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About the AuthorBrad Bowling has been writing about and photographing cars for magazines since 1985. He was a member of the board of directors of the Mustang Club of America and has been the editor of Mustang Times, associate editor of Mustang Illustrated, editor of Old Cars Weekly News & Marketplace, director of website development for Charlotte Motor Speedway, and editor of Cars & Parts. Bowling served on Saleen Autosport's public relations staff in the late 1980s. He is also the author of 14 auto-related books.
Legal NoticeAll photography and text on this website were created by - and are the property of - Brad Bowling (unless noted otherwise). If you see something you would like to reprint or use, please contact him to ask permission.
Category Archives: Brad’s Cars
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder, 164 horsepower, six-speed manual
Features: A/C, Bluetooth/MP3
Ownership history: bought new April 14, 2012
Features: A/C, Bluetooth/MP3
Ownership history: bought new April 14, 2012
Engine: 2.5-liter flat four with turbocharger, 227 horsepower, four-speed automatic
Features: sunroof, A/C, heated seats, 17-inch wheels, all-wheel drive
Ownership history: bought new September 2007, sold with 58,000 miles in October 2011
My wife’s dream car is Subaru’s turbocharged WRX. She and I both love the little rice rocket, especially when painted World Rally Blue, Subaru’s official team color. The insurance rates for the WRX prevent us from buying one, but Subaru put the same 227-horsepower turbo engine in other cars in its line, including the boxy Forester soft-road vehicle.
We traded my wife’s first Forester for this 2007 XT that was conveniently already painted World Rally Blue. My wife loved the 2007 Forester’s heated seats, giant sunroof and, of course, the turbocharged four-cylinder. It was difficult to say goodbye to this one.
Engine: 3.2-liter V-6, 24 valves, 215 horsepower, six-speed manual
Features: A/C, retractable spoiler
Ownership history: bought new May 2007, sold with 23,000 miles in October 2011
In 2003, my wife and I saw an article in Road & Track about an upcoming Chrysler/Mercedes offspring built on the German company’s SLK roadster platform. Named for a 2001 Chrysler concept car, the 2004 Crossfire was powered by Mercedes’ 3.2-liter, 215-horsepower SOHC V-6 and manufactured in the Karmann plant in Osnabruck, Germany. Zero-to-60 times for the base model were in the 6.5-second range. (For more basic information about the Crossfire, there is a brief but accurate account at Wikipedia you may read here.)
Unfortunately, we could not justify paying $32,000 for a two-seat sports car, no matter how gorgeous. During the next few years, we were excited to see the rare Crossfire on the road and wondered why no one seemed to be buying them. As we know now, Chrysler did such an inept job of marketing this wonderful car that the general public was never aware of it, and only 83,000 were sold before production ended on Dec. 17, 2007.
Chrysler gave dealers tremendous incentives to get them off the lots. On May 5, 2007, my wife and I heard that a nearby Chrysler dealer was selling a couple of dozen base model 2006 Crossfires for $18,800 each. These were new, untitled, un-driven cars with odometers registering in the single digits. We gave my 2005 Dodge Magnum R/T a quick bath, sped to the Chrysler dealer, and drove home in our black six-speed coupe.
I won’t bore you with details of how much I obsessed over the Crossfire’s cleanliness and maintenance; photos probably tell the story for me. It has enjoyed a pampered life in my two-car garage, keeping my wife’s Subaru Turbo company. Because I am a writer and photographer, whole weeks go by when I do not need to leave our property, so the Crossfire has averaged about 440 miles per month. Most of that mileage accrued during short, pleasant trips out of town – not in stop-and-go traffic. (When I do travel for work, I rent cars, so the Crossfire was purely a pleasure vehicle.)
I felt the base coupe’s all-black treatment went too far, so I installed a set of polished stainless steel “strake” covers (those three horizontal bars that shoot from the fake side vents). I don’t like lettering on my cars because individual characters make cleaning and waxing a nightmare, so I had a local detailer remove the CROSSFIRE label on the rear hatch. I spent a few hundred dollars on tasteful Crossfire-branded carpet from Lloyd Mats in Los Angeles. Otherwise, I did not change a thing. The tires are factory-installed Continentals. The stereo is correct. Nothing under the hood has been modified or customized. Unlike on other cars I’ve owned, I did not tint the Crossfire’s windows or modify its suspension and exhaust system. It’s all factory.
