The world’s premier road tourer – the Honda Gold Wing – has been tweaked for 2021 with improved passenger comforts, increased luggage capacity and platform-wide updates including changes to seating, infotainment and trim styling.

Most of my Gold Wing experiences have been on the fifth generation GL1800s that spanned the 2001-2017 eras. There were occasional upgrades but every year I’d joke that I just needed to test the latest colour. And we’d trek to the Maritimes or Hatteras or down the Blue Ridge to the Dragon’s Tail, around the Great Lakes or to whatever long haul destination struck our fancy, always relying on the constants of bulletproof reliability, touring accommodation and smoothly effortless power.

After years of speculation, Honda did eventually unveil a new 2018 Honda Gold Wing model lineup that was lighter, tighter and featured a renewed sporty demeanour, courtesy of an impressive 40 kg weight trim.

Some of the 2018 features at the time included:

• An updated design – edgier, less rounded, lower and swept back with 11.8 per cent improved aerodynamics, electric windscreen and LED lighting

• New, more compact, 6.2 kg lighter 1,833 cc DOHC engine

• New six-speed manual or seven-speed DCT with Walking Mode forward/reverse

• New radially-mounted six-piston dual front brake calipers with bigger 320 mm rotors

• New double-wishbone front-suspension & Pro-link rear

• Electronically-controlled suspension

• Throttle-by-wire with multiple riding modes

• Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) and Hill Start Assist

• Smart Key and Apple CarPlay via seven-inch multi-info TFT display screen

Of course, not all was perfect in Honda paradise. Some Wingers whined about the weight trim’s collateral damage, like the four litre reduction in fuel tank size (21 litres). But an up to 20 per cent improvement in fuel economy made the point moot by enabling the same 400 km range potential.

Also, compared to the previous version that riding buddies often referred to as “the Hondapotamous”, the new leaner and slightly meaner Gold Wing Tour tightened luggage space by more than 20 per cent, with the smaller sidecases reduced to 30 litres each (-10 litres) and the top box down to 50 litres (-15 litres).

Responding to the customer blowback, the 2021 Honda Gold Wing restores some of that luggage capacity and also finds other features to add or upgrade. Recent sixth-gen Gold Wing tweaks had already included navigation software updates, reshaped passenger grab handles, new blacked-out components, updated suspension settings, a saddlebag-mounted USB charger and standard fog lights for all Tour models.

First Look: 2021 Honda Gold Wing

Now, the new 2021 model changes include:

• An enlarged top trunk on Gold Wing Tour, 48 mm wider, 46 mm taller and 34 mm longer, adding 10 litres of storage (60 litres vs. 50 litres), so the trunk can fit two XXL helmets or added luggage

• Passenger backrest is 30 mm taller with five mm thicker foam and a lean angle shifted from 17º to 24.5º for a more relaxed riding position

• Resurfaced seat on Gold Wing Tour and Gold Wing features premium suede-like cover

• Gold Wing seat includes coloured piping for added colour contrasts

• Android Auto capability joins Apple CarPlay integration

• New 55 watt speakers replace 25 watt speakers for richer midrange sound (Gold Wing Tour includes two speakers at the front fairing and two at the trunk, while Gold Wing features two speakers at the front)

• Automatic volume-adjustment level optimized

• Navigation software updated to include speed-limit information and four map colour options

• XM radio antenna now standard

For 2021, models include the Gold Wing ($27,899) and Gold Wing DCT ($29,099) bagger models, both available in Mat Ballistic Black Metallic, the Gold Wing Tour ($32,199) and Gold Wing Tour DCT ($33,399) available in Gunmetal/Mat Black and, finally, the Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag version ($35,999) coming in Candy Ardent Red/Black two-tone.

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This new version will be more powerful than it predecessor, featuring a newly-developed 2.0-litre engine that will give drivers 255 hp, and will come equipped with a second-generation integrated starter-generator (ISG) that will provide an additional 20 hp and 147 lb-ft more of torque. A tuned 9G-TRONIC transmission will provide drivers with smoother gearshifts and stronger acceleration.

The exterior is updated as well, with an accentuated ‘catwalk’ line that will stretch the entire length of this C-Class Sedan, and which will highlight the 18- to 19-onch wheels. The classic grille that comes with the C-Class will feature a central star, with the Spot Package to feature a diamond grille with a star designed in chrome. Three new paint finishes – spectral blue, high-tech silver and opalite white – have been added to the colour range.

