Stalls – May ’87
Topless in Harlem
So there I was with Larry in Harlem on a beautiful March day. Larry, my kid brother, is a cognoscente of American Iron, with emphasis on convertibles. Sure, he’s suffered through Alfa Spyd ers, etc., but he prefers a mid-’60’s Pon tiac, the kind with a surfboard sticking out the back.
A few blocks east of the City Univer sity I spotted, parked on the street, one of the more grotesque convertibles to ever offend an eye. This was one of those new fwd GM designs with the vertical rear window. I was incredulous when Larry told me it was not really a convertible.
“Are you serious?” I exclaimed, em ploying the beach boy vernacular appro priate to convertible discourse. “Look, its got the cloth roof, its got the roof bows, for crissake its got sags in the cloth between the bows. That rear window sure is ugly!”
After thus allowing me to sum up the car’s stronger points, Larry informed me again that I was wrong, and that people actually pay good money to have this done to their cars. “You don’t believe me? I’ll show you, man,” he said, ap proaching the eyesore . His right hand clentched into a first, he rapped on the fabric top. “Thunk, thunk, thunk,” re plied the steel roof.
The kid was right. It was a “coupe” dressed up to look like a permanently erect convertible. A whole new world of automotive culture was unfolding like potholes in a New York street.
We hadn’t gone two blocks before I spotted another “convertible,” this one in motion. The driver and passenger gave the appearance of success in either the service or pharmaceutical industry. The car was a metallic gold 320i with one piece alloy wheels, low profile tires, lowered suspensfon, personalized license plate, aftermarket mirrors, and . . . and . . . and . . [sotto voce] a convert ible top. But was it a real top? This time I delivered the verdict to Larry. Definitely not. Why not? Real convertible tops do not have a rectangle cut in them for the sunroof.
In The Flesh
By now everyone has seen pictures of the new Ferrari Testarossa. To be polite, they are not flattering. The bodywork looks too busy, the mirrors look silly on the car for the same reason Durante’s nose looks silly on his face, and the pro portions are not right.
On my way from Encino to Santa Monica in March I passed a red Tes tarossa on the freeway. (I was in a reasonably unhealthy Mazda 323. In Los Angeles, the lane you are in counts for more than the car you are in when deter mining how quickly you arrive. An en tirely different matter is where you are arriving.)
I am pleased to report that the TR is, truly, a redhead in the flesh. It looks ag gressive but fragile, correctly balanced and proportioned, and even the mirrors integrate. It looks fast; it could get a speeding ticket while parked. The car is worth going out of your way to see, especially since it doesn’t photograph. It’s too bad that the Saab convertible (top up) is not similarly misrepresented in photographs. It looks bad ill photos, and having tracked one on the highway near Lynnwood last autumn, I must re port that it looks even worse in the flesh. This car belongs in LA, where the top can stay down full time (and send those hard roofed TR’s up here, by all means).
I had a rental Nissan Sentra for a week. Alamo promised me a Bonneville (or was it a Grand Am?) when I made my re servation, but that was apparently a bait and-switch tactic because they charged Pontiac prices for the little Nissan. (They also charged $11.00 for gas they didn’t put in the car and lied about insurance coverages. They are not honest. I will take my business elsewhere.) Too bad. I was really interested in driving some thing new from Motown Motors.
It has been suggested that I am overly critical of things in general and cars in particular, so I will hit on the Sentra’s good points first. It got very respectable gas mileage. It has an excellent factory radio, far better than my Bluepoint. And the styling is beyond reproach, because it doesn’t have any.
That out of the way, I can report that the Sentra has a gutless and buzzy en gine; that the automatic trans hunts in a most obnoxious manner between second and top gear up hills at speeds between 35 and 55; that the car has terminal un dersteer, which is not helped by its pre lubricated tires (the tires were so bad I didn’t even want to know who made them). The seats are uncomfortable and offer no grip, which is only slightly less than the little grip required by the Sentra’s cornering ability. The brakes stop straight and oh so slowly, with pro nounced front drive. The air condition ing (320i owners take note) actually cools the car, mostly by first supercool ing selected portions of my anatomy nearest the vents, and its thermostatic control didn’t work so I had to cycle the air manually whenever I used it at all.
With clean 320i’s available used for $4-5K, I fail to see why anybody would want a new Sentra. Excepting Alamo.
This article was originally published in the May 1987 edition of Zundfolge