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Junkyard Gem: 1982 Toyota Cressida Wagon


There was once a time when many car manufacturers each offered station wagons to American car shoppers in several sizes. During the early 1980s, even Mercury had wagons available in small, medium and large sizes, and Toyota was right there with three of its own: the little Corolla, the somewhat bigger Corona and the opulent Cressida. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those Cressidas, found in a car graveyard in the Northern California hometown of John Steinbeck.


The rear-wheel-drive Cressida was available in the United States from 1978 through 1992, going through four generations along the way. It descended from the Corona Mark II, and in fact retained the Mark II name in Japan well into our current century. Until the Lexus LS 400 showed up here as a 1990 model, the Cressida was the most luxurious U.S-market Toyota car during its reign here; the Avalon is the closest thing to the Cressida’s replacement in the United States market.


This generation of Cressida was sold in the United States for the 1981 through 1984 model years, and it was closely related to the Celica Supras of the same era. That means it has an M-series overhead-cam straight-six engine driving the rear wheels. One big difference between the 1982 Cressida wagon and the 1982 Celica Supra is that the wagon didn’t get an independent rear suspension (the Cressida sedan did, though).


In this case, the engine is a 2.8-liter 5M-E with electronic fuel injection, rated at 116 horsepower and 145 pound-feet. Curb weight was just 2,906 pounds (significantly less than that of the current Corolla), so its performance was decent for the era.


A four-speed automatic with an overdrive top gear was standard equipment.


The MSRP for this car was $12,699, or about $42,294 in 2024 dollars. The only 1982 Toyota with a higher U.S.-market price tag was the $13,218 Land Cruiser four-door.


This was a California-market car from the beginning, as we can see by the underhood emissions sticker.


The 1982 Cressida came with plenty of standard features that were extra-cost options on most comparable cars (beyond the automatic transmission, that is). Air conditioning, cruise control, rear defroster and an AM/FM four-speaker audio system were included.


I’ve found plenty of high-mile Toyotas in junkyards over the years, including an Avalon that drove 949,863 miles and a Camry that did 648,928 miles, but this Cressida barely cracked the 100k mark during its 42-year life.


The wagon version of the Cressida was available in the United States from the 1978 through 1987 model years, after which it was replaced by the high-end trim levels of the Camry wagon.


These cars have something of an enthusiast following, but that wasn’t enough to spare this rust-free one from its junkyardy fate.

Nobody else can give you the feeling!

Sadly, we never got the turbocharged version on our shores.



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Junkyard Gem: 1985 GMC Suburban K1500


General Motors has been selling Suburbans since 1935, outlasting the DeSoto Suburban, the Nash Ambassador Suburban and the Plymouth Fury Suburban. These days, the US-market GMC-branded twin to the Chevrolet Suburban wears Yukon XL badging, but GMC Suburbans were sold here from 1937 through 1999. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a four-wheel-drive example of the very successful 1973-1991 Suburban generation, found in a car graveyard just outside of Reno, Nevada.


The Service Parts Identification sticker on the glovebox lid tells us that this truck was part of a fleet order with some interesting RPO codes, including one for “Retail Amenity Delete.” Yes, the cigarette lighter was an extra-cost option.


The original engine was a good old carbureted Chevrolet 350-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) small-block V8, and this small-block may even be the one that was installed on the line in Flint, Michigan. The power rating was 165 horsepower and 275 pound-feet, not a lot of power (by our current standards) for a truck that scaled in at nearly two-and-a-half tons, but it was enough for the era.


The transmission is the optional 700R4 four-speed automatic. The seat is a bench, as is proper.


This is a half-ton with four-wheel-drive and the base Sierra trim level. The High Sierra and Sierra Classic packages (corresponding to Chevrolet’s Scottsdale and Silverado names at the time) got you nicer-looking decorations plus some convenience features.


The 1985 GMC and Chevrolet Suburbans had identical price tags, which started at $11,650 for the K1500 with 350 engine (about $24,682 in 2024 dollars).


