Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 20, 2017
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Coupe de grace

The sleek little two-door speed machine is making a comeback

Nineteen-eighty was a memorable year. Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter in the White House; Terry Fox embarked on his Marathon of Hope; 3M introduced Post-It Notes (how’d we ever function without them?) and millions of Dallas fans wondered who shot J.R.

Oh yes, most memorable of all for yours truly: I scored that rite of passage known as getting a driver’s licence. Snagging that much longed-for documentation was a watershed moment on par with the loss of virginity... which, tragically, would require the passage of several more years to come.

In any event, once that driver’s licence was firmly in my anxious hands, Job One was the acquisition of a set of wheels. Although I didn’t know what make and model I’d end up with, I certainly knew what type of car I’d be driving.

My future chariot certainly would not be a four-door sedan (the ride of choice for those looking forward to their “Carlsberg Years”). Nor would it be a station wagon (that quintessential white flag of suburban surrender). A hatchback was out of the question (the words “econobox” and “cool” seldom go together). Meanwhile, pickup trucks were still the bailiwick of farmers and contractors (the idea of a luxury pickup was the stuff of science fiction). And as for the minivan, the SUV and the crossover, those categories were still several years away.

Two doors or bust

There was only one choice of car type for someone under two decades of age in an era when Pierre Trudeau was still prime minister: a coupe. A two-door car is a sporty vehicular statement along the lines of “two’s company, three’s a crowd.” Put another way, when was the last time you gazed lustfully upon a four-door Ferrari?

Indeed, the visual difference between a four-door sedan and a two-door coupe is profound. Look at the current Honda Accord sedan versus the exact same model as a two-door coupe. The former whispers “sedate family car;” the latter screams “sleek fun machine.” It’s the difference between dud and stud.

During the pre-OPEC glory years — from the mid-’60s to the early ’70s — a muscle car was characterized by two doors (as well as a fearsome V8 motor under the hood and rear-wheel-drive, of course). This was the common DNA that united most of Detroit’s iconic street machines, ranging from the Pontiac GTO and Ford Mustang to the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Road Runner.

As for me, during my formative automotive years, I fell under the spell of a sassy little Chevy called the Camaro. “Camaro” being one of those fabricated words along the lines of Xerox and Kodak. When it was first unveiled at a press conference in June 1966, an automotive journalist asked a product manager, “What is a Camaro?” and he was promptly informed that it is “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.”

Chick magnet?

As you can well imagine, such attitude and sassiness naturally appealed to a car consumer who was a) male and b) a teenager. Obtaining my coupe was no easy task. Since I was still a cash-poor high school student, obtaining the financial wherewithal to snag a used Chevy only came by way of selling my cherished comic book collection. By this point in life, I was less into the exploits of Marvel Girl and more into marvelling at girls.

And as the reigning strikeout king at Toronto's Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute, I deduced that the only missing piece of the puzzle to snag a date with a member of the cheerleading squad was possession of a smokin’ coupe. And wow, did my ’74 Camaro ever smoke — especially when the radiator overheated.

However, the sheer folly of my “investment” hit home when my gleaming black stallion failed to attract feminine attention. Although members of the student body with the Y chromosome sure took a shine to it (story of my life: always fishing with the wrong bait). It also turned out that cashing in that comic book collection would emerge as an unfortunate deal. But how was I to know that vintage Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men comics would appreciate in value to such an extent that, if I had that collection today, I could flip it for a new Lamborghini?

Still, in hindsight, it was a blast driving that ebony-hued monster. It had power to spare and even looked good when parked... until, that is, it met its inglorious demise in 1982. My coupe rear-ended a station wagon, whereupon I discovered that despite its muscle car pedigree, a Camaro actually has a glass jaw while the Official Vehicle of the Brady Bunch has a rhino-hard arse.

