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A B, C That’s Just Wrong

Driving to Milwaukee the other day, I was passed by a Toyota Camry SE. The Camry has been the best selling car in the US for at least the past 5 years. With good gas mileage and very milk toast looks, there is no doubt that the Camry is a dependable and sensible car. If a person is looking for a “good car” and doesn’t want anything too flashy, Camry is the way to go.

After thinking of its selling records and sensibility, I began to think about the SE part. SE,  typically standing for “Special Edition”, seemed funny to me, especially on a Camry. The SE makes up approximately 30% of Camry sales which isn’t the majority but also not very “special”. We’re talking about approximately 122,000 Camry SE’s in the US alone, produced in 2012. They should change the designation to, the Camry CEO (Couple of Extra Options) which is what your actually getting. Or the Camry LME (a Little More Expensive) which would just be honest advertising.

So because of the Camry SE, I’ve decided to compile a list of wrongly badged cars. Unfortunately, as I began to think about it, I came up with quite a few. And don’t get me wrong, I myself am guilty of  participating in the letter wars. I’m currently driving a Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V R Tune. A bit much if you ask me.

SS (Super Sport)

Chevy HHR SS

The beginning and end of the Muscle Car Era can be argued as far as precise dates but for Chevrolet, the 1961 Impala SS was their first attempt at setting a certain car apart because of performance upgrades. For the Impala it came in the form of upgraded tires, springs, shocks and special sintered metallic brake linings for the boring stuff. The fun came in the form of the optional 409 cubic inch V8 making 425 HP. A sizable jump over the standard 230 cubic inch inline 6 putting out a paltry 140 HP.

With the Nova, the Chevelle and probably the most popularly badged Chevrolet, the Camero, the SS badge went on to become one of the most widely recognized symbols of power. Unfortunately, someone at the Chevy plant must have tripped while carrying a box of SS badges, because one of them fell onto an HHR. With a laundry list of performance parts and a turbo charged 2.0 liter motor, the SS was certainly more performance based than the LS or LT versions. But at the end of the day, it’s still an HHR. It’s a mini van/station wagon/bread truck/PT Cruiser. A horrendously ugly piece of machinery.

I guess for me, the SS badge is more than performance. It’s design and lineage and pure curb appeal. The HHR has none of this. When I see an HHR in traffic or in a parking lot, I never have anything positive to say or think about it. Therefore, the HHR wins as the best SS fail.

The SSR and the Trail Blaizer were very close seconds in the poor use of the SS badge, with their god awful and hum drum looks. The SSR’s 40 extra hp and the Trail Blaizers 135 extra hp saved their butts on this list. When in doubt, bore it out!

RS (Rally Sport)

Honda Fit RS

When thinking of “Rally Sport” cars, the mind obviously goes toward rally inspired cars, like the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth or the Subaru 2.5RS. Neither overly successful in motor sport but at least you can trace their DNA to treacherous back country roads, sliding wildly with opposite lock fully engaged. And you also can’t deny Audi’s RS line having rallying heritage coursing through it’s veins, even though in Audi’s case, the RS stands for RennSport – literally translated as “racing sport”. A bit redundant but lets focus on the argument at hand.

Honda, although certainly immersed in road racing, isn’t known for it’s prowess off road, at least not on four wheels. So this being said, I never expected to see an RS badge on a Honda vehicle, especially not a Fit. The fit is just one of many blah subcompact cars on the market. It’s not as good looking as a Ford Fiesta or a VW Golf. It’s more expensive than a Chevy Sonic or a Kia Soul…. it’s just a car. Certainly not a bad car but severely lacking in the panache department.

So whats the use in slapping an RS badge on such a lifeless car? The 118hp power in RS form just isn’t convincing me. With the proper mods you could make this a real competitor to a JCW Mini or one of it’s many Si brothers but, in my opinion, only on pavement. And I realize I just compared the Fit to a front wheel drive car that did very well in the WRC but again, the lineage just isn’t there. I can’t imagine a full throttle jump in the Ouninpohja stage, at Rally Finland, would end well for the little Fit. Sorry Honda, I can get behind the Fit Si but leave the RS badging to someone else.

Z (Zora Arkus-Duntov)

Cavalier Z24

Zora Arkus-Duntov was the engineer that convinced GM that the Corvette could be much more than what they designed it to be. His engine and suspension modifications turned the Corvette into a legend, thus making Zora a legend at GM. Chevrolet put the “Z” badge on their performance cars to honor his contribution to the company. The Camaro Z/28 and the Corvette ZR1 are just two fine examples that would make old man Duntov very proud.

I don’t think he would be as proud to have have his badge on the Cavalier Z24… or the Beretta Z26… or the Lumina Z34. Yes, all of these, like most of the cars on this list, are slightly faster or more agile than their base model brethren but whats the point? Talk about polishing turds. I don’t think I have nor ever will hear someone say, “Can’t hang out today. I’ve got a lead on a mint 94 Lumina Z34 Sedan. There’s a scratch in the louvered hood but I can buff that out.”

The useful upgrades like an Eaton M45 supercharger, wider sway bars and sport tuned suspension were droned out by upgrades like a taller rear spoiler, height adjustable seats, front and rear fascias, side skirts and yes, a louvered hood…..sweet. I know the 90’s weren’t exactly a renaissance period in car making but these things make even the IROC-Z look like the Mona Lisa.

GT (Gran Turismo/Grand Touring)

Pontiac Vibe GT

The GT moniker usually refers to a car that has high performance qualities as well as more luxurious amenities, like a small rear seat and a little more cargo space. Grand Tourers, unlike full on sports cars, focus on comfort and practicality, rather than outright speed and handling. The Nissan GT R is the perfect example of a GT car. Four seats and a trunk, combined with face melting acceleration and handling. You could comfortably drive across the country in order to set records at your chosen track.

When you think of GT cars, it’s natural to think of BMWs, Maseratis, Jags and Porsches. Rarely does one think of Pontiac. Yes, the Pontiac Vibe GT is a thing people traded their hard earned money for. A 6 speed manual transmission and 180 hp hardly makes a GT car. Chief designer of the Vibe GT, Ron Aselton, said “Clean lines, minimal overhangs and wheels pushed to the corners give the vehicle a muscular stance.” Yeah, you know what else was said about the Vibe GT? ” Rear storage is big enough to accommodate a standard sized American washing machine or clothes dryer with enough room for an appliance dolly.”…… I’m fairly certain that is the exact feature that should keep a GT badge off of any car. When I buy new appliances, my first call isn’t to my buddy with the Porsche GT3.

LT (Luxury Touring)

Chevy Astro LT

Although lacking the actual badge of LT, which is pretty luxurious in of itself, one would naturally think of a BMW 7 series, an A8 or even the good old Lincoln Continental. Luxury Touring cars are more amenity based than the GT cars above. Every option money can buy. If your rolling in one of these fancy rides, you may even pay someone to do the driving for you.

Chevrolet thought they were right up there with the above mentioned cars in the form of the Chevy Astro LT. Really, what else screams luxury louder than a mini van taking design ques from toaster. If it’s luxury your after, the Astro LT’s got it. Two half barn doors, passenger side air bag and “an underbody that in a crash situation will buckle, pitching both front seats forward and shoving the crash dummy into the dashboard and steering wheel, and resulting in a broken left leg”. This lead the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety to comment that “the collapse of the occupant compartment left little survival space for the driver.” Sounds pretty luxurious to me!

S (Sport)

Toyota Yaris S

The S is probably the most widely and vaguely used badge in the car world. For a car to be “Sport” it needs to be like Goldilocks’ porridge, not too hot but not too cold. Peppy,lively, vigorous, you know just a little extra somthin’ somethin’. Because of the vagueness of the S badge, it covers a wide array of cars from the peppy Cooper S and FR-S, to the slightly more lively Cayman S or Jaguar XKR-S. All are sporty but some are 2 seconds faster to 60 mph, sporty.

So even though I’ve determined that the “S”, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, I’m putting my foot down on this one. The Toyota Yaris S. With a 1.5 liter motor cranking out an earth shaking 106 hp, it’s hard to believe it shares Superman’s signature letter. On the dealers list of special upgrades on the S model; fog lights, spoiler and “an exclusive S badge.” They didn’t touch the engine. They didn’t touch the brakes. They didn’t touch the suspension. They just put the letter S on it.

