Happy about your car? Nomad.

While looking for something else, I came upon this from Curbside Classic:

OK, you say, it’s a station wagon. And it’s a Chevrolet. So?

So … this is a reasonable facsimile of the last of my parents’ station wagons, a 1969 Chevy Nomad. It’s a car I remember well from the perspective of the left back seat, where I sat on trips to Minnesota, Door County, Chicago, the Northwoods, and school, church, the grandparents and so on.

Curbside Classics says about this Nomad:

In 1955, the Nomad Wagon was the most expensive Chevrolet by a healthy margin, and marked the beginning of Chevy’s expansion into the mid-priced market. By 1968, that storied name was recycled on the lowest-trim Chevelle wagons. It’s a familiar cycle, that never seemed to end, until the name was pushed all the way off the bottom rung of the ladder. …

The Nomad stayed on as the top-line full-size Chevrolet wagon through 1961, before Chevy reverted back to the sedan-equivalent names, for a few year’s hiatus. By 1968, the wagon names were back, but now Nomad not only suddenly dropped a size, but a lot of prestige. It now denoted the lowest trim Chevelle wagons. Got to keep the GM Naming Department busy!

Having spent too much time researching this at oldcarbrochures, I’m actually more confused than ever, because the 1969 Chevelle brochure describes the Nomad as the bottom-level stripper, without any chrome trim. Our car looks like it is more of a Greenbrier level trim. Oh well.

Never mind; trying to unravel the deep thinking that came out of the Naming Department is futile. And whether this is a genuine Nomad or not, I will leave to other to unravel. I’m confused enough.

The Nomad most car buffs think of would be one of the revered Tri-5s, with, you’ll notice, two, not four, doors …

… though as noted it was applied to other Chevy wagons until 1973, and then to a Chevy van with windows and seats, as opposed to a panel van.

The family of midsized Chevy station wagons spanned from the fake-woodgrain-trimmed Concours Estate (big photo) to the red Nomad in the corner:

Our 1969 Nomad was LeMans Blue (that is, bright blue) with a medium blue interior, including clear plastic dimpled seat covers in the back seat. Said seat covers were cold in the winter and hot in the summer, with the added summertime bonus of leaving dimples on the back of your legs if you wore shorts. It was purchased from the former Chevy dealer in Oregon after a couple of Chevy Novas, the last of which was a ’66 station wagon.

I assume my parents decided they needed more room, so they upgraded to the midsized Nomad. I can list every one of our Nomad’s options:

  • 350 V-8. (Which was apparently rare; most Nomads with V-8s apparently had the 307.)
  • Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission.
  • Power steering and (front disc) brakes.
  • Whitewall tires. (Bias-ply, on 14-inch wheels.)
  • AM radio.
  • Electric rear tailgate window. (Though only the down-swinging tailgate, not the down- and right-swinging tailgate.)
  • Luggage rack.
  • A bumper hitch and accompanying trailer light wiring harness. (Not sure if the car had the trailer towing package, or if those were added on by the dealer.)

You may notice that the list does not include air conditioning. We didn’t have a car with air until our 1975 Caprice, which replaced the Nomad when evidently my parents decided they had had enough of station wagons. Today it’s nearly impossible to find a car without air conditioning standard, though not all the A/C units work, since they don’t generally cool without refrigerant.

StationWagons.com found two other ’69 Nomads:

Our Nomad was the middle of three of my acquaintance. The other two — a black ’68 and a blue ’71 — were owned by my grandparents. I remember my grandmother asking their six-year-old grandson which color their new car should be, and I of course said the blue of our wagon. And so imagine my surprise when they next visited, in their LeMans Blue Nomad.

The significance of the 1969 Nomad, by the way, was that all GM cars except the Corvair had …

… head restraints on the outboard front seats and the ignition switch moved from the dashboard to the steering column, to lock the steering wheel when the car was in Park as an anti-theft device. The federal government made those mandatory in 1970; GM made those design changes a year ahead of Ford, Chrysler and AMC, except on the Corvair, which GM was about to kill. That steering wheel, a new-for-1969 design, was used by Chevrolet (though the horn buttons were changed) until 1978, when Chevy went to the strange A-frame wheel.

In my memory, we had only one bad experience with the Nomad. It was, ironically (note to self: Do a search for the number of times “ironic” and variants thereof are used on this blog), when it was brand new. We were on a trip to visit our Polish relatives in Minnesota (which included an attempt by a peacock at the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul to enjoy my middle finger as a snack, but that’s another story) when the engine suddenly began ominously (by an easily upset four-year-old’s definition) knocking. Dad took the knocking Nomad to a Chevy dealer somewhere in central Minnesota, where he was told his brand new Nomad needed a new engine. (I don’t know whether the car was still under warranty, or if there were new-car warranties of any use in those days.) Dad’s alternative was to buy gas from a different source than the last tank (a former brand called Consolidated). Problem solved.

