Friday, June 19, 2020

MINNOW WITH MOXIE by John Crawford

That’s Mazda. While most of the automotive world is rushing to embrace electric cars and alternative powerplants, Mazda continues to pursue perfection of the internal combustion engine. 

Debuting the SkyActive-X petrol engine, Mazda appears determined to persevere with a technology most of the world’s largest carmakers seem prepared to abandon.

By global standards of measurement, Mazda is a ‘minnow’ – trailing behind Toyota, Nissan and Honda, but it remains a company driven by principles of engineering perfection. In spite of the push toward batteries, plug-ins and fuel cells, Mazda is sticking with technology it knows well, and has declared it will continue to develop.


In my mind, there is no car available today which reflects Mazda’s determination to be different, and ready to dominate the world of the auto enthusiast, which most other car makers are deserting, than the Mazda MX-5 (or if you’re reading this in the USA, the Miata).

No other carmaker is promoting sports cars, leaving the field open for Mazda to dominate the segment. And, in blunt terms let’s call the MX-5 the world’s only genuine sports car - reminiscent of the MG TC, MG-B or the Austin Healey Sprite.


The MX-5 strives for absolute lightness, a great power-to-weight ratio, no overweight extras, and fantastic performance for the money. It also handles brilliantly and delivers driving enjoyment in spades.

Having just driven the 2020 MX-5, I can sense that whilst the specifications differ little from last year’s car, the turn-in is sharper, there’s a crispness to the 2.0L engine and the six-speed manual is the definitive knife-through-butter experience.

The MX-5 is truly ‘superleggera’ (super-light) and doesn’t have anything it doesn’t need, to keep weight down - well maybe except for air conditioning, but then it would be impossible to sell this car to the pampered population of the US West Coast without aircon.


However, before we get carried away with a basic two-seater, let’s look at the rest of the range. This relatively small company has captured big chunks of the Crossover and SUV market with a range of brilliant models like the CX-3, CX-30 and the CX-5.


In addition, despite other carmakers turning away from passenger cars, there’s the Mazda 2, Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 – all extremely competent, high quality, and enjoyable to drive.

I have a number of friends who have deserted high-priced Europeans, for the quality and value of the lower-priced CX-3 and CX-5.

By the same token, Mazdas are not ‘cheap’ cars. Striving to build a reputation for quality, Mazda has pushed retail prices above most of its competition, but its aspiration for premium status is supported by extraordinary reliability, strong dealer support and excellent driving dynamics.

But, all is not rosy for Mazda. The company has its share of problems too. Despite the comparatively small size of the Australian market, it is nonetheless Mazda’s strongest. Mazda has suffered a big fall in sales globally, thanks to COVID19, but even before that it was carrying USD$4.32bn in interest-bearing debt, and has been forced to apply to Japan’s big banks for a fund raising totalling USD$2.93bn.


This deteriorating sales position has forced the closure of Mazda’s Japanese factories, in order to sell-out built stock.


Global sales have been steadily tracking down, and in the USA sales have fallen almost 42%, with its passenger cars down by double digits. However, one bright spot are strong MX-5 sales.

Mazda’s Japanese management says it’s concerned, but emphasises it is in a strong position to recover. Let’s hope so.

I think Mazda is a company to be admired for its focus and determination on continually improving its ICE powertrains, including the SkyActiv-X engine, and improving quality and refinement.

In the automotive world I think Mazda is a standout.

John Crawford

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

10,000 HOURS & A MILLION BUCKS GETS YOU THIS! by John Crawford

I’m not big into hot rods and the American muscle car scene, but I know quality when I see it – and this remake of a 1937 Ford coupe is the bee’s knees. The craftsmanship is awesome!


Also, this is not from some hyper-expensive custom shop on the West Coast. Most of the work you see here occurred in the mid-West, which just shows you what a surprising place the USA is. You get pockets of talent and outstanding skill sets all over the place.

The car is now owned by Ryan Thomas from Delano, Minnesota. The custom job began with the first owner, Boyd Coddington, at Tucci Hot Roads in Marcy, New York.