The interior of the new C-Class will come with a dashboard that will be divided into an upper and lower section, with both the dashboards and the central display tilted towards the driver. A freestanding high-resolution LCD screen will be available in 10.25-inch or a 12.3-inch version. The seats of the new C-Class will come with a special design that uses layers and enveloping surfaces to create the visual impression of lightness. The head restraints are redesigned and are attached to the backrest with a sealed piece of trim under which the adjustment mechanism is located.

A man-made leather dashboard that features Nappa-look beltlines is also available for the C-Class when selected with Sport Package.

Like the S-Class, this new C-Class will come with the automaker’s second generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system for the vehicle’s infotainment systems and an improved voice assistant, and will also come with over-the-air updates as well.

All information for this news item has been provided by the vehicle maker.

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I’m feeling a sense of déjà vu here regarding the Subaru Crosstrek, and for good reason, as I reviewed the 2020 Crosstrek Limited last summer.

So, to avoid repeating myself, here I am going to focus primarily on what’s new for 2021. And there’s plenty to discuss.

For context, however, a few basics. The subcompact Crosstrek crossover is based on the same general architecture as the Impreza sedan and hatch and was all-new as a second-gen model in 2018. It’s a big seller, ranking in the top three in Subaru sales in both Canada and the United states.

For 2021, Subaru is throwing a fair bit of change at the Crosstrek, although you’d be hard-pressed to notice them just by looking at this car and the 2020 if they were parked side by side.

I’ll get to the changes shortly, but first an update on the Crosstrek line in Canada. The subject of this review, the Outdoor, is a new trim slotting into the mid-range of the lineup. There are five main grades available, eight if you include those equipped with EyeSight, Subaru’s suite of safety tech. Changes for ’21 that impact the entire line are modest – slightly revised front grille, new wheel designs, deletion of sunshine orange exterior finish – but there’s a lot happening with the Outdoor.

If the Outdoor name being affixed to a Subaru seems familiar that’s because the Outback is offered in Outdoor XT trim and both are governed by a similar philosophy: unique, rugged styling and more power. In the case of the Crosstrek, the base 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder engine (152 hp / 145 lb-ft.) has been swapped out in favour of a 2.5-litre flat four (182 hp / 176 lb-ft.) that serves as the base powerplant in the Legacy and Outback. The Outdoor and range-topping Limited are the only two Crosstreks available with the 2.5.

On the styling front, the Outdoor is separated from its stable mates via unique 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, squareish wheel arch cladding and dynamic yellow and gun-metallic interior accents. It is also the only model available in plsma yellow pearl, a new exterior finish that has featured prominently in Crosstrek marketing.

As for content, the Outdoor offers a healthy list of standard equipment, including dual mode X-MODE with hill descent control and SI Drive, front view and Subaru rear/side vehicle detection system, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay integration, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and EyeSight driver assist technology with lane centring assist.

Review 2021 Subaru Crosstrek

And, of course, Subaru’s Symmetrical Full-Time All-Wheel Drive System is standard issue with the Outdoor, as it is for all Crosstreks. Of note, the only transmission available with the 2.5 is a CVT, but if you want to row your own, a 6-speed manual is available with Convenience, Touring and Sport models.

My tester, finished in dark blue pearl, sports a two-tone grey interior with a synthetic seating material that Subaru calls all-weather soft-touch. Crosstrek is embroidered onto the face of the front seats and I can report that they are indeed soft to the touch and seem well-suited to clean up, although I didn’t perform any testing. The Outdoor is the only Crosstrek model to offer this seating option.

Otherwise, the interior offers a high degree of comfort and convenience with plenty of room and good sightlines thanks to its boxy proportions and big greenhouse design. Some features are notably absent, including embedded navigation and a sunroof, but if they are musts, the Limited offers both. I should note Android Auto worked seamlessly with my phone and the Outdoor’s eight-inch multimedia display.

When I wrote about the 2020 Crosstrek I said I thought it could use more power, and I feel that situation has now been rectified. The extra power from the 2.5 makes a noticeable difference in a car the size of a Crosstrek and I think it will find favour with intenders in the segment. Peak output is located relatively high in the rev range but is still accessible and gives the Outdoor a more sporting character.

Review 2021 Subaru Crosstrek

This Crosstrek is faster, both off the line and at speed, and feels more responsive which should broaden its appeal. It’s still a four-banger, so it gets noisy under load, but most four-cylinder engines are like that. It didn’t bother me much. Same goes for the CVT, which I don’t love given its rubber-band feel but find acceptable given the overall strengths of the package.

