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Posts filed under ‘Chevrolet’

A Production Chevy Code 130R?

February 15, 2013 by Matt

Chevy Chevrolet Code 130R Red Concept

Yes, please.

Left Lane reports Chevy may be considering a production version of their well-received Toyota FR-S/ Subaru BRZ-fighter, the Code 130R concept car:

GM hasn’t officially green lighted the 130R, but the Detroit-based automaker is at least considering ways to make the car a reality. …

[A] production version of the 130R would be loosely based on a version of the rear-wheel drive Alpha platform that underpins the Cadillac ATS.

Considering the Alpha platform is arguably the most successful piece of the ATS package—most reviews gush over its handling poise, steering feel and overall balance—a dealership-ready Code 130R built on that chassis would likely stand a good chance of being Chevy’s first real driver’s car since, well, ever.

Granted, to secure my fandom, Chevy would have to cleave to the concept’s formula and develop a FR-S/BRZ alternative. In practice, this means they would have to keep the weight low (sub-3,000 lbs), keep the car low-priced and basic, emphasize the fun-to-drive factor and above all, keep it RWD. If Chevy does all that, they’ve got a least one banner-waver in the enthusiast community right here.

Chevy Chevrolet Code 130R Concept Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

The sticking point in the whole idea is the fact that Chevy’s own V6-engined Camaro occupies roughly the same low-$20K price point as the Code 130R presumably would, packs a good deal more punch under the hood and has massive name recognition to boot. Is the market for small, back-to-basics RWD sports cars strong enough to support both the FR-S/BRZ twins and the Code 130R? Given the choice, would enough buyers opt for a slower but more fun-to-drive 130R over a V6 Camaro if both are similarly priced? Open questions, but ones I’d love to see explored.

Image credits: cars.about.com, otoplush.com

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Is The New C7 Corvette
the Most Boring Car on the Road?

January 11, 2013 by Matt

Chevy Chevrolet C7 Corvette Vette 2014 New

So the 2013 Detroit Auto Show is coming up, and the introduction overshadowing all other activity is that of Chevy’s 7th generation (C7) Corvette. It’s automaker’s halo car and bonafide proof that in spite of the general lack of quality of American cars compared to most of our rivals around the globe, we can create a world-beater when we put our minds to it. The C7 will undoubtedly exhibit pavement-buckling power from its signature pushrod V8, and astonishing capability around a circuit.

Chevy has announced a figure of 450 hp for the C7’s heavily revised LT1 6.2l mill. The new engine’s output complements updated suspension (still sporting transverse leaf springs at the rear) and a thoroughly reworked interior to address longstanding criticism of that aspect of the Corvette. The trip from a standstill to 60 mph is expected to take less than 4 seconds, while the car’s price is likely to comfortably undercut just about anything with remotely the C7’s level of capability.

Chevy Chevrolet C7 Corvette Vette 2014 New Engine Motor LT1 SBC Pushrod OHV V8

So, completely void of sarcasm, it’ll be a fantastic car. The automotive press will burst into spontaneous applause when the veil is lifted Sunday night as scheduled, and wax lyrical over its specifications and abilities, amply hyped by the GM press machine.

And I couldn’t be less interested.

Let’s look at the formula: Front pushrod V8, rear drive, shark-y looks. That’s the Corvette template, and it hasn’t changed in the past 50 years even as Chevy has refined, perfected and polished it to its current state of brilliance. Again, I’m not arguing the car’s capability, or even how exciting it is to drive—I’ve no doubt it would utterly blow me away—but the concept of the car is beyond uninteresting at this point. The execution is near-flawless, but I (and many other enthusiasts) place a premium on creativity, and engineering adventurousness—and those two qualities are completely absent the C7’s specification.

So the idea of the Corvette bores me. But the most boring car on the road? Really? More so than, say, an Accord or a Camry? Well, yes. Consider: The Accord or the Camry’s laundry list of technological features is probably equally as uninteresting as the Corvette’s—but the Accord and Camry aren’t created to be exciting. There’s little contrast between the creativity invested in either their concept or execution; they’re thoroughly competent, full stop. The Corvette, on the other hand, was designed with driving excitement and excellence as an end goal, and as such the dramatic difference between the lack of originality in its layout or details and the dominant nature of its performance is front and center. I really can’t think of an less interesting car that does what it does so well.

But that’s the Corvette way. I really don’t expect anything to change when the curtain is drawn Sunday night.

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Styling Misfires: The Chevy SSR

November 9, 2012 by Matt

Chevy Chevrolet SSR Hardtop Pickup Yellow

Nope. Nope nope nope.

