January 30, 2010
In the late 1970s, Honda began researching the possibility of four-wheel-steering as a way of improving upon the basic fundamental design of the automobile. It was an ambitious project for a company, which, up to that point, had only been building cars for a decade or so. They recognized the advantages of having all four wheels steer a vehicle, though the issue would become more complex when choosing between a set of rear wheels that steers in the same or the opposite direction of the front set.
If the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction, the turning radius of the vehicle is reduced (in this case, about 3 feet) and tight-turns become easier to maneuver. However, same-direction steering allows for rapid changes in lateral movement - such as passing maneuvers - with far less actual rotation of the car's body.
Honda opted against picking one method or the other and engineered a mechanism to allow the rear wheels to steer in parallel with the front at slight steering angles, but opposite of the front under tight angles. A separate steering gearbox at the rear of the car performed the complex task of aligning the rear wheels via a solid shaft from the front of the car.
By using planetary gears and eccentric shafts, they were able to allow the rear wheels to turn in one direction, then re-center, and steer the opposite direction all while the driver turns the steering wheel in only one direction.
By 1988, Honda's 4WS system was finally available on the Prelude. Upon testing, the 4WS Prelude was able to not only significantly out-handle its two-wheel-steered sibling, but also embarrass some rather serious machinery from Europe in a slalom test.
Primarily, 4WS was only offered on the Prelude, though some markets did see a 4WS Accord around 1990. Honda continued to offer the 4WS feature on the Prelude throughout the rest of its model life, finally fading out in 2001. Honda wasn't the only car company to offer four-wheel-steering; Toyota, Nissan, and even GM did. However, it could be argued that theirs certainly set the industry standard for over two decades. Unlike many imitators, Honda's system was also fully mechanical, as well as offering variable geometry. With nearly a decade since Honda last offered the system, we are left to wonder if it will make an appearance again, though with such innovation and advantages, I'm surprised it's been this long.
January 29, 2010
January 27, 2010
January 26, 2010
Well, I'm happy to announce that I was wrong. Thanks to Spyker's last minute deal, Saab Automobiles has been saved.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- General Motor's Swedish Saab brand has been saved from certain death thanks to a last-minute deal with Dutch exotic car builder Spyker.
Spyker has agreed to pay $74 million in cash and $326 million in preferred stock in a new Saab that will emerge from this deal. The Swedish government has agreed to guarantee a $563 million (400 million Euro) European Investment Bank loan for Saab.
The deal is expected to close in mid-February, GM said.
As part of the deal, Spyker Cars will change its name to Saab Spyker Cars
"We are very much looking forward to being part of the next chapter in Saab's illustrious history," said Spyker CEO Victor Muller in statement. "Saab is an iconic brand that we are honored to shepherd."
Saab had been on the verge of launching two new models, a redesigned 9-5 mid-size car and the new 9-4X crossover SUV. Those launches will now continue, Smith said, with GM providing parts and support.
The 9-5 is already being produced Sweden, Spyker said. GM is producing the 9-4X, which is closely related to the new Cadillac SRX, in its Mexican factory.
Saab Spyker is expected to take over relationships with Saab's U.S. dealer network, [John Smith, GM vice president] said. Warranty support will continue without interruption, he said.
Another supercar maker, Sweden's Koenigsegg Group AB, had dropped negotiations to buy Saab in November. Since the end of 2009, Saab has officially been in a "wind down" mode even as GM said it was considering bids from outside investors, including Spyker, which has announced several revised offers in an attempt to reach a deal.
January 25, 2010
In the 1950s and 1960s European car companies from all over the old continent fought for a share of the U.S. market. Citroen ventured out to sell its 2CV and in ten years sold roughly what all the Honda dealers in Utah sell in a five-day work week; a look in a 1965 issue of Road & Track reveals you could purchase a 1959 Borgward for $850 or a Renault 8 Gordini new for $2,400.
