The Cursed Blessing of the Death of Scion

When Toyota started Scion in 2001, nobody expected it to do much of anything. It didn’t. Well, yes, the original xB was an all star smash hit, and the tC was a great combination of bulletproof reliability combined with an astonishingly low asking price, but everything else they did, let’s be honest here, was a massive flop.

The 2001 xB was an excellent car. It was fun to drive, affordable, and instantly lovable. It was, in my eyes, the modern version of the original VW Type 1 Beetle. It was originally marketed towards Gen X, but everyone from teenagers to seniors bought it. It was just that kind of car. Every 10 years or so, there’s a car like that. It comes out of nowhere, sells like cocaine in the 1980s, and is fondly remembered by many. The “toaster,” as it was affectionately called wasn’t fast – it was far from it. It was safe, it had almost as much space as a minivan, thanks to its boxy shape and was easily customizable – from the dealer!

It’s cute, right? I really love the original xB. Can you see why?

Yes, you could walk into a Toyota dealership that sold Scions (I’ll get to that in a bit, I swear), and get a Scion xB, then go over to their customizing desk, and decide how you wanted to customize your xB, all within 20 feet of each other! There were so many options, you had to fill out a questionnaire so the customizing agent could help you out! The great part about this was that you could customize the car to your specific taste, not worry about voiding the warranty and walk out within two hours.

The 2001 Scion xB was the car that kicked off the dealer accessory craze. It was a great marketing tool for many brands. Want a roof rack? You had a choice between Thule and Yakima, and between the two, literally 50 different roof racks to choose from. Want a wrap on your xB? The techs could slap it on in 20 minutes. The list goes on. All these accessories were affordable – you could walk out of the dealership with a Scion xB, customized the way you wanted it, with a good warranty, fully registered and insured, for $22,000.

That’s what the appeal was. As I said, everyone from teenagers to seniors, and everyone in between bought the car. It shocked Scion’s marketing team, and even Toyota. Nobody predicted so many cars would be sold.

Unfortunately, Scion failed to deliver with the second-generation xB. It had gigantic shoes to fill, but it had baby feet. It was heavier – almost 500 pounds heavier. It was more expensive; to the point that people walked over to the Toyota sales desk and bought a Matrix. It used to be that the Matrix was just a hatchback Corolla (the xB was too), but it was kind of like trying to differentiate between twins. The Matrix was cheaper, but it didn’t have the instant customizability that the xB had. The difference showed in sales – Scion still had all their repeat buyers, but the Matrix was just a better car overall. Buyers went to the Matrix, until Toyota killed it in 2013.

Onto the tC. It was a perfectly fine car, but by no means was it on the same level as the Mazda 3 or the Honda Civic. The build quality was great, no doubt about that. It just left something to be desired. But, it was cheap. Dirt cheap. That’s why every 8th car you see on the road is one. Well, maybe not that many, but it sure seems like it. It wasn’t as easily customizable as the xB, but it certainly had it’s benefits. It was cheap enough for those starting to get into the automotive scene to modify it like no tomorrow, but drive it to school or work every day. The Mazda 3 could do that too, but was more expensive. It was also marketed towards college students and above.

The original Scion tC was a smash hit. The second generation wasn’t as wildly popular, but it certainly sold a lot.

Let’s talk about the stupidity of selling Scions next to Toyotas that were similar in price. Seriously, who at Toyota, when they were planning Scion, thought that was a good idea? It’s like selling candy bars next to each other. You can’t choose the right one. That’s what happens when there are too many options. Scion sales would go sky-high for a couple months, then Toyota compact car sales would overtake them like you wouldn’t believe. It was just a constant game of tug-of-war.

Imagine walking into an Armed Forces recruitment center, with all the recruiters standing there, all trying to give you “the best deal you’ll get.” The truth is, they all offer the same thing, but they disguise it well. Just choose the one you like best and the others will find somebody else.

