Saturday, October 22, 2011

Budd's Top Ten: Future Classics

The Shelby GT350, the Dodge Challenger Road Runner, the E-type V-12, the BMW Issetta, and the Porsche 959 are all fantastically rare and highly sought after classics that only a select few will ever be able to own. Unique styling’s, production numbers and equipment have made them a step above the regular old cars that are sought after by those who enjoy quality craftsmanship which has long since been extinct in the automotive market, a victim of corporate finances and efficiencies.

However, with car makers building car designed to be intriguing for only a single model generation and built as cheaply in high numbers as possible, will there be cars from the last decade that will be considered highly sought after classics in the next 20 to 50 years. Eventually, anything powered by an internal combustion engine and is operated by human control will eventually become a relic, however, this is my list of vehicles that will someday become something special to the collector.
Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky
My list begins with an oxy moron – an American sports car. Yes the Yanks will argue emphatically that the Corvette, Viper and several pony cars are sports cars, however, they haven’t produce a proper sports car since the Pontiac Fiero was killed off in the early 90’s. However, just before GM went tits up in 2010, they were producing some of the best low cost sports cars available on the market. The uniquely designed Solstice with its wildly extravagant brother, the Sky, were roadsters that brought the fight directly to the MX-5, Z4 and SLK. Not only did they give a RWD hungry public what they wanted, they were also great fun to drive and even quite tail happy. With the turbo versions coming online, the possibilities of the cars performance future was limitless, however, like the Fiero, we will never know what could have been. In 2010 GM fell into bankruptcy and as such closed up shop at Pontiac, effectively killing off the dynamic duo well before their prime. With low numbers, such great designs and performance and the way in which we lost them, the Solstice/Sky will no doubt be future classics.
Alpha Romeo 8c
Eventually every Alpha Romeo will become a classic, however, the 8C is something a little special. I don’t think its possible for Alpha to make an ugly car, but the 8C is just drop-dead gorgeous. An old-school super small and low body powered by a Ferrari V-8 should make it one of the great supercars of our time, except for one blatantly painful downfall - the car handles like a pig. Unfortunately, all those great historical roots, stunning looks and equally hypnotic sounds are all for not, and as such, sales are not living up to expectation. For a car with such world renown winning traits matched by equally momentous failures, the 8C will enviably become a classic in time.
Honda S2000
Honda doesn’t make rear wheel drive cars, they just don’t, until the mid 90’s, after filling the globe with high strung front wheel drive Civics, CRX’s and Preludes, ripe for aftermarket modification, they built a car that didn’t need any. The S2000 was the only proper front engine, rear wheel drive Honda to make it to North American shores and they did the job right. An often-overlooked offering in the roadster field, the S2000 matched huge performance and reliability from a ridiculous 2.0L engine with huge grin factor. While the front wheel drives would play around in autocrosses and track-days, the S2000 was by far the daddy.
Lexus LFA
Since the killing off of the Celica, Toyota had lost their way with auto enthusiasts, opting to build mundane machinery to attract a higher number of customers. You know you’ve lost a piece of male anatomy when you start calling a Camry Solara a sports car. Lexus was equally as painful building some of the most forgettable luxury sedans and SUV’s on the market. But then they turn around and do something so rash, so opposite from what they’ve been doing for so long, it was like an atom bomb went off in Toyota City. One of the most boring carmakers on earth built one of the most exciting supercars of all time. The LFA was originally designed with an F1-inspired V-10, full carbon-fibre body and hordes of electronic gismos and doo dads. But then when it came time for production, they didn’t think it was wild enough, and started all over again from scratch. The result is a car that bombards the senses in every way – visually, ecoustically and thought provokingly. It’s said that Toyota spent $2-billion developing the LFA, which means they will loose over $3.5 million for each of the 500 cars they sell. For being such an instantaneous Jekyll and Hyde moment of lunacy, the LFA is already a classic.
Ariel Atom
Not even Colin Chapman thought of building a car without body panels. Well the resurrected Ariel company did just that, building a road legal track-day special that takes minimalism to the extreme. Nothing more than a steering wheel, pedals, suspension, seats, fuel tank and an engine lumped into the back, held together with a bit of scaffolding, the Atom makes what should be an unfinished homebuilt mash, a wonderfully artistic yet fantastically brutal bit of machinery. A car better than the sum of its parts with thinking so far out of the box matching performance that is greater than all but a few hyper exotics, the Atom is a sure classic to be.

International MXT
Is there anything more obnoxious than a Hummer? Yes, yes there is. When a Hummer just isn’t enough truck, you could go beyond and buy a vehicle that is nothing more than a statement. During the hay days of the early 2000’s, the International MXT filled that spot for the guy that just couldn’t stand not to be the center of attention all the time, a feat accomplished well by the MXT but was all but useless in daily life. It was horrifically expensive, required an onboard fuel rig, didn’t fit down any urban streets or parking lots and was generally just an eye sore that portrayed the owner’s obvious insecurities. Its only savior was that it could tow great loads. However, despite the hasty execution of the MXT as soon as fuel went up over $1.25/L, the big brute certainly did leave its mark as the biggest, baddest truck of them all. Along with low production numbers and huge character, the MXT may not become a true classic, however it will no doubt become a cult classic.
Hummer H1
Speaking of Hummers, the H1 makes up my next future classic. Ironically, GM built an entire brand around the “Desert Storm Hero,” yet it was their worst seller. The much more brittle, and pretty much useless H2 built on a Tahoe platform would become the darling of the brand, changing a customer base from rugged outdoorsman to metro-sexual urban gangster wannabe’s with similar insecurities as MXT owners. Eventually, a 300% price hike and new emissions regulations killed off the most testosterone pumped 4x4 on the market, well ahead of its time. With a story like that, how could the big brute not become a classic, as long as future owners own their own refineries.
BMW Z4 M-Coupe
All M-cars will all become classics over a short amount of time, however there is something uniquely special about the odd-shaped Z4 M-coupe. An “out of the box” design matched to the last of BMW’s properly true drivers cars with a 3.2L inline-6, with huge character and proper driving dynamics; this car is already a classic.
Pontiac Solstice Coupe
As I’ve mentioned before, The Solstice was the first proper sports car the Americans have built in decades, ideally suited to take on the BMW Z4, Mazda MX-5, and Mercedes SLK in the compact fun department. However, before GM killed off Pontiac during the 2010 bankruptcy, they managed to produce an extremely small amount of Coupe versions before the money all dried up. The added body stiffness and aerodynamics made this already proven contender an absolute weapon, but only a scant 1,266 ever made it to show rooms. With so much potential to be one of GM’s greatest accomplishments, only to be thrown in the bin with production only just beginning, the Solstice Coupe rates as one of my most likely future classic.
Acura NSX
The NSX is a phenomena within itself, as fantastically capable and exotic departure from Acura’s mostly mundane line-up, Honda allowed a great thing to go to waste, not making any improvements to the car until the last nail was already in the coffin, and even then, their efforts were almost insulting to the vehicles huge following. For lasting as long as it did as a neglected show of force to the exotic community, the NSX will only grow in legend.