If there ever was an instance where an automaker should have ignored the “auto show buzz” surrounding a concept and not put it into production, this is it.

Manufactured between 2003 and 2006, the SSR was Chevy’s attempt to capitalize on the retro trend pioneered by the 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird and 1998-2010 VW New Beetle. Only, in the Chevy’s case, its direct design influences weren’t that obvious. Was it reminiscent of a stepside pickup truck? Was it supposed to recall a hot rod? An El Camino? The SSR’s murky visual lineage dampened its appeal considerably.

Chevy Chevrolet SSR Hardtop Pickup Yellow

Automotive publications, for their part, were gentle in their criticism of its looks. A two-seat convertible pickup with a 300+ hp Corvette V8 under the hood, it was in a niche by itself, and the journalistic world seemed to let the lack of available comparisons spare them the delicate task of reviewing the car without gagging.

The SSR’s few buyers during its 4-year model run, however, remained utterly convinced they had bought one of the coolest cars on the road. That being absolutely not the case, what we have in the SSR is the physical manifestation of “body dysmorphic disorder;” in other words, the inability to conceptualize how one is perceived by others. It might be a bit much to say the SSR is the Michael Jackson of cars, appearance-wise, but it’s close. Again, every owner seems to think driving the SSR elevates them to a new plane of cool, but I can’t imagine a single true car person who would drive the car without a paper bag over his or her head.

Chevy Chevrolet SSR Hardtop Pickup Red Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

It’s not difficult to appreciate where I’m coming from. Try this: Whatever your thoughts about the SSR as a static piece of automotive sculpture, whatever its underhood prowess, imagine yourself ensconced behind the wheel, cruising down the main drag of your hometown. Yes, picture yourself at the helm of that tacky, cartoonish, bulky, eye magnet of a misshapen piece of quasi-retro schtick and I’ll wager you shudder a bit at the thought. Good riddance.

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

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Alluring At Every Speed:
The 2nd-Gen Chevy Corvair

September 10, 2012 by Matt

1965 Chevy Chevrolet Corvair Black

Is this the best-looking American car ever made?

Honestly—I’d take a ’65-’69 Corvair in a heartbeat over contemporary muscle cars. It’s arguably more attractive than even the C2 Sting Ray ‘Vette. Yes, I think it’s that good. Add in a generous helping of uncharacteristically daring (for GM) engineering, and it’s a done deal. Sign me up.

1966 Chevy Chevrolet Corvair Red

1966 Chevy Chevrolet Corvair Red Rear Back Taillights

The well-written Ate Up With Motor article on the history of the Corvair calls out its “Italianate curves” as a debit relative to its then-new, formidable competition—the Mustang—what with the Ford’s long-nose, short-deck proportions and less exotic styling, but I’ll take the ‘Vair hands down. The subtle hips, the rakish nose, the unadorned flanks—it’s got it.

1965 Chevy Chevrolet Corvair Engine Motor Edelbrock Carb Carburetor

While still sporting the rear-mounted, air-cooled flat six, the 2nd gen Corvair was in many ways a completely different car than the notoriously-flawed ’60-’64 1st generation. The earlier car was the subject of Ralph Nader’s career-making exposé of unsound decision-making practices at GM that knowingly produced a car occasionally difficult for the average driver to handle, but the 2nd gen was improved in every way. Gone was the rudimentary swing axle rear suspension in favor of a new multilink design, and the independent front suspension was revised as well to better coordinate with the rear, producing a car with remarkable—and predictable—dynamics for a car from Detroit. Firm up the suspension a bit, tighten the steering a hair and it could easily pass for something European.

1965 Chevy Chevrolet Corvair Interior Inside Cockpit Dash Dashboard Gauges Console

Even the cabin showed atypical restraint for the day. A clean swath of vinyl with only minor chrome fluting, the only “excessive” element was perhaps the over-instrumentation. The driver was treated to six gauges: A speedometer, tach, fuel, clock, cylinder head temp and manifold pressure. As an enthusiast who likes to have as much information as possible about the car’s current state, the plethora of gauges is actually a major selling point.

Yes, even though I’m not generally of fan of cars from my native country, I’d make a very notable exception for the 2nd gen Corvair. Lovely looks, interesting (and unique) engineering, and treats in the details. It’s a standout.

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Chevy Code 130R:
Where’d This One Come From?

March 4, 2012 by Matt

Chevy Chevrolet Code 130R Red

Seriously. There’s no precedent here.

One of the stars of last month’s Detroit Auto Show is the car pictured above: The oddly-named Chevy Code 130R (code for what?). A lightweight front-engine rear-driver with punchy, masculine proportions, it reads like a stripped-down BMW 1 Series for the younger set.