Coddington had given Dave Tucci free reign to create something ‘special’. Sadly, he passed away before the job was completed, when Ryan Thomas bought the car. Tucci had done a lot of the early fabrication, but Thomas took it back home to Mike Jensen of Mike’s Auto Restoration and Customizing.


Tucci began with an impressive list of tasks –  He started by wedge channelling the body to get an aggressive hot rod rake. The headlights have been eliminated from the moulded fenders, replaced by Kawasaki Ninja ZX-9R headlights integrated into the custom Alumicraft aluminium grille.


The handmade hood top extends downward to the grille. The top was chopped and completely re-proportioned, with the B-pillars removed, a cut-down Saab 900 windshield flush fit in place, and the rear laid forward. The doors were reshaped, and the rear fenders were extended around the rear of the body to where the dual exhaust ports exit.

The most ingenious technical detail on the car must be the invisible door hinges.

Ryan refers to them as pocket hinges. The design allows the front edge of the flush doors to pivot into the body as they open. It's remarkable engineering that has to be seen to fully appreciate.


The wildly redesigned body was mounted on a Fatman Fabrications chassis. In order to achieve that pavement-scraping stance, the frame rails were Z'd in the front (?), and kicked up in the rear. A Mustang II style independent front suspension with 2-inch dropped spindles, and a four-link rear were custom built by Tucci. RideTech ShockWaves are controlled by an AccuAir e-Level air management system.


As you can see this is no ordinary custom job. This is automotive art, both the visual perspective and the engineering.


The coupe's fenders are filled in high-tech fashion with big billet wheels from Colorado Customs, machined to follow a design provided by Dave Tucci and Ryan. Pirelli 215- and 295-series P Zero Nero tires were mounted on 17x8 and 20x10 wheels. The six-piston Wilwood brakes feature 10- and 12-inch front and rear rotors.


Prestige Motorsports in Concord, North Carolina, built the Ford 351W engine with Air Flow Research cylinder heads and high-performance aftermarket internals. The custom engine cover fits with the 1937 Ford's classic flowing lines.

The stacks of the Borla injection system and the custom finned valve covers add a traditional rod flavour. The 550-horsepower Ford engine is adapted to a GM 700R4 4-speed transmission


The interior is another example of imaginative high-tech style. Hix Design in Norman, Oklahoma, hand built the contemporary bucket seats and upholstered them - along with door panels and trunk. The floor is covered with leather and aluminium panels instead of carpet.

The custom dash includes milled bullet-shaped gauge pods and the hanging shifter ball was a Dave Tucci addition that adds a 1950s vision-of-the-future appearance.

This car has won a swag of awards, and is a tribute to the Hot Rodders’ imagination and craftsmanship.

As I said, it may not be your thing, but it's beautiful work, by thorough professionals - who can take a bow.

John Crawford

Monday, June 15, 2020


The inspiration which has energised and motivated me throughout my life are two things really – music and cars. A big part of my background which informs these personality traits are that I spent many years as a freelance auto journalist, plus five years as the Editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine; and around ten years as a Top 40 disc jockey in Sydney during the rockin’ sixties.


Those two elements could not come into sharper relief than in 1976 when I was invited by Alfa Romeo Australia to undertake my very first international trip, to Italy, to see the country, soak up the culture, enjoy the food and wine – and, oh yes, visit Alfa Romeo factories and drive Alfa Romeos. Rough lot, isn't it?


As I settled into my seat on the Alitalia DC-10 at Sydney airport on Saturday, March 21, 1976, I plugged the headphones into the aircraft’s entertainment system, and the very next track to play was “One of These Nights” by The Eagles.


Consequently, that song became an ‘anchor’ for my life amongst cars, and every time I hear it, I am instantly transported to the Alitalia DC-10, and subsequently walking across the tarmac at Milano Linate, to begin the trip that forevermore gave me a great love of Italy, and all things Italian. Especially Alfa Romeo!

John Crawford

Sunday, June 14, 2020


With over 8 million vehicles being recalled for various problems just over the last year, and even more, massive lawsuits awaiting it, the Fiat Chrysler brand has taken quite a hit concerning its reputation and reliability. With all its decades of experience, one would think the company’s problems could be resolved quickly, but so far that’s not the case.

