At a recent time attack event, I was lamenting the seem-ingly sad state of the import performance industry with Gary Kubo, Chris Rado's crew chief. We discussed things like Chinese knockoff companies hurting innovation, lack of good event coverage, the Internet, the plethora of things competing for people's time, and the difference between hard-core enthusiasts and fronters.
Afterward, I came to another interesting conclusion: We're running out of desirable cars to build. Our old favorite cars are becoming hard to find. Parts are becoming scarce and the new compact segment lacks enthusiast appeal. Also, the size, weight, and price of some of our favorite compact cars have been creeping upward since our movement began. Yes, we understand that emission and safety standards are responsible for some of this, but the overall increase isn't acceptable.
Look at the Honda Civic. The classic EG or EK Civic weighed around 2,300 to 2,400 pounds and cost $10,000 to $14,000 brand new. It had multilink suspension all around and a light, stiff body. These older Civics were the best-engineered performance front-wheel-drive compact cars ever. The current Civic Si can weigh nearly 3,000 pounds, is the size of an older Accord, has lame strut front suspension, and can cost nearly $30,000 for a pimped-out version. The EG was small, light, nimble, good looking, and affordable. It was the ultimate blank canvas for the young enthusiast. It was also smaller than the current super-mini B-segment Fit.
The Nissan B13 Sentra SE-R was a small, light, affordable, and powerful car that looked like a Japanese version of a BMW 3 Series when it was introduced in the early 1990s. The size of early Maximas, it has evolved into a mini tank, weighing 3,000 pounds and costing over twice that of the original. Every Sentra since the B13 has been worse for the enthusiast than its predecessor. Nissan has been steadily losing performance fans in the compact market since the B13. In SoCal, I see more Ferraris than late-model Sentra SE-Rs. Heck, I've seen exactly two of them on the street since they were introduced two years ago.
Likewise, the Nissan 240SX was a lightweight, good-looking, rear-wheel-drive coupe. Unfortunately, Nissan decided to neuter the car before bringing it to North America by not offering the SR20DET motor that it came with in Japan. Nissan also chose not to bring over the fast, moderately priced, lightweight, good-handling, handsome S15 Silvia. Instead, Nissan brought us the 350Z, which is a capable car but also heavy and expensive.
The Toyota AE86 Corolla was the epitome of classic compact car performance. Lightweight, nimble, rear-wheel drive with a crisp, classic styling that still looks good today. Toyota hasn't gotten it right since. Instead, it gave us the Scion tC, all 3,100 pounds of underpowered image and attitude. Likewise, the compact, crisp, rear-wheel-drive Celica has been reduced to a high-strung, expensive front-wheel-drive coupe, which has been discontinued.
Mitsubishi quit making the cool-but-undiscovered turbo Mirage, and instead brought us the Lancer OZ fake Evo. (Yawn.) It also turned the cool DSM twins into the weird-looking, lame, heavy, expensive, and slow current Eclipse. At least they brought in the Evo, which is an ultra capable but heavy, complex, and expensive car.
If our scene is diminishing the blame should be focused on the manufacturers. Next month, I'll offer these manufacturers some solutions and tell them exactly what we, as enthusiasts, want.-Mike