When your buying an econo-box, just buy an econo-box. Your not going to be picking up any more ladies in the S Yaris versus the base model Yaris. It’s just a Yaris son, don’t try to church it up.

R/T (Road/Track)

Dodge Caravan R/T

The R/T was the Dodge version of Chevy’s SS. When you bought an R/T car, you knew you were getting better suspension, tires, brakes, and more power. We all know the mighty R/T cars of the past like the Charger, the Coronet, the Challenger and later down the line with the Viper. All these cars were fast, loud and very menacing looking simply sitting in a parking space, patiently waiting to murder anyone that tried to tame it.

Since the 70’s muscle car era went away the R/T badge hasn’t carried the same weight as it once did. Sure there were Spirit, Daytona and Neon R/T versions but it wasn’t until the second coming of the Callengers and Chargers that the badge started getting people excited. Then Dodge went and blew it when they introduced the Grand Caravan R/T. An R/T mini van!!! The features they tout on their website are things like easy action doors, foldable roof racks and towing capacity. If you and I were looking at a 68 Charger R/T and you said “I wonder if this can tow my boat?”, I would slap your face.

Now my father in-law has a Caravan R/T and I will say, it is a really nice mini van! But that’s like saying you own a really nice vacuum cleaner. As true as the statement may be, you are not impressing a single person on the planet. (And believe me, I have a really nice vacuum cleaner). Also, this mini van starts at $30,000! That kind of money isn’t going to buy you a vintage, numbers matching R/T but it will buy you a used Viper. And although the Viper may not come with foldable roof racks, it will do sweet burnouts. I think I made my point.

So unfortunately with this badge designation, the Caravan R/T is a whole lot of road and very, very little track.

R (Racing)

Suzuki Wagon R

When you see an R badge on a car, you know your usually looking at the brands racing inspired version of the line. The Honda NSX Type R, the Nissan GT-R and the Porsche Cayman R are all monsters in their own right that have proven their abilities on tracks around the world. Even the Volvo R-design cars are a little more than a face lift. Stiffer rear dampers and front bushings and mild power gains give a bit of race to one of the worlds most family friendly car brands.

Now Suzuki and the R badge can be a good thing. Usually in the form of their motorcycle line, though. The GSX R line is a favorite among bike groups. Unfortunately, Suzuki thought they could get away with putting an R badge on one of their four wheeled products in the form of the Suzuki Wagon R. The Wagon R, also known as the “Tall Wagon” or “Tall Boy” is one of their kei cars that began production in the mid 90’s.

My issue with the R Wagon is the R. In every way. The R in Suzuki’s mind stands not for race but for recreation. I can get past the fact that this little fella doesn’t have sport tuned suspension or turned up power but a “recreational vehicle”? This thing is 2 feet shorter than a VW Beetle and has over 2 less cubic feet of cargo room than a Ford Focus. The size of this thing is going to keep you from a large number of recreational activities. Their owners manual suggests you not tow anything with the Wagon R either. So forget having your motorcycle or jet ski in tow, unless its your kids toy.

Unless your recreational activities are swimming, running or jumping rope, the Suzuki Wagon R is neither race inspired or recreational.

So I guess you can’t read the letters on the back of a car and automatically know whats going on under the hood. One car company, in my opinion, does have a good idea for car designation. In general terms, you can look at a Honda and know SE > EX > LX > DX. You know the DX is the bare bones, bottom of the barrel and the SE is the cream of the crop. Stick with these letters Honda and leave the RS well enough alone.

Let us know what cars we missed or are absurdly badged at our Facebook page. And don’t you dare mention the 1990 Toyota Corolla Wagon DLX! This car is the pinnacle of a deluxe automobile!

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Not Born in the U.S.A.

I was dying of frost bite the other day at an ice race and in spite of the large amounts of fun I was having, driving on top of a frozen lake, I still began to day dream about racing in slightly warmer conditions. As I hunkered down, shivering in my car, I had cartoon like thoughts of me and my car, falling through the ice. In one cell would be my car, sitting motionless on an all white background, with a pale blue lake holding firm underneath. The next cell, in place of my car, there is now a geyser of water and an ice cube in the shape of a Nissan, bobbing up and down.

In an attempt to block such thoughts out of my head, I thought of what new cars may appear in the new, warm, spring races. The Hyundai Veloster Turbo or Dodge Dart GT are realistic possibilities but I’m not about to turn my nose up at the new Corvette C7 or SRT Viper, if one were to show up at the track. Then my brain got to thinking about the Ford Focus ST. From the sounds of all the reviews, the Mustang will no longer be the Blue Ovals only car to make you nervously giddy as you throw it into a corner and smash the skinny pedal on your way out. But as quickly as I thought about how fun it would be to watch an ST scratch and claw its way around a track, I couldn’t help but to think, it wouldn’t be as exciting as watching an RS do it.

Luckily, frost bite began to subside as my blood began to boil, thinking of the “higher ups” at Ford making the idiotic decision not to send the Focus RS state side. I then began to think of all the other cars we Americans missed out on, based on our fore fathers decision to escape tyranny.

So in the spirit of being bitter about my country of origin, I give you a small list of some of the cars I wish were sold in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Some are scorchers and some are not but they all are only pipe dreams. Unless of course I decide to trade sides. I hear England is very moist this time of year.

2009 Ford Focus RS

2009 Ford Focus RS

Back in 2002, my dad was working for Ford and I was able to test drive the SVT Focus. Not a bad car, all in all, but nothing too special. For some odd reason, the brakes smelled a little funny after the test drive, so I thought it best that I park it far from the main office on return. Only reading reviews, the new ST sounds very promising and I hope to give that a spirited flogging if given the chance, as well. But in between those two hot hatches, was the Ford Focus RS. The middle child, if you will.

When speaking about “Middle Child Syndrome” it has been said “In extreme cases, middle children even act out with what some would call “psychotic” behavior.” This would fully explain the 2009 Ford Focus RS. With a 2.5 liter 5 cylinder Volvo engine with a Borg Warner K16 turbo delivering up to 20.3-psi of boost, lurking under the hood, the RS generated 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, getting it from  0-62 in 5.9 seconds. If you’ve ever driven a front wheel drive car with a decent amount of power, you’ll know that this is an unusable amount of power. Wheel spin and torque steer would be abundant, to say the least.

Luckily the smart guys at Ford, (not the ones who make the distribution decisions), used a combination of a Quaife torque biasing helical limited slip differential and a “revoknuckle” front suspension set up to help the front wheels stay attached to the car. A 6 speed manual, forged crankshaft, silicon-aluminum pistons, graphite-coated cylinder bores, 8.5:1 compression ratio  and only coming in Ultimate Green, Performance Blue and Frozen White, the RS was brash and loud, and unfortunately, an American car not sold in America. Shame on you Ford.

1993 Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evolution II

Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evolution II

 

If you’ve read this blog before, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m a bit of a rally fan. The Lancia Delta HF was the road going homologation of the Group A car that replaced the Delta S4, which became obsolete with the cancellation of the Group B class.

The Delta HF’s 2 liter DOHC four cylinder, force fed by a water cooled Garrett turbo, made 215 hp. The torque boosting center diff split power 53/47, with the 53% going to the rear. The horsepower doesn’t seem too impressive compared the RS we just talked about but with a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds it was pretty peppy for it’s time. To put it in perspective, a ‘93 Ferrari 348 Spider got to 60 in 5.4 seconds. That work was done by a 3.4 liter V8 putting out 320 hp. Not too shabby, Delta.

Due to to changes in rally regulations the Evolution II received a wider front and rear track causing the fenders to become even more aggressive. Inside the Recaro racing seats were draped in the oh so luxurious Alcantara. Very swanky.

Everything I’ve read on these cars make them sound very finicky and it is suggested that you befriend a bank manager if you plan on owning one. And with only 5000 being produced to meet homologation standards, I’m sure people aren’t giving these away. This being said, I’m still pretty upset that I can’t buy one to find out for myself.

