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Feature Stories


by Bob Hagin

April 5, 1996

I guess that I might be considered an eclectic car guy - an enthusiast who is interested in all phases of the auto world. My interest spans the wheeled world from Formula One racing to the latest goings-on in the corporate board rooms of the world's auto makers. And since I subscribe to numerous buff magazines as well as being on the receiving end of innumerable automotive press releases, I find that my cup runneth over approximately every six or seven weeks. These are capsulations of those events that garnered my attention:

LOTUS SOLD AGAIN - If the embattled Lotus had a theme song, it would certainly be "Secondhand Rose" from the movie "Funny Girl." Once the venerated builder and purveyor of pure British sports and racing cars, poor Lotus has been sold for the third time in four years. You might remember that its owner at the beginning of the Current Era was our own General Motors, who found that it was a losing proposition and passed it on in '93 to the resurrected Bugatti group of Italy. It became a profit- maker under Bugatti ownership but the other members of the Bugatti lineup went broke and Lotus was recently sold to Daewoo, the Korean automaker. Daewoo would like to get a toe-hold in the U.S. - but can't. The problem isn't financial so much as personnel - or perhaps we should make that personal. For a number of reasons, the company can't find a high-powered American chief executive that is willing to work under the autocratic rule of the home company. Colin Chapman, founder and guiding genius behind Lotus until his death several years ago, must be turning over in his grave.

GENERAL MOTORS SUES VOLKSWAGEN - Sometimes lawsuits between big corporations are amicable affairs designed to straighten out legal technicalities but such is not the case with General Motors and Volkswagen. In a Detroit court, the General accuses VW board chairman Ferdinand Piech of conspiring with a GM defector, ex-vice president Ignacio Lopez, to steal a truckload of top-secret GM plans and documents when he jumped ship in '93. GM lawyers go on to state that a phalanx of VW employees then committed the information to computerized memory after which the originals were destroyed. Needless to say, the folks over at Volkswagen are upset and claim that the American suit is aimed at influencing a German government investigation of the matter. At stake are judgments that may run to billions of dollars and even a few jail sentences.

NASCAR GOES TO MARKET - If you don't think that the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) is a big-time operation, check out these "official" sponsors that the Daytona-based motorsports marketing corporation has recently lined up: Raybestos is the official brake producer; True Value is the official hardware store; Cintas, a leader in the manufacture of clothes for industry, is the official uniform supplier; Lowes is the official home improvement warehouse; Opryland USA is an official "designated stop." NASCAR has its own Mastercard, internet site and has just opened the first of a string of NASCAR-only "theme" merchandise stores. And to think it all started in the late '40s with a bunch of ex-rumrunners racing each other in Southern cow pastures. Only in America!

JAGUAR FINALLY REPLACES ITS XKE - When I first saw the swoopy Jaguar XK 120 in 1949, I thought it was the ultimate sports car. It followed the time-honored tradition which held that a true sports car subjugated carrying capacity to performance. The big twin-cam six-cylinder engine occupied a third of car and propelled its driver and single passenger at unheard-of speeds. Practicality took the form of space for two small overnight bags. The 120 was followed by the 140 and then the 150 but the next XK model was simply designated the "E Type." It's envelope body was a stunner when it was introduced at the annual auto show in Geneva, Switzerland in 1961. But the XK concept was abandoned and decades of overweight and unreliable Jaguar sedans followed. But at the latest Geneva show, Jaguar showed up with another XK model, called simply the XK8. The "eight" part denotes that the engine is a V8, possibly in deference to the fact that Ford is now the parent company of both Jaguar and Aston Martin. The XK8 doesn't take my breath away like that XK 120 did in '49 (I was only 16 at the time) but it isn't bad.

There were other happenings, of course: Malcom Bricklin is back in business, this time with electric-powered bicycles. The remaining unfinished Laforza SUVs are being finished after an eight-year delay. The electric car "mandate" in California has been set aside by the government and gasoline has won again.

And if we wait just another six or seven weeks, I'm sure that another half-dozen automotive "happenings" will surface.