Other impressions from the previous Crosstrek test have been reinforced: helpful and unobtrusive tech such as EyeSight, spacious and well-executed interior and a proven AWD system. Improved performance can now be added to the list.

Bottom line, I think the take rate for the Outdoor will be high. It wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes a volume seller. More power, combined with a healthy amount of standard kit for just under $30K? Sign me up.

The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.

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With winners typically announced at the Toronto Auto Show, this year’s Car and Utility vehicle of the year awards presentation will take place in a different, still undetermined format, due to the ongoing pandemic.

After what has been a very challenging year for many, including for journalists and those working in the media sector, that these awards are still happening is impressive and a testament to the hard work of Canadian automotive journalists from coast to coast.

There were over 250 eligible vehicles for voting, including all brand new products, recently refreshed vehicles and previous year carry-overs. Out of those vehicles, the list was whittled down to eight finalists in 8 categories.

“Despite the many challenges presented throughout 2020, AJAC journalists rallied to submit ballots based on real-world test drives and produce this list of winners presented on Zone Auto today in collaboration with the Montreal International Auto Show,” said Stephanie Wallcraft, AJAC president. “AJAC counts dozens of Canada’s foremost automotive critics among its membership. In producing these results, our journalist members demonstrated fierce dedication to their craft, informing Canadian drivers of the vehicles worthy of their purchase consideration in 2021.”

Vehicle finalists for 2021 are:

Best Mid-Size Car in Canada for 2021

Mazda3 (repeat winner)

Best Large Car in Canada for 2021

Kia K5

Best Mid-Size Premium Car in Canada for 2021

Genesis G80

Best Small Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021

Subaru Crosstrek

Best Mid-Size Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021

Nissan Rogue

Best Large Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021

Kia Telluride (repeat winner)

Best Mid-Size Premium Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021

Genesis GV80

Best Full-Size Pick-up Truck in Canada for 2021

Ram 1500

The Canadian Car and Utility winners will be presented in March with more details to follow shortly.

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Mitsubishi has just revealed an all-new Outlander for 2022. The three-row crossover gets more length, more space, and new driver assistance tech as well as a new look in and out that moves the brand to another level. Cabin changes include seats and steering wheel with more adjustment as well as more absolute space, but it’s the materials that are the most eye-catching. Premium finishes including suede and quilted leather pair with a full-width dash that enhances the feeling of space. The aluminum trim is real aluminum, while a fully digital dash is available.

Outside, the styling is much like the Engelberg Tourer concept with an almost brutalist front end without the over-aggression of many modern crossovers as well as sharp lines nose to tail. It’s powered by a 181 hp 2.5-litre four paired with a CVT. Driver assistance features include new traffic sign recognition, as well as a new assisted driving feature that is hands-on but uses lane centering and radar cruise control to slow down for changing speed limits as well as traffic.

Hyundai debuted the refreshed for 2022 Kona including the Electric and a new N Line sports model. The biggest changes are to the styling, with a new wider nose and slightly more conventional headlights, though this is still certainly a standout in the looks department. Standard powertrain is a 147 hp 2.0-litre four with a six-speed auto, while Limited and N Line get a 195 hp 1.6-litre four (20 hp more than last year) with a dual-clutch gearbox. N Line also adds a body kit and some sporting trim inside including on the seats. Kona gets a new 10.3-inch touchscreen and same-sized digital gauge cluster. Changes to the EV model include some styling and the interior revisions, but the powertrain is unchanged.

Kona N Line

Infiniti’s QX55 brings a crossover coupe to the company’s lineup, ready to arrive at dealers in April, so now the automaker has priced the stylish new luxury model. From $51,995, the QX55 offers all-wheel drive, 20-inch alloys, wireless Apple CarPlay, and more, including a power moonroof, heated seats, active noise cancellation, and a host of driver assistance features. Every QX55 gets a 268 hp variable compression turbocharged engine and a CVT. Essential ProAsssist adds leather, more cameras, Bose audio, and adaptive cruise for $56,998, while Sensory adds semi-aniline leather ambient lighting, and ProPilot steering assist with intelligent cruise control for $60.998.

Kona N Line

General Motors has announced the opening of the CTC McLaughlin Advanced Technology Track, the autonomous and future-tech test site built on the grounds of the Oshawa Assembly Plant. The oval-shaped circuit is designed to be close to GM’s software engineers in Canada to let them get new developments on track sooner. Development work done at the new facility includes work on advanced driver assistance features (like Super Cruise), autonomous vehicle systems, and even infotainment system testing in a controlled environment.