It should be pointed out here that the Nomad really is not the first station wagon one thinks of from the ’70s. If you were to say “think of a mid-sized GM station wagon from 1969,” the Olds Vista Cruiser (owned by two of my grade-school classmates’ families) probably would come to mind …

… thanks to the Vista roof it shared with the Buick Sport Wagon …

… but not with any Chevy or Pontiac wagon.

The comments on the Curbside Classics post includes a discussion of the styling of this Nomad. Which kind of misses the point of a station wagon — its utility. The Nomad only had two seats, while higher-level wagons offered the third seat, but we always seemed to manage to get as many people into the car as was needed. Our Springer Spaniel, Curly, rode in the back as well on occasion. Two-doors look cool, two-door wagons look cool, and the original Nomad looks really cool, but two-doors can be a pain if you have more than one passenger.

The Nomad was a midsized car for 1969. When GM downsized its full-sized cars in 1977, the B-body — Chevy Impala and Caprice, Pontiac Catalina and Bonneville, Olds Delta 88 and Buick LeSabre — became the size of the A-bodies — Cbevy Malibu (including this Nomad) and Monte Carlo, Pontiac LeMans and Grand Prix, Olds Cutlass Supreme and Buick Century and Regal. That was the size of the last GM full-size wagons, from 1977 until 1996.

Until 1988, the same V-8 in our Nomad was the top V-8 in the downsized Chevys. That same V-8, with a two-barrel carburetor instead of the Nomad’s four-barrel carburetor, powered our Caprice, adequately. (The 2-barrel was rated at only 145 horsepower, but at 250 lb-ft of torque and a 3.08 rear axle, acceleration was deceptively good. Replacing the 2-barrel with a 4-barrel would have improved performance and probably fuel economy too, assuming the driver could keep his foot off the gas to activate the secondaries. And Chevy 350s are basically impossible to kill.)

The Nomad name remains legendary at Chevrolet, evidence of which is that Chevy occasionally trots out Nomad concepts:

One of these concepts had the five-cylinder engine formerly found in the Colorado compact pickup. You may notice the cleverly disguised rear door on the first of these two concepts; it was supposed to slide, in a hybrid of a van’s sliding side door and an extended-cab pickup truck’s back doors, I suppose. That seems like yet another of GM’s answers-in-search-of-questions like the ’71–76 big wagons’ clamshell tailgate.

 

California, Texas and Toyota

Toyota’s announcement that it’s moving its U.S. headquarters from Torrance, Calif., to Plano, Texas, is raising interest.

As you can imagine, they’re not happy in Torrance, according to Reuters:

Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto, looking grim, said outside city hall on Monday that he had been blindsided by the move. A few feet away sat Pat Simpson, a Torrance resident for over 60 years, with her head in her hands. “Why do they want to tear this place apart?” Simpson, 72, asked. …

The two biggest employers in Torrance, which has a population of 147,000 according to city figures, are Toyota and Honda. Both have about 4,000 employees. Losing Toyota will mean an annual loss of $1.2 million in tax revenue, Scotto said, but the emotional toll and wider economic impact will be much bigger, he said. …

Whether the city can replace Toyota, and fill the 101-acre business park and headquarters it will leave behind, remains to be seen. Scotto said the city had a short list of companies similar to Toyota that are being courted to replace the Japanese car maker.

But conceding that the battle to keep Toyota was lost before it had even begun – “the train has already left the station,” Scotto said – he also said it takes the state of California, not a small city such as Torrance, to stop large manufacturers from leaving the Golden State.

Frank Portillo, a co-owner of Los Chilaquiles Mexican Grill next to the Toyota headquarters said he did not blame Toyota, although he might lose business himself. “The taxes are lower in Texas. There are fewer regulations. It’s cheaper for a company there. Why wouldn’t they leave California?”

Dale Buss sees it as a business climate issue:

For Japanese auto brands, the logic of keeping their U.S. sales and administrative arms in California is breaking down under the outsized penalties of conducting business in the Golden State and the changing dynamics of the North American automotive industry. So Toyota is leaving, according to Automotive News.

And where is Japan’s biggest automaker relocating its sales and marketing operations in America? Why, North Texas, of course. The move to Plano, Texas, will involve most of the 5,000 managers and employees at Toyota’s current Torrance, Calif., headquarters, the magazine said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry apparently didn’t even have to make a recruiting trip to southern California to get Toyota to do this, although he has helped lure plenty of companies with that gambit over the last several years.

And yet Texas has scored one of the biggest prizes so far in its very focused, state-on-state battle with the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown to get plum companies now headquartered in California to abandon the bluest state for the reddest one.

Clearly, Perry caressed a trump card in the fact that Toyota has enjoyed a deep relationship with Texas through its $2.2-billion truck-assembly complex near San Antonio.

Plus, the fact is that, as Toyota has become a more U.S.-centric company with important assets all over the country, it makes sense for the Japanese market leader to distribute its operations in a new way. Toyota’s 14 North American manufacturing facilities now build 71 percent of the vehicles the company sells in the United States, up from 55 percent in 2008.