With its upcoming $50 billion merger with Groupe PSA, the combined company will become the fourth-largest automaker in the world. Will that fix Fiat’s quality problems? Owners of Fiat Chrysler vehicles, for better or worse, seem to share the same common problems. Why that is, only FCA knows for sure, but the general consensus is that it sucks.

From fit and finish issues to electrical problems and worse, these common problems persist across the board for nearly all Fiat Chrysler vehicles. It’s a shame that the consumer will pay the ultimate price for all of these problems.

Fiat Chrysler and corrosion seem to go hand in hand. It seems no part of its vehicles are safe from being recalled. As recently as 2018 saw nearly 240,000 models of the Jeep Liberty recalled because of corrosion problems with their lower control arms (below). Another recall in 2018 focused on some Jeep Wranglers that were experiencing premature corrosion.

Fiat Chrysler probably curses the day it ever installed the ZF 9HP nine-speed transmission in any of its vehicles. First installed in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, the transmission quickly gained a reputation for being what it was - crap. The ZF transmissions in question were apparently built in ZF’s Chinese facility.

In just one year Chrysler had to issue three technical service bulletins and at least two software updates for the transmission, says a Car and Driver report. By 2015 Fiat Chrysler was subjected to a class-action lawsuit in the USA from several people suffering the problem.

Finally, in 2016, Chrysler recalled over 400,000 vehicles unfortunate enough to have the ZF 9HP transmission, citing loss of propulsion.

From 2018-2019, Fiat Chrysler has recalled more than 8.3 million vehicles due to a rash of persistent problems. Naturally, this reflects in consumer ranking lists from JD Power and Consumer Reports, in which Fiat Chrysler normally finds its vehicles nestled comfortably at the bottom of the results year after miserable year.

The Society of Automotive Engineers editorial director Bill Visnic sums Fiat Chrysler's perception perfectly when he mentions in a Detroit Free Press article, “I don’t think the quality has ever been… one of the things people would look at as one of Chrysler’s talking points.” 

One complete batch of Chrysler 200s (1500 cars) was recalled to re-insert a switch panel correctly

Every vehicle manufacturer loves to break records. Even Fiat Chrysler manages to break them every once in a while. Unfortunately, not for the right reasons. In 2015 Fiat Chrysler broke a record by being fined a record $105 million for safety issues and violations.

According to the New York Times, the car company was fined that much because it failed to complete 23 safety recalls involving more than 11 million of its vehicles. Fiat Chrysler was also forced under court order to buy back something like 500,000 of its own vehicles, which were experiencing problems with defective suspensions.

In 2018, the Euro NCAP, the equivalent of the NHTSA, thunderously slammed the Jeep Wrangler with a 1-Star rating, for lacking many active and passive safety systems that many other vehicles have.

FCA has been leading all US car makers with record numbers of recalls - it is the undoubted champion of recall mailouts.

In October of 2019, Fiat Chrysler began another recall, this time concerning nearly 108,000 Ram 1500 trucks. The issue is about the exhaust gas recirculation cooler cracking and allowing heated coolant to enter the inlet manifold. This could potentially start a fire in the intake manifold. Vehicles affected were from 2014-2019 Ram models.

In 2017 another 1.3 million vehicles were recalled for faulty alternators that posed a fire hazard. Also in 2019, Fiat Chrysler had to recall over 100,000 Ram Pro-Master van, saying that the engine cooling fans may seize up, leading to a risk of fire. Repairs will begin in 2020 once Fiat Chrysler finalizes a solution.

Nearly 900,000 Dodge Ram Trucks worldwide were recalled in February 2019, due to oversteering and braking problems. In May 2019 almost 200,000 Fiat Chrysler minivans were recalled over loose wiring, which may have resulted in the vehicle losing power steering capabilities.

Safety regulators also started an investigation of steering problems involving at least 270,000 Jeep Wranglers in September 2019. The NHTSA said that more than 3,500 Jeep owners have complained about the vehicle having shimmy and looseness issues, as well as steering wheel lockup.

In January of 2019, the company issued a recall involving 2019 pickup trucks that didn’t have properly installed battery fasteners, allowing batteries to come loose, causing loss of power steering.