Kona N Line

The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has announced its eight category winners in the 2021 Canadian Car and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year awards. The list includes two repeat winners as well as a host of new winners, narrowed down from more than 250 eligible models. The final award winners will be presented in March.

Best Mid-Size Car in Canada for 2021

Mazda3 (repeat winner)

Best Large Car in Canada for 2021

Kia K5

Best Mid-Size Premium Car in Canada for 2021

Genesis G80

Best Small Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021

Subaru Crosstrek

Best Mid-Size Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021

Nissan Rogue

Best Large Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021

Kia Telluride (repeat winner)

Best Mid-Size Premium Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021

Genesis GV80

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Chevrolet quietly dropped the entry-level LS trim from its Blazer lineup for 2021, leaving a well-equipped front-wheel drive LT as the Base Camp vanguard. That model’s price has also crept upward, making Blazer a $40,000 proposition in nearly any configuration – except for one.

That front-drive LT stickers at $37,198 and is powered by a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine making 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This is funnelled to the front wheels by a sweet-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission, one that does a better job than any sad-sack CVT in existence. This is the only front-wheel drive Blazer in this year’s lineup.

Blazer looks good, too. We’ll leave the wisdom of applying this storied name to a car-based crossover for another time but suffice it to say this thing stands out in a sea of me-too milquetoast machines in the school pick-up line. A quartet of colours, including this tasty Red Hot, is offered at no charge. Side mirrors and door handles are colour-keyed, and 18-inch wheels look identical to the more expensive True North model.

Inside you’ll find cloth seats with heaters for front occupants; drivers will enjoy 8-way power adjustments by passengers will have to suffer the indignity of a manually-operated seat. A standard remote starter keeps things cozy when thermometers plunge to the nether regions. Infotainment is handled by the brand’s 8-inch touchscreen, one that’s equipped with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and satellite radio capability for hauling in entertaining stations.

Review 2021 Chevrolet Blazer LT

Like other GM models, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot is available but does require paying a separate monthly bill for data services. No fewer than four USB ports – just one shy of Blazer’s total passenger capacity – dot the interior. Dual-zone climate control appears as do an array of driver safety aids like automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist.

What We’d Choose

Here’s the problem with Blazer – its entire 2021 model lineup is priced to the point of astonishment. Entry level models of some contemporary rivals, such as the Jeep Cherokee and Toyota RAV4, begin their price ladder well south of the Chevy. Even when stretched to equal financial footing, it isn’t difficult to find competitive offerings with greater off-road or towing chops, for example.

So where’s the bright spot? Blazer is tremendously well-equipped, even its cheapest model, negating some of the savings offered at other brands hawking competitors without standard features like dual-zone climate control. The included safety features are also attractive. It’s a $2,400 walk to add all-wheel drive and, by that point, one is better off spending the extra $1,195 to get the 308 horsepower V6 engine. It’d seem that looking past the original price point is a wise idea when shopping this segment.

Find rest of the Base Camp series here

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Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Cup race Sunday on the road course at Daytona while the best race – and story – of the weekend came Saturday when Joe Gibbs’s grandson, Ty Gibbs, won the first Xfinity Series race he entered, which put him in some very select company indeed. But first, The Sermon.

Last winter, Kyle Larson used the N word while playing an iRacing game. He was immediately fired by Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended for the season by NASCAR. He was ordered to take sensitivity training. And that, by the way, was the proper way to handle that situation.

Over the course of the 2020 season, NASCAR showed a commitment to race relations that might not have been possible even a few years ago. It banned the Confederate flag from all properties where NASCAR races. When a noose was found hanging from the garage door of Bubba Wallace’s team at Talladega, it threw its support behind the young black driver and the scene when Wallace pushed his car to the front of the line on pit road and was followed by every other driver, car owner and pit crew member was both inspiring and unforgettable.

To show that 2020 wasn’t a fluke, or a PR exercise, the invocation and the U.S. national anthem at Sunday’s NASCAR Cup road course race were both performed by African-Americans.

Now, this January, Hailie Deegan, a rising young woman racer, used the R word while iRacing. She wasn’t fired and although NASCAR said she was suspended, it was only while she took sensitivity training, which she did in record time to open the season in the Camping World Truck Series last weekend at Daytona. NASCAR (and Ford, which sponsors her) apparently think race relations are more important than mental illness. They are wrong and Hailie Deegan should not be racing in NASCAR.

