26 May 2016

‘Murica versus Germany

There’s nothing like being opposing combatants in a pair of world conflicts to stoke a rivalry. But the fact is, American and German manufacturers have rarely found themselves in situations of actual competition. Typically, they’ve tended to stake out different niches. Still, there are some comparisons that beg to be made. Here are five of them:

  1. Porsche 928 vs. C4 Corvette - The 928 has often been referred to as a German Corvette. Its front-engine, water-cooled V-8 design probably lent itself to superficial comparisons but in fact, the basic architecture is where similarities end. The German penchant for complication brought things like a rear transaxle/torque tube and belt-driven overhead cams. All of this caused maintenance headaches that the Corvette eschewed with a bullet proof, pushrod small-block Chevy V-8 and a tried-and-tested independent rear suspension with a transverse leaf spring. C4. Porsche 928s have started appreciating while C4s are still bargain-priced used cars that offer unbeatable bang for the buck. At the end of the day, it’s a choice between sophistication and a bit of avant-garde design, versus reliability and the somewhat dodgy build-quality of a C4 Corvette.

  2. Mustang SVO vs. Porsche 924 Turbo - Granted, a few years separated the 924 Turbo and SVO Mustang, but they’re similar enough in concept to make a decent comparison. Both performed quite well for their eras and both were powered by a pre-balance shaft technology turbo-four that testers complained lacked refinement. Neither were what brand devotees expected—Mustang buyers wanted a V-8 of at least five-liters and Porsche people wanted something powered by an actual Porsche engine, not one shared by Audi, VW and AMC. Strangely enough, both the Mustang SVO and 924 Turbo appear to have a modest upside at the moment, but at current prices, you can still avoid having to make a choice. Well under twenty grand buys the pair.

  3. Pontiac G8 vs. BMW M5 - There appears to be no statute of limitation on mourning what could have been at Pontiac. Bob Lutz has gone on record saying that Pontiac was to be GM’s rear wheel-drive performance division, purveyors of bargain-priced BMW substitutes. Comparing early 2000s E39 M5s to Pontiac’s G8 GXPs seems particularly apt. Car and Driver looked at the obvious similarities, back in 2009, particularly in power-to-weight ratio, suspension geometry and weight, and concluded that this was indeed the mark that Pontiac was trying to hit and that they did a pretty amazing job of it. Given our druthers of which one we’d rather own sans warranty, we’d go with the Australian Pontiac. Best of luck finding one at a reasonable price though, G8s have among the best resale of any GM model.

  4. Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe vs. Porsche 968 - Why the Solstice and the 968? Why not? Both are rather rare and both represent the end of their respective lines. The 968 was the final development of the 924/944 and the Solstice was the long-awaited coupe version of the Solstice/Saturn Sky roadster. As a coupe, the Solstice worked in a way that the roadster didn’t. With the lift off roof center section left in place, the Solstice actually had room for stuff and the car was drop-dead gorgeous. Not something you could necessarily say about the 968, which seemed like a forced updating of the old 944. Styling was certainly cleaned up, and the chassis and handling was as sharp as anything to wear the Porsche crest, but if you’re buying on looks alone, the Solstice wins. Your search might be a long one, however. Less than 1,000 were built before Pontiac was axed and its Delaware assembly plant closed.

  5. Ford Granada vs. Mercedes 280SE - We didn’t pull this match-up out of thin air. We swear. Ford produced a series of infamous ads in the 1970s comparing its new Granada to the Mercedes 280SE. Of course the comparison was carefully constructed to favor the Granada, talking about things like interior decibels and the availability of side opera windows. The Grenada’s basic size and even details like the grille shape were certainly inspired by the Benz, but that was about it. This was still a time when Big Three product planners couldn’t accept the fact that a growing subset of American consumers wanted a car that didn’t isolate them from what was going on underneath them. And in spite of slogans to the contrary, quality wasn’t exactly “Job One” in Dearborn during the mid-1970s. There’s a reason you still see Mercedes sedans of the era around, but the last confirmed Grenada sighting likely took place during George H.W. Bush’s administration.

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