Electrical faults affecting nearly 700,000 SUVs sparked yet another recall in late 2019. In 2016 Fiat Chrysler recalled 410,000 vehicles about a wiring problem, which produced faults making those affected vehicles lose power and go into “limp mode” according to a report from Fortune.

In 2016, Consumer Reports said Fiat Chrysler landed dead last in its rankings, with most of their models not even being ‘recommended’. That has to be a pretty devastating verdict for even one vehicle, much less an entire line-up.


It appears this isn’t an issue so far, but only time will tell after finalisation of the 'merger' of Groupe PSA and Fiat Chrysler.


In 2019 Peugeot was ranked number 1 most reliable car brand in the UK. It was reported that the company only had 77 problems out of 100 cars.


Groupe PSA Chairman, Carlos Tavares, sounds upbeat about the merger, but with all these issues on the public record, why no last minute panic?

 Carlos Tavares (Groupe PSA) & Mike Manley (FCA)

It could be that Groupe PSA doesn’t care about issues with current FCA products, because under this ‘merger of equals’ most of the FCA models will eventually disappear and be replaced by PSA-designed vehicles.


I believe the ONLY thing Tavares and Groupe PSA wants from FCA are its existing U.S. dealer premises, so that it can re-enter the American market with very low setup costs.


As for the rusted-on Jeep and RAM owners (the only commercially successful divisions of FCA), I believe they face the loss of these iconic vehicles down the track, because Groupe PSA may deem that their inherent problems are not worth spending the money to fix.


No wonder the current head of FCA, Mike Manley, will be leaving the ‘merged’ group after the paperwork is completed, for other pastures at Jaguar Land Rover.


(The bulk of this article was sourced from US website, prepared by Archie Smith on January 27, 2020)



Friday, June 12, 2020

MADE IN ITALY by John Crawford

I have just discovered a wonderful TV series on SBS On Demand (Australia only) called 'Made In Italy'. It's set in 1974, in a turbulent period in Milan, the home of Italian fashion, and it's based on the exploits of a young woman trying to break into not just the fashion world, but a paying job.

For an Italophile like me, it's just the perfect entertainment, because the production emulates the slightly 'faded' colouration of films of the period, along with a hectic script based on the workings of 'Appeal', a fictitous fashion magazine. The atmosphere inside the magazine's offices can only be described as chaotic and manic, on an Italian scale. But, the chaos is appropriate to the era and the lifestyle of the characters.

I was in Italy, for my first visit, in 1976 (below), just before a key national election, where the Communist Party was polling strongly. This highlighted the dilemma of most Italians at the time.

They wanted change. The policies and platform of the Communist Party appealed to Italians' demand for more equality, but the trouble was most Italians did not want the Communists to form a government, because Italy is capitalist to the core, actively promoting the 'idea' that every Italian male could be a self-made man - in contemporary terms - every man imagined himself as Silvio Berlusconi with wall-to-wall wealth, glamourous women and parties.

Italy is a wonderful country, with warm-hearted and happy people, great food/wine/music/language/culture and history. It's also a fashion pacesetter, and the birthplace of some of the fastest, most beautiful cars in the history of the automotive industry. What's not to like?

My wife and I have visited many times, and are totally besotted by anything Italian, so 'Made In Italy' is a wonderful escape to Italy.

During my time as a car magazine editor, I spent some time at a women's magazine, trying to put together a 'cars as fashion' feature, and the atmosphere was just as chaotic as depicted in 'Made In Italy'.

Of course there IS a car as part of the cast - a humble FIAT 850 sedan.

John (Giovanni) Crawford

Thursday, June 11, 2020

LACK OF DIRECTION? by John Crawford

A keen follower of DRIVING & LIFE asked why my 'Great Drives' series doesn't include maps? Very simple really.

I like the locales to be a 'discovery', and a number of readers have said how much they enjoy copying the route notes, then referring to maps, either in an atlas, or online, and mapping out the drive.

Some have mentioned that a particular route passed by a relative's house, or a major tourist attraction they had always wanted to visit, allowing them to make a pit stop to catch up on old times, or take a selfie.

There's many more 'Great Drives' to come, so I hope you enjoy them.