How do I know? My friend Ellie Tesher writes the “Ellie” advice column for the Star and some newspapers in the United States. Sunday, she wrote that a “mental health crisis exists as a byproduct of life during COVID-19 . . . “ She said she knows this because her mailbox is full each day with cries for help.

Bell Canada has sponsored a “Let’s Talk” about mental health day for 11 years now to encourage people to dismantle the stigma of mental illness and to raise money for mental health initiatives across Canada. Clara Hughes, the Olympic speed skater and cyclist, has been the face of the campaign for years but I didn’t see her this year and I hope she’s okay. Steve Simmons, the sports columnist for the Toronto Sun and Postmedia papers across the country, talked this year about his panic attacks while TSN’s Michael Landsberg and Sportsnet’s Ken Reid were both vocal about their battles with depression.

Mental illness is here and it’s everywhere and while NASCAR showed it sensitivity toward racial issues, it has completely dropped the ball when it comes to Hailie Deegan and her equally offensive slur. NASCAR and the Ford Motor Co. should have a rethink, fast. She’s young and can race in non-NASCAR events (as Kyle Larson did on the sprint car circuit in 2020). She will return stronger than ever because she will have been given the opportunity to learn from her mistake.

What she got in January wasn’t even a slap on the wrist. NASCAR and Ford have as much to learn as Deegan does.


I’m writing these two races together for a reason. The good news: both races were won by drivers scoring their first victories (Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs) and one of those two (Gibbs) won his very first professional NASCAR race, period.

The bad news is that the big league, the Cup Series, featured horrible racing Sunday. The drivers – and this includes the so-called stars of NASCAR – couldn’t drive on the Daytona Speedway road course to save their souls. It was embarrassing.

Also, there are really no story lines in Cup these days. Chase Elliott is a young guy but he seems old. He’s been around NASCAR for eight years now (he won his very first race in the trucks at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in 2013) and has won the Xfinity and Cup season championships. Cole Custer is in Cup but hasn’t turned heads. Bell, a stupendous talent, should be in IndyCar – he grew up and matured as a race driver in karts and midgets and sprint cars – and it shows how lost that series is if the people who run it prefer to turn their backs on natural-born open-wheelers like Kyle Larson and Bell in favour of a retired NASCAR star like Jimmie Johnston and F1 refugee Romain Grosjean.

Two Xfinity Series guys who are locks to move up to Cup in the next year or two will hopefully give that lackluster series some pizzazz when they get there. Austin Cindric, son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric and a kid who’s moved steadily up the NASCAR ranks through trucks and now Xfinity (he won the Xfinity series championship last year and had a Cup start this year in the Daytona 500; he was running well late in the race when he was caught up in the Second Big One) and is a future Cup champion.

He’ll have trouble with young Gibbs, who’s got a ton of talent and a matching personality. You want humble? Joey Logano, who was sitting in as a guest colour announcer on the Xfinity telecast, called Gibbs during a caution period to ask how he was feeling. Gibbs replied that he couldn’t believe that he was talking to Joey Logano, his hero.

And then when he exited his car after winning that race Saturday night, he threw himself to his knees (see photo above). His grandfather, Joe Gibbs, made religion a central part of his life when he coached the NFL’s Washington Football Team and made it a large part of his NASCAR team. I suggest the younger Gibbs has gotten the message.

Gibbs bulldozed his way to victory in that Xfinity race. There was a late-race restart and he went from fifth to first. He just went around the outside of everybody else on his way to the front. It was reminiscent of Ayrton Senna’s first lap in the rain during the European GP at Donington Park in 1993. Senna, and Gibbs, were not to be denied. Cindric was handicapped Saturday night, having been caught up in an early race crash that left him minus a right-front fender. But I doubt he could have taken on Gibbs, even if he’d had a healthy car.

Sometimes, you just know when it’s your day.

In winning that Xfinity race, he now is in company with five other NASCAR legends who also won their first start in that series, starting with Dale Earnhardt and including Terry Labonte, Joe Ruttman, Kurt Busch and Ricky Rudd. Cindric was second Saturday night with Daniel Hemric third. Canadian Alex Labbe was 22nd out of 40 starters.

After Bell on Sunday came Logano with Denny Hamlin third.


F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali says Indianapolis is in the mix for a second Grand Prix in the United States. I’m glad to see somebody is finally coming to their senses.

