07th Jul2016

Let’s Talk About Top Gear

by Michael Chandler

top gear usa

Words by Michael Chandler

Some things happened while I was out.  Big things.  BBC Top Gear just wrapped up their first season post Clarkson, Hammond, and May; and Top Gear USA has been cancelled.  OH! And Chris Evans was let go/fired/what have you after that first season because of reasons that may or may not include arguing with producers, co-hosts, or a sexual assault investigation.  Whatever the reasons, he’s out and the Top Gear landscape is going to be different in the coming years.

Top Gear USA

Now I want to talk about Top Gear USA first, seeing as how 1. It’s dead and 2. I seem to be the only person who didn’t hate the show and wasn’t glad when it went away.  I’m still trying to figure out why it was so derided.  Was it because it was called Top Gear, but wasn’t the Top Gear everyone was used to seeing?  Was it the lack of studio segments and guests?  Car reviews?  Accents?  They had the films and challenges, which were pretty damn good, and it was arguably the best American car show on television.  Better than the “street racing” or “will they finish the build before the auction??” shows that serve as the other options.

Did it have its problems?  Oh yeah.  I liked the show, but I’m not an idiot.  Despite what it may look like, I’ll acknowledge the show’s flaws.  Here’s how every challenge went: Adam drove some giant American boat like someone with no regard for anything whatsoever, Rut drove something quirky for the sake of it being quirky,  and Tanner would be the boy racer in whatever garbage performance vehicle he could find.  They would deliver mail, make amphibious cars, try out the new crop of police cars, Tanner would win most of the challenges, and he would drive whatever super car the producers declared the “prize”.  Every.  Damn.  Time.  It became SUPER formulaic, and a bit boring, but the hosts gelled.  There were moments of camaraderie and genuine humor, something you’re not really getting from the other shows, with their hyper dramatized premises.

So it wasn’t Top Gear with Clarkson, Hammond, and May.  You know what?  It was never going to be.  Nothing, save for maybe their new Amazon show, will ever be that.  Not even their old show.

BBC Top Gear

Like the rest of you, I watched the whole season.  Unlike some of you, I waited until it was broadcast on BBC America, but that’s neither here nor there.  I watched, hoping that the massive hosting line-up would find some sort of equilibrium, or show signs of something like that.  Instead, we got a series where we barely saw some hosts, too much of others, and an after show which was better than the some of the episodes of the proper show.

I was really surprised by Rory Reid.  He was a superb presenter, one who showed genuine excitement to be driving and talking about the cars.  He also knowledgeable, something that can’t be said about other people on other shows.  And Matt LeBlanc was excellent as second chair.  In my opinion, he was better than Chris Evans.  Evans was too shouty, everything was in capital letters with him.  He was too wacky morning radio DJ, which was only amplified by LeBlanc’s quiet, subdued demeanor.  I felt Sabine was under utilized.  We saw her drive a Corvette Z06, an R8, and an A8… and that’s it.  Disappointing.  We saw Eddie Jordan break a small Mercedes SUV, and play the spoons on a train.  I think that’s about all we need from him.  Honestly I think the show can, and should, go on with Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid, Chris Harris, and Sabine Schmitz.  And The Stig, that’s a given.  There’s definitely enough show for the four of them, and you don’t always need all of them at the same time.  A leaner cast would help the show flow better, but speaking of leaning out to help the show…

Why in God’s name were there two Stars on every show?  And why did that segment drag on for as long as it did every show?  I think that that had to have been either a concession the producers made to get Evans on as host, or a demand he made after he got the job.  Either way, it was awful and I hope they go back to the one star format they had in year’s past.  I did like Jenson Button coming on and driving a McLaren.  Maybe try and do more of that?  You could have Nico and Lewis crash AMG GTs into each other, Kimi fall asleep while driving a 488, and Kevin Magnussen drive an R.S. 01.  THAT is a segment that has some legs.  Tell me you wouldn’t want to see F1 drivers being interviewed while driving a supercar, then having to do a lap in a reasonably priced car.  BAM! fixed part of the show.  If that happens BBC, I expect to see my name in the credits and payment for my services.

