CARS WE DON'T TEST

by Bob Hagin
Contributing Editor
The Auto Channel

Every year we evaluate a great number of new cars. Yes, I know that it's a dirty job - but someone has to do it.

And we try to test them all, but there's always those elusive few that never grace our corporate driveway. These are the very expensive, very exotic or "oddball" machines that don't make it into the various press pools that supply cars, trucks, vans and sport/utility vehicles to newspaper auto writers like ourselves.

We nonetheless feel that it's our journalistic duty to keep you, our readers, abreast of the newest "wheels" that are on the market whether or not we are actually allowed to slip into the driver's seat for a week-long jaunt around our suburban neighborhood. And so for the seventh year in a row, we present the cars we've selected for a non-test;

DODGE VIPER - I sure that there are many of these juggernauts already built and sold although I've never really seen one cruising our neighborhood. It's a big and brutal-looking two-seater that's designed to be just that - big and brutal. Its 10 cylinder engine displaces 8.0 liters (that's just slightly smaller than a diesel on a luxury liner), puts out 415 horses and enough torque to climb Mt. Everest in high gear. It's decidedly low-tech with few amenities and its discerning owners like it that way - so don't buy one expecting trunk space for the baby's playpen.

MGF - Just as it has been for the past two years, this is another MG that we don't get to test. It's a two seater, too, but much smaller (1.9 liters), rear-engined and, I'm told, devoid of all the problems and shortcomings we have learned to associate with British cars. Rover is the parent company as it has been for several years but you may be surprised that BMW is now the money behind these British companies. Insiders say that the MGF is being down-played as it will be direct competition for the BMW Z3 two-seater roadster in style and intent.

PLYMOUTH PROWLER - Wouldn't it be fun to be back in Southern California in 1950 and driving a high-boy street rod down Colorado Boulevard? Sorry, no such luck. The new Plymouth Prowler is a Deuce roadster retrorod that the company has pledged to build, but the company didn't call us to go cruisin' the strip. The Prowler has cycle fenders up front, a body that looks like it came off Ford's assembly line in 1932, a swept-back low windshield and not even enough trunk space for a spare. The only thing missing is a flat-head V8 under the hood.

PORSCHE 911 TURBO - Maybe it's a good thing that I didn't get a new 911T to wring out. I'm too old to be terrified just for fun. With 400 horses available, the top speed is 180 MPH and the acceleration is so strong that I'm told that you feel like you're in a Challenger rocket at launch time. All-wheel drive assures that there's maximum tire stick at all times and the seats are racing-type buckets that literally grab you. But at $99,000 I can understand a decision on the part of Porsche to relegate it to the role of a non-test car for us.

RENAULT SPIDER - Having owned various Renaults over 45 years, I shuddered when I read last year that the company was considering a return to the U.S. But if the flagship of that return was to be its new Spider roadster, my opinion might have changed. Cute as a waggin'-tail puppy, it seems to be simple in the extreme with a built-up aluminum box frame, a two-liter engine at 150 horsepower and barely enough niceties like wipers and turn signals to make it street-legal. Just the thing for Banzai runs up Mulholland Drive on Saturday nights - or so I'm told.

SALEEN MUSTANG - My friend Joe Molina promotes this hot-rod version of the Ford Mustang - but even he couldn't get me one for a day. Steve Saleen is an ex-racer who is becoming a latter-day Carroll Shelby by modifying Mustangs to put out half-again the original power, tricking- out the suspension and doing a cosmetic makeover. They come with a variety of powerplants but the 351 CID version is the most awesome of them all - I think.

SHELBY COBRA - And speaking of Carroll Shelby, his assembly line is slow but still rolling. You might remember that he had 33 unfinished Cobra chassis in the parts room when his crew went for a 30-year coffee break in 1966. They're back now and are finishing up that production run. Since the cars are still registered with the feds as '66 models, they're being finished up just as they were back then. Still with that sexy Tojeiro body, the 427 stump-puller powerplant, no windows and no smog stuff since they're legally 1966 cars. The sticker price has increased a bit in three decades and it now takes a half million bucks to pick one up at your local Cobra dealer. Maybe that's why we don't get one to test.

That's our no-test test for this year but we'll be back in 12 months with reports on another half dozen machines we'll never see.

I just hope that they're as much fun to dream about as the current crop.

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