That’s my ten, if you think I’ve missed something blatantly obvious, reply below and let me have it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: 2011 Toyota 4Runner

There is a distinct trend happening today when it comes to full-size SUV’s. They’re all turning into CUV’s. The once proud Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango have all joined the Honda Pilot and Chevy Traverse in deleting their frame on body construction in an effort to increase fuel economy and on-road handling. However, there is still one player sticking to its guns, choosing to keep its girder underpinnings – the Toyota 4Runner.

While all the 4Runners competitors, minus the Nissan Pathfinder, have reaped the rewards of an all-new platform underneath them, the 4Runner has failed to compete in terms of on road handling and performance. However, in the fuel efficiency department, the 4Runner is only at a disadvantage on the highway, matching its rivals in town. The bold new look that was ushered in last year along with a lower ride height, has made improvements however the old 4Runner still feels like a truck and not a sedan when running errands around town.

However, one of the very real benefits of keeping with a body on frame construction is its off-road durability and capabilities. The 4Runner has long been regarded as a stout overlander, so the question is, how capable is the current generation in getting itself dirty?

I took the 4Runner Trail Edition to the Whipsaw Trail to find out just how good the 4Runner could handle the great outdoors. It didn’t take long to find just about every condition one could hope to find off-road. Dusty gravel, rutted dirt, rock crawling, deep mud and even snow covered the first 20 km of the trail. For the majority of the trail, 2WD would suffice; however, once the road began to climb into the back country, 4WD-high would need to be called upon. Thankfully the Trail Edition came with a manual transfercase shifter instead of the rather irritating dash mounted electric dial.

When the terrain got steep and muddy, the Trail Edition offered me several different options to tackle the situation. I could just throw it in 4WD-low and control my accent with the throttle and brake. Then there is the Multi-Terrain Select System that allows me to control wheel slip in four different surfaces with settings for “Mud and Sand”, “Loose Rock”, “Mogul”, and “Rock”. On top of that, if things get a little beyond the your skill level, the Trail Edition is even equipped with Crawl Control. This system is like a cruise control for off-road conditions, you just select either low, medium or high, and the traction control will keep the vehicle moving between 1.5 and 5 kmh over the terrain. Both dials are found on the ceiling with sunroof controls, and actually work quite well in their selective operations, although it kind of took all the fun out of controlling the vehicle myself. Off-roading after, is all about testing your driving skill, getting a computer to do all the work just seems like cheating. However, for the beginner, its ideal for perfecting how you approach each obstacle.

Despite all the cool features that make you look like a star negotiating slippery situations, a couple weaknesses showed themselves when the going got rough. To help give the 4Runner competitive fuel efficiency numbers, the ride height is a little low for an off-roader, a situation made even worse by the standard running boards which are nothing more than food to decent sized rock, as I found out. Then when we reached some rutted out mud, the tires showed their worth, and I’m guessing they don’t cost Toyota much. On dry surfaces, the 4WD makes up for the tires weak grip levels, however, in the mud, the treads clogged easily and lateral traction meant I had several close calls when the truck slipped off the high ground into the ruts.

When we made it to camp the 4Runner had a few more surprises in store. For one, the two 110v outlets meant that I could keep cell phones and laptops up and running even deep in the wilds. The rear cargo area had a handy sliding floor that made loading and unloading much easier. If the six best years of your life were spent in grade seven, then you’ll be happy to know that the 4Runners interior is as simplistic and organized as any manufacturer could make. A sharp design that is the envy of most Toyota interiors also has buttons and dials large enough that even an arthritic would love.

Mechanically, the 4Runner proved itself extremely competent off-road. While all the new terrain management gizmos helped make it easier to drive off-road, the drivetrain was more than capable of handling everything I threw at it. It’s only weaknesses turned out to be its ride height and tires, two of the first things that off-roaders will modify after their purchase. However, as a trail edition, you really shouldn’t have to invest large sums of money to bring the 4Runner up to its true potential. Like the Wrangler Rubicon, it would be nice to see Toyota offer the Trail Edition with a little extra clearance and a proper set of All-Terrain tires.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: Honda Accord Crosstour

It's a peculiar thing, the Honda Accord Crosstour. I've seen many a press release, photo and spec sheet on this uniquely odd vehicle, yet really didn't know what I was getting myself into until I actually sat inside the vehicle for first time myself. The highly competitive Crossover market was created not all that long ago, designed to blur the lines between Station Wagon and SUV, giving buyers maximum versatility in a package that drives like a car. Well with the Crosstour we now have a new segment that blurs the lines between station wagon and Crossover, seemingly intent on killing off the once beloved family transport once and for all, as the station wagon seems to be dying a slow death. With a week behind the wheel of the awkward brother to the Accord, I set about trying to decipher just who this odd vehicle is designed for.

Lets start with the most outstanding feature of the Crosstour, its shape. Now I can't lie, I think this thing took a very large tumble out of the ugly tree, however that hasn't seemed to stop people from buying them, as I see quite a few on the road and many were likely bought just because of the way it looks.

However, with a “4WD” badge on the rear and the look of a vehicle ready to tackle the rigors of the great out doors, with a distinct Accord family resemblance, my thoughts of a Lada inspired Accord would be dashed. There is no selectable transfer case, only the AWD system lifted from the CRV, which while decently capable, allows the Crosstour to get much better fuel efficiency than a proper 4WD, with a 9.8L/100km combined rating in my time in the car. And while there is increased ground clearance, the added 59 mm of play does little in the way of making this a competent soft-roader, I took the Crosstour out into the wilds to try out it’s all-terrain capability. Most CUV’s are great on gravel roads or a bit of snow, anything else, don't bother. I did bother however, and first took the Crosstour up a rough gravel road, no problem. It got a little muddy, but the AWD kicked in and all was well. Then I took it off into a bumpy field, and while the ride-height began to be challenged, all was still fine. However, once I got to a gravel pit, short ruts only a foot deep began to challenge the Crosstour’s clearance issues, and for the sake of bumper damage and my relationship with Honda, I decided to end the all-terrain test there and then. However, in short, the Crosstour will happily take an urban family into the great outdoors, and get them into a decent camping spot just off the gravel road just fine, or get you through a winters dump of snow, but don’t expect to go mud bogging in it.

So, if not a hardcore off-road version of the Accord, maybe the Crosstour is meant to be a BMW X6 type vehicle, a much misunderstood mix of sports car and SUV. The problem is that the X6 makes no claims that it is strictly a performance car with a view. The Crosstour is built on the Accords underpinnings, which are, shall we say, not exactly what you would call high performance. The tried and true 3.5L V6 offers 271 hp on tap with 254 lb-ft directed through the 5-speed automatic gearbox then on to all four wheels if the front wheels detect danger. Well proven and as reliable as the millennium is long, but the V-6 is no high-strung racer. Likewise, the Crosstour’s on road manners don't live up to the high performance theory as the added height, tall tires and 230 extra kg makes it a bit wallowy on the highway. So, no X6 fighter.

