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Amici americani della Mille Miglia
Martin Swig has his own column in the San Francisco


Automotive Museum in Oxnard
Before World War II, French automobiles were the world’s most desired.  Brands like Hispàno-Suiza, Delage, Delahaye, Voison, Talbot-Lago, and Bugatti carried extravagant custom bodywork on high-performance chassis.  These were the cars of the Art Deco era, so furniture and art of the period complement the cars.

And that is the theme of Peter Mullin’s newly-opened Automotive Museum in Oxnard.  Mullin, well-known in vintage car circles as a collector, racer and gentleman of exquisite taste, has been fascinated by this period of French history.  He has collected the cars, furniture and other artifacts, and now all is on display in a museum that clearly sets a new standard in design, content and presentation.  The museum can be visited by appointment, on Saturdays.  Consult

You might ask why Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW so dominate the market for quality cars if the French had such a headstart.  This market is good for three million cars per year worldwide, with the obvious financial and employment benefits.  But, in a triumph of leftist politics, after World War II the French managed to destroy their quality car industry by taxing it out of existence within ten years!  Their neighbors were ready to fill the void.  The only make to be resurrected has been Bugatti; that under the sympathetic ownership of Volkswagen/Audi.

Think Small
One of the all-time great print advertisements was the one produced for Volkswagen in the 1960s entitled “Think Small.”  It doesn’t sound so shocking now, but then, in a nation of “bigger is better,” it was revolutionary.  And effective.

Today with costly fuel and crowded communities, plus the advantages brought by technical advances, small cars are hot.  They can possess space, speed, style and substance in varying degrees of your choice.  Consider one of these possibilities.

Fresh air, two seats?  Porsche Boxster ($40M and up) or Mazda Miata ($25M), are both highly rated by consumer organizations and driving enthusiasts.  Sports cars have evolved so they are comfortable, weather-tight and full of all of the creature comforts.  The Mazda is in its 20th year, the Porsche in its 14th, testimony for the essential “rightness” of both designs.

Mini Cooper Mayfair interior

Top down, four seats?  Try the Mini-Cooper convertible, or the VW New Beetle.  Totally different stylistic approaches; equal usefulness for under $30M.

Commodious station wagon, short overall length?  Look at Scion, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube or Honda Element.  Much more stylish than a minivan, and unless you’re trying to rival Bekins, space is adequate.  Nice to drive too, with a high driving position.

Extraordinary economy?  You already know the Prius story.  Now Volkswagen is challenging with their new Diesels in sedan, hatchback and wagon models.  The Audi A3 hatchback is also now available as a Diesel.  Volkswagen/Audi is known for producing cars with the best interiors in the business, even in these relatively inexpensive cars.  And you won’t believe how quiet and powerful the Diesels are.

A luxury car?  The Mini-Cooper Mayfair – about $30M – offers sporty, Jaguar-style leather interior and bold exterior colors that will assure you’re not low-profile.

Or a luxo greenie – the Lexus 250h – a lavishly finished four door with all the Lexus attributes applied to a Prius-type car.

Finally, if you don’t care much about style or sport, there are five remarkably high quality, entry-price-level cars that have won high marks from reviewers – the Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, and the (later this year) Mazda 2.  All priced in the mid-teens.

How the Car Manufacturers Rank in Quality
Consumer Reports recently ranked the major car makers according to the quality of their products.  After reading it, General Motors may not want to continue its “May the Best Car Win” ads.  The list:

  1. Honda tied with Subura
  2. Toyota
  3. Hyundai
  4. Nissan tied with Volkswagen/Audi
  5. Mazda
  6. Mercedes-Benz
  7. BMW
  8. Volvo
  9. Ford
  10. Mitsubishi
  11. GM
  12. Chrysler

A Fabulous Hearse

The plane crash in Russia that killed Poland’s president had a curious automotive sidelight.  Leading the funeral procession were several hearses, the lead one of which broke new ground.  Based on a Maserati Quattroporte, lengthened, and revised at the rear to carry a casket, it is surely the handsomest vehicle of its type in the world today.


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