The Truth About Cars » Editorials http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Editorials http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/ Junkyard Find: 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1982-volkswagen-scirocco/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1982-volkswagen-scirocco/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=871498 07 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThese days, most of the older water-cooled VWs you see in American pull-yer-part wrecking yards are Golf Cabrios and the occasional ancient Malaisewagen. I see a second-gen Scirocco every now and then (the first-gens have long since disappeared from the junkyard ecosystem), and today’s Junkyard Find caught my attention with its distinctively early-80s paint color.
12 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Robert ArmstrongWhen I see a Scirocco of this era, I always think of it as the car that genius cartoonist Robert Armstrong gave his lovable-dirtbag Mickey Rat character when The Man brainwashed him into becoming a solid citizen; a very yuppie machine in its time.
10 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMechanically speaking, the Scirocco didn’t differ much from the Golf. 74 horsepower in 1982 for US-market Sciroccos (which were more fun to drive than that figure suggests).
01 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThese cars aren’t worth much in rough condition, so once one falls into the hands of a city tow-yard or an insurance auction, the junkyard is the likeliest next stop.

01 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1982 Volkswagen Scirocco Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Galhotra Takes The Reins As Lincoln’s New President http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/galhotra-takes-the-reins-as-lincolns-new-president/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/galhotra-takes-the-reins-as-lincolns-new-president/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 12:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=871938 ashwani-kumar-galhotra.img.1375822969106

As one of his first major moves since becoming CEO, Ford’s Mark Fields named vice president of engineering Kumar Galhotra as president of Lincoln, effective September 1.

Automotive News reports Galhotra, who will report directly to the new CEO, will be the premium brand’s first president since Al Giombetti left the post in 2007. The move will also reduce executive vice president of global sales, service and marketing Jim Farley’s role with Lincoln, which will be focused on marketing the brand once Galhotra takes over.

The new president — an engineer and product executive who has worked with Lincoln, Ford and Mazda in the past — will bring his marketing experience to the table as Lincoln prepares to launch in China later in 2014; he headed Ford’s Asia Pacific division from 2009 to 2013, and helped bring about the new Ranger pickup to market.

Speaking of the division, engineering director Jim Holland will move from there to replace Galhotra as Ford’s vice president of engineering, reporting to global product development chief Raj Nair.

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Track Analysis: Challenger V6 Track Pack, HEMI Scat Pack, SRT Hellcat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/track-analysis-challenger-v6-track-pack-hemi-scat-pack-srt-hellcat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/track-analysis-challenger-v6-track-pack-hemi-scat-pack-srt-hellcat/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 19:45:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=871714

Getting decent conclusions from very limited data is the sort of thing of which Nobel Prizes are made. What you’re about to read won’t be Nobel-worthy; however, I believe it will help you understand how fast the Hellcat and how it compares to both the other Challengers and the external competition.

I got a total of six flying laps at PIR, a place to which I’d never been, in three different cars. I had traffic in my face for all but two of those laps, and I had no truly clear laps in the Hellcat. But let’s start with the basics. I drove these three cars in this order:

Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack 6MT: lap time of 1:38.9 with a top speed of 122mph on the back straight.
Challenger V6 Super Track Pack 8AT: lap time of 1:38.3 with a top speed of 112.5mph on the back straight.
Challenger SRT Hellcat 6MT: lap time of 1:33.7 with a top speed of 136mph on the back straight.

So let’s start by eliminating some of the variables. The only clean lap I got in the Scat Pack was my first-ever lap of PIR. There’s no way I was going to turn a brilliant lap time first time out. Analysis shows I was 6mph slower going into the turn before the long straight than I was in the average of the other cars. My line in the V6 which I drove afterwards was better. After looking at the data and assuming that the Scat Pack can turn about as well as the V6, I’ve guesstimated a 1:36 at 127mph for the Scat Pack.

How did other people do: This video shows SRT’s Vehicle Dynamics Engineer Marco Diniz de Oliveira running a 1:33.0 with the same spec car that I drove. Compared to my videotaped 1:33.7 lap you can see that he didn’t have to lift for a frightened journo like I did on the front straight, and he also didn’t goatfuck the chicane the way I did. (My excuse: I was so annoyed at being balked that I held throttle too long.) I’m reasonably confident that I got about as much out of the Hellcat as I was going to in two laps. Given ten more laps, I think a 1:31.5 was well within reach. Keeping pinned on the straight is worth half a second, doing the chicane right is worth a second and a half, and I could have shortened the braking zone in back.

Another journalist whom I won’t name was kind enough to let me “run data” with them in the V6 Challenger that I drove. He turned a 1:58.3 with a top speed of 105.5mph on the back straight. That two-minute-ish lap time is approximately representative of what most people were doing out there and it’s why I kept running into traffic.

So those are the caveats. Now let’s look at some stats.

First off, acceleration. The corner before the back straight shows the Hellcat with a low speed of 43.5mph against 41.7mph for the V6. That’s the extra tire you get with the Hellcat which is only partially canceled out by the weight of the engine. As we pass the access road on the back straight, the V6 has accelerated to 87mph and the ScatPack to a corrected 93mph. How fast is the Hellcat going? Survey says: 102mph. That is brutal acceleration. More impressively, the gap widens as speeds increase. Supercharged cars often feel breathless at the top of the rev range because they are optimized to push air at low speeds and unlike turbo-supercharged (to use the old phrase) cars there’s no compound effect as the exhaust gases push the turbo faster. As an example, when I drove the GT500 at VIR I found myself dueling a Porsche GT2 on the back straight. The Shelby had legs on the GT500 in the first half of VIR’s long stretch but the GT2 picked up as speeds increased and it wasn’t all due to frontal area.

Now for braking. A similar push of the brake pedal produced a .78g retarding force in the V6, a .86g one in the four-piston Brembo Scat Pack, and .98g in the Hellcat. These numbers have to be understood in context, not as absolutes, because of the way my phone was mounted in the car and the general issues with Android accelerometers. Only the V6 ever felt underbraked in these short lap situations; it doesn’t have enough thermal capacity as supplied for two hard laps. The others were fine, with the Hellcat having a considerable edge in feel and response. My experience with the Z/28 at Thermal Club for last month’s Road&Track showed me that it’s possible to put enough brake on a ponycar, but you have to be willing to spend a LOT of money on it. As expensive as the Brembo system on the Hellcat must be, it ain’t carbon ceramic and when you’re slowing two tons down from a considerable velocity it’s worth getting the right material for the job.

v6lap

This is the V6 lap.

hellcatlap

This is the Hellcat lap.

Cornering isn’t exactly an open and shut case, which is why the V6 might be a satisfying track car if you could upgrade the brakes a bit via pads and fluid. Data for all three cars shows that they are capable of about the same max cornering g and speed, with a slight edge going to the Hellcat in pretty much all the corners. What the data can’t show you is that the Hellcat feels like it’s from a different class with regards to body roll control and suspension dynamics. Given enough time on a racetrack, you’d feel comfortable pushing the Hellcat harder in quick transitions and in long high-g turns. There’s a superiority of feedback that is no doubt due to better tires and higher-quality suspension. With that said, however, this is primarily a laws-of-physics thing. Big heavy cars are never eager to change direction. Unsurprisingly, the V6 is best in transitions and the Scat Pack has the lowest cornering speeds.

As I stated earlier today, you really do get your money’s worth with the Hellcat’s engine and brake upgrades. It’s also a solid handler for its size and class. Let’s do some subjective rankings as far as track-fitness goes, based on things I’ve driven recently:

Viper ACR (previous gen)
Viper TA (current gen)
Mercedes AMG SLS Black Series
C7 Corvette Z51
C6 Corvette Z06
C6 Corvette Z51
Camaro Z/28
Boss 302-LS
Boss 302
Jack’s raggedy old 2004 Boxster S with 48,000 miles
GT500 (not counting the brakes)
Hellcat
The old SRT8 392
Camaro SS
Mustang 5.0 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack
Mustang V6 Track Pack
Challenger V6 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 5.7 Track Pack

The higher you go up that list, the more comfortable the car feels on track, but at a cost.

I wish I’d had time to drive the standard SRT8, which has 485hp now and offers the big brakes as an option. I believe that car would feel most “balanced” since you wouldn’t be arriving at corners as quickly and therefore the brakes would hold up even better and it would be easier to select the absolutely perfect corner speed — but I’d choose to spend my own money on the Hellcat, plain and simple. There are no downsides. You can pretty much instantly turn it into an SRT8 6.4L just by laying off the throttle a bit on the long straights.

At this point I normally like to talk about what the cars do when they are “out of shape” on track. The truth is that with this little time on an unfamiliar course I didn’t spend too much effort getting the Challengers past their envelope of tire grip. I can say that the Hellcat and Scat Pack can be reliably turned on the throttle and that no Challenger has ever had bad habits on track with regards to overly quick responses in extreme handling situations. If you’re good to the Challenger, it will be good to you. If you’re bad to it, you will still have plenty of time to get things right.

Ponycars are about compromise. They’re about what you’re willing to give up in order to have the admittedly minimal but occasionally mandatory backseat. With the Hellcat, the answer is simple: you’re giving up Mustang-style direction changes but gaining more power at each trim and spec level than the not-so-small Ford can offer. It would be frankly absurd to buy a Hellcat if you primarily planned on using it at the track. But for the low percentage of owners who will try it there, their experience will be positive — even if their tire bills won’t.

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT “Hellcat” 6MT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/review-2015-dodge-challenger-srt-hellcat-6mt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/review-2015-dodge-challenger-srt-hellcat-6mt/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:21:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=870522 IMG_7883

To some degree, it’s about the number, right? Seven hundred and seven. The Dodge people certainly made the point again and again about how the Hellcat stacks up to everything from the Z06 to the Murcielago. Mine’s bigger than yours. And that other number — 10.9 seconds with drag radials and 11.2 without. That actually isn’t such a big deal; there are people out there who have put stock C6 Z06es with draggies into the tens. Still, they closed the freaking road course after just ninety minutes so the journalists could line up and try their hand at quarter-miles. I didn’t bother to do that. Nor did I get any street time in the Hellcat. What I got was this: four laps, none of them unimpeded. When you come back in the afternoon, I’ll tell you what my TrackMaster data showed about the Hellcat vis-a-vis the 6.4L. But for now let’s talk about what the Hellcat is and what it does.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI® Hellcat engine

Here’s how you make a Hellcat: Start with the 2015 Challenger and it’s improved interior. Add Hellcat-specific visual cues, most of them related to increasing the amount of air coming through the nose. Then drop the bore size a bit, redo the motor with “91 percent new” engineering and parts, and supercharge the hell out of the cat.

Here’s the press release, there’s no sense in rewriting it:

The 2,380cc/rev blower features integral charge coolers and an integrated electronic bypass valve to
regulate boost pressure to a maximum of 80 kPa (11.6 psi). Its twin-screw rotors are specially coated
with:

• a proprietary formula of polyimide and other resins
• nanometer-sized, wear-resistant particles
• solid lubricants, such as PTFE (Teflon)

The coating accommodates tighter tolerances between the rotors. This reduces internal air leakage and
helps deliver improved compressor performance and higher efficiencies. The coating not only can
withstand the temperatures generated by compression, it provides a superior corrosion resistance.
The new supercharged V-8, sealed for life with premium synthetic oil, boasts a drive ratio of 2.36:1 and
a maximum speed of 14,600 rpm. The drive system’s one-way clutch de-coupler improves refinement,
while allowing for precisely the kind of auditory feedback SRT customers find alluring.
The supercharger gulps air through an Air Catcher inlet port, which replaces the driver’s-side inboard
marker light and connects to a patented twin-inlet, eight-liter air box. The blower further benefits from a
92-mm throttle body – the largest ever used in a Chrysler Group vehicle.
The fuel system keeps pace with an in-tank pump that accommodates variable pressures, half-inch fuel
lines and eight injectors each capable of delivering a flow rate of 600cc/min – enough to drain the fuel
tank in approximately 13 minutes at full power.

The transmissions were re-engineered; the eight-speed automatic has bigger clutches and more gear surface throughout, allowing it to bang out 120-millisecond shifts that, on the drag strip, sound close to dual-clutch. The Tremec TR6060 has a bigger clutch, a relatively light flywheel, and stronger gears. I believe, although I cannot say for sure, that this transmission, like the Hellcat’s HEMI, is made in Mexico.

