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Getting Down and Dirty at the Jeep Jamboree Last week I was fortunate to attend

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2005 Ford Mustang GT-R Concept

Mustang GT-R Concept Harks Back to Ford’s Legendary Trans-Am Days Once again the world’s media decended upon Manhattan’s Jacob Javits

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2005 Ford Mustang GT-R Concept

Mustang GT-R Concept Harks Back to Ford’s Legendary Trans-Am Days

Once again the world’s media decended upon Manhattan’s Jacob Javits conference center for New York’s annual auto show, the last big North American event of the year, and Ford was first on stage with its go-green Escape Hybrid. While a very important vehicle, for blue oval sales as well as environmental kudos, it’s hardly anything to get the blood of true enthusiasts boiling.

That job fell on a specially modified version of Ford’s upcoming 2005 Mustang. They’re tuning a Mustang that hasn’t even hit the showroom yet? Sure. After all, the Mustang has always been about performance, at least those with V8 engines under the hood.

Of course if you trace the name back to its Falcon-based roots you’ll see that not all Mustangs were created equal. Some, like the legendary Boss 428 and more modern Cobra R were granted more muscle than others. Currently a Mustang buyer can option up to a GT, Mach 1 or Cobra if more performance is wanted, or even better buck up for a Saleen or Steeda tuned version, the companies that transform mere ponies into powerhouse stallions.

So, what’s next in line for the all-new 2005 Mustang? Would it surprise you to hear that a future Mustang designation could end up being GT-R? That’s the nameplate Ford chose for their latest concept, a rolling parts showcase from the Ford Racing catalog. If you think you’ve heard the GT-R name before that’s because it’s synonymous with the Nissan Skyline GT-R, legendary in the import performance scene?

2005 Infiniti M45 Concept

Refining the Modern Muscle Car

The Infiniti M45 is a modern muscle car dressed in Brioni suit. Its 340 horsepower V8 makes it wickedly quick but as for styling, it’s not necessarily a trendsetter.

The previous Infiniti M45’s understated styling disguised its muscle car alter ego, but not any more. The new concept, said to be very close to production trim, is gorgeous. But what would happen if the M45 doffed its conservative image and suddenly showed up at Manhattan’s Tribeca Grand tonight sporting a new two-piece shaped by John Varatos? It would get the attention it deserves.

The automotive equivalent took place earlier this month at NYC’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the home of the New York International Auto Show. The new car is anything but dowdy, a spectacle of modern design that makes most of its competition look in need of a makeover.

“The M45 Concept is an expression of power, refinement, technology and style – all the things that make Infiniti owners’ hearts pound,” said Mark Igo, vice president and general manager, Infiniti Division.

In similar fashion the new concept follows a pattern set out by the XVL concept that presaged the ultra-hot G35 sedan, giving little reason to believe the production M45 will vary a great deal from the general design of what we see in these pages. In actuality the M45 Concept started life as the Fuga, a concept that debuted in Tokyo late last year, and shows little change from its transition to its current prototype form.

Ford Expected to Improve Optional F-150 Engine

Dodge’s HEMI is Powerful in Throttle Response and Marketing Punch

With the advent of the new 2004 F-150, it has been widely accepted, by the press at least, that Ford makes the best light-duty full-size pickup truck. But according to a recent story in Detroit News, the blue oval brand doesn’t think it’s quite good enough.

What’s the problem? Its optional 300-hp 5.4-liter Triton V8 with 365 lb-ft of torque might be able to keep up with Chevy’s 300-hp 6.0-liter V8 with 360 lb-ft of torque, but it isn’t powerful enough to match Dodge’s brutish 345-hp 5.7-liter HEMI with 375 lb-ft of torque. Toyota’s Tundra V8 is smooth and refined but doesn’t come close to any full-size pickup rivals, but Nissan’s Titan offers a standard 5.4-liter V8 with a commendable 305-hp and best-in-class 379 lb-ft of torque. The world’s number two automaker has been toying with an alternative V8 that would dwarf its rivals if deployed, or so Ford states. Displacing 6.2 liters, the new powerplant has been dubbed Hurricane by the automaker’s insiders.

No matter how powerful Ford makes its Hurricane, however, it will have a hard time creating the all important talk on the street Dodge’s legendary HEMI has since its revival two years ago in the brand’s heavy-duty truck line. Since then the HEMI is offered in the ½ ton Ram 1500, as well as the all-new Durango SUV, in which it makes up 60 percent of sales. A version of the HEMI will find its way into the completely revised 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee this fall, while it may also be offered as optional equipment in the next-generation Dodge Dakota.

Gas Prices Reduce Sales of Full-Size SUVs

High Gas Prices are Boosting Sales of Smaller Sport Utilities

Environmentalists are cheering the world over with news that North America’s largest sport utility vehicles have been slumping in sales over recent months. Obviously the price at the pump is hitting home, with less potential customers willing to take the risk of being curbed with an empty gas tank and no budget to fill it.