The eighth-generation Suburban showed up as a 1992 model, and it received the luxurious independent front suspension that had lived beneath C/K-series GM pickups since the 1988 model year.


At some point, the tailgate from a Chevrolet Suburban was installed.


Rust works slowly in Nevada, though we don’t know where this truck resided before it came to the Silver State.


An owner of this truck was a proud member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12, which covers California and Nevada.


What broke and sent this truck here? We can’t know.

The Suburban doesn’t show up in this commercial for the 1985 GMC trucks, but it’s still worth a view.

Most of the Suburban advertising dollars went to the Chevrolet version.



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London pop-up spy room pays homage to ‘Goldfinger’ and Bond’s Aston DB5


For the majority of James Bond movie fans, “Goldfinger” still resides at or near the top of their list of favorites. Moreover, the movie introduced what has been called “the world’s most famous car,” the Aston Martin DB5 that would go on to appear in multiple films (not literally the same car, it should be said). Because of this, it landed “Goldfinger” at the top of our list of James Bond movies ranked only by their cars.

“Goldfinger” is celebrating its 60th anniversary, and to celebrate it along with Aston’s equally long association with the 007 franchise, the brand has created a so-called “House of Q” pop-up gathering place inside London’s historic Burlington Arcade, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly.

This glimpse into the world of Q, the head of top secret technology inventions and “creator” of the Aston, is open to the public now through August 4.

To access the “secret” spot, visitors enter through a door disguised as a magazine newsstand at House 12-13 in the fancy arcade. Once inside, they’ll find a speakeasy bar serving Champagne Bollinger that’s adorned with technical drawings and parts from the original DB5. The bar also features sketches and diagrams from Aston Martin and the EON Productions archives. There’s also a copy of the “Goldfinger” film script.


The DB5 — DB for David Brown, who owned Aston in the 1940s and ’50s — was launched at the Frankfurt motor show only a few months before the movie debuted. It was basically what we’d call now a mid-cycle refresh of the preceding DB4. It ran with a potent 4.0-liter engine and a top speed of more than 150 mph. Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera created the look, and there are indeed Superleggera badges on it.

It can’t be understated how much of a phenomena “Goldfinger” was in the 1960s, with the following film, “Thunderball,” being a comparably big deal. The DB5 was in both and was used for promotional purposes, traveling the world and leading to the unofficial “most famous car” title. It’s hard to think of something that would supplant it. 

Marco Mattiacci, Global Chief Brand and Commercial Officer of Aston Martin, said: “Aston Martin and James Bond are two British icons, forever linked. We are delighted to be celebrating this important 60th anniversary throughout 2024, marking the continuation of what is cinema’s longest running and most successful product placement.”



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Junkyard Gem: 2014 Nissan Leaf


After writing about nearly 3,000 discarded vehicles during the past 17 years, I’ve learned that it takes just over a decade for a new type of car to begin showing up in the big self-service boneyards (not counting unrecognizably crashed and/or burned ones). The first mass-produced battery-electric vehicles of the modern era hit American streets during the early 2010s, which means used-up examples can now be found in Ewe Pullet-type car graveyards. Here’s one currently residing in Carson City, Nevada.


While battery-powered vehicles enjoyed mainstream sales success during the early days of the automobile, there were very few sold from the 1920s through the end of the 20th century. Things in the EV world got more interesting during the late 1990s, when General Motors sold the EV1 and Toyota offered the RAV4 EV (I feel fairly certain that I’ll never run across a junked EV1, but have found a discarded ’02 RAV4 EV).


Then the electron-fueled pace really picked up in the late 2000s. The Tesla Roadster became available to the public in 2008, followed by the Nissan Leaf in late 2010 and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV a year later. The Leaf immediately became the best-selling EV in the world, a title it held for most of the 2010s.


