Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Most Beautiful Car You Have Never Heard Of

                First thing you know about any car is how it looks.  Before manufacturer releases specifications. Before the press gets a chance to drive the car and well before the public can buy the car we get to see it.  If a car doesn’t look the part there is a good chance it will sit on dealer lots no matter how great it drives or how practical it might be.  Recently I got a chance to see a car that was not a major leap forward in sales or technical specifications but is an absolute beauty to behold.  The Weidner Condor is shocking to look at.  I saw this great example at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN only one of two known to still exist.  My first thought of the car and the thought of friends when I showed them pictures was it must be an early Porsche design.  With its round headlights and slanted back end, it is easy to confuse the Condor with a 911.  However, the 911 was introduced in 1963.  The Condor was released in 1957 at the Geneva Auto Show.  It had to have been an impressive introduction. 
                Even though the Condor was not penned by the famed Ferdinand Porsche, automotive aficionados might know the name of Hans Trippel who went on to design the Amphicar.  The Amphicar has to be in the top 100 cars of all time for all car lovers.  For those who aren’t familiar with the Amphicar, as its name entails it was a car that also drove on the water.  The Weidner Condor isn’t quite as radical as the Amphicar but still used futuristic building materials such as fiberglass and an all steel chassis.  Like other small German cars of its time the engine of the Condor was located in the rear.  The engine was a small 3 cylinder unit from Heinkel that would push the car to a top speed of around 80 mph. 
                Alright, so the Condor isn’t exactly a speed demon on the track.  The spirit of this car is the design.  The car has a real presence to it.  From a distance it looks a lot larger than it is.  This car is small.  However, the details make it huge.  The first things you see are the headlights.  Those Porsche-like units grab you and draw your eyes over the silky body lines.  You flow over the cabin to the sloping rear and then over the tiny little fins that house the tail lights.  So many cars we call beautiful share body lines like this but what makes the Condor unique is all the other features your eyes catch the second time you look at it.  Below the rear lights is a body color bumper that extends past the body.  Stand at the right angle and you miss the bumper all together.  I couldn’t help but look at the perfect curve the bumper takes along the bottom of the frame.  Does the front have the same design feature?  I run the front and yes there it is a beautiful bumper outlining the front end just like on the back.  I couldn’t believe I missed it the first time.  It is such an elegant feature.  I thought I was done with the exterior so I moved on to look at the inside of this red pearl.  The Condor wasn’t done surprising me.  I got stopped by the doors of the Condor.  It would have been so easy to just have put normal doors on the little coupe and never thought about it again.  The Condor is not a normal car however.  The doors are suicide style.  Suicide doors on a coupe!  Scissor doors wouldn’t have surprised me more.  After I got over the doors I did look inside and the Weidner did not disappoint.  Compared to modern cars the Condor looks very simplistic.  I personally miss this attribute of older cars. Cars of today have all the electronics and creature comforts but when all I want to do is drive I just want something unassuming in front of me.  The Condor looks like my perfect interior.  Just a steering wheel, two seats, two dials, and of course a manual gear box.  Is that too much to ask for?  I really hope not. 
                What resonates with me over the Weidner Condor is the uncluttered approach this car has to design.  Modern car designs are all about being busy and full of features.  Sales prove that is what buyers want.  The Weidner was not a sales giant.  Only 200 examples ever found homes mostly due to a high asking price.   Even with the low production numbers time has not been good to the Condor.   A car with this passion should be remembered.  No car on the road today has this kind of style and design.  I feel that modern designers could take inspiration from the Condor.  I know I was inspired just standing next to this very special car. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Back at the Lane Motor Museum

I might have a new favorite spot in the whole world.   It is called the Lane Motor Museum.  Yes, I know I have written about it before but after a recent visit I had to share some pictures and experiences because it is just that good.  For those that don’t know, this museum offers the largest collection of European cars in North America.  It is a great place to go and see cars and motorcycles you will probably never see anywhere else.  My first trip, my heart was won by a little brown E-Type Jaguar but this time my jaw dropped for an ultra-rare Weidner Condor.  If you don’t know what I am talking about don’t fret I will be doing a whole blog on that car to go more in depth. 
Another big surprise for this trip was that I missed a whole exhibit on my first visit.  The larger vehicles and military vehicles of the museum collection are kept in a covered garage.  I am not necessarily a fan of military vehicles but this part of the museum was completely empty and I was left alone to explore these war machines from around the world.  Surprises did not stop there, however, because also in the garage was an E30 M3.  Now first seeing the iconic sports coupe my mind was asking why this car is in the garage and not in the main floor with the other cars.  It became obvious when I stepped up to the Bimmer and seeing a jacket and other personal effects, that this was no show car but an everyday driver.  My assumption is this car belongs to someone that works at the museum and apparently the employees are big E30 fans because a 318i was sitting just a few parking spots down the way.  Great to see cars like this out driving around and it proves the folks running this museum are true driving enthusiast.  On the back of the M3 was a tow hitch which I hope is used to trailer tires back and forth to the track.  Please enjoy the pictures and keep up with me here as I will be going more in depth about some of the cars seen here.

A Car From Space

The best looking car you have never heard of.  There is more to come about this Condor.

