January 25, 2009

The One(s) That Got Away [or, Another Saab Story]

As some readers may recall, I purchased both of my beloved Saabs from a Dodge dealer in North-West Pennsylvania. This part of the state isn't exactly brimming with European cars, and surprisingly, despite the seemingly endless amount of Chrysler products running around the county, the dealer went bankrupt last year. Anyway, what was so unique about this dealer of Chrysler machinery was that the owner had a strange love for Saabs. Hence, how and why I found my specimens there. When the place was still up and running, I drove by one day to find two Saab 96s parked across the street in an abandoned lot. Naturally I had to stop and look and also inquire about purchasing them. One was a Monte Carlo 850 in rather rough, but restorable shape, and the other a standard 96 that was in largely original condition and very restorable and likely drivable as-is. Unfortunately, when questioned, the owner assured me that the vehicles were not for sale and were to be her personal projects. Before they finally disappeared for good, I snapped some photos. (These are about 4 years old now... I found them in my archives)

January 19, 2009

Mexico's love affair with air-cooled Volkswagens.

Unless you have one as a driveway ornament, air-cooled Volkswagens are a distant memory of the past for most people. Maybe you drove one in college or maybe your parents had one when you were born. In Mexico, however, this archaic but time-proven design is still used daily. In fact, Mexico stopped production of the Beetle in 2003. The basic design is the same, it still uses a type 1 engine (though it's fuel injected). Some other changes include an updated dash, an alarm, bumper-mounted turn signals in the front and in some cases the headlight trim is body-colored. A lot of taxi drivers in Mexico City have a Beetle although the city is pushing them to get rid of them because of the pollution they emit. As a side note, another good alternative for taxi drivers is the Nissan Tsuru, the early 1990s Sentra that is still in production there.

I spotted several of these delivery vans:

And, while most Beetles you see in Mexico are fairly new, the old ones are still represented. The huge car culture there means that most cars seem to stay on the road which is great to see:

Buses are still around but they don't all fit into the "air-cooled Volkswagen" category. For the Mexican market, Volkwagen started using the water-cooled 1.4 in the early 1990s. Mexican production stopped but they're still built in Brasil. The ones designated for export (mostly to the Mexican market) are water cooled but the ones built for the Brasilian domestic market still use the type 1, air cooled engine. Interesting thing is, in Mexico, they still use Buses as, well.. buses. The collectivos are sometimes Buses and various private enterprises use them to shuttle people (like the red one pictured, which we took to go from downtown to a river). The radiator in the front is a dead giveaway that you're looking at a water-cooled Bus.

The Volkswagen Brasilia was built in the 1970s in Brasil primarily for the South and Central American markets but they were also sold in Mexico. It was an attempt at creating a more versatile Beetle- the body ressembles a type 4 body but it uses a type 1 engine. Other parts were borrowed from VW's parts bin, including taillights pulled from a type 4. They're around but by no means common and I was often in taxis, buses or friends' cars so photographing one proved to be hard but here's a rather clapped out one:

Lastly, this was an interesting find- a very early Bus that still has semaphores.

Photos were taken in Mexico City, Oaxaca and San Cristobal.

January 11, 2009

Great Automotive Failures: Ford's Merkur Brand

The Merkur brand, which Ford introduced to the North American market in 1985 could have been great. However it has fallen into relative obscurity like so many other attempts to sell unique European cars Stateside.

Ford’s then V.P. Bob Lutz saw some potential selling European market Fords as a separate brand in the US and Canada. The “Merkur” brand was cleverly named after the German spelling of Mercury, and was offered at select Lincoln-Mercury dealers. The first of these vehicles to cross the Atlantic was the XR4Ti – a re-worked version of Ford of Europe’s relatively popular sporting version of the Sierra, the XR4i. Karmann in Germany assembled the model. Unlike its European counterpart, which used the 2.9 liter “Cologne” V6, the XR4Ti used a turbocharged 2.3 liter, 4-cylinder engine like that used in turbocharged Thunderbirds of the era. Transmissions were either a 3-speed slush-box automatic or a 5-speed manual. Performance of the Merkur wasn’t bad and was duly noted by the automotive press, though it wasn’t necessarily an earth-shattering model compared to its competition.

Still seeking to build up the Merkur brand, the larger, more luxurious, Scorpio model was introduced to North American market in 1988. This model was also a German-built version of the Ford Scorpio, which had actually been named European Car of the Year in 1986. This model did utilize the Cologne V6, which performed decently; unfortunately, the Merkur version received a ‘softer’ feel to appeal more to the American market. The result was a neutered version of one of Europe’s more successful executive sedans at the time.

By the time the 1989 model year rolled around, the Merkur division wasn’t quite living up to Ford’s hopes. The high-performance Cosworth versions (as offered in Europe) were never offered on either Merkur model. Sales were less than stellar and the cars were expensive. Furthermore, despite being sold by Ford, the Merkurs were not a well-known brand compared to the other European competition from BMW, Volvo, Saab, Audi and so-on. The Scorpio also resembled much less-expensive models Mercury causing somewhat of an image problem. The cost of importing the vehicles was high, and finally, when more strict safety legislation came into effect for the 1990 model year, Ford opted not to bother re-tooling and continue sales in North America. So ended Ford’s attempt to sell some of it’s more interesting vehicles to its home market. 

January 1, 2009

Type 2.

I've been after another air-cooled Volkswagen since I sold my 1962 Bug in 2007. I found a replacement (more or less) last week when I picked up this 1973 Bus from a shop around Provo, Utah. I don't know much about its history but it was last tagged in 1997 in Washington, plate number 315 HCP. It was brought to the shop for repair but the customer never paid and so it sat until they were able to get a title for it.
It runs and drives and it's not too rusty but it needs a lot of electrical work, very little works on it presently. I'll update this as the project progresses.