Holden VE Ute SS-V

Holden VE Ute SS-V


 

I’ve never understood the point of a fast pick up truck. The Dodge Ram SRT-10, the Ford Lightning and GMC Syclone were all neat, I guess, but with high centers of gravity (with the exception of the Cyclone) and minimal weight over the driving wheels, it always seemed like your money would be better spent on each brands purpose built sports cars. The only way they make sense is if you were trying to get a sheet of ply wood to the work site in record time.

Australian pick ups are a different animal, though. Smaller and lower in nature, these trucks can be turned up to 11 and make a lot more sense. Holden, GM’s Australian subsidiary, has made a bit of a hooligan out of their ute (Australian for truck) in the guise of the SS-V. Sporting a 6 liter V8, cranking out 362 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, the Ute makes your dad’s El Camino SS blush.

With sport tuned suspension, a 6 speed manual transmission and big Brembo brakes, you could go down to your local garden shop, pick up a load of perennials and have a bed full of compost by the time you get home. But this is impossible to achieve unless you call girls Sheila’s, think Fosters is garbage beer and think a Joey is a baby kangaroo, not the stupid brother from Blossom.

Ford Falcon GT-R spec

Ford Falcon GT-R Spec


 

The Ford Falcon last saw American roads back in 1970 (70 and 1/2 technically but who’s counting?) It was a compact car of it’s era that was eventually pushed to the wayside by the Maverick. The Australians, however, didn’t give up on the old girl, it having been in production down under, since 1960. As with a lot of cars in the late 70’s and early 80’s you kind of wish they had given up but Ford Australia, thankfully, kept pushing on.

Before this years changes made to the series, now being more attractive to Nissan and Mercedes, the Falcon made up 50% of the Australian V8 Supercar Series. These 4 door sedans are big, fast, loud and of course nothing like their showroom brethren. But with the GT-R spec, we get a bit closer. The R spec’s all aluminum supercharged 5 liter BOSS 335 produces 450 hp and 420 lb-ft torque. And with the GT R spec’s launch control, modified dampers, stiffer upper control arm bushings and upper strut mounts, its obvious they were trying to get this 4 door to handle like it was on rails.

The R spec isn’t the fastest Falcon you can buy and at almost $83,000 USD, I’m not saying it’s worth the money. But if you saw this thing in a bank parking lot, you would expect to see masked men running towards it while alarm bells rang. Unfortunately, my passport keeps telling me I’m an American citizen, so my next heist will have to be planned around a C-Max.

Opel Kadett C GT/E

Opel Kadett C GT/E


 

When hearing Opel Kadett, car folk may be reminded of the episode of Top Gear when Richard Hammond drove a 1963 Kadett, named Oliver, across the Kalahari Desert without modifying the car in any way. As much as this episode made me want my own Oliver, I am more apt to drool over the Kadett produced from 1973-79.

Opel, being a German marque, was a direct competitor of Volkswagen. Struggling to replace the Beetle for a good 10 years Opel didn’t have much competition until the Volkswagen Golf started gaining some traction. With the release of the Golf GTI, Opel’s counter punch came in the form of the GT/E, upping it’s motor to a 1979 cc inline-4 motor that put out a modest 113 hp. A decent upgrade from the marques 39 hp humble beginnings. The vertically mounted telescopic gas filled Bilstein shock-absorbers gave the Kadett a “sporty” feel and attempted to get as many of those hp’s to the rear wheels as it could.

Now I know none of these features seem too impressive but the Kadett’s stock configuration is not what attracts me to this car. Used in hill climb events across Europe, a modified Kadett is a good looking, beautiful sounding and amazingly well handling beast. And the fact that they are so commonly found in Europe, the Kadett seems like a dream that could fully come true….. you know, if I wore lederhosen and ate Königsberger Klopse on a regular basis.

Technically, the Kadett came to the US in the form of the Isuzu Gemini but were going to pretend that never happened.

Nissan Skyline GT-R

Nissan Skyline GT-R R34


 

I would get in a heap of trouble if I left the GT-R off of this list. Anyone from tuner crowds to dedicated track guys would probably do some pretty awful things just to get there hands on any generation of this vehicular dynasty. Probably most widely known in the racing world, is the R32. The R32 won 29 out of 29 races in the Japanese Grand Touring Championship in its first season and also won the JGTC 4 years in a row. It also won 3 seasons in a row in the Australian Touring Car Championship and the GT-R , the Skylines little brother, was the first production car to lap the Nürburgring in under 8 minutes. The Skyline more than earned it’s nickname, Godzilla.

It’s fifth and final generation of the Skyline, the R34, had a 2.6 liter inline 6 that advertised 280 hp, which was the gentlemen’s agreement at the time between Japanese auto makers, to keep public roads safer. The twin turbo beast was generating a more accurate 320 hp. With stock features like a rear carbon fiber diffuser, lap timer and gauges giving you exhaust gas temperatures, it was clear the the GT-R was designed to impose it’s superiority on the street or track.

For me personally, I think the first gen coupe, is one of the best looking cars ever made. It would have been decimated by a Mustang of the same year in most performance arenas but the double horizontal headlights, the hood mounted side mirrors and the hood line that always looks mad at you, is a thing of beauty. My brow does a similar scrunch as I think of the fact that I will probably never see one of these cars in real life.

1995 Alfa Romeo 155 GTAZ

Alfa Romeo 155 GTAZ

Built to replace the Alfa Romeo 75, the 155 was…..well, a car. Nothing too crazy or too fast, from a company with a good amount of history manufacturing sports cars. The major changes came in the form of new styling, making it very aerodynamic for the time, with the added bonus of huge trunk space, and front wheel drive which made the Alfa purists very unhappy, despite the drop in pricing.

Along the years the 155 was given larger motors, factory aero kits, turbos and even all wheel drive which made this family four door a bit more exciting. But for me, the pinnacle of the 155 came with the GTAZ badge. Again, thanks to homologation rules for British Touring Car racing, this car came in a very limited run. The GTAZ came equipped with a turbo charged 2 liter V6 producing 212 hp, the all-wheel drive system borrowed from the Lancia Delta Integrale and more aggressive body styling. In racing form, it did extremely well, winning the Italian Superturismo, German DTM, Spanish Touring and British Touring Car championships from 92-94.

So again, because of the low production numbers, I’m sure I could never get my hands on one of these, even if they were offered in the States. Compared to another, not available in the U.S. car, I think I would have chosen the 155 over the more powerful Impreza WRX, of the time. The 155 was a little lighter, had a wider track width, an adjustable wing and better styling in my opinion. But I now realize I’m arguing with myself over two cars that I can’t own.

TVR 3000M

TVR 3000M

So close, yet so far. The TVR 3000M actually made it to North America. It was sold in Canada and even came to the US but a customer reported their lack of proper emissions controls, resulting in the company having to re-export them back to the UK. The front mid-mounted 3 liter Ford V6 produced 138 hp and 174 ft-lb of torque. Not an immense amount of power but this little guy only weighed in a 2094 lbs. You could get the 3000M in a hard top, that had a fancy electric hatch back (i.e. something that is totally going to break) or in a convertible version known as the 3000S.

If the 3000M wasn’t enough and you were one of only 20 lucky people, you could opt for the 3000M Turbo. TVR contracted Ralph Broad, of Broadspeed, to develop a turbo charging system for the 3000M. In lieu of the usual fuel injection set up of the normal cars, the turbo had a carburetor inside of a pressurized box with the turbo charger placed lower in the front engine compartment, requiring the exhaust manifolds to exit forward. The end result was 230 hp and 273 ft-lb of torque. The turbo versions were also fitted with wider tires and Koni dampers to stiffen things up.

TVR has always been a quirky car company. Low weight and high power certainly sound like the ingredients of success but unfortunately being bought, sold and having gone bankrupt on several occasions, TVR has always had a bit of a black cloud of doom hovering over it. But for me, the 3000M is one of the best looking sports cars to have come out of Britain in the 70’s.

AvtoVAZ Lada Niva

AvtoVAZ Lada Niva

It’s not too often that I pine over a Russian made car. The only interesting thing to come out of Mother Russia recently, is the Marussia B1. And, although this mid engined, rear wheel drive car may look interesting and with a claimed 0-62 mph in 3.8 seconds, may be quick, it looms in the shadow that is the Niva.