This MINI has a front and rear engine because two are better that one.

The MINI Clubman's Predecessor.

This is a Nissan from 1991 and it has more character than anything they build today. What a shame they can't make something like this.  

Rumors are circulating about a return of Datsun.  Based on this Fairlady, let's hope the rumors are true.

This makes me miss SAAB. (Tear)

A hybrid but not like you think.

It runs on gasoline and human power.

1965 Matra D'Jet 5.  I love how it looks like it's driving in reverse.

A pair of great European cars from the 1980's. A Lanica Delta HF Integrale and an Audi 4000

This one owner Audi would be my everyday driver if I could make it mine.

Mazda isn't the only to offer rotary power. This Citroen GS has two rotors.

Another SAAB Racer.

The Condor's Interior

The Legend

Subaru 360

The exterior looks great on this E30.

Everyone thinks they are the Stig.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

1977 Pontiac Can Am

The now defunct GM brand Pontiac does not spur considerable passion from individuals of my generation.  My first car was a Pontiac.  A hand me-down Grand Am my cousin drove in college that my uncle no longer wanted.  I promptly blew the engine in less than a year.  I donated it to my high school for a $200 tax credit.  There was no doubt Pontiac was on the ropes all through the 1990s and continuing into the new millennium.  Pontiac had become boring copies of the higher selling Chevrolet cars.  Whoever looked at a G6 and thought 'Wow what a good looking car!'

However, car buyers from earlier generations have a much different awareness of what Pontiac could be.  In the ‘60s and ‘70s Chevrolet was still the high seller bread and butter for GM but Pontiac was the excitement arm of the company.  Case in point is this fine example of a 1977 LeMans with the Can Am package.  This small coupe was stuffed with a mammoth 400 cubic inch V8 behind the front bumper.  This is how Pontiac used to do business. Take a small body and pair it with a massive engine. Think of the original GTO and how it started the muscle car craze.  This big muscle bruiser is one that I saw at the Hunter Auto Expo last month.  In a room full of classic autos, this one didn’t just catch your eye it put you in a head lock.  That white paint and crazy stripes scream America in the 1970s. What car is complete without a shaker hood scoop too? If GM were a house hold then Chevy is the perfect do-nothing-immoral son and Pontiac is the child with tattoos and face piercings.  This car does not settle for the mundane.   Sadly this car was behind the times.  A big gas guzzler with only around 200 horse power didn’t bring many buyers into dealerships.  In today’s market we would call this call a niche car.  What a niche it was.  Owners of this car wanted to make a statement and hold on to a dream.  Who cares what Uncle Sam says you’re supposed to drive? Who cares how much gas costs?  Give this car a drag strip and a challenge.  

Take a short drive around your town and you will see that effects time had on Pontiac.  You see boring coupes, sedans, and maybe even an Aztec (I’m going to be sick).  After years of abuse GM finally has locked Pontiac away for its sins.  I can’t help but think of how I would run Pontiac if it were still around.  I think it would only need three models.  An entry level sedan based on the Chevy Cruze but with the 2.0 liter turbo engine from the Buick Regal GS and six speed manual, a Trans Am with an all-aluminum 7.0 liter V8 is an obvious choice, and the G8 which GM liked so much they are bringing it back into production as a Chevrolet SS.   I would limit the options list as much as possible.  If you want something other than these three cars as they sit, you can buy a Chevy or Buick that’s what they are built for.  Pontiac would be a performance only brand.  It would be aimed only as performance minded drivers.  Alas, we automotive enthusiast do not run the world we merely live in it.  What would be your ultimate car company? Leave me some comments and let me know, or give me a shout on Twitter at @dcengland86.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hunters Auto Expo 2013

                The Tennessee State Fair grounds are kind of embarrassing.  The fault of years of mismanagement.  It is hardly fit to hold a fair to show off the best of the great State of Tennessee.  I wouldn’t think a great car show would be worth seeing here either.  This weekend I was pleasantly surprised by the Hunters Auto Expo.  Hunters is a Nashville based custom auto shop.  Want to make your ride unique? Want to know what is out there for your car? It doesn’t matter what you drive chances are Hunters has it.  The Auto Expo they sponsor is a great example of their diverse clientele.  It doesn’t matter what your definition of cool is, the expo has it.  Custom trucks, muscle cars, modern classics, and even some oddities are all parked next to each other in an indoor atmosphere.  It’s a state fair for car guys.  This blog I am going to keep short and fill it in with images from this year’s expo and I will be doing later blogs to go more in depth with some of my favorite cars and stories from the show.  As the summer approaches I also promise to take you along for some of the trips I take this year.  Please forgive the pictures, I am no professional.

Here Comes the Judge

Jack's Handy Work

Left Hand Drive Classic MINI

This is what I would have driven home in.  5.0 engine with modern wheels and brakes.
A great daily driver.

This Charger reminded me of the Panamera's interior.

This car deserved a second look.  Classic Camaro front and back with modern in the middle. Plus a Corvette power train.   

This car used to race at the dirt tracks of my home town.

A supercharge V6. I was highly impressed.

One Purple Challenger

A Second Purple Challenger

1976 Pontiac Can Am. I have never seen one and this one is amazing.