A half-century ago, Toyota and other Japanese brands clustered in southern California when they began their assault on the U.S. market because California offered the single best market opportunity for Asian brands coming to America and because the state’s location closest to Japan made logistics easiest.

For most of the time since then, California’s justified reputation as America’s automotive, societal, cultural, and economic bellwether continued to ratify the Japanese brands’ focus there. Consider how Toyota was able to grow its Prius hybrid line into the segment’s dominant brand by starting with an emphasis in California.

But now Toyota and most of it Japanese rivals are treating North America like their domestic market — meaning that a California lens isn’t always the best one. Maybe a new headquarters in Flyover Country will be. …

Besides, California’s business climate is becoming an even bigger downer. California has become infamous with business executives and owners there not only for high tax rates and complex taxing schemes but also for overzealous regulations and regulators that have managed to stifle the entrepreneurial energy of thousands of companies.

Even Hollywood movie studios have been souring about producing flicks in California, increasingly reckoning that the sweet tax breaks and assistance packages now offered by so many other states offset the legacy advantages and ideal production climate in California.

About the only vast remaining pocket of dynamism in the California economy is Silicon Valley, where the mastery of the global digital economy by companies ranging from Google GOOG +1.31% to Hewlett-Packard HPQ +2.27% has become so complete that they have been able to succeed despite the home-state business landscape.

In the annual Chief Executive magazine “Best States / Worst States” ranking that surveys CEOs for their opinions, Texas has been holding on to the No. 1 spot for a while; California seems permanently relegated to No. 50.

As Automotive News put it, “Despite the deep, creative talent pool in greater Los Angeles, doing business in California has become more expensive for companies and their workers.” Bestplaces.net said that the cost of living for employees is 39 percent higher in Torrance than in Plano, and housing costs are 63 percent lower in Plano.

Virginia Postrel follows up on cost of living:

Employees who relocate are in for a surprise. Contrary to the image promulgated by both critics and boosters, Texas is not an alien planet populated by barbarians with big hair.

With its cheap suburban housing and good public schools, Plano in fact offers a 21st-century version of the middle-class California dream that built towns like Torrance. It’s just been updated, with more immigrants, better restaurants and a lot more marble countertops.

In contrasting Texas and California, politicians and pundits tend to emphasize taxes and business regulation. But for most people on a day-to-day basis, the biggest difference between the two is the cost of housing.

Although Plano is one of the country’s richest cities, with a highly educated population and a median income of $85,333 compared to Torrance’s $70,061, it offers a much wider range of housing options. You can pay nearly $7 million for a five-acre estate in Plano — $3 million more than the most expensive listing in Torrance — but the average home costs less than $200,000, compared to $552,000 in Torrance. A Redfin search for three-bedroom houses costing less than $400,000 turns up 149 in Plano versus four in Torrance; lowering the threshold to $300,000 cuts the Plano supply to 73, while yielding nothing in Torrance.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Plano’s combination of inexpensive real estate and excellent public schools has cultural consequences. It allows for more traditional lifestyles, since many families don’t need a second income to live a comfortable middle-class life. Many mothers choose to stay at home or to work, often part-time, for personal fulfillment and luxuries such as family vacations. For both men and women, a life oriented around work rather than family is less common than in coastal enclaves of similarly highly educated people.

Simultaneously cosmopolitan and traditional, Plano will undoubtedly turn off some Toyota transplants. The conversational assumption that everyone belongs to a religious congregation of some kind — if not Christian, then Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist — will create culture shock. But a lot of people will discover that they can have a lifestyle they thought was a vanished American dream. As long as that’s true, companies are going to keep moving to Texas.

I’ve stated here before that Wisconsin needs to follow Texas‘ policies more than California’s. Texas has economically outperformed the entire country in the Obama economy.

Getting a car company the size of Toyota to move to Wisconsin isn’t going to happen since Chrysler (formerly in Milwaukee and Kenosha) and GM (formerly in Janesville) don’t have assembly plants here anymore. But when businesses with big facilities in one state leave that state for another, there are lessons politicians paying attention should learn.

 

Ford’s best better idea

Ford Motor Co.’s Ford Division used to claim Fords were “a better idea.”

Thursday is the 50th anniversary what might be the best Ford idea, or maybe the best Ford idea since the Model T — the introduction of the Ford Mustang.

Unlike the Corvette, one of which I have never owned (because life is unfair), I have owned a Mustang. It was a red ’65 convertible.

And it went as fast as my legs could propel it on the sidewalk.

My other bit of Mustang affinity, I guess, comes from the fact that I toured a Ford plant on a family vacation in the summer of 1976, where Mustang IIs were being assembled.

The parents of one of my fellow Boy Scouts owned a Mustang II, so I occasionally sat in the back of that, as well as another Scouts’ parents car on which the Mustang II was based, a Pinto.

Then there’s the Mustang’s starring role in the greatest movie car chase of all time, from my favorite movie, “Bullitt”:

I’ve also driven a couple of Mustangs. My oldest son’s first ride in a convertible was in a coworker’s red Mustang. Another coworker let me drive his Mustang, a V-8 and five-speed in what might best be described as Tornado Warning Green, and every time I saw him he kept trying to sell it to me.