The Lada Niva (Niva being Russian for “crop field”) is the most sensible and probably the only car that I could realistically own on this list. Packing a carbureted 1.6 liter overhead cam 4 cylinder, producing a whopping 72 hp, the Lada isn’t going to be breaking any land speed records. But with a name like “corn field” I don’t think Lada was too worried about that.

The Lada was a car built for it’s surroundings. The 4 and 5 speed manual transmissions were mated to a full time four wheel drive system. With independent front suspension and a 5 link rear set up, the little Lada was made to go, well, anywhere. Used by militaries, police forces, as ambulances and for use by lifeguards, the Niva was all about utility. The Niva also came stock with a 21 piece tool kit just in case the going got a little too tough.

I was lucky enough to see one of these in real life, on one of my trips to Canada. It was parked at a gas station that was turned into a house. It was a The Hills Have Eyes type of location and as much as I wanted to check the little 4×4 out and inquire about a possible sale, I wanted live slightly more.

Give us a comment on our Facebook page and let us know which cars we missed. Also, tell us what cars you  would love to own, if you weren’t too busy watching baseball and eating apple pie! USA, USA, USA,USA!!!!!!

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A Year of Pain

With 2013 officially here, it’s exciting to think of all the new seasons of racing that will begin in the new year. As much as I enjoy the madness of the multi-classed American Le Mans Series, the speed and agility of F1 racing and the reflexes and skill needed in the World Rally Championship, one form of motorsport always leaves me slack jawed and amazed. Endurance racing. The test of body, mind and machine over ridiculous distances and sometimes across unforgiving terrain, usually solidifying a certain brand or driver as the best, if not simply the toughest. Companies have long relied on the endurance races to prove to the world that their product is the fastest and strongest out there. Some races are only 4 hours while others last for weeks but regardless of the time or distance your just amazed that it was completed at all.

Here is a list of some of the endurance races I’m most looking forward to in 2013.

Dakar Rally

Dakar Rally T4 truck class

Originally named the Paris-Dakar Rally, after it’s original route from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal, the Dakar Rally is one tough mother covering over 5000 miles in 2 weeks. With motorcycle, car and truck classes roaring across the landscape, the Dakar Rally is one of the worlds toughest multi-stage rallys around.

The race was actually thought up while founder Thierry Sabine got lost in the Libyan Desert during another race in 1977. As he looked around at the barren ladscape, he thought it would be the perfect place for a race. A year later, the first running of the Paris-Dakar began. Throughout most of its history, the European and African continents were the hosts of the race, until in 2008 a terrorist attack caused cancellation of the race. Since 2009 the race moved to South America traversing terrain covering Argentina and Chile.

With with single day stages of over 550 miles, the Dakar is a true test of drivers and machines. Sand dunes, rocks, mud, you name it, the Dakar has it. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve watched a 4 ton truck travel at triple digit speeds across the desert.

TV coverage can be found in 190 countries, so don’t miss the Dakar Rally which starts January 5th.

24 Hours of Le Mans

24 Hours of Le Mans

As a fixture in both the Triple Crown of Motorsports as well as the Triple Crown of Endurance racing, The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the oldest active endurance race in the world. Starting in 1923, the original 24 Hours of Le Mans was another race designed to prove the superiority of the production cars of the time. Now the field is made up of full on race cars driven by factory backed teams as well as privateers with more modest backing.

Raced on Circuit de la Sarthe, near Le Mans, France, the track consists of public roads as well as committed racing portions totaling just under 8.5 miles. Over the course of the 24 hour race time, competitors commonly travel over 3100 miles reaching top speeds of over 200 mph on the Mulsanne Straight. Its been said that during this race, cars are at full throttle for 85% of the time

Because of this iconic race the car industry has advanced technologies in aerodynamics, fuel economy, supercharging and turbocharging, disc brakes and air brakes and hybrid systems like the Flywheel Hybrid System used in the Audi R18 e-tron. And although no longer used due to safety reasons, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is responsible for the Le Mans start.

See if the Audi team can maintain its dominance on June 22nd.

Targa Newfoundland

Mitsubishi Galant GTS running the Targa Newfoundland

Held in the Canadian province of Newfoundland, Targa Newfoundland is the only time distance rally currently held on closed public roads in North America. With three classes, the Targa Newfoundland has something for everybody. The Targa Division, which includes Classic, Modern, and Open Divisions, is for the committed race car that we love seeing slide around blind corners and flying down straights at impressive speeds. The Grand Touring Division, a Time-Speed-Distance (TSD) style competition for vehicles not prepped for racing, gives competitors a cheaper option for racing. Lastly, the Fast Tour Division, is a tour within the race. This division allows entrants to drive the course with a little vigor not usually allowed by local law enforcement but within the constraints prescribed by the event. This is for the fan of racing that doesn’t want the stress of competition.

Although its probably the easiest race on our list, Targa Newfoundland offers amazing scenery covering 1400 miles, over 7 days, that the common man can participate in. And with a relatively low cost and the fact that you can drive your car to the race, as apposed to shipping it on a boat to a foreign country, makes it an incredible race.

Running from September 14th-21st, you can still get your car ready to race on the public streets of our Neighbor to the North.

Tecate Baja 1000

Class 2 Buggy at Tecate Baja 1000

In 1962 Honda America wanted to prove the toughness of their CL72 Scrambler, so they decided to see how fast they could travel from Tijuana to La Paz, down the Baja Peninsula. Dave Ekins and Billy Robertson Jr recorded a time of 39 hours 56 minutes in their first attempt. In the following years other people tried to beat the time, on two and four wheels, but it wasn’t until October 31, 1967 that the first organized race took place.

In the following years, the race has been ran in both a loop and a point to point race but now is generally a point to point race starting in Ensenada and finishing in La Paz. Like many other races, the Baja 1000 has grown into a race for fully built and backed race vehicles but still is attempting to stay in touch with their roots. Although the loud and high flying Trophy Trucks are the main draw to the race, you can still find the almost bone stock VW Beetles of the Class 11 bouncing their way down the peninsula.

You’ll have to wait till the race starts on November 14th but in the meantime, check out Dust to Glory, an amazing documentary on the race, to get you pumped up on watching this years race.

Red Bull Romaniacs Hard Enduro Rallye

KTM and Red Bull rider Johnny Walker climbing a waterfall.

The brain child of Martin Freinademetz, Romaniacs is a four day motorcycle point to point Hard Enduro race, traveling through the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. The rally starts with a prologue in the streets of Romania, designed to give fans a more close up view of the riders but to also determines the order in which riders will start the race.

After the prologue, riders are released into the Romanian country side for four days having to traverse steep mountain climbs, waterfalls, mud and rocks covering from 60 up to 140 miles each day and 30,000 feet of climbing in a single stage. In the past, riders with Trials experience have done very well, due to the technical routes mapped out, but a well rounded rider is key due to some of the flat out sections of the course. GPS directions have replaced routes being marked by banners and ribbons, making it slightly easier to navigate than in past events. Still, every rider is given a “survival kit” with a sealed map, mobile phone, flares, compass, survival blanket, mirror, first-aid kit, torch, 3 liters’ of water and spark plug just in case they do get lost. If the map is opened, the rider is automatically disqualified from the race.

You’ll have to wait till July 6th for this years action to start but check out some coverage from last years race here.

Erzberg Rodeo Red Bull Hare Scramble

Riders attempting to simply get out of the pit of the Iron Giant.

If you were told you would be racing at a venue called The Iron Giant and that the DNF rate of the race was around 99.7%, you would probably have some reservations, maybe even some down right fears. And that would be the correct reaction. The Iron Giant is an iron ore mine located in Eisenerz, Styria, Austria and is the location of what is probably the hardest race on the list. The Erzberg Rodeo Red Bull Hare Scramble is another motorcycle point to point Hard Enduro. Starting at the bottom of the ore pit, riders then climb their way up and out to tackle the rest of the almost impossible terrain surrounding the pit. Insanely steep climbs, mud and giant boulder sections make this race truly will crushing.