 

Top Gear, et al., going forward is going to be different than what we’re used to, different than what we saw this season.  This time next year the old trio will have a season under their belt, and the BBC will have another season of Top Gear in the books.  Will The Grand Tour be what Top Gear used to be?  Will Top GEar find its footing?  Either way, I’m excited to see where this all goes.  What are your thoughts on all of this?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment.

And on that bombshell…

*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMautoMag.Com and their respective owners.

 

19th May2016

The Way It Were: Why Nothing Is Ever As Good As It Was

by Michael Chandler

Datsun 260Z 2+2 feature CAMautoMag Michael Chandler-1

CAUTION: OPINIONS AHEAD

A few years ago Niki Lauda suggested that for F1 to be more exciting, they needed to go to wider tires and bigger wings and lots more horsepower.  Basically, turn the clock back to when he was racing.  He’s not the first person to suggest going back to “the old ways”.  When the new turbo motors came out, everyone complained and wanted to go back to the V10 era.  Was the V10 era that much better?  Were the 70’s the peak of F1?

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People in drifting have some thoughts on the current state of the sport as well.  There was a time where 500 horsepower was considered a lot, and the steering mods you needed were rack spacers and modified knuckles.  Now the top Formula D cars make around 800 horsepower, completely redesigned steering components for crazy amounts of angle, and over fenders on over fenders to cover the tires because the steering mods have pushed the wheels so far out from their original location.  But were the lower power, simpler days so much better than today?

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Back in the day, you could fix damn near any car with nothing more than a socket set and a bucket of carb cleaner.  The bodies were made of steel, and they were designed by guys with slide rulers and very little understanding of aerodynamics.  Modern cars are massive compared to the old cars, and the technology is so deeply embedded in every aspect of them that working on them is nearly impossible.  But were the old steel bodied classics better than the stuff you can drive off a dealer’s lot?

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Well… No.  Modern race cars are demonstrably faster, more efficient and safer than their old counter parts, drifting has graduated from “a bunch of idiots in a parking lot” to a legitimate motorsport, and modern cars are faster, safer, more efficient, and better equipped than the designers ever thought cars could be.  When Niki Lauda won his first World Championship in 1975, he turned a 1:26.40 lap in qualifying.  In 2011 Sebastian Vettel ran a 1:13.556.

With more knowledge and data, the Formula D cars are moving through the courses faster and making more tire smoke.  Couple that with the amount of angle the drivers are using going through the corners, and you have something far more interesting to watch than what was happening in 2007.

Modern cars are heavier and bigger because they have more stuff in them.  Stuff like multiple air bags and other safety equipment, infotainment systems that play your Pandora stations and read your text messages to you!  In 1975, a V8 Camaro 13 mpg in the city and 19 on the highway.  A 2016 Camaro does 16 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway.  The humble Corolla went from 21/33 forty-one years ago to 28/37 now.  Modern cars of all varieties are demonstrably better.  But why do we keep holding up examples from the past?  In my opinion, it’s a familiarity issue.

Let me try to explain this with an analogy.  Michael Jordan is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen.  I say this because I watched him for more than a third of my life.  I saw him win multiple championships, MVP awards, and even a gold medal.  Now if you were to ask someone ten years younger than me, they probably wouldn’t say MJ was the best.  They’d probably say Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James, or even Steph Curry is the best.  Why?  Because they watched them at their peaks, like I did with Jordan.  That hypothetical person grew up knowing only an old MJ and young, rising talents in LeBron, Steph and Kobe.  Now replace MJ and LeBron with an AE86 and a new FRS/BRZ.  The Corolla was amazing, but that’s not the hero car for the new generation.  It’s legendary, and they know about the old Corolla; but, the FRS/BRZ has been around since some of these kids became aware of cars and their coolness.