John Crawford

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


Saturday morning, out in the sunshine and look at this. A beautifully-maintained and thoroughly original LHD Ford Thunderbird (well, maybe except for the wheels).

A few words with the proud owner and he revealed he's been working on it for four years, and on the weekends it's his machine of choice. His escape from reality, to fun and enjoyment.

Climbing aboard, he swept out of the parking lot with such a look of pure pleasure and pride on his face, frankly, it made me feel good too.

Sadly, this is not a feeling I think many milleniels would enjoy. It's their loss.

John Crawford

Thursday, June 4, 2020


Gordon Sutherland
Gordon Sutherland’s family owned Aston Martin between 1933 and 1947.

When British automotive writer Andrew English met him, aged 88, in 1996 he joked that “while saving Aston Martin was a reoccurring chore for all its owners, making money was optional”.

The latest CEO to pack his office belongings into a cardboard box and leave by the back door is Dr. Andy Palmer. It was huge contrast to the day Aston Martin's IPO mesmerized the London Stock Exchange, when Andy Palmer and the key shareholders were cock-a-hoop.

As I said previously, shares launched at  AUD$35 each - today they're worth AUD65 cents. A drop of 98% - so some things had to go, and it was Palmer, his expense account, and his Aston Martin company car.

However, for Palmer, at least there was a silver lining as he left the building.

A good friend in the UK who keep close tabs on the car industry reports that Palmer will leave his job with a payout of 15 million pounds!

Not bad, for a failing business with debts up the wazoo, and revenue diving.

There were very few expressions of sketpiscm when Palmer was out on the interview circuit, talking up the company which produced beautiful sports and hypercars, promising a rosy future!

Most would agree, it's galling when someone now looking more like a snake oil salesman profits at the expense of others.

Compare that payout with the outcome for shareholders, and employees.

My friend also pointed out the ridiculous valuation of Aston Martin at the time of the IPO, saying: "How can you value a business that has made an annual profit only twice in 100 years, at a greater market cap than Ferrari?"

Great name, great history, great cars.

What about the road ahead?

John Crawford

Wednesday, June 3, 2020


Nothing like losing money to encourage a shake-up on the top tier of management. Aston Martin shares cost AUD$35 at the IPO, but since then have lost 98% of their value and trade for AUD$0.65!

Tobias (top), Andy (below)
There's a new Chairman, Lawrence Stroll, who allowed incumbent CEO Andy Palmer occupy his own office for a few months, but now, he's headed for 'gardening leave' or, most likely a new job! He's replaced by head of AMG, Tobias Moer.

Now, Mercedes-Benz holds a 5% stake in Aston Martin and supplies the AMG V8 for the Vantage and DB11, but Stroll was at pains to point out this had nothing to do with Tobias coming in as CEO. Yeah, right!

I'm told Mercedes-Benz may be considering taking a bigger share in Aston Martin, and if that's the case it has told Stroll, that Palmer had to go.

One asks, was Stroll influenced by the fact that AMG also provides race engines to the Racing Point (sorry, Aston Martin) F1 team?

Then there's big changes in Australia and New Zealand too with incumbent Kevin Wall moving out to open a consultancy, and former Bentley and RMA Group honcho, Neil Hughes moving in to run the antipodean operations.

Kevin Wall (left) and Neil Hughes
Kevin Wall did a great job boosting Aston Martin's profile and sales during his stint, but clearly Stroll wants a more aggressive 'suit' running the Down Under Division.

See what happens when you go public, and the shareholders get shitty when the share price tanks, because the luxo sports cars aren't selling in the current market environment.

Mind you, everything to do with today's car market is totally out-of-control, so the executive suite shuffle could be just re-arranging the deck chairs.

My view is that Aston Martin as a standalone brand is done for, so all we need to do is watch this space to see who snaps it up, at a bargain basement price.

John Crawford


Renault's team of Aussie employees should not get too comfortable behind their desks. I have been told by a very reliable source, that Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard has told all regional team leaders in Paris that ALL global regional operations will be under the microscope over the next six months.

Depending on their sales, profitability and ROI the underperforming regional units will be shut at the end of the review period, with immediate effect, and yes, that could include Renault Australia!

