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.


Categories: Wheels | 1 Comment

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:


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.

Categories: Wheels | 1 Comment

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.

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Music about your wheels


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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.

Categories: US politics, Wheels | Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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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):

Categories: media, Wheels | Tags: | 1 Comment

It’s Corvettepalooza!

Since I have entered a Quaker State contest to win a 1972 Corvette, I am motivated to put together a few separate items about America’s sports car.

We begin with Jalopnik, which found this:

The voiceover and constant musical refrain reminding us that we have never, ever, forever, ever never never ever seen a car this advanced before is just downright laughable. Remember, this is a 1984 Corvette. Yes, I suppose the world hadn’t seen the next generation of Corvette, but the most advanced car on the planet? This was years after the Group B-dominating Audi Quattro came out, while the first year of the C4 ‘Vette was stuck with a 5.7L V8 pumping out 205 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque through the rear wheels. …

Then there’s the claim that it’s “A new Chevrolet Corvette like never before.” Well, yeah, I suppose it was a clean-sheet re-design over the old C3 Corvette, but it was still recognizable as what it was. Maybe if they’d actually put one of those mid-engined concepts into production, I’d be more willing to believe this one.

The ad goes on to say that there was a never-before-seen computer-activated manual transmission (think more like an overdrive than a flappy-paddle setup), COOL WHEELS, and even tires. All of that is very advanced.

Oh wait – is that an LCD dash? Now that, my friends, is very neat indeed. Like those Casio watches that also had a calculator on them.

To be honest, seeing ads like this makes me miss that illustrious decade. It reminds me of a simpler time, when Reagan was President, we all feared instant atomic fiery death, our Corvettes had similar outputs to a modern European diesel, and we could all believe in America and everything its factories churned out as long as we heard the news with enough screaming Stratocasters laid over it.

The commercial appears to have screaming synthesizers, not Stratocasters, laid over it, but never mind that. The music is overwrought by 2013 standards, but it’s also inappropriate for a car ad, even if you’ve never seen anything like this before.

Recall that the C4 came out 15 years after the C3 debuted, so the C4’s debut was, to quote Corvette owner Joe Biden, a big f—ing deal. However, the wheels look like wheel covers for a decade-old land yacht (which might not be a bad idea for someone resto-modding, say, a 1975 Chevy Caprice, although the Vette’s 255/50R-16 tires are 2 inches shorter than the Caprice’s original 225/70R-15 tires, so speedometer error would result). The 4+3 manual grew to be universally reviled, and either version of the C4’s digital dash is an abomination. The car handled well, but it took until year two, 1985, for a horsepower upgrade.

I noted before that Motor Trend magazine has been known for making the most spectacularly wrong predictions about the next Corvette. Autos of Interest chronicles one:

If you haven’t yet guessed what the subject car is, it’s a Corvette. Or, it’s supposed to be. Midway through 1975, Motor Trend’s Bob Hall wrote an article entitled, “The 1977 Corvette!” (Exclamation and all.) …

Keep in mind that the C3 (or, third-generation Corvette) had been introduced as a 1968 model year car. It had trudged on largely unchanged over those years and by 1975 enthusiasts were understandably anticipating a replacement at any time. After all, Chevy had been showing off some mid-engined concepts and the speculation was ripe.

However, amazingly Motor Trend kept their cool and was calling for this heir apparent C4 to be front-engined. In fact, they were predicting just a re-skinning. Well, a major re-skinning. They compared the “rejuvenation” to what the line had gone through from C2 to C3. Although, I’m not sure where the artist came up with the idea that Corvette’s taillights would be horizontal slats. Strange.

They did call one thing correctly, the rear glass would go from ‘sugar scoop’ to fastback-style glass. However, that didn’t occur until the year following their prediction, in 1978, when Corvette celebrated its 25th anniversary and enjoyed a mild refresh and new dash layout.

Motor Trend also forecast an engine that never saw the light of day in Corvette. A turbo V-8 engine. They did preface the prediction by saying it was merely being considered but was clear that it was more than a casual consideration. …

As we know, the 1977 model Corvette came and went without any noteworthy changes. No flashy new body. No turbo V-8 engine. As mentioned above, it was the 1978 model year that got the biggest changes inside and out until the 1984 C4 debuted.