I first met Bob Jenkins and Larry Nuber at the first Molson Indy Toronto in 1986. They were there covering the race for a show they co-hosted on the U.S. cable network ESPN called SpeedWeek. Larry died young. He was 51 when he suffered a stroke and passed. Bob continued on as a racing program host but is best known for his work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indy 500. He’s fighting brain cancer and asks for race fans to pray for him. Bob? Done.

John Force received his second COVID-19 vaccination shot this past week and will have his team back in NHRA competition, starting with the Winternationals at Gainesville on March 11.

Ben Rhodes won the Camping World Truck Series race on the Daytona road course Friday night (see photo, above) and, in so doing, gave Toyota its 200th victory since it joined the truck series in 2004. Rhodes won the season opener, also at Daytona, last weekend. Jason White of Sun Peaks, B.C., was 38th out of 40 starters, still running but 10 laps behind the winner. Quebec’s Raphael Lessard was 26th and Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake was 11th.

Dale Earhardt Jr. and Justin Timberlake are just two of a blue-ribbon group of investors behind the Music City Grand Prix, an IndyCar Series race planned to run on a temporary street circuit in downtown Nashville Aug. 6-8. Get this: National Speed Sport News managed to report this news WITHOUT mentioning IndyCar or the dates of the race. Very strange.

REV TV, which you can get on all cable and satellite channels in Canada except Rogers (guess who has to get his cable and Internet from Rogers . . .) has its website up and running, owner Mike Garrow advises. Check out its Facebook page (@revtvcanada), Twitter (also @revtvcanada) and Instagram (

The OSCAAR mods and hotrods will kick off their 2021 season at Sunset Speedway near Innisfil on May 23. They will wrap things up on Oct. 11 at Peterborough Speedway. The T.Q. Can-Am Midgets, meantime, will open the season at the Hamilton-area Flamboro Speedway May 8 and end their season on Sept. 25, also at Flamboro.

Two driver announcements were made this week by teams running in the NASCAR Canada Pinty’s Series.

Ed Hakonson Racing was first with the news that Brett Taylor would drive the No. 3 car vacated by 2020 Pinty’s champion Jason Hathaway. A news release said this:

“After two years of running under the Ed Hakonson Racing banner in two different car numbers, Brett Taylor will be piloting the famous No. 3 machine in the 2021 NASCAR Pinty’s Series campaign. Taylor, from Calgary, is excited about the opportunity to be driving the No. 3. ‘EHR has proven that they are at the top in the series and I am extremely proud to be part of their program. They are a passionate group about racing and have been extremely supportive both on and off the track right from the beginning of when we started to work together.’

“Team Manager Jason Hathaway, who drove the No. 3 for the past 14 years, is looking forward to the team’s continued winning ways with Taylor. ‘Brett came to us a few years ago with desire to be competitive in the series and we put a plan in place to help him do that. His win at Jukasa Speedway in 2019 was a great indication of the work that this team has put into his program. We are excited about what the 2021 season will bring for the No. 3.’ ”

Next up was Scott Steckly’s 22 Racing team with the news that Marc-Antoine Camirand would be back in the saddle for 2021.

Said a release: “After sitting out the abbreviated six-race 2020 NASCAR Pinty’s Series season, Marc-Antoine Camirand will return to compete full-time in 2021 behind the wheel of the No. 22 Chevrolet Camaro, thanks to his continued partnership with GM Paillé.

“Camirand will run his fourth full-time NASCAR Pinty’s season, a third with the support of GM Paille. The association between Camirand and the No. 1 GM dealer in Canada started at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres in 2016 and continued for four road-course races in 2017 and full-time seasons since.

“ ‘I’m honoured that GM Paillé has included me as a member of their fantastic family.’ said the Chevy pilot from Saint-Léonard-d’Aston, Que. ‘To have the continued support of a partner as engaged and passionate as GM Paillé is not only humbling for me personally, but also a tribute to the NASCAR Pinty’s series, our sport and its fans.’ ”

Once again, Camirand’s No. 22 Chevrolet Camaro will be prepared by the 22 Racing team, owned by four-time NASCAR Pinty’s Champion Scott Steckly.

The 2021 Pinty’s season will kick off on Sunday, May 23, at Sunset Speedway near Innisfil.

Norris McDonald / Special to

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Once upon a time, many years ago, I sold cars. And I hated it.

Fortunately, for me and the dealership at that time, it was a career path I didn’t pursue for long. I was a mediocre salesperson and after about five months I pulled the plug, a decision I’ve never regretted.