To stop the car, there’s a 15.4-inch rotor Brembo brake package with 20×9.5 inch wheels. It would appear that there are now three Brembo brake packages on these cars: the four-piston setup on the Scat Pack 6.4L with Super Track Pack, the six-piston SRT8 14.2-inch package, and this high-power six-piston setup which is optional on the SRT8 and standard on the Hellcat.

Other fun features: an available flat-black hood, a removable lower grille for track use, (“Seven screws,” we were told, “it will take owners five minutes”) deliberately plain “SRT” badging, and a track key/valet key setup that also features a user-selectable “valet PIN” to limit the car to 4000rpm. A sunroof is optional, as are a couple of different color-coordinated seat packages.

It’s good value for money; the Scat Pack with a few options runs $46k so this Hellcat at $59,995 feels like a screaming bargain. And you’re almost certain to get your money back when you go to sell, assuming you don’t take too much of a beating at the hands of your dealer.

Okay. It’s late at night and you want to know how it drives. I’ll put video up later on today, but the short version is this: It is to the GT500 as the old SRT8 was to the Boss 302. The clutch is low effort, as is the shifting. The thrust is plainly massive but there’s enough tire under it to make it controllable on a racetrack. It’s very quick, but it doesn’t feel noticeably quicker than a GT500. There’s a certain viciousness you get with a ZR1 or GT500 that is blunted by the Chally’s weight here. Big motor, pushing a big car, and as a result things feel under control. It never occurred to me not to give it full throttle in a straight line on an eighty-degree Portland day. Change this to a Kentucky backroad with accumulated oil and grit, and drop the temperature to fifty, and we’ll talk about it again.

All the Challenger SRT8 virtues survive intact to the Hellcat. It really is just an SRT8 plus power. That’s what you really need to know about it. It’s not compromised or changed in any significant manner. It’s just faster, and unlike the naturally aspirated 6.4L it’s hellaciously strong everywhere, not just when the tach sweeps past four. At 1200rpm it has as much torque as the old SRT8 did at peak. So yeah — fast, effortlessly so, like a literbike.

But it also feels long-legged through the gears in a way that the GT500 doesn’t. My impression, which I’d need to check through a bunch of a documentation to confirm, is that it’s geared longer than the Shelby or the Boss or the Z/28. There’s more room to run in each gear, which given the fact that the Ford 5.4L revs higher than this 6.2L means that it’s geared higher.

On the track, the brakes and tires proved sufficient to the task, as I’ll explain later today with numbers. Unlike the Shelby, it’s far from underbraked, for a ponycar. Don’t expect Corvette-level braking performance here. There ain’t a disc brake big enough for that unless it’s on a triple-seven Boeing. This is a big car with good solid damping and big brakes, but it’s not a Corvette.

Neither is it a Z/28, not that you expected it. The Z/28 has better brakes and a lot more tire compound and it’s a bit smaller. I wouldn’t expect the Hellcat to see the nose of a Z/28 on a track, unless you’re on Road America and it’s the first lap.

I realize it’s a disappointment to say that the Hellcat is merely a faster SRT8, but that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Power like this has never been this accessible and the fact that it’s delivered in this big, comfy package is a technical knockout. You literally give up nothing by taking the high-power option, except perhaps your home equity. The Hellcat has no drawbacks except fuel economy and price. It is fully, thoroughly, completely recommended to anyone who wants a faster Challenger. Drivers who want the on-track aplomb of a Mustang or Camaro need not apply.

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Opel-Badged Chevrolet Volt Killed In Europe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/opel-badged-chevrolet-volt-killed-in-europe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/opel-badged-chevrolet-volt-killed-in-europe/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:01:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=870161 ampera-450x317

The Opel Ampera, an Opel-badged Chevrolet Volt, will be killed off in Europe due to slow sales.

The Ampera will be axed after just one generation – with a new Volt being launched in the second half of 2015, an Opel (and presumably Vauxhall) version will not be produced.

Automotive News Europe reports that Ampera sales slid dramatically in 2013. In Germany, the Ferrari F12 supercar has sold nearly twice as many units as the Ampera.

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From Czech Republic to Normandy in a Chevy Suburban http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/from-czech-republic-to-normandy-in-a-chevy-suburban/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/from-czech-republic-to-normandy-in-a-chevy-suburban/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:30:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=866001 IMG_3227_8_9_tonemapped

My Czech employer sent me to cover the 70th D-Day Anniversary celebrations in Normandy. And since I had to take three more guys with me, as well as massive pile of camera equipment, we decided I need a big vehicle. And the biggest thing we could find was my boss’ 2010 Suburban Z71. Which is obviously an excellent choice for rural roads in France. Here’s how it went.

As you probably noticed from my previous articles, I’m a sucker for large, rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame boats with massive V8s under the hood. Unlike average European, I consider such a vehicle to be the norm and the ideal for the daily transportation. And it made me extremely sad to see the BOF sedan being wiped out from the American automotive landscape with the end of Panther production in 2011.

So, naturally, when I got the chance to spend a few thousand miles behind the wheel of the spiritual successor of the body-on-frame sedan/wagon. I was extremely interested in finding out how’s the Suburban in real life. I hoped that it would be close enough to a “modern day Caprice STW” for me to serve as a family car in the near future, when I’ll start caring about child seats, safety and space to put a stroller in.

Before we set off to Normandy, I had already driven the Suburban for a couple hundred miles to serve as a camera car for some motorcycle video shoots, so I had a general idea about how the thing drives, and how it works on (relatively) tight Czech roads.

My feelings about it were a bit mixed. The positive part was that the Suburban still retains the incredible maneuverability of the wagons of yore – with a narrow, longitudinally mounted engine, the front wheels can turn in an improbable angle, giving the truck a really excellent turning radius. Couple this with a squared-off body with easy to see extremities, and you can turn around or park in spaces that would present a severe problem for many European MPVs, SUVs or even larger wagons (imagine something like a Passat Variant).

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But there was also the negative. With all the “SUVs are the new wagons” talk, I kind of imagined that the Suburban, with all the improvements of the last two decades, will drive much like somewhat higher, more modern Caprice. But it doesn’t. Not in the slightest.

Those of you living in America will probably find it amusing, but I was quite surprised that Suburban drives like what it essentially is. A truck. Yes, you can think that I’m just stupid European, who’s used to driving our tiny little wagons, and thus I’m naturally flabbergasted by the sheer size of this Chevy. But remember that I consider a Town Car to be a perfect, ahem, town car, so I was a bit surprised that something not even a foot longer, using similar suspension and drivetrain, drives so much different.

I’m not even sure what exactly causes the difference. Maybe it’s the height of your seating position, looking eye-to-eye with bus drivers and truckers. Maybe it’s the heavy controls, which make you feel that you really have to manhandle a great deal of weight. And maybe the Z-71 off-road package did its part, making the car quite stiff. While the old Caprice or Cadillac did have its unique way of getting around, with ultra-assisted steering and huge wheel lock working together to make it extremely easy to fling the car around, the Suburban feels much more unwieldy than it really is.

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Packing up for the Normandy trip, we also saw the better side of the Suburban. If you need to carry four people and still keep enough cargo space for all the stuff you need for a six days of video shooting, the Suburban is one of the very few cars that will fit the bill. With third row seats removed, the trunk is absolutely bloody cavernous. With our remote controlled drone, cameras, tripods, more cameras, personal luggage of four people and many other things, we would be totally screwed if we used any European SUV. Touareg, Disco or X5 may look big in European traffic, but compared to this monster, they are like tiny little toy cars. The biggest problem of the Suburban was that if you put anything anywhere deep in the trunk, you have to climb inside to retrieve it – which, frankly, gets old very fast, but it’s a small price to pay for being able to haul so much stuff.

The huge cargo capacity also made up, at least partially, for the biggest practical drawback of the Suburban in Europe. After years of reading about wonderful fuel economy of the 5.3 Vortec, I was maybe a bit too optimistic about the amount of fuel needed for the 950 mile trip from my hometown of Pardubice to Merville in Normandy. I kind of expected that with all the developments in aerodynamics and engine technology made in the last two decades, the huge SUV can return numbers comparable to the old Caprices I have been used to driving.

But I was wrong. Very wrong. On the way to France, I tried to drive as gently as possible, keeping the cruise set at 70mph and hoping for something like the 20 mpg my old Caprice would get at similar speeds. The reality was 17 mph, which is not that terrible, knowing that an European SUV with gasoline V6 or large diesel engine would be just marginally better. But still, seeing the fuel needle falling with astonishing speed through the gauge was a bit shocking, as were several fuel stops on the way there, each costing about $200-250. As with the dimensions and maneuverability, I’m used to large American cars – but even compared to my Town Car, this was brutal.

On the other hand, if you don’t pay for fuel (which I didn’t), the cruising experience with the Suburban is pretty nice. Even on the stiff Z-71 suspension, it’s comfortable enough, and I imagine that some more comfort-oriented version would really soothe its driver with plushness.

Being used to the nearly silent 4.6 Modular under the hood of the Lincoln, I was a bit surprised by the levels of noise made by the Vortec. Not that I had anything against it – it’s still one of the best sounding engines available, and with its suprising (for OHV plant) hunger for revs, it was really fun to drive, especially in towns or on smaller roads. Power was more than adequate, even for a vehicle that, fully laden, must have weighed 6000 lbs.

When we got to Normandy, we were faced with a lot of driving on tiny, medieval roads, and I soon understood why so many people say that American cars do not fit European roads. In Czech Republic or Germany, most roads are plenty wide enough for fullsize American cars, and 5er BMWs, Ford Mondeos about the size of a Ford Fusion), VW Passats etc. are considered fairly normal cars. In France? Bark was right. Mini Coopers, DS3s, Peugeot 208s and other tiny cars everywhere. Most BMWs were 1 series, Audis were usually A3s etc.

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Even so, it was reasonably easy to drive. The same factors that help with parking in the Czech Republic helped in driving on narrow French lanes. I just had to drive really slow, if I wanted to avoid rolling over, or melting the brakes (which are, to be honest, awful). A less welcome surprise was the four-wheel drive, which I had to use when driving on Omaha and Utah beaches for the purpose of filming. In the sand, it worked well.

But when I forgot to switch of the “4Hi” mode and was greeted by terrible screeching noise in the first corner, I was a bit surprised. I doubt that typical Suburban owners anywhere will venture in any kind of off-roading terrain, but I’m pretty sure that lots of them will encounter icy roads, wet roads and other adverse conditions, which would make full-time 4×4 pretty useful. I know that Escalade has full-time four-wheel drive, and I guess that Suburban has it available as an option, butthis configuration makes it basically a huge rear-wheel-drive wagon with terrible fuel economy and center of gravity somewhere in the ionosphere.

All of this would be pretty much excusable, as the Suburban offers unbeatable space inside, making it perfect for long trips with lots of people and things. But the return trip, for which I finally relegated the driving duties to someone else and went to sleep in the second row of seats, revealed one last, and for me hardly believable downside of the huge SUV.

That there is no damned space on the second row seats. Maybe there’s some way to move the second row further rearward, but I haven’t found it and my boss, the owner of the truck, insists such thing is not possible with this configuration. Which means that the rear (second row) legroom is severely lacking for me (about 5′ 11”) to sit “behind myself”. Which would be excusable in a compact SUV, based on a B-segment car. Or in a large coupe. Or in many other things, but definitely not in a nearly 6-meter long behemoth of an SUV.

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So, what’s the verdict? I really wanted to like the Suburban. I wanted it to be a worthy Caprice STW replacement. I even wanted it to be my next family vehicle in a few years. But I don’t, anymore. The Suburban is, above all, the perfect illustration of why CAFE sucks. Had it not been for stupid regulations, America could’ve still produced large, practical wagons with reasonable fuel economy, reasonable handling and brakes good enough to stop the car more than once without overheating.

Instead, you got this. It’s not a bad truck per se. In fact, it’s pretty good at what it’s designed to do – haul or tow loads of stuff, look and sound imposing, and keep doing it for long time without breaking down. But as a family vehicle? It sucks ungodly amounts of gas, it doesn’t handle, it doesn’t brake and it makes you feel like a trucker.

