Sunday, August 09, 2009

Ten American Clunkers That Didn't Suck

I spent six hours on the road yesterday in Oldsmobile-land, which is one of the few places in America where the vast majority of cars on the road are still American. I passed the time by thinking-- as much as we malign American automobiles, the Big Three came out with quite a few gems in the last 15 years. But because of our biases (and the vast amounts of crappy cars like Cavaliers and Explorers on the road), the good ones never shone. Here is my salute to ten American cars that I wouldn't mind driving.

(Of course, the good people at the New York Times read my mind and wrote an article about the same topic yesterday. Damn you, lack of internet connectivity! I could have scooped the Times.)

1. Chevy Caprice Wagon. It's roomy and attractive in a retro-kitsch kind of way. I'd drive one of these over an SUV any day.

2. Lincoln LS. I was very close to buying one in 2001. I prefer the V6 over the V8 as it comes with a manual transmission.

3. Lincoln Mark VIII. It's a perfect blend of tradition and cutting edge technology. It's got the vestigial trunk lid hump. It had an air suspension that lowered the car at higher speeds in order to decrease the coefficient of drag.

4. Saturn Vue. A sensibly sized SUV from a sensible car company. The 2004-07 V6 Vues share the same (make that similar) Honda engine as the Acura RL and MDX.

5. Oldsmobile Aurora. A luxurious, well-built, and powerful sedan. May be the most underrated American car of the last two decades. Its unibody construction was so strong, it broke GM's testing machine during crash tests.

6. Cadillac Catera. Though much maligned as the successor to the compact Cimarron, this re-badged Opel assembled in Germany should have been the first CTS.

7. Buick Regal. The official ride of university chancellors everywhere, including Cal's Chang-Lin "Go Bears" Tien, it was the epitome of understated luxury on par with the VW Phaeton.

8. Buick Riviera. For the longest time, I thought this was an ugly car. But the oblong cigar shape is reminescent of the futuristic concept cars of Eisenhower America.

9. Chrysler 300M. At a hair over 5 meters in length, this reincarnation of the 300 series was meant to pose a serious challenge to European luxury sedans. It was 7/10 of a BMW 5 series, which was quite an accomplishment.

10. Mercury Marauder. What Darth Vader would drive if he lived in Des Moines.

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