What’s it like to drive? Be aware that the Crossfire, in its 215-horse version, was not designed to be a top-fuel dragster for the street. It is a very peppy, short-wheelbase coupe with a low center of gravity that is tremendously fun to drive on curvy roads. The interior is as quiet as a library on the highway. The six-speed manual transmission is smooth and fun to shift. First gear is so low that most Crossfire drivers have taught themselves to start in Second if on a flat road. The low roofline and short greenhouse that look so stylish and retro from the outside make driver and passenger feel secluded from the world, like riding in a limousine. The windows also kill any desire to visit a bank or fast food drive-through. Almost no human has the proper combination of long arms and short torso required to reach anything next to the car without exiting first. In true German fashion, there are no cup holders in the Crossfire, and therefore no temptation to eat in the car.
That rear cargo area that looks small in photos is actually quite large. My wife and I easily transported everything we needed for three-day weekends on the road. I found the ideal luggage for the Crossfire is in the form of large, soft gym bags, and the hard case I use for my professional camera gear fit with plenty of room to spare.
Are there any negatives to confess? It is a car, after all, and no machine built by man (or Karmann’s robots) will be perfect. In the interest of full disclosure, here is everything I can think of that you should know about my Crossfire:
1. The V-6 did not idle as smoothly as I thought it should for the first 2,000 miles, so I had the Chrysler dealer run a diagnostic check on it. As I suspected, the car’s year-long sit in a storage lot before I purchased it gave the plugs some problems. Plugs were replaced for free, and I believe it received its first transfusion of Mobil 1 (the required synthetic oil) under warranty. It has idled perfectly since. By the way, my local garage charges $100 for the Crossfire’s oil change. You can do it yourself, but it’s not as easy as popping out that NAPA filter on your old Chevy pickup. There’s a special sensor that must be re-set, for one thing. Considering it only has to be changed every 10K miles, I suggest letting a pro do it.
2. At the same time the Chrysler dealer replaced the plugs, I reported that the factory radio (and single-disc CD player) would refuse to work occasionally – about once in every 20 starts. Turning off the car, removing the key, then re-starting the car made the radio work just fine. The dealer told me he could not reproduce the problem, so there was nothing he could do. Through online forums, I found that this was a known issue with the base model radio, and that it tended to go away on its own. It must have fixed itself, because I don’t recall it happening much past the 10K mark.
3. From the start, I was not in love with the factory Continental tires. They look great on those 18- and 19-inch rims but can be quite noisy before they warm to operating temperature. I’ve had this same problem with two other sets of Continental tires (on other cars). They don’t feel round for the first five or 10 miles, but they work great when warm, and they last a long time. You should be aware now that tires for a Crossfire, Mustang GT, Corvette, or other rear-drive sporty car will cost much more than those designed for a Taurus or Malibu. At Tire Rack, a set of replacement rubber for the Crossfire runs from $600 to $1,200. That doesn’t include shipping, mounting, balancing, and any other associated costs. Driving this car for its intended purpose means keeping a set of tires for 20K to 22K miles. Showing off for the ladies at the mall will mean big bucks. You’ve been warned!
There’s really nothing else to tell. The EPA rated my six-speed coupe at 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. Even at 10 mph over the speed limit, I usually get 25-27 miles per gallon on highway trips. (Some folks on the Edmunds.com town hall forum claim to get as much as 29 mpg.) The owner’s manual recommends premium fuel, and I’ve always filled the tank with the high-test stuff, but any freshman engineering student will tell you that modern computerized cars will run on the cheap gas without harming the engine. Lower octane will reduce the engine’s output, but probably not enough that the average driver will notice.
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 345 horsepower, five-speed automatic
Features: A/C, 18-inch wheels
Ownership history: bought new September 2004, sold 35,000 miles later in May 2007
There was just something very attractive to me about the Dodge Magnum when it was introduced as a 2005 model. Maybe it was the flying-fist silhouette. Perhaps the idea of a Nomad-like sports wagon reached me on a nostalgic level. Or it could just be that I liked the idea of a 345-horsepower Hemi V-8 and luxurious roomy interior.
Regardless of reason, I took my Dodge salesman to lunch when the Magnums first hit his lot and told him exactly what I was looking for and how much I was willing to pay. Two months later, he called and told me it was time to make our deal. I traded my 2001 Mustang GT and some cash (of course) for a Magnesium Pearl R/T with 3.0 miles on the odometer.
My wife did not like the Magnum at first. Its unconventional looks and long wheelbase did not win her over until she drove it on a four-hour trip to visit her parents in Virginia; after that, she loved it. At the end of the first month, I put more than 5,000 miles on Maggie when I took a Richard Petty Driving Experience class in Las Vegas. Having a car that could quietly cruise at 90 or 100 miles per hour on desert interstate made me feel like the pilot of a private jet.