1800 riders attempt to qualify for Erzberg. Out of that 1800, only 500 make it to the start line. Last year, only 7 people finished the course in the allowed time. Weather plays a huge part in this race. Last years race was cut short by 30 minutes due to heavy fog and rain, making certain obstacles nearly impossible.

The action starts June 2nd, so if you enjoy watching motorsport carnage, this is the one to watch. Check out some coverage from last years race here.

Let us know what races your looking forward to watching or participating in in 2013 on our Facebook page!

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Don’t Leave, Baby! I Can Change!

New car shows, like the Detroit and Chicago Autoshows, are great. You get to see all the shiny new upcoming models of several automakers, all under one roof, before they hit the show room floor. If your in the market for a new car, you get to see all the bells and whistles available on the model of your choice, new styling, advancements in safety and which company can afford the best looking booth models.

You’ve come to see the sensible, new four door that would be good for commuting back and fourth to work. Maybe, your checking out what’s new in the mini van or SUV world for your growing  family. (We would suggest the Cadillac CTS-V wagon. Makes perfect sense). But then, like the foolish Trout, you see something shiny that lures you in. On the revolving podium, behind a velvet ropes, you see something calling to you. The Concept Car! The concept car is usually the automaker just being a jerk. They basically say, “Hey look what we can do! What’s that? Are we going to let you buy one? Oh, of course not! We just wanted you to know how awesome we COULD be.”

Hugely powerful engines, cranking out quadruple digit numbers. Dramatically swooping styling, meant to mirror the elegance of a snow drift. Interiors draped in luxurious textiles, stitched in anti-gravity booths so as not to unnecessarily stretch the material. Dash boards lit to reflect it’s Tron like heritage. Oh, how we love you concept car.

So we at Kronospark, would like to doff our hats to the jerks of the auto world and present a simple list of our favorite concept cars that, much to our dismay, never went anywhere.

1970’s Chevrolet Aerovette

Chevy Aerovette

The Chevy Aerovette really could have changed the lagacy of the Corvette. With a transverselly and mid-mounted V8 engine, the Aerovette could have been a true apples to apples competitor to Ferrari and Lamborghini. After scrapping the project due to cost issues, Chevrolet’s general manager, John Delorean, decided to bring the project back to life for the 1970 New York Autoshow, after hearing Fords plan to sell DeTomaso Pantera‘s through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

Later concepts attempted to use 4 rotor engines and Wankel power but ultimately decided on a 400 cu. in. Chevy V8. With the always irresistible gull-wing door configuration, the Aerovette was actually approved for production in 1980. After a few key players backing the project retired, the project was pulled for economical reasons and the decision to go in the front mounted engine configuration, of today’s corvettes.

2001 Volkswagen Microbus

2001 Volkswagen Microbus

The new Volkswagen Beetle is ugly. There, we said it. The one before it was ugly too. We’re not saying the original Beetle was a looker but it had a certain panache. It was a quirky little fella. So when VW decided to redesign it, they failed miserably. Certainly not in terms of sales but when a rim option is a daisy, you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself what the hell your doing in the car business.

In 2001, the Microbus was designed to replicate the original Type 2 microbus. Open and airy like its ancient predecessor, the Microbus concept inspired the same get out and see the world feel as the original. Now with a more powerful 3.2 liter V6, the new Microbus now had sufficient power to travel up steep mountains in a forward gear, as apposed to reversing up like its poorly geared dad.

Canceling plans to truly make this bus in 2005, Volkswagen decided that Chrysler would make a version for North America. Because of that decision, we are now lucky enough to look at the Volkswagen Routan……..yawn.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1

Often companies draw inspiration from past successes for newer “concept” cars. The 2005 Ford Shelby GR-1 pulls heavily from the iconic Shelby Daytona. The Daytona, by no means, was a production car either. At a whopping 6 built, the Daytona was specifically built to compete against the dominant Ferrari in the FIA GT class. It did just that pulling off multiple wins in 1964 and 65.

In our opinion, the GR-1 could have been a true homage to the Daytona. With a 6.4 liter V-10 supplying the rear wheels with 605 hp and 501 lb ft of torque, the GR-1 one would have been a ripper. Although the weight was estimated at around 3900 lbs, we’d still be willing to give the skinny pedal a stomp and worry about the braking part later. Sadly, although it shared many parts with the Ford GT, making it a feasible vehicle for production, the car never made it past the running prototype stage.

2008 Toyota A-BAT

2008 Toyota A-BAT

The world loves a good pick-up truck. Unfortunately, it seems as though the entire world knows that a small pick-up will do almost anything you ask of it. Everyone, but America. We believe you need a 2 ton pick up, with 4 wheel drive and huge mud tires, to tow a small trailer, with a riding mower, for your lawn business. We need the good ol’ days of the Nissan Hard Body.

Enter the Toyota A-BAT (Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck). At the diminutive size of a RAV4, the A-BAT certainly would have filled the long lost small truck category. Also, sharing the gas-electric hybrid motor from the Prius, the A-BAT would have been much more Earth friendly than its V8 and diesel powered brethren. And with under bed storage and a mid gate that allows a through way from interior to exterior, like the Chevy Avalanche, the A-BAT would have the room for the magic 4’x8′ capacity that most potential truckers look for.
For unknown reasons, the little truck that could have, never did.

2006 Volkswagen GX3

2006 Volkswagen GX3

Although, possibly unconventional for most people looking to buy a car, I feel like the GX3 could have been a real competitor for Lotus 7 knock-off companies like Caterham and Brunton. With a slightly more interesting take, the GX3 was an open top, 3 wheeler, which confused some people into thinking it would be more of a motorcycle concept than a concept car. With a transversely mounted 1.6 liter motor, from a VW Lupo, the two-seater would have made around 125 hp giving it a better power to weight ratio than an M3 or an S2000.

With Lotus engineering, aggressive looks, a 0-62 time of 5.7 seconds and a meaty 315/30 R18 tire out back, the Volkswagen GX3 was projected to cost around $17,000! Where do we sign?! Volkswagen’s excuse for not producing the possible pint sized rocket? “We would not be able to sell the GX3 without costly and complex redesigns that would alienate VW’s target market”. For shame target market, for shame!

2010 Audi Quattro

2010 Audi Quattro

Designed to celebrate the companies 30th anniversary of the original rally beast, the Audi quattro concept would have been a really good looking car. With a turbo charged 5 cylinder engine putting out 400 hp, the Quattro would have featured Audi’s newest 6 speed transmission and AWD system. 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds out of the Quattro AWD system is what made Audi, the company to beat back in the days of Group B.

Based on the platform of the RS5, the Audi Quattro concept was another very curious case of “why wouldn’t they make this”? After talk of a limited run of this beauty, the project was given the official ax this year.

1984 Dodge M4S

1984 Dodge M4S

The M4S was one of those cars that you saw and knew would never be made. It looked like a movie car. And that it was. Featured in The Wraith, it looked more like a Le Mans style road racing car than anything. Splatter it with obnoxious sponsorship decals and let it rip. The kind folks at Cosworth massaged the 2.2 liter 4 popper and added twin Garret t25 turbo chargers to help the little guy reach an insane 500 hp and propelling it to a top speed of 194 mph.

The M4S was never intended for production but a boy can dream, can’t he? We would have to wait another 8 years before insanity rolled out of Dodges doors in the form of the Viper.

Mercedes C111

BMW C111

Another case of all the right ingredients to make a delicious car, just to be pushed to the way side. Mid-engine, fiberglass body, gullwing doors. Gullwing doors never fail! The C111 was a bit of a test mule throughout its years at Mercedes-Benz testing facilities. Testing new advancements in the company such as diesel engines, Wankel engines, turbo chargers, and new interior ideas. The car would eventually go onto break land speed records with a modified V8 in place of the earlier rotary motors the company began with.

Even with 700 deposits put down for future purchases of the car, Mercedes-Benz decided not to go thorough with the project. With stringent emissions laws in many of the countries targeted for sale and the oil crisis going on at the time, the C111 never had it’s time to shine.