Maybe it will be cool in 10 or 20 years, in the same way finned monsters from 50s or absurdly huge personal luxury coupes from 1960s and 1970s are cool now. But now? Nope.

IMG_3227_8_9_tonemapped IMG_322 10444556_10203201451511605_6223039164841691093_n 10365947_10203201207945516_6310008170277470817_n 10345849_10203191911353107_384142668236823968_n 10418977_10203191911153102_4097715072918992549_n 10428710_10203191910633089_6138278676817282828_n 10442499_10203191909513061_9010808636248838053_n ]]>
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Lo, How the Mighty are Fallen. Porsche For Sale, Will Trade for Golf Cart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/lo-how-the-mighty-are-fallen-porsche-for-sale-will-trade-for-golf-cart/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/lo-how-the-mighty-are-fallen-porsche-for-sale-will-trade-for-golf-cart/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:25:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=868834 porsche9242

I was doing some legwork on a Reader’s Ride sort of thing that I’m hoping I’ll get to do with a Porsche 968. Time hasn’t treated the four cylinder front engined Porsches quite as well as it has the 928, and that, too, is kind of dismissed by Dr. P’s acolytes of the rear engined faith. You can buy a 968, the ultimate development of the 944 and a very nicely performing, exceptionally handling car, for less than a new Yaris or Versa will cost you and you can get a decent runner 944 for just a few thousand dollars. As for the 924, like the 914, it’s considered eine halbe Porsche.

porsche924

The faithful reject it as a “true Porsche” not just because the engine’s in the wrong end of the car, but also because it was a joint VW/Porsche project intended originally to be a high end coupe for the VW brand in Europe and sold as an Audi in North America. It wasn’t originally even going to be a Porsche, though Porsche did much of the initial development work. However, when Volkswagen decided that the Scirocco met their coupe needs and backed out of the project, Porsche bought the rights, deciding to use the car as a replacement for the discontinued four cylinder 914 and 912 models.

porsche9243

When it arrived in showrooms, the front engine, rear transaxle layout and Porsche’s suspension prowess made it a great handling car. The smog control enfeebled Audi engine, shared with some AMC models including Jeep postal trucks, though, was a dog. The chassis didn’t find its promise until the Turbo, 924S, and 944 models. As a result, the 924 cars that have survived are cheap enough to be considered for 24 Hrs of LeMons use without having to sell off many parts to get under the $500 limit. Heck, some are already at or below the $500 limit as you can buy them. Well, people would consider using them as LeMons entries if they were reliable enough to last in a crapcan enduro, which they aren’t. You can get a running 924 for less than it will cost to put a used engine in a 10 year old Saturn. If that’s too rich for your blood, and you happen to have a spare golf cart laying about and are still jonesing for an affordable front engined Porsche, well, you’re in luck as someone in Hart, Michigan with a 924 is willing to make a trade:

Posted: 

 1977 Porsche 924 – $500 (Hart, MI )

image 1image 2image 3

1977 porsche 924

1977 924 Porschegreat for parts
no title/not running
will trade for golf cart
call or text 616-xxx- three to six three
  • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS
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The Die It Was Cast – A Little Bit of Little Car History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-die-it-was-cast-a-little-bit-of-little-car-history/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-die-it-was-cast-a-little-bit-of-little-car-history/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 11:30:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=868322 tootsietoy_display

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the term “collectible diecast” most often refers to detailed scale models of cars and trucks. After all, the industrial process of molding metal parts by forcing liquefied low-melting point metals into a die was known as “hydrostatic moulding” before Herbert H. Franklin reportedly coined the term “die casting”. Franklin, who started the first commercial die casting company in the world, was also the founder of the Franklin Automobile Company, the most successful American maker of cars with air-cooled engines. It was the money that Franklin made  in the metal die-casting industry that allowed him, in 1901, to engage engineer John Wilkinson, who was the technical genius behind the Franklin cars, which stayed in production into the 1930s. I’ve been working on a post about Wilkinson and the Franklin cars, but right now let’s look at a couple of other brands of cars that wouldn’t have existed were it not for Franklin’s success with die-casting. Those ‘car’ brands are TootsieToy and Matchbox. It was TootsieToy that likely first made die-cast model cars and it was Matchbox that took them from being mere toys to being accurate scale models.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It’s interesting that right around the same time that Herbert Franklin and John Wilkinson were starting up the Franklin Automobile Company, two sets of brothers were already using the process Franklin perfected and popularized (he’d bought some patents on the process, which was invented in the early 19th century by Elisha Root) to make die-cast toys, soon to make model cars.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Samuel and Charles Dowst started a trade journal for laundry operators in 1876, in Chicago. As part of their business, the brothers also sold promotional items like thimbles and sewing kits. At the Columbian Expostion of 1893, Sam Dowst watched a demonstration of the Mergenthaler Linotype machine. Though he was a publisher he was more interested in how the type was molded than in using the machine to set that type, realizing the process could be used to make small metal items besides printer’s type. The brothers adapted the machine to make thimbles, buttons and cufflinks, items they could sell to their existing customer base. A tiny iron they made for the Flat Iron Laundry along with a couple of other promotional pieces, a small thimble and a little Scottie dog would later be adopted by Parker Brothers as playing pieces for the Monopoly board game.

The first TootsieToy die-cast model car, circa 1911, and a reproduction.

The first TootsieToy die-cast model car, circa 1911, and a reproduction.

According to Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopedia, the Dowst brothers made the world’s first die-cast model car, a replica of the Ford Model T, in 1908. It was a big hit and the success of that first model car led to an extensive product line of toy trains, trucks, buses and airplanes using the TootsieToys brand. Tootsie was apparently a nickname for one of the Dowsts’ granddaughters and the brand was trademarked in 1924. However, there’s apparently some discrepancy about when Dowst made their first model car.  As mentioned, the toy encyclopedia says it was 1908 and and a Model T.  On the other hand, Tootsietoys.info, which appears to be authoritative, says that while the Dowst company made some small, charm sized miniature cars early on, their first actual model of of a car that they made was in 1911, a closed limousine, followed in 1915 with a model of the Ford Model T.

TootsieToy 1915 Model T

TootsieToy 1915 Model T

Around the same time that the Dowsts were starting to make die-cast items at the turn of the 20th century another set of brothers, the Shures, owned a firm named the Cosmo Company, which around 1901 started making a similar line of die-cast items like charms, pins and cuff links. Shure Bros. would eventually buy the Dowst company in 1926.

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In addition to their retail model cars, TootsieToys also made “dealer models”, scale models that were given out by car dealers, usually to the children of car buyers. In the mid 1930s, TootsieToy introduced the Bild-a-Car set with five chassis, coupe, sedan and roadster bodies along with wheels, tires, axles and assembly clips.

bild-a-car-set-web

Just as the makers of TootsieToy model cars and trucks started out publishing a magazine, the originator of the Matchbox line of accurate scale models, Lesney Products, didn’t start out as a toy company. Two men recently discharged from the British armed forces after service during World War II, Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith (no relation), used their severance pay to start a small die-casting company in the remains of a bombed out pub in Tottenham in 1947. They originally made small parts under contract for industrial purposes. One of their early employees, Jack Odell, used the down time during the Christmas holiday season to make some toys that could be sold as children’s gifts. The first models they made were a tractor and a pavement roller, about 8 inches long, and they sold well enough that the company started making fewer industrial parts and more toys. Rodney Smith didn’t think the toy business was worth pursuing and he sold his shares to Leslie Smith and Odell, who by then had become a partner.

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The company had designed a large, 12-14 inch long horse drawn ceremonial coronation coach and when King George VI died and his daughter Elizabeth was crowned queen, Odell produced copies of the carriage to sell to tourists attending her coronation. They sold out. Spurred by that success, he scaled down the coach to just four inches long, still keeping much of the detail. Lesney ended up selling a million of them, firmly establishing the company as a toy maker.

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Odell and Smith looked to miniaturize other toys when Odell had a flash of inspiration from a rule about toys at his daughter’s elementary school. Pupils were only allowed to bring toys to school that were small enough to fit inside a standard matchbox. Odell scaled down the model road roller that Lesney had designed, cast it in brass, put the finished model in a matchbox and sent his daughter off to school with it. It was a hit with her classmates, particularly the boys. Lesney registered the Matchbox brand as a trademark, launched the new toy line, starting what is now a worldwide industry that produces model cars ranging from $1 impulse items to painstakingly detailed 1:18 models with thousands of parts that cost thousands of dollars. The first official Matchbox models, though, were not cars.

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They were the company’s original road roller, a dump truck and a cement mixer. In short time, though the company started produced model road and race cars. Unlike other model companies, Lesney did not use numerical scales like 1:43 or 1:64. Instead their scale was “1:box”, as the finished products all had to fit in a standard size box.

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The Matchbox line had competitors. Dinky, Cigar Box, Husky and Corgi all made die-cast model cars and trucks but those British firms didn’t really pose a threat to Lesney. That threat would materialize from across the Atlantic Ocean.

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An American toy manufacturer named Elliot Handler was looking for a boys’ toy that would complement the success his company had with the girls’ doll his wife Ruth had named after their daughter Barbara. The doll was a smash hit, giving the Handlers considerable wealth, and they liked to travel. On a vacation to Europe, Elliot bought some Matchbox cars to bring home as souvenir gifts for their grandkids. The children liked the models’ detail but didn’t like how slowly and poorly the little cars rolled. Handler had the idea for his boys’ toy. Patented, low friction wire axles and wheels were developed that had the added benefit of giving the cars a sprung suspension, making them even more realistic. From Husky/Corgi Handler borrowed the idea of using clear plastic blister-packs to package and display the vehicles, instead of hidden in boxes as Matchbox vehicles were. Some were more or less scale models of existing production and show cars but Handler also hired a GM designer with winning show car experience to create some original designs. Handler’s little cars were an even bigger hit than the Matchbox originals. They were so successful, in fact, that the company Handler started eventually bought the Matchbox brand to complement its own after Lesney declared bankruptcy, unable to compete with the American toy giant. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Elliot is the source of the “el” in Mattel (the Handlers’ original partner, named Matt, had left the firm many years prior), and he named his own line of little cars Hot Wheels, but that’s another story.

I still have a Matchbox Lotus 33 somewhere in a drawer in my mom's house.

I still have a Matchbox Lotus 33 somewhere in a drawer in my mom’s house.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Chart Of The Day: Crossovers Are King http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/chart-of-the-day-crossovers-are-king/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/chart-of-the-day-crossovers-are-king/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:33:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=867074 BsrTeYECEAAYuq0

 

This chart, courtesy of IHS Automotive, shows that for the first time in America, crossovers have edged out sedans as the most popular body style.

While the data only shows new vehicle registrations through May, 2014, don’t expect this trend to reverse any time soon. The crossover’s rise to market dominance is an inexorable fact of our automotive landscape, both in America and around the world.

Now you see why Nissan isn’t so crazy to forgo the new IDx in favor of the Juke. Sure, nobody will ever cross-shop the two cars, but one plays in a space that is constantly growing, while the other competes in a market that has a future that’s slightly worse than the U.S. Postal Service. If you were an auto executive with a few billion to spend on a new car that must turn a profit (so, no fantasy brown wagon projects), the choice would be easy.

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Junkyard Find: 1978 Porsche 924 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1978-porsche-924/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1978-porsche-924/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865002 09 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI’ve learned a couple of things about Porsches while working for the 24 Hours of LeMons race series. One is that Internet Car Experts cannot accept the idea that any Porsche might be had for a three-figure price tag, and the other is that 924s and 944s are absolute nightmares to keep running. You can find cheap 924s and 944s all day long, anywhere in the country, and the sellers will be eager to take your offer. I see these cars in cheap self-serve wrecking yards all the time, but seldom do I stop to photograph the things. This time, though, the radiant copper color of this Porsche 924 was just so compelling that I reached for my camera.
03 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBack in 1984 or so, I knew a guy who made the leap from small-time cannabis dealer to small-time cocaine dealer. Naturally, he needed a car that would let the world know that he’d arrived, so he ditched his Vega and bought a silver 924. Then he got burned in some sort of deal gone wrong about a month later and had to sell the Porsche in a hurry. I’m sure most 924s have several such owners in their history.
01 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou know what other vehicle came with this 2.0 liter SOHC engine? The 1979 AM General DJ-5 Mail Jeep.
13 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one has a fairly solid body, though the interior is bad.
04 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThing is, when your Porsche is worth $900 and the mechanic wants $1,500 to make it run again… well, that’s the story with many once-valuable Junkyard Finds.

