From the November 2011 issue of Automobile Magazine
by Ezra Dyer
Illustrations by: Tim Marrs
Chip Foose and I are talking about the Subaru Brat. There's a lull during the taping of Speed's The Car Show, and he's recounting the time as a teenager when he was nearly tossed out of the bed of a Brat. "One of my friends had peeled a vinyl ad for tampons off the window of a pharmacy and stuck it on the door of the Brat," Foose says. "This woman in another car was laughing at it, and the guy driving turned to look at her and drove into the side of a bridge." Foose, standing in the bed, would've been pitched out of the Subaru were it not for the lip at the back of the cab, which he grabbed with all his might. Disaster was averted, and everyone learned an important lesson about the dangers of affixing tampon advertisements to the Subaru Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter.
It's a great story, but the inclusion of a ridiculous minitruck takes it to the next level. The best car stories always involve a vehicle that makes no sense. Like the 1979 BMW Alpina B6 fitted with a 3.0-liter Bavaria engine that I used to own. The massive dual-carb straight six meant there was no room for a fan, so the car had to keep moving or it would overheat. Once, while driving with a Japanese exchange student, Nobu, I hit a turtle, which got its revenge by taking out the Bimmer's low-slung piggyback radiator. The car started puking coolant, and Nobu and I were soon making a long walk into town. "This so sucks," said Nobu. "Poor turtle."
At the time, I also thought the B6 so sucked, but I now recall it with a fondness all out of proportion to its actual appeal. It would have made more sense with a four-cylinder -- better handling, more reliable, maybe even faster. But we don't want cars that make sense, and we prove it every day in dealerships across the land.
For example, the Honda Ridgeline is one of the most sensible vehicles on the market, a truck designed around real-world needs. It tows 5000 pounds, carries a half ton in the bed, and fits a tidy footprint. It's got a trunk and four-wheel independent suspension. From January through the end of August, Honda sold 5776 Ridgelines. During the same time frame, Honda moved 12,940 Accord Crosstours. And why is the crossover/coupe/hatchback thing outselling the manifestly useful truck? Because it doesn't make any sense. And obviously, people go for that.
Cars that are too reasonable often end up below the radar. The Mazda 5, the Mercedes-Benz R350 Bluetec, and the Ford Flex are all worthy examples. But it's not just family haulers. Ponder Porsche's Boxster and Cayman. Unless your priorities are straight-line speed and puny back seats, the mid-engine two-seaters have an edge on the 911. They bark out similarly glorious noises, have equally divine steering, and start at $30,000 less. Yet, through August, Porsche sold 2470 Boxsters and Caymans and 4253 911s, even though the current 911 is a lame duck. Intuitively -- sensibly -- the entry-level Porsches should outsell the 911. They don't.
In the next year or so, I'll be looking to buy a big ol' family wagon, and I have my eye on another underappreciated vehicle, the Lincoln MKT EcoBoost. Most crossovers fail to provide a satisfactory answer to the question, "How is this better than a minivan?" The MKT has an answer: twin turbos. I know some might say, "That car looks like a grotesque metallic baleen whale." But, aesthetics aside, the Lincoln is still a little too sensible -- roomy, all-wheel drive, relatively economical. Well, I might have an answer for that.
Since Hennessey Performance can take the Lincoln MKS EcoBoost up to 435 hp, I e-mailed John Hennessey to see if there were any similar plans for a hot-rod MKT. "We can upgrade the MKT EcoBoost to our MaxBoost 435-hp level," he replied. "Thus far, we haven't had any demand."
That's a nice way of saying that a 435-horse MKT wouldn't make much sense. Which means I think I've found my next car. That is, unless Subaru brings back the Brat.