Q. What happened to the flying
car, which was a hot idea in the 1950s and 1960s? -- K.C. (via
A. Toyota actually may be working on one. However, it wouldn't be the wildly impractical flying cars written about in articles in such magazines as Popular Mechanics. It would move just a little way from the ground to avoid friction or resistance from the road. Lexus is reportedly ready to test "the first, real, rideable hoverboard" this summer. The hoverboard uses technology utilized by a magnetic-levitation train that set a world speed record in Japan last year.
Q. I'm thinking of buying a 1960s Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia. It looks great and I think it eventually will be a classic. -- J.S. (via Internet)
A. The Karmann-Ghia --Volkswagen'ts first sports car--is a classic. It was built from 1956-74. It had styling from the famous Ghia studios in Italy, which also did Ferrari styling. Its specially crafted body was built by the Karmann coachworks in West Germany. Its VW Beetle mechanics made it dead reliable. The 1967 version is the one to get because it has a peppy air-cooled 1.5-liter engine not saddled with the crude new American safety/emissions equipment that adversely affected performance of later models. However, few good Karmann-Ghias have survived, partly because it was inexpensive and thus generally treated like a "throwaway" car. Rust is a major problem. A good one can be hard to find, and its price keeps going up. The Karmann-Ghia was sold as a coupe or convertible, but the coupe has the sleekest lines.
Q. I hear that an increasing number of major automakers are becoming really strange bedfellows because of the costs of developing new cars. True? -- A.R. (via Internet)
A. It looks that way. For instance BMW and Toyota are working on a project to jointly develop a mid-size sports car with common underpinnings, but it likely won't arrive before 2020.
Q. I saw an unusual car called
the Bristol in a British movie. What the hell is a Bristol? -- J.W.
A. It's a nifty, very high quality British sporty car built in small numbers mainly for wealthy British gentlemen who don't want to show off. The first model was the Type 400 built from 1947-49. The car was a sideline operation of the Bristol Aeroplane Co. and borrowed top BMW designs. The best classic model is the racy 1953-56 404, a two-seat coupe based on the famous Bristol chassis design. Named the "Businessman's Express," only 40 were built because it cost so much only the rich could afford it, and most Bristol buyers wanted four seats. The classic 1950s Arnolt-Bristol sports car uses its 96-inch-wheelbase platform. But just try and find a 404. Most highly aerodynamic Bristols have been four-seaters. Bristol remains a very small automaker. It has never sold cars in America, although a few have made their way over here. Entertainer Jay Leno has a 1953-55 403 model.
Q. Volkswagen once made really affordable cars, like its early Beetles. Why not now for Americans? J.L. (via Internet)
A. VW is adding a budget-brand model to its lineup, possibly for a 2018 introduction, to be sold as an SUV, sedan or hatchback, all made in China. It reportedly will cost $11,500 to about $16,000. However, it will be sold at least initially only in Europe, India and South America.
Q. When is Mazda going to sell another rotary-engine car? I had a 1975 RX-4 four-seat rotary model and loved it. -- K.A. (via Internet)
A. I also had a 1975 rotary engine Mazda RX-4 and loved it. However, it had a manual choke that most Americans weren't familiar with. They kept the dashboard-mounted choke pulled out, which resulted in poor fuel economy at a time when gasoline prices had shot up. The choke only was needed briefly in cold weather to help start the car. Don't forget that a rotary engine Mazda sports/race car won the famous 24-hour race at Le Mans, France in 1991, beating the world's best sports cars powered by conventional engines.