Volkswagen entered the fray in the mid-1950s and sold its standard lineup of rear-engined cars. However, it took a different strategy for the south American continent. The Wolfsburg company established Volkswagen do Brasil (Volkswagen of Brazil, VWdB from now on) in 1953 to gain a foothold in the Latin American market. Of course VWdB was still part of the main Volkswagen company but it had more autonomy than other branches. With VWdB Volkswagen invested in a production factory to save money on the cost of importing cars. While at first VWdB sold the same standard lineup offered in the U.S. and in Europe (Type 1 and Type 2), they quickly started to design and build their own cars. It would take a very long article to cover all of the Brasilian Volkswagens but we’ve picked three interesting ones to feature (and have avoided the SP2, which near everyone seems to know about.)
VWdB built its own, Brazil-only version of the Karmann-Ghia called the Karmann-Ghia TC. Like the Type 34 Ghia it was based on the Type 3 and used its drivetrain. The Giugiaro-designed body looks like the illegitimate yet curiously attractive offspring of a Fiat 850 Coupe and a Porsche 911. The Ghia TC was built between 1970 and 1976 but they were never sold outside of South America.
Lastly, VWdB still builds the Kombi – the same Type 2 design that debuted halfway through the last century. The main difference between the 2010 Kombi and, say, a 1970 Kombi is that the former is powered by a straight-4 fuel-injected 1400cc engine, water-cooled but still mounted in the rear. The radiator is mounted in the front of the car (visible in the photos below). The engine is more modern than the one in its 20th century forerunner but the transmission remains a 4-speed manual, arguably obsolete in a time when you can order a BMW with an 8-speed box. The 4-speed limits the Kombi’s top speed to about 130km/h (or 80mph) though my experience with older VWs makes me question how much faster you’d really want to go in one of these. It is worth noting that a company in England, Danbury Motor Caravans imports new Kombis from Brazil and sells them in LHD or RHD form starting at £22,999.
January 24, 2010
January 11, 2010
January 10, 2010
I spotted this rare Type 2 single cab in Park City, Utah. It looks to be in original, unrestored condition and the logo on the door may indicate that it was privately imported from Germany.
These were popular in the early 1960s as a more efficient alternative to big American pickups. However, they were the victim of a tariff barrier in the mid 1960s which curbed the demand for them and they became scarce on the U.S. market, a big reason why they're rare and why T2 single cabs are arguably even rarer. In Germany they faced almost no serious competition (save for maybe Goliath vans) and were commonly used for a wide array of jobs. Companies across Europe built vans/pickups like this to compete with it in their home country; these included the Citroen Type H, Renault Estafette and the Peugeot D4 in France, the Fiat 241 and Alfa Romeo Romeo van series in Italy, etc.
January 2, 2010
The Lotus 7 has long been a living legend in the sports car world. Since its debut in 1957, Colin Chapman's diminutive roadster has been one of the gold-standards by which automotive agility and sheer driving pleasure is judged against. By 1973, Lotus sold off the rights to manufacture the design to their primary distributor, Caterham. They continued the manufacture and sale of the 7 (in the most desirable form of the Series 3) with only minor changes and improvements. In 1994, however, Caterham decided to embark on a new project - the 21. The 21 was based around the chassis and drive-train of the 7, but it featured a new, curvaceous, fully enclosed body.
The shape was penned by Iain Robertson and designed to use existing lights and other miscellaneous parts where possible. The headlights were from a Suzuki Cappuccino, the taillights from a Ford Mondeo, the steering column from a Vauxhall and door handles from an Opel. Much of the design work was done using a full-scale foam mock-up to ensure a fluid design around these bits. Inside the car featured leather seats and a sculpted dash, though still quite austire in terms of ammenities.
The first prototype hit the car show circuit clothed in a polished aluminum body. Initially, Caterham planned to offer the car in both alloy or fiberglass, though only fiberglass models saw production.
The car was powered by either the venerable 1.6L Rover K-series engine or the 1.8 Vauxhall unit, both of which could be found in the 7 model. The transmission was also, predictably, the same Ford sourced 5-speed as the 7. Despite the extra bodywork, the 21 still weighed less than 1,500 lbs.
Unfortunately, the 21 wasn't as well received as enthusiastically as it was conceived. Only 48 were built before the plug was pulled on the project. It was still considered expensive, and despite the effort, perhaps it just lacked the character of its Lotus designed predecessor.