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Category: Classics

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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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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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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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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Junkyard Gem: 1985 Ford F-150 Explorer XL 4X4


The Ford F-Series was the best selling motor vehicle in the United States for the 1982 model year and has remained in the No. 1 spot ever since. You’d think that Junkyard Gem-worthy examples of that historic F-Series generation would be easy to find in the car graveyards I frequent, given how many were sold, but most of the ones that do show up have been used up beyond easy recognition and then picked clean by junkyard shoppers. That’s not the case with today’s truck spotted in a northeastern Colorado yard: a fairly solid 1985 F-150 with two-tone paint and the Explorer trim package.


The seventh generation of the F-Series was sold in the United States for the 1980 through 1986 model years. For 1980 through 1983, the F-100 cost-cutting half-ton model was still available, after which it was replaced by the F-150 as the only half-ton F-Series. This truck has the mid-grade XL trim level, positioned between the Standard and XLT tiers.


The Explorer package, which included styling upgrades and various popular options at tempting prices, first became available in F-Series trucks for the 1968 model year. There were Explorer Rancheros and Broncos as well for a while. 1985 appears to have been the last model year for the F-Series Explorer package, after which it was replaced by a set of Preferred Equipment Packages. Starting with the 1991 model year, the Explorer name was repurposed as the model designation for a hot-selling SUV based on the Ranger chassis via the Bronco II.


The F-Series hadn’t gone very far along the process of its metamorphosis into the replacement for the American family sedan by the middle 1980s, so the powertrain in this one is extremely truckish. The engine is the base 300-cubic-inch (4.9-liter) pushrod straight-six, rated at 115 horsepower and 223 pound-feet. 302- and 351-cubic-inch (5.0- and 5.8-liter) gasoline V8s were available as options, and buyers of 1985 F-250s and F-350s could opt for a 460-cube (7.5-liter) big-block V8 or a 6.9-liter diesel.


No drive-to-the-office-park automatic here! This truck has the four-on-the-floor manual transmission, which was an upgrade from the base three-on-the-tree column-shift manual but cheaper than the four-speed with overdrive top gear.


Who says you can’t have a floor-shift manual with a bench seat? The middle passenger just had to get used to taking a beating from the shifter.


Ford hadn’t gone to six-digit odometers in these trucks by 1985, so the actual final mileage must remain a mystery.


There’s rust here and there, but it looks good from 100 feet away.


The original buyer of this truck even sprang for the optional AM/FM stereo radio, which was a good idea for the kind of long drives you take in the Mountain Time Zone.


Ford used the chassis of the 1980 F-Series nearly into our current century, finally doing a major redesign for the 1997 model year. The current F-Series is the 14th generation of a truck family dating back to 1948.

Willie Nelson better have been paid well for Ford’s use of this rewrite of his 1980 song!

Climbs a rocky hill while carrying a Chevy truck and towing a Dodge.

 



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Junkyard Gem: 1985 Jaguar XJ-S


An American car shopper looking for a new V12-engined coupe in 1985 had two choices: Spend the present-day equivalent of several hundred grand for a Ferrari or Lamborghini … or get a Jaguar XJ-S for about a third that price. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found in a Denver car graveyard recently.


Jaguar began bolting V12 engines into the E-Type beginning in 1971, then into the XJ12 sedan soon after that. By the time the E-Type was discontinued after 1974, Jaguar had spent the better part of a decade grappling with the near-impossible task of developing a successor that looked just as beautiful.


This ended up being the XJ-S, which was based on the chassis of the XJ sedan and debuted as a 1976 model in the United States. Production continued through 1996.


These cars were mean-looking, powerful and packed with English wood-and-leather luxury, but they were also temperamental and costly to repair. I’ve documented quite a few discarded XJ-Ss during my junkyard travels.


This is a DOHC 5.3-liter engine, known as the HE for its improved combustion chambers and rated at 262 horsepower and 290 pound-feet. This was serious power for a year in which a new Corvette’s engine made 230 horses and the Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC coupe chugged along with a 184hp V8.


A three-speed ZF automatic was the only transmission available in this car.


The MSRP was an even $36,000, which amounts to something like $107,170 in 2024 dollars. That compared favorably to other European luxury coupes; the 1985 BMW 635CSi was $41,315 ($122,993 after inflation), the Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC listed at $57,100 ($169,985 today) and the Porsche 928S cost $50,000 ($18,848 now). Detroit offered the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz coupe for $24,850 ($73,977) and the Lincoln Mark VII Bill Blass Edition for $26,659 ($79,363).