For what it’s worth, the 10-year-old who saw this Motor Trend thought it was an excellent-looking car. In many ways it looks better than the car that actually replaced the C3 Corvette …

… although comparing drawings to actual cars is usually an apples-to-oranges comparison. (Until computers started drawing cars, drawn cars always looked lower and longer than the actual finished product.) The taillights are wrong, and the doors should have had thinner window frames. Many sports car fans have an irrational hatred of hatchbacks (which the C3 adopted in 1981, two years after the rear window returned), but the C2 and C3 had neither hatch nor trunk (other than C2 convertibles), which severely limited their utility. (Owners had to drop a seat and throw behind it the suitcase for themselves and their fabulous babes, then reverse the process.)

Motor Trend isn’t the only offender in this regard. Consider Car and Driver magazine from 1973:

Never mind that the Corvette 4-Rotor looks like the wildest imaginings of some ivory tower stylist. It happens to be a very real car. And [Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus] Duntov, known for his circumspection, is openly enthusiastic about it. “Looking back at my twenty-year association with styling, this is the best design ever produced. It is exceed­ingly beautiful.” That, coming from Dun­tov, is like hearing Barry Goldwater say that he has always admired Democrats. And if you know Duntov, that statement has a special meaning because, in the past, he has never shown more than a passing interest in the aesthetics of a fender. Apart from the normal considera­tions that must apply to production Cor­vettes—reliability and safety to name a couple of the major ones—he cares about one thing; capacity for speed. That boils down to aerodynamics and horsepower. And as the conversation progresses, you find that the Corvette 4-Rotor has both. …

What does that add up to on the road? Duntov smiles. There is a short test track at the GM Tech Center, less than a mile long. “Performance of this car? One-hundred forty-five mph . . . and that is leaving room for braking.

“The feeling of this car is a steady torque, no humps like a 454, no decline, and by virtue of its large displacement, you don’t feel that it’s sluggish from the line. Humans only know change of ac­celeration. But this car is like gravity . . . you don’t feel the acceleration. There is no high torque kick. But looking at the speedometer, it’s climbing, climbing, climbing. And looking outside, you know you’re going fast. This Wankel car is faster 0-100 mph than 454.”

That’s not a surprising statement, because the four-rotor was rated at 420 horsepower, while the 454 V-8 available in the 1973 Corvette was rated at just 275 horsepower, thanks to smog controls. However, the rotary engine concept never got to the starting line, because of the rotary’s poor fuel consumption. As you know, Chevrolet replaced the rotary with a 400 V-8, and thus was born Aerovette.

The reason Aerovette didn’t happen either is explained by Autos of Interest:

There is one very interesting part to the story that, if true, sheds some light on some of the internal resistance to the seemingly perpetual idea of a mid-engined Corvette. Apparently a Motor Trend staff member was told by a Chevrolet engineer, “Suppose you own a company that makes one-dollar bills. The cost to print the bills is 50¢ including paper, ink, and labor. One day, one of your product planners comes to you with the idea of printing two-dollar notes. Think of it… instead of a 50 cents profit, you’d be making an easy $1.50 profit. After consulting with the accountants you see another view. It seems that after you take into account the cost of the new printing plates, and the conversion of the presses, it would cost you $1.50 to print the new two-dollar bills. That’s still only a 50 cents profit, and since there is still a great demand for the one-dollar bill, you fire the product planner, and keep on printing the ones. If you’re not an accountant, you can’t win. You can at best draw.”

Autos of Interest (which I just found; it’s a great site) has additional details about the C4’s design process:

Framed by a seeming inability to recognize the value in Corvette’s iconic image for the brand, let alone increasing popularity, the so-called experts (otherwise referred to as “bean counters”) were hounding Chevrolet’s general manager, Mr. Bob Lund, to make a change. The most drastic of those proposed changes called for an end to the Corvette model.

It’s reported that, at a meeting, Mr. Lund had just finished stating how ending low-volume Corvette production would allow for greater high-volume Monte Carlo production when Chevrolet’s Director of Public Relations, Jim Williams, stood and said to Mr. Lund, “I don’t know about you, Bob, but I don’t want to be known as the PR chief who worked at Chevy when they dumped the Corvette.” …

This is a full-sized clay model from December of 1976 that, at first glance, looks just like the Aerovette. But, upon comparison, you’ll see several changes.

That’s because this clay model was the “productionized” version of the Aerovette that accounts for things necessary if it were to be built.

At this time, the mid-engine program was getting the majority of the attention. So much so that a mid-engined mule (built on a Porsche 914 platform!) had been constructed for testing. That’s where the mid-engine program lost its steam. Why?

Two problems were exposed by the mule. First was handling and Chevy recognized that Corvette customers had specific expectations about how their car should feel. The engineers ceded they didn’t feel they could meet those expectations with the new configuration in time for the debut.

