Q. A recent article in a
financial newspaper said the 1960s Chevrolet Corvair, which it
described as a "hot selling sports car," was "put out of commission" in
1969 by Ralph Nader's 1965 book, "Unsafe at Any Speed," which claimed
some American cars were unsafe. -- J.S., Chicago
A. Nader's book didn't help the Corvair, but didn't cause its demise, either. Not by a long shot. The first Ford Mustang, a fantastic seller after its mid-1964 introduction, mainly killed the Corvair. That car had an unusual rear-engine design for Detroit, but wasn't a "sports car," although the second-generation 1965-69 model had excellent handling with its Chevy Corvette-style rear suspension. General Motors rushed to build the conventional front-engine Chevy Camaro, which arrived for 1967, to directly battle the conventional front-engine Mustang. Nader's book criticized handling of early 1960s Corvairs, but GM ended relevant Corvair development--the kiss of death for a car--after seeing Mustang's sales soar. Check the Corvair article in our classic cars section to get the entire story.
Q. I've long felt that the 1961 Jaguar XK-E is the sexiest new 1960s sports car. Your opinion? -- E.H., Oak Lawn
A. I'd say it's a toss-up between that XK-E and the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray. The Jaguar officially was called the E-Type, but it was commonly called the "XK-E" in America because previous post-World War II Jaguar sports cars sold here were the XK-120, XK-140 and XK-150. The XK-E had many features of Jaguar's 1960s winning D-Type sports/racing car, and "E" follows "D."
Q. It seems that every time gas prices shoot up a lot, as they did last summer, Americans opt for smaller vehicles. But when gas prices go down, as they have this year, people want larger vehicles again. Is that still the case, despite the shock of last year's $4-per-gallon gas? -- R.J., Hinsdale
A. The same thing seems to be happening again. AutoTrader.com, which tracks data of how consumers are shopping for vehicles, says its March Trend Engine report showed that, despite government and environmental advocacy groups touting benefits of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, Americans "seem to have an insatiable feeling that bigger is better." Of the top 20 new vehicles viewed on AutoTrader.com in March, most were large sedans or trucks, with half offering consumers V-8s as standard or optional. Vehicles with a four-cylinder option accounted for just seven of the top 20 spots of vehicles viewed on AutoTrader.com in March.
Q. I can't get credit to buy a
car, and my local dealers
don't have models I want because they can't get automaker financing to
order them because
of the troubled economy. So how do I keep my 2005
Dodge Intrepid with 42,300 miles running good enough to provide
reliable transportation until things become brighter? -- R.B., Chcago
A. Many folks have put off vehicle purchases and postponed repairs because of the economy and job market uncertainty. Many haven't taken the time or spent the money to follow factory recommended maintenance. Care Care Council survey results show 80 percent of vehicles inspected during 2008 vehicle check events needed service or parts. Those who've neglected their vehicle should change the engine oil and filter for warm-weather driving. They also should install a new engine air filter and make sure the battery, charging system, belts and hoses are in good shape after winter. Also, tire condition and pressures should be checked. Examine brakes because winter's salt and road grime tend to increase wear. Listen for odd noises, which often signal trouble. Find a good mechanic and stick with him because he can spot future problems before they occur.
Q. Why is General Motors asking for government money on the one hand and bringing out fast, sporty cars such as the Chevrolet Camaro on the other? -- W.F., Skokie
A. Development of the new Camaro began long before gasoline prices hit the roof last summer. However, the Camaro will be offered with a sophisticated, fuel-efficient V-6, besides a V-8. Most Camaros are expected to be sold with the V-6. I doubt you'd want to return to the days when average folks had few vehicle choices and ended up with a black Ford Model T. Note that you can buy GM's sporty Chevy Cobalt or Pontiac G5 that deliver an estimated 25 mpg in the city and 37 on highways, if you don't want a gas/electric hybrid auto.
Q. Which is the better gas/electric hybrid--the new Honda Insight or the new Toyota Prius? -- G.L., Chicago
A. The Prius generally outscores the Insight, but the Insight costs less. Both are fuel-sippers with impressive, although complicated, designs.