[V8] Roger's Ten Best Car List

Roger Woodbury rmwoodbury at roadrunner.com
Mon Nov 23 05:21:56 PST 2009

I am really having a lot more difficulty selecting the ten best cars for my
list.  I can see arguments for many that won't make the cut.  

How about the Rambler of the late fifties and sixties?  Contrary to the
trend toward bigger, heavier, less fuel efficient, and more and more
powerful cars, the Rambler was small, relatively light and efficient.  It
also was the first mass produced American car with reclining seats.  Is that

I have decided that it wasn't significant enough and set no lasting trends
in automotive design or marketing to be more than just another page in the
dictionary of cars.  Credits to George Romney for trying, but he couldn't
get elected outsider of his own state either.

And how about the big Cadillac twelves of the thirties?  Or Packards, or
even, say, the long gone Tucker?  How about the Chrysler Airflow?  Well, for
this list, all of these were interesting cars from an historical point of
view.  But none of them are the "best" at much of anything other than being
whatever they were at the time they were marketed.  Once the thirties ended
a twelve cylinder engine wasn't of much use for anything aside from a ship
or an airplane as we were fighting a war.  For many, many cars, there was
little or no fuel, so no matter how "good" they were in their time, they
didn't do much except sit in the garage.  The Chrysler Airflow might have
shown an aerodynamic flair at that time, but nobody was really paying much
attention and the concepts were't adopted for decades.  

So I arbitrarily made the cutoff my birthdate which is toward the end of
WWII, and really do think that most of the important and best cars were made
between the mid 1950's and the early 1990's. It took ten years to get over
WWII in automobile design. Up until roughly 1957, cars still retained much
of the appearance of cars designed and produced prior to 1941.  Curved
windshields didn't appear in cars until 1953, and up until 1957 most cars
still kept the rounded, three box shapes of the 1930's.  After 1957, cars
grew longer, grew great wings (Remember Chryslers, "The Forward Look"?),
bigger taillights, four headlights of various arrangements and much more
modern interiors using much more colors and "conveniences".  It all really
started in 1955, ten years after Japan surrendered.

Now, here are two more of the list of the ten best.  I decided last night to
include the first, but the second was automatic for me.

#5  ++   Volkswagen Rabbit --  I wrestled with this one.  The Beetle to me
seemed obvious, but the Rabbit was different because there were so many
other small cars when the Rabbit was introduced, why chose it?  I confess
that one reason is that I simply LIKE German engineering, and another is
that I have owned a bunch of Rabbits over the years.  I have had gas engine
Rabbits, and diesels, and I have had several Rabbit spinoffs.  I had the
first Scirocco to be sold in eastern Massachusetts, and I have had a Big
Volkswagen Station Wagon that was so memorable that I can't even remember
what it was called...oh, yeah:  Quantum. But it had a Rabbit four cylinder
engine and a five speed transmission the last two speeds of which would have
been overdrive in any other car....on the road the thing easily got 35 miles
per gallon, but in city driving when the air conditioning compressor came
on, the thing almost stopped..

When VW announced that it was no longer going to produce Beetles for the US
market, I figured that it was the end of something.  It wasn't.  The Rabbit
was simple, rugged, would go just about anywhere, and with just a tad bit of
maintenance the things would run forever...just like the Beetle.  But one
thing that the Rabbit didn't do that the Beetle did all too well, was RUST:
the early ones needed rustproofing of some sort, but the later ones were
better and the last one that I had was an '82 that had never lived outside
of Maine and was rust free...180,000 miles when it went away to a new owner.

These cars were made in Germany, Mexico and in the US in Westmoreland,
Pennsylvania, were made in gas, diesel and turbo-diesel models with manual
and automatic transmissions.  In my opinion there is nothing on the road
today that is as good, runs as well, is as inexpensive to buy and maintain
as the Rabbit. The small economy cars are heavier, more powerful, some get
better fuel mileage, and are far more complex and are impossible to fix by
the side of the road, using only a nail file and a pair of scissors (as my
young daughter learned once with her Rabbit diesel), should the thing just

Compared to the Beetle, the Rabbit was cheap and flimsy.  The grilles were
cheap plastic and so was much of the rest of the interior.  But somehow the
things did hold together, and even if the plastic pieces broke, they were
pretty easy to glue together. 

The Rabbit in the end was very simple.  Sometimes simple is very, very good.

#6  +++ 1991-96 Toyota Camry four cylinders ONLY- I freely admit that I have
no use for Japanese automobiles.  I simply do not like the way the Japanese
design or build automobiles.  I don't like the way they look, I don't like
the way the interiors work, I don't like the way they feel, and for the most
part I find that they don't "fit me"....I am not comfortable in them.  But I
firmly believe that the 1991-1996 Toyota Camry is one of the best cars ever

I was working for a car dealer in Boston in the short time that passed
between the end of my teaching career and my military career.  One of the
first jobs that I had was to ferry the first new Toyota Coronas from the
dock in South Boston to the dealerhship.  My impression was that they would
never last.  They were AWFUL cars.  The only thing worse was the Corollas
that rolled off the ship next:  they were REALLY awful.  

In truth, they were well finished, and tight.  But the handling was horrid.
In retrospect though, they were extremely well suited as small cars, to our
urban culture.  They lasted well, and I was wrong.

But they have never taken with me, and I never thought much about them until
a woman who I was dating came up to visit me driving her year old Toyota
Camry.  Hers was a four cylinder and we drove it around a fair amount up
here, up and down Cadillac Mountain, around Mt Desert Island and east as far
as Winter Harbor.  

It was a remarkable experience for me because here was a finely made sedan,
with reasonably powerful engine that delivered around thirty miles per
gallon of regular gas doing yeoman duty in the real world.  It was large
enough for four, with good trunk space, and was tight and solid.  

Boring as hell, but relatively simple.  Excellent. 

Now, the cars have gotten much heavier, more powerful, more luxurious and
sophisticated, but no better in my opinion. 

Would I buy one?  Absolutely not.  But as a fine car of great value, this is
one of the best.  Note not a V6:  more than four cylinders serve no purpose
in this car.  Again, my opinion.

More later!


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