Throwback Review: Searching for the Mundane

2007 Mitsubishi Galant 1
2007 Mitsubishi Galant ES sedan – Photo by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda “Throwback Review” of the 2007 Mitsubishi Galant

When is a sedan just a sedan? When do you realize that you cannot drive something so mundane that you forget how to drive?

Questions to ponder, but pertinent ones to consider when shopping for a mid-sized sedan. Since everyone has a car that claims to match up with the dominant paradigm in the market, the Toyota Camry, it becomes a challenge to find the one that is right for you.

Perhaps you want something middle of the road. Maybe you don’t care if you have the most powerful four-cylinder in its class or the most room of any car this side of the Chevrolet Impala. Why stand out when you can blend…a bit.

May I offer up the Mitsubishi Galant ES as a choice in the market? My sampling of the Galant brought some of these questions. The answers may surprise you.

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V&R Stories: How (Not) to Tailgate at the Drive-In Movie

Movie Bears at the Drive-In 12
Yeah…that’s how you’re supposed do it! – All photos by Randy Stern

If you’re my age or somewhat older, then you have a story or two about going to the Drive-In Movies. Some stories are worth telling, others may require some level of adult warning ahead of it.

In my hometown, the Reseda Drive-In played a prominent role for us from the 1940’s to its demise at the end of the disco era. The big screen could not be ignored as we drove up either Reseda Boulevard or Vanowen Street.

My family and I saw Jaws there. That big fish was as scary on the drive-in’s screen as it would at some high-end cinema down in Westwood or Hollywood. You saw your friends and plotted against everyone else while our parents and siblings wondered why it took so long to return from the concession stand.

With the demise of the Reseda Drive-In, my want to go another drive-in again diminished. Years later, my want to see films waned as well.

Back in July of 2009, I was invited to join a local group of guys called the Minneapolis Movie Bears to return a kernel of my youth back in the forefront. Those guys always broke new barriers for the Bear culture. They set up an event where we, as a group, would try to take over a drive-in theater.

There just happens to be a drive-in in the suburb of Lake Elmo just east of St. Paul with three screens and plenty of space for all sorts of automobiles. The Vali-Hi Drive-In is a summer destination for Twin Cities’ folks who want to combine their love for cinema and their automobile together – all starting right at dusk.

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V&R Travel: That Crazy Summer of Upper Midwestern Travel

The Last Miles of Wisconsin 2
Road trippin’- All photos by Randy Stern

It was the August of 2009. I remember getting into the office of the job I had for four years and noticed a strange energy around it. About half of the staff left our office, leaving myself and other people in similar positions behind. Then, we were summoned to our conference room.

I was among a dozen or so who were laid off from my company. In the middle of an economic slow down. I was escorted out of the office with my final check and a paid cab ride back home.

It took a few moments to process it. I knew that jobs were scarce, even in an economically strong area. But, I also knew that I still had my graduate studies, my final payouts and an unemployment program supported by the Federal government to get me through this deep recession devoid of job prospects.

However, I knew that if I did not do something that would make me happy – at least temporarily – I would not come out of this economic slump in a healthy state.

When you have time on your hands, you get to do the things you’ve been meaning to do when you didn’t have the time to do them.

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Commentary: A New Generation of Classic Car Stewardship

Back To The 80s
All Photos by Randy Stern

This weekend marked the first-ever “Back to The 80s” car show here in the Twin Cities. And, it was a good one!

Before I dive into the reasons for my summation of this new tradition in the Twin Cities and Upper Midwest a hearty “thank you” and “congratulations” are in order to those who have organized, volunteered, supported, participated and visited this inaugural event at the National Sports Center in Blaine, MN. It was a car event that was much needed in this community – celebrating a new wave of nostalgia that cannot be ignored.

Not that the 1980s have been ignored at all. It was a seminal time that helped lead the automotive industry out of a dark period in the USA, elevated the Japanese automakers, introduced Hyundai to the global stage and steered the European industry towards its current trajectory. It was an era of transition that also influenced culture, art, politics, social mobility, music and fashion.

On a personal note, the 1980s was very pivotal in my development as a human being. While struggling to settle my own personal truth, I saw growth and embraced as much of the culture around me. It was divergent in many ways, forming my musical tastes. It was also the time when I began driving and started to experience the latest of that era in forming an automotive mindset.

What I witnessed and experienced in the 1980s on an automotive and mobility scale formed the work you see today.

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My Favorites From The “Land of the Rising Sun”

MNNI Weekly Meet/Pre-Andy's Birthday
All Photos by Randy Stern

A very long time ago, but Japan used to make terrible cars. When Toyota and Nissan set up their respective USA shops in the late 1950s, they were met with laughs. They little sedans were seen as clown cars to the average post-World War II American. Even Renault and Volkswagen owners would join in the guffaws.

Soon, they brought out the toughest vehicles this country has ever seen on the dark side of the Jeep: The Toyota Land Cruiser and Datsun (er, Nissan) Patrol. No offense to my friends who own Jeeps, but one has to wonder why Toyota sells more off-road products worldwide than Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

By 1970, the Japanese automotive industry finally figured out what the world wanted – and delivered. Other brands came our way: Honda, Subaru, Mazda, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki. Soon, the Japanese began to gnaw at the North American market – and soon began building their products right on our soil. Ever further, they began to build models just made for North American tastes.

We often forget how much we despised our former World War II combatants and their uncanny ability to build quality and efficiency in perfect harmony with every automobile sold here. Then, they experienced the same strife our domestic automakers endured for decades: Recalls, Congressional investigations and eroding market share. But, that’s all Toyota.