Just the car for adventurous Germans!

01 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1978 Porsche 924 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1986 Buick Somerset http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1986-buick-somerset/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1986-buick-somerset/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=864818 18 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAhhh, the Buick Somerset! One of my favorite obscure General Motors cars of the 1980s, right up there with the Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo and Buick Reatta. The Somerset started out in 1985 as the Somerset Regal, but then GM’s marketers must have become as confused as an octogenarian Buick shopper confronted in the showroom by this little coupe with thrashy four-banger and science-fiction radio pod, changing the name to just plain Somerset for 1986. Not easy to find, the Somerset, so I was happy to spot this one last winter in a Denver self-service yard.
06 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSomerset buyers got this cool digital dash, which might have appealed to Japanese octogenarians but didn’t resonate so well with American ones who grew up with a more traditional sort of Buick coupe. No, I didn’t buy this cluster to add to my collection— I already have a Somerset digital cluster, pulled from another car that I found the week before photographing this one.
03 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWant to upgrade to an aftermarket radio in your Somerset? Not with this setup in place, you won’t!
04 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNobody has ever been able to explain what GM was thinking when they came up with this idea.
13 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinUnder the hood, the good old Iron Duke, the least luxurious engine available to General Motors at the time. The 3.0 liter Buick V6 was optional for the ’86 Somerset.
17 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one ran when crashed.

Give me the look. Give me the feel. Give me the magic. Give me the wheel.

Where better really matters.

02 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Don’t Drink the Google Kool-aid: Autonomy’s Limits in Three Sips http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/dont-drink-the-google-kool-aid-autonomys-limits-in-three-sips/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/dont-drink-the-google-kool-aid-autonomys-limits-in-three-sips/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:30:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865633 early-vehicle-lores

Please welcome TTAC’s newest contributor, Professor Mike Smitka. Mr. Smitka teaches a course on the Economics of the Auto Industry at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and is regarded as an authority on the automotive world. He also makes time to read and comment on TTAC.

Google’s senior executives are busily touting the wonders of autonomous vehicles. There’s the technological marvel, at least in the eyes of Silicon Valley. There are the economic benefits – no more congestion, no more accidents. Wonder of wonders! – and great for the Google empire, and for its stock price.

The Google PR machine is a marvel to behold, and the gullibility of the audience – well, it’s Google! They have the wherewithal to launch a concept car, or rather 100 copies of one, with footage [er, a few megabytes?] of a blind man and a child in what would normally be the driver’s seat. But is their technical contribution really that big? Will economic benefits be as great as they claim? Indeed, will Google even be a player in future vehicle technologies? Their PR machine is not paid to probe such issues, much less point out that alternative technologies may bring the core benefits more quickly and at a modest cost. Oh, and without generating a penny of revenue for Google…

First, the core innovations necessary for an autonomous vehicle are already on the road, the result of decades-long engineering efforts alongside which Google’s investment and expertise pale in comparison. Go back 20-odd years and Delphi (then still a part of GM) was already mapping the creation of a “cocoon” that would protect the driver. Blindspot detection, lane departure warnings, backup “assist” (shh, don’t call it a safety feature, there might be lawyers around) and adaptive cruise control were all part of their vision. They’d acquired Hughes Aircraft [which eventually morphed into DirectTV] to get the engineers needed to start migrating military radar and control technology into cars. Over time the electromechanical enablers went from dreams to practical (if not always affordable) devices. First came electrically-activated brakes (and eventually electronic stability systems), then E-steer, and all sorts of engine and transmission controls, radar systems on a single circuit board, vision systems. Delphi’s dream is now a reality.

Again, these have been on the road for years, though some in numbers too small to affect overall safety or congestion. All these systems are falling in price. So we don’t have to await an entirely new generation of vehicles to begin reaping the benefits. Crucial to Google’s vision is that these are all partial solutions. But once adaptive cruise control is pervasive, will what Google offers will be more than a marginal improvement, with (Google hopes!) a non-marginal jump in the price tag?

So it is not obvious to me that Google will have any role in vehicles short of full autonomy – after all, their presence has not been needed for these existing tools! Nor will car companies be eager to jump into bed with Google. Quite the opposite – the industry has a long history of breaking up systems into smaller pieces and mandating licensing so as to avoid dependence on any single supplier. It’s not that Google’s role won’t be appreciated; their roadmap has already got regulators thinking in a more integrated way about this panoply of new vehicle technologies. That’s not a trivial contribution, but it’s not going to boost their stock multiple.

Second, Google’s is not the only approach. In particular, connected vehicle technologies promise most of the benefits at a far lower price point and with a faster rollout. Such systems are inexpensive because they can use the copious computing power already in car, while the hardware consists of inexpensive RFID transponders. The pieces of such systems are now being tested on the road, with a large test facility, the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center – an artificial cityscape – under construction in Ann Arbor, adjacent to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Such systems don’t require the manifold sensors of an autonomous vehicle. Indeed the core components could be sold as an aftermarket item, albeit with lower functionality. Such connectivity could be rolled out in the course of years.

In contrast autonomy will require decades. Yes, Nissan is talking about having their first autonomous vehicle on the road as early as 2018, regulators permitting; more realistically, we’ll start seeing “real” vehicles from 2020, given the lead time for vehicle development when new systems are involved. (It’s not just that the hardware and software have to be integrated into existing vehicles, it’s also that test procedures need to be developed for both the hardware and the software.) By 2025 the industry will have enough vehicle-years of experience to address regulatory fears and start the path to consumer acceptance. (In the background, the industry will need to coalesce around how to implement such systems; SAE standard-setting committees will be very busy!) Then production capacity has to be ramped up – global vehicle production by that point will be over 100 million units a years. So that’s another 10 years, bringing us to 2035. And then the fleet must turn over; with the average age of vehicles now over 11 years and rising, that will mean another decade for half of all vehicles to be autonomous. We’re thus looking at 2045 and beyond. In contrast, a combination of aftermarket and designed-in RFID systems could be on every vehicle by 2025, offering varying levels of collision avoidance and traffic flow smoothing.

Third and finally, what will be the benefits? Google likes to trumpet the elimination of accidents and the end of congestion. Perhaps. The trucking industry stands to benefit, though again this will be incremental to what is already on the road (truck trains are already running in Europe). However, if you’re in LA or Beijing, well, the restructuring of where people on average live versus where they work will take decades. Furthermore, to the extent adaptive cruise control speeds traffic, the initial impact will be to make longer commutes along major arteries more attractive, so that these roads will have to carry every more cars. Folks, congestion is here to stay.

In the meantime, a household will still need a vehicle (or two!) for commuting, so we won’t be able to get rid of all those cars. Nor will autonomous vehicles be so inexpensive that suburbanites will have one for the daily drive and another for kids and yardwork, else battery electric vehicles would already be the dominant vehicle on the Beltway around DC.

Yes, accidents will fall. Perhaps in some distant utopia we’ll no longer need airbags or crumple zones. Will connected vehicles deliver all these benefits? No. In particular, aftermarket devices could only offer warnings, not take over steering and braking. But they’ll come close, and at a price point and with a time horizon quite different from the drink Google wants us to imbibe.

Mike Smitka is an economist at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He’s been a judge of the Automotive News PACE supplier innovation awards since they began in 1994. His household’s vehicles are a 2014 Chevy Cruze, a 2013 Honda CR-V and a 1988 Chevy pickup. Find his auto industry course at Econ 244; he also blogs at Autos and Economics

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Junkyard Find: 1979 Datsun 210 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1979-datsun-210-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1979-datsun-210-2/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=864545 10 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNames for various flavors of the Nissan Sunny got very confusing during the 1970s and 1980s. Starting in the 1978 model year, the front-wheel-drive replacement for the B210— known as the B310 within Nissan— kept the “210″ name in the United States (meanwhile, you could also buy “510s” that were actually A10 Violets), later evolving into the car that became the Sentra. These were cheap but reliable (for the time) misery boxes, competing with the likes of the Chrysler Omnirizon, and so very few of them escaped The Crusher when they started wearing out in the early 1990s. Here’s a rare example that I found in Southern California in January.
13 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Datsun name had just a few years to go at this point.
07 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI can’t tell the A12 engine from the A14 at a glance; either way, this thing delivers well under 75 horsepower.
06 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPretty typical late-70s econobox interior. At least this car has a manual transmission.

08 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1978 Datsun 210 - Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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The Shadow Of Johnny Cash http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-shadow-of-johnny-cash/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-shadow-of-johnny-cash/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 18:42:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865186 Johhny_Cash_Rolls

No, that is not a metaphor for The Man in Black’s musical legacy.

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The ABC TV network was so delighted by the success of The Johnny Cash Show that they presented Cash, in lieu of more cash, with a 1970 Rolls-Royce long-wheelbase Silver Shadow, complete with division. (Note that long-wheelbase Shadows were often badged “Silver Wraith” — JB) The “division” being the pane of interior glass that isolated the chauffeur in the front compartment, thereby adding to the passengers’ privacy. Perhaps as an homage to Henry Ford’s Model T, Johnny Cash’s Shadow was delivered in—black. Cash’s initials appear on the rear doors.

The Johnny Cash Show ran in 58 episodes from June 1969 to March 1971. In retrospect, it is easy to imagine that the show was able to go forward only as the result of an uneasy truce under which the network executives crammed has-beens on the order of alleged comedian George Gobel and oldsters like Bob Hope down Cash’s throat.

That was the price Cash had to pay to have his own show and to be able to feature fresh talent like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan on his own show’s opening night. To Cash’s credit, over the run of the series, his guest lists included Louis Armstrong (who died only weeks after the taping), Odetta, Charley Pride, and The Staples Singers.

My favorite The Johnny Cash Show moment came when Cash sang a duet (obviously a lightly-rehearsed duet), with Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot. Although Lightfoot had recently recorded in Nashville, he had not yet enjoyed the household-name success brought by “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Perhaps fearing a memory lapse was coming, at one point Cash, who was having a hard time keeping a straight face anyway, tells Lightfoot, “Sing it, Pretty Boy!” Priceless.

It also should be noted that it was during a remote taping at Vanderbilt University that Cash first performed the song “Man in Black.”

I had always assumed that the comparatively short run of Cash’s show was caused by viewers and advertisers preferring to watch a TV show featuring a country musician who much less resembled Count Dracula. Specifically, that other Pretty Boy, Glen Campbell.

However, multiple sources attribute the cancellation of Cash’s show to the 1970-71 “Rural Purge” of network television, during which nearly all the rural-themed television shows were canceled, despite their overwhelming popularity. (Campbell’s show survived until 1972.)

The rationale was that rural-themed shows such as Green Acres, Mister Ed, Petticoat Junction, and The Beverly Hillbillies were overwhelmingly popular, but primarily among elderly-trending demographic segments, while the younger viewers the advertisers craved were just tuning them all out. Hence, a bloodless revolution: All in the Family, Da; Hee-Haw, Nyet.

(To be sure, there were highly popular non-rural shows that fell under the axe during the Rural Purge, among them, The Andy Williams Show, The Lawrence Welk Show, and Wild Kingdom. Someone with TV-Land connections really should write a book!)

Automobile-auction superpower Barrett-Jackson will offer Johnny Cash’s 1970 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow at no reserve in its Las Vegas Auction, September 25-27, 2014. Barrett-Jackson claims that the vehicle is original, and that it comes with complete documentation. Barrett-Jackson’s policy is to decline to provide estimates for no-reserve auctions.

However, as a matter of broadly-based averages, early-1970s Silver Shadows have a hard time breaking $30,000. An acquaintance of mine paid $16,000 for Sergio Franchi’s Rolls of similar vintage, in daily-driver condition. Whether a deep-pockets country-music fan, or perhaps some museum, wants to make some news with this auction result remains to be seen—literally, as one would expect this lot to be televised.

Photos courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.