Same with F1.  Some people came into the sport WITH the turbo V6s, and have no idea about the previous eras.  There are countless hoards of people out there that are convinced that to have a fun drift car you need a high horsepower 2JZ or LS, all of the Wisefab you can get your hands on, and as much fender as one can fit on a car.  And let’s be honest, spending an hour in stop and go traffic in a car with weak A/C, a semi-functioning tape deck, and an ever falling fuel needle isn’t as good a place to be as a car where you can throw it in D, crank up the A/C, listen to your Spotify playlist of choice, and not having to stop for gas at every exit.  It’s easy to look at the past with rose colored spectacles, but you can’t deny that things are better now than they used to be.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch this and then this.

*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMautoMag.Com and their respective owners.
02nd May2016

I Love/Hate Watching Racing on TV

by Michael Chandler

A photo posted by CAMautoMag (@camautomag) on

Words, photo and opinion by Michael Chandler

We live in an age where every form of motorsports is available on your TV.  And to be honest, it’s great having it as easily accessible as it is.  HOWEVER, I am going to take a minute to air one large complaint that I have:

The TV broadcasts that we have for the IMSA WeatherTech series are just awful, and Fox Sports is a terrible TV home for the series.  Allow me to explain why these things are so awful.

ISSUE THE FIRST!: The Announcers

Yes, I know what they’re doing is difficult: you’re trying to relate what’s going on in a very fast paced sport to people who might not be that fast paced in their ability to process information.  You have to know who is in which car, where everyone is on the track, and what’s going on in the different classes.  All difficult, but there’s one thing that they don’t do: look for action outside of the lead group or really focus on teams that aren’t big names.  If there’s an amazing battle for 5th, you probably won’t see it.  And if you’re not Porsche or Corvette, we’re not gonna know you’re there.  It’s incredibly frustrating, especially if the leaders are well clear of any competition.  I would much rather see that 5th place battle between some teams and drivers I’m not intimately familiar with.

ISSUE THE SECOND!: The Pit Lane reporters

They’re not as useless as the sideline reporters in a basketball or football game (sideline reporters are utterly useless), they can tell us what happens to a car when it goes behind the wall or what driver is hopping in during a driver change.  They provide some valuable information you wouldn’t get from the announcers in the booth, but the TV crew seems to love trying race for the bottom against the sideline reporters.  They repeatedly ask crew chiefs vague, soft questions; or talk to some corporate fellow in a polo who has no idea what the hell is going on in the race, series, or world in general.  I don’t care what the VP of North American SUV Operations has to say about the “venue”, tell me if the Action Express Corvette DP came in and got a set of scrub tires!  Give me information damnit!  If I wanted useless nonsense, I’d fire up one of the 24 hour “news” networks and tune in for some “news”.

ISSUE THE THIRD!: The streaming

As I’m pounding out this semi-though out rant, I’m listening to the Radio Le Mans call of the Monterrey GP, specifically the Prototype and GTLM race.  I tried to stream the race via the IMSA website, and I was greeted with a screen that said I needed to watch the race on Fox Sports 1, or Fox Sports Go.  I was trying to avoid the FS1 catastrophe, so I went to FSGo.  And it’s the TV broadcast I’m trying to avoid, complete with commercial breaks.  All I want to to is listen the the Radio Le Mans crew call the race, give me information and insight I don’t have, and watch these amazing machines whip around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  I don’t want commercials for La Quinta Inn or the Chevrolet Malibu, I want my racing!  I broke down.  I fired up the Fox Sports stream, muted it, turned on Radio Le Mans, and made a horrifying discovery: the visuals were MINUTES behind the audio.  MINUTES.  There are 120 of those in today’s race!  How?  How is this happening???

ISSUE THE FOURTH!: The TV home

When SPEED became Fox Sports, people rejoiced.  It looked like all the racing we were able to find on our cable boxes wasn’t going anywhere.  Then they announced that there was going to be a Fox Sports 2, and then stuff got shoved onto that.  Stuff like the PC/GTD Monterrey GP race, big chunks of the 12 and 24 hour races, and some races all together.  This wouldn’t be a problem if FS2 was a channel that existed in people’s cable packages, or IMSA wasn’t so insistent on not streaming something on their site that’s being broadcast on this shadow TV network.