The second problem had to do with power. In what seems a colossal oversight, the mid-engine proposal was planned from the start to be powered by the same engine/transmission combo as the upcoming X-cars (Citation/Phoenix/Skylark/Omega). That meant a 2.8-liter V6 pumping out a wheezing 110 HP. Boosting the engine’s output with a turbocharger was naturally considered but excessive costs (due to the unique design) and added component stress (which raised serious durability questions) were mortal blows to the doomed plan. …

The head of Chevy 3 design group, Mr. Jerry Palmer, had set five requirements for the epic model being redesigned under his watch: more passenger room, increase cargo space, reduce the drag coefficient, reduce the car’s height, and modernize the firewall-to-axle proportion. Some of those requirements would seem to conflict with another.

For example, in considering reducing the car’s overall height, they determined the ride height (the space between the body and the ground) couldn’t be reduced much compared the outgoing model.

To resolve the dilemma, Mr. Palmer and his team devised an interesting approach. By relocating the lowest components in the old design, the exhaust, including the catalytic converter, out from under the occupants’ seats and into a center tunnel, designers could lower the roof–and occupants–without affecting the car’s ride height.

This is the reason the C4 has what some consider to be an awkward ingress/egress design; others, myself included, feel it adds to the exotic appeal.

The interior design, with the hated digital instruments, combines two interior design concepts:

I believe the second steering wheel ended up in the mid-’80s Camaro. They should have stuck to the analog gauges.

Finally, here’s something you hardly see anymore, but used to see often in car magazines. This is remarkable to see for those of us who remember publications put together before desktop publishing, digital cameras and color availability on every page:

car craft c2 cutaway

The Corvette C2 Registry passed on this story from the November 1962 Car Craft magazine. Cool detail.

Categories: media, Wheels | Tags: | 1 Comment

America’s sports car, as discovered by CNN

CNN published this piece about the Corvette on the 60th anniversary of the production of the first Corvette, which this blog presents to you on Collector Car Appreciation Day:

The pounding of her heart, the adrenaline racing through her system, the vibrations buzzing through her bones: At 16, Andrea Interlicchia got hooked on the idea of owning a Chevrolet Corvette.

She became hung up on the classic American sports car after her father nonchalantly tossed the keys to his 1975 “vette” at her and asked if she could go to the local store to grab a loaf of bread. The car’s acceleration, the smell of its exhaust and the feel of its engine made that grocery trip like none other.

The Chevy Corvette has left years of memorable experiences for many drivers, and now the American sports car is in its seventh generation and celebrating its 60th anniversary since it first went into production.

Throughout those years, the famous two-seater sports car has found its way onto American driveways, racing tracks and pop culture. The Corvette was selected as the pace car 11 times fCaror the Indianapolis 500, has been featured in songs like Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and even made some big screen appearances like the 1978 “Corvette Summer.” Corvettes are even anticipated to show up as Autobots in Michael Bay’s “Transformers 4.”

(They had to mention “Corvette Summer.”)

CNN asked Corvette owners why the Vette, and came up with nine different reasons (two more than the seven generations of Corvette, but you knew that) to own one:

1. It’s the accessible sports car
50 years ago, Gene Beenenga found himself on a Chevrolet showroom floor in LaSalle-Peru, Illinois, and the 1963 Split-Window Sting Ray Corvette caught his eye. A memory rushed back to him as he recalled the exhilaration he felt driving around with his high school friend in a Corvette years earlier. When he saw the Sting Ray’s sleek body and design, pure desire made him take the plunge to pay the listed showroom price of $4,875. Throughout the years he has gotten offers from sellers to buy up the classic model, but the 72-year-old says the car gives him too much pride to let go of. “Doesn’t every youngster want the mystique of owning a high-performance car?” he asked. “This model of car, being the Corvette, was accessible for the average-income buyer, and still could deliver on that thrill of a high-powered sports car.”

Bizarrely, this is seen by some as a negative. No car on this planet comes close to matching Corvette’s performance-for-price formula. A lot of that has to do with Chevrolet’s sticking with the comparatively low-tech approach of a front-engine rear-drive car powered by a pushrod V-8. It’s not all-wheel-drive, it’s not mid-engined, and only the C4s with the LT-5 V-8 had four cams and four valves per cylinder. The Corvette’s competitors with those features are significantly more expensive. Car magazines keep complaining about the Corvette’s subpar (in their opinion) interior. Somehow I doubt any Corvette sale has been squashed (except possibly a C4 sale given its hideous digital instrument panel) by the quality, or perceived lack thereof, of the interior. (At least Chevy doesn’t put Vega steering wheels in them anymore.)