2006 Prodrive P2

2006 Prodrive P2

Prodrive is synonymous with performance in motor sports racing. Probably best known for their work with Subaru in the WRC, Prodrive also works with Aston Martin, Ford and MINI. In 2006 Prodrive pulled the old look what “we can do” when it developed the P2. The P2 was awesome as well as quirky. First the awesome. It was designed by Peter Stevens, the fine gentleman who gave us the McLaren F1 and Jaguar XJR-15. It had all of Prodrive’s fanciest drive line technologies of the time, with active center and rear diffs, an anti under steer system and anti lag system. So essentially, you could go around 180 degree turns at 400 mph (Kronospark estimated figure) and you’d be popping and spitting fire out of the tail pipe like a true rally car. And with all that cool stuff, it was still just an STI engine making 345 hp and even better, was based on the Subaru R1 platform. Arguably, Subaru’s dorkiest look cars.

Again, this was just the company showing what they could do if they could be bothered to make a production two-seater sports car. The company said if they did make the car it would probably sell for around $68,000. Pretty pricey for a Subaru but with it’s advanced drive line system and handling abilities, I bet you’d see a crap ton of clutch dumping young men, delivering pizzas, in very competent cars, to make that car payment each month.

BMW GINA

BMW GINA

This is when things in the car world just get silly. The GINA (Geometry and functions In ‘N’ Adaptations) is a BMW roadster wearing Spandex. Actually, its metallic textile fabric stretched over a skeleton of movable wires. Yes, a shape shifter. The doors open like butterfly wings (suck it gullwing doors), headlights open like eyelids, head rests grow like comforting tumors and the steering wheel moves towards the middle of the car, when getting in and out, so the driver can easily move into the drivers seat. (check out a video of the GINA in movement)

I don’t think it was money, emissions, lack of interested buyers or any other such excuse. I think once BMW heard the name was GINA (pronounced gee-na) and then saw how the hood “opened”, I think they realized people would pronounce it another way…..gross.

Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page and let us know what concept car we should have put on our list!

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Ridiculous Cars You Can Totally Talk Your Wife Into Buying

As a single person you can do pretty much anything you want. You answer to no one (except your mom), you eat what you want, you go where you want, you hang out with whom ever you want and you buy whatever car you want. If you want a stupidly fast car to get back and forth from your job at Subway, you do it. If you want a Corvette for your pizza delivery job, you get it. If you think a Ferrari makes sense for your job two blocks away, you get it. Believe me, I could have talked my self into buying a Lotus Exige for my old construction job if I really put my mind to it.

When you get married though, things change a bit. You have to stop being a selfish cuss. You have two people to think of now. “Your” money is now “our” money. Lame, I know. And if you plan on popping out a few dirty little rug rats, the Subaru BRZ you got for your moving company isn’t going to cut it anymore. For some reason, police frown upon strapping your kid’s car seat to the top of your two-seater with a couple of ratchet straps.

So, now we have a problem. If your now a family man or woman and need to transport your loved ones while maintaining your vehicular absurdity, what is one to do? Never fear, Kronospark has your back. We have gathered a small list of our favorite vehicles for getting your kids to soccer practice in no time.

WARNING: The following vehicles may stunt your child’s growth due to extremely low 0-60 times.

Mercedes ML63 AMG

Mercedes ML63 AMG

How can you go wrong with an SUV that comes stock with a rear diffuser? With a twin turbo 5.5 liter V8 engine producing 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, the Mercedes ML63 AMG will redefine “making a quick run to the corner store”. You can convince your significant other what a good idea this SUV is by peppering the conversation with terms like satellite navigation and PARKTRONIC active parking assist. Tell your family how safe features like an all-wheel drive system with 40-60 split and over sized breaks, make this a perfect SUV. They don’t need to know this is what launches you from 0-60 in 4.1 seconds and that you need those big breaks to keep you from traveling into the future. They also wouldn’t benefit from knowing that the optional AMG Performance Package turns the boost up from 14 to 18.8 lbs of boost now giving you 550 hp and 560 lb-ft torque. With 71 cubic ft of cargo space you can jam all the Johnny Jumpers and strollers you need to in the back while still embarrassing the guy in the sports car sitting next to you at the red light.

Range Rover Sport Super

Range Rover Sport Super

For all the Kronospark fans that make their living playing professional sports or rapping, we have the family car for you. The Range Rover Sport Super, the marques sportiest box on wheels, is perfect for when your running a little late to dropping the kids off at school. The Range Rovers 5.0 liter V8 is donned with a twin-vortex supercharger which helps the hp’s see a not too shabby 510 and 461 lb-ft of torque. Their Dynamic Response suspension system senses cornering forces and automatically adjusts anti-roll bars to optimize body control and handling. You know, so the vehicle doesn’t tip while doing four wheel drifts…. I mean while safely transporting your most precious cargo.

The Range Rover is no slouch off-road either. The permanent four-wheel drive system, two speed transfer case and electronically controlled variable locking center differential that automatically distributes available torque to both drive axles will allow you to go back to get your daughters ballet shoes, which she haphazardly left on the other side of that pesky rock quarry. Also, with 71 cubic ft of cargo space you can easily haul enough diapers to get you through those messy first couple of years.

2004 Subaru Forester STI

Subaru Forester STI

Our friends in the Land of the Rising Sun were lucky to get this little gem. Subaru said “Well, I guess we could make our lamest car as good as our best car…… Let’s do that.” Using their trusty turbo charged and inter cooled DOHC 2.5 flat four, the modestly tuned motor put out 320 hp and a respectable 279 lb-ft torque. The Forester used the Impreza STI’s 6 speed transmission filled with taller gear ratios to match the engines torque curve.

Borrowing the WRX STI’s sport springs and revised struts, the extra girth of the Forester required beefier anti-roll bars and cross members. Also keeping the Foresters heft in check, were Brembo brakes and 18 inch rims wrapped in 225/45R-18 Bridgestone Potenzas. With a much smaller 29.6 cubic ft of cargo space, we can just say this is the more economical choice of the bunch. But don’t let that steer you away from this little guy. With it’s rally heritage, it wouldn’t take you long to ruin a dozen eggs on your way back from the grocery store while trying to perfect your Scandinavian flick.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

She has decorative ceramic dishes in the kitchen so it’s only fare that you have ceramic brakes on your family car, right?! (We apologize if that comment was sexist but were pretty sure nobody actually reads this so were not too worried). Porsche’s 4.8 liter V8 thought a single turbo would be too 968 (gross) so they doubled up on that jam and added a second to reach the Cayenne‘s 550 hp and 553 lb.-ft of torque. The motor was put up front so the family dog wouldn’t get too hot sitting on it in it’s usual rear mounted position. But with the aforementioned ceramic brakes doing the halting work, your Great Dane may be downsized to a Chihuahua if applied to liberally.

With the 8 speed Triptronic paddle shifted transmission, you can envision yourself in an F1 car as you shuttle your kids to their afternoon play date at Chuck E. Cheese’s. And for the longer hauls you can can get straight up lazy using Porsche’s adaptive cruise control which mimics the speed of the car in front of you while keeping a constant safe distance as they speed up and slow down.

Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

Cadilac CTS-V Wagon

Big, smokey, Git-R-Dun, American, rear wheel drive burn outs!! I’m sorry! I can’t take it anymore! All the CTS-V Wagon is is a Corvette that you can haul a Corvette around in! A 6.2 liter V8 with an Eaton supercharger on top, spews out 556 hp straight to the back wheels. 6 speed manual transmission, Brembo brakes, Recaro seats…. I can’t come up with anything to up sell this one to the wife. The only thing I came up with was “Honey, it’s got 58 cubic ft of cargo space. We’ll need that to store your face when it melts off after I hammer the skinny pedal!”

Tell us your favorite “family car”! If any of you say the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, I think we might have to un-friend you on our Facebook page!

Wagon Queen Family Truckster

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Fat Apples vs. Fat Kiwis

I’ve been catching up on the 2012 Australian V8 Supercar series lately. I’m pretty sure the equation for that stuff is 4 doors x 600+ hp = AWESOME!! With massive 4 door cars churning out over 600 hp, a little rubbing and bumping, wheels leaving the ground through fast chicanes and consistent position changes, whats not to love? With the accents of the announcers, if you squint your eyes a little, it seems like a new installment to the Mad Max trilogy.

Commodore taking flight.