Over the decades all the French brands have struggled to keep their heads above water, because French cars are niche performers, and with Australia's relatively small population, there simply aren't enough potential buyers for Renaults, Peugeots and Citroens, and their continued existence in this region has been all because of historical precedence.

Rather than being aggressive predators on competing brands, the French cars seem to simply feed off each other, and the longtime buyers of French cars are a dwindling population, as (especially) the Korean brands make major inroads at the price-sensitive end of the market, with Mazda and Toyota dominating the next price segment up the ladder.

As I reported a few days ago, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is in BIG trouble, and COVID19 has hit the Alliance very hard - especially in France.

Renault Australia has made a big committment to participate in the TCR race series, but at the end of the contract, these Meganes will be history

Nissan's contribution to downsizing will include cutting its number of global models from 69 to less than 50. Renault will axe 14,600 jobs, and 1000 of those will be from global regional markets - and that once again puts Renault Australia on shaky ground.

Losing Renault from the Down Under market would be a shame - they are great cars

What this country needs is another 1000 Francophiles to buy Renaults in the next six months.

Guess what, it ain't gonna happen.

So, Renault staff, make sure you have a cardboard box handy, ready to pack up your desk!

John Crawford

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


Just as wealthy New Yorkers made Newport, Rhode Island and the Hamptons on Long Island their preferred summer estates, a different set of characters chose the wooded areas in, and fringing, the Adirondack and Appalachian mountains.

Whilst the seaside villas looked a bit like overgrown bordellos with flashy chandeliers, garish furnishings, expansive grounds and fenced compounds, those who chose to ‘go bush’ similarly fenced off their compounds beside the hundreds of lakes which dot this area of upstate New York.

The country estates were no less impressive, and appealed to many who liked the bracing northern air, lakes stocked with fish and of course, there’s the ‘hunting’ – which thankfully had died out by the early 1940s.
For this escape from clogged cities, we’ll fly into the Adirondack Regional Airport (SLK), which is able to accommodate anything up to a Boeing 757. That’s because a lot of the wealthy landowners own ‘large’ private jets.
The main runway is about 6600ft, and has both ILS and approach lighting.
The airport is served by a small company called Cape Air which operates three services daily to and from Boston Logan airport. That is, COVID19 notwithstanding!
We are heading for the region’s only 5-Star resort as a starting point, called The Point. Yes, it will probably cost an arm and a leg, but it’s a beautiful establishment that sits lightly on the environment.

It was originally built by William Avery Rockefeller in 1915, in the crush of the Great Camp era.
It’s not only one of the largest compounds on Upper Lake Saranac, but all the original buildings have been preserved and restored sympathetically.
The 46 mountains in the Adirondacks sit at about 4000 feet which means there’s plenty of snow to bring both downhill and cross country skiers to the area in winter.
However, if you’re not flying into the airport, driving to Saranac Lake in a rental car from the New York state capital, Albany, would take about 3 hours, using Interstate 87 and Route 73.
The routes offering enjoyable touring in this area are numerous, traversing the low mountain ranges, and valleys with flowing rivers and lakes.

From The Point I suggest Route 30 (south), towards Wawbeek, then take a left, onto Route 3 (the Tupper Lake Highway), and head north to the village of Saranac Lake. There’s restaurants, gas stations and gift shops, so it’s an acceptable pit stop.
Depending on how much driving you want to do, you could take Route 86 (NW) towards Harrietstown, and take Route 186 (south), which leads you back past the airport to The Point.
Or, if time is not a consideration, you can continue north to Bloomingdale, then take a very secluded side road, Route 55, which links back to 186, and heading south once again brings you back to the airport.
Further south of the airport, you can check out Siamese Ponds Wilderness, or the Silver Lake Wildness. The actual wooded areas are State Parks, and off limits, but the routes which criss-cross the area have a lot to offer.
The rustic atmosphere, the roadside scenery with waterfalls and creeks are a delight to the eye, and I challenge anyone not to 'chill' just being in this beautiful environment.
After this drive, you have several options, because you are very close to both Montreal and Ottawa, and if you’re in a rental car, you can make it a one way rental to either of these beautiful, and historic Canadian cities – for a complete change of scene.
John Crawford