The most exciting news of my collegiate career

I came to MU with the goal of becoming an automotive journalist. While there isn’t an emphasis area geared toward cars, I thought that I’d have the opportunity to write automotive stories in many of my classes. While I’ve managed to squeak a car story by my editors every once in awhile, I’ve been a little disappointed that I haven’t been able to focus solely on my passion. That’s all about to change next semester. While the designated capstone course for the news reporting emphasis area is “Journalism and Democracy,” I didn’t really feel that it was the right fit for me. Usually, that class involves working in a group to cover a topic selected in class. The odds of that being anything automotive related was slim to none. Consequently, I started looking at other capstone courses to see what else was out there. Then I found out about the advanced writing capstone course offered in the Magazine sequence. The professor, Berkley Hudson, said I’d be able to spend the entire semester writing stories about cars. It was a dream come true and the dream I envisioned when I decided to come to the Missouri School of Journalism. This is the perfect opportunity to use all that I’ve learned in my intermediate writing, multimedia, photography and convergence classes and apply it to my true passion — writing about cars.

I’ve already started to brainstorm some of the projects that I would like to create next semester, so I’ll give you a small preview of what I’m thinking about. While it’s not uncommon for me to have my nose buried in various automotive rags such as Motor Trend or Car and Driver, I get a little depressed sometimes as a poor college student knowing that I won’t be able to afford any of the cars I’m reading about until many years into the future. Yes, that includes even a base model Ford Fiesta. I’m sure that I’m not the only person in the world to feel this way. There are many others in the world that burn with a need for speed and world-class handling, but their pocketbooks simply won’t allow it. I’m here to tell you that the preconceived notion that you need a lot of money to have a car that’s show and track-worthy is simply not true. That’s why I’d like to create “Stop Dreaming and Drive,” an online publication that highlights inexpensive, underappeciated performance that that can be modified to exceed the level of modern-day machines for less than $10,000.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been one to go with the crowd. When my friends were driving Mustangs, Camaros and Chevy Silverados during high school, I was cruising in a 1969 Buick Skylark Gran Sport that I built with my dad. We purchased it for $2,900 when I was 12-years-old and spent the next five years using my savings to restore the interior and replacing the tired 350-cubic-inch V8 with a rebuilt 455-big-block engine.

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Buick GS Interior

By the time it was ready for me to drive, I had less than $6,000 in a car that could outperform nearly everything in the parking lot at less than one-fourth the price. I loved having a one-of-a-kind performance vehicle that stood out from the rest, and my goal is to show others how easily it can be done without breaking the bank. After graduating high school and deciding to attend college nearly four hours away in Columbia, I knew that I’d have leave my ’69 behind, and I didn’t want all of my tuition savings to go in the gas tank and out the tail pipe. At 14 miles per gallon on the highway downhill with a tail wind, driving back and forth to Columbia in my ’69 would have been the equivalent of setting fire to a Texas-sized oil field.

Since retiring it from daily use, it now serves as my summer cruiser that sees occasional track time at Ozarks Raceway Park in Rogersville, Missouri. During my last visit, it outran a C5 Corvette Z06 in the the eighth-mile which proves the point I so desperately want to get across. You don’t have to have a lot of money or a name brand sports car to go fast and have fun. With basic mechanical skills, a good performance platform and a little help from “Stop Dreaming and Drive,” you can finally build the car of your dreams without exceeding your budget. If you’re dying to find out the car that replaced my ’69 for daily-driving use, check back in next Saturday to see my next project. Oh, and just a hint, it’s definitely not a Toyota Prius.

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Columbia’s first look at the 2015 Ford Mustang

Yes, it was approaching midnight and the temperatures were dropping fast, but that didn’t stop me from driving to Joe Machens Ford when I heard the news that the 2015 Mustang had been rolled off the delivery truck earlier in the evening. At last, my eyes could finally take in the sixth generation Mustang styling in person. And boy was it worth the wait! While various magazine photos from different automotive publications showcase the aggressive front and rear fascias, the styling must be seen in person to truly appreciate the Mustang’s menacing body lines and elongated, fastback roof. For a car that starts at $23,600, the new Mustang could easily be confused with a car that’s more than three times as expensive, which is a huge step in the right direction by Ford. It’s similar to the leap they made with the second generation 2013 Ford Fusion, which shared many of the same styling cues as an Aston Martin in a car with a base price of $21,970.

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The styling isn’t the only thing new for the 2015 Mustang. Although the car in the photograph features the all-to-familiar 5.0L V8 engine that now packs 435 ponies, Ford’s renowned EcoBoost engine is now offered as a premium option for Mustang owners who want a more-than-capable performance platform without sacrificing fuel mileage. With a best-in-class 32 mpg highway, the EcoBoost Mustang gets an estimated 7 mpg better than the GT and 4 mpg better than the V6 on highway trips. With 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft. of torque, it’s already makes more power than the V6 despite the displacement disadvantage. It’s the first turbocharged factory Mustang since 1986, and the aftermarket scene is already salivating at opportunity to unlock the tremendous power potential of the 2.3L engine.