Nissan would like us all to spell this car’s model name in all capital letters, because LEAF is one of those tortured acronyms so beloved by Japanese carmakers: Leading, Environmentally Friendly, Affordable Family Car. This isn’t as annoying as the model names we’re supposed to spell in all-lower-case letters or the ones with punctuation marks, but I’m not going to play that game. This is a Leaf, which means the plural shall be Leaves.


Because EV drivers get to drive solo in California’s HOV lanes, the early LEAF sold very well in the Golden State. This car’s current (and final) residence is across the state line in Nevada, but Carson City is only about ten miles from California.


You can tell it began its career in California from the Proposition 65 sticker on the driver’s side window, which informs car buyers that there may be cancer-causing materials inside. Most owners scrape off these stickers, but this one remained for the life of the car.


This car wasn’t crashed and the interior looks like it was in good shape upon junkyard arrival, so why did it get thrown out? Resale value on the 2014 Leaf and its 84-mile range isn’t so great compared to newer models, so we can assume that some costly mechanical problem ended this car’s career. Nissan wants $14,941.18 for a replacement battery pack, so that’s a good candidate for this Leaf’s demise.


The current Leaf can go up to 212 miles on a charge and boasts 147 horsepower (40 more than its 2014 predecessor) plus far superior fast-charging ability, so the specs on this car seem antiquated just a decade after it was built.

Good for the world, built in America.

What if everything ran on gas?



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1996 Jaguar XJS Convertible Retro Review: Fancy a good waft ’round Goodwood?


CHICHESTER, England – Everything seems like it’s moving faster these days than it used to. Whether it be trendy memes or systems of government, what was popular yesterday doesn’t stand a chance today. That’s true of cars, too. Every major model is expected to have a refresh every couple of years followed by a complete reboot after five or six.

In that context, the 21-year staying power of the Jaguar XJS is nothing short of remarkable, especially if you look at the decades it spanned.

Introduced in 1975, the XJS (or XJ-S as it was initially known) survived all the way into 1996 before finally running out of its nine lives, all with such subtle visual tweaks that you have to be a bit of an expert to spot the differences introduced over the three decades it covered.

The 1996 model you see here is as new as it gets, yet it still very much looks, feels, and even smells like a much older machine — albeit with some curious injections of technology here and there to spoil the air of nostalgia.

This one is a British-market 4.0-liter inline-six-cylinder model with 242 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque sent through what must be the laziest transmission I’ve ever encountered, a four-speed ZF automatic. But relaxed, as it turned out, would be the overriding vibe of this car, something I actually came to appreciate before my time with this beautifully preserved example was through.


We didn’t get off to a great start. My test drive took place on the historic Goodwood Circuit, best known for the high-class hooning of the annual Goodwood Revival.

I would not do any drifting, nor crashing thank goodness, but the on-track nature of my run did mean I needed to wear a helmet. That proved to be a bit of a problem.

I’m not a particularly lanky 6-foot tall, and the XJS is not a small car, so without overthinking it, I tucked my way in, ducking beneath the low roof of this XJS cabriolet. I expected that, once inside, I could adjust the seat and get myself situated.

Whoever had driven this previously was apparently quite a bit shorter of stature because the seat was bolt upright and tight to the wood-rimmed steering wheel. Now properly trapped and in a bit of a panic, I stabbed at the chunky, plastic seat controls on the door only to quickly learn the seats won’t move without the ignition on. My knee was wedged so tightly up against the steering column that I couldn’t reach the ignition.

After a few attempts, I got the key turned and the seat in motion. Further and further back I had to recline the thing before I could finally uncoil my neck. It’s a Corvette-like posture I had to assume here, knees akimbo and arms outstretched.


My newly laid-back seating position seemed to fit with the aforementioned vibe of the car, and now somewhat comfortable, I took a moment to enjoy the time capsule. It makes a good impression, the XJS. Beautifully polished walnut abounds, including the ball atop the spindly tall shifter that you’d be forgiven for mistaking for a manual.