And let’s talk about how the IMSA stuff gets shown on TV via tape delay, and that taped race often starts late because of UFC post fight coverage, or FA Cup soccer, or some other niche sport.  I’m fine with both the UFC and European soccer, but when I end up waiting fifteen minutes for my race to start so three talking heads in an empty arena can talk about a fight that ended quite a while ago, I get a bit peeved.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

ABC, NBC, Fox proper and ESPN all have their hands in either Indy, F1, or NASCAR; but, they all split time with those series.  CBS has Pirelli World Challenge, but they pop that onto CBS Sports Network, which is in the outer realm of your cable lineup.  But while it’s way the hell down the channel listings, it has some great racing on it: V8 Super Cars, Blancpain Sprint Series, Stadium Super Trucks.  It’s almost ready-made for the WeatherTech series.  If CBS could/wanted to get their hands on the rights, they could elevate this series to the level it should be.

Unfortunately, that probably isn’t going to happen.  IMSA’s co-founder is Bill France Sr., who founded the redneck rodeo we know as NASCAR.  They’re headquartered at the same place.  If you’ve noticed, there’s a lot of NASCAR races on Fox.  Same with all of the WeatherTech races.  The powers that are would rather negotiate with a long time partner, than try to start a new relationship.

Michael, you simpleton! In July NASCAR jumps to the NBC networks! Oh, I know.  Again, long time partners.  NBC airs the NASCAR Mexican series on their Spanish language properties, and has been for a few years now.  Why bring a third party in, especially one that you don’t have a relationship with at the moment?

So, we’re stuck with this.  Thankfully the audio you can stream on the IMSA site is done by the Radio Le Mans crew, so that’s a bright spot in this sea of floating turds.  And Fox Sports 1 is available on 4 out of the 7 Comcast packages, half of the Dish packages, and 5 of the 6 DirecTV packages, so there’s that too.  Hopefully this gets better, and they stop shoving stuff to FS2 or just allow people to stream the races with the audio they want.

The next WeatherTech Series race is the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic from the Raceway at Belle Isle Park June 3&4.  Qualifying will be on the IMSA site starting on the 3rd at 5:05PM Eastern, and the race itself is going to be aired on Fox Sports 1 on the 4th at 12:30PM Eastern.  That’s 3:05PM Mountain for qualifying, and 10:30AM for the race.

*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMautoMag.Com and their respective owners.

 

24th Mar2015

The Problem with Meets

by Michael Chandler

EDITORIAL Problem With Meets Michael CHandler CAMautoMag

Words and photos by Michael Chandler

 

There was a long, long period of time where I didn’t go to many of the local meets or get togethers.  Mostly it was because the usual group of guys I would see at these had moved on to bigger and better things (marriage, children, moving out of a house with 7 dudes sharing 3 bedrooms and into their own house, careers), but it was also because I kept seeing more and more idiots at these meets.

What do I mean by “idiot”? Well take the winners in the picture above for example.  This was at the Utah Japanese Classic Car barbecue.  It was a mellow day, where everyone was just hanging out when suddenly we heard something approaching from over the horizon.  It was the Forester, which sounded like it was in first gear for the sheer sake of being in first gear, with the Impreza in tow.  They pulled in and did a couple of laps against the flow of traffic, in first gear the whole way.  After stopping to hop out and talk to someone who was leaving (which blocked traffic by the way), they took another lap.  Unable to find two parking spots next to each other, and unwilling to be separated, they did douchiest thing I’ve seen this year: they parked behind two cars parked in the handicap stalls and got out.

They parked behind two cars that were parked legally in the handicap stalls.  The intrepid Subaru owners just made their own spots by blocking in two cars, and made their way off to peruse the classic J tin.

Now, I used to own an Integra and I was pretty cool about it for the most part.  I didn’t try and race everything on the road, I didn’t do burnouts or rev my engine at meets, nor did I have any sort of body kit on the car, but people still looked down their nose at me because I was in a Honda.  Why? Because there were plenty of idiots in Hondas who were more than willing to reinforce the “ricer” stereotype.  It’s been many years since I’ve owned my little Integra, but there are still plenty of people who are more than willing to reinforce the stereotypes of old.  Unfortunately they’ve changed their flagship make.