With the average forced induction setup for the V6 or GT ranging anywhere from $5000-$8000, the EcoBoost with a starting price of $25,170 seems to be a tremendous bang-for-your-buck value. With a Ford Racing PCM tune, off-road exhaust, minor suspension modifications and drag slicks, this EcoBoost Mustang ran a 12.56 quarter mile, which is more than 0.3 tenths/second faster than Motor Trend’s first test of the V8-equipped GT. While GT owners may make fun of you for the EcoBoost’s artificial exhaust note, with just a few modifications, you’re sure to get the last laugh at the track with a fatter wallet to boot.

From whitewall tires to manual transmissions: Buick’s new marketing strategy

You’re cruising downtown Columbia in your 2004 Mustang GT with the windows down and the sunroof open. You’ve got black racing stripes from bumper to bumper, and you’re trying to make sure that everyone within three blocks is able hear your 12” Sony Xplods thumping to Drake’s latest album. Let’s face it; you think you’re the hottest thing on the street. As you approach the nearest stoplight, an aggressive looking sports sedan pulls alongside you. You didn’t recognize the car at first, but after further inspection you noticed the familiar Buick tri-shield on the car’s steering wheel. “Whew! For a second there it looked like an Audi or BMW,” you thought. “Good thing it’s just a Buick.” In an attempt to win a few points with your new girlfriend in the passenger’s seat, you give the Mustang a few revs to show the Buick in the next lane that you mean business. As the light turns green, you drop the clutch and mash your foot to the floor. The Stang’s 4.6L V8 roars to life and makes its presence well known thanks to your custom Flowmaster exhaust. You look in the rearview mirror expecting to find your fallen opponent wallowing in your smoke, but find yourself in total dismay as the Buick is right beside you and starting to pull away. You’ve got your foot pressing so hard on the pedal that it feels like it’s about to go through the floor, and all 260 horses are being pushed to their very limit. Sadly, it’s no use, and you keep falling farther and farther behind until the only thing you can see is the sleek rear spoiler and dual exhaust outlets of the sharply-designed Buick. As you pull up to the next light in complete embarrassment, your girl gets out of the car and leaves without speaking a word. Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, she marches directly over to the pearlescent white sport sedan and hops into the passenger seat. As you struggle to make reality of the humiliating situation that just occurred, you can’t help but wonder what kind of demon was sleeping under the hood of the car. One thing is for sure, it isn’t your Grandma’s Buick. It’s the 6-speed, turbocharged Buick Regal GS.

Now in its third year, the sporty Regal GS is such a bold statement by Buick that I often wonder if it was the right move for a company struggling to find its identity. Throughout history, Buick has always been famous for luxury and comfort, not turbocharged engines and manual transmissions. It’s no secret that Buick is one of the best selling cars among the elderly, with the average age of the Buick buyer well over sixty years old. The new Regal is an obvious attempt by Buick to reach out to the younger crowd and to show the world that they’re much more than an old ladies car. However, I can’t help but ask if the Regal GS will be enough to change Buick’s long-standing image.

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After examining a few advertisements from the past twenty-one years, it’s very clear that Buick has completely changed not only their cars, but also their marketing strategy. Buick is pushing the Regal GS with advertisements that highlight speed, performance and precise handling instead of the usual excellent fuel economy and plush, luxurious comfort. The new ads are obviously more geared toward the younger generation, but I found it interesting that even the photographs were as well. In this particular ad, the driver of the car appears to be a man between the ages of 25-35. He is parked comfortably beside the ocean, and his apparent spouse — who appears to be of similar age — is leaving the Regal to take a stroll along the shore. This photograph really caught my attention because it’s very unlike Buick to market its cars this way. Deliberately including younger couples in their ads is definitely a good marketing strategy if they are serious about reaching out to the younger crowd, which seems all but apparent with the sporty Regal GS.

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For comparison standards, I decided to examine older Buick advertisements and see how they were being presented. It didn’t take long to find the all-too-familiar “Grandma Special.” With whitewall tires, tacky chrome strips, and plush, pillowed-seats, what more could Grandma and Grandpa need for their daily visit to the retirement center? If the pictures weren’t already enough to turn you off, then the obnoxious title, “Great American Beauty” was sure to bring a laugh. The only thing “great” about this car was its obnoxious length and size. No one in their right mind under the age of 60 would give this car a second look. It’s also interesting to note the features of this Park Avenue Buick chose to describe in the ad. To quote Motor Trend: “Buick engineers have come up with one of the quietest, tightest, and smoothest operating luxury sedans we’ve ever driven.” They chose to market the Park Avenue’s smooth handling and comfortable, quiet interior — features that are more geared toward the older generations.

This Park Avenue ad clearly shows how Buick’s target audience has completely changed with the 2014 Regal GS. Whitewalls and plush bench seats no longer grace the cover of company brochures and advertisements. They have been replaced with low-profile 20” summer-performance tires mounted on polished-aluminum wheels and firm, supportive bucket seats designed to hug drivers while cornering on twisty roads.

Only time will tell if the Regal GS was a step in the right direction for the future of Buick. With an increasingly crowded sport sedan class that includes Lexus, Infiniti, BMW and Audi, will the turbocharged Regal be enough to pose a serious threat to the competition? Or will Buick struggle to overcome its “grandma” image and be forced to change their current marketing strategy of sport and performance back to comfort and luxury. One thing is for sure: It’s a big risk by Buick executives to go out of their comfort zone and make this bold of a statement. I’m sure I speak for other enthusiasts who yearn for another 1970 Buick GSX or 1987 Buick GNX — let’s hope the Regal GS is just an appetizer for what’s to come for the brand going forward.