The XJ-S was notorious for expensive-to-fix electrical and mechanical problems, so it’s a struggle for third or fourth owners to keep theirs in driving condition. Some give up on the V12 and swap in small-block Chevrolet V8s.


The gauge cluster in this one was purchased by a junkyard shopper before I arrived, so I couldn’t get a final odometer reading. It appears to have been reset in 1987, anyway.

Here is V12 power wrapped in soft leather, paneled in rare wood, equipped in complete luxury.

A blending of art and machine.

British Leyland was so proud of the XJ-S that it opened this iconic TV commercial with a mid-1970s Playboy Bunny climbing into one.



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HWA Evo is a modern take on the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evo II


In 1989, Mercedes-Benz built 502 units of a very racy sedan called the 190 E 2.5-16 Evo, its homologation car for the 190 E racer in the German Touring Car (DTM) series. This is the same series that convinced BMW to create the M3, which BMW drivers used to win the DTM Driver’s Championship in 1987 and 1989 (there was no manufacturer’s championship at the time), and the first Evo was the car Mercedes used to return to factory motor racing after quitting all such activities in the wake of the Le Mans crash in 1955. (M-B began supplying Peter Sauber with engines for Group C racing in the mid-1980s, though.) Mercedes drivers couldn’t lift the big trophy with the Evo, so in 1990 and 1991, Mercedes turned its first effort into the 190 E 2.5-16 Evo II. Thanks to DTM instituting a manufacturer’s championship by this time, Mercedes driver Klaus Ludwig drove the Evo II to both trophies in 1992, and the 502 roadgoing versions became collector rarities. Whereas Evo I values average somewhere in the low $100s, Evo II sales average around $300,000 according to Classic.com. 

This is one of the reasons a German outfit called HWA chose to create a modernized version of the Evo II on a standard Mercedes 190 E chassis, that of the plain beige four-door that filled taxi fleets in Germany at the time. The other reason is that HWA stands for Hans-Werner Aufrecht, the gentleman who provided the “A” in AMG. When AMG was a separate company, Aufrecht worked with Mercedes on the Evo I and Evo II, and his independent HWA outfit continued never stopped prepping Mercedes race cars even after Mercedes completed its acquisition of AMG.

Based on the sedan’s specs, it’s probably best not to think of the HWA Evo as a restomod, since nothing is restored and everything is a modification. The only pieces that remain from the 190 E shell are cant rails (the structural member running over the doors between the A- and C-pillars), and C-pillar. It’s best to consider this a current imagining of what an Evo III might look like, using modern components. Start with the engine. Instead of the Cosworth-tuned, high-revving 2.5-liter four-cylinder, the HWA Evo is powered by Mercedes’ M276 twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 from cars like the AMG E 43 that Mercedes recently replaced with its twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six. HWA buys the M276 new, disassembles it to balance the rotating assembly, installs a dry sump so the engine can sit lower in the chassis, and plugs in an HWA-programmed ECU. Final output for the standard version is 444 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, an Affalterbach Package raises that to 493 hp, to move a car targeted to weigh about 3,220 pounds. Shorter gearing in the six-speed manual transaxle transmission give the standard car better acceleration but a lower top speed of 168 miles per hour. The longer legs in the Affalterbach Package take top speed to 189 mph.  

Side note: When Motor Trend asked HWA why it went with a six-cylinder when the original made do with a four, we’re told that a V8 would have been too tough to fit into the bay, and HWA chief technical officer Gordian von Schöning said, “In the beginning we were really pushing for a four-cylinder engine because we thought this was something AMG is promoting, and we can probably push it to 500 horsepower. But customers said a four-cylinder engine was not special.”

The body shell is stripped and reinforced with aluminum and high-strength steel for stiffness and improved crash protection. The front axle’s moved forward two inches, the rear axle 1.2 inches, helping deliver a 50:50 weight balance. HWA sourced Evo II-spec glass, thinner and lighter than the regular sedan’s windows. The new carbon fiber body panels are bonded to the shell, and swell so much below the belt line that the HWA Evo is nine inches wider than an Evo II.

KW shocks connect a race-spec multi-link suspension at both ends, the base car offering manual shock adjustment, the Affalterbach Package giving drivers electronic suspension controls in the cockpit. Six-piston front brakes work 15-inch rotors behind 190-inch wheels, while in back, four-piston calipers clamp 14-inch rotors behind 20-inch wheels.