I was in high school when Subaru gave the US its first WRX.  During our senior year Trent (the co-founder of this site) picked himself up a brand new to us all STi.  That was over ten years ago, and now these cars are cheap enough for today’s youth to snatch up.  And they have been in droves.  It pains me to say this, but the Subaru kids are the new Honda kids.  They come to meets and do painfully stupid things, they try and race everything they see, and they’re more than willing to jump on whatever trendy bandwagon that pops up.  And the situation remains the same: for everyone cool owner like David (Gumball WRS) there are hoards of people who want to slam their cars and show off the fact that they spun their $600 coilovers all the way down.

Maybe I’m getting old.  Well, old compared to the latest crop.  I’m pushing 30, and it seems everyone I talk to at these things is 25 and under.  Most of the problem folks look all of 16 to me, but anyone under the age of 20 looks like a 12 year old.  I might be getting old, but I still remember what it’s like to have that first awesome car that has honest to God aftermarket support.  The excitement to install fresh parts and to show them off, but a wise man once said “Discretion is the better part of valor”.  Yes, you’re low and you have an exhaust.  Guess what?  You came to a meet to show off your hard work, or easy work, or the previous owner’s work.  You don’t need to lap the parking lot, just park!  Can’t park next to your friend?  That happens, but I have some terrific news for you: you’re still at the same meet!  It’s not like one of you is in Layton, and the other in Herriman.  Even at the big meets and shows (ISS, Slammed Saturdays) you’re never more than a two minute walk away from your buddy.  And in the case of ISS, if you both paid for spots you’re always within eyesight of each other.

I like going to meets and seeing the new builds from people I’ve never met, and seeing old builds I remember from way back when that have been tucked away for years.  I like talking to people about them, and setting up cruises and get togethers.  I like encouraging people to come out to the track, and at the very least watch a few sessions.  It’s hard though, when you run across people who care about themselves and their friends more than anyone else at the meet.  Meets are wonderful things, it’s a chance for people to get out from behind their computers and see what everyone has been working on, but when you act like an idiot and like you are the center of the meet, you kill it for the rest of us.

TL;DR: Don’t be an idiot, be cool

*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMautoMag.Com and their respective owners.
06th Feb2015

Meet Your Heroes

by Michael Chandler

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Someone, somewhere once said to never meet your heroes.  They said never meet your heroes because they can never live up to the ideal you’ve built for them in your mind.  I take issue with this.  I had two posters on my wall as a kid: a Lamborghini Countach and Michael Jordan.  From everything I’ve seen and heard, MJ is a hyper-competitive guy who has taken to posterizing old guys at his basketball fantasy camps.  The Countach is impossible to drive, you can’t see out of it, reversing it requires a spotter and someone to stop traffic, and the “creature comforts” leave something to be desired.

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One year when I was a kid two things happened: I saw Michael Jordan play and I saw a Countach in person.  The events weren’t related; however, if I saw MJ driving a Countach down my street my little head would’ve exploded.  Why am I telling this rambling story?  Because I met one of my heroes, the Lambo, and it didn’t change how I thought or think about it.  It’s still one of my favorite cars, flaws be damned.  My feelings would probably change if I drove it, but that would be getting to know it and not just meeting it.

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The other morning I went to Cars & Coffee because I wanted to shoot photos and clear my head.  At the far end of the parking lot there was this pair of Diablos: a 1997.5 Roadster and a 2000 VT.  These were the stars of the meet, people were coming up and taking photos of and with them, Chad (owner of the green machine) was revving the motor for the children and was answering pretty much every question about the big Italians.  For some of these people, these were/are their hero cars.  And they were loving them.

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Did the dog leg gear box let them down?  No.  Did the tall instrument cluster and low seating position kill the image of their hero?  Not a chance.  These people got to walk up to their hero, say hi, take some pictures and gawk at them.  None of their flaws shown through.  Were the fans aware of these “issues”? Yeah, anyone who has read ANYTHING about them knows the problems, but that doesn’t matter.  Seeing the car you had all over your wall as a kid in the flesh makes you completely ignore all of those issues.  You go back to being an excitable little kid.  It’s great.

