Q. I remember when Datsun
changed the name of its vehicles to "Nissan" in America. That
confused a lot of potential Datsun buyers, caused dealers to change
their signs to "Nissan,", etc. I think it was a mistake. What do you
think? -- E.M. (via Internet)
A. It was a dumb marketing move because the name " Datsun" had years of built-up recognition and a solid reputation here by the mid-1960s. Incidentally, "DAT" were the initials of the three men who started the original company. Around 1920, they brought out a car called the "Datson," which stood for "son of Dat." But "son" can have an "unfortunate meaning in Japanese" so the spelling was revised to "Datsun" to avoid problems, says the publication Olds Cars Weekly. Datsun remained the brand name for decades, although the corporation name was changed to Nissan Motors in the 1930s. Datsuns initially were exported to the United States in the late 1950s.The cars had a good, durable design, and Datsun was established here by 1970, when the 1970 Datsun 240Z sports car was introduced. It was a sexy, affordable hit and now is a collector's item.
Q. What is the average price of a vehicle in 2015? I think people of low to average means are going way over their heads by paying too much for one. -- K.C. (via Internet)
A. I agree, but keep the monthly payments low enough and automakers have found they can draw lots of customers to vehicles that cost more than $30,000. Why? In many instances, buyers want higher-line models and lots of costly options. For instance the average price paid for a General Motors vehicle in April was $34,750, or $880 more than paid a year earlier. The hottest sellers are trucks-- pickups, SUVs and crossover vehicles--partly because of lower gasoline prices. By stretching out payments to longer time periods, many folks feel they can afford costly vehicles.
Q. Incredibly, I saw in Sports Car Market magazine that a ghastly rusted-out hulk of a car--a French 1949 Talbot-Lago T26--was sold for nearly $2 million at the Retromobile auction in France. The back end had been hit in an accident and the fender and driver's door were missing. I don't think an American auto junkyard would even want it. But the magazine said some collectors bid at the auction for old horrible-condition French cars"with complete disregard for condition or market value"and that (presumably) French bidders for the Talbot-Lago you mention and another thrashed-out old French car were determined to keep their cars on their native soil. -- K.P., (via Internet)
A. The entire worldwide collector car market has become idiotic. In America, even former "throwaway " Ferraris 308s and MGAs from the 1970s are escalating in price. Not long ago, they were considered just another used car.
Q. Should I buy or lease a car
for two or three years? -- D.M. (via Internet)
A. You have no equity in the car if you lease it, but you also don't have to worry much about maintaining it. Just start it, drive it, and turn it in when the lease expires. You also may want a newer or more upscale model with, for instance the latest safety features and advanced technology by the time the lease expires. And you can invest the money you would have spent if you bought the car outright instead of leasing it. Auto dealers love leases because they know most consumers who lease a vehicle will be "comebacks" who will give them a shot at leasing another vehicle.
Q. Are "barn find" original condition collector cars that haven't been driven for decades worth more than restored ones? P.K. (via Internet)
A. Some are, if in original condition, although the cost of thoroughly restoring any old car can be over the moon. But some collectors of barn find cars display them they way the found them, complete with 30 or so years of dust on them. Their saying goes, "A car is original only once. Restore it, and it's never going to be the same."
Q. I'm thinking about buying a used low-mileage Volkswagen Phaeton in great condition for a reasonable price. Your thoughts? --J.A. (via Internet
A. Go ahead.The exclusive VW all-wheel-drive Phaeton was a marvelous sedan, and one of the world's fastest production cars. But it was dropped from the U.S. market in 2006. I tested several and found it was a picture of understated luxury and sophistication. I even saw the glass factory in Germany where it was carefully built. You could get it with a mighty W12 engine, and it had radar adaptive cruise control and an adaptive air suspension. But it cost more than $80,000 with the W12 when new and -- most importantly -- lacked a premium badge. You should be able to find one now in decent shape for, by one estimate, $10,000-$20,000, which makes it a real steal. Chances are, the neighbors won't even know what it is.Who needs a Mercedes S Class or BMW 7-Series sedan? Incidentally, VW reportedly will bring back a lower-priced Phaeton model in 2018.