Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Canned Hams and Classic Campers

The Palm Springs Trailer Show is in its third year and is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Modernism Week events. What started as a handful of trailers has grown in both number and quality into a very impressive study of the evolution of the recreational vehicle. The quality of the coaches, in both restored classic and interpreted, is simply amazing. The aluminum exteriors were so mirror polished that it was literally difficult to photograph them. And the addition of tow vehicles, both real and depiction, had added immensely to the event.

There was quite a range of vehicles depicted, from the cute little "Canned Hams," nicknamed for their shape, to the larger Airstreams and Spartans, to the Truck Campers and even a camper conversion on a 1951 Cadillac Superior Hearse. In addition, vintage Motor Homes have joined the show this year and proved to be mesmerizing examples of our roadside history

There were so many wonderful campers of such diverse styles that I couldn't choose a favorite. The lime green Corvair powered Travalon (later reorganzied as the Ultra Van) was a real crowd pleaser, and the 1966 Ford Condor featured a completely original and intact interior, right down to the plaid herculon, tooled vinyl trim, and aqua appliances to accent the exterior.

An all original 1953 Boles Aero trailer had been garaged for over 35 years and offered a time capsule look into vacation travel sixty years ago, And the Best In Show winner was truly remarkable- a space age 1962 Holiday House- made by the Harry and David Fruit Company- was so original even the linoleum floors were intact. It was completely authentic and glowed like it had been dripped in chrome.

So put on your sunglasses and enjoy some very shiny Canned Hams and Classic Campers:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Behind The Wheel: 2013 VW Beetle Convertible- QT for the OC

Last summer I drove the restyled VW Beetle Turbo and came away impressed indeed- especially with the more masculine, 356-like styling, upgraded interior and the spirited performance that reminded me of my first and second generation GTIs back in my college days.

So when Volkswagen called and offered me a crack at the new Beetle Convertible, who was I to be impolite and decline? I met them in Newport Beach on a Friday afternoon and they handed me the keys (okay, the fob)  to a $32,295 (plus destination) Beetle Convertible Turbo with Sound and Navigation Package and Automatic in a smart Reef Blue color.

I dropped the top and headed to Laguna to see how the locals would react. Although it normally takes a much pricier car to turn a head in the OC, the sporty little Beetle received nods and waves, and why not? The redesigned car, as I noted last year, is much more like a 356 than a Beetle, and there's nothing they like better in the OC than a Porsche.

And even side from being a surfer magnet, the Beetle Convertible has a lot to offer. First I'm impressed by what it doesn't have- noise and vibration. There's no cowl shake to speak of and the three layer convertible top is the quietest soft top I have ever experienced- even freeway driving is a pleasure. It's maybe a decibel or two louder than the coupe.  The audio system can actually be heard and enjoyed with the top up or down. It's a one-touch system for lowering the top and side windows, so it's effortless fun for all the sun chasers. One thing that's far from one touch is the Rube Goldberg device that they called the top boot- I've had convertibles since the 70s and this is the first time that I just gave up and stuffed the damn thing in the trunk. Fortunately, the top's appearance when lowered is not objectionable.

The engine was the same 2.0 liter 200 HP Turbo I drove last summer, although this time it was mated to VW's six speed Automatic. I'm not normally a fan of multi-speed Automatics and this is no exception. I understand the need to achieve CAFE numbers, but how about a Sport mode? The calibration was so biased in favor of fuel economy that it was always one gear ahead of where I wanted to be. I overcame with manual mode but a sport button would be lovely. As it is, I'd opt for the six speed manual and use the thousand dollar savings to pay for all the extra gas I'd plan to burn.

This car was also equipped with the Fender Premium Audio and Navigation, and I must admit that the Fender is a big improvement over the base and a luxury worth investing in. It has Sirius XM, 400 watts of power and nine speakers and created a sound that was rich and enjoyable whether the top was raised or lowered. I was much more meh on the Navigation, which was pleasant enough to use but whose display seemed scarcely larger than an iPhone. I can take it or leave it but the package also includes the leather interior that I very much liked, so just ignore it.

Even in Southern California, some rain must fall and the Beetle and I had a full day of rain testing (oh, the things I do for my readers.) I'm happy to report that the Beetle's snug little beret allowed not one drip of water inside and the heater kept the cabin toasty warm. While I won't claim that it was more fun in the rain than in the sun, there was certainly no penalty involved.

And that really sums up the Beetle Convertible- it's so well designed and well constructed that one could literally forget that its a convertible until the top button is pushed- and that's serious praise indeed. My list of likes is long, and quibbles are few. If you're shopping for a convertible, this one belongs on the short list.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Chicago Style- That 70s Auto Show

1971 Chevrolet Display
 The Chicago Auto Show Press Days concluded this week, with the show opening to the public tomorrow. The very thought of it made me shudder- remembering the brutal winter cold and sudden snowstorms that I encountered working it back in the 80s and 90s. There was always a freak winter blizzard somewhere during the show's run. Not quite the thing of which nostalgia is made.

But all hope is not lost- the CATA, which runs the show, maintains an excellent website with a marvelous historical photo file that goes back decades, so not only can you browse the show from the comforts of home, you can also select a time when new cars were actually interesting and when you could tell them apart.

I've chosen the decade of the seventies, because the cars were wild and colorful and the photos are in color. Each of the photos merits study- they're chock full of special cars and rare models. And the colors are amazing. So grab your platform shoes, but the Bee Gees in the 8-Track and turn on the disco ball- we're going to that 70s Auto Show, and we're doing it Chicago Style:

Pontiac for 1972

1973 Ford Display

Cadillac for 1974

GMC Motor Homes for 1974

AMC for 1975 including the new Pacer

1975 Buick Indy Pace Car

Lincoln display for 1975

Buick for 1976 including another Indy Pace Car

Porsche/ Audi for 1977

Chevrolet for 1977

1977 Plymouth Arrow display

1977 Ford Cruising Van and Pinto Crusing Wagon

The downsized 1977 Thunderbird

AMC's Grand Pacer of 1978

AMC Gremlins of 1978

Cadillac for 1979

The all new 1979 Riviera S-Type

Chevrolet for 1979, with Chevette on the turntable