That lovely wood, however, is punctuated by all manner of things, a few of which ruin the mood. There’s the polished metal ashtray, a lovely touch reminiscent of many high-end ’60s GT cars, like the Lamborghini 400 GT. It’s a lovely relic from the early days of this car’s design that sits just a few inches away from less enjoyable relics: a clumsy black plastic cassette deck and digital clock.

The XJS, then, doesn’t give the time capsule effect so much as it provides a retrospective of three decades worth of motoring highlights and lowlights.

The XJS is, of course, most famous for its V12. Alas, I drove the lesser 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder, which runs so quietly I couldn’t tell when I should let off the starter. It didn’t honestly get much louder as I pulled out onto the Goodwood Circuit and began to wind everything up to speed.

Goodwood is a generally simple track but a beautifully flowing one, mostly a series of multi-apex right-handers perfectly designed for machines with simple suspension and rudimentary brakes. These are descriptors that can certainly be applied to the XJS.


Turn that lacquered steering wheel to enter a corner, and there’s a good moment or two where nothing at all happens. Be patient, though, and the long nose eventually begins its journey toward the inside of the turn. An instant later, the outside door of the car initiates its own trip down towards the asphalt.

Again, “relaxed” is the way to describe it, with the XJS leaning and meandering through the turns without much in the way of hurry or feedback. The brake pedal likewise has a long throw to it, and you’d best get used to exploring every degree of it if you want to bring this big cabriolet down to a reasonable speed before turn-in.

At first I couldn’t help laughing at how unsuited the car felt at speed, but after a lap I started getting comfortable. Again, thanks to the flowing nature of this track, the flowing nature of the XJS was quite enjoyable. The challenge was to pick a given amount of steering input early into one corner and hold it all the way through the apexes so as not to upset the suspension.

Holding a consistent, steady line is the way, and when following a gentle gliding arc like that, the XJS is surprisingly fun. Then, once I learned to get the throttle buried to the floor a good few seconds before the apex, I started to enjoy the inline-six a bit, too.

When it finally works its way towards the upper end of its 5,700-rpm tachometer, it offers decent shove and a nice sound, too. I could just hear the engine over the wind noise, though, which, despite keeping the roof up, was louder than many modern convertibles I’ve driven with the top down.

So, not ideal for a technical track (but who’s bringing an XJS to one of those?), and that relaxed transmission and power delivery likewise will leave you a bit frustrated if you’re the sort who gets impatient running between traffic lights. But on a wide, flowing road with lots of miles ahead of you, I could see the XJS being a genuinely rewarding ride.


A little buyer’s advice

Looking to bring an XJS into your life? The good news is you’ve got 21 years’ worth of cars to choose from. But you’re most likely to find a cleanest example among the later generation, like you see here, which ran from 1991 to 1996.

There are two engines to choose from: the 4.0-liter inline six driven here and the V12, which evolved from 5.3 to 6.0 liters. Which one is for you? That depends on whether you want to maximize reliability or number of moving pieces. Regardless, don’t imagine that you’re getting yourself a hot rod even if you go with the bigger motor. At its peak, that V12 made just over 300 horsepower, about 60 more than the inline-six. These days, neither is going to feel like a rocket ship.

Per Hagerty, a 1996 inline-six convertible like you see here is worth $15,500 in good condition. Want a V12? You’re looking at $18,000 in the same condition. Just make sure to budget a little extra for maintenance. As ever, it helps if you’re handy yourself, as issues with the car’s electrical system, rear suspension and fuel system are common, and your friendly local mechanic will surely roll out their premium rates when they see you cruise up in one of these.



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Junkyard Gem: 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit


When Volkswagen introduced its second water-cooled model for North America as a 1975 model (the first was the 1974 Dasher), it was badged as the Rabbit instead of getting rest-of-the-world Golf badging. The Rabbit name stuck around here through 1984, after which the Golf designation took over in North America. Then, apparently to please nostalgia-prone American VW enthusiasts, the Rabbit name returned for the late 2006 model year. Here’s one of those second-time-around Rabbits, found in a Colorado self-service boneyard recently.