However, the Crosstour starts to make sense when you start to look around inside. Inside, the Crosstour has very familiar surroundings, mirroring that of the standard Accord, but with a little more headroom for us tall-bodied folks. As such you get a fairly sharp looking dash with all the standard Satnav wizardry and multi-media devices. In the rear, passengers get even more spacious surroundings while the sloping rear end of the Crosstour helps add a massive 330L to the cargo area with the addition of giving owners a lift hatch for entry. So, really, its not going after any other high profile competitors, but blazing a useful path for the greater populous in being a more useful and practical vehicle.

. It’s perfectly simple! It’s a car for people that want the versatility of a Crossover Utility Vehicle, without actually have to buy one. With the unique shape and design, Honda has created a niche vehicle for someone who just doesn’t want to follow the rest of the crowd into a predictable CUV solution. It’s a car for people who want to be different and decide to go against the grain rather than with it.

MSRP: $29,995
Price as tested: $39,995
Type: 5-door, mid-sized sedan/coupe
Engine: 3.5L V-6
Horsepower: 271
Torque: 254
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Layout: Front engine, AWD
Brakes: Four-wheel discs
Fuel Economy (L/100km): 10.9L city, 7.6L highway
Competitors: Yeah right!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Great Drives: Kootenay Loop

About The Route
Best time to Go: Weekdays from April to October
Total Distance:  110 km
Route: Starting point is the village of Lumby along Highway 6, 50°15'2.48"N 118°58'4.29"W, where highway 6 winds drivers east through over the rocky Monashee Mountain range that separates the Okanagan valley and the Arrow Lakes, to finishing at the ferry crossing, 49°52'27.36"N 118° 5'50.71"W.
Places To Stop: Two magnificent glaciers at either end of the route, other than this, just enjoy the epic journey between the two.
Road Type: Rough tarmac road.
Warnings: Rough road that doesn’t really have its own character, corners can easily be misjudged with nasty consequences. Can snow any time of year.

During this series of great driving roads, I’ve seen my fair share of exotic sights, strange events and odd detours, however, only in Canada would you be turned around because of a fresh dumping of snow… in May! The road that was supposed to be featured in this issue was to be the Crowsnest Highway #3 between Rock Creek and Creston B.C., as part of the Kootenay Loop. However, a thick blanket of wet snow on highway 33, just south of Kelowna, stopped me in my tracks on the transit to Rock Creek. The winding route through the west Kootenay Rockies would require a nimble and quick little car to negotiate, and there is non more fun than the MINI Cooper S.

Problem was, MINI had already swapped over the cars snow tires, for the much more fun, ultra high performance summers that come on the from new. Being May, a prudent and responsible act. But mother nature didn’t see things as such, and try as I might, the little Cooper S just couldn’t get over the summit of Highway 33, with a shimmering wet track of compact snow making any traction with summer rubber nigh on impossible.

And so, I turned the little Cooper S around and headed back to Kelwona. Along the way, I could see that the sun was doing it’s upmost to peek through the clouds, and that if I took a reverse route through Vernon, then on to Nakusp via Highway 6, the snow maybe melted at the higher elevations by the time I got there.

A spirited jog up highway 6 to Lumby B.C. and the skies were ominous; the scenic rolling farm lands had a healthy dusting of white, while the clouds were low with bit of solid fog falling from the sky. Despite the continuing threat, the layer of salt on the road was holding strong, and I made a push for the ferry that crosses Lower Arrow Lake on the other side of the range.

While the biker fraternity has spoken highly of the roads in the Kootenay region of the loop, little did I know that the northern section was equally impressive. It wasn’t long after Lumby that the MINI was thrust up into a winding mountain pass. The rolling farmland was swallowed up by the rocky, rugged and pine covered mountains of the Monashee Mountain range. At first the road meanders gently up into the range, with fast easy curves and great scenic sights of several peaks above and a small river below. However as the altitude rises, the road becomes much more aggressive with corners becoming much more abrupt and the road surface begins to degrade due to the sheer amounts of rock falls and avalanches. Not to mention each corner was blinded by deep snow, trees or a rocky ledge; extreme concentration is needed as the character of the road changes abruptly.

Near the summit the road cuts through a 5-metre deep trench of snow, and the little MINI is skipping from one tight chicane to another, in a seemingly never-ending series of slaloms. Slaloms with consequences, as walls of snow would sporadically open up with a deep rocky ditch on one side, and an open riverbed on the other. The short wheelbase and nimbleness of the MINI was ideal for the character of the road, however, like last issue, extremely rough tarmac meant the thin profile tires and firm suspension proved a little more bruising than I would have liked. Something with a little more suspension travel, such as a Subaru WRX or Mitsubishi Evo would prove to be the ideal weapons for this particular battle.

Luckily, the salt had done its job as I cresting the summit; the road was void of the white death, and the trip down the east side of the range was proving even more delectable. The blind corners obscured by snow and trees on the west side climb was replaced with open curves through a rocky landscape. With good vision, the corners could be taken at speed, putting huge lateral and forward g-forces on the body as I left my braking as late as possible and pitched the Cooper S into a fantastic series of downhill bends. Likewise, the view over the surrounding mountains was nearly as spectacular as the drive itself, but not so good as to make me want to stop for a rest, I was having way too much fun, and the road was all but vacant of other motorists.

However, like the way up, the way down began to calm down as the altitude began to subside, along with the adrenaline pumping through my veins. Soon the road calmed back into rolling farm lands, before coming to its ultimate conclusion at the banks of Lower Arrow Lake, and the cable ferry used to cross to the east side.

Crossing over the Monashee Mountain range proved to be a pleasant surprise in a day that had started off on the wrong foot, however, to my dismay, what layed ahead would prove to be even more enticing.

Racing: Porsche Track Day

This part of the magazine is primarily dedicated to the modification of ones vehicle to either make it look the way we want, sound the way we want or to go as fast as we can make it. Now, in terms of performance modifications, we’ve talked all about the value of good tires, suspension, alignment, ride height, brakes, balance, weight, aerodynamics and all sorts of things you can do to your car to make it go faster. However, there is one thing I’ve yet to touch on, one of the most important parts of the performance equation, that of driver skill.

Now you can have a ridiculously fast car out at a track day and quite easily find yourself being made a complete fool of by much slower vehicles that have no business passing a car with three times their power. I myself use to rally race a measly 110 horsepower, 2WD 1985 Toyota Corolla, and it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to go out and beat a 300 horsepower Subaru WRX STi or Audi TT. On gravel or icy conditions, these cars had a massive advantage over me, however, their drivers did not have the experience to get the most out of their vehicles, and thus, their $80,000 race machines were being passed by my rusted out old $5,000 Corolla.