Equipped with an optional 6-speed manual transmission and powered by a 150-hp 4-banger (with a hybrid “boost” system good for another dozen or so horsepower), the Code 130R won’t be buckling pavement anytime soon. That very fact, however, is what makes it so surprising this car has emerged from Chevy. Sure, their Corvette Z06 and ZR1 are track dominators, and the Camaro ZL1 acquits itself quite well in the twisties, so it’s fair to say the automaker can put together cars that can handle, but I can’t recall that they’ve ever developed a concept that adheres to the lower-power + lightweight + RWD formula. No, in every previous instance, good-handling Chevys—or GM cars in general—were invariably the ones given a massive engine, and didn’t necessarily prioritize low weight. But recently, Chevy, in an effort to plant their flag in the youthful sports coupe market segment, needed a response to the Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ twins, and serendipitously, Cadillac was in the midst of developing a brand new smaller RWD platform for their new BMW 3 Series fighter, the ATS. Chevy seized the day, truncating the platform to underpin the Code 130R. It’s fair to say, then, that in this case they were saved by Cadillac’s recent Great Awakening to the wonders of RWD + good handling, since otherwise Chevy probably would have just tarted up the Malibu with sporty-looking duds and tried to pass it off as a real threat to its Japanese competition.

Chevy Chevrolet Code 130R Red

The icing on the cake here is the styling. As bad as the Camaro’s is, the Code 130R’s styling is good. It’s just a delightful car to behold. It’s distinctive without being tacky, the lines are confident without being overdone, and best of all, the proportions are the real drivers of the car’s design, not ticky-tack decoration, as in years past. And the whole car carries uniquely Chevy overtones. I’m honestly so shocked that the Code 130R wears a bowtie that I’m tempted to ask which closet the Chevy designers and engineers were locked in during its development. The car hasn’t yet been green-lit for production, but there’s so much promise here. It’s a great place for Chevy to start—finally.

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New Chevy Camaro: Muscle Caricature

February 20, 2012 by Matt

2011 11 Chevy Chevrolet Camaro SS Red

The new Camaro is really ugly.

There; I said it.

The new 571-hp Camaro ZL1 stares at me from the cover of the latest issue of Car and Driver whenever I walk by my desk, and I’ll occasionally stop and let my eyes linger on the angular nose and convoluted haunches, trying to like the shape, but… I just can’t muster it.

I vividly remember watching Transformers in the theater and hearing an audible intake of breath from the guys in the audience when Bumblebee morphed into his new Camaro shape. The film was released in ’07, and was a showcase for the upcoming car, which wouldn’t hit showrooms until March ’09. The new muscle car was duly spectacular in its movie role, and perhaps it fit the big screen too well, in a sense, its cartoonish, hyper-charged lines a better match for film stardom than real-life city streets.

1969 69 Chevy Chevrolet Camaro SS Blue

That touches on my main objection to its shape, I think. The original Camaro (shown above) was an instant classic, a shape at once lovely, well-proportioned, sensual and aggressive—without turning into a parody of itself. It helped, of course, that there was nothing to parody in ’67, the year the original was released, and the stylists were forced to pen a fresh shape. The latest Camaro, by contrast, plagiarizes far too much from its ancestor, and does nothing with its lines except pull and distort them into a blocky, awkward mess. Also, with the first-generation car, manufacturing materials and processes then weren’t what they are now, able to turn just about any designer’s fantasy into reality. But as with so many great movies, the limitations of the technology sometimes create a better film, or better-looking car in this case. As it is, though, the new Camaro banks far too heavily on the nostalgia of potential owners; hardly any of its lines are of the quality I would call enduring, in the sense that they aren’t visually exhausting to behold for more than 30 seconds or so. Don’t get me wrong; it’s nowhere near the nadir of modern car design, but if I owned one, I can confidently say it would quickly wear out its welcome in my garage. If the original Camaro was a timeless superhero on the order of Spider-Man or Batman, the new car is more analogous to one of the more modern crop of comic book characters, all of whom shamelessly borrow story lines and super powers from their forebears, and have yet to truly catch on.

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Chevy Volt: The Beginning of the End?

January 23, 2012 by Matt

Chevy Volt Rear Silver Gray Grey

Left Lane reports today that many Chevy dealerships have been turning away shipments of the automaker’s much-hyped Volt:

Dealers across the country are cutting back on their Volt orders, largely due to the NHTSA’s investigation that has scared off potential buyers. The federal investigation was launched late last year after three crash-tested Volt models unexpectedly caught fire.