Inside, front passengers sit in Recaro seats looking at digital gauges that mimic the original displays.

HWA’s putting the one car it’s built so far through a year-long testing and development phase. Once completed, HWA will build one car per week, up to 100 units in total, 75 of which have already been sold at €714,000 ($765,000 U.S.) apiece. After that, we hear there are plans for HWA to come up with a modern interpretation of the AMG Hammer.



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Junkyard Gem: 1991 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz


GM’s Cadillac Division introduced the ultra-swanky Eldorado as a 1953 model, and the Biarritz name was first used on the Eldorado convertible three years later. After that, Eldorado Biarritzes in various forms were built intermittently through the following decades. The end finally came for the Biarritz in 1991, when the last eleventh-generation Eldorados rolled off the Hamtramck line. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found at a self-service yard near Denver, Colorado.


Biarritz is a resort city on the Atlantic coast in France’s Basque Country, just the sort of place where a high-living oil heiress might have flaunted her new Eldo during the late 1950s. The Biarritz title was used to designate Eldorado convertibles through 1964, then got dropped until its revival as the name of a gloriously rococo trim level for 1976.

For me, the definitive Eldorado Biarritz is the 1979-1985 version, with its stainless-steel roof panel inspired by the one on the 1957 Eldorado Brougham. When Robert De Niro as pink-suited Ace Rothstein falls victim to a bomb in his car in the 1995 film “Casino,” that car is a 1983 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz.


The Eldorado got a radical downsizing for the 1986 model year and its next-to-last generation, losing 16 inches of overall length and a corresponding portion of general bulk. The Biarritz version stuck around, but with no stainless-steel roof. 


The 1991 Biarritz package did get you two-tone paint, “Tampico” carpeting, birdseye maple wood on the dash and console plus 10-way power front bucket seats.


Also included were “wire wheel discs” aka faux-wire-wheel hubcaps.


The padded landau roof with slick-looking integrated opera lamps also went onto the 1991 Eldorado Biarritz.


All 1986-1991 Eldorados got a full digital instrument cluster.


This generation of Eldorado never got the DOHC Northstar engine. Instead, all were powered by a member of the Cadillac High Technology pushrod V8. The Northstar went into final-generation Eldorados from 1993 through the end in 2002.


This is the 4.9-liter HT engine, rated at 200 horsepower and 275 pound-feet. If you want to enrage engine-name purists you should call it the “HT4900” within their hearing range. Earlier versions displaced 4.1 and 4.5 liters, with 1991 being the first year for the 4.9.


When this car was new, no manual transmission had been available in a new Cadillac since the last three-pedal Cimarrons were built as 1988 models. The gearbox in this car is a four-speed automatic.


The final year for the Cadillac Eldorado was 2002, after which it was replaced by the CTS coupe. The 1986-1991 eleventh-gen Eldos ended up being the smallest of all the generations.


This one had an MSRP of $34,425, or about $80,326 in 2024 dollars. That was a bit cheaper than the cost of the similarly sized 1991 BMW 525i, which listed at $34,900 ($81,434 after inflation). Meanwhile, the costliest Cadillac of 1991, the Allanté hardtop convertible, cost $61,450 ($143,384 today).

Winner of the 1990 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award!



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Junkyard Gem: 2003 Mazda Protege5


Mazda sold its Familia small car in the United States from the 1971 through 2003 model years, with some interesting developments right at the very end of that run. There was the Protegé MP3 for 2001-2002, the Mazdaspeed Protegé for 2003 and the Protegé5 wagon for 2002-2003. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of the latter type, found in a Denver self-service boneyard recently.

The Familia went to front-wheel-drive in its fourth generation, with the first examples showing up here with GLC (Great Little Car) badges as 1981 models. The GLC became the 323 for 1986, and its platform ended up beneath the Ford Escort starting with the 1991 model year. The Familia sedan became the Protegé in the United States for 1990, while the 323 name stuck around on the hatchback until it was discontinued after 1994. For 2004, the Mazda3 became the Protegé’s successor here.

Nearly all reviewers loved the Protegé5, with our own scribe describing it as “a cross between the Miata and the Tribute” with a “way cool” interior and excellent handling.

The Protegé5 was available with one of six different paint colors, but most of the review cars seem to have been done up in the “Vivid Yellow” hue you see here.