So, what’s the best way to rectify this situation? Well, you can do what I did, start at the bottom with the slowest car, and over several years teach yourself to whip that car to within an inch of its life, or better yet, you can take a driving school, and learn in a weekend what it took me a year to figure out on my own.

I attended one of Morrisports Advanced Driving clinics out at Mission Raceway to freshen up on my racecraft, with Porsche lending me a rather special vehicle for my track driving tuition. The all-new Carrera GTS, a higher performance version of the Carrera S, which allows drivers who want a higher performance 911, but still want the pure driving experience of a 2WD car. Finally, I would have a proper weapon to compete; finally I was the one in the 400 horsepower car. However, now I need to learn the proper skills so that when I hit the track, I could get the most out of the car.

Morrisports Instructors put us through an extremely informative hour long classroom session, teaching us the basics of car performance, handling, braking, driving line and seating position. From the classroom, we headed out onto the track where we handed our keys over to our designated instructor. For the first five or six laps, the instructors drove our cars around the track, allowing us to do two things. First, realize just how fast the car is capable of going, and how much lateral and braking force it can withstand before it starts to loose grip. Second, it allowed me to study what my instructor was doing to make the car go faster. Everything from the way he sits, where he is looking on the track and the inputs that he is putting into the controls.

After five or six laps, we pull into the pits, and trade seats. Now I’m behind the wheel, and trying to remember everything I’ve just learned in the last few hours. My first laps are ragged and slow. Mixing what I’ve taught myself about racing on loose surfaces is only hurting me on a sticky tarmac track. I’m braking too hard and erratically, I’m getting on the throttle too soon, and I’m just too damn excited. We pit as our groups session is now over, and have an hour or so to go over my performance.

In the car, when the instructor is teaching at speed, I found I was concentrating too hard on the road to take any of his instruction in. Resting in the paddock we go over what needed to be done. Brake earlier and smoother, carrying it into the corner. Wait a little longer to roll onto the throttle, drifting may be the fast way through a forest stage, but on the track it looses you valuable seconds. And finally, relax, stop gripping the wheel with all my might, and put that energy into my left foot to keep me stabilized in the seat. I spent the rest of my off time, going through these fine details in my head, visualizing what I needed to do.

Come next on track session, It was all me behind the wheel and I began letting go of my rallying habits and utilizing my new found skills. Each lap became faster and faster, my line better, and the grin on my instructors face bigger and bigger as the art of racing was finally becoming clear. While we did not have any timing devices on hand, the extra g-forces that I was able to put the car under, and the increasing top speed I was able to achieve on the straight proved my speed was increasing exponentially. I was finally driving a top level car, yet I was starting to real in cars at an even higher level, cars like 911 GT3’s and the manic 911 Turbo S that I had on my great drives series to Mount St. Helens. However, I learned one important fact, that even after several years of racing, I still have a lot to learn.

At the end of the day, I was almost quite angry really. Why didn’t I do this sooner? The value of proper driving skills is easily the most important performance investment you can make with a car. It allows you to ensure that no mater how powerful your car is, that you will be able to get the most out of it. Not only that, but it also gives yo the confidence to pull the car out of an emergency situation if ever needed. If you ever plan to take your car to the track, which is the only place you should be driving it in anger, be sure to improve your cars performance, by investing in a driver-training program.

History: The Westy

Volkswagen has produced its fair share of iconic automobiles in its long and illustrious history. The Beetle was as important as the Model T, as it was mass produced at a cheap price, giving all middle income families the ability to own a vehicle. The Golf GTi ignited the hot hatch craze, dumping a high performance engine and suspension package into a small hatchback, nearly killing off the sports car as it allowed people to carry a fair amount of cargo and passengers in a fun to drive car. The VW Bus was the truly original mini-van, allowing large families to transport vast quantities of screaming and vomiting children over large distances. However, one of VW’s greatest accomplishments did not get produced in the tens of millions of units, but was a niche special edition of the Bus. That vehicle was the Volkswagen Westfalia.

The Westfalia was a special breed of vehicle that filled a small niche market that in reality, no one else really made any effort to fill - that of a camper van daily driver.

The story of the Westfalia starts at the end of World War Two, when the British were in charge of the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. At that time a Dutch VW importer named Ben Pon noticed that VW Type-1 (Beetle) chassis and running gear were being used to power make shift trolleys. After much napkin designing in 1947, he had come up with a van version of the Type-1, a design perfected by Heinz Nordhoff when he took over as CEO of Volkswagen. Dubbed the Type-2, the van bodied vehicle with Beetle running gear was put into production in 1950. Due to its trolley inspired beginnings, it became known as the VW Bus.

At this time, a company known as Westfalia-Werke, based in the Westphalia region of Germany, was busy designing and building trailer hitches and specialty trailers. The two companies got together to design a specialty version of the Type-2 that could double as camping accommodations. Only one short year later, the Volkswagen Westfalia was born, with Volkswagen sending Type-2 bodies to Westfalia for camperized outfitting, and the resulting campervan being available at local VW showrooms.

Standard Equipment for the early 11-window Bus Westaflia Campers included electrical hookups, curtains, screened Jalousie Windows, laminated folding table, birch plywood interior panels, ice box or cold-box, and laminated cabinetry. Some models even came equipped with a sink as standard equipment. Optional was a side tent, side awnings, camping stove, child sleeping cot, camping equipment, and portable chemical toilet, to name a few. In this first generation, Westfalia built a total of 1000 campervan units between 1951 and 1958.Then in 1962 the iconic fiberglass pop-up top was added that extended the main portion of the roof upwards and provided additional standing room inside.

As the years progressed, so did the amenities, features, and styling of the Westfalia. The second generation of the vehicles had lightweight marine plywood, cupboards, gas stoves, and a picnic-table style seating that could fold into a bed. As the costs continued to increase for all the new features and options, VW came out with second vehicle option, the “Weekender,” which was equipped with the Westfalia’s campervan interior, but did not offer the pop-top roof. During the 60’s the versatilities of the Westfalia made it a favourite of the hippy and surf cultures, allowing these nomadic peoples to wander the country and coasts in search of better things, giving them the ability to live out of the vehicles that transported them.

In 1979, the third generation of the van came along, this time dubbed the Vanagon. This new boxy designed body still came in both Weekender and Westfalia models, only now, customers had the option of get a Syncro variant, giving the Westfalia 4WD capability. Manufactured from 1985 to 1992, this opened up the range of the Westfalia as many owners equipped Syncros with slight suspension lifts and all-terrain tires allowing the Syncro to be able to reach well out into the wilderness.

However, the Westy we all know and love here in Canada would undergo massive changes in its fourth generation. Now dubbed the Eurovan with another ground up redesign in 1990, a VR6 engine was now mounted in the front. Around this same time, Westfalia would be bought out by DaimlerChrysler. As DaimlerChrysler is a Volkswagen competitor, this spelled the end of the Volkswagen-Westfalia partnership. To try and save the Volkswagen Campervan, VW turned to Winnebago to try to reproduce the Westfalia in the Eurovan.