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Enter The Bigtruck: Cessna 172 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/enter-the-bigtruck-cessna-172/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/enter-the-bigtruck-cessna-172/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 04:03:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865138

I know you’ll enjoy this: noted first-poster “Bigtruckseriesreview” takes to the sky in a Cessna 172.

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The Stout Scarab – An Art Deco Automotive Artifact That Was Ahead of Its Time http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-stout-scarab-an-art-deco-automotive-artifact-that-was-ahead-of-its-time/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-stout-scarab-an-art-deco-automotive-artifact-that-was-ahead-of-its-time/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 14:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858489 img_0274

Full gallery here

In looking at Henry Ford’s forays into the airplane and aviation industries we’ve touched on the story of William Bushnell Stout. Stout was the man behind Ford’s successful endeavor into aviation with the Ford Trimotor. Car enthusiasts, though, might be more familiar with the small run of Stout Scarab automobiles, said to be the “first minivans”. Stout introduced a few other other automotive firsts like air suspension and the use of composite bodies. How much of an innovator Stout was, as opposed to someone who saw value in the ideas of others and brought them to fruition, is open to debate. He was certainly respected by the engineering community, serving as president of the Society of Automotive Engineers. It’s undeniable, though, that Stout saw the promise, later fulfilled, of commercial passenger aviation, and while many of the Scarabs’ more prominent features can be called dead-ends, quite a few of the things that Stout built into his cars are probably present on the car or truck you drive.

William Bushnell Stout was born in 1880 in Quincy, Illinois, though by the time he was in high school his family was living in Minnesota as he graduated from St. Paul’s Mechanic Arts High School in 1898. He attended Hamline University and the University of Minnesota but never graduated, due to developing a problem with his eyesight that apparently improved over time. Adding aeronautics to his mechanical interest, after marriage and a move back to Illinois he founded the Model Aero Club of Illinois, experimenting with model airplanes. He must have resolved the issue with his vision because in 1907 he became Chief Engineer of the Schurmeir Motor Truck Company of Chicago.

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William B. Stout

As with a number of automotive and aviation engineers Stout also tried his hand with writing about his passions and in 1912 he was named automobile and aviation editor for the Chicago Tribune. That year also saw Stout founding Aerial Age, the first aviation magazine to be published in America. He was also a contributor to the Minneapolis Times under the clever pen name of  “Jack Kneiff”.

In 1914, Stout was hired to be head engineer of the Scripps-Booth Automobile Company of Detroit. Today Scripps-Booth is best known for making the one-off Bi AutoGo, which had nothing to do with being attracted to both men and women but rather was an enormous two wheeled vehicle (with little outrigger training wheels) that was the first V8 powered vehicle made in Detroit. Of perhaps greater significance to automotive history is the fact that the Scripps-Booth company was one of the firms that Billy Durant bought on his path to create General Motors. Scripps-Booth was the project of philanthropist, artist and engineer James Scripps Booth, an heir to the family that founded the Detroit News and the Cranbrook educational community. The car company he founded made conventional automobiles but also tried to capitalize on the popularity of lightweight “cyclecars” with the JB Rocket cyclecar, designed by William Stout.

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JB Rocket Cyclecar on display at the Henry Ford Museum. Full gallery here

The moderate success of the JB Rocket brought Stout to the attention of Alvan Macauley, who headed the Packard Motor Car Company. Macauley made Stout general sales manager of Packard and in 1916, when the automaker started up an aviation division Stout was named to be its chief engineer. Stout seems to have been a bit peripatetic because only three years later he left Packard to start his own company, Stout Engineering, in Dearborn.

Stout Engineering led to the creation of the Stout Metal Airplane Company, which I covered a bit in my post on the Trimotor. After Henry Ford more or less edged Wm Stout out of Stout Metal Airplane Company, which built the Trimotor, the aeronautical engineer went back to his Laboratories to apply what he’d learned from making airplanes to designing an advanced automobile. In the 1930s, a number of automotive engineers and designers including Josef Ganz, Ferdinand Porsche and Hans Ledwinka were looking into both aerodynamics and the packaging needs of inexpensive “peoples cars”. Along with those European engineers, Stout embraced the rear engine, rear wheel drive layout as a solution to both of those design issues. In an article in Scientific American, Stout extolled the virtues of moving the engine from the front of the car to the back, “When we finally ‘unhitch Old Dobbin’ from the automobile, the driver will have infinitely better vision from all angles. The automobile will be lighter and more efficient and yet safer, the ride will be easier, and the body will be more roomy without sacrificing maneuverability.”

Stout called his car the Scarab, no doubt because its envelope body shape resembled that Egyptian beetle’s shape. While Ganz had already introduced the idea of naming a car after a beetle, Stout likely arrived at the same idea independently. In any case, Ganz, who popularized the concept of a volkswagen, an inexpensive entry level automobile, and Stout were pursuing different market segments. From 1934 to 1939, Stout is believed to have built a total of 9 Scarabs with a starting price of $5,000, a price that would approach $90,000 in 2014 dollars. For their money, buyers got advanced design features like fenders incorporated into the body, no running boards, and skirted rear wheels. Not quite as obvious but still found on cars today were the Scarab’s hidden door hinges, flush mounted door handles, and flush glass, all intended to improve the Scarab’s aerodynamics.

In recent years, luxury car makers have started incorporating filters to remove dust from their cars’ ventilation systems. The Scarab featured those as well as other modern amenities like ambient lighting, thermostatic heating controls and powered door locks. One reason for being called the first minivan is the fact that while the driver had his or her own door, passengers used a single central mounted side door on the passenger side, similar to the original Chrysler minivans (and VW’s earlier Type II “Bus”). Another reason is that like some minivans, the passenger seats of the Scarab could be reconfigured around a table in the rear of the cabin. Since the seats were not secured to the floor, that might be a safety issue in the event of a collision.

It’s believed by many that the Scarab’s styling was the work of John Tjaarda, whose styling for the Briggs Dream Car, a rear engine streamlined design, would eventually turn up as the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr. Others say that the Scarab was not the work of Tjaarda, whose son Tom Tjaarda had his own successful career as a car designer, but rather was simply influenced by the senior Tjaarda’s earlier “Sterkenburg series” of streamlined monocoque car designs. In any case, the Scarab followed the streamlining style manual, adding a heavy dose of then au courant Art Deco ornamentation. From its headlight grilles and ancient Egyptian theme up front to the elaborate and delicate metal work and chrome trim in back, the Stout Scarab today is considered perhaps the finest automotive expression of the Art Deco design ethos. All nine of the Scarabs, built by a company set up by Stout, not surprisingly called Stout Motor Car, had slightly different interiors, as they were effectively custom, hand built cars.

Besides its radical styling and advanced design features, the Scarab was mechanically interesting. With Stout’s established relationship with Ford Motor Company it’s not surprising that the car featured a flathead Ford V8, but unlike in Ford cars it was mounted over the rear wheels. Output was rated at 95 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque. Driving through a three-speed manual transmission, that 94 hp was good for a 0-60 mph time of 15 seconds, per a modern day test by Special Interest Autos. By using aircraft construction techniques, the Scarab weighed just 3,300 lbs, which is impressive considering that it’s 195.5 inches long and over 6 feet tall. Stout experimented with an aluminum body featuring magnesium doors in his 1932 prototype, but he decided those materials were too expensive to use in the production Scarabs, which were made with steel bodies mounted atop a steel tubing space frame. With the engine and transmission facing towards the back of the car, Stout came up with a layout that would later be used by Lamborghini on the Countach, Diablo and Murcielago. The power of the output shaft of the transmission is transferred to a driveshaft that runs underneath the transmission and engine back to the rear axle.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Click on the settings icon to watch in 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

The suspension of the Scarab was sophisticated for its day, with all four wheels independently suspended. Actually, it might even be sophisticated for a modern car. Up front were lower control arms, coils springs and aircraft style “oleo” struts, while the rear suspension had swing axles (considered the latest thing in the ’20s and ’30s), unequal length upper and lower control arms, lower trailing arms, more “oleo struts” and a transverse leaf spring, something that the Corvette still uses, though from period build photos, the rear struts appear to be “coilover” units with coil springs (see the gallery below). Stout’s use of struts in the rear suspension of the Scarab is said to have been an influence on the development of the so-called Chapman strut, fitted by Colin Chapman to a number of Lotus cars including the Elan. Brakes were hydraulically operated with cast iron drums at all four wheels.

The Scarab was never intended to be a mass market vehicle, with production planned at no more than 100 cars a year. While some promotional materials were made, sales were by invitation only. As would expected those who bought Scarabs were well off, including family names like Firestone, Wrigley and Dow. Still, it was an expensive car and there was a depression going on. Combine a high price and styling that was radical in its day and still looks a little bit odd and you can see why sales never reached projections.

In the late 1930s, Stout started looking into the use of the Firestone Rubber Company’s experimental air springs and fitted them to his personal Scarab and they were also likely installed on Harvey S. Firestone’s Scarab as well. During World War II, Stout was a consultant with the War Production Board regarding the use of smaller industrial facilities and Stout Engineering became allied with the Consolidated Aircraft company, with Stout devoting most of his time developing the Aerocar and Helibus concepts.

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1946 Stout Scarab Experimental “Project Y”, likely the first fiberglass car. Full gallery here

After the war, Stout returned to the Scarab concept, this time constructing what he called the Stout Scarab Experimental, also called the Project Y or Y-46. The styling was much more conventional than the original Scarabs, with normal sedan styling and two conventional doors but the construction was even more radical. Not only was the Project Y likely to have been the first car built with a fiberglass composite body, Stout predated the Lotus Elite by using the material to implement monocoque frame-in-body construction. The Y-46 also featured air suspension, likely transferred from Stout’s original Scarab (after Stout put over 250,000 miles on that car), and a wraparound windshield, a feature that wouldn’t show up on production cars for almost a decade.

While fewer than a dozen Stout Scarab automobiles were produced, Stout had more success with larger vehicles. Gar Wood Industries produced about 175 transit buses based on Stout’s designs, more or less scaled up Scarabs.

Drivers, then and now, describe the Scarab’s ride as being both smooth and stable. At least five of the nine original Scarabs still exist and a number of them are in running condition including the silver Scarab pictured here. It was made in 1936 and it belongs to Larry Smith of Pontiac, Michigan. It was photographed at the 2012 Eyes On Design show. You can see another of the surviving Stout Scarabs here. The Stout Scarab Experimental Y-46 also still survives, in the collection of the Gilmore Car Museum, near Kalamazoo.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

wbstout. 6a00e54ed05fc288330134804bb5ad970c-800wi 51Bm5CqljeL._SY300_ Bi-Autogo no1937_stout_article oo1907_jack_kneiff_dredge oo1932_stout_car_4 oo1932_stout_scarab_art oo1933_stout_scarab_1 oo1935_stout_scarab_10 oo1936_gar_wood_ad_1 oo1936_stout_pat_1 oo1946_stout_y-46_0 oo1946_stout_y-46_1 oo1946_stout_y-46_2 ScarabBus_01 Stout3-600x423 stoutlucas StoutScarab Stout-Scarab-cutaway-1 ]]>
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Deliverance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/deliverance/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/deliverance/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:02:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=863361 Shelby Charger

An old car is a feast for the senses. The gentle curve of a fender or the sharply drawn body line pleases the eye while the clatter of valves and the whine of spinning belts combine to make mechanical music. The exhaust gasses, which smell just a tad too rich, blend with the odors of old motor oil, decaying rubber and that musty smell that wafts from the car’s interior to fill your olfactory, while the mixture of gasoline, oil and grease that makes your hands feel so slippery even finds its way onto your tongue when you bring the fingertip you burned on a hot manifold to your mouth. You see it, hear it, smell it, feel it and can even taste it, all five senses touched by one malodorous, malevolent little mechanical beast. Yes friends, if you hadn’t guessed by now, my ’83 Shelby Charger is here at last.

