Feature Story

AUTO WORLD UPDATE #1 FOR '97

by Bob Hagin

February 7, 1997

Being an eclectic kind of car guy, I have always regarded anything automotive as grist for my journalistic mill. The items I find useful for my six-week update may be mainstream or off-beat, but their commonality is that they all involve car stuff. I feel it's important for my readers to know the scoop, so here are my latest tidbits:

GEO BITES THE DUST - Estimates of how many individual American automotive brands have come and gone since the first wobbly horseless carriages ran on U.S. streets varies, but between 3000 and 5000 is a good guess. Now we can add another the that list as Geo gets ready to ride into the sunset. Launched in '89 as a plan to entice potential import buyers into Chevy showrooms, the Geo nameplate was put on Suzuki, Isuzu and Toyota-built cars. "Geo has accomplished its mission," said Chevrolet General Manager John Middlebrook. Although the Geo name will be gone for the 1998 model year, the cars will live on - but they will carry Chevy "bowties" on their hoods instead of Geo globes.

COBRA RETURNS - On the other hand, the Shelby Cobra name has returned. Well, it's pretty close to returning if we're to believe the pontifications given by Carroll Shelby at the car's unveiling at the Los Angeles Auto Show last month. The one example in LA had no engine (the Olds Aurora V8 is rumored to be the powerplant of choice) and the final suspension system, chassis construction and price are all yet to be determined. The MSRP, however, is supposed to be in the neighborhood of $80,000. Designated the Shelby Series I, the car looks like an updated version of the original John Tojeiro-designed AC Ace that became the Cobra in 1962 - and it isn't just another reproduction of the original. Shelby says he'll have a running model at the Indy 500 in May, but time is short and talk is cheap.

AC BOUGHT BY AMERICAN RENTAL OUTFIT - Besides being famous as the producer of those first Shelbys, the aforementioned AC Company is the oldest ongoing auto maker in England. Since its halcyon days as the godfather of the Cobra, AC has had lots of problems, most of them finally being settled in court. It's been on the brink of disaster for years, but now its fortunes may be looking brighter. Pride Automotive, an American leasing company, has ridden to the rescue and taken over. A new version of the AC Ace roadster (sans the Cobra moniker, of course) will come along in '98, though you may have to be British to get one.

CAR DEALERS GO ON-LINE - Television marketing is hot, and since 30 percent of American households have on-line computers, soon we may not have to leave home to buy anything - unless we need the exercise or are afflicted with cabin fever. Almost 15 percent of the American car and truck dealers now have their own internet web sites where they respond to "hits" with firm price quotes on particular makes and models. Dealers who are savvy report that they sell two or three vehicles off the net every month and that their web customers are pre-sold and know exactly what they want. This is causing concern in the dealership world since there doesn't seem to be any area protection built into the internet sales business. I hope it doesn't lead to the demise of the American auto showroom since I still enjoy kicking tires.

BUICK PREPARES FOR A MINIVAN - If dignified Lincoln can offer a sports/utility vehicle and imperious Mercedes-Benz can produce a tiny five-seater microcar, I guess that it's OK for Buick to get into the automotive mainstream of America and sell a minivan. With the demise of the Roadmaster and the Century six-seater station wagons last year, Buick dealers have been left without a designated soccer-team hauler. Bob Coletta recently took over as head man at Buick and has promised that the company is looking into a couple of replacements for the deposed leviathans. Word is that a minivan is in the works. Don't rush to your Buick dealer expecting to see one soon, as it may take a couple of years. Like us old people, old companies move very slowly.

TRULY HOT COFFEE MAKES ITS DEBUT - Exclusive brands of coffee are very "in" (just check the current stock reports on Starbuck's for verification) and so are California-style street rods (look for the upcoming Plymouth Prowler). It was therefore inevitable that some enterprising person would combine the two and produce "Hot Rod Coffee." The Hot Rod Cafe in Burlingame, Calif. has done just that and offers its own packages of "Unleaded" (decaffeinated), "Regular" (special blend) and "Hi-Test" (dark roast). The cafe's promotional flyer asks if you are "...Tired of drinking coffee that tastes like used motor oil?" and offers to ship you its stuff for around ten bucks a pound.

This last item is very intriguing to me. I haven't sampled any used motor oil for a long time (not since Castrol R went off the market) so I'll have to wait until the next time I cruise Burlingame to do a comparison.

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