They did a good job offering the popular pop-top roof with a bed, two fold-out tables, numerous cupboards and drawers for food and clothing, a two-burner propane stove, stainless-steel sink with electric faucet, 12,000 BTU forced-air furnace with thermostat, and a fridge that ran on propane, battery power, or external current. There was also a 45-litre fresh water tank with a rear-mounted spray nozzle, a 30-litre ‘grey’ water tank with a standard flushing outlet, a 22-litre propane tank, and an auxiliary 130 amp battery with auxiliary charger.

As good as the Winnebago version was, the writing was already on the wall at Volkswagon as the Eurovan would go the way of the Dodo in 2003. It ended an era that saw the Westfalia hold a monopoly over a small but passionate market. With the exception of a few short lived special camper editions produced by other automakers, no one else built an affordable, proper daily driving camper van that could be purchased from your local showroom. And unfortunately, since the Westies demise, there has yet been another vehicle step up to take its place.

Today if you want a camper van, you must either make massive and expensive alterations to a commercial van or purchase one of very few high-end custom built campervans from RV builders that rarely run less the $100,000. As a result, the Westy lives on as a symbol of affordable get-away transportation. As their numbers dwindle, the cost of a well used Westfalia easily tops over $10,000 for an un-restored model, while fully restored Syncro versions can run as high as $100,000. Its proof positive that not only was the Westfalia the only vehicle that answered this niche market, it was also an outstanding product that we miss dearly.

Trail Report: Whipsaw

As much as I love 4x4ing, I just don’t get to go out and enjoy it enough. My biggest hurdle is not having a 4x4 to begin with, my second is finding the time to actually go out and buy something worth modifying for the trail, let alone being able to actually get out to play.

A good friend of mine, let’s call him Ingo, has been doing absolutely astonishing things with four wheel driven vehicles for the better part of two decades now, and despite maxing out the capabilities of his ridiculously agile Suzuki Samari, he still enjoys introducing new people to the sport. This past August long weekend, he and his girlfriend Cara put together a trip to open up the Whipsaw Trail, located near Princeton, BC.

Opening up a trail in August, you are likely asking yourself? Well yes, the BC interior received a heavy amount of snow this past winter, and up until two weeks before the trip, even the Rover Landers, a club who look after the trail, were unable to cross it. Regardless, it’s a rather easy trail with a few challenging sections that people in stock 4x4’s can tackle with minimal risk of damage. So, I figured it would be a great chance to take out a stock 4x4 and have some fun without the investment of a small fortune.

My choice in rig for this trip would be the 2011 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition. The 4Runner has been a staple in the 4x4 world during its 27-years of existence. However, later version of the vehicle have looked a little more, “form before function,” so this trip would be a great way to see if the old 4Runner still has what it takes. Joining me in the stock truck camp would be three fellow ex. Military boys in a new Toyota Tacoma and another pair in a stock Jeep Wrangler YJ. Showing us the way would be a trio of highly modified Suzuki Samari’s and a well used Toyota Truck.

Out little expedition took off from the Whipsaw trailhead located on highway #3, just east of the Copper Mountain mine. Here we aired down, got to know each other then pushed up onto the well manicured logging road that makes up the first 18-kilometres. On our first stop, it was obvious that the mosquitoes would become an issue as the melting snow made for lots of stagnant ponds for them to breed, and lots of muddy washouts for us to get stuck in.

For the most part the road to the Wells Lake camp site was quite tame. The mud was kept to the flat area’s traversing the nearly Alpine like meadows that cover the highlands, while the steep narrow grades that climb up into the forests were left dry and rocky. So far no real challenge for any of us stock drivers other than requiring 4WD-low and some careful wheel placement for some slippery and narrow climbs. However I was beginning to notice a couple advantages between the different vehicles. The only modification to the Tacoma was some decent all terrain tires that were making a huge difference in the mud, where I was slipping off high points, bringing the bodywork close to unforgivable trees and rocks. However, the Wrangler and I had shorter wheelbases, which meant that we were not rubbing over obstacles as much. None of us had any kind of lift, but the added length of the Tacoma meant he was dragging his trailer hitch in the ground quite often. As for the Suzuki’s, they were bombing along without a care in the world. Well at least until one decided to break a weak transmission mount, that required a short pit stop in yet another beautiful meadow.

Our biggest challenge came on the dark side of the mountain, where deep snow stopped the Jeep in its tracks, requiring some creative driving by the Toyota Truck to get around and pull him out. Quite tame for the first day, but when you are driving your daily driver, or in my case, someone else’s vehicle, that works just fine.

After five hours on the trail, we came to Wells Lake, yet another spectacular location, and set up camp on the lake. With with some time before dinner we broke out the fishing poles and pulled out a trout for every cast, easily catching enough food to fill the whole group for the night. However, the attack of the mosquitoes was relentless until the night got cold enough to drive them away.

Up decently early, we packed up camp in eagerness for a more challenging day ahead. On this day, we would see rocky washed out terrain, mud soaked fields, deep water crossings and challenging slopes. Not crazy challenges in the 4x4 world but they would test the limits of our stock trucks tolerances.

Our day started with a muddy decent down through a forest with deep ruts. It made for a great testing ground to test the 4Runners Multi Terrain Control system, which eased my down through the obstacles with little to fear. However, I was finding that while the system is impressively competent in navigating adverse terrain, it kind of took the fun out of testing my own skills. I almost felt like I was cheating myself, like a fat man sneaking a chocolate bar, despite being on a diet. However it didn’t take long for things to get technical on the climb on the other side of the valley.

Here the road was washed out in a very narrow part of the terrain and any slip up would have the truck either high centered on jagged rocks, or flipped over on its side on equally unattractive rockery. With Cara calling my tracks, I slowly crawled the big 4Runner up through the kilometers of obstacles with no sickening sounds of metal on rock, however, just behind, the military boys were not as fortunate as the body length of the Tacoma bit back at them again, although only a slight impact on the bumper.

Inching out way to the top of peak after peak, we finally came to a rock face overlooking an alpine lake. Here, the Suzuki’s and Toyota got to finally test their limits. The last hour and a half was deeply challenging and stressful for us in the stock vehicles, but was child’s play for the modified trucks. So here they played testing the geometric limits of their highly tweaked suspension systems on a rock wall too steep to even climb.

As we moved on, we now were encountering heavy, deep mud and water crossings. The modified trucks were tossing themselves in like dogs at the lake, but it took those of us with stock tires a little more momentum and precisions to make it across some of the deep thick barriers. Fording some water crossings took a little bit of luck, as I needed to keep my momentum up to ride the wave across, hoping that there wasn’t a big bad rock lurking underneath ready to rip up a driveshaft or suspension arm.