The Rabbit badges stayed on U.S.- and Canadian-market cars until the Mk6 pushed aside the Mk5 for 2010. Then Volkswagen shoved the Rabbit name into the memory hole, where it has remained since that time.


The 2006-2009 Rabbit was pitched to hip North American urban drivers and its brochure included handy guides to “the language of urban driving” that included definitions for such terms as Hurry Honker, Bumper Broadcasting and Spot Sloth. Clever!


It was available as a hatchback with two or four doors. This is the former, which had an MSRP of $15,600 (about $23,211 in 2024 dollars).


The engine is a 2.5-liter straight-five rated at 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet. That’s well over twice the power of its 1975 ancestor.


The base transmission was a five-speed manual, though this car has the far more popular six-speed automatic.


It looks fairly solid inside and out, though there is a bit of rust-through.


It appears to have been turned in as part of Colorado’s Vehicle Exchange Program, open to pre-2012 vehicles that fail their emissions tests.

It’s back, and it’s clogging the city.

For those who can afford a new car but can’t afford to pay for internet.

 



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Junkyard Gem: 2006 Isuzu Ascender


Things got a little unsettled with the lesser-known players in the GM Empire during the years leading up to the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with plenty of mix-and-match branding efforts. Suzuki badges on Daewoos? Sure thing! Rebadged Subarus for Saab? Why not? One of the sadder stories during this era was the fate of once-proud Isuzu, which was down to just two rebadged Chevrolet passenger vehicles for its final few years in the United States: the I-Series pickup (Colorado) and Ascender midsize SUV (Trailblazer). Here’s an example of the latter type, found in a Silicon Valley self-service car graveyard recently.


Isuzus first entered the American automotive mainstream in 1972, when GM started bringing over Isuzu Faster pickups and selling them with Chevrolet LUV badges. Isuzu began selling I-Marks, P’ups and Troopers here in 1981, followed by Impulses and Styluses (and their Chevrolet/Geo-badged siblings). Isuzu’s real sales success here proved to be with its well-priced trucks; the final U.S.-market Isuzu cars were 1993 models but Rodeos, Troopers and Amigos continued to fly out of American Isuzu showrooms during the decade.


Then sales slumped as the 2000s dawned. The aging Trooper couldn’t compete against a bunch of fresh new rivals and got the axe after 2002. The VehiCROSS was too radical to succeed and was done after 2001. The Amigo (aka Rodeo Sport) went away after 2003, leaving just the Rodeo and the Axiom in the Isuzu lineup. For the 2005 model year, there were no genuine Isuzus left here, just rebadged Chevrolets (Isuzu commercial trucks continued to be sold, of course, and you can still buy a new one today).


GM introduced its new GMT360 SUV platform with the 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada. Sales of those trucks were brisk, and American Isuzu dealers got their own version starting with the following model year: the Ascender, which was supposed to replace the Trooper.


The only meaningful difference between the Ascender and its Chevy/GMC/Olds siblings was its generous Isuzu warranty. On the minus side, Isuzu was in obvious trouble here and potential Ascender buyers feared getting stuck with a truck lacking a dealer network (a genuine concern so soon after Daewoo owners had been directed to the Pep Boys for warranty service in the wake of Daewoo Motor America’s bankruptcy).


In the end, the Ascender and I-Series didn’t sell well. GM announced the discontinuation of the seven-seat Ascender for 2006, with rumors of the five-seater’s demise beginning soon after. 2008 ended up being the final year for new non-commercial Isuzu vehicles in the United States.


Buick and Saab also got their own versions of the Trailblazer, the Rainier and 9-7X.

The actress in this Ascender commercial did a fine job of sneering out the word “minivan” with the appropriate contempt.



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What is the ‘Chicken Tax’ and why is it bad for imported trucks?


