’s FWD. So I learned to really appreciate what Car and Driver lauded as an “uncluttered,” “simply and tastefully trimmed” interior coupled with “dead-nuts accurate” steering “full of road feel.” For any car with sporting pretensions, getting those elements right, among others, is a great place to start.

My ownership experience wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, though. The 2.2-liter straight-5 made a nice burble, but 110 hp was completely inadequate when it came to moving the little sedan along with any kind of alacrity, despite the best efforts of the close-ratio 5-speed. Blame the car’s 2,800-lb weight for that.

1983 Audi Coupe GT Interior Inside Console Cockpit

But most significantly, I fell into what I’ll call Enthusiast AWD Delusion Syndrome. My reasoning was as follows: I appreciate the superiority of RWD over FWD the standpoint of engineering balance and how that affects the driving experience. Architecturally, my Audi 4000 was effectively a FWD car with a driveshaft, rear diff and axle shafts tacked on. In my mind, though, the mere fact that the rear wheels were driven meant it seemed more like a RWD than a FWD car. Naturally, this conceptual shift was completely at odds with the 4000’s behavior on the road, where it felt very nose-heavy, understeered resolutely and didn’t exhibit any of the fun tail-happiness characteristic of the best RWD mounts. But, just to underscore the point, my idea of the car changed when I discovered it had AWD; in my little automotive world, I felt like I was more of a true enthusiast because I hadn’t compromised and bought a FWD car, never mind the fact that the Audi’s balance and handling were, for all intents and purposes, identical to those of the layout I was trying to avoid. Furthermore, I have a feeling Enthusiast AWD Delusion Syndrome is more widespread than is generally realized, but that’s a topic to expand upon in another post.

So what does any of this have to do with the Coupe GT? Simply put, it shares all of the positives its sister car, my little 4000, and shores up the two deficiencies noted above. Is it RWD? No; it’s FWD, but it doesn’t deceive the enthusiast into thinking it’s more balanced than it is, and the lack of rear running gear nets a 400+ lb weight savings over the 4000, sharpening the car’s responses even further and, more significantly, freeing up the powerplant to shave a good second and a half off the 0-60 time. The Coupe GT is lighter, more tossable, quicker, less complicated and more straightforward than the 4000.

1983 Audi Coupe GT

It’s a great looking car, too. From an aesthetic standpoint, in spite of their more prominent black bumpers, I much prefer the early, pre-facelift ’81-’84 GT to the ’85-’87 car. The refresh may share the earlier car’s proportions and stance, but in being smoothed out and cleaned up, it lost some wedgy-ness, some of the attitude of the ’81-’84 model. The earlier, boxier car share a visual kinship with the first-generation VW Scirocco and Golf GTI, good company indeed, and a pair of cars, like the Coupe GT, their automaker got just right the first time. I just wish I had known it.

Image credits: topcarguide.com, audiworld.com, coolcarswallpaper.com

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