Facing extinction

Compounding the misery, as the years progressed, an odd thing happened in the automotive world: the coupe began to fall out of fashion. While The Beach Boys had a hit song in 1963 lauding the merits of a “Little Deuce Coupe,” by the 1990s, coupes were on the endangered species list. Beginning with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, SUVs began to take the North American market by storm. The prevailing mindset was “bigger is better.” After all, gas was relatively cheap, the economy was humming along, and “super-sizing” was a celebrated part of the popular vernacular.

So it was that once-popular cutting-edge coupes began disappearing from new car dealership lots: Honda Prelude, Nissan 240SX, Mazda MX-6, Ford Probe, Cadillac Eldorado, Lincoln Mark VIII, Mercury Cougar, Pontiac Firebird, Toyota Celica… the list goes on.

Even my beloved Camaro was discharged by The General in 2002. And for good reason: coupes weren’t selling like they used to. In the case of the Camaro, its best-ever sales year was 1978 when 260,000 units were sold; by 2001, Camaro sales had plunged to just 42,000 units.

Interestingly, two-door vehicles no longer seemed to resonate with the younger generations. Part of this was due to the new “clanning” trend (hanging out in groups), which was emerging as more fashionable than one-on-one dating. And when several people are along for the ride, two doors as opposed to four as well as limited backseat space is not good.

Back in force

However, fast-forward to 2011, and sporty car fans can rejoice yet again: the coupe is experiencing a renaissance. In recent years, manufacturers ranging from Kia to Rolls-Royce have rekindled their love affair with coupes. Two-door vehicles are — dare we say it? — cool again. And what a selection of coupe choices: the Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G37, Nissan Altima, Kia Forte Koup, and the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 are all available in coupe configuration.

For those who prefer Germanic cars, the Audi A5 is offered as a coupe (and for those who have the financial stomach for a six-figure exotic Audi, there’s the breathtaking Audi R8 coupe); the profound BMW M6 is the coupe version of the legendary M5 sedan; and Mercedes offers the E-Class coupe.

When the Dodge Charger made its comeback in 2006, it was greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers. There was elation that Chrysler was bringing back the iconic Charger (it’s a ’66 Charger R/T 440, after all, that the bad guys are driving in Bullitt’s legendary chase scene). Yet the new Charger turned out to be a sedan — and that’s just not right. Chrysler atoned for its sins by bringing back the Dodge Challenger, a drop-dead gorgeous coupe that evokes the 1971 model.

Now that Italian automaker Fiat is in control of Chrysler, the über-funky Fiat 500 coupe is finally available to Canadian consumers. What’s more, it seems increasingly likely that this diminutive Italian Stallion is destined to emerge as the “it” car for the summer of 2011. And, the coupe that caused me so much elation and heartbreak is also back again: the made-in-Canada Chevrolet Camaro was reintroduced in 2009 as a 2010 model and it bears a gorgeous retro design recalls the first generation Camaro (1967-’69).

When the 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe (the two-door version of the luxury sedan GM unveiled in 2002) made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in December 2009, the new Caddy was one of the highlights of the show.

Max Wolff, the design director for Cadillac exteriors noted that the inspiration for the coupe’s shape was an archer drawing his bow. Earlier this year, Wolff left GM for Ford where he will head up the exterior design department for Ford’s Lincoln division. There hasn’t been a coupe in the Lincoln stable for more than a decade. Expect that glaring omission to change in the not-too-distant future.

Boomer business

Still, a question arises: why are coupes on the comeback trail? One reason is demographics. As the population ages, there are more empty-nesters. Thus, a wagon, SUV, minivan, or even a big sedan isn’t needed so much if the kids are no longer living at home.

As well, from a bottom line perspective, making a two-door coupe version of an existing sedan model is a win-win proposition for automakers. Auto industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers notes coupes allow automakers to affordably differentiate their product portfolios.

“Because [coupes] are made on the same platform as their sedan cousins, costs are minimized,” he says. “It’s a relatively inexpensive way to get a different look and some incremental sales.”

In any event, after several lean years, the two-door automobile is back in vogue. From luxury-laden chariots and new age muscle cars to fuel-sipping compacts, we are once again living in a golden age of coupes. Viva the two-door revolution!

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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