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Toys of Summer

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Gearheads are often treated like children, told that their obsession is juvenile, and spat upon with the oft-uttered expression of derision for their beloved automobile -- that cars amount to nothing more than "grown-up toys."

And to these elitist adults of gloom, I say: so what?

Toys are fun. That's why they call them toys.

And the toys of summer are out there riding in the sun. They've got the tops pulled and the radio on, baby.

2004 CHEVY SSR

For the life of me I can't recall any mass-market vehicle ever coming closer to a Playskool truck for really big kids (and I mean that with the utmost affection). Upon first look, the SSR is pointlessly silly, but in an enjoyable way like a pillow fight, not in a fatuous manner like a million-dollar taxpayer-funded dry cleaning bill. The SSR has old styling to it, although I'm guessing the 1962 Chevy pickup didn't have heated seats, an interior designed with a cockpit in mind, or a six-disc CD player (and believe you me that random function was huge while sitting in the parking lot known as I-95 on a trip from New York to Boston).

The Radio Flyer red makes the SSR stand out, and the purring 300hp V8 makes it run away. Its usefulness as a pickup seems suspect, if for no other reason than the act of removing the cargo cover takes a little while, and leaving it on lessens the room for said cargo.

The SSR doesn't strike me as a vehicle for ranchers, contractors, etc., but could be the choice for anyone who wants to make a splash and be the center of vehicular attention. I was verbally approached (a few times inching along in traffic) repeatedly by fans ranging from tool-and-die-guys wanting to know what's under the hood, to a Mom who left the kids in back to get out and eyeball it, to a lovely African-American lass who matched her pink beret with her lipstick (all the better to shout and blow me kisses), to a carload of teenage Massholes who loudly mocked the SSR and its driver... but yeah, it's like, you know, whatevah...

$44,000 is a lot to drop on a fully-loaded conversation piece/novelty that only seats two, and gets 16/19 mpg, but the first ever retractable-roof pickup truck does garner childlike enthusiasm from passers-by. Why? Like the giraffe says, Toys Are Us, meaning, apparently, U.S.

2005 CHRYSLER CROSSFIRE ROADSTER

Speaking of playtime, a quick glance of the Crossfire Roadster might tap into memories of a certain knock-down, drag-out, "family" board game, and that was just arguments over who got to be what piece. (What tenant would ever fork over the rent to their frightening landlord, the thimble? At least the old shoe can boot someone in the ass.)

Accordingly, I put on my top hat, tails, and driving monocle and took the Crossfire out on spin up and down the freeways of Los Angeles. Along with the PT Cruiser, Chrysler has been aggressive in the convertible arena this year and they may not have a monopoly on wind in your hair, but both cars offer a solid open-air ride.

The automatic version of the Crossfire was a tad herky-jerky, but that could be chalked up to the stop-and-go Southern California traffic and a driver whose mind tends to wander? The automatic Crossfire (which was red, so thus ends the Parker Brothers riff) handled and steered with command and control. The Crossfire runs $40,000 in this version with a 215 hp V6, although there is an SRT-6 version that kicks out 330 hp that will get up to around $50,000. The Crossfire's symmetrically lined hood, sloping back and jaunty arches behind the seats add to its sports car cred and when the top is down it feels like well, summer.

Both the SSR and the Crossfire are button-operated convertibles with some sort of hydraulics that lowers the top in mechanized increments, whirring for 25 seconds like a wind-up robot walking across a hardwood floor. Just like a new toy when you were a kid. Of course, back then, cars and trucks were for the sandbox, not for impressing all the babes in toyland.

Last updated: Jul 1, 2004




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