Automotive Edition

(Note: Every year I have a meeting in Detroit that ends on the 2nd Sunday of the new year. We usually check out of the motel Monday morning and stop by the North American International Auto Show for a few hours and then head for home. Here’s my impression of this year’s show.)

If words were represented by colors then the word “exciting” would be represented by the color red. Red is an exciting color. That’s why it has become the signature color of Dodge cars & trucks. If red represented “exciting” then “bland” would be represented by the color silver. If ever there was ever a color designed to drain any aggression from your veins, it’s silver. Yet this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit had an over abundance of this blood-pressure-lowering color on its cars.

Actually most of the manufacturers displayed an abundance of a lack of imagination in their offerings. Then, to make sure your blood pressure didn’t rise too far they painted everything in sight silver. There were silver Bentleys, Audies, Porshes, BMWs and VWs. I saw a car transporting truck outside from Daimler-Chrysler that said on the side, “Expect Excitement!” Well, in the days before Chrysler was taken over by the inventors of the silver barge, Mercedes Benz, that was true. But now it ought to say, “Expect Silver!” Everything had a liberal application. There was even a Viper powered Dodge truck that was painted a beautiful shade of “Sissy Silver.” (Although there was another in “Redeeming Red.”) Jeep had a little runabout that I was tempted to call “Cute” but that’s a four-letter word so I’ll just say it was “Neatt.” It was smothered in silver. Of course there were the “Benz Barges” all unimaginatively wrapped in silver. (The only thing more boring than the last silver Mercedes Benz I saw is the next silver Mercedes Benz I’ll see.) Ford had its beautiful 2004 Mustang there. Done in, of course, silver with gray racing stripes. (I almost got a nose bleed!) Without a doubt, the most beautiful car at the show was Ford’s newest edition of the 2-seat Shelby Cobra. The styling of this car is breathtaking. But, of course, lest pulses rise too high it too was cursed in the same silver with gray racing stripes. (I can just hear one of its designers saying, “Hey! I bet it will look great painted silver.” Yeah, and men look good with earrings.) If ever there was a car that begged, “Please paint me red!” it was the Cobra.

Over in “The Land of Bland”, the General Motors section, there was plenty of silver to suppress your rapid heart beat. GM was so lacking in imagination that they had to import a beautifully styled concept roadster from Vauxhall. (You know where that’s built, right?) It was beautiful indeed except for the lifeless silver paint job. Right next to it was a nice looking silver Saturn concept and right to next to that was a truly beautiful little Chevy Nomad wagon that was painted…Yep! You guessed it. Pontiac had a nice bland silver Solstice and an equally unexceptional silver 2004 GTO. Then there was the 2004 Corvette. This was the one car that should have been painted silver. I believe the Corvette is one of best engineered cars on the planet. But Chevrolet needs to fire every single stylist that has helped design the last two. That is the only way they will rid this wonderful car of its corporately mundane styling. Ironically the new Corvette was painted red. But then, Chevrolet officials recognized that when you design “bland” into the car you are going to have to paint the excitement onto it. You know things are dead at General Motors when the only truly exciting cars they’re building are Cadillacs. These cars show imagination and aggressiveness. Unfortunately, in their desire to mimic the Europeans they couldn’t give them names. Instead they all have drab three letter designations. There’s the STS, the EXT, the CTS and the XLR. These are names that are DUM and SAD. Lest patrons suffer cardiacs from Cadillacs almost every car looked like a metallic cloudy day. Maybe their new motto should be, “Quell the Excitement!”

Halfway through the show I had a vision. No, I didn’t see angels or cherubim or even cars. In my mind I pictured a man talking on the telephone. He was a paint salesman talking to the people at yet another automotive styling department. He was saying something like this, “Hey. I can get you the paint for your concept cars for three cents a gallon as long as you buy silver and you buy it by the tanker load.” On the other end Clem looked at Mortimer and said, “Shucks, silver is the color they paints them thar Murseedes. It must be the hot color. Our cars will really stand out at the show. We’d better buy ‘bout 10 tanker loads.” (Will someone please shoot Clem?)

Yep, I’m sure they have had some years dedicated to “Excellence.” Some have probably been dedicated to “Quality.” But this year’s motto should have said, “Dedicated to Dull!” In fact, one of the few head-turners was a metallic orange Range Rover concept. Do you realize how bad things are when Range Rover, the inventors of the “British Breadbox”, ends up leading the field!?If American car companies would quit being intimidated by our glassy-eyed, “Euro-dazzled” automotive press and quit thinking they are inferior to the folks across the Atlantic, then Detroit will once again build cars that the world will emulate…and they won’t be silver!


Aztec Ugly Car Award
(This used to be the “1950 Studebaker Ugly Car Award” but the Pontiac Aztec has so outclassed the Stude in pure “Ugly” that the name has been changed.)

After a tough competition the 2003 “Aztec Ugly Car Award” goes to the “Enzo” Ferrari. This ugly, over-priced and over-rated mid-engined sports car has a centrally located square air intake in front that looks like it ought to be sucking on a soda straw. Like the Aztec it is ugly from the front, the back, the sides and the top and (I assume) the bottom. The car’s styling is overloaded with holes and gashes and swoopy lines that start from nowhere and go to the same place. An oil change on this quarter-of-a million-dollar nightmare costs around $600 and new brakes will break you. Of course, the American (?) automotive press, who would rave at a Ferrari built bulldozer, are mindlessly enamored with it.

The Enzo’s two closest competitors were those two unsightly boxes, The Toyota Scion b and the Honda Element. The Scion b was aimed at young people and the young people of America are showing us that they’re not as dumb as we think by staying away from it by the droves. Meanwhile the Element has ugly gray plastic fenders slapped on every corner of it. (I guess they couldn’t afford silver paint! Maybe next year’s Auto Show will be overrun by dull gray plastic cars.) Of course, the American (?) automotive press, which berated GM for the ugly gray plastic on the Chevrolet Avalanche, has been silent when the builders
of Japan’s most effeminate cars afflicted ever Element they built with these ugly gray appliances.

It is truly refreshing to see both the Japanese and the Europeans join the Americans in competing so fiercely for this coveted trophy. Who knows what this year will bring? (But it will probably be silver.)

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