This was Scion’s ultimate downfall in my eyes. They simply couldn’t compete with the elephant in the room.

Yes, they had other problems. Their other cars were practically carbon copies of Toyotas. Why buy a Toyota Yaris hatchback when you could buy a Scion xD? The Yaris was cheaper, and had essentially the same things going for it. The xD had a bit more power, but the Yaris at least looked halfway decent. The xD looked like someone chiseled a block of concrete with an ax, slapped wheels and a price tag on it, and pitched it to Scion.

What might have been the best car Scion made, apart from the 2001 xB, was the FR-S. It was cheap, which was Scion’s main selling point. It was an incredibly fun car to drive, and the perfect one for the budding autocrosser or track day enthusiast. It’s biggest downfall is that Subaru and Toyota sold the exact same car, but with different badges. Yes, I know it was badge engineering, but why buy the Scion when you could buy the Subaru? That was the dilemna many prospective owners faced. It offered more utility and just as much fun as the Miata, but it was a price difference of $2000 between the Scion and the Subaru.

So, what was Scion’s downfall? Poor sales after the redesign of the first-generation xB, offering similar, if not identical products, and no dedicated dealers. Will I miss Scion? Yes. I will miss the magic that the 2001 xB brought to the automotive world, the affordable performance the FR-S brought wailing and burbling into the automotive world, the instant and easy customizability that any Scion brought, and the ferocious sibling rivalry between Toyota and Scion.

Will Scions keep their value? Who knows. Only time will tell. The resale value of the 2001-2007 xB has certainly held up, and likely will for a while. They are cheap, but the price hasn’t gone up or down, like most cars. The tC, a fantastic car in it’s own right, may hold up. It’s hard to tell with that one. The FR-S? Maybe, maybe not. It was a worthy Miata competitor, but it’s identical siblings, the Subaru BR-Z and Toyota GT86 (non-North America markets only), will still be in production.

The FR-S/BR-Z/GT86 was a failed design opportunity. They had a golden opportunity to make a stunning car, and the result is, quite frankly, kind of meh. It doesn’t look like much. Sure, it looks nice, but you don’t point at one and know exactly what it is, like you do with the 2001 xB.tf

I am saddened that Scion couldn’t clean up their act, but they obviously weren’t competitive. Their market went away. They had a nice run though, and there are certainly other choices.

10 Cars That You Just Have to Love, Even if They Were Lemons

Lots of cars are reliable.  Lots of cars aren’t reliable.  A lot of British and German cars fall into the not-so-reliable category.  My uncle can attest to that with the fact that his 2001 Jaguar XK8 has spent about half of its life in the shop.  On the other side of reliability, another one of my uncles had an Audi Quattro for something like 10 years, and he never had any reliability issues.  My dad’s had trouble with his 2003 GMC Sierra 2500 HD with the Duramax diesel engine.  My 2003 Chrysler Town & Country is just a few hundred miles away from hitting 200,000 miles, and it’s been one of the most reliable cars that I’ve ever seen.  Anyhow, the basic premise of this blog post is to tell you the top 10 cars that we all love, even if they were (or still are) lemons.

