Q. Will certain Japanese cars
a collector's item, now that many younger people have grown up with
them? If so, what models would be collector material? --
A. It is likely certain Japanese models will become a collector's item, although so far only a few rather exotic ones from Japan such as the 1991-05 Acura NSX have caught on as a collector car. That's largely because most Japanese cars were built mainly for reliability and economy--and thus had little, if any, flair. But the following Japanese cars should be collector contenders: 1997-2001 Acura Integra Type R; 1979-85 Mazda RX-7; 1966-79 Datsun 1600 and 2000, besides 1970-75 240-Z and 260-Z and 1968-73 510; 1966-70 Honda S800 and 1985-90 CRX Si; 1983-87 Toyota Corolla GT-S and 1985-95 MR2--and the 1990-2005 Mazda Miata.
Q. Did the "cash for clunkers" car program do any good? -- G.R., Berwyn
A. Everyone loves a deal, so it remains to be seen if the program just "pulled forward" vehicle buyers who planned to buy a few months later, anyway. Politically, though, it was a success because it's virtually the only government program so far that the average person saw can work--despite some government bungling.
Q. People don't seem to pay much attention to their car's suspension and brake systems, until they're having trouble stopping or handling. Why? -- J.H., Evanston
A. Because such components are easily ignored and their deterioration often slowly creeps up on drivers. Most late-model cars are very well-built, especially when it comes to their engines, which electronically compensate for deteriorating performance. But here are symptoms of steering and suspension wear: pulling to one side, uneven tire wear; noise and vibration when cornering and loss of control. Factors that affect steering and suspension wear include driving habits, operating conditions, vehicle types and frequency of regular maintenance such as chassis lubrication and wheel alignment. Find a good mechanic who knows a vehicle's history and keeps up with its routine maintenance.
Q. Why do so many top-line cars from automakers such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW have 400- or 500-plus horsepower engines?. I'm not talking about Ferraris or Lamborghinis, but about coupes and sedans modified by an automaker's high-performance division? -- W.E., Green Bay, Wis.
A. Because there is a lucrative market for such models. And car producers--especially high-line ones--feel they must be competitive with each other.
Q. Why isn't the fiberglass-body 1963-64 Studebaker Avanti more of a collector's item? It had fabulous styling, set speed records and was ahead of its time in many respects. -- J.R., Oak Park
A. The public initially fell in love with the four-seat Avanti. But that car experienced production delays, which led some to buy the redesigned Chevrolet Corvette. And then financially troubled Studebaker closed its U.S. operations in 1963. However, the Avanti refused to die. It went on for many years as a limited-production hand-built model built by private outfits with General Motors V-8s. Those cars looked virtually the same as the "Stude" Avanti. However, most car collectors tend to avoid "orphan" cars--those built by automakers that went out of business. Still, the reasonably priced Studebaker Avanti and many of the later models--especially those built through 1976--are a steal as a collector car.
Q. Why doesn't Ferrari send
to America? It surely could sell a lot more of them. -- T.M.,
A. Ferrari, which is owned by Italy's giant Fiat, deliberately holds down the number of cars it sells here to keep the auto exclusive, and thus more desirable, and to maintain high prices for new and used models. Last year, it sold 1,602 cars in America--a slow year for automakers. In 2007, it sold 1,749 autos here. It sold only 840 cars here through August this year, compared with 1,132 in the same year-ago period. But that's because car sales are even more depressed. Also, some Ferrari fans have been waiting for new models they know are coming.
Q. Why did Hudson win so many NASCAR races in the early 1950s, when stock cars were just modified production cars, with a six-cylinder engine, when rivals had V-8s? -- J.B. Melrose Park
A. Because the Hudson had a powerful "six," and the rugged car didn't break down during grueling NASCAR races. It also handled extremely well with its low center of gravity, partially enabled by its "step-down" design.
Q. Now is the time this year when I must decide to buy a 2009 or 2010 model. What do you suggest? -- J.H., Countryside
A. You're likely best off now waiting for a 2010 model. For one thing, inventories of 2009 models are much lower than normal, so you may not get the exact model, color or equipment you want.
Q. When did Cadillac really dominate the U.S. luxury car market? And what foreign automakers really began eating into its market in America?-- B.I., Chicago
A. Cadillac dominated from the 1950s through the 1970s, although Mercedes-Benz began significantly eating into its sales in the 1970s. And then Lexus then gave it even more trouble after arriving in 1990.