 

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When I was in high school I wanted two cars: an Evo (to spite Trent who had just picked up a brand new STi.  I was and am a very petty person) and a Mopar of any sort.  Challenger, Charger, Dart, didn’t matter.  I just wanted one.

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When I was pulling in to park, I spotted this Challenger T/A.  I parked as close to it as I could (without parking among the cars who were there to be seen) and instantly noticed a Ford F-350 that had all of its utility modified out of it parked next to the Challenger.  The hulking mass of the diesel cast a massive shadow over the car, making a proper photos showcasing the color and graphics on the T/A almost impossible.

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Then, suddenly, the Ford grumbled to life and slowly rolled out of the parking lot.  The driver’s side of the Challenger was awash in sunlight, and was being approached by the owner and a giddy passenger.  I snapped off a few frames, and then…

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The owner fired it up, and let the 340 roar.  His passenger was grinning ear to ear as the mechanical noise of the trio of carburetors fed fuel and air into the motor.  I was giddy too.  This wasn’t the first time I had seen a nice Challenger, but it was nice running into one that was fanning the flames of enthusiasm in a young fan.

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The posters may have come down long ago, but the kid who put them up is still alive in all of us. Weekly meets like Cars & Coffee give us opportunities to be wide eyed, excitable kids.  Wake up early on Saturday, go meet your heroes.

Bonus gallery!:

Words and Photos by Michael Chandler
*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMautoMag.Com and their respective owners.

 

 

04th Aug2014

Badvertising

by Michael Chandler

There once was a time where you would see an advertisement for a vehicle, and that ad would tell you about the vehicle.  Now we have a three minute music video about a minivan (which is a rehash of a four year old video they did… FOR THE SAME VAN!) and YouTube channels filled with videos that are just commercials that didn’t make the cut.  I understand advertising is a tricky business, but do we really need these ridiculous productions for, to be honest, rather mundane products?  I don’t think so.

Here’s a commercial for a Honda Odyssey.  It’s a short spot, but it shows off the van.  It’s ridiculous, but not three minutes of ridiculous and it doesn’t have a past-his-prime Busta Rhymes in it.  No swag, no sixteen bars, just thirty seconds of “Here’s a van, and some ridiculousness, but mostly a van.”

“But Michael,” you’re saying “the swagger wagon commercial is funny!” Sure, it is.  That’s your opinion, and you can run with it all you like; however, I disagree with your opinion.  I don’t think it’s funny.  I can see that it can be, but not for me.  Here’s a funnier series of commercials:

It’s funny because we’ve all wanted to do that to some peoples’ cars, and it works as an ad because it’s saying “The Mark 5 GTi is better than your homemade whatever”.  It has a message other than “swagger wagon” and “we’re suburban parents who fall asleep at 10:30pm.”  Volkswagen has some of the best ads, hands down.  They’re entertaining, and they make a point without beating you over the head with a shtick or talking down to you.

Kia, in addition to building cars that aren’t terrible, are making some good commercials as well.  Entertaining, and just informative enough to make you look at an Optima. or a K900, or Adriana Lima…

The American manufacturers have had some solid spots as well…

And also some odd ones…

And ones where they don’t seem like they’re trying.

I understand that commercials for everything have to hit certain criteria, which is different for everyone making the ads and for everything being advertised.  I’m not demanding that all new vehicle commercials from here on out be thirty seconds of entertainment bliss, or that we outlaw Dennis Leary from yelling over another Ford truck commercial.  I’m not even asking Toyota abandon the whole “swagger wagon” thing (although I think they might want to think about it); no, I’m pointing out that that video is ridiculous.  It doesn’t push the van, doesn’t make it cooler or more appealing.  Are you afraid buying a minivan will make you less cool to your kids, who will for a long time think that you aren’t and never were and never will be cool? Don’t buy the one that refers to itself as a “swagger wagon”, that will only exacerbate the situation.  If you desperately need to buy something that can haul people AND things, then buy something that society has agreed is cool.

Words by Michael Chandler

*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMAutoMag.Com and their respective owners.