  1. 2001-2005 Porsche 911 and Boxster:  The 996-generation Porsche 911 was the first Porsche to ever have a water-cooled engine.  For Porschephiles, that’s the equivalent of the Pope converting to Buddhism.  The 2001-2005 Porsche 911 and Boxster had a teeny, weeny, little problem with their engines where the faulty intermediate shafts could fail, turning a fine sports car into a very expensive paperweight.  Even after enough owner complaints, Porsche started fixing the problem, but only on a case-by-case basis, which meant that many owners were left out to dry unfairly.  It’s easily one of the largest black spots in Porsche history, which is a true shame, because these cars were otherwise some very nice drives.
  2. 2001-2003 Subaru WRX:  The first Subaru WRX to be offered in the U.S. had a massive problem with the transmission.  The five-speed manuals were extremely fragile, and the tuner-friendly engine often meant that the tiny boxer four-cylinder engine was tuned to within an inch of its life.  All Subarus have problems with their head gasket, but the 2001-2003 WRX often gave its head gasket up before it even reached 100,000 miles.  I can forgive all of this, because aside from these two problems, it’s a reliable daily driver that’s a LOT of fun.  The purity of these WRX’s means that your inner Swedish rally driver fantasies can come true.
  3. 1993-1995 Mazda RX-7:  One of the last rotary-powered cars (the last was the Mazda RX-8), the Mazda RX-7 was a true driver’s car.  However, apex seal failure hangs over every owner’s head like a cloud.  Apex seal failure means a complete engine rebuild or replacement if the car is not maintained at the proper intervals.  The massive amounts of premium fuel and oil going into the engine didn’t help matters, either.  Still, the 3rd-generation Mazda RX-7 is an amazing driver’s car.  Plus, many owners say that there’s  truly nothing like spooling up the second sequential turbocharger.  Mazda had made the RX-7 with two turbochargers – one for the lower rev range only, and the other for the upper rev range only.  It’s been a long, long time since the last RX-7 was built, and I really hope that Mazda gets their act together and builds an RX-9.
  4. 1999 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra:  This was a one-model-year special put on by Ford, and it was supposed to be a drag racing special for the street.  However, it didn’t  take long for enthusiasts, mainly drag racers, to figure out that it was making WAY less than the 320 horsepower that Ford advertised.  Ford traced the problem to aluminum residue in the intake and exhaust systems.  Ford did well by fixing the problem free of charge.  However, the public snafu on Ford’s part caused Ford to drop production of the SVT Cobra after just one model year.  The upside is that there are no other reliability problems with the SVT Cobra Mustang.  Because it’s a single-model-year special-edition Mustang, it’s got potential to be a future classic.  Don’t be intimidated if you see one for sale with lots of modifications – Ford designed this car to be tuner-friendly.  Just make sure that there’s good documentation of the car.
  5. 2008-2010 Nissan GT-R:  Like many supercars, the Nissan GT-R came with launch control.  The difference was that the launch control function could potentially blow up the transmission and void the warranty, leaving the unlucky owner with a $20,000 repair bill.  Nissan settled a class-action lawsuit in Decemer 2010, and the launch control was dialed back on 2011-up models.  It’s impossible not to love the GT-R and it’s mind-altering ability to be an absolute freight train on race tracks of any kind, just avoid the hard launches.
  6. 2001-2006 MINI Cooper S:  Anybody who was (or is) an owner of the 2001-2006 MINI Cooper S felt more like a beta tester for a video game than anything else.  Here’s the relatively short list of, uh, ‘bugs:’  Electric power steering pumps that could catch fire, supercharger failure after just 80,000 miles, and head gaskets that seemed to be timed to blow up as soon as the warranty expired.  Despite it being a sub-$20,000 car new (and used), it’s got maintenance costs of a 2001-2005 Porsche 911 or Boxster (see #1 on this list for reference).  If you can forgive those faults, the handling is some of the best this world has ever seen.
  7. 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia:  Most mid-engine Ferrari’s have a wholly undeserved reputation for spontaneous combustion.  However, with the 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia, the argument was valid.  The adhesive bonding between the wheelwell and the engine heat shield would melt and catch fire.  Reports vary, and if Ferrari is to be believed, only 11 cars were affected by this.  All 1248 Ferrari 458 Italias sold until that point were recalled.  Ferrari still claims that this only happened during hard driving, but asking owners of Ferraris to not drive their car hard is laughable.  After the concerns of owners becoming BBQ, the Ferrari 458 Italia once again ascended to its rightful place as the best mid-engine car the world has ever seen.
  8. 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD:  These things are supposed to be bulletproof, right?  Think again.  The fuel injection systems on the Duramax diesel-engine trucks are notorious for the fuel injectors cracking.  My dad has a 2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD, and the engine’s been rebuilt something like 4 times.  If you buy one of these vehicles, make sure to get it with the LQ4 6.0-liter V8.  The Allison 1000 heavy-duty transmissions will go over 150,000 miles without trouble.  Just DON’T get it with the Duramax!  Not only are engine rebuilds expensive, but they are frequent.  If you buy one, make sure you find one with good documentation, as many of these were used for hauling and towing, both of which put phenomenal stress on the engine and transmission.
  9. 1996-2005 Volkswagen Passat:  This was the infamous era of VW unreliability.  The B5-generation of the Passat had steering problems – the rack-and-pinion assembly was prone to stripping, which means no steering.  When it stripped, it would burn out the power booster, which means that other parts are brought into the mix.  Volkswagen made a lot of these cars, and some of them are good.  Other family sedans are good choices.
  10. 2003 Land Rover Freelander:  This is quite possibly one of THE most unreliable vehicles EVER!  It was quite simply bad.  The engine was bad, the cheap interior fell apart after just a few thousand miles, and forget replacing parts for it.  The replacement parts were usually just as bad as the stock parts.  Avoid this car at ALL costs!

