Feature Story

UPDATE: BMW COUP, FORD FIRE, FAST CADS, SAE HISTORY

by Bob Hagin

February 26, 1999

It's been a while since we reviewed automotive current events. One that caught our attention was corporately turbulent, another involves a rethinking by a staid old-timer and one was literally explosive. The last and most interesting item is a historical contest that we can all be involved in - if we're on the Internet:

BMW EXECUTIVES TUMBLE - Hard on the heels of a rumored takeover of the company by Ford (as well as three or four other major automotive players) came a palace coup in the boardroom of BMW in Germany. The highly touted and extravagant Bernd Pischetsreider, CEO and unabashed enthusiast for vintage British autos, was deposed in a seven-hour battle along with his equally mercurial second-in-command, Wolfgang Reitzle. Ostensibly, the cause of Pischetsreider's demise was his bad judgment in bringing the British Rover group into the BMW fold where it was an ongoing money-loser. Not only was the redoubtable Mr. P unable to turn Rover around, but its drain on BMW resources increased six-fold in six years. However, the main causes for the blood-letting was the fact that the young members of the German Quandt family (they own 43 percent of BMW) were unhappy with the upcoming product line. The Quandts deny that they want to sell the company so we can be pretty sure that if it isn't on the market now, it soon will be.

CADILLAC GOES HOT-ROD - Tom McCahill, the one-time automotive pundit of the old Mechanix Illustrated magazine, once called the Cadillac Model 60 coupe "...the finest road car in the world." Of course, that was back in the '50s and lots of fine road cars have come and gone since then. But now that vaulted King of the General Motors line would like to regain his long-lost reputation for building "interesting" cars. Taking note of the fact that two of its European luxury car competitors offer hopped-up versions of several of their passenger cars, Cadillac is in the throws of redirecting itself away from its image of the "mature" (read that as over 60) person's car via a proposed program it labels Blackfin. Cadillac has already stuck a tentative toe in the high- performance world with its Evoq supercharged Corvette-like two-seater concept car. It has also broken with tradition by introducing its Escalade sport/utility vehicle, which marks the first time a Cadillac has appeared in the Truck Section of car price guides. One of the questions facing the company is whether to select particular models as a line-within-a-line, or to use hop-up techniques to its line. I can think of one attention-getter. How about a high-performance stretch limo?

BAD LUCK FOR FORD - Ford Motor Company has been blessed of late. Awash with money, the Dearborn giant bought Volvo to strengthen its position in Europe and is looking for other fields to conquer. Then fate struck a blow when its Rouge plant went up in an explosion and fire that closed down its historic facility the first part of February. The catastrophe stopped production of critical parts that fed into 16 of the company's assembly plants. Production of the popular Mustang was temporarily shut down altogether for a while, and production of the Lincoln Town Car and Continental were curtailed. The explosion was caused by a buildup of natural gas that was ignited by a giant boiler in Rogue Industries, a steel mill in the Rogue industrial complex that also houses the Ford plant. But latest reports are that Ford has gone to "Plan B" (a euphemism for "find a fast if temporary fix") and the Mustangs are rolling once more.

SAE ASKS FOR VOTES ON BEST ENGINEERED CAR OF THE CENTURY - The Society of Automotive Engineers, that august body whose most universal claim to fame is its designation on oil cans, is conducting a contest. Having been around since the very early days of the automobile, the SAE Historical Committee is polling the readers of Automotive Engineering International magazine to come up with the Best Engineered Car of the 20th Century and this means all cars, not necessarily just American. The committee is asking for candidates by decade and from there, it will select the overall winner for the best engineered car of the past 100 years. The decades start from the 1900 to 1909 time span and end with the decade encompassing 1990 to 1999. The criteria for selection are: 1) The car successfully introduced a new engineering system and/or solution that was subsequently adopted by others, either whole or in part; 2) The car enjoyed exceptional longevity in the marketplace, thereby indicating and validating sound initial engineering capable of further development; 3) The car achieved better performance than its contemporaries (and this can mean that it carried more luggage, got better mileage, was easier to park, faster, etc.) by virtue of the excellence of its engineering. Apparently, we don't have to be a subscriber or a member since the SAE posts ballots on its open web site at www.sae.org. The winner will be honored at a presentation in March of 2000 and it's going to be interesting to see which of the thousands of cars made in the past 100 years will be selected by us auto enthusiasts, amateur and professional.

As the new millenia rushes towards us, it's interesting to contemplate the fact that it was just a bit over 100 years ago that the automobile we're so dependent on today was considered a fad and a plaything for the rich. I wish I could be around to see what its role will be a hundred years hence.

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