As I watched the race, I wondered why America didn’t have this form of racing. A series based on production cars so evenly matched, it really comes down to driver skill. There are certainly a number of spec series such as the SCCA‘s spec Miata series but nothing has caught on with main stream appeal. All except a little thing called NASCAR.

NASCAR is Americas most watched live sporting event and second most watched televised event falling only behind the NFL. With an annual revenue of $3 billion, its obvious the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is an extremely popular sporting event. The problem is, I just don’t get it. NASCAR, to me, is like any other major American sporting event, boring. To look at all the parts separately, NASCAR seems like the greatest thing ever invented. So lets do that first.

As I’m sure we’ve all heard, NASCAR’s roots began in the prohibition era. Drivers running bootleg whiskey needed fast cars to elude the coppers. Over time they modified the “stock cars” to handle better, take more abuse and more obviously go faster.

Early stock car.

With the Prohibition being repealed in 1933 the need for runners wasn’t completely obsolete. Moonshine was still illegal and in need of being delivered but by now the cars being used, were also being used in local races. Mostly popular in the Southern States, the cars were now being modified for racing, rather than “running”.
The tracks of the early days were partially, if not fully dirt. Cars were modified to resist breaking while traveling through heavily rutted corners and still to run faster.

So here we have one of the first examples of the tuner crowd, illegal street racing and American rally racing all combined into one! So what happened?! Why is “stock car racing” the complete opposite of its name? Cars are now hollowed out, tube framed “cars” with stickers for headlights. Okay, my blood is starting to boil. Lets get back to the original comparison/question.

Lets look at power. V8 Supercars have between 620-650 hp. At the Bathurst 1000 they take it down closer to 600 hp so they can get a little better gas mileage for the 620 mile length of the race. NASCAR cars can have upward of 750 hp, all of which is being created by a naturally aspirated engine! Awesome, right? Well, that all depends on what track they race at. If your at Talladega Superspeedway, a 2.66 mile track, you’ll have all 750 hp unleashed. If your at a small track like Bristol Motor Speedway, a half mile track, they crank that power as low as 450 hp. That’s taking away 40% of the power! Boring.

How about the cars themselves? Neither series has a “stock car” no matter what they say. Both are tube framed, purpose built race cars. But if you go to your local Ford or Holden dealer down under, you can walk away from either of the dealers with 360 hp civilian version of your favorite race car in the Falcon or the Commodore. Both have rear wheel drive, performance suspension and brakes and the option of a manual transmission. That’s pretty sporty for a sedan with a full warranty. The same can’t be said for the road going NASCAR variants.

Holden Commodore SSV

For power, the Impala is your best choice, pumping out 300 hp straight to the front wheels….. great. It only gets worse. The Toyota Camry puts out a very racy 268 hp, while Fords Fusion puts out 240 hp. The Ford is a very good looking car and does come with optional all-wheel drive but doesn’t come to mind ever when talking about sporty factory cars. The Impala and the Camry give you the choice of an automatic transmission or an automatic transmission. Ford was nice enough to give you the option of rowing through the gears, if you are so inclined.

So I prefer the consistent overabundance of power in V8 Supercars and also they’re consumer versions of the race car. I used to think my loathing for NASCAR was solely based on the “oval” track format. I felt NASCAR was like horse racing, a bunch of stuff I can’t afford going around in circles. But NASCAR does have a few road courses that it visits in it’s schedule, like Watkins Glen and Sonoma Raceway. Unfortunately, the racing just isn’t as exciting to me at these venues. The cars seem to lumber around the track, slipping and sliding through the corners. I would certainly chalk this up to lack of experience on road courses. I would expect to see the same if a road course specialist was thrown into an oval format. Interestingly enough though, Marcos Ambrose, a former 2 time V8 Supercar Champion, is currently sitting in 18th place in the Sprint Cup Series.

Watkins Glen finish.

So NASCAR is definitely benefiting from drivers like Marcos to bring the fans of road racing to the oval track world. Hopefully another huge draw to bring the fans of these two sports together will be the debut running of V8 Supercars state side at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas in 2013. There is talk of setting up the date for some time in May which could fill the gap between NASCARs All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600 weekend, possibly luring NASCAR drivers to participate in the first race of its kind in America.

Now, I can certainly see how the V8 series can be boring too, with just 2 kinds of cars out there. Hopefully, a change that could make the V8 Supercar series more interesting is introduction of the “Car of the Future“. This is basically a fancy way of saying “we’re going to let cars, other than Falcons and Commodores, play with us again”. Being backed by Nissan Motorsports division, Kelly Racing has already designed and been testing four Nissan Altima entries for the 2013 season, using a V8 motor used in Nissan and Infiniti trucks. Also jumping into the Supercar pool, will be Erebus Racing with its 3 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMGs.

Kelly Racing Nissan Altima

So, at this point I think I’m just making myself hate/love both forms of racing even more. I can certainly see the draw of a live NASCAR event, being able to watch the race in it’s entirety. The same can’t be said for road racing. But in NASCAR you don’t get the two wheel action and dive bomb passes that you get in V8 Supercars…… I think I’m just going to start watching drag racing.

Tell us which form of racing you prefer, NASCAR or V8 Supercars and why. Also tell me why I should have never made this ridiculous comparison in the first place!

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Why is this in Wisconsin?!

It seems as though my friend Erik and I often have the same question as we drive to some sort of car event or club meeting. Weather its the Slimey Crud Run, the Symco Shakedown, Badger Steam and Gas Engine Show or the Botham Vineyard Vintage Car Show we always ask the same thing. Why is this in Wisconsin?! Wisconsin is known for cheese, beer, loving Brett Favre then hating Brett Favre, badgers, more beer and….. oh yeah, cheese.

Our latest target for this question was on our way to Stauffer Classics. A smallish building in Blue Mounds, WI, Stauffer Classics LTD is owned and ran by George Stauffer. A quiet guy, if left alone, but if asked about his beloved car collection is quick to talk about his passion. The Stauffer family started in the cheese business, of course, but after selling the company to another cheese conglomerate, he started to pursue his passion of collecting cars. His passion has led to a successful business.

George seems to be a “right place at the right time kind of guy” when it comes to acquiring his cars. Some are full on race cars that were no longer relevant or competitive in there class due to new technology. Some are peculiar but somewhat strange brands that only the true collectors would know about. And some are 1987 AM General M-1038 HUMVEE’s with replica 50 caliber machine guns on them. All are vehicles that at the time, I’m sure the original owner thought “What am I ever going to do with this thing?”.

A few cars in the stable consist of a 91 Silk Cut Jaguar XJR12, one of 10 manual 78 De Tomaso Longchamps ever made, a 675hp 88 Bentley and lets not forget the Sputnik 1 satellite replica hanging over a brand new McLaren.

So back to our original question, why is this in Wisconsin? Well, Wisconsin does have a full history when it comes to automobiles, motorcycles and certainly racing. In the early 1900’s, a fellow named Thomas B. Jeffrey sold his bicycle company in Chicago and moved to Kenosha to pursue his automobile business he had played with on the side. Borrowing the name from the bike he used to produce, Jeffrey made 1500 “Ramblers” in 1902 trying to mimic the ideas of Henry Ford by making automobiles for the average American family. After selling the plant to Nash in 1916, Kenosha became the largest producer of cars in the US, outside of Detroit. After additional plants were created in Racine and Milwaukee, the Nash company went on to great success after negotiating a contract with the US Government to make thousands of trucks for use in the first World War.

Also coming from a history of bicycles, William Harley and brothers William, Walter and Arthur Davidson put a 2 cylinder engine on a bike to make their first Harley-Davidson Motorcycle in 1903 in Milwaukee, WI. In 1907 they designed their V-Twin engine which still exists in most of their bikes, in a distant form, today. The company produced between 15,000 and 18,000 motorcycles for use in WWI for dispatch work which helped push the company on to become the most successful American motorcycle company in the world.

In racing, Menominee WI native, Harry Miller was an influential racing car designer and builder in the 20’s and 30’s. Over his career, Miller produced 9 Indianapolis 500 winning cars and 3 more winning cars with his motors. Later teaming up with a gentlemen named Preston Tucker, they created an unsuccessful selling combat car that was capable of 115mph!