I’ve been thinking about my old car selling days recently in light of the pandemic and how dealerships have been forced to adapt not only to stay open, but also to keep their employees and customers safe.

You might not think car dealers are essential, but they are one of the few non-government employers that exist in just about ever town in North America, no matter how small. The economic activity they generate in local communities is significant.

Recently, I spoke with Bill Johnston, vice-president of Johnston Chrysler Dodge Jeep Fiat in Hamilton, Ontario. The family owns additional Chrysler stores in Brantford and Welland, and Johnston also serves as the head of the dealer council for FCA Canada.

The Hamilton store is one of the oldest auto dealers in Ontario, dating back to 1923 when it was founded by Bill’s great grandfather, William. Bill is the fourth generation Johnston to work in the family business. During a recent phone conversation, he touched on several challenges the past year has presented for his business.

“None of the three stores closed. Ever. We were fortunate enough to be deemed essential services. Some dealerships closed, but we at least kept our parts and service department open even during the initial lockdown in March and April of 2020,” he said.

Apart from the things you’d expect to see a business do to stay operational during a pandemic – plexiglass dividers, floor markings for social distancing, appointment-only business and a reduced staff – Johnston also got creative. He used shift work to bring employees back to his Hamilton store.

“We had three shifts, and two worked at the same time and we increased our hours dramatically, not just for the convenience of our customers but also from a spacing and a safety standpoint so we could get everybody back.”

As for the business itself, Johnston has noticed a shift in consumer shopping habits.

“In 2019, I tracked that approximately twenty-five per cent of the people who walked through my door already had an appointment. In 2020, even when we were not appointment only, fifty-sixty per cent of those coming through the door were on an appointment already,” he said.

Last month, that figure jumped to 90 per cent, primarily due to an appointment-only policy, but Johnston said a few wandered in without one. He thinks the number will stay high, even after the pandemic passes, because of the willingness of shoppers to do more research, and even the purchase transaction, online. The websites for all of Johnston’s stores were upgraded last summer to accommodate a surge in traffic.

As for his role as head of dealer council, Johnston said constant communication with head office has been key.

“I can tell you at that at the height of the pandemic, David Buckingham (FCA Canada president and CEO) and I talked every day. It’s important to get the communication and funnel it out, to talk to the dealers and tell them what’s coming on. Between that and having all-dealer calls [it’s important] so everybody feels comfortable and knows that we’re in it together,” he said.

At one point in our chat, I asked Johnston if he thought the pandemic had been a driver of innovation. I found the answer to be a bit surprising.

“I don’t think there are so many new ideas that we’ve had, we’ve just implemented them more consistently.”

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There was something missing in my life this week and it wasn’t till Tuesday that I figured out what it was.

The Canadian International AutoShow is usually on at this time of February – kicking off on the Friday leading into the Ontario Family Day long weekend and continuing till the following Sunday – and I’d be ensconced in a room at the Intercontinental Hotel, which is attached to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where the AutoShow is held.

Not this year. I’m hunkered down in my house, waiting to be vaccinated. But just wait till a year from now when the AutoShow returns with a vengeance. Here’s a hint: there will be a lot of electric cars on display. The world is going electric and the Toronto show has always been cutting edge. I don’t want to wish my life away but I can hardly wait.

Remembering all this, of course, got me thinking of my personal auto show highlights:

Last year (the show managed to squeeze itself in before the first lockdown), there was a black tie featuring F1 Managing Director Ross Brawn, Indy 500 legend Johnny Rutherford, Canadian champion Ron Fellows and promising young female racer Megan Gilkes, all interviewed by race driver and TV announcer Townsend Bell. It was great stuff.

I did an interview once on the Toronto Star Stage with Steve Podborski, a World Cup and Olympic skier known as one of the Crazy Canucks. Those guys were kamikazes. Our subject? Podborski’s national charity, Parachute, which is dedicated to injury prevention. A suicidal skier preaching injury prevention? That was fun.

In 2007, the show celebrated 50 years of Formula One in Canada featuring everyone still alive who was responsible for that very first F1 world championship race in 1967 at CTMP (a.k.a. Mosport).

And then, there was a real highlight. In the autumn of 2012, there was a black tie at the convention centre honouring some of Canada’s most successful racing drivers: Fellows, Alex Tagliani, Paul Tracy, Scott Goodyear and Joanne Villeneuve, widow of Gilles.

That was a night to remember. The race drivers were all there, plus all the dealer-principals belonging to the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and many, if not most, of the employees of all those dealerships. The place was packed. The women were all gorgeous and the men all had on their tuxedos.

