The appropriately named Plymouth, Mich., once again played host to the wonderful Concours d’Elegance of America a few days ago, and the event … eh, you know what? Let’s just skip to checking out a random assortment of the many amazing vehicles that were on display.
About Charles KromeCharles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.
In addition to seeing a lot of cool cars at the recent Concours d’Elegance of America, I also had a chance to catch one of the first screenings of Wagonmasters, a 40-minute documentary that had its public premiere at the event. It’s the work of North Carolina filmmakers Sam Smartt and Chris Zaluski, and represents a paean to the classic American station wagon; that means full size and rear-wheel drive with an expiration date of 1996—when the last of such cars, the Buick Roadmaster and Chevy Caprice wagons, went out of production.
Even before moving to its current digs in pleasant Plymouth, Mich., the event now known as the Concours d’Elegance of America was considered among the top handful of such exhibitions in the world; it was definitely one of just two or three top-tier concours shows in this country, along with Pebble Beach and Amelia Island. Now, sprawling across the grounds of the ritzy St. John’s Inn, the Motor City’s other international auto show has taken a much higher profile of late—but they still gave me press credentials anyway!
The same friend who first introduced me into the thrills of high-school hoonage—in a late 1970s Chevy Monza—recently bought this 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin, and I was lucky enough to get some time behind the wheel. For those who haven’t read the head Savant’s own piece on the car, from 2009, the Golf Harlequin actually came that way right from the factory.
It would be easy to be jealous of Ken Lingenfelter if you didn’t know the back-story. After all, here’s a guy who had the wherewithal to get into collecting about a decade ago and has since built up a stunning selection of more than 150 of the coolest cars in the world. Of course, not satisfied with just collecting them, he also purchased one of the globe’s top tuning operations, itself boasting more than 30 very successful years in the business and a very familiar name—Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, originally founded by Ken’s cousin, the veteran NHRA champion and engineer John Lingenfelter.
Among the automotive elite, Detroit’s Cobo Hall is well-known as the home of the North American International Auto Show, one of the premier events on the annual auto show circuit. Yet perhaps only the true Auto Savant realizes that, each year, a little more than a month after NAIAS, Cobo is the site of a similarly world-class automotive exhibition that holds the same position in its part of the universe that the other Detroit auto show maintains for the new-vehicle industry. I’m writing, of course, about Autorama, the long-running hot-rod fest that’s now in its 60th year and wrapped up this past weekend.
By Charles Krome
I was reviewing some of last year’s pictures recently, and came across this Thing, which I had shot over the summer during a road trip to the wild and wacky Dixieland Flea Market in Waterford Hills, Mich. It wasn’t for sale, but it did bring back some fond memories from my childhood days, when seeing life-sized toys like this helped bridge the gap between Hot Wheels and my first real set of wheels.
By Charles Krome
To say the all-new 2012 VW Passat is having a successful launch could be the understatement of the year: Volkswagen’s all-American mid-size sedan reaped a tidy 986.2 percent increase in sales last month, and although that’s partially because VW only sold 464 of them in October 2010, the bottom line here—5,040 deliveries—is a fairly strong achievement. To put that into context, that total is higher than the October sales for cars like the Ford Mustang, Hyundai Accent or Nissan Maxima. Then, just a few days ago, the new Passat added to the sales excitement by being named Motor Trend 2012 Car of the Year.
By Charles Krome
It’s no doubt been an ugly year for Honda. The company has lost more than 200,000 units of production that would have otherwise ended up in U.S. dealerships, and it’s still waiting for some facilities to get back up to full speed. Sales are down more than 5 percent through October, at a time when the industry as a whole has grown by about 7.5 percent. Worse, the all-new 2012 Honda Civic has been affected by both those same production problems as well as surprisingly weak reviews, allowing rivals like the Chevy Cruze to gain a significant foothold in the highly competitive compact car segment. In other words, there’s an awful lot riding on the launch of the completely redesigned 2012 Honda CR-V—but after a recent media drive for the vehicle, I’m not expecting an awful lot of new customers to be riding in it.
By Charles Krome
Toyota wasn’t the first automaker to build something approaching a livable hybrid vehicle for the U.S.; that honor, of course, is usually given to Honda and its first-gen Insight. But what Toyota did do is create the first hybrid that people actually wanted to buy, and here we are ten years later with more than 1 million Prii having found their way to customers in this country. And while I don’t think we’ll see similar numbers out of the Scion iQ, it’s definitely the Prius to Smart’s ForTwo, if you follow me here. The difference isn’t just timing, either. At the recent media event for the iQ, Scion VP Jack Hollis told me (and assorted other journalist types) that there was no comparison between his new premium micro-subcompact and the FourTwo, and, now that I’ve been behind the wheel of both, I can tell you that he’s exactly right.
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