The Mustang is one of the few cars that can be said to have created an entire class of car. The Plymouth Barracuda came out two weeks before the Mustang, but the Mustang significantly outsold the Barracuda. (The Barracuda died in 1974, and though Dodge brought back the Challenger, Plymouth isn’t bringing back the Barracuda, since Plymouth is now in the car brand graveyard.) The two were the first of the class known as the “pony car” — a (relatively) small car with a (relatively) powerful available engine and other sporty accouterments. From the Mustang came the original Mercury Cougar. More importantly, though, the Mustang prompted the creation of (in rough chronological order) the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, AMC Javelin and AMX, and Dodge Challenger (the cousin to the Barracuda).

Unlike most cars of its kind, Ford has never attempted to do anything but sell every last Mustang someone was willing to buy. That and the fact that the Mustang has been built every year since 1964½ (unlike the Camaro, which started in 1967 and wasn’t built between 2003 and 2007), explains why there are more Mustangs still on the road than any other comparable car.

The original Mustang was built with Ford Falcon parts, which meant it had recirculating-ball steering, drum brakes and a standard six-cylinder engine. The fact the car was made from existing parts instead of a completely new design helped make it affordable. It’s not as if Ford did anything unduly cheap; the Camaro, its traditional biggest competitor, used many parts of the Chevy Nova, the Barracuda was based on the Plymouth Valiant, and the Javelin used the platform of the Rambler American (which itself later became the AMC Hornet and Gremlin). In each case, styling, engineering upgrades and more appropriate interiors turned the plebeian compacts into something sporting and desirable.

The additional genius of the Mustang is that, for most of its life, owners have been able to equip it as anything from mild-mannered (you could get a six-cylinder and automatic in 1965 and now) to snarling beast (the Boss 429 was rated at 375 horsepower but was actually closer to 500 horsepower; today’s Shelby GT 500 is rated at 550 horsepower). The Mustang was raced down the quarter-mile and on road tracks as part of the late great Trans Am series.

The Mustang has had to serve as Ford’s Camaro and Corvette since Ford hasn’t built a car like the Corvette. (The de Tomaso Pantera was sold by Lincoln–Mercury dealers from 1971 to 1975, about 5,000 of them, and the Ford GT was sold in 2005 and 2006, all 4,038 of them. Other than 1997, a partial year of production for the new C5, Chevrolet hasn’t sold that few Corvettes in one year since 1956.) It’s always had more utility than the Corvette with its back seat and either trunk or hatchback in the case of the Mustang II and the Fox-body Mustang of 1979–93.

The way the Mustang served as Ford’s Corvette, to some extent, was thanks to a Texas race car driver who had to retire due to a bad heart, Carroll Shelby. (He and I once were at the same Road America event.) Between 1965 and 1970, Shelby modified Mustang fastbacks to create the GT350 (with a 289 V-8) and the GT500 (with a police-spec 428 V-8). Shelby Mustangs returned in 2007, so that a 2013 GT500KR, with a 662-horsepower supercharged V-8, can go 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, with a claimed top speed of 202 mph.

I am told that Mustang aficionados argue whether or not a Mustang II deserves to be considered a Mustang. It replaced the 1971–73 Mustang that, like many cars, had grown fat. It would have been interesting to see Ford design the early ’70s Mustangs like its Mustang Milano show car:

Yet the early ’70s Mustangs were immortalized in two films: “Diamonds Are Forever” …

… and the original “Gone in 60 Seconds”:

What some call the “Mustang III,” the 1979–93 iteration, seems to lack respect in some enthusiast quarters too. That era Mustang (and the sister Mercury Capri of that era) are not the most exciting-looking cars, perhaps, and no one will remember ’80s cars fondly anyway. (Cars of the ’80s featured the first generation of computer controls, which Detroit sent out into the marketplace without their being fully sorted out.) And yet the Mustang III had some of the most powerful motors of their era, handled well (particularly with the Michelin TRX tire package), and, with the hatchback, actually had some utility. The sedan version had enough speed for police departments, including the Wisconsin State Patrol, to use them (as well as Camaros) as squad cars.

After nearly replacing the Mustang with the Probe (which had a turbo four with the worst torque steer I’ve ever experienced, or a V-6), Ford redesigned the Mustang in 1994 with styling cues that harkened back somewhat to the original Mustangs. That worked until 2005, when the next Mustang looked like a modernized version of the 1967–70 Mustangs.

Ford had a contest on its website to create your own Mustang (including colors and options Ford doesn’t offer). I tried to design mine to look as close as I could to the Bullitt Mustang, which lacks chrome trim.

The other one I tried to make look like my old convertible (minus the whitewalls, and I don’t remember the color of the top):

Ford also held a Twitter contest for the favorite Mustang based on these options, none of which included the Bullitt Mustangs, original or replicas:

 

There was great sturm und drang a year ago when reports started circulating about the next Mustang looking little like historical Mustangs. And then the truth came out. You can see it in the flesh this fall.