I had, I am ashamed to say, forgotten the physicality of old cars. As someone who lives with two fairly new, almost totally drama free vehicles, it’s easy to forget that all cars are anything but appliances. Like the washing machine I have running in the other room right now, my cars are competent, clean and perform flawlessly at the turn of the key. I could jump into either of them and drive from one coast to the other just as easily as I could drop another load of laundry into the tub of my washer and know with utter and absolute confidence that I will, in short order, have a load of clean clothes. The Shelby, on the other hand, more closely resembles the antique clock that graces my mantelpiece. It is a magical assembly of whirring gears that human ingenuity has brought together into one marvelous machine and, while it does the job, it requires almost daily adjustment to perform as intended.

shelby charger

Some of our readers may recall that, a few months ago, I posted a plaintive cry for help in choosing an older car. I set down a rather strict set of criteria: it needed to be older, not too nice lest I succumb to the desire to preserve it rather than use it, and it needed to have a manual transmission. I got a lot of great suggestions and a couple of tantalizing offers that I had to pass on but as luck would have it, one of our website’s erstwhile readers in Maryland, a gentleman named Terry, reached out and made an offer almost too good to refuse.

The photos showed a stunning little car and I was instantly smitten. In the flurry of emails that followed, Terry let slip that he was the car’s original owner but that, because like me he often works at jobsites outside of the United States, the car had spent a lot of time sitting. Eventually, it had ended up in a friend’s barn in West Virginia where time, the elements and a family of mice had worked their magic.

But Terry isn’t the kind of man who let’s things slide and although it might have been out of sight the little car was never out of mind. From the far side of the planet Terry plotted and waited and then, on a short trip home, he brought the car back over the Appalachians to Maryland where he dropped it at a local speed shop before heading back overseas. The list of things done was extensive and can’t hope to recount all of it here, I do know that the old transmission was swapped out for a stouter unit from a later model turbo Dodge, the top end of the engine was rebuilt and the car’s rust issues, which sounded extensive, were resolved by cutting out the cancer and welding in new steel. Finally, the car was repainted in its factory colors, set on a set of good looking OZ wheels shod with sticky, performance rubber and returned to its owner.

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Terry enjoyed the car for a few years but, with an SRT8 Challenger, a 71 Charger and two jeeps in the garage, the little Shelby ended up under a cover in the driveway next to the daily driven Neon RT. While it didn’t exactly languish there it spent more time sitting than Terry liked and so, after reading of my undying love for 80s Dodges on these hallowed pages, Terry decided to shoot me an email. Naturally, I responded immediately and on my recent trip to DC I swung through Frederick. After a brief test drive through the rolling hills I decided that the car needed just a bit of sorting to be perfect for my purposes, but that it really was as Terry had represented a solid, original little car. At this point, because I am still working on a few of the things I think need to be addressed and because my impressions are still a bit muddled by the excitement of having so recently taken delivery, I won’t write a full review, but know now that you will soon hear so much about my adventures with this little car that you will grow to hate it.

Although I only got the car the day before yesterday, I can already tell you that it gets all kinds of attention. The cable guy and the garbage man both asked about it while it sat in the driveway before I got it registered. People asked about it at the inspection station and, once I got the plates on, it drew a small crowd when I took it to the gas station for its first fill-up. The guys in the auto parts store I stopped at all had to go out and see it and I even got asked about it from the passenger of a neighboring car while I paused at a stop light. Everyone, it seems, is excited to see my little Shelby Charger and they all have a question that they must ask or a story to share. It is a strange, visceral reaction that only the most special, elemental machine can inspire and if I cannot jump into it and drive to the far side of the country on a moment’s notice I’m OK with that. No one ever asks about my washing machine.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Leavenworth, KS with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Junkyard Find: 1979 Triumph Spitfire 1500 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1979-triumph-spitfire-1500/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1979-triumph-spitfire-1500/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862769 09 - 1979 Triumph Spitfire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe low-value British or Italian sports car that sits in rough condition in a yard or driveway for decades, then takes that sad final journey to the local U-Wrench-It— it’s been a staple of the American self-service wrecking yard landscape for what seems like forever. The MGB and Fiat 124 Sport Spider are by far the most common examples of this breed, followed by the TR7, Alfa Romeo Spider, and the Triumph Spitfire. So far in this series, we’ve seen this ’65, this ’67, and this ’75, and now we’re getting right to the end of the Spitfire’s 19-year production run with today’s ’79.
06 - 1979 Triumph Spitfire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinLike just about all junkyard convertibles, the interior of this one is pretty well roasted to oblivion by many years of outdoor storage.
07 - 1979 Triumph Spitfire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s possible that someone plucked this tube header before the car got crushed (I shot these photos last October in Northern Californai, which means this car is probably shredded metal bits in a shipping container in Shenzhen at this point), but there’s not much demand for smogged-up 1500s these days.
05 - 1979 Triumph Spitfire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThose horrible 5 mph crash bumpers! Even in this apparently rust-free condition, nobody was willing to rescue this forlorn British Leyland machine.

The emergency run to the hospital in a Spitfire seems like a risky proposition, but it worked out fine in the commercial.

From the land of British Racing Green.

For the man who has lived long and well, it offers a respite from boredom.

This ad offers a more accurate portrayal of real-world Spitfire driving on American highways.

Chicks dug it, though, especially after pulling .87 Gs on the skidpad.

British Leyland had something for everyone!

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Junkyard Find: 1972 International Harvester Scout II http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1972-international-harvester-scout-ii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1972-international-harvester-scout-ii/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862233 01 - 1972 International Harvester Scout II Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere in Colorado, Scouts are all over the place, which means that Denver-area wrecking yards get a steady stream of worn-out or abandoned examples. So far in this series, we’ve seen this ’70, this ’71, this ’73, and this ’74, and I’ve skipped over a bunch of totally-stripped Scouts that weren’t worth photographing. Today’s find has donated a lot of parts to the local Scout ecosystem, but still intact enough to be of interest.
07 - 1972 International Harvester Scout II Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe IHC V8 was a heavy, farm-equipment-grade brute. There’s probably some easy way to tell a 304 from a 345 at a glance, but I don’t know what it is.
08 - 1972 International Harvester Scout II Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe smog sticker says it’s a 345, but owners of these trucks have always been notorious engine-swappers. Hey, why is there a California catalyst sticker on a ’72? This junkyard goes by VIN records when determining model year, so I suspect that some VIN-swapping magic was performed by a previous owner and we’re really looking at a late-70s Scout.
06 - 1972 International Harvester Scout II Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIHC made a Rallye version of the Scout II, but this looks like a homegrown decal job.
09 - 1972 International Harvester Scout II Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s not incredibly rusty, but there’s no reason to restore a truck like this when you can buy nicer runners for reasonable prices in Colorado.

Does everything a compact, big sedan, or station wagon can do!

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Rolling [Gasified] Coal: Gas Bag Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/rolling-gasified-coal-gas-bag-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/rolling-gasified-coal-gas-bag-vehicles/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:27:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862441 6a00e0099229e888330147e4413c14970b-500wi

The autoblogosphere is abuzz with the topic of “rolling coal“, apparently the practice of some diesel pickup truck enthusiasts who fiddle with their fuel systems so as to produce voluminous clouds of dense black, sooty exhaust smoke. I have to admit that when I first saw the phrase “rolling coal” in a headline at Jalopnik I thought it had something to do coal gasification and running cars on wood gas or syngas. After finding out that rolling coal wasn’t what I thought it was, I did look into the history of powering motor vehicles on wood gas and ended up finding out about these rather odd looking cars and trucks known as gas bag vehicles. Frankly they’re more interesting to me than whether or not pickup truck driving bros are blowing smoke in the faces of Prius drivers. I believe that you’ll find these vehicles interesting as well.

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The process of using oxygen starved combustion to turn organic material into a combustible gas has been known for 175 years. Gustav Bischof built the first wood gasifier in 1839. By the turn of the 20th century, before the use of natural gas started proliferating in the 1930s, in many municipalities syngas produced from coal was centrally produced and distributed via pipelines to homes and businesses to use for heating and cooking. In 1901, Thomas Parker made the first vehicle powered by wood gas.

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The best known use of wood gas and syngas to power vehicles, however, was in Germany during World War II.

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Germany was heavily dependent on petroleum mined outside of the country’s borders so gasoline and diesel fuel were rationed for the civilian population in order to reserve those fuels for military use. Germany may have had little petroleum but it had a lot of domestic coal.

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Considerable effort was also put into industrial scale production of synthetic fuels and lubricants using the the Fischer-Tropsch method. It’s estimated that 9% of the Reich’s liquid fuel and a quarter of the automotive fuels used during the war were synthetics made from coal.

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In addition to commercial scale synthetic fuel production, by the end of the war there were about a half million German cars, trucks, buses, tractors, motorcycles, and even marine ships and railroad locomotives that were equipped with portable wood gasifiers. Wood gas powered vehicles were also common elsewhere in wartime Europe.

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The widespread use of synthetic gas to run cars and trucks dates to another war, though, World War One. As mentioned, many cities distributed what was known as “town gas” or “street gas”, a byproduct of making coal into the cokes that are used to refine iron.

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During the first world war, some creative folks in France, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom figured out that they could run their motor vehicles, like Thomas Parker did, on that gaseous fuel rather than on gasoline, which was in short supply due to the ongoing hostilities.

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One of the barriers facing modern day gaseous fueled vehicles is that compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquified petroleum gas (LPG) have lower energy densities than gasoline so the tanks for the compressed gas end up being about twice the size of a conventional liquid fuel tank. “Town gas” has an even lower energy density than CNG or LPG. At normal atmospheric pressure, the town gas equivalent to a liter of gasoline takes up between two and three cubic meters of volume.

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While today CNG vehicle operators can buy commercial and even home gas compressors, a century ago such compressors weren’t readily available. Also, syngas is made up of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Though it was possible to compress town gas, it wasn’t practical. Carbon monoxide breaks down when compressed and the steel tanks of the day could not contain hydrogen gas without leaking.

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The solution was to store the syngas in large inflatable bags, essentially balloons, made of coated fabric, that were mounted on the roofs of the vehicles. It was obviously more practical for larger vehicles, like trucks and buses, but some automobile owners made the conversion as well. Some of the commercial conversions included fairings and bodywork to hide the bags and provide some aerodynamic improvement (back then it would have been called “streamlining”), and a place for advertising, but in most cases the vehicles looked like they were hauling around bales of cotton, well, until the bags deflated as the gas was consumed. Some owners built metal or wooden frameworks to contain and protect the fuel bladders, which were made of rubber coated silk or other fabric material. If they sprung a leak, they were repaired with a patch for a bicycle tire tube.

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Because of the lack of energy density, gas bag vehicles were strictly for short range driving. With consumption of 13 liters of gas per kilometer, the equivalent of 22 mpg with gasoline, a 13 cubic meter gas bag would give a range of about 50 km (~30 miles). It’s possible that some drivers fitted some kind of fuel gauge, but apparently most just watched their fuel tank deflate. The vehicles could be refueled wherever town gas was supplied.

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The main drawbacks to the gas bag vehicles were fire risk, bridges and the fact that your fuel tank might blow away if you went too fast. Passengers waiting at bus stops were warned not to smoke.

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“Rauchen verboten” – smoking was forbidden at bus stops due to fire risk from gas bag leaks.

Drivers had to plan for overpasses and other potential overhead obstacles and were urged not to exceed 30 mph, both to preserve range and to keep the gas bag secured to the vehicle. Sidewinds were also a problem.

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Despite their drawbacks, gas bag vehicles’ use has not been restricted to wartime. Because the fuel is an inexpensive byproduct of industrial processes the city of Chongqing, China developed gas bag buses as a cost effective public transportation solution in the 1960s and gas bag buses stayed in operation in China into the 1990s.

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Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Today’s Must Read: Google Doesn’t Get Us http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/todays-must-read-google-doesnt-get-us/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/todays-must-read-google-doesnt-get-us/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:02:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862369 1024px-Jurvetson_Google_driverless_car_trimmed

In the absence of While You Were Sleeping, I’d like to open up the floor to discussion on this spectacular piece from Jalopnik‘s Damon Lavrinc, titled Google Co-Founder ​Sergey Brin Doesn’t Understand Us And Never Will.

Lavrinc lays out the case that Brin and his ilk see

not just cars, but car ownership is inefficient, wasteful, and dangerous. They take up too much space, use too many resources, and, listening to Brin, are an unconscionable blight on society…Brin looks at the world through an engineer’s lens. It’s binary: good versus bad, progress versus stagnation. The idea that someone would derive any amount of pleasure from the act of driving is completely antithetical to the society Brin envisions. Add in the fact that he’s also the protagonist in a world of his own creation, worth $30 billion, and nestled safely inside the Silicon Valley hive mind, and – with the right (Google) glasses – you can see where he’s coming from. Until you can’t.

