Meet the Dream Cruise Class of '92
The Woodward Dream Cruise is an automotive class reunion. It's that time of year when owners get together on Michigan's most fabled avenue to share memories about their favorite old jalopy and to catch up on the latest trends and models. My goodness, have you noticed how big Mini Cooper has gotten?
This year we celebrate the Class of 1992. It turns 26, meaning cars are eligible for antique status from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.
Most things turn antique after 25 years but, well, close enough for government work. The designation allows owners to slap on historic license plates and qualify for more affordable collector car insurance (assuming you only drive to historic car events like the Cruise).
Ah, 1992. When Bill Clinton was elected president, a Cyrus — Billy Ray, not daughter Miley — had the top-selling music album in the land, and my daily driver was a red cop-magnet: a 1987 Porsche 924S.
The average cost of a car was $16,334 (less than half today’s $36,270), the Detroit Three were demanding trade protection, BMW announced it would manufacture in South Carolina, and General Motors made cars named after the planet Saturn. “Little Al” Unser won the Indy 500, NASCAR still was sponsored by cigarettes, Richard Petty retired from racing, and some kid named Jeff Gordon got his rookie start.
That’s a lot of nostalgia for the reunion to chew on. Want more? Let’s talk the year’s most notable new vehicles.
The military Humvee was to the 1991 Gulf War what the Jeep was to World War II. The troop carrier inspired a civilian version that debuted with a ringing endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gun turret not included.
Just 316 were sold in '92 by AM General off the same Indiana assembly line as the military brute. They shared components, including an impressive 72-degree front departure angle, which meant you could take the River Rouge as a shortcut to work. Other features were less impressive, like zero-80 mph acceleration in a glacial 47 seconds and brakes that didn’t stop the three-tonner until the middle of next week.
Cadillac’s early-21st century product resurgence may have had its roots in the 1992 Cadillac Eldorado and Seville. The pair's shrinking dimensions had matched their shrinking market share, but the bigger, bolder ’92 was a return to form.
“It’s the brightest ray of sunshine that we’ve seen from the Motor City in years,” wrote Car and Driver. Motor Trend awarded it Car of the Year. The Caddys were powered by a 200-horse, 4.9-liter V-8 and an ad campaign that promised “it could change the way you think about American automobiles.”
BMW 3-Series (E36)
So fanatical are BMW 3-Series customers that many can name their favorite Bimmer by alphanumeric generation: E36, E46, E90 and so on. Mine is the E46 M3, FYI. But for many the E36 model — introduced in the United States for model year 1992 — is the one.
E46 marked the first 3-Series to move away from a cowl grille to encased headlights separated from the signature kidney grille. The new look gave the Bimmer better aerodynamics to complement its athletic handling and healthy 189-horse, straight-6 engine. A driver's car, rear-seat passengers were shortchanged with little leg room.
An elegant sedan to rival the Eldorado, the 929 was a study in minimalist beauty with its thin grille and sweeping lines.
The 929 also offered techy features like a “solar moon roof” (pardon the oxymoron) which cooled the interior. Exotic, but impractical. It lacked a glove box (due to air bag placement) and boasted a price tag that was $2,500 higher than Lexus' ES300, the fast-rising Japanese luxury juggernaut. The ES would endure, the 929 would not.
The F1 is legend, but wasn't allowed here until last year under America’s “25-year rule” that permits imports not previously approved for U.S. regulations. The scissor-door F1 was the successful English race team’s first venture into production cars. Today’s P1, 720S, and 570GT cyborgs are its spawn.
Specs are epic. The first supercar with a carbon-fiber monocoque weighed just 2,500 pounds, hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and set a (then) record top speed of 231 mph — numbers still competitive today. But here’s the thing: only 106 were built, so expect to pay north of $10 million for one.
If McLaren F1 was the class' unobtainable hottie, then Prelude was the fun party gal. The coupe entered its fourth-generation in 1992 with significant changes, including an end to pop-up headlights that had been the industry rage in the '80s.
Car and Driver voted the remake to its 10 Best list, raving that “Honda changed the Prelude’s personality from plain-vanilla to cayenne pepper.” Prelude came loaded with options including a sliding sunroof, innovative all-wheel steering (really) and three engine options.
The performance Si version pumped out 160 horsepower from a 2.3-liter mill shared with the Accord. Prelude has since been crowded out of the Honda lineup with the racy, 205-horse Civic Si waving Honda's coupe flag.
The nimble Subaru BRZ (the only Subie without all-wheel drive) is one of my favorite sports cars. But it's hardly Subaru’s first foray into the segment. In ’92 the Japanese brand turned heads with the SVX. Starting a trend of one, SVX innovated the “window-within-the-window,” which allowed passengers to roll down an embedded pane and not get wet in a rain storm.
Subaru contracted Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro — father of the BMW M1 and Maserati Ghibli — to pen their new halo coupe. Other notable features included a powerful, flat-6 putting 230 horses to the ground via all-wheel drive. The hefty price tag ($45,000 in today’s dollars), however, was outside Subie customers' comfort zone and the SVX met an early death.
Ford Taurus SHO
The last of the purist SHO (Super High Output). This classic, manual-only Woodward Q-ship was nearly indistinguishable from the standard, best-selling Taurus family sedan (hmmm, those dual-exhaust pipes look different!). But Ford stuffed the engine bay with a stonkin’ 220-horse, Yamaha-developed V-6 that hit 60 mph in less than seven seconds.
Sales suffered for the lack of an automatic option, so a year later, Ford added a 3.2-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed auto.
Congratulations to the Class of ’92, 26 years young. Slap on your historic plate and burn rubber. You’re only as old as you feel.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.