 

Personally Mind-Blowing Moment of the Day

Among other sites I peruse on the time-waster that is Facebook is the Vintage Emergency Vehicles page. (As with many things, my interest defies explanation.)

That site one day included this photo:

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This apparently is a photo from the Beltsville, Md., Volunteer Fire Department somewhere in the mid- to late 1970s. So is this:

What is the big deal, you ask?

The big deal is the 1975 Chevrolet Caprice coupe used as the fire chief’s car. The pictured Caprice is so close to the car I drove through the 1980s that I can tell you what’s different (other than the emergency lights and door decals, that is) from mine: (1) the lack of vinyl roof (ours had a full vinyl roof, not the vinyl landau half-roof) and (2) the tan (or what appears to be tan) interior instead of our red interior.

This Caprice was dark red, like ours. You’d think a fire department would have chosen bright red (which was available). However, the owner of a fire truck manufacturer once told me his company offered 100 different shades of red for its trucks.

The poster of this photo said he got it from a friend of his. He didn’t know anything about the car; he assumed a car dealer had given the car to the department. (It apparently followed a 1966 Chevy wagon.)

A little background: Police cars (from which come taxicabs and fire department cars, such as this one) have existed since, obviously, cars have existed. After World War II, carmakers started upgrading cars for police departments with, for instance, slightly hotter engines, better brakes, heavy-duty frames, heavy-duty seats (usually of vinyl so they were easier to clean) and so on. Not all police cars were police-package cars, and if you know what you’re looking for you can tell whether a police car is actually a police-package car by looking at, for instance, tire sizes (police packages usually had bigger tires, and often had high-speed-rated tires in the days before widespread use of radials) and a speed-certified speedometer.

Carmakers that sold police-purpose vehicles usually had a name for them. Ford’s police cars were called Interceptors, Pontiac’s were called Enforcers, Chrysler’s were called Pursuit(s). Oldsmobile had an ApprehenderChevrolet‘s police package was called the 9C1, after its option number.

There were Chevy police cars in 1975 …

… but most were the then-new Nova (including in Madison) …


… with an occasional Blazer, Suburban or van thrown in. According to Jalopnik, there were no full-size 9C1 Chevys until 1976, one year before the downsized Impala was introduced.

The Caprice fire chief’s car obviously wasn’t a police-spec vehicle, and not just because it wasn’t a 9C1. For one thing, it’s a two-door, and while there were two-door squads (usually used by state highway patrols), they were in the process of going away by 1975. It appears to have the standard-size tires (the P225/75R–15, formerly known as the HR78–15, instead of even the LR78–15, now P235/75R–15, in the Impala and Caprice’s trailer towing package), which are also whitewalls, with the standard Caprice wheel covers, not the “dog-dish” hubcaps the Chicago squad and the Nova have. And no squad car I have ever seen had fender skirts.

The Caprice was the top-of-the-line full-size Chevrolet from 1966 until 1996. (When the full-size Impala was killed in 1986, the base model became the Caprice, and the upgrade was called the “Caprice Classic.”) I once saw a drawing of a ’76 Caprice squad in a car magazine ad, but I’ve never seen one in person, and a web search won’t find one from ’75 or ’76. Police departments didn’t buy luxury cars as squads, and neither did fire departments.

So I think to myself: How would my Caprice (a car I wish I still owned most days, despite its 11 mpg and 26-gallon gas tank — do the math at $3.40 a gallon) have done as an emergency services vehicle? Before you dismiss that question, there have been a lot of police departments that had officers use their personal vehicles as squads, paying them mileage, most famously in Hawaii. (The idea of McGarrett I driving his big Mercury, or Danno II driving a Camaro at work is actually based on reality.)

Our Caprice had the base 350 2-barrel V-8 (that’s a “two-barrel carburetor,” for those who have never heard of the term), so it wasn’t really fast, but Caprices through 1976 had a 400 4-barrel V-8 and a 454 4-barrel V-8 available. The 350 came with the Turbo-Hydramatic 350 automatic transmission instead of the Turbo 400, but other than leaks, we had zero transmission issues.

Certainly a four-door sedan or station wagon would be preferable, though our Caprice’s trunk was enormous. Ours had the trailer towing package, which consisted of a bumper hitch and trailer wiring harness, and it did have the 3.08:1 rear end, which made for slightly better acceleration than taller gearing. (No Positraction, though.) It didn’t have the heavy-duty suspension, which made it ride softly and, when said enormous trunk was full, bottom out on steep driveways. It also didn’t have the gauge package, which included a trip odometer, one useful additional gauge, engine temperature, and one useless gauge, the fuel economy meter (really an engine vacuum meter). Nor did it have split bench seats, which would be an issue for two officers of different heights if the short one is driving. (Ditto tilt steering, which it also didn’t have.) The only heavy-duty cooling it would have had was the cooling system used for air-conditioned cars. (And, I must say, the Caprice’s could make ice in a few minutes.) It wouldn’t have had a heavy-duty battery (though that’s easy enough to fix) or alternator (more complicated) to run the lights and radio. It was a great long-distance car, though not many fire calls could be called long-distance trips.

