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Buick looks back at sportier days

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird. 250 horsepower. Six-speed manual transmission. Buick. (Wait, what?) Let's play a wordassociation game. Ready? "Buick.

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird. 250 horsepower. Six-speed manual transmission. Buick.

(Wait, what?)

Let's play a wordassociation game. Ready? "Buick."

Now, if General Motors had their way, you'd have immediately pictured a prescandal Tiger Woods relaxing at a country club, indicating luxury and grace and athleticism. However, what you probably thought of was a beige Buick Century doing 60 kilometres per hour in the fast lane with the left-turn blinker going.

Buick is a funny brand that way. Its sporting associations are now long gone but in the muscle-car era, the Buicks were kings. Think of stuff like the enormous Wildcat and the 455-powered GSX. And remember the turbo'd Grand National GNX of the 1980s? One of the coolest cars ever built.

Buick's trying to bring back a little of that cool factor with the new Verano mid-size sedan. Yes it has all the luxury trim you're used to and doubtless most will be sold with the automatic transmission. But with 250 turbocharged horses on tap and an available six-speed manual, it might just be a step back in time to when Buick was the gearhead's choice. Spoils of war: 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K

In the 1930s, owning a Mercedes-Benz displayed both wealth and taste. Not just cars, they were beautiful objets d'art, with swooping fenders, long hoods and lashings of chrome. Very desirable stuff indeed.

Certainly so to a group of American G.I.s who made off with a crimson 1935 M-B 500K shortly after the Allies marched into Germany in 1945. The big 'Benz belonged to successful German industrialist Hans Prym, a gentleman who also carried the appellation "the Zipper King," having made his money controlling a vast zipper empire. You can't make this stuff up.

Any-hoo, the 500K "mysteriously" disappeared and then popped up again recently at last year's RM Monterey auctions, where it sold for $3.7 million to a Dutch collector. "Not so fast!" said the German courts - as the car had left the country right after the Second World War, the clock on the statute of limitations hadn't started running and the car rightfully belonged to Prym's heirs.

Naturally, the legal wrangling is far from over. Still, it raises an interesting question: do you suppose that every car in Saddam Hussein's massive collection was accounted for?

A quick fix for potholes

Used to be, cars all rolled around with 60-series sidewalls - big, pillowy tires with squidgy handling characteristics. Now, everything needs to have "sporty" handling and that means lowprofile tires and big alloy wheels, even on basic cars.

Great in theory, not so great when the road turns rough. I know of several cases where a potholed road has claimed a tire or rim and a tenacious owner has recouped the cost from the city.

It's an expensive problem for municipalities and scheduling crews to patch the areas always seems to take too long.

Students at the university of Case Western, in Cleveland, have come up with an ingenious solution. Simply a bag filled with a non-Newtonian fluid (think corn starch and water) called "oobleck," their pothole-patch can be applied in the following manner: find pothole, put bag in it. The fluid-filled sack conforms to the hole and job done.

As anyone who's been to an elementary school science fair knows, mixtures like corn starch and water (oobleck is a bit more complicated) "harden" when pressure is applied to them suddenly. Thus, a vehicle that runs over them at speed won't feel anything other than a flat surface.

It's a simple idea with wide-ranging applications and while the cost isn't any cheaper than getting the patchwork done, it is a safer way to spot-repair the road as soon as the complaint is called in.

Click and Clack call it quits

The other day a charming lady approached me in the grocery store. After ascertaining that I was, in fact, me, she said, "You're my favourite automotive writer."

Aw, shucks. ". . . after Click and Clack."


Brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi have been putting out their Car Talk call-in radio show for 35 years now - a full quartercentury of that on National Public Radio. Folks call in and the two hosts give their advice, often riffing off each other and poking fun in a self-deprecating manner.

I like listening because I like to guess what the problem might be before the brothers do. It's a bit like shouting at the TV while Jeopardy is on.

Tom and Ray will be retiring from radio in the fall, while still contributing columns and answering questions on Facebook.

I'm sure many folks will wish them well. Personally, I could live without the competition.

Watch this space for all the week's best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to