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Forg's Dark Corner

30th October 2001

By Matt Cremer

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It's here again: Motor Show Week! As with every other year, this year I've been looking forward to it for, oh, 9 months or so - yeah, it's roughly just after Christmas each year that I start getting pangs of need.

This year I'm looking forward to it even more, because the VW bag I got last year was pretty neat, and as it's wearing out a little from daily use, I'm ready to grab my "press kit" complete with VW bag.

Now the press scam at the Motor Show includes free brekky and lunch, so the day starts with quite an early breakfast before launching into the motor-industry facts speech. Richard Wilkins as MC is somehow more funny than it should be ... someone informs me that Channel 9 is sponsoring the show this year, so I suppose that makes sense.

I must admit I usually find this facts-and-figures stuff pretty dry, but then there are numbers that surprise me every year. F'rigsample, did you know that Australia exported $4.2 billion in cars and automotive parts last year? No wonder the government's happy to protect the industry with tariffs and regulations - that's a huge amount of income for the country!

Some bad news is also announced; they've apparently wasted a whole hall on mopeds this year!

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Well, as the Travelling Mystery Tour of the Motor Show starts, we're guided through the "hall" with the mopeds, past the Harley, Suzuki, Honda, etc stands. And while it sounds like a waste of space, it's not really all that bad; in previous years they used to only have aftermarket stuff and a couple of short-straw manufacturers in that dodgy "alcove" they call a hall, so no real floor-space has been wasted.

As we head towards the first presentation of the day (courtesy of Ford) it occurs to me that some manufacturers always seem to stake-out the same positions year after year. Porsche is always nestled at one end of the exhibition centre, Toyota is always right up the far end; that separation must surely symbolise something?

Anyhoo, thoughts shoved aside (I'm at a Car Show dammit, there's supposed to be lots of grunting and drooling, no thinking!), I settle in for whatever Ford have prepared for us.

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And ... it's pretty funny, really! Maybe it's not supposed to be funny, but it is. Ford have decided they need to be "with-it" in order to connect with the next generation of spenders; they've got a show car aimed at 10-19 year olds, so they're obviously trying to spark brand-loyalty in young people. I suppose they're hoping the kiddies'll grow up wanting a Ford when they can afford it (or when the drug business takes off at their private school). Problem is that it all sounds like something a drugged-out advertising agency came up with; it all sounds kinda "hip" and "fab" and "groovy". And they've done some of their show stuff along with some "streetwear" company I've never heard of ...

There're a few interesting things. The open-topped Street Ka has groovy tyres with "Ka" lettering for tread (show stuff of course), and is slated for 2003 production - it might make it here. The 5.6 litre Tickford engine sounds pretty interesting to me, even if it's still a step or two behind Holden's Corvette engine. And there is a smattering of other mildly interesting cars ... and for the doof-doof boys there's a Laser with "X-Plod" stickers all over it (I mean, who'd name a product range that was supposed to be dynamic as something so pedestrian-sounding as "plod"?).

Mitsubishi doesn't seem to have anything all that exciting to show us this year. They've wheeled-out the 180kW Ralliart Magna again, and the multi-chromatic paint schemes they were thinking of offering last year don't seem to have rematerialised. They've also got an Evo 6 on a stand, which is odd because the hype said they were all pre-sold when released earlier this year ... must've been a few people who decided they didn't want the world's fastest banshee-wail rollerskate when they finally test-drove it.

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But the centrepiece of the Mr Bishi display is an Eclipse, purely because they got a few enquiries when people picked up on the fact that they'd used American footage of an Eclipse in their TV ads. They reckon they're sizing it up for possible import ... but I reckon the market for something like that would be a little dubious at the moment, so I don't personally think it's likely to happen.

Thence, we step over to Toyota.

*yawn* where were we again? Oh yeah, Toyota.

[whispers to sidekick] Did Toyota release anything this year?

Well, they had some F1 car of some description on display, they've released the unattractive new Corolla, there's a 2.0 Avensis (an MPV that looks like a puffed-up Corolla wagon) going on sale in December, and while the hybrid Prius is probably an important vehicle, we've seen it before. Oh, and not to forget that they've now got a chrome grille on the Hilux; The Changing Of The Grille is obviously an important yearly event for the Hilux design team.