My only problem with Maggie was her factory tires – a set of Continental donuts that never, ever seemed to become round. They went through phases over their 20,000-mile life when each tire took turns having vibration problems. At 20K, the Dodge dealer, weary of my constant complaints, installed a set of Goodyears free of charge. After that, Maggie was awesome again until we traded her at 35,000 miles for a new Chrysler Crossfire.
Engine: 2.5-liter flat four, 165 horsepower, four-speed automatic
Features: A/C, all-wheel drive, foglamps, 16-inch steel wheels
Ownership history: bought new October 2002, traded with 90,000 miles in August 2007
After my wife and I sold her Volkswagen Jetta and Ford Contour in the same week, we went shopping for a practical but fun car to replace them. We like the idea of getting our first all-wheel-drive vehicle for those few times a year we encountered snow on a trip or during our unpredictable Carolina winters. We did not want, however, a gigantic SUV that drained us of gas money.
Because my first car was a 1972 Subaru, I had always been curious about the newer models. When we drove the Forester, we knew all our criteria had been met. We both enjoy driving cars with manual transmissions, but the shifter in the Forester we tested was sloppy and imprecise, leading us to purchase our dark blue wagon with an automatic.
My wife loved the Subaru for 90,000 miles, during which time it suffered a deer hit but was repaired to immaculate condition. I had our local car stereo shop (Freeman’s Stereo Video) install a satellite radio receiver. A year before we traded it for her 2007 Forester, I swapped the 16-inch factory rims (seen in the photos here) for a set of 17-inch alloy wheels that really improved its appearance.
I took these photos during a weekend we spent at Chateau Elan in Georgia.
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 260 horsepower, five-speed manual
Features: A/C, foglamps, 17-inch “Bullitt” wheels, Zinc Yellow paint
Ownership history: bought new July 2001, traded with 40,000 miles in September 2004
After writing two books about Mustangs in one year and visiting several car shows devoted to the marque, I guess it was inevitable that I would start craving one again. I went to Mooresville Ford, where I had a good connection for an honest deal, left my 2000 Dodge Dakota V-6 pickup and drove home in a Zinc Yellow 2001 GT coupe.
For 2001, there were almost no options to choose for a Mustang — every decision you could make came down to two choices. There were two bodystyles (coupe and convertible), two models (base and GT/V-6 and V-8), two transmissions (automatic and five-speed) and two trim levels (standard and premium). I passed on getting another convertible, since I still didn’t have a nice garage to keep the car in year-round, but got everything else I wanted. My GT had the 260-horsepower 4.6-liter SOHC V-8 with five-speed transmission and premium package (which is how I got the cool ’60s-retro wheels, Mach 460 stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer and leather seats).
On my first day of new Mustang ownership, I got out the 3M Adhesive Remover and removed the trunk-mounted dealership advertisement and popped my SPEDWAY license plate into place. I also ran the car through my local Pro Tint shop to get some legal darkening done. The wimpy, rubbery stick shift knob had to go; in its place I put a yellow ball knob that nearly matched the garish yellow exterior.
I always install K&N filters in every vehicle I own because of their superior breathing characteristics. In the ’01, I considered one of the arm/cone FIPK packages, but passed on this option because my engine-building friend told me it actually hurts the horsepower on the 4.6 cammers. Instead, I went with the tried-and-true stock replacement unit and removed the restrictive fender baffle.
Since the backseat was quite small, it wasn’t much good for carrying people, so I removed the leather-covered unit and replaced it with a Rear Seat Delete Kit. This comprised two flat panels covered in trunk mat material and bolted into place to create a cargo area. This switch gave me a relatively huge amount of storage space behind the front seats. I’m no engineer, but I believe I gained some cubic feet of cargo space by changing to the flat panels. Additionally, while doing this project, I discovered that beneath the rear seat lay two very large areas (one on each side of the driveshaft tunnel) that could be used for additional storage. All of my travel tools and emergency gear could easily fit in there and never be seen until needed.
At 30,000 miles, even with my fairly sedate driving, the tires were due for replacement. I retained the stock 17-inch American Racing rims on my Mustang but mounted a set of Kumho Ecsta MX tires in the factory 245/45-17 size. (I’ve bought several sets of Kumhos for my cars, and I’ve been impressed by their low price and good quality.) At the same time, I installed a set of Eibach Sport springs and KYB adjustable shock absorbers (four-way in front, eight-way in the rear).
Around 36,000 miles – right as the factory warranty expired – the Mustang and I spent the weekend at the Carolina Regional Mustang Club’s Performance Driving School in Kershaw, South Carolina. (Soon, you will be able to read about this event when I post chapters from my driving school book.)
I got 40,000 miles of awesome fun from the GT before a Magnesium Pearl 2005 Dodge Magnum R/T caught my eye.