It was one muddy obstacle after another rocky climb, which seemed to follow each other for hour on end. Medium challenges that made the day hugely rewarding for those of us playing in standard trucks. All three vehicles cleared the trail with no real issues, all proving their worth. With zero investment, we were having the time of our lives, however, with rather new vehicles; the costs were high if we screwed up. My tires let me down at the end of the day, dropping the 4Runner on a large rock, ripping off one of the rather irritating running boards. Likewise the skid plates were also starting to get a workout as well.

However, our biggest challenge would come at the end of the second day. The road leading down the last peak was ridiculously muddy and had pot holes larger than the little Suzuki’s. As Ingo proved, sometimes the more modifications you have to your truck only help you to get stuck deeper in the scenery. Somehow he managed to slip sideways into the hole, ending up on his tailgate trying to get out. After careful navigation through the worst of challenges we made our way to the Lodestone lake campsite, where a massive fire was built to ward off the mossies, followed by the  celebration of success and the telling of war stories from our epic trip across the fantastic Whipsaw Tral.

Feature: Retro Electro

The Steam Whistle brewery, like many small production breweries is always looking to get the good word out to the public, and one such way to do so, was to combine two passions. Company founder, Greg Taylor, while loving beer, also has a passion for vintage vehicles. As a result, the company boasts an extremely unique fleet of nine company sales and delivery vehicles that has everything from a 1956 Dodge Fargo to a 1964 Jeep Wagoneer, and everything in between.

The fleet is managed by Tim McLaughlin, a fellow classic car lover and a marketing manager. Each vehicle is painted in the breweries own “Steam Whistle Green” a rather loud version of the color for obvious advertorial reasons. However, the goal of the project was not just to find some old trucks and paint them in a loud color. These are car guys, and they wanted something different, something that stuck out in a crowd, and something that they could uniquely call there own. As a result of being on the constant search of such uniqueness, each vehicle has created a character of their own, each given nicknames as though they were fellow employees.

The fleet started off with 1949 International Stake Truck that was restored to original condition, with the addition of a more efficient diesel engine mounted in the front. This extra hauling power means that International, affectionately nicknamed Lumpy, can carry ¾ ton of bear, or 16 kegs to retailers.

Then there’s “Grande Verde” a 1964 Jeep Wagoneer based out of Edmonton, which has received a minor lift with heavy-duty suspension to handle the added weight of liquid refreshments. To get all that weight moving, the company dropped in a 360 cubic inch AMC mill.

One of the most unique members of the fleet is “Chuckles,” a 1956 Dodge Fargo that makes an ideal delivery vehicle with improved hauling power thanks to the addition of a 350 cubic inch small block. The old Dodge also boasts a great turning radius for narrow streets, so Chuckles makes an ideal vehicle for the home delivery department, and is used to deliver beer to private house parties.

Another interesting vehicle is the 1967 Ford Econoline nicknamed “The Steam Machine” that has been kept fairly stock as finding engines that would fit into it is hard to come by. However, what makes this vehicle special is the two taps that are fitted right the exterior of the vehicle. If the party won’t come to you, Steam Whistle loads up some kegs, and goes mobile, setting up shop where ever the action is.

The “Party Bus,” a 1965 Ford Blue Bird, you would think would also be a mobile bar on wheels, however, this once is strictly a shuttle, moving execs, VIP’s or thirsty drinkers to the brewery for private parties, tours and tastings.

However, one vehicle in particular caught our eye, that of Vancouver representative, Mike Kiraly. This, the latest vehicle to dawn the Steam Whistle colors, is not only unique in its shape, it has something you likely will never find in another hot rod. It’s electric, and uses no gasoline what so ever.

A dilemma had formed at the brewery, as these lovers of old classic vehicles, like a growing number in our ranks, were feeling guilty about the rather harsh pollution these vehicles emit. Not to mention the fuel bill that comes with hustling heavy beer kegs all over the city. The issue becomes even harder to bear as Steam Whistle has taken on a massive set of green initiatives in an effort to become the greenest brewery in the country. Everything from using natural products in the beer itself to using clean energy to power the brewery, and everything in between. Making their intentions quite public, the brewery was loosing some green cred when kegs were showing up in one of their many classic V-8 powered hot rods.

Kiraly came up with the perfect solution. Take a vintage Chevrolet Apache, rip out the powertrain and turn it into an EV, thereby keeping hold of a unique vintage vehicle, while holding true to the companies core social and environmental ethics. But turning this classic into a golf kart just wasn’t going to cut it, this hot rod needed to be electric, and do burnouts. And so, Kiraly pitched project RETRO ELECTRO to Greg and the team back in Ontario, who gave their approval. In November of 2009, Kiraly bought a 1958 Chevy Apache after the owners left a note on the windshield of the ‘57 Chev pickup he was using at the time. With the unique truck in hand, it was sent off to Vern Bethel of False Creek Automotive and Joe Mizsak to begin the restoration side of the build, with a complete ground up restoration.

Once the Apache looked the part, it fell to Azure Dynamics to supply the vital motor and electronics controller the Retro Electro would need for propulsion. Ironically, the same rules of hot rodding apply to hot rodding an EV. You want to go faster, put a bigger engine in it and dump more fuel into it. With the Retro Electro, Kiraly opted for a large motor, Azures massive AC90 electric motor, and fueled in with masses of powerful batteries. Using an AC motor meant that it is easy to hook up regenerating braking while peak torque, all 465 ft-lb, comes on between 200 and 300 rpm, staying strong up to 3000 rpm. However, a motor is nothing with out the electronics to keep everything running. Azure supplied the control unit needed to convert the stored energy into power for the motor in a civilized manner.

With all the goodies in hand, Kiraly was going to need help to put it all together and make it all work. He then turned to Greg Murray at Electric Autosports. Electric Autosports are EV conversion specialists in Vancouver, and set about making the Electro a working reality. To power that big motor, you need big power that comes in the form of 96 Thundersky Lithium-ion phosphate batteries mounted in series. These are very stable and safer than cobalt technology as they melt down instead of exploding when overheating, always a good thing.  In total, the 96 batteries put out 160 amp/hour cells that put out 3.35 v which weight about 1,100 lbs spread equally throughout the vehicle giving it an ideal 51/49 weight distribution. While making the handling ideal these batteries also give the Electro a range 150 km when Kiraly isn’t lighting up the tires.

Electic Autosports then went to work mating the motor right to the driveshaft. Unlike conventional vehicles, the Electro is direct drive with the only gearing being in the rear-end. For maximum acceleration and burnout photo ops, Kiraly runs a 6.3 gear ratio mated to a positraction differential courtesy of I.W.E. Rear-ends. However, for more relaxed driving in the city and the capability of 130-kmh top speed, Kiraly uses a 3.11 ratio for every day use. The truck looks a little barren inside as there is no need for a shifter with no gearbox, only a select drive switch mounted to the dash that either keeps the motor in neutral, drive, or a reverse setting which simply reverses the motors rotation, giving reverse drive.