Which SUVs were hit the hardest? Based on research data accumulated through Autodata Corp., Ford’s Expedition was hit the worst with a 34 percent decline in sales, while the same automaker’s Lincoln Navigator dropped 25 percent. Chevy’s behemoth Suburban found 21 fewer homes as well.

Does this mean SUV sales are also plunging downward? Not exactly. Overall, the sport utility market was up by 2.5 percent in April, compared to the same month in 2003, with smaller SUVs taking the majority of the lost sales. The biggest winner was Saturn’s VUE with a 59 percent increase, but in all fairness the compact ute never got off to a good start. Chevrolet’s Blazer is still being made by the way, with sales improving by 55 percent, while Ford Escape deliveries were upped by 49 percent.

Whether or not the high fuel costs will make an even greater mark on the automotive landscape than these most recent trends will remain to be seen, although it’s fairly safe to assume that if fuel prices stay as high as they are for any length of time, or even worse if they escalate yet further as recent reports have speculated, more compact vehicles will be sold.

On Assignment: 2003 Jeep Jamboree, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

Getting Down and Dirty at the Jeep Jamboree

Last week I was fortunate to attend a Jeep Jamboree at the Rocky Mountain House in Alberta, Canada. For those not familiar with this weekend excursion, Ill fill you in.

The press package I received describes the Jamboree to the tee. “Since the early 1950s, Jeep owners and their families have participated in weekend four-wheel drive adventures called Jeep Jamborees. Jeep Jamborees are family-oriented, two-day events designed to allow Jeep owners to hone their skills in off-road situations, while learning more respect for the environment.”

My experience at the Jeep Jamboree was fabulous. For me, it was a gathering of Jeep lovers uniting on and off-road. Any Jeep owner is welcome to attend. Heck, bring the wife, husband, kids, friends, or even the dog, so long as the vehicle it rides in is a Jeep.

My trip started off with a 15 hour drive from Vancouver, B.C. to Rocky Mountain House, Alberta; traveling with a Chrysler Group representative and his wife. Although long, it was scenic and beautiful. We even passed by the tallest mountain in B.C, Mount Robson. And what better way to travel than in a new Jeep Grand Cherokee. It is exceptionally comfortable to sit in for numerous hours, handles well and puts out a lot of power from its 4.7-liter V8, making passing a breeze.

We arrived at out final destination quite late so off to bed it was in preparation for a day of off-roading adventures.

DAY 1:

As we strolled into Base Camp early in the morning, all I could see was a plethora of 4X4s. Row upon row, modified, stock, dirty, clean, you name it there were Jeeps galore. We parked, signed in, and ate some breakfast.

I am not a Jeep owner, so one was provided for me. I was thrilled to learn that I would be behind the wheel of the 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon; a vehicle that I previously test drove. I was impressed with it then, and my appreciation only grew for the Rubicon in the two days I got to know it a little better in its natural environment, off-road.

After our meal, John Cranfield, manager of the Jeep Jamboree introduced himself and explained a little bit about the daily itinerary. In his introductory speech, he emphasized the importance of staying on the designated trails to sustain the natural surroundings, and that there was to be no consumption of alcohol in the slightest. It is a family event, and although we were going off-road, we were still behind the wheel. As important he spoke about having fun, something I was determined to do.

After the brief speech, the more experienced drivers headed to the trails whereas I stayed behind for Jeep 101. This was a short presentation given by John for the entry level/beginner off-road drivers, which gave a brief overview of what a Jeep is, how it works, and what its capabilities are. He included safety tips, and a few tricks that would help me and the rest of the group make the most of our vehicles throughout the weekend.

Hyundai Tiburon Goes Topless

Mazda Miata Will Finally Get Some Real Competition

The Hyundai Tiburon is about to see the most radical change in its entire three generation lifespan. Inarguably the rakish coupe is perhaps the most enticing Hyundai of all, yet its about to get sweeter with the addition of a power retractable hardtop.

A convertible model was expected after the Korean marques racy HDC concepts hit the show circuit, but when and from what donor platform wasnt known until now. The drop top will join a model update directed at the cars headlights, interior and engine – a direct-injection gasoline powerplant will be added to the range.

Heralded as the Korean Ferrari 456 GT, the rather pretty Hyundai will have its collapsible roof engineered in Germany, as opposed to somewhere in the Orient. Karmann, the creator of the Mercedes-Benz SLKs folding hardtop, has been selected to build Hyundais new unit.

The Tiburons system is composed of a center-hinged roof, plus a rather tricky arm for lifting the hard tonneau cover. To accommodate the roof the interior will be limited to two seats reducing its overall versatility, but on the plus side it receives a large trunk.

The windshields frame, bulkheads and sills have all been beefed up to provide rigidity and strength to reduce cowl shake and improve handling. The increased rigidity also adds protection in the event of a collision.

Expect the Tiburon convertible to be in showrooms around mid 2004, when it will do battle head to head with Mazdas venerable Miata (MX-5) and Toyotas mid-engine MR2.

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