And now over to Holden for the unveiling that everyone's been waiting for. In fact, quite a lot of people have been ignoring the Toyota presentation, to stake out a good place in front of the Holden stand.

Man, isn't there some waffling. The people who've tuned-in on the webcast have to be kept in suspense, I suppose, so some safety award or other gets handed out. Drag it out ...

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Finally, the unveiling! And isn't it professional; the silken covers over the cars rise up into the air one-by-one, and the lines holding them retract into metal tubes hanging over the displays. I hadn't even noticed the tubes before, they were somehow industrial yet artistic, with an "airconditioning" look to them. They looked to be made of lightweight aluminium as well, so they wouldn't have caused much extra weight on the top of the structure of the stand.

Oh yeah, and there were Monaros under those covers. But then, we'd seen them 3 years ago (without the Magna tail-lights), so that wasn't really anything new. Except for the bubblegum colours of course - the way to make a nicely styled car look as tacky as an Excel. And I might add that someone-you-can't-get-much-higher-than-at-Ford was overheard saying something along the lines of "I have to get myself one of those" to someone-you-can't-get-much-higher-than-at-Holden... interpret that as you will.

OK, OK, I admit it ... the Monaro is just about the only Falcodore I could see myself in. S'pose it's because they look like a Volvo C70.

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Rather overshadowed by the Monaro's release is the upcoming Astra Convertible, which should have reasonable performance with its 2.2 SRi engine. And there's also some boat or other behind a 6.2 Gen-III powered Maloo-based concept; the ute looks like an old El Camino to me, but the wannabe country folk tell me it looks the goods.

Now, I've liked Saabs for a long time; while as a child I recall thinking Porsches looked dumb because they had round headlights, I don't remember disliking Saabs at any stage. And they've got a few nice looking cars on the stand. But their centrepiece is a rather "interesting" looking show car that manages to stop just short of fugly from most angles - though it does look like a Saab, I suppose.

For a concept car, it's got a really thick and expensive press kit, too. The car doesn't seem to be anything special to me, but the press-kit is; it's bound in a piece of rubber that I hope is what the model in the Pirelli P5000 Drago ad was wearing, and it has pages made of tissue paper, rubber, and silicon. At least the car does seem to have been designed to be built though - and with AWD and a 224kW turbo V6 it'd probably be pretty interesting if they did.

Audi really didn't have anything of interest to say. The A2 I've seen before, although I'd be interested to see how it stacks up against a Mercedes A-Class. The S cars are all pretty droolworthy, and are all here ... but most importantly, they handed-out jelly beans! Mmm, jelly beans ...

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Next stop, Lexus. Lexus are releasing their SC430 coup?, and isn't it seriously ugly? I kid you not, what a pig; maybe they accidentally tried to style a car themselves rather than copying someone else - but whatever they did, I hope they don't do it again. With the roof down it does look a little better (it's got less sheetmetal to be ugly with), but it still should be covered with a paper bag while driving around the streets.

VW were notable for a few things. The new AWD 150kW Bora Sport grabs my eye (although not as much as a Liberty B4) although doesn't excite others, but the concept funky retro-new Microbus is a bit of an eye-catcher.

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VW also wins in the race to produce the first lame dance-number, with some dancers bouncing around the Microbus. But they were also handing out some interesting trendy fizzy-drink; the label on mine being a repro of a painting by Martin Plaza. They certainly get some points for the fizzy-drink. However, no shoulder-bags this year. How annoyin'; I'm gonna have to keep carrying the old one to work and hope someone has the forethought to hand one out at next year's show!

Alfa Romeo had a little discussion about how good their 147 was. But then we've already seen them on the roads, haven't we? Mind you, there's still some mystique attached to the marque; they still do seem to make non-refrigerators.

BMW are pushing their "technological tour de force" new 7-series, and from a techno point of view it's interesting. But I also believe that a car in that class has to have some decent appearance to it, and the 7-series has somewhat dubious styling. Some kudos to them for trying something new, but really ... the metalwork on that backside isn't far off the plastic add-ons to a VL Walky.