 

Lavrinc describes this vision as “divorced from reality”, and rightfully so. I personally abhor this mindset for a whole host of reasons, whether it’s because I don’t want an engineer in Silicon Valley deciding to reshape my access to mobility in their pseudo-utopian image, or that Brin stands to profit handsomely from a plan that would engender the obsolescence of one of my favorite hobbys.

Most of all, I resent the mindset that every facet of life must be optimized, engineered or worse “disrupted”. A world like this leaves no room for spontaneity or idiosyncrasy, two of the imperfections that add so much joy to life. But I understand that this is the way the world is going – and if I faced a long, arduous commute, I’d probably have a different opinion.

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Junkyard Find: 1976 Ford LTD Brougham http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1976-ford-ltd-brougham/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/junkyard-find-1976-ford-ltd-brougham/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=861817 07 - 1976 Ford LTD Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
Just after I wrote that non-Country Squire Ford LTDs were rare Junkyard Finds (we’ve had three so far: this ’69, this ’71, and this ’72), I found this majestic yellow four-door hardtop in a San Francisco Bay Area wrecking yard. As an added bonus, it’s a Brougham!


21 - 1976 Ford LTD Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe laugh at Malaise Era big Detroit cars now, with their overwrought heraldic crests and laughably fake wood and leather, but I spent much of my childhood in cars like this and they actually seemed pretty nice at the time.
19 - 1976 Ford LTD Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 351M V8 was big on torque, not so great for horsepower or fuel economy.
17 - 1976 Ford LTD Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one got a lot of use over its 38-year lifespan.


There is no way in hell this generation of LTD managed to get 22 mpg on the highway, even with the not-so-strict tests of the time. It was comfortable, though.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru WRX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/capsule-review-2015-subaru-wrx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/capsule-review-2015-subaru-wrx/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 15:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=811026 2015-subaru-wrx-010

As the snow swirled in front of my headlamps, the radio crackled with a forecast of 18-22 inches for an early March Nor’Easter. Most people hate this weather. They huddle in their homes, presumably consuming the massive quantities of milk and bread they bought in a panic earlier that day. A public whipped into frenzy by The Weather Channel and local news stations with nothing better to do has been a predictable pattern for decades. Lately, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon.  When it snows, the Subarus come out. My neighborhood was ringing with the thumping song of the flat four.

Scores of bug-eyed WRXs were frolicking in the storm. I was behind the wheel of a 2015 WRX, and I was part of that club.

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Mrs. Braithwaite took one look at the new WRX and declared “that looks like a piece of shit.” She’s entitled to her opinion, of course, and it’d be harder to argue if this were just an Impreza. In the past, I might have even agreed, but the 2015 Subaru WRX is really a gem.

Subaru wants you to think of the STI as its performance star with the brightest gleam. That may be true on a track, but the WRX is not only a better deal, it’s a better car. With the 2015 Subaru WRX, you get the latest evolution of the turbocharged flat-four. It’s a whooshing fire-breather of a 2.0 liter, and it’s strong. While the STI has more power, 305 hp, from its older 2.5 liter EJ engine, the WRX isn’t far behind with 268 hp. What’s more, the new 2.0 liter is is flexible and friendly, with good response “under the curve,” where you’d expect a highly-boosted four cylinder with modest displacement to fall on its face.

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Look at the torque curve for the full story, and you’ll find it maxing out at 258 lb-ft by 2,000 rpm and sticking around to 5,200 rpm. If you didn’t know it was a 2.0 liter, you’d guess that it’s at least 500 cc larger than it is. Thank the direct injection, beefy 10.6:1 compression ratio and fancy-pants valve control and twin-scroll turbocharger. Those press-release talking points behind us, all you need to keep in mind is that the STI powertrain is less satisfying in contrast to the Johnny-on-the-spot nature of the new WRX generating station.

This time around, the WRX is available with a CVT. It could be worse; it’s just a transmission, and CVTs do well with torquey engines. The last WRX I drove with an automatic had a four-speeder and a tragically-turned-down wick. The CVT erases those compromises. Still, you want the manual. It’s a new six-speed, and it made me happy to be fully engaged in the act of driving for a week. It’s more exercise than I’ve gotten in a while, getting all the extremities involved. Areas where other manuals disappoint, clutch takeup, shifter action and electronic throttle response are all worked out here.

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The WRX has always been an eager meager car. The dopamine hit powered by the exciteable engine made the underwhelming structural rigidity, not-good interior and “why’d they bother?” infotainment all completely non-issues, until you had to get your boot out of the power. The interior materials are better, with more soft touch plastics, a harman/kardon nav/stereo unit that’s not like listening to an Emerson transistor radio from the ‘80s, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s supposed to feel racy. Not being overly-fancy does the WRX a favor in the ergonomics department. The controls for the ventilation system are clear, easy to find without looking, and don’t require stabbing your finger at some touchscreen. All cars should be like this, right down to the knobs that are injection molded to look and feel like they’re kurled. There’s even more practicality in the new WRX because the longer wheelbase makes the back seat more accommodating, so your friends will be more comfortable when you say crap like “check this out.”

The WRX handles better now, too, so that phrase doesn’t have to be a precursor to the inevitable. This car is a precision tool in traffic. The chassis is balanced, the feedback is clear enough to let you know when you’re being a true idiot. The highly-enriched engine is the keystone, too, enabling you to basically place the WRX wherever the hell you want it. Key to that is the responsive new engine that removes the planning you used to have to do. So, because the car lets you mainline your aggression, I spent a week being a complete jerk behind the wheel, loving every second. Oh, is that not what the WRX is for? I mean, I occasionally used the quick-on-its-feet powertrain to facilitate effectively quick merges.

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The body structure of the WRX is beefed up with more high-strength steel, too, and that’s the most noticeable improvement other than the engine. The stronger structure allows the suspension to be more deftly tuned, and so the 2015 WRX manages to be supple and controlled where in the past it was brash and crashy. Because I was driving in the Polar Vortex, the WRX was wearing winter tires on its 17” wheels. That, plus the 50:50 AWD system makes the 2015 WRX a damn zippy snowmobile. Power-steering is electric, and could use more feedback, but weight, ratio and control are great.

The 2015 Subaru WRX has the driving thing down. This is a car that reminds you of vehicles twice its price. When Subaru says it benchmarked top-handling sports cars and braced the chassis, it’s believable.

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And then there’s the looks. Flares and cranky headlights, extra windshield rake, LED headlights and carbon-fiber look trim strike a balance between badass and boy-racer. It works, and there’s always the STI if you want that stupid-ass wing. The most surprising thing to me was the fuel economy I managed to eke out of the 2015 WRX. It was frigid, I drove it like an animal, and yet, it still coughed up 25 mpg.

Welcome to being a grown-up, WRX. I’m glad you made it.

 

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Henry Ford’s Flying Flivver: The Model T of the Air http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/henry-fords-flying-flivver-the-model-t-of-the-air/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/henry-fords-flying-flivver-the-model-t-of-the-air/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 14:53:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858449 IMG_0236

Full gallery here

Following the success of the Ford Trimotor, one of the first successful commercial passenger and cargo airplanes, which was introduced in 1925, Henry Ford got the aviation bug and decided to build what he called a “Model T of the air”, a small, affordable single seat airplane. He first proposed the idea to the men running his aircraft division, Trimotor designer William Bushnell Stout and William Benson Mayo but based on Henry’s design brief, neither experienced aeronautical man wanted anything to do with project. By then Henry Ford had bought out all of his investors and partners. All of Ford Motor Company stock was owned by Henry, Clara, and Edsel Ford, with Henry having the greatest share (49/3/48) so the firm was effectively Henry’s private feudal empire. Mr. Ford simply moved the project to a building in the Ford Laboratories complex.

To design the new plane, named the Ford Flivver, after one of the Model T’s nicknames, Ford turned to Otto Koppen. Koppen, a young MIT trained aeronautical engineer. After graduating from college, Koppen enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps where he served for four years under Jimmy Doolittle. After he had a harrowing emergency landing he discovered that his parachute was faulty – had he bailed out he would have fallen to his death. Koppen left the Army and got a job in Dearborn at the Ford owned Stout Metal Airplane Company. His first job there was to design the tail wheel on the Ford Trimotor. Henry Ford had complained that the tail-dragging skid originally fitted to the plane tore up the sod at his airfield, Ford Airport.

After Stout and Mayo turned their boss down, happy with the young engineer’s work on the Trimotor, Henry turned to Otto Koppen. Now some may think that because Ford’s attempt to build an everyman’s airplane ended up not being a successful venture that Koppen didn’t know what he was doing, but after working for Ford the aviation engineer returned to MIT where he had a long and distinguished career as an aeronautical engineering professor. Koppen would go on to develop the world’s first short take off and and landing (STOL) airplane, the Helio Courier. Some of the confusion may be due to the fact that two different versions and five total prototypes of the Flivver were built, with some of the planes being modified as many as three times.

Koppen would later say Ford’s instructions to him were that it had to be a single seat plane that was small enough that it could “fit in his [Ford's] office”. Ford apparently liked the idea of a plane in every garage to go with the Model T that likely was there. The target price was $500.

What Koppen came up with had a fuselage made of welded steel tubing and the wings were made of wood. The surfaces were made of fabric stretched over the frame. Since Ford didn’t like tail-draggers, the Flivver featured a tailwheel mounted to the rudder, making the plane steerable in the ground. That wheel also carried the planes only brake. A custom exhaust manifold connected the cylinders to a stock Model T muffler. Suspension function was achieved by using rubber doughnuts to mount the wheel struts to the wing. At least two different engines were used in Flivvers. The plane was 15 feet long, with a wingspan of 22 feet and it weighed just 350 lbs.

Three additional prototypes were built. Some sources say there were only three Flivvers made, some sources say four and one source says there were two prototypes of the initial design and then three prototypes of a second design, apparently because the first design wasn’t so great. The second design had a bigger wingspan, a sleeker, lower profile and this time the entire plane’s frame was made of steel tubing, covered with coated fabric. Perhaps because the wings were heavier, Flivver 2A had supportive wing struts. As there were plans to use this prototype to set distance records, a 55 gallon fuel tank was installed. Replacing the Anzani triple was a custom horizontally opposed twin made from a FoMoCo design of 143 cubic inches displacement, using Wright Whirlwind internal components, that put out 40 hp. The remaining two prototypes featured this engine. Flying magazine said in 1978 that it was the only Ford designed engine that ever flew.

The first prototype was introduced to the public on Henry Ford’s 63rd birthday, at what was billed as the 1926 Ford National Reliability Air Tour. Crowds flocked to see what some called “Ford’s Flying Car” and celebrities like political humorist Will Rogers posed with the Flivver, though Rogers, a pilot himself, never flew it.

Fliver3

Humorist Will Rogers posing with the Flivver, though he never flew it.

In fact only two people ever flew any of the Flivvers, Lindbergh and Harry J. Brooks, Ford’s chief test pilot for the Trimotor. The young Brooks, who may have also acted as Henry Ford’s personal pilot, became a favorite of the aging industrialist, who let him fly the first Flivver prototype regularly home from work, storing the plane in his garage as Henry planned. Brooks would then commute to work in the morning via air. The pilot used the second prototype to travel between Ford properties and he once raced the plane against Miss America V, piloted by Gar Wood, during the Harmsworth Trophy Races on the Detroit River.

Harry J. Brooks, Ford test pilot, one of two people who flew the Flivver. Brooks died when his prototype Flivver crashed into the ocean due to fuel starvation.

Harry J. Brooks, Ford test pilot, one of two people who flew the Flivver. Brooks died when his prototype Flivver crashed into the ocean due to fuel starvation.