Charging, as you might have wondered, is operated just like plugging in a clothes dryer at home. A 220 volt charging outlet mounted on the sidestep body panel simply receives a standard 220 extension cord, plugged into the garage 220 volt outlet. For the majority of Kiraly’s driving, he notes that the Electro never needs more than three hours charge.

With the truck up and running this spring, Kiraly lit up the tires for the first time in an impressive show of smoke and power. With the added weight of the batteries and the direct drive of the motor, this burnout was the equivalent to spinning the tires in fourth gear with about 600 lbs of cargo sitting in the rear bed of a conventional V-8 powered truck. All of a sudden, electric power doesn’t seem so golf kartish, as the AC90 definitely delivered on Kiraly’s expectations.

Today, the Electro is used as a daily driver for Kiraly, dropping off beer, making sales calls, and just used to attract attention for the brand when he’s driving around town, and attention he gets! While following Kiraly to the photoshoot location, nearly every pedestrian on the street did a double take when the Electro drove by. It wasn’t so much the uniqueness of the Apache, or the brilliance of the color, but the unnatural silence of the truck driving by. With most trucks like this, you expect to hear the rumble of the big V-8 under the hood, but with the Electro, all you get is the soft wine of the electric motor. Kiraly notes that he gets a lot of “why would you go and do something like that, why not put big power in,” but Kiraly always proves the haters wrong with a chirping of the tires at 30 kmh. The trucks performance is outstanding, and while Kiraly has yet to get out to the drag strip, his ability to power through traffic in impressive.

So while we are still torn dumping our beloved internal combustion engines out of our classics, Kiraly and his Retro Electro has given us some food for though. Maybe not the beloved classics, but possibly the daily driver, which will be more useful to the environment and our wallets. What ever our decision, there is no doubting that the Steam Whistle brewery is getting some very well deserved exposure for having the courage to built something so unique and forward thinking.

Feature: Powertrain Dilema

It was only three short years ago, when the last big fuel price inflation made the full-size truck the most feared vehicle on the market. Well the summer of 2011 is here, and with it comes sky-rocketing fuel prices once again. So, those of you who rushed out and purchased a full-size truck once the prices stabilized last year, did you think ahead? Are you currently in need of a full-size pickup, but don’t want to take a shellacking when regular pops up over $1.50/Litre?

In an ever-increasing battle to produce the most fuel-efficient trucks on the market, there has been a rash of new powertrain options out there to make the most of the fuel you put into them, all in different ways. Certain power options help those who may not drive their trucks much at all, some help those who have to deal with urban environments, and some get those who need to cover great distances with heavy loads the best bang for their gas station buck.

So what works best for you? It all depends what you plan to do with your truck. Here is a rundown of the advances the manufactures have made in the fuel efficiency of their full-size trucks, and how they best serve potential owners.

Efficient Gasoline
Ford has been making the most of the most popular fuel on the planet for well over one hundred years now, and guess what? They are still finding ways to get even better efficiency out of the same old 87-octane that’s been sold at the corner gas station for nearly as long. A jump in fuel efficiency technology in the last few years has rewarded most manufacturers with incredibly thrifty fuel sippers. The implementation of direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, new lighter materials and turbo technology has allowed some truck makers to get the same power from a six-cylinder that was previously only found in V-8’s only a few short years ago, while increasing efficiency by as much as a third in some cases.

Chryslers new six-piston darling, the 3.5L Pentastar V-6 has replaced the old 3.0L CRD diesel engine in the Jeep Grand Cherokee because it gets better fuel mileage. Likewise, Fords equally touted EcoBoost 3.5L V-6 Turbo has given F-150 owners V-8 power in the form of a V6, while also increasing fuel efficiency by 20%. These numbers are impressive, however where these vehicles excel is in the cost of these upgrades. In terms of the Jeep, the Pentastar powered Grand Cherokee is the base spec vehicle, so you literally pay nothing for the increase in efficiency. Ford on the other hand have not released the cost of their new EcoBoost at the time of writing, but word has it the turbo 3.5L will be an option fetching somewhere around the order of $2,000. So, if you are buying a large truck and you may not be using it as a daily driver, but still want to save at the pump, a high efficiency gasoline powered unit will likely be the most economical choice.

Now this is a bit of an odd one. In terms of the timeline of light trucks, the hybrid is still in its primordial ooze stage of life. As of right now, there is only one company offering a hybrid pickup on the market, and that’s the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid along with its GMC twin, the Sierra 1500 Hybrid. Sporting a full-size chassis and a 6.0L FlexFuel V8, one would legitimately question the use of a Hybrid drivetrain on such a vehicle. The fact is, it works, and works quite well, as this full-size truck gets mid-sized car fuel efficiency. GM rates the Silverado Hybrid at 10.1L/100km in the city and 8.4L/100km on the highway. In testing I confirmed these numbers, which made my Volvo look more like a Hummer.

The beauty of a Hybrid is that its delivery of electrical power means this vehicle is at its best in the urban environment, and if you happen to live near one of two FlexFuel stations in Canada, the extra low Co2 emissions of this vehicle will also kick up your environmental karma. The downfall of this powertrain option is undoubtedly the cost of the technology. Hybrid technology is complicated and still in its pioneering form of R&D. As such, cost of fuel savings in the Silverado is huge, requiring an investment of nearly $20,000 over the base Silverado’s MSRP. At that cost, you will want to be sure that you keep it for a good long time to make up those extra costs.

As mentioned, the only hybrid pickup available in the North American market at present is the Silverado Hybrid. However, Ram are currently field testing their own hybrid product that will likely hit showrooms in a little over a years time.

Finally we come to diesel, my favourite fuel, at least when it comes to trucks. For the most part, here in Canada, diesel is cheaper than gasoline when you get to the pump, and once you have it in your tank, it does a hell of a lot more for you. Diesel not only stretches out your range and fuel efficiency numbers, but it also gives you added torque for hauling large loads. Unfortunately, the only trucks currently offering diesel engines are domestic Heavy Duty trucks. Elsewhere in the world, it’s the compact turbo diesel pickup that reigns king, however, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Ford have chosen to keep the efficient little four bangers out of the mid-sized truck market here in Canada. However, there is hope, as Cummins is working on a highly-efficient four-cylinder that is likely to be inserted into both the Ram and Nissan Titan 1500’s.

However, here and now, it’s the 6.6L Duramax, the 6.7L Power  Stroke and 6.7L Cummins that are the only available units, found in the Silverado/Sierra, F-250/350 and Ram Heavy Duties respectably. Due to the sheer size and weight of these vehicles, you would think any benefits of diesel power have long since been offset. However, with new regulations governing these vehicles and demand to create more efficient Heavy Duties for small businesses, these big guzzlers have seen quite a bit of headway in this department. Unfortunately, these same regulations say that any vehicle with a GVW higher than 8,000 lbs does not legally have to post the vehicles fuel-efficiency numbers, however, in a recent test of Chevrolet’s contender, the 6.6L equipped Silverado, I saw efficiency numbers of 12.2L/100km on the highway, and 15.3L/100km in the city, and that’s with a load in the back.