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Maybe of more interest from the BMW camp is the new Mini. There aren't too many people with bad things to say about the old Mini from an ideas and packaging point of view (although there are many with skinned knuckles who may curse the mechanicals), and I reckon the new one is even more functional (excepting maybe the lack of a spare). It may look like the old car, but it's actually a fair bit larger in person (say, the size of an early 90's Corolla hatch), and has heaps of interior room. Yeah, I'm taken with them, and for the sub-$33k price they announced for the Cooper, I reckon they'll sell a few.

Volvo is showing their ACC (Adventure Concept Car), a huge looking onroad/offroad "lifestyle" thing. Yeah, yeah, we've seen it all before from Subaru, Volvo a few years ago, Mercedes, BMW, yadda yadda yadda.

I suppose they'll make one of these trucks one day that isn't an overpriced joke; still, it's hard to break the laws of physics.

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Mercedes has always, as far as I can remember, been an example of a brand which has held itself with some style and sophistication. And with a 300SL (restored at the factory, of course) and a scattering of classy AMG cars on their stand, everything does appear to be sophisticated.

And then they start to play a Kylie song as part of the presentation.

Hmm, that kinda strips away all credibility, doesn't it?

But anyway, the cars on offer are certainly interesting. Although they're strangled by automatic gearboxes, the 260kW AMG SLK32 and C32 are certainly nice cars, as is the more-cruisy SL500. And they've replaced the 4.3 V8 with a 5.0 in their fugly truck to make it an ML500; more power with which mindless mothers can run down children while picking their own kids up...

There are a couple of C-class cars with big wheels, and it occurs to me that you see a helluva lot of C-class cars on the road with 17+ inch Mercedes-brand wheels and discrete body kits. They must be doing a huge trade in options and look-better bits.

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Now, Hyundai shocked me a little. Okay, the bright yellow Accent with the fake plastic disc brakes and god-awful bodykit may be what I expected from them, but I'm not sure that five years ago I'd have expected the Tiburon coup? to come from Hyundai. It might not be absolutely perfect (few cars are), but I actually like the styling. Sure, it does look like an amalgam of a few other cars, but visually it works a lot better than anything else from Korea. And with a 2.7 V6 and a 6-speed manual, if they get the suspension half-right then it has potential to be a half-decent thing.

Another shock among the dross was an Elantra with 170kW! Yep, it had a blower bolted on, and in black it didn't look quite as ugly as the "sick" Accent (yes, they actually said the prototype Accent Mach 2T was "sick"). Now, it's only a show-car prototype, but imagine how many people you'd surprise with 170kW in your Elantra!

Maserati's worth a mention, with the new 3200GT-based Spider on display. OK, I can't see myself ever actually buying one, but I can still drool over them.

Rover were handing out scones. This is more like it! Scones are good, just ask Dion. The cars themselves are still ... well, they're classy and not unlike Jaguars, but they somehow don't inspire me, being saloons and estates of moderate power and capability.

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However, they had a couple of more interesting beasties up on ramps. They're basically Rovers that've been fiddled-with and have had MG badges applied (and you should've seen the confusion from the salesperson when I asked which Rover one of them was based on). The MG ZT 190 is a 140kW sporting sedan which obviously has more cornering prowess than straightline ability; it'll become more interesting when it cops a supercharged 4.6 V8 in future. But of more interest is the rather tasty-looking 117kW ZR 160; it not only looks nice (being a kitted Rover 25), but they're considering bringing it here. With Honda giving up on selling a quick Civic here, the MG could be an interesting alternative.

At this point, I could be cruel. I could point out that Kia were using a ragtime band with a strong Oompa-Oompa from the tuba. I could say that the tuba was a kind-of joke instrument, and that the use of one kinda symbolises Kia's styling and performance.

But as you all know, I'm not that cruel, so I won't say it.

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Mazda had some nice stuff, but it somehow had an air of "been there, done that" about it. They've got their badge-engineered Tribute truck, and the RX8 has gone a little closer to production. What is a little interesting is the turbo MX5 SP that we've been hearing about. Now, 150kW isn't an overwhelming figure, but in something the dimensions of the MX5/Miata I think it has the potential to be a really nice little package. Actually, I also find it interesting that Mazda Australia is so happy to be involved in programs like this; some of the other importers could really lift their image by doing stuff like this (although obviously I have no idea of the economics involved).

