14 April 2015

Fact Checking Car Acronyms

Lost in the mists of time are the identities of the clever individuals who created pithy acronyms out of the names of various car manufacturers. Although they were coined long before the age of the Internet troll, it’s no surprise that none are remotely positive. But are they remotely true? Here are three of the better-known ones:

FIAT, “Fix It Again Tony”: Fiat had a long history in the U.S., riding the wave of the first import car boom in the 1950s until pulling out of the U.S. market in 1983 (for nearly 30 years). While Fiat offered stylish and economical transportation with an Italian flair, Fiats of old were not known for rock solid reliability. Much of it could be written off to the cars being misunderstood rather than inherently troublesome. Fiat’s dealer network in the old days never approached the level of professionalism that it enjoys now and there were rumors of dealers never receiving a full set of manuals in English. Fiat also pioneered the use of the timing belt instead of a chain, and regular change intervals weren’t always observed, with dire results. Classic Fiat Spiders and X1/9s can today be used regularly with little trouble through the support of clubs and numerous parts vendors. [Video: Hagerty’s Marcus Atkinson never has trouble with his 1970 Fiat 124 Spider BS – click here for a ride along]

LOTUS, “Lots of Trouble, Usually Serious”: In the 1970s, Road & Track magazine used to include in its road test data page a projected reliability summary that was based on surveys of their readership who owned particular makes. And while Lotus consistently scored above average in handling and braking, it rarely exceeded “far below average” in reliability. In fact, the testers remarked with surprise in one particular road test that no pieces had fallen off their Elan test car, a first for them with a Lotus. But in actual fact, the acronym is only partially true — while Lotuses could be lots of trouble, it was rarely serious. Aside from the odd axle shaft breaking a rubber coupler or a fuel line fire from a perished plastic connector, much of the trouble with classic Lotuses tended to fall into the category of merely annoying rather than catastrophic.

FORD, “Found on Road Dead”: This one can probably be chalked up to the bitter Ford vs. Chevy rivalry. Classic Fords from the Model A to the Mustang tended to be rock-solid reliable. OK, the six-volt electrical systems of 1950s vintage Fords pretty much begged to be upgraded to 12 volts, and the switch from generators to alternators in late 1964 was a good one, but for the most part, classic Fords were no less reliable than anything else of the day. And as sunny-day drivers today, they’re more than fine. In fact, we know of one gentleman who used a 1930 Model A as his daily driver for a whole year with fewer problems than most people have with a 10-year-old used car.

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