Brooks loved the tiny plane, telling reporters,  “Flying a plane like this is no more difficult than flying a large plane, except in this plane the pilot has to think a little faster.” For the next year and a half, Brooks performed test flights and a some publicity barnstorming with the Flivver, including flying the Flivver into Washington D.C.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The reaction from the press to “Ford’s Flying Car” was ecstatic. If you think the term flying car is inappropriate, that steerable back wheel was intended to allow pilots to drive from their garage to the nearest runway. Popular Science said it was feasible for the “average Joe” to fly, small enough to fit in a garage, with flaps designed for maximum lift for short take offs. A columnist for the New York Evening Sun waxed poetic looking into the future:

I dreamed I was an angel
And with the angels soared
But I was simply touring
The heavens in a Ford

After Charles Lindbergh’s popularity exploded following his transatlantic flight, Henry Ford invited him to visit Ford Airport and fly the Flivver in August of 1927. Lucky Lindy didn’t share Brooks’ enthusiasm for the litte plane, later describing it as ” one of the worst aircraft he ever flew”. I guess that one man’s “think a little faster” is another man’s uncontrollably dangerous.

The long wingspan planes were built to set the long distance record for planes in the 200 to 400 kilogram class. Two attempts were made in early 1928 to fly non-stop from Detroit to Miami, Florida. The first attempt, using the third prototype  ended early when Brooks had to set down in Asheville, North Carolina. A month later, flying the second prototype, Brooks landed 200 miles short in Titusville, bending the propeller but he still managed to set a record of 972 miles non-stop on just 55 gallons of fuel.

While in Titusville for the night, Brooks managed to repair the plane with the propeller from the third prototype that had made the forced landing in North Carolina. To prevent the moist oceanside air from condensing water into the fuel, Brooks stopped up the fuel cap’s vent holes with wooden toothpicks (some versions of the story say matchsticks). On February 25th, Brooks took off for Miami, circled out over the Atlantic ocean off the coast near Melbourne, Florida, where his engine died. The wrecked Flivver washed up on shore but Brooks’ body was never found. When the wreckage was examined, they found the wooden plugs still in the vent holes. In his haste, Brooks had forgotten to remove them before taking off With the gas tank unable to vent, a vacuum was formed, starving the carburetors, killing the engine, and Brooks.

Following the death of his friend and employee, Henry Ford is reported to have been distraught and for a while he stopped further development of light aircraft. Wikipedia says that in 1931 Ford’s Stout division marketed the Stout Sky Car, the first of four one-off light planes that William Stout designed to be as easy to operate and as comfortable as a car, but by 1931 William Stout had left the company he founded, and as mentioned it was a one-off so I don’t know the extent of FoMoCo’s involvement. In 1936, Ford’s Stout division did develop a two-seat flying wing named the Model 15-P. It was powered by a flathead Ford V8 mounted in the back of the plane, driving a tractor propeller through a driveshaft. The fuselage was steel tubing with an aluminum skin, while the wings were covered with fabric. Fully faired landing gear featured large landing lights in the fairings.

Ford 15-P experimental airplane.

Ford 15-P experimental airplane.

After several test flights ended in crashes, however, the 15-P never went into production. Think of it as the Tatra 87 of airplanes, though while the Tatra had a rear mounted V8 and was prone to crashing, it actually made it to production. The Ford Model 15-P was the last airplane designed by Ford Motor Company. The B-24s that Ford build during WWII were made under license from Continental.

Despite his setbacks with small planes, Henry Ford likely never gave up the dream of a flying Flivver in every garage. In 1940, he said,”Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Editorial: Tesla is What Scion Should Have Been http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/editorial-tesla-is-what-scion-should-have-been/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/editorial-tesla-is-what-scion-should-have-been/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 14:52:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=860249 photo_tenant_tesla

 

It’s not an exceptionally large showroom, but the façade is enormous. The Tesla retail store in Columbus, Ohio wraps around an entire corner of the Easton Town Center, that city’s premier upscale shopping venue. My trip to the store, the first time I’d ever set foot in a Tesla retail location, was an eye opener. Tesla’s retail model is an example of what Scion could have (and should have) been.

Tesla’s presence at Easton is inextricably interwoven with the history of American retailing. Easton is the brainchild of L Brands founder and CEO Les Wexner, who has overseen the growth of some of the country’s biggest names in retail: Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie and Fitch, Bath and Body Works, Lane Bryant, and many others. Easton opened for business in 1999, as part of the new wave of American retail venues that appeared in the late 90s and early 00s. These were indoor-outdoor hybrids, replete with restaurants, entertainment venues, and other “lifestyle” amenities. Consumer response to these new options was strong, and today Easton is still one of the state’s most successful retail development projects.

Easton’s rise was directly linked to the decline of traditional malls. Northland, Eastland, and Westland were opened in the 60s to serve customers in and around the Columbus metro area. Of the three, only Eastland is still in operation, and it’s currently for sale. De-urbanization and the general decline of Columbus’ old neighborhoods near the city’s core hurt these malls, but they were also undermined by changing customer expectations. When Easton opened (as well as the copycat Polaris Fashion Place developed by the rival Glimcher development group), it suddenly made the indoor malls seem like relics of a bygone era. Easton had anchor department stores like Macy’s, a movie theater, some indoor small shops, and other features that traditional mall customers expected. But it also had bars, quality restaurants, a children’s park, and even a luxury grocery store. It also had a myriad number of high-end standalone retailers that were previously only to be found in exclusive locations in big cities: Lacoste, Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, Coach, and many others.

Eastland and the other traditional malls didn’t need these kinds of retailers to satisfy the basic demands of their traditional customers. But what the luxury brands did was give Easton a halo of respectability and posh refinement that itself was an object of consumer desire. Although there are plenty of rich people who shop at Easton, a $2500 handbag is well out of reach for most people who go to the mall. What Easton does is give the plebs the chance to rub shoulders with the moneyed set before sneaking into Macy’s to buy a $40 dress. Wexner’s decision to arrange most of the high-end stores along a single boulevard lined with metered parking was a stroke of genius. Every day the main thoroughfare is flanked by an ever-changing lineup of Benzes, BMWs, Porsches, and exotics. The other malls withered, and then crumbled. Northland Mall, just a few miles up the road, was torn down in 2004.

Now, Easton has a store that sells electric cars. It would be tempting to say that this store is unlike any that have come before it, but that isn’t really true. There’s a Model S in the middle, of course, as well as bodiless chassis buck. Otherwise, the Tesla location looks a lot like the other high-end retailers ringing Easton’s perimeter. Soothing but distinctly modern Muzak plays through the ceiling, and everything is brilliantly lit and tastefully furnished. There are a variety of slick technical displays explaining various features of the car, as well as options.

Most importantly, the walls are covered with logo merchandise of every type, shape, and description: t-shirts, coffee mugs, tin lunchboxes, baby onesies. All of this is overseen by Tesla personnel, in this case two young men. They were as fastidiously dressed and groomed as any Brooks Brothers employee, and had the manners of a really good sommelier at a high end restaurant: polite, unquestionably confident, and just easygoing enough to talk you into making a really expensive decision. Or, if you want to buy a $25 shirt, they’d be more than happy to help you with that too. What the Tesla location resembles is not so much a car dealership as the Puma store it replaced: a variety of premium branded goods, sold by handsome young people in a clean and upbeat atmosphere.

Contrast that with my last visit to a Scion daler, which was pretty representative of all the Scion dealers I’ve ever set foot in. The Scion display was in the corner of a much larger Toyota showroom, which was itself part of a large dealer group. It was constructed in the manner of virtually all large car dealers: a bunch of lots and showrooms in their own area, distinct from other retail outlets. The Scion display consisted of a single panel, which was filled with informational pamphlets. Half of these were for products that either no longer exist or are in some kind of planning limbo.

The other half were for the kind of cashback deals and financial incentives that can be found in any dealership anywhere. The only Scion in the showroom was an automatic xD, which was dusty and fingermarked. I fooled around with it for a good twenty minutes without anyone bothering me. I had a salesman on hand about thirty seconds after I started examining the new Corolla. There was some Scion logo merchandise, but it was in the parts department alongside all the overpriced windshield wiper blades and camo pattern trailer hitch covers. There was nothing that jumped out as edgy, different, or alternative. Certainly, there was nothing to make you think you were anywhere but a car dealer.

It was pretty clear that nobody much cared about the Scion side of the dealership, and why should they? People don’t come to Toyota dealers looking for Scions, they come looking for Toyotas. Scion will never be much more than a distraction for the salespeople, who are much more invested in selling Camrys, Corollas, Rav-4s and Tundras. At this point, most Scion sales are either to the limited number of enthusiasts buying FR-S’s, or people who were disappointed to find out that the Corolla doesn’t come in hatchback form anymore and decided to settle for something else instead. Scion urgently needs new product, but it also needs a complete overhaul of the buying experience. The traditional dealership format is completely inimical to accomplishing the stated goals of the Scion brand: attracting a younger clientele to Toyota products, while modifying the traditional dealer experience.

The history of retail is a stream of constant reinvention. Every generation has contributed some important innovation to the backbone of the consumer economy. Online shopping is perhaps the most relevant current example of this trend, but brick-and-mortar stores have been reinventing themselves too. Walmart wiped out many smaller grocery chains, as well as traditional department stores. But it failed to steamroller the entire grocery market because it became synonymous with lower-end retail. Publix, Target, Kroger, and other chains have hung on by offering a more pleasant shopping experience and a better selection of higher-end goods.

Similarly, Easton represents a way of reinventing retail to better serve the needs of a modern, affluent clientele. Tesla, with its direct sales model and glimmer of luxury branding, represents a perfect fit for Easton’s retail model. It’s a brick-and-mortar store, but one with a distinctly modern feel. And although its main product is out of reach for the majority of Easton’s customer base, it still offers other ways to capture some of that Tesla magic. The Tesla showroom is a constant parade of gawkers, most of whom come away distinctly impressed by what they’ve seen. This is ground zero for building a brand, and Tesla is hitting it out of the ballpark. Why can’t Toyota emulate this model for Scion?

The answer, of course, is that Toyota isn’t in any position to disrupt the market in such a way. They are firmly a part of the American automotive Establishment, just as much as any of the Big Three. Their franchise dealers are their lifeblood, and are responsible for much of their American success. Setting Scion up as a direct sales operation would have required throwing these dealers under the bus, as well as a massive legal campaign with no guarantee of success. In short, it would be an incredibly foolhardy move, and it’s no surprise that Toyota eschewed it in favor of following the established model. This meant, though, that Toyota missed the opportunity to do something really revolutionary with the brand, or at least make it seem revolutionary.

When GM launched Saturn, there was nothing on paper that made the dealership model seem any different from previous ventures. However, the focus on customer service and satisfaction was such a revelation that even import brands were caught off guard. Toyota didn’t try to shake up the dealer experience with Scion, besides some milquetoast moves towards customization and fixed pricing. Instead, Scion was just another car brand from the get-go. The unapologetic functionality of the first generation xB, and the promise of an Eclipse with Toyota reliability undergirding the tC, were enough to pull in a decent number of early adopters. After that, the brand languished. Scion didn’t damage Toyota’s fortunes, because the product wasn’t shoddy or defective (for the most part). The brand underperformed, however, because it did not deviate from the norm of American auto sales in any meaningful way. For a brand supposed to be based on youthful rebellion and nonconformity, that was the kiss of death.

It may be too late now to salvage the Scion brand. And if Toyota decides to pull the plug on the FR-S at the end of this generation, it may be that the company won’t keep Scion around anyway. Even so, I believe I have a workable proposal for reversing Scion’s fortunes, at least on the marketing front. Take some of the money that’s being wasted on FR-S TV commercials and use it to open some storefront locations in prime shopping areas.

Let these be places where potential customers can get a feel for the product in a non-traditional setting. Put two or three cars in the showroom, and let a few employees explain their features and options. Give customers the opportunity for a test drive, if that’s workable in a given location. When somebody wants to buy, use the power of that newfangled Internet thing to match customers up with locally available inventory. In short, keep Scion customers out of the arms of dealers until the last possible moment. Use the stores as merchandising fronts for the Scion AV music venture. Be like Tesla, and offer copious merchandising opportunities all along the way. If you’re serious about turning Scion into a “movement,” then provide the means for that to happen. Dealers and a few sponsored events aren’t going to do it for you. Keep the franchisees around for their service and sales infrastructure, but don’t rely on them to market Scion for you. You don’t need to sell six-figure electric cars to create buzz. You just need some good product, presented in a relevant and novel fashion. That alone will buy you a lot of credit with the disaffected youth of today’s marketplace.

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