As the victorious Mark Skaife wandered past and gave Southo a friendly "g'day" like they were old friends, the Renault folk were talking about the new Scenic RX4. Bloody hell, that's no RX4; RX4's have rotary engines, RX4's either make "brap-brap" sounds or they whistle off into the distance at an alarming rate. RX4's are not AWD people-movers ...

And the new Clio Sport doesn't suit my taste in styling, unfortunately. I'd probably still consider getting one, but purely on the strength of its performance; the styling looks like something exploded under the bonnet and its headlights boggled out. At least Renault had a smoke machine, always a classy touch in any presentation.

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Daewoo ... the day's starting to drag on by now. Can you believe they actually called a car a Magnus? It looks more like a Nigel wearing a cardigan, but I suppose Magnus sort-of suits it. The star of the presentation is the (TV advertising dog) Kane, who impresses by pulling the covers off the Kalos Dream concept-car and also by not droning on interminably. I suppose now that Daewoo appear to have pulled their socks up and look like taking off again they have to make a strong statement, but the strong statement doesn't really have to take so long to state does it? But the (pictured) Kalos Dream is an interesting little jigger. It really doesn't look too bad; they could be on a winner with that, if they make it.

Nissan didn't have anything interesting to offer in terms of new vehicles. They've stuck a stonking great 185kW twin-cam 4.8 six in the Patrol, they've released a mid-sized truck called an Entrail (or is that X-Trail?), and they've done some really interesting stuff like rejigging the styling on the Pathfinder and Navara trucks. The Z-car prototype with the 3.5 V6 is on display, but it's been doing the rounds of the motor shows for a while now; and is almost starting to look a little old in some ways (dunno, the top half looks very California-styled 300ZX; which is 12 years old now).

However, in handing out Magnum icecreams, I think they win the PR game this year ... bugger Holden and their Monaro, Nissan stays in front until Holden gives me a Monaro.

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Subaru had a couple of things under wraps; one was probably going to be an STi WRX, but I didn't pick the other. The STi is much as you'd expect it would be (although I don't know that they should have made such a strong point on the strength and reliability of gearboxes in the past), all very blue and purposeful and still not exactly a fashion-plate. You'd want to think seriously before buying an $80k Lancer Evo 6 - despite the looks of the Impreza - when you can get an STi WRX for $55k. Now you might point out that the WRX has a lower peak power output, but without the benefit of having driven the two cars, I wonder if the rocket-fuel-dependent 206kW in the Evo is really all that much higher than the STi's PULP-powered 195kW if they're both running PULP.

The Impreza RS is kinda interesting though - fitted with the 2.5, it replaces the RX (in my mind) and should have some decent performance for a semi-sporty shopping trolley.

The Liberty B4 is, of course, on display. I've decided I don't want my RS back, I'll take the B4 instead. And Finders Keepers, I saw the one at the motor show, so it's mine dammit. It's normal to get dragged out of a car by security guards at the motor show, isn't it?

The last two presentations were Peugeot and Jeep. Well, there was some moped presentation after that, but if I was bored with Peugeot and Jeep then I wasn't going to take any notice of someone talking about mopeds... Peugeot did have the new 307 on display, but then it's styled using the Ugly Stick they've been using lately. Jeep had some Cherokee piece of rubbish on display, but who really cares ... although they did have a Neon on display with a slightly-upped 114kW engine, I couldn't tell whether they were thinking of bringing it here.

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So there you are. There were of course a few other makers that I haven't mentioned, possibly because they had nothing new to present - Morgan, for example. Why do people buy Morgans? As a tax write-off? Porsche and Ferrari were obviously there, but had nothing to say ... their cars speak for themselves, I suppose.

Overall, there was a feeling of being toned-down compared to other years, probably due to some mindless megalomaniac killing innocent civilians overseas and threatening to do more killing. But despite that shadow always lurking in the background, the Sydney Motor Show was still fun, which makes sense when you put so many cars together under the single roof.

Bring on next year's, I say!

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