If you’re an American fan of small pickups and other utility vehicles, you may often find yourself reading about unobtanium models that are sold in what seems like every automotive market but our own. Hey, this is America. We love trucks, right? Even tiny ones like the Ford Maverick have proven wildly successful, suggesting that small trucks imported from overseas could perform similarly well. So why don’t we see them? Blame the Chicken Tax. 

What is the Chicken Tax?

You’d be forgiven for assuming the Chicken Tax has something to do with transporting barn fowl, but believe it or not, the two are almost entirely unrelated. So how is it that we live in a world where chickens are to blame for expensive imported pickup trucks? Well, the simple (and simultaneously quite complex) answer is “politics.”

Essentially, “Chicken Tax” is a complete misnomer. It refers to an import tariff imposed on (among several other things) light-duty trucks. It gets its name not from its purpose, but from its genesis: it was conceived as part of a series of retaliatory tariffs intended to punish Europe for taxing American chicken exports. So there were chickens involved at some point, you see, just not in any way that relates to cars. The story is pretty wild, and we’ll refer you to this excellent Writeup by Wired if you’d like the full version.

How much is the Chicken Tax?

This is no small penalty: The import tariff on light duty trucks was set at 25%. That’s stiff enough to deter quite a bit of overseas competition, and as some automakers have learned, difficult (and not to mention costly) to circumvent. Ford recently settled a decade-long “Chicken Tax” investigation over its importation of Transit Connect utility vans in a way that it still maintains was compliant with U.S. regulations. Needless to say, federal regulators disagreed.

What does it apply to?

Nominally, the tariff was imposed on light trucks, but given how broadly that definition is used in today’s regulatory environment, it’s really more accurate to say that the Chicken Tax applies to utility vans and pickup trucks. Passenger vans and SUVs are exempt from the Chicken Tax, but not exempt entirely from import taxes. They’re assessed at a far more reasonable 2.5%. That’s why you see plenty of imported crossovers and sport ‘utes on the road, but not nearly as many trucks or cargo vans. 

In the early days, overseas manufacturers found ways around the Tax by exporting “chassis cab” models to the U.S. At that point, a bed would be attached to the rear frame and the entire truck could be sold as a pickup. This loophole was eventually closed. The Subaru Brat (as featured in the Wired story above) famously came with two jump seats in the back to qualify as a “passenger” vehicle until the law was adjusted to account for anything with a bed, jump seats or not. Womp-womp. 

Who pays the Chicken Tax?

In theory, the Chicken Tax is a cost eaten by the manufacturer and baked into the car or truck’s sticker price. In practice, very few manufacturers are subject to the Chicken Tax in 2024 because most trucks and cargo vehicles sold in the United States are built here. The rare exceptions tend to be smaller boutique builders whose customers may not love paying extra, but are likely able to afford it. 

 



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Junkyard Gem: 1982 Jeep J-20 4X4 Pickup


The Jeep SJ Wagoneer was built for the 1962 through 1991 model years, by Willys Motors, then Kaiser-Jeep, then American Motors and finally Chrysler. For all but the last few of those years, a pickup version of the SJ was manufactured as well. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those trucks, an AMC-built ¾-ton four-wheel-drive J-Series, found in a Wyoming car graveyard with snowplow mount still attached.


The Equality State gets meme-worthy amounts of snow in winter, and four-wheel-drive plow trucks tend to be in heavy demand there. The blade is missing from this Fisher plow assembly, but we can be pretty sure it moved cubic miles of the white stuff during its career.


AMC would sell you a factory-installed Snow Boss plow system for 1982, on your new J-Series, Wagoneer or Cherokee. This truck’s owner went the aftermarket route.


The Jeep SJ pickup began life as the Gladiator, a name revived recently on a Wrangler-based pickup. After that, it became the J-Series through the end in 1988. From 1974 on, the ½-ton Js were badged as J-10s and the ¾-ton ones were J-20s.


This one was sold new in Denver, about 100 miles south of the Wyoming state line.