On the other hand, handling wasn’t bad for an 18½-foot-long, 4,300-pound car. The car was about as reliable as any 1975 car you’ll ever see. And the doors were so long and heavy that they could qualify as a weapon.

Driving Democrats

Being from the ’80s, I am a fan, indeed a student, of irony.

So I am amused at the juxtaposition of two events of this past week. The first, which actually started one week earlier, was the self-revelation that state Rep. Christine Sinicki (D–Milwaukee) has been driving on a suspended driver’s license for a considerable amount of time while on state business.

Working backwards: Media Trackers reported this after finding out that Sinicki collected more than $3,000 in per diem payments that state legislators who live outside Dane County are eligible to receive. Sinicki’s legal issues came to light because …

During Governor Scott Walker’s (R) State of the State address this year, Sinicki garnered media attention for announcing on her Facebook page that the speech was “full of sh#@” and she wished she could walk out. Days after that controversy, the loudmouthed legislator used an expletive to describe what she though U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) response would be to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

Sinicki, like all state legislators, makes $49,943 per year in addition to said per diem payments and other handsome benefits. Don’t you feel happy about that use of your taxpayer dollars?

To be fair, Sinicki is not the only legislator to have driver’s license issues. Newspapers reported in the 1980s the legal maneuvers the Assembly minority leader had to drive through to keep his driver’s license as a result of his lead foot. At one point, said legislator was down to one or two points on his license, the newspaper breathlessly reported. Of course, once that legislator was elected governor, Tommy Thompson didn’t have any speeding-ticket problems, at least not in a car. U.S. Rep. Bob Kasten (R–Wisconsin) got picked up for drunk driving in the 1980s as well, prompting a UW–Madison student government party to call itself the Bob Kasten School of Driving.

The per-diem payments reportedly require that the legislator attest that he or she was driving from his or her district to Madison. The suspended license made it appear as though Sinicki either submitted fraudulent per diem payments, or was violating state law by driving on a suspended license. The latter was the case and, contrary to what Sinicki wants you to believe, not for the first time.

The point in all of these cases is that driving records are public records. When someone whose salary is paid by our tax dollars gets into legal trouble that is public record, and hostile media reports that, no sympathy is deserved. Sinicki’s previous operating-after-suspension citation occurred in 2012, before she was reelected to her Assembly seat. Apparently her constituents are OK with being represented by someone who seems to not believe that the laws of Wisconsin apply to her.

What’s so ironic about this, you ask? On the same week Sinicki was trying to explain her way out of her self-generated controversy, Sinicki’s party leader in the Assembly, Rep. Peter Barca (D–Kenosha), announced:

In order to decrease the number of distracted-driving casualties and injuries on Wisconsin roads and highways, Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D–Kenosha) and Sen. John Lehman (D–Racine) today announced a new bill to require a hands-free device when using a cell phone while driving. Earlier this month, Illinois became the 12th state to prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving.

During the 2009-11 legislative session, Rep. Barca authored legislation that made Wisconsin the 25th state to ban texting while driving. Now 41 states prohibit that practice.

“It is important for Wisconsin to take the strong step toward ending this unsafe behavior on our roads,” Rep. Barca said. “This is a common-sense public safety proposal that would help keep Wisconsin’s drivers and pedestrians safe. We must use technology, such as hands-free options, whenever possible to enhance safety.”

This proposal provides exemptions for emergency vehicle operators, the use of GPS systems or two-way radios, touching the phone to receive or place a call, and reporting an emergency situation.  The effective date is delayed one year to allow drivers time to consider purchasing hands-free capable devices.

One wonders what Barca’s and Lehman’s position is about the “unsafe behavior on our roads” of driving without a valid license, but that’s not the irony.

Another Democrat, Rep. Jon Richards (D–Milwaukee), is running for attorney general espousing tougher penalties for drunk drivers. That too is ironic not just because attorneys general are supposed to enforce the law, not try to create the law, but for the additional reason that in the same week, Richards’ Democratic opponent, Dane County District Attorney General Ismael Ozanne, and their Republican opponent, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimmel, both announced they had been picked up for drunk driving in the 1980s. (Ozanne and Schimmel were ticketed well before they entered public office, in an era in which drunk driving was less seen as a menace as today.)

The additional irony is that one of Richards’, Barca’s and Lehman’s fellow travelers, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D–Madison), is espousing something that will increase the number of impaired drivers on the roads. Sargent has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana use. It is mere logic that if you legalize use of a previously prohibited substance, that substance will get more use, more users and more abusers, including by drivers immediately before driving. It should not be controversial to point out that alcohol use increased when Prohibition ended. (Similarly, it should be pointed out, the offense of Operating a Motor Vehicle while Intoxicated does not distinguish between intoxicating substances. )

Barca’s and Lehman’s cellphone ban is a stupid idea for the same reason that Barca’s self-touted texting ban is bad law. Cellphone use, including texting, is an example of inattentive driving, already proscribed by state law up to felony status (homicide or causing injury by negligent use of a motor vehicle). It is ignorant for Barca and Lehman to assert that cellphone use is more distracting than the previously existing distractions of passengers (particularly arguing adults or misbehaving children) and other vehicles. No ginned-up safety study disproves that reality.

