Q. What desirable items, such
regular-size spare tires, are disappearing from cars? — E.H.,
A. Besides those spares, items fading into history include front bench seats, stamped metal keys (replaced by fobs featuring remote unlocking and start/stop engine dashboard buttons), manual window cranks, manual gear shifters with clutches, power or whip antennas, pull-up handbrakes (often put between front bucket seats), hardtop convertibles without a central roof pillar to give a sporty “top-up” convertible look, hinged vent windows between windshield pillar and movable side window and bias-ply tires (replaced by radials). Full-size heavy spares are disappearing because automakers are cutting weight to increase fuel economy.
Q. What was the popular foreign family car—not a Yugo—that had a stark design? I’ve heard stories about this mystery car, but never have seen one in America. — J.B., Los Angeles
A. You’re likely thinking of the small, two-cylinder, 26-horsepower Trabant, which had a recycled boxy plastic body. Its basic design wasn’t changed for 30 years. It was the most ubiquitous car in communist East Germany and other Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War. Still, it was in demand. Why? Because it was relatively affordable and beat using a bicycle, which was common transportation for Eastern Block folks, most of whom had little money. The Trabant could reach 62 m.p.h. and was built until 1991. Its mechanical engineer was Werner Lang, who recently died at age 91.
Q. Car sales in America are almost booming again. What’s the auto sales situation in Europe? — D.M., Des Moines, Iowa
A. It’s a train wreck. There’s excessive vehicle building capacity, rising labor costs caused by demanding unions and shrinking domestic demand.
Q. I’m thinking about
buying a new Porsche 911. I’d like to give it a few desirable
options, but how much will they add to the price? — F.K.,
A. They’ll almost cost an arm and a leg. Porsche has always charged sky-high prices for desirable options—and gotten away with it. The 911 without options is just fine, and plenty costly without extras for road use.
Q. What 2012-13 vehicles have mediocre resale value? — J.S., Peoria
A. Intellichoice, a research firm, says that, generally, large vehicles, mid-size cars and minivans tend to lose their value faster, compared to other vehicles. Specifically, the firm said people aren’t willing to pay top dollar for these vehicles, which doesn’t mean they’re bad: 2013 Chevrolet Impala LT; 2012 Jeep Liberty Limited Sport with two-wheel drive; 2013 Suzuki Grand Vitara Premium with rear-wheel drive; 2013 Jaguar XJ, and 2012 Kia Sedona LX.
Q. What are good “starter” collector cars for people with average incomes, but who want to enter the collector car game?—W.V., Phoenix
A. Hagerty Insurance, which is a major old-car insurer, mentions these starter vehicles in good condition: 1955 Chrysler Windsor Deluxe sedan or hardtop coupe ($15,000-$20,500); 1966 Ford Mustang coupe and convertible ($12,600-$24,300); 1963 Studebaker Avanti ($17,500); 1964 Ford Thunderbird ($11,200-$23,200), and a 1970 MGB ($8,400). I’d pick the Avanti, Mustang or MGB.