It still has Colorado plates with 2013 tags, so we can assume it did most of its plowing in the Centennial State.


The American Motors Corporation bought Jeep in 1970, dropping the Gladiator name soon after.


Kaiser-Jeep had been buying AMC engines for its trucks since the middle 1960s (along with 225-cubic-inch Buick V6s with Dauntless badges), so it was easy for AMC to continue bolting in its powertrain hardware once it took over Jeep.


This truck has the 360-cubic-inch (5.9-liter) pushrod AMC V8, rated at a Malaise-y 150 horsepower and 205 pound-feet for 1982. A 258-cubic-inch (3.7-liter) AMC straight-six was base equipment in the J-10.


The AMC 360 stayed in production after Chrysler bought AMC in 1987, with the last ones built for the 1991 model year.


The transmission is the base four-on-the-floor manual with extra-low “granny” first gear. A three-speed automatic was available as an option.


The final J-Series pickups were built by Chrysler as 1988 models, after which they got axed so as not to compete with Dodge pickups.

Go ahead, drop a piano into your J-10!

You Jeep truckers just keep on truckin’ in the snow, don’tcha?

Avoid the embarrassment of destroying your date’s front porch by trading in your tank for a Jeep pickup.



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Audi recreates 16-cylinder super-sedan designed in 1930s but never built


Auto Union — one of the companies that Audi traces its roots to — set several world records in the 1930s with a series of race cars grouped under the Silver Arrow label. These cars were designed exclusively for track use, but the brand also envisioned a street-legal version called Type 52 that used the same 16-cylinder engine. The sedan was never built, so Audi dusted off decades-old blueprints to make it a reality.

Type 52 was an internal designation; Audi notes that the model would have likely been launched as the Schnellsportwagen, which means “fast sports car” in German. It’s a fitting name: Ferdinand Porsche’s design office started the project in late 1933 and planned a sedan built around a de-tuned version of the supercharged, 4.4-liter 16-cylinder engine that powered the Type 22 race car. In spite of the lower compression, the engine was projected to develop about 200 horsepower and 322 pound-feet of torque, which was enough for a top speed of 124 mph. Had it gone on sale, the Schnellsportwagen would have stood proud as one of the fastest and most powerful cars of its era.

Visually, the Schnellsportwagen featured an aerodynamic, wing-shaped silhouette characterized by an unusually long wheelbase required to accommodate the massive mid-mounted engine. It had four rear-hinged doors, and the interior layout placed the driver front and center and the two passengers on either side — this layout made the McLaren F1 famous nearly 60 years later. Auto Union even fitted a small trunk.

Auto Union’s plans to build a test car were canned when the project was abandoned in 1935, so the Schnellsportwagen was consigned to the pantheon of automotive history. Recreating it using archive documents and design sketches was easier said than done, especially since none of the people that worked on the project are still alive. Audi commissioned an England-based restoration shop named Crosthwaite & Gardner to tackle the project. Every part of the car had to be built from scratch including the chassis, the engine, and the body panels.

One of the bigger issues that the shop, which worked closely with members of the Audi Tradition department, ran into is that the car never made it off the drawing board. “One insight that came out of our intensive exchange is that the developers in the 1930s would probably have had to adjust some of the technical details in the course of testing,” explained Timo Witt, the head of Audi’s historical vehicle collection.

The wheelbase was consequently extended in order to package the front suspension system, the steering components, the engine, and the transmission. The engine was updated as well: the modern-day Schnellsportwagen uses a version of the 1936 Auto Union Type C’s 6.0-liter 16-cylinder, which is supercharged to 520 horsepower. It runs on a blend of 50% methanol, 40% gasoline and 10% toluene. None of the period documents clarified the car’s color, so Audi painted the car in the same Cellulose Silver that appeared on the Silver Arrow race cars.

Over 90 years after it was designed, the Auto Union Type 52 will make its public debut at the 2024 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Related video:



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