Richards’ desire to stiffen drunk driving penalties brings up Sinicki’s inability to drive without a valid license. The fact, which can be found at your local county courthouse’s clerk of circuit court office, is that there are probably thousands of Wisconsinites who drive every day without having a valid driver’s license, usually because theirs got suspended, like Sinicki, or revoked because of, for instance, drunk driving convictions. Every week newspapers that print their counties’ circuit court convictions include multiple listings for the citations of Operating After Suspension, or Operating After Revocation, or Operating After Revocation/Suspension of Registration.

Why do thousands of Wisconsin drivers get away with not having a valid license? Simple: The police don’t catch them. Why don’t the police catch them? Simple: Because the police cannot merely pull over anyone the police wants to; probable cause is required by law before a traffic stop is made. Unless they’re involved in a crash, most drunk drivers are caught because they drive impaired — driving too fast or too slow, not being able to stay in their lane, driving at night without headlights, or driving without working lights — in view of a police officer. In the case of a driver without a license, a police officer in a small city or village may know that a certain driver doesn’t have a license because the officer stopped the driver previously for not having a license.

Cellphone and texting bans, and apparently the operating after revocation/suspension laws, don’t stop people from, respectively, using cellphones and texting on them, and driving cars while not legally able to do so. That’s not necessarily a reason to pass a law — otherwise murder should be legal since people still kill others though murder is illegal — but it is a reason for legislators to think harder than they’re apparently used to before passing another unenforceable law.

Richards and others who espouse tougher drunk driving penalties also need to explain how the estimated costs associated with stiffer drunk driving penalties — as much as $204 million every year by one estimate — will be paid, and in the state with the fifth highest state and local taxes, the phrase “raise taxes” is the wrong answer. Sinicki’s suspended license reportedly was due to her not paying fines, which suggests that increasing fines might end up increasing license suspensions from unpaid fines.

Then there’s the issue of whether we really want to be putting more people in prison and jail when some argue there are already too many people in prison and jail for such crimes as, well, use of certain drugs. On the other hand, given the number of repeat drunk drivers, one wonders how drunk driving can be effectively stopped other than by physically separating a driver not just from his car, but from the ability to drive any vehicle.

Fooled us once …

How should we have known that the Obama administration would veer from malignant accomplishment to staggering incompetence?

From its first major initiative: Cash for Clunkers.

Jalopnik reports:

You’ll recall that Cash for Clunkers gave buyers up to $4,500 in vouchers to trade in older cars for new one. The goal was to stimulate then-lagging auto sales and hopefully get old, smog-spewing vehicles off the road for good in exchange for newer, cleaner ones.

But the Brookings Institution reports Cash for Clunkers wasn’t all that great as far as economic stimulus programs go. As noted in the Washington Post, almost any other program would have been better in that regard.

Their biggest beef is jobs created by Cash for Clunkers, and how expensive that ended up being:

[The Brookings Institution's Ted Gayer and Emily Parker] estimate that pulling these vehicle sales forward probably boosted GDP by about $2 billion and created around 2,050 jobs. That means the program cost about $1.4 million per job created — far less effective than other conventional fiscal stimulus measures, such as cutting payroll taxes or boosting unemployment benefits.

Emphasis mine. More cost-effective ways of adding those jobs include reducing the employee and employer payroll tax and boosting unemployment aid, they say. The Post cites another study that said the 2009 Recovery Act could have been 30 percent more effective had it focused more on aid to states and payroll tax cuts.

Another issue is whether Cash for Clunkers really aided car sales in the long run. The Brookings people say Cash for Clinkers just made Americans purchase cars slightly earlier than they would have otherwise: Cumulative purchases in 2009 were basically unchanged, the report says.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to Cash for Clunkers, except of course for all those genuinely awesome performance cars that got junked in the process. The Post says the program was indeed successful at cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of taking up to 5 million cars off the road for a year even though only 700,000 old cars were traded in. However, they say it would not have been as cost-effective as implementing a carbon tax.

Plus, there was no guarantee that buyers would get into something truly more efficient than their old cars:

The 2011 Resources for the Future study found that Cash for Clunkers increased average fuel economy in the United States by just 0.65 miles per gallon. But, similarly, that study found that there were far cheaper ways to achieve similar savings.

There are a couple reasons the savings might have been so small. For one thing, the fuel-economy requirements were relatively lax: A person could, in theory, trade in a Hummer that got 14 mpg and get a $3,500 voucher for a new 18-mpg SUV. What’s more, the gain in efficiency would be partially offset by the energy costs involved in manufacturing the new car.

It costs energy to build new cars! Shocking.