Young car shoppers who enjoyed riding mountain bikes and skateboards were targeted by Mazda’s marketers, although most members of that group had already defected from wagons to SUVs by that time. Mazda tried not to use the word “wagon” when describing this car, instead referring to it as “a sporty car with a built-in social life” in the brochure.

The engine is a 2.0-liter DOHC straight-four rated at 130 horsepower and 135 pound-feet.

A four-speed automatic was available as an option, but the wise Protegé5 buyers took advantage of the high-revving engine by sticking with the base five-speed manual. That’s what’s in this car.

The factory 16″ alloy wheels looked good.

The original owner’s manuals were still inside when I found it. We can see from the salesman’s card that this car was sold new in Omaha.

You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.

The TV commercials for this car got the “Zoom-Zoom” treatment.

Look, Vivid Yellow paint!

This car was known as the Familia S-Wagon Sport 20 in its homeland.



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Junkyard Gem: 1965 Rambler Ambassador 990 Convertible


By the middle 1960s, George Romney had left the helm of American Motors to become governor of Michigan and company president Roy Abernethy had decided that AMC needed to compete more directly against GM, Ford and Chrysler. In order for the Kenosha manufacturer formed from the 1954 merger of Nash and Hudson to do that, a genuine full-size car had to be created to steal sales from the Impala, Galaxie and Monaco. With a wheelbase stretch and a restyling by Dick Teague, the Rambler Ambassador became that car for the 1965 model year. Here’s a once-snazzy soft-top Ambassador from that year, found at a family-owned yard just south of the Denver city limits.

I’ve documented quite a few vintage machines at Colorado Auto & Parts in this series over the past year, including a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere, a 1969 Walker Power Truck, a 1974 Ford F-250, a 1960 Triumph TR3A, a 1947 Dodge Custom Club Coupe, a 1969 AMC Rambler 440, a 1951 Studebaker Champion, a 1959 Princess DM4 limousine and a couple of dozen first-generation Mustangs and Cougars. This Ambassador is now parked between a Chevelle and a Mustang.

The Ambassador 990 convertible wasn’t the most expensive new ’65 Rambler you could buy, because the Ambassador wagon and the sporty new Marlin cost a bit more. Still, its $2,955 price tag ($29,907 in 2024 dollars) was on the steep side for Rambler shoppers accustomed to penny-pinching Classics and Americans.

This car would have cost much more than the base MSRP, though, because it was built with AMC’s biggest car engine at the time: a 327-cubic-inch V8 rated at 250 horsepower. No, it’s not related to the Chevrolet 327 small-block; parts-counter staffers spent many decades dealing with that confusing name mixup (to be fair to AMC, their 327 was first).

Kaiser-Jeep, not yet purchased by AMC, bought AMC 327s for use in its trucks during the mid-to-late 1960s and called them 327 Vigilantes.

The base engine in the 1965 Ambassador was the 232-cubic-inch “Torque-Command” straight-six, the 4.0-liter descendants of which were still being bolted into new Jeep Wranglers in 2006.

The base transmission in the 1965 Ambassador was a three-speed column-shift manual, but this car has the optional three-speed automatic with “Flash-O-Matic” shifter on the center console. If you wanted a factory radio in your new ’65 Ambassador, you could add “Duo-Coustic” or “Vibra-Tone” rear speakers.

AMC sold just under 65,000 Ambassadors for the 1965 model year, including wagons. Meanwhile, Chevrolet sold better than a million of its full-size Biscaynes, Bel Airs and Impalas that year (and GM’s Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick sold plenty of their own versions of those cars as well). As for Ford and Chrysler, there’s no need to rub it in by listing their vast sales numbers for big cars that year. The Ambassador wasn’t much bigger than the competition’s midsize cars at the time, which was a factor in its slow sales.

American Motors had its ups and downs after 1965, but the general story arc was that the Detroit Big Three used their greater resources to continue grinding down their Wisconsin competitor until Chrysler finally bought what was left in 1987.

The last model year for the Rambler marque was 1968, after which all of AMC’s U.S.-market cars got American Motors Corporation badging. The Rambler name lived on for one more year, as the model name on the former Rambler American for 1969: the AMC Rambler.

This car would be worth decent money if restored, but the body is on the rusty side and the interior has been exposed to the elements for many years, making such a restoration a very costly proposition.

The “Sensible Spectaculars” advertising campaign was on the puzzling side.



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