 

 

 

The Differences Between Circuit Racing, Drag Racing, and Oval Racing

My mom recently asked me what the differences were between circuit racing, drag racing, and oval racing.  For those of us who aren’t race freaks, this may prove helpful.  I know that it will prove helpful for my mom.

Drag racing is for all essential purposes, putting a big, powerful motor into a lightweight car, and adding other go-fast goodies to it, and then going to the drag strip and winning.  Ok, I wish it was that simple.  Many of the fast drag racing cars that you see going hundreds of mph down a straight 1/4 “drag strip” are purpose built.  The fast, cool cars that everybody loves are the Top Fuel dragsters.  Those are the long, huge-engined cars that blast down the drag strip in just 5 seconds.  But, there are also street-legal drag racers that are almost as quick.  Hot Rod Magazine puts on an event every year called Hot Rod Drag Week.  The fastest cars there in the Unlimited class consistently run low 7-second passes.  It’s truly mind-boggling to watch a steel-bodied 1965 Chevrolet Nova II blast down the drag strip at 6.94 seconds.  I have attached a video explaining the history of street legal drag racing, and I found it informative and fun.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TccUZOHuJuI

Circuit racing can mean two things.  One is oval racing like NASCAR or IndyCar, which is not how I view it.  The other is what they call “road-racing.”  Road racing is essentially a twisty track paved with concrete, not sticky asphalt.  It’s usually very fast, and it requires a lot of effort and concentration to wrangle a car around said track.  Formula 1 runs many road courses every season, and NASCAR runs two road courses (Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen).  But, the most well-recognized road race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as other endurance races.  Road racing is taxing on the engine, transmission, suspension, and the driver.  Darrell Waltrip (yeah, he’s the guy with the world-famous “Boogity, boogity, boogity) once said of Sonoma Raceway, “Floor the gas, upshift, mat the brakes, downshift, repeat.”  That can be said for many road courses around the world.  It’s not easy.

Oval racing is sometimes called circuit racing.  I don’t know or care why.  I just know that oval racing is NOT circuit racing.  If you find out or know why, tell me.  Anyhow, oval racing is NASCAR and IndyCar.  It’s extremely fast, and it’s taxing on the driver.  With NASCAR, pit stops are often between 8-20 seconds!  Famous oval tracks are Daytona International Speedway, Talladega International Superspeedway, Bristol Raceway, and Darlington Raceway.  Not only are all of those oval circuits fast, but they can have deadly consequences if you can’t get out of the way.  Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 2001 death at the Daytona 500 was a shock to the racing community, but it only highlighted just how deadly NASCAR is.  Speeds reaching 200+ mph are common on these oval tracks.  Bill Elliott once hit 210 mph at Talladega, which is a record that stands to this day.

Since I’m onto the different kinds of racing, I might as well do other kinds of racing.