Where the diesels fall down a bit is the cost to equip each truck with the diesel option is still quite large. Expect to dish out $9,670 extra for the GM, $9,950 extra for the Ford and $7,975 for the Ram; not hybrid money, but still a good chunk of cash to make your full tank last a little longer.  As such, you’ll want to make sure that you are getting good use out of the vehicle to make up for the added expense. So, if you need a truck to haul large loads for long distances, the diesel will likely be you best choice.

History: Farewell B

Back in the 90’s when I got my drivers license, it seemed that everyone, at one time or another, were once the proud owners of a venerable little Mazda B-2200. As a teenager, the B-series was ideal, with a good sized bed to haul around mountain bikes, snowboards, hockey gear, camping gear, car parts and in some cases, stockpiles of beer or people. It was cheap to buy, was as reliable as the day was long, and with the perfectly suitable 2.2L four-cylinder pumping away under the hood, the B-2200 was ideally fuel-efficient for someone working for minimum wage to operate. As a freshly graduated 18 year-old, the Mazda B-series was the perfect fit.

The story of the B-series goes back a long way from the land of the rising sun. Believe it or not, the Japanese built rather large pickup trucks back in the 50’s and 60’s, as these kind of vehicles were mostly snapped up by workers in the farming and industry sectors, for use as work vehicles. Mazda, however, saw that there was a market that wasn’t being taken advantage of, a market for a small, light duty personal pickup. In the cramped environment of narrow roadways and short distance driving in Japan, as well as all of Asia, Australia and New Zealand for that mater, a compact pickup made a lot of sense. And so, the first B-series pickup was introduced in August of 1961, branded as the B-1500, referring to the trucks engine displacement. The little 1,484 cc four-cylinder pumped out 59 hp and had a one-ton payload rating. The B-1500 soon made a name for itself as being a hard worker and extremely reliable little truck. With the suspension set up with a torsion bar front end and leaf sprung solid rear, the B-1500 also became well known for its comfort. And with that, Mazda created the compact truck market.

Soon, the other Japanese domestic brands began to see that Mazda were making great use of a rather large hole in the truck market. In 1965, Datsun jumped into the game with a slightly smaller 520, which used a 1.3L engine. In 1968, Toyota countered Mazda with the now famous Hilux, which matched the Mazda in size, engine displacement and power. Isuzu, along with GM allegiances, created the Faster, in 1972, which would also see limited importation into North America.

By this time, these small pickups hadn’t properly penetrated the North American market with any great success, and Mazda kept the B-Series out of the market here until Toyota and Isuzu had properly tested the waters. However, in Asia and Australasia, the small trucks were a hit, and the Mazda B-1500 was leading the way in these compact pickup friendly lands.

In 1965, only four short years since its introduction, Mazda gave the B-1500 a slight refresh, adding a four-headlight front fascia, improving the cylinder head and adding down draft carburetor rather than a side unit that upped power from 59 to 73 hp. 1971 would see the B-series finally make it to North America in the form of its third generation. This new truck would see very little in the way of cosmetic changes, however, power was increased yet again with a displacement change from 1.5L to 1.6L, thus changing the vehicles name to the B-1600.

At this time, Mazda were also heavily invested in the Wankel engine technology, now popularized with the Mazda brand and dubbed the rotary. Mazda would use the 13B rotary engine in the B-series from 1974 to 1977, creating the world’s first rotary powered pickup. The rotary powered B-series featured flared fenders, a battery mounted under the rear bed and special edition designed dash, grille and headlights. However, while the twin rotor, 1.3L, 13B was ideal in Mazda’s sports car, the Cosmo, and the RX-4 and RX-5 coupes, the engines low torque rating did not make a good match with the pickup trucks needs and was soon cancelled. Like most rotary powered Mazda’s, it didn’t go out without a fight, as Mazda raced one of these special editions at the 1975 SCCA Mojave 24 Hour Rally.

It was in this era that also saw Mazda’s first truck cooperation agreement with Ford, which would see the new B-1800 be rebadged as a Ford Courier. Ford was in need of small truck to combat the influx of small Japanese pickups like the Toyota, Isuzu and Datsun. The Courier was produced by Mazda in Japan and imported into the US minus the rear bed to combat tariffs.  With the new 1.8L engine increasing torque to 92 lb-ft, the Courier/B-1800 had an impressive 1,400 lb load capability combined with a cheaper price tag than the F-100. The only real difference between the Mazda and Ford variants were the badging on the tailgate and hood, while the Courier had a unique grille to mimic that of the F-100.

1978 would see another generation of the B-series created, this time the truck got the full treatment with an all-new 80’s body design and the usual increase in displacement to 2.0L, however this time with the introduction of fuel injection. Soon after, one of the most popular versions, the aforementioned B-2200 and B-2600 would be introduced in 1985. This marked the height of small truck production, and the B-series saw a whole host of both body and drivetrain upgrades. The B-2000, became the B-2200, then B-2600 with the later producing 121 hp. The body was modernized with plastic bumpers; upgraded grille and headlight assemblies while part time 4WD could now be had for the first time. Customers now also had the choice of a long box or a king cab option on their vehicles. The B-series was sold in North America in this guise for well over a decade, from 1985 to 1998, and while the Courier was still based off the B-series platform, it was not offered in North America, as Ford had now created the Ranger for itself.

However, this would change in the later half of 1998, when Ford changed the B-series forever. They flipped the table on Mazda, effectively killing off the Japanese built truck in North America, and now chose to use the Ranger as the base platform, pumping out Mazda equivalents as thinly rebadged Rangers.

In its new North American cloths, the B-series not only received much larger engine packages, but its size grew exponentially to meet the North American needs. The choice of a 2.3L (B-2300) or 4.0L (B-4000) engines were now mated to either rear-wheel-drive, or optional 4WD with a dash mounted switch. Several of these new 4WD’s were now on par with the more popular Toyota and Nissan trucks in terms of off-road modifications and capabilities. However, with Ford now calling the shots, the only improvements made to the vehicles over their 12-year lifespan was little more than the addition of trim options. As a result, both the Ranger and B-series began to loose favour in a market that saw an every increasing move towards larger full-size trucks, as those trucks reaped the rewards of increased attention, allowing automakers to sell them for nearly as cheaply.

Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall as early as 2009, when word of the B-series demise began to leak. True to their word, with sales dwindling, the B-series was finally executed in 2010, with only a few unsold units still sitting on dealer’s lots. It’s an unfortunate end to what was a great vehicle, and so we pay tribute and homage to the first popular mass-produced compact pickup. RIP B-series.