The article offers its theory for the decline in orders, and I’m sure that’s a part of it, just as Toyota’s bad publicity last year over their largely debunked “unintended acceleration” glitches, but in the Volt’s case, I’d conjecture there’s more rotten with the car than has been uncovered by the NHTSA investigation.

It’s not that there’s anything further technically amiss with the American hybrid, it’s the concept, the idea that enough buyers would be driven by misguided environmental concern to shell out twice as much for a car less usable and less efficient (in the real world) than another vehicle offered by the very same automaker—a car, by the way, that’s been selling like gangbusters; in its first year on the market, it claimed 9th place in the 2011 best-selling vehicle rankings.

As the fog of hybrid hype recedes, outliers like the Volt and Nissan Leaf are looking increasingly isolated, and automakers are starting to get a taste of whether buyers, past the initial sales rush, are willing to move in the direction of pure electric vehicles in quantities that would make them profitable. As the Volt’s misfortunes remind us, at this point, the answer seems to be a resounding no.

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Weighing In On Chevy History

October 22, 2011 by Matt

2011 Chevy Volt 1963 Corvette C3 Stingray Split Window 69 1969 Camaro Chevrolet

Commemorating Chevrolet’s upcoming 100th anniversary as a company on November 3rd, the New York Times asked a number of automotive luminaries to name their favorite Chevys.

Talk show host and car fanatic Jay Leno, NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, racing legend Mario Andretti and famous auto exec Bob Lutz opined and shared anecdotes concerning their selections. Their picks weren’t shocking per se, but the fact that both Leno and Lutz listed the Volt is at least somewhat eyebrow-raising. The C6 Corvette ZR1 is the deserved “winner,” named three times by the participants. No argument here—it’s a world-beater, even if Top Gear do continue to ridicule its build quality.

It’s no secret I’m not a huge fan of the Bowtie, but I certainly agree they have had their share of charismatic cars. Chevy’s relationship with their parent company GM, and by extension all their sister marques like Pontiac and Buick, is so symbiotic that I found myself instinctively listing GM cars instead of specifically Chevys as I mulled over what I would name as my favorites. Overall, I think the “consultants” in the NYT article covered the bases, although I have to say I’m a bit surprised such icons as the ’69 Camaro or ’63 Split-Window ‘Vette aren’t included (although Johnson did list the ’63-’67 C2 Corvette generation as a whole).

What about you? What sits atop your “favorite Chevys” podium?

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Are Hybrids Losing Their Luster?

October 2, 2011 by Matt

Honda Civic Hybrid Engine

A report from Left Lane and a comparo in this month’s issue of Car and Driver take exception to the conventional wisdom that says hybrids are the “next big thing.”

The Left Lane article cites fresh statistics that show hybrid sales as a percentage of all new car sales declined for the third straight year:

[T]he percentage of vehicles sold each year that are gas-electric hybrids is actually on a downward trend, despite the fact that the market has nearly doubled its offering since peaking in 2009 at 2.8 percent of all new cars sold… [I]t appears that buyers in 2011 are heading for a hybrid market share of just over two percent, lower than the 2.4 percent recorded in 2010.

I was surprised to read that, given the massive exposure new hybrid models are accorded on the car show circuit and in automotive publications. It’s a refreshing reminder that as much as a new technology is hyped by the powers-that-be, whether governmental or corporate, people will buy the best option available for their particular situation. Market forces are inexorable, in spite of certain institutions’ best efforts to guide the buying public’s actions in specific directions.

And as evidenced by the Car and Driver comparison test between the Chevy Volt and its stablemate, the Cruze Eco, the automotive press is starting to cut through the fanfare and hold automakers’ feet to the fire for their claims of hybrid efficiency, and examine the real-world wisdom of a hybrid purchase. The Volt has been all but hailed as the savior of the entire American automotive industry, so with such over-saturation it’s inevitable any actual scrutiny of car itself will fail to meet those sky-high expectations. Still, it’s remarkable how thoroughly the conventional-cycle gas engine-powered Cruze Eco trounces the Volt in the comparo—and not just in terms of real-world fuel efficiency, either, but also with respect to driver engagement, standard equipment and options, all at less than half the price of the Volt.

The end of the hybrid tale is yet to be written, of course, but in medias res one automaker that seems very smart is Mazda, having chosen to forego developing a hybrid powerplant in favor of their ultra-high efficiency SkyActiv gas engine technology, to be introduced in Mazda’s upcoming CX-5 mini-ute. If the hybrid downward trend continues, the Japanese automaker in particular stands to look positively visionary.

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