Canadian International AutoShow

Read that again: the men all had on their tuxedos.

Now, there’s been something going on the last 10 or 15 years that bothers me. Invitations state black tie and yet more and more men are showing up in suits. Some people think that’s okay; I don’t. A suit is not a tux. I think when you’re supposed to wear a tux that something is taken away from the occasion if you just wear a suit.

The president of the TADA that year was Sandy Liguori and he is one of my favourite people. A very successful businessman, Sandy goes all over the world to attend F1 races. He also believes in formal dress. He sent out the invitations to that soiree and they clearly said BLACK TIE ONLY. Then, on the night in question, a Friday, if I recall correctly, he left instructions with all the security people that any man NOT wearing a tuxedo was to be denied entry, whether they had a ticket of not. No black tie, no admission. No exceptions.

Okay, as editor of Wheels in those days, I had arranged to have a Star photographer attend to take pictures. The great Vince Talotta arrived to do the shooting and he was wearing a suit but it was not a tuxedo. The security guards took one look at him and wouldn’t let him in to photograph the party.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I am editor of Toronto Star Wheels and this man must be allowed in to take pictures.” And the guard snapped back, “I don’t care if you’re the editor of the Toronto SUN, he ain’t getting’ in.”

Vinnie then started turning on the charm, which was his calling card, but even that didn’t work. I finally found Beth Rhind, who used to handle PR for the auto show and, at one time, had the contract to publicize the convention centre. “I’ll get him in,” she said. And she did.

Vinnie banged off some great photos that we put in the paper on Saturday and we laughed about that night for years. “You gotta hand it that guy (the security guard),” he’d say. “He was one of the few people I couldn’t b-s my way past.”

I haven’t seen Vinnie for awhile. I knew he’d been fighting cancer but he was such a larger-then-life character I figured he’d live forever. You know, Vince = invincible.

But I opened up my email the other day to find a note forwarded from the Star’s editor, Irene Gentle, to say that Vince Talotta, my pal Vinnie, had died. He leaves his wife and a young son and he was only 53.

Because of Covid, I will never know but I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he went to his grave wearing a camera around his neck – and a tuxedo, just in case.

Canadian International AutoShow

Norris McDonald is a retired Star editor who works for the AutoShow under contract. He reviews the weekend’s auto racing every Monday at

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Peel Regional Police have just posted that the department is looking at moving toward electrifying its fleet further with the addition of electric models that could help reduce its carbon footprint as well as potentially reducing operating costs.

Thought the department, which handles policing in an area including Brampton and Mississauga, ON, didn’t specify which brands or models of it had been looking at, the photo it released showed a Tesla Model 3 parked between a Ford Police Interceptor Utility and a Dodge Charger Enforcer that already belong to the department.

Peel Police have already added electrification to its fleet in the form of the Ford Interceptor Hybrid Utility, the police version of the Hybrid Ford Explorer that can help reduce engine idle emissions and uses, per Ford estimates, just 44 per cent as much fuel as the model it replaced.

“The Hybrid Utility checked off a lot of boxes for us,” said Mark Figueiredo, director of materials management for Peel Region. “When you think about the average police vehicle out there, specifically the engine hours, a lot of people don’t know that 65 per cent of those engine hours are spent idling. With the hybrid technology, all of those idling hours will be on battery.”

When it comes to electric vehicles, the department said that it would need to conduct more tests and trials of the models to ensure sufficient battery life for an officer’s shift as well as to ensure that it could handle the rigours and requirements of police work. For example, the Tesla Model 3 shown has just 60 per cent of the passenger space of the Ford, with much less room for cargo, extra computers, and for detainees in the rear. While the Model X offers more space, it’s also significantly more expensive.

“The range of the electric vehicle and total cost of ownership were compelling to us when this idea was first brought to us by Ryan Anstey from our Communications team; however, there are several other considerations that need to be addressed, including sufficient charging infrastructure, space for police equipment, and battery demand in the cold winters we have here in Ontario. This loaned vehicle will help us explore all of those considerations,” said Figueiredo. “Climate change is real, and we have to continuously innovate and adapt to do our part to preserve the planet for future generations.”

Peel Region wouldn’t be the first to try out EVs as patrol units, with other departments around the U.S. experimenting with the models. The City of Los Angeles is one of the most notable, purchasing a fleet of BMW i3 electrics, though those were primarily used for non-emergency purposes like community outreach and trips to court.

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