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Saturday, December 15, 2007

 

Silver linings

As a car guy, I'm starting to wonder if there is a good side to these high gas prices. Perhaps it will revive a type of car that's pretty much dead in the US market, tiny sports cars. I know there's a couple of good roadsters on the market right now - the MX-5, BMW Z4, Honda S2000, and the Solstice / Sky twins. But I'm thinking of a slightly different type of car, one that produced a lot of interesting results in the 1980s and early 1990s. And this type of car is pretty much gone now, but many of the surviving ones from that era have a cult following.



Team Gutty CRX It seems in the 1970s, some American and Japanese manufacturers either realized that there would be a market for people who now needed great gas mileage but didn't want cars to be boring, or at least in one case found this would be a good way to spin a project. This led to quite a few tiny cars, usually with two seats, armed with revvy engines, sporty bodywork, and excellent handling. So you get an all around great car (unless you're trying to carry children around), one that looks cool, is fun to drive, and gets great mileage too. The prime examples would be the Honda CRX (pictured at right is the Team Gutty CRX from the GRM $2007 Challenge) and Toyota MR2, both of which still have cult followings. GM got into the act with the Pontiac Fiero. The Omni-based Dodge Charger of the era had more seats than this formula calls for, but it's still pretty close to the formula, and it also has some pretty determined fans.

Granted, this category did produce a few stinkers. It seems Ford Motor Company for some reason just couldn't pull this off even after trying with the Escort EXP and the 1990s Mercury Capri. GM also built a two seater version of the Chevette. But I've got to wonder if this is being dusted off somewhere around automotive boardrooms with gas prices climbing. Right now there isn't much out there that fits this formula - the closest thing I can think of is the MINI or the roadsters I mentioned above. You could drive the original CRX to an autocross, then take home a trophy and get 50 miles to the gallon on the way home. I don't think any automotive industry execs read this blog... but I can dream.

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