Top-speed racing is kind of the thing nowadays.  Standing mile events are common in several states, but the big top-speed races are at the Bonneville Salt Flats and El Mirage (El Mirage is a large dry lakebed in Southern California).  The fastest run at Bonneville was 763 mph back in 1997, with Andy Green driving Thrust SSC.  Not only did that break the sound barrier for the first time in a car, but Green is planning to hit 1,000 mph with Team Bloodhound SSC next year.  Back to top-speed racing.  It’s fast, and can be deadly.  I have attached a Roadkill episode showing Freiburger and Finnegan chasing a top-speed record at Bonneville in a 1981 Chevrolet Camaro.  It’s fast, funny, and surprisingly informative.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEcbwvNaxE8

Drifting is where you take a RWD car, pull the handbrake, and break the rear end loose.  Professional drifters include Vaughan Gittin, Jr., Ken Gushi, Tanner Foust, and Ken Block, just to name a few.  Drifting originated in Japan in the mid-1970s, and it’s become a popular sport ever since.  Typical drifting machines are RWD vehicles with either a GM LS-Series engine, or a turbocharged Toyota engine.  Drifters are people who like to make lots of tire smoke and dial in a lot of opposite lock into the steering.  Drifting a RWD car should be simple:  If it’s a new car, defeat the traction and stability controls.  Then, find a big, open space (without curbs or trees!), floor it, pull up on the handbrake, and the rear end will hopefully break out.  If and when it does, steer INTO the drift!  Steering away from the drift will spin the car and make you look like an idiot.  Steer into the drift, and apply more steering and throttle as needed.  If you feel uncomfortable, tap the brakes enough to get the rear end of the car to step back into line a bit.  Also, make sure that you don’t have expensive tires on.  Drifting eats up the treads surprisingly quickly, and you probably know that Pirelli P Zero Corsas aren’t exactly cheap.  I have attached yet another video done by the Motor Trend Channel talking about turbos vs. V8s and drifting.  It gives a unique perspective into drifting, and it’s got a TON of tire smoke!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H8ItG5SK9o

Rallying can mean a couple of things.  One is where you are given directions and you drive your car on public roads to a destination.  The kind of rallying that most of us are familiar with is WRC and GRC (World Rally Cross and Global Rally Cross).  Those rally machines look stock, but don’t be fooled!  Ken Block and Tanner Foust are both professional drifters and rally drivers.  They both happen to be very good.  Ken Block’s Ford Fiesta looks like a stock Fiesta with aggressive tires, and a wild paint job, and a loud exhaust note.  It’s got a lowered, heavy-duty suspension, a 650-horsepower twin-turbocharged four-cylinder, and a six-speed manual.  It is FAST!  Ken also is a cool, nice guy who loves dogs.  Especially Alaskan Huskies.  His two Huskies’ names are Yuki and Bentley.

Autocrossing is often sanctioned by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), and it involves weaving a car in between traffic cones.  It’s fast, and it’s demanding on the suspension and tires.  Yet, people flock to it year after year.  It also is hard on the driver.  Some cars happen to be extremely good at autocrossing, and the Meyers Manx dune buggy in the late 1960s-1970s was very good.  It was light, fast, and it stuck to pavement like nothing else.  Nowadays, the Mazda Miata is the go-to choice for autocrossers.  I’ve attached the most recent Roadkill episode, where Freiburger and Finnegan attempt to beat a Kia Rio5 with all of their cars that still run.  I won’t spoil which cars win for you.  I’ll let you watch and laugh as they spin and throttle the Crusher Camaro, I’ll even let you watch and grimace as Finnegan blows up the parking assist pin in his wife’s 1969 Chevrolet El Camino, and watch as God-knows-what comes flying out of their 1968 Dodge Charger.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=II3z353OZWA

I think that I’ve covered just about everything here.  If you find anything else that you can think of, let me know in the comments section.  I will do another blog post on the different types of racing.  I would love to, as it would help me immensely.