I could not care less about reducing carbon dioxide emissions. That pales in comparison to the grotesque waste of destroying functioning cars. Care to guess the repossession rate of new cars purchased by people who had “clunker” cars precisely because they couldn’t afford new cars? Meanwhile, cars that could have served as functional transportation for poor people were crushed — not even stripped for usable parts such as tires. As a result, used cars today are less affordable than they were five years ago.

As for the “stimulus,” the Post reports:

Why does this matter? It was just one tiny program, after all. Yet inefficient stimulus programs add up. One recent study by economists Gerald Carlino and Robert Inman found that the 2009 Recovery Act could have been fully 30 percent more effective in boosting the economy if it had been better designed (i.e., more focused on things like aid to states and payroll tax cuts).

It would have been preferable for all of the Big Three to go out of business (which wouldn’t have happened anyway) than to have had the Cash for Clunkers abomination.

Maybe not fast enough

While the state Legislature considers a bill to increase freeway speed limits to 70 mph, those who wrongly oppose that bill should read this from MLive:

Traffic experts say that motorists tend to drive at a speed they feel comfortable, regardless of the posted speed limit. And according to Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Rob Morosi, comfortable drivers generally make for safe roads.

“There’s a misconception that the faster the speed limit, the more dangerous the road,” said Morosi, “and that’s not necessarily true. Speed limits are most effective when the majority of people driving are comfortable at that speed.”

Republican state Sens. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge and Tom Casperson of Escanaba are working on legislation that would require speed limits around the state to be based on the results of traffic studies.

Jones told MLive that he wants to eliminate speed traps — areas where artificially low limits results in high numbers of tickets — and his proposal could result in high-end freeway speeds of 75 or 80 mph.

The Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Transportation already conduct such studies on highways across the state. They consider road design and climate conditions, and they generally set speed limits at or below the rate at which 85 percent of motorists travel.

Both agencies believe that speed limits on several Metro Detroit highways remain unnecessarily low at 55 mph. And both feel that some rural freeways could potentially handle higher speeds than the current legal limit of 70 mph.

About the only truly, provably nonrenewable resource

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Friday that he will back an effort this fall to raise the state’s speed limit to 70 mph to mirror the higher limits in other Midwest states.

Vos said freshman Rep. Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc) has been working on the bill and plans to submit it by Labor Day — one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.

Tittl is expected to circulate the bill next week for co-sponsors.

“I think it’s a common sense, straightforward bill,” said Tittl.

The speed limit on interstates and other highways in Wisconsin is 65 mph. Raising that limit would mainly affect traffic on the state’s major interstates, Vos said.

He noted that Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan all enforce a 70-mph limit and “we haven’t seen any issues there,” Vos said.

Vos’ support is key to getting legislation through the Republican-controlled Assembly.

It’s about time. Yes, the pun is intended, but it is about time, which is the only truly, provably nonrenewable resource.

Corvettes (and other wheels) on the screen

The family (as in Manson family or Addams family) that is Facebook allows me to update a couple of my previous Friday posts about vehicles, including Corvettes, as depicted on a movie or TV (or desktop or laptop or tablet or smartphone) screen near you.

The Simply Corvettes Facebook page adds to my list of Corvette depictions in entertainment:

The movie “The Gumball Rally” …

… includes a white C3 convertible whose driver finds out they’re really not meant for jumping (depicted at 1:39 on the trailer).

I had forgotten what an entertaining movie this was. The cast includes Michael Sarrazin, Raul Julia, J. Pat O’Malley, and Linda Vaughn. (If you followed cars in the ’60s and ’70s, you know who Linda Vaughn was.)

The movie “Billy Jack” …

… includes a gold C3 convertible whose owner finds out Vettes don’t float either.

The movie “Con Air” apparently includes a flying Corvette. I saw the movie, but I don’t remember the air-Vette.

Star Trek” also includes a flying Corvette (and my favorite Beastie Boys song) …

… which is unrealistic, of course, because there is no gorge in Iowa that looks like that. Maybe you could drive a car off a Mississippi River bluff, but the bluffs don’t look like that.

And who can forget the movie “Never Too Young to Die,” with John Stamos, Vanity (yes, that Vanity) and Gene Simmons (yes, that Gene Simmons):

There’s also a movie called “The Red Corvette” …

… not to be confused with “Red Corvette,” or, obviously, “Little Red Corvette.”

Because astronauts had Corvettes, Tom Hanks had one in “Apollo 13,” with a slight launch problem in the stoplight scene. (Which appears to not be on YouTube.)

There’s also the concept Corvette …

… that Elvis Presley drove in “Clambake“:

Sam Malone, the pitcher-turned-bartender of “Cheers,” owned a ’67 Vette:

Harmon of “JAG” had (emphasis on the past-tense) a C3:

The L82 Corvette page mentions others, such as the Corvettes of Paul Drake, Perry Mason’s private detective; Larry Tate, Darrin’s boss on “Bewitched”; and “Face,” from …

Meanwhile, a site called Review Hyundai picks the top five most wanted Hollywood cars (none of which are Hyundais), four of which are …

… but are not (but should be):