And of course, Wisconsin is home to the world famous Road America. Built just south of Elkhart Lake, Road America has been hosting races since 1955. It’s also one of only a few tracks in the world that has remained in its original configuration since it was built. Road America is host to top tier racing series including the AMA Superbike series, Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events, NASCAR Nationwide series, and the American Le Mans series. With open seating, Road America allows spectators to walk a large portion of the grounds to find multiple angles of the racing action, making it a favorite track among race fans.

So, with Wisconsin’s rich automobile and racing history, I guess it makes a little more sense as to why the car culture is still rich within its borders. So next time you’re on your way watch gigantic steam driven tractors shake the earth or to see modern greasers drag race their mini bikes down a dirt drag strip, don’t ask why it exists in Wisconsin. Just be happy that it does.

Stop by our Facebook page to see the full album of pictures taken at Stauffer Classics!

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Has Ken Block Ruined Rally Racing?

We’ve all seen the videos. Some ridiculously high powered variant of a Subaru or Ford, sits menacingly in a warehouse or track side, idling calmly. A few shots of what seems to be miscellaneously placed cones and barricades strewn about looking like they were put there by some disgruntled road works employee on his last day on the job. The camera shot comes back to said high powered car, now with the familiar face of Ken Block at the helm. A few shots of colorful buttons and gadgetry before the camera focuses on our hero’s neon splattered racing shoe as it pushes the skinny petal hard to the floor. The outside camera view shows the exhaust popping, exploding and shooting fire like a machine gun wielded by a muscly action hero. The e-brake is released and the car shoots off the line like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. The rev limiter is reached every other second, the car leaves the ground more often than a Delta passenger plane, tires are ruined and we’re all left slack jawed and drooling at our computer screen.

The first Ken Block gymkhana video I saw absolutely left me in awe. The very first power slide initiated, at what seemed to be triple digit speeds, gave me goosebumps. Finally, an entertainment based performance driving video for true fans of rallying. Before then we could only watch WRC clips on youtube or if you had the ultimate cable package, watch actual coverage of the WRC. After watching the first gymkhana video you were left with many questions: Where is this abandoned airstrip and how do I get on it? How much does that giant stack BFG’s cost? How many times did he hit that poor bastard on the segway? And most importantly, who the heck is this Ken Block guy?

Turns out Ken Block is one of the co-founders of the DC Shoe Company. Growing up as a little skate rat and having owned plenty of DC shoes, I had never heard of this guy. I grew up thinking DC stood for Danny (Way) and Colin (McKay), two of there biggest riders at the early conception of the company. So now knowing that this random guy was the co-founder of one of skate boarding’s largest shoe companies (who was then sold to surfing giant Quicksilver in 2004 for almost $90 million), it’s a little easier to understand how that stack of tires got there and how you pay for a 530hp STI prepared by Crawford Performance too.

So we now know who Mr. Block is and where his digs came from but where did he get those skills? I’m sure we’ve all been to a lapping day or auto-cross where the rich guy shows up in something very pricey and proceeds to burn out the clutch, burn up the tires unnecessarily or even worse, total the car. So we know that money doesn’t by skill. Watching the video, we see the skid marks from previous attempts at the obstacle but not many. The man’s car control is certainly above average.

In 2005 Ken Block competed in the Rally America series placing third in class in his first season. Not a bad showing for your first attempt. He was awarded rookie of the year that year and rightly so. From there he went on to sign a deal with Subaru along with his team mate Travis Pastrana. His name became more widely known through competing in Rally America events as well as X Games events but outright wins never really came. His best season with Rally America came in 2008 when he took home second place which isn’t as impressive when you break down the events. 4 retirements out of 9 isn’t all that great. Your competitors must not be doing all that well if your coming in second with results like that.

WRC debut.

None the less, Ken decided to throw his helmet into the ring of PWRC in 2007. His best showing was 28th place at Rally Mexico according to Wikipedia but I couldn’t confirm that on the FIA archived results. Later years in PWRC and WRC show modest standings and point accumulation. Point being, on the professional level Ken Block has only proved to be so so. The time I would have seen Ken block was at the Rally of the Tall Pines in Ontario. He rolled his car in a previous stage so I never saw him. Going from beating your nearest competitor by one minute at the Lake Superior Rally to being 42 seconds behind the leader in your best WRC result is a bit of a wake up call.

So now we have a decent driver, with a boat load of cash and the immense ability to create viral videos. Does this actually help the world of rallying and race car driving in general? Aside from the gymkhana videos, the only time I hear or see the result of Ken Block’s “hooning”, is when I turn on my XboX and play video games or at a track when I see his t-shirts or offensively bright shoes. And maybe that’s my answer. When is the last time I saw a Carlos Sainz t-shirt? When is the last time I saw Richard Burns signature shoes? When is the last time I played a Colin McRae video game?…. Well, I have done that but you get the point.

Ken Block has brought a relatively non-existent motor sport to the eyes of many an American. And honestly, if you asked me to name a sports car driver that I could picture hanging out with, it would have to be Ken Block. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. And to be fair, Ken Block isn’t exactly racing against a bunch of slouches in the WRC. With current drivers such as Mikko Hirvonen, Sebastien Loeb, Jari-Matti Latvala, Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg he’s not in the company of guys who don’t know what they’re doing.

So has Ken Block ruined rally racing? No, just a few bumper covers, a couple sets of rims and a crap ton of tires!

Let us know what you think of rally “hoonigan” Ken Block on here or on our Facebook page!

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Botham Vineyard Vintage Celebration

Botham Vineyard Vintage Celebration

The mid-west is puzzling to me. I was born in New Jersey but grew up primarily in Florida. I’m an east coast guy, a city boy if you will. When a high school friend moved to Wisconsin I thought to myself “Well, I’ll never see that guy again”. The mid-west just never seemed to be much of a cultural hub. With the exception of Chicago, when I thought of the mid-west I pictured old photos of the dust bowl. I know this occurred nowhere near Wisconsin but I never claimed my brain was full of correct information. Even though I moved to Wisconsin years ago, I’m still surprised by the little gems it holds.

After attending the dirty, dusty and rockabilly filled atmosphere at the Symco Shakedown yesterday, I was treated to pretty much the exact opposite today at the Botham Vineyards Vintage Celebration. The rolling hills, filled with grape vines made for a peaceful  back drop at the Botham Vineyards. Owner and operator, Peter Botham’s success in the wine business has allowed him to dabble in the world of motor racing. Its this love that lead to the Vintage celebration every August. If sipping on wine and checking out some seriously rare cars sounds like a good time, put the Botham Vineyards Vintage Celebration on your calendar for next year.

Visit the Kronospark Facebook page to see some pictures taken at the Botham Vineyards Vintage Celebration.

Symco Shakedown!!!

Symco Shakedown

Just when you thought the Slimey Crud Run was the only cool thing with a weird name happening in Wisconsin, I stumble upon the Symco Shakedown!

The Symco Shakedown, as they refer to themselves, is “the premier Traditional Style Hot Rod Show and Party” in Wisconsin. I would beg to differ and say that they could change that to the nation, if not world and/or universe. I don’t know when it started or  who started it but my god is it awesome. This Hot Rod Show is the real deal with very strict rules so as to keep out the rif-raf. Cars 65′ or older and period correct! If it wasn’t made before 1965 you need to remove it or make sure its well hidden in order to make it into the gates of the show area.

When you do walk through the gates, it’s like walking back into time. People dressed as “greasers” and “pin-up girls” are common place. In the small town setting there are  Rockabilly bands playing in bars and on barn stages as serious American iron rumbles around. And when I say American iron, I don’t just mean cars. There is just as many old tractors and farm equipment as there are Hot Rods.

Something definitely worth checking out is the mini bike drag races. A little more relaxed on the time period rules but still an amazing site. Everything from your typical gas powered mini bikes to electric, drag bikes and ATV powered little red wagons. Just stay clear of the end of the track because those things haul tater and may or may not have functional brakes.

You still have 1 more day to get out to Symco this year but if you can’t make it, definitely mark your calendars for next year! Go to our Facebook page to check out some pictures from the Symco Shakedown!

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