Q. I hear a new, high-performance “Abarth” version of the cute, small Fiat 500 will provide far more performance.What’s an “Abarth” and do you think it will help sales of this car, which is the first Fiat sold in America in decades? – S.N. New York.

A.  The 500 Abarth should definitely help sales, especially to males. The Abarth version of the 500 will be introduced at Los Angeles Auto Show this month. It will have a turbocharged version of the car’s 1.4-liter, 101-horsepower  four-cylinder engine that produces 160 horsepower. It also will have a stiffer suspension, wider tires and a “performance-oriented exterior and interior design.” Abarth is Fiat’s performance brand. Its colorful history dates to 1949, when Austrian-born motorcycle racer Karl Abarth founded a company bearing his name. Abarth made aftermarket performance products for production cars following World War II. When the original Fiat 500 first arrived in 1958, Abarth adaped the tiny, light car for racing, doubling horsepower. The ensuing race car, the Abarth 595, broke six international records and won an astounding 900 races by 1965. In Italy, customers in cafes and restaurants asked for an “Abarth coffee” when they wanted a strong coffee or one with a shot of alcohol. Older Abarth models are a prized collectors item and a blast to drive. The Abarth operation was absorbed by Fiat in 1971. The Abarth brand was relaunched in Europe in 2007—the year the automaker  resurrected the Fiat 500. Karl Abarth died in 1979. 

Q. How can I stop my daughter from texting or taking incoming phone calls when driving? – M.P., Dallas

A. Ford is adding a feature to its MyKey technology to block incoming phone calls and deter text messages when teens are at the wheel. When hooked to Ford’s SYNC system, a Do Not Disturb feature diverts calls into voicemail and saves text messages on the device for later viewing. 

Q. I’m excited by a new luxury sedan that will be offered by Tesla Motors Inc., the electric car producer based in Palo Alto, Calif. What do you know about this auto? — D.M., Demver, Colo. 

A. Tesla Motors says it is sold out of next year’s production of its new Model S premium luxury electric sedan and may earn its first annual profit in 2013. It says it has orders for “more than 6,500” units of the Model S, to be built next year. Tesla says the car will retail for “as little as about $50,000.” That’s about half the price of Tesla’s current Roadster electric sports car. Tesla says it aims to deliver the electric sedans by mid-2012. Time will tell, but veteran auto industry analyst Jim Wangers says he has “been in the auto business long enough (to know) that you don’t take an all-new car including sheet metal and turn it into profit on the basis of one-year sales.” 


Q. What’s the best way to keep my old car in good shape while storing it for lousy Chicago winters? Salt-filled roads prevent me from driving it during winter because they  lead to rust? — P.S., Chicago 

A. The best place for it is in a garage, preferably a heated one. Otherwise use a car cover that “breathes” so rust-causing moisture doesn’t collect under it. Inflate tires about 10 pounds above recommend pressures and fill the gasoline tank. Then start the car at least once a month (preferably twice a month) and move it slowly back and forth at least five or six feet from the area where it’s parked to activate the brakes and keep things such as transmission fluid moving a bit. A low-cost battery “maintainer”—not a charger—should be plugged in to keep the battery in good shape so the vehicle will start during winter. Chicago winters almost always have some fairly warm days when the roads have little or no salt and are dry. That’s when you should take your car for a slow, fairly short drive, bringing the engine to operating temperature.

Q. As a kid in the mid-1950s I saw a futuristic-looking General Motors show concept sedan with center-opening doors called the La Salle II. Crowds were so thick at shows where this auto—then called a “dream car”—was displayed that you could hardly get near it. Does it still exist?— L.A., Elmwood Park, Ill.

A. Sure does—I recently saw it being worked on at Larry Claypool’s ‘Vair Shop in Frankfort, Ill., just south of Chicago. Claypool, a veteran car restorer who mainly specializes in Corvairs, was restoring the La Salle II’s elaborate, finned aluminum drum brakes. The car sat for years in a Detroit area salvage yard, exposed to harsh Michigan winters but remaining pretty much intact. It was discovered and bought in 1988 by noted Chicago area car collector Joe Bortz, who is overseeing the car’s restoration. Bortz also remembers seeing the car as a kid at a show. For updates on the La Salle II restoration project, check out bortzautocollection.com.

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