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article imageOp-Ed: Five cars I miss in a quarter century covering the auto industry

By John Duarte     May 21, 2012 in Driving
OK! So we are two-thirds of the way through spring and I have finally got around to the annual duty popularly known as “spring cleaning.” This year’s ritual took a slightly nostalgic turn when I came across a blast from the past.
It was well over 20 years ago that I wrote my first-ever automobile road test. The fact that it was a Buick Regal is not relevant to the words on this page as I have decided to commemorate the occasion with a look back at five automobiles I miss and which are no longer with us.
I don’t want to make it seem that I miss one car more than the next, so I’ve listed the models in this retrospective in alphabetical order.
HONDA S2000 (1999-2009)
Right off the top let me say that I like roadsters. There is nothing quite like the feeling of cruising along in a convertible, and few generated that excitement better that the Honda S2000.
This toy racer was designed as a front/mid engine vehicle in that the motor was in the front of the car, but sat behind the front axle. The 2-litre, four-cylinder, Honda VTECH engine delivered its maximum 240 horsepower to the road via the rear wheels. This car begged to be driven and, most times, be driven fast.
The Honda S2000 must have impressed me as I have used it a couple of times as the preferred car for protagonists in fictional stories I have written. The most memorable time with the roadster, however, is one when I wasn’t even driving. That came in the summer of 2009 when I got to experience a tornado… up close and very personal.
Weather people said it was a “micro-burst,” but I know it was a tornado that hit the Oshawa International Festival. The 20 seconds below an easy-up tent felt much longer and, when I emerged from below the canopy, a huge tree lay blocking the road 30 feet away separating me and the Honda S2000. Neither was hurt and, I am pretty certain, the storm was not behind the reason for Honda scrapping production on this wonderful car.
The Lexus SC400.
The Lexus SC400.
Wikimedia/Toyota Motor
image:115710:0::0
LEXUS SC400 (1991-2010)
Toyota’s upscale brand Lexus debuted the SC400 in the early 1990s to compete with other sporty coupes already on the market from Mercedes as well as fellow Japanese automakers Acura (Honda) and Infiniti (Nissan). It was a sleek looking machine with power to match.
The SC400 was driven by the same 4.0-litre, V8 engine that was under the hood of its four-door kin, the LS400. It didn’t take long for people to take notice. The 1992 version was named by Motor Trend as its Import Car of the Year. There was not much to find fault in this two-door marvel.
As was the case with the Honda S2000, my lingering memory of the Lexus SC400 is one when I wasn’t even driving it. In fact, I was at dead stopped on the Don Valley “Parking Lot”… Toronto drivers will agree with me on this as the road more often resembles a parking lot than a Parkway, as its name implies.
To make a boring story short, I was rear-ended by some guy who figured he could escape the gridlock by taking the nearest exit. I don’t believe he intended to take the back part of the SC400 with him, but one never knows. The irony of it all is that he was driving a Toyota Celica.
I escaped unharmed from the accident, unless you take into account the ensuing years of ridicule I endured from the fine media folks at Toyota Canada, who reminded me that the “John Duarte cattle-bars” had been installed on every vehicle I was picking up for a test drive for a good period of time after the accident happened.
The Saturn Sky.
The Saturn Sky.
Wikimedia/Reedred
image:115709:0::0
SATURN SKY (2007-2009)
It rarely got better than this when it comes to top-down driving. I like roadsters… what else can I say?
The Saturn Sky shared a platform with the Pontiac Solstice, but there was something about the Saturn that the Solstice couldn’t touch. The Pontiac had nice lines and all, but the Sky looked fast standing still. And it had spirited performance too.
There were a number of powerplants driving the Sky’s rear wheels. The basic motor was a 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder engine pumping out 177 ponies, but buyers could opt for a 2.0-litre turbocharged driver delivering a maximum of 240 horsepower.
Interior space was tight, but car in this class isn’t, and there were a few other glitches that could make one nitpick. That isn’t the purpose here. My selective memory will only allow me to remember the good times and that means dropping the top and heading for a drive along twisty country roads with Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life blasting from the sound system.
The Saturn Sky may not have put a smile on my face as big as the one I received from other convertibles such as the BMW Z4 or the Mazda MX-5 Miata, but those latter ones are still available and, thus, not eligible for this list. Did I mention I like roadsters?
The Subaru SVX.
The Subaru SVX.
Wikimedia Commons
image:115708:0::0
SUBARU SVX (1992-1997)
When the Subaru SVX first hit the market, it is safe to say it stood out from the rest. Many of the cars of that time, especially those coming from Subaru, had a boxy shape to them. The SVX’s streamline profile was an eye-grabber as where the window-within-window feature. Where most cars had fully-retractable side windows, the SVX had partial windows that went up a little more than three-quarters of the way to the roofline. That drew inquisitive looks. Then, there was the rear window that appeared to slope its way under the integrated spoiler mounted on the rear deck… more stares.
The only motor available for the Subaru SVX was a 3.3-litre, horizontally-opposed, flat six-cylinder boxer engine. Similarly was the case with the transmission, for which there was no option. Subaru didn’t have a manual gearbox fit to handle the power output of the SVX’s engine, so it was a four-speed automatic that sent power to all four wheels.
Subaru may have been testing the waters in its shift to offering performance vehicles, and the SVX was a great first offering. I remember getting many requests for rides when I first pulled the Subaru SVX into the office parking lot. Most people couldn’t care less about the advancements and niceties of the automobile. They simply wanted a ride in a “really cool-looking” car.
I once read somewhere that only 1,000 or so Subaru SVXs were sold in Canada during its history. I am glad that I got a chance to spend a week driving one.
The Volkswagen Corrado VR6.
The Volkswagen Corrado VR6.
Wikimedia/Rich Becks
image:115707:0::0
VOLKSWAGEN CORRADO VR6 (1988-1995)
It may have not looked the part, but the Volkswagen Corrado VR6 was a sweet machine with a heart of a thoroughbred racer.
My introduction to the Corrado came at the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada’s annual Car of the Year testing session. I remember how happily the 2.8-litre, V6 engine purred while the slick-shifting five-speed manual transmission worked the rev-band. This car was so easy to drive and was equally at ease motoring in city traffic as it was cruising on the highway. I also remember there were a lot of cars journalists had to drive and analyze, but I took every opportunity and spare moment I had to slip behind the wheel of the Corrado.
All models featured a small rear spoiler that deployed when the car hit between 72 and 97 kilometres per hour (45 to 60 miles per hour). The variance in those figures was set by the manufacturer depending on where the car was being sold.
Have no doubts about it, the VW Corrado VR6 was a sports coupe. It may have not looked much with its boxy shape and plain, albeit functional, interior, but this car could run with sports cars with a much higher price tag.
A few years ago, British motoring magazine Car placed the Corrado on the list of 25 Cars You Must Drive Before You Die. I can cross that one off my list.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Automobiles, Honda s2000, Lexus sc400, saturn sky, subaru svx
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