2. It’s a car for men and women

Interlicchia was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years before she got her first job, her first paycheck and then her first Corvette, a 2001 Pewter Convertible. After falling in love with her father’s Corvette in her teens, she knew she had to have one. During the months of April through October, when she is driving around Webster, New York, with the top down, she says she and her car know how to turn heads. “Most people are surprise when they see a woman driving it. It has long been known for older men driving this model car. That is why my license plate reads ‘IPAY 4IT,'” she said.

An ironic point given the Corvette non-fan I know (or perhaps she isn’t a fan of Corvette owners) who referred to them as “extenders.” Actually, she described them in two words; the first had five letters, the first of which was P and the last of which was S.

3. It melts the stress away

Agnes Grubbs’ son, Mack, introduced her to his first Corvette back in 2000 and took her out for a spin. “The next thing I know, he had me take the wheel.  It was silver with a black convertible top and the top was down at the time. I guess that is when I got hooked,” she said. The 58-year-old has been driving Corvettes for the past four years. Between them, she and her son own three Corvettes now, and she says there is just something about cruising in one that melts her stress away. “Sometimes I drive them to work and if I have a stressful day, I can get in these cars, take off, and my stress level goes way down.”

As I asked here before, do you have a bad day if it begins and ends in a Corvette? You cannot say the same thing about a Toyota Prius.

5. It represents the American Dream

Matthew Colver and his wife decided to get a sports car after their kids moved out of their California home back in 2001. After seeing the top down on a Corvette, he says there was no other car as beautiful around. He and his wife decided to order a customized 2002 Corvette Convertible. “I remember driving it across the desert on I-40 and getting it up to 120 mph before my wife noticed how fast I was going and she yelled at me to slow down. That was fun,” he said. He says owning and driving the Corvette is like fulfilling a dream. “I remember when the ’66 Stingray came out when I was a kid and I thought that was the coolest car I ever saw,” he said.

6. It’s a perfect fit for two

Allen Lineberry, 57, and his family were doing their last family vacation with his wife before his two daughters were to move out and start college. They were heading to Chicago, but stopped at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Lineberry decided to make a little gamble while touring the museum and bought a raffle ticket for the just released C6 Corvette. “My wife and girls could not believe I would spend a $100 on a small piece of paper … but I figured it was as close to a ‘vette as I would ever be,” he said. After their road trip, Lineberry got a phone call that he had won the car in the raffle drawing. “This was perfect timing, it just has two seats and its just enough,” he said.

I have seen mention elsewhere of Mr. Lineberry’s incredible luck, so this is a legitimate story. You may not think it’s legit given the presence of the word “vacation” in the Obama economy, a term that applies only to the Obama family.

7. ‘It’s a piece of American history’

After graduating Grantham University with an MBA, Jim Zingg decided to reward himself with a C7 Corvette, which he named Lailani. When he was stationed in Germany for work, he decided to bring his Corvette with him to Europe so he could travel around with a piece of American history. “I’ve always liked Corvettes. My high school buddies own a couple and I was at a place in my life where I wanted one. I searched for almost two years to find the perfect one,” the 41-year-old said. “They have the best of both worlds — style and beauty.”

8. It’s a social experience

At 12, Eddie Hicks would see his friend’s uncle, Harry, drive around town in a Corvette, a new model every two years. “Everyone in town would wait with anticipation to see what the next one was like,” he said. It was his lifelong dream to own a car like Uncle Harry’s. Upon retirement, Hicks, 71, finally got a red 2013 coupe. “I drive it around town, a much bigger town. I can see people pointing and talking about my Corvette and I wonder if they are pointing at me, like Uncle Harry, and saying ‘One of these days I am going to get me one of those,'” he said. “All sports cars look good, but a Corvette is truly ‘America’s sports car.’ The history, the clubs, the events and most importantly just the fun of driving it,” Hicks said.

9. It’s a car you can pass down for generations 

Dave DiVito, 40, was introduced to his first Corvette when he was 5 years old. His father took him to see a yellow one. From then on, he and his father worked on restoring, detailing and participating in Corvette shows with the Corvette club, forging a relationship and hobby between the two. He owns a 2004 Corvette Z06 Commemorative Edition now, and when he had his own two daughters he shared with them a passion for Corvettes. “They enjoy helping me wash the car. They pick out Corvettes when we are driving, and they have numerous Hot Wheels Corvettes and a Barbie Corvette,” he said. “The Chevrolet Corvette has been a part of the family for over 35 years. Keep on vettin!”

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