Still, Japan provided some fantastic automobiles along the way. Here’s a list of them based on my experience over these past God knows how many years on this planet:

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Throwback Review: Rethinking the Mid-Size American Sedan

2007 Saturn Aura 1
2007 Saturn Aura XE sedan – Photo by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda “Throwback Review” of the 2008 Saturn Aura

Another mid-size sedan…another drive for scrutiny.

When I get behind the wheel of a car I would consider buying, I let nothing get by me. Details are just the beginning. From there, I have no qualms about making this a game of inches. Fuel economy, driving position, rear seat room, ergonomics…wheel travel.

You’d think that every car I drive would hold up to a set of standards not worth compromising. You’re absolutely right.

Add the Saturn Aura XE to the shakedown. The Epsilon platform provided many choices for GM to strut their stuff. The Aura was conceived as North America’s true cousin to Europe’s Opel Vectra. Yet, this is a car that also shares its basic components with the likes of the Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac G6 and the Saab 9-3.

The globalized Saturn is built in Fairfax, Kansas, far from Spring Hill, Tennessee as it is from Russelheim, Germany. I’m still trying to wrap my head around Saturn’s new approach to “Rethink American,” but now I understand. Since Oldsmobile is no longer in existence, the ringed planet effectively replaced the old rocket in the marketplace.

As I drove the Aura, I kept on asking myself whether this car is right for those S- and L-Series owners looking upwards, or is it more for the Alero and Intrigue owner?

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The Only One In Its Class

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited – All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Before I get into this review of the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited, let’s talk about the state of the family SUV.

From what I have seen recently, the mid-sized SUV is enjoying a mini-renaissance. Sales are up on several models, such as the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Volumes are strong, too. The best sellers are now delivering over 21,000 units per month at peak.

What Volkswagen has now discovered through the introduction of the Atlas is that families want more than just a $28,000 compact SUV. They crave more space, utility, performance, towing capacity and more. Every mainstream brand and manufacturer now offers such a vehicle – all starting at around $30,000 – and want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.

Any discussion of mid-sized SUVs must include the Toyota Highlander. Not because it has won its share of “best-in-segment” accolades, but rather its relevance in the face of stiff competition from Ford, Jeep, Volkswagen, Nissan, Hyundai, Honda, Dodge, Kia, Mitsubishi, Mazda and GMC. Soon, there will be new rivals from Chevrolet and Subaru within the next year or so.

When surveying the competition, one thing becomes clear: Neither of these mid-sized SUVs offer the option of hybrid gas-electric power today. Continue reading

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On The Dial: The Relevance of Radio

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 22
Photo by Randy Stern

It is summer. You are heading out on the highway. You prepare for a road trip, only to think of what to listen to on the way.

We should be thankful for today’s advances in technology. Our smartphones can house lots of your favorite songs for playback, along with apps for radio programming locally and worldwide. Newer vehicles have infotainment systems that can integrate your key smartphone functions, as well as provide a multitude of options for playback and broadcasts. Everything from satellite radio, multicasting, Bluetooth music and app playback…and so on.

Not everyone has all of these newfangled options. This post is for the rest of you. For those of you with access to all of the tech toys possible, you might want to read this also.

You see, one part of the story within this column is the fact that we often look to the stars for something to keep us entertained and informed. That might come in the form of a 50,000-watt radio station from the big city making its way into your stereo system. No matter where in the country you might drive, it is that electronic beacon of voice and music that engaged you on the loneliest of nights somewhere between towns.

These memories are not from some time long ago. They are still prevalent today. You might still be captivated by its faint signal some hundred or so miles away.

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V&R Stories: Going on Tour With The Chorus

The Tourmobiles
My van, their buses. All photos by Randy Stern

Hitting the road on a concert tour? Why, of course I did!

When you’re a musician or part of a musical group, it takes the proper logistics to pull off a tour whether it’s a major international effort or just a few places here and there. The magic is moving the artists, staff, roadies, their stage set-up and instruments from stop to stop. It is a daunting task for even the most independent musician.

A tour caravan manifests in various ways. It could be a fleet of customized RVs or long-haul buses with all the comforts of home – groupies sometimes included. You are able to sleep on the rig, wash yourselves, dress, practice your set and watch TV from stop to stop. Or, you can be in a passenger van with a U-Haul trailer with your gear out the back of it. No roadies, no bathroom, no beds – no groupies.

Back in 2010, I was doing my graduate Residency with the One Voice Mixed Chorus as their Social Media Marketing Intern. Because of my position and the power to bridge what the chorus is doing to Facebookers and the Twitterverse, I was talked into going on their fall tour of Western and Central Minnesota. The tour consisted of just three stops in Alexandria, Morris and Gaylord. the chorus was also joined by some actors doing vignettes in-between the choral sets.

Never been on tour before, I envisioned spending hours on end in buses with the choir, staying in hotel rooms hours away from home in places where I really don’t know a soul. There was one slight problem – I missed the bus.

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V&R Travel: Detroit – The Very First Time

Renaissance Center
All Photos by Randy Stern

Every year, I try to go to a new destination to visit. It has been a long standing tradition that has not held up some years, but when they do – they create great memories.

In 2006, I visited Detroit for the first time. It took me 42 years to get there – a long stretch considering I was some sort of “car guy.” However, it became a destination after my media work picked up, mostly on business. However, getting that chance to visit a city that is a vital destination in this work was indeed a bucket list line item fulfillment.

This first trip to Detroit was a short weekend excursion over Veteran’s Day in 2006. Let me recount the story itself. But I have to make this caveat that the city is evolving and changing. But, for that first time, I must say that the experience was indeed fulfilling on several levels.

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