Wheels

Get thee to the garage

On this Independence Day sort-of weekend, Jalopnik answers a question that I’m sure is burning in all our brains …

These Are the Cars the Founding Fathers Would Have Driven

… complete with psychological explanations. For instance:

James Madison likely had an inferiority complex, as his health was frail, and was the smallest president, by height and by weight. He was also the president to lead America into the War of 1812. As an enemy of Britain, he had to choose something that promoted America, and would help with his inferiority complex by making him seem bigger and manlier than he was. If he didn’t drive a Ford F-150, the Shelby GT500 (or Chevrolet Camaro ZL1) would be his pick.

An even more interesting explanation is presented for Alexander Hamilton’s wheels:

“He stands at the front rank of a generation never surpassed in history, but whose countrymen seem to have never duly recognized his splendid gifts.” – James Bryce, in reference to Hamilton, who, like the Forester XT, was often never fully recognized for his many less-publicized exemplary accomplishments.

“When America ceases to remember his greatness, America will no longer be great.” – Calvin Coolidge, in reference to Hamilton. Like America’s recognition of Hamilton’s greatness, when Car Culture ceases to remember just how and why the Forester XT was awesome, then it’s no longer a true car culture.

“Good roads, canals, and navigable rivers, by diminishing the expense of carriage, put the remote parts of a country more nearly upon a level with those in the neighborhood of the town. They are, upon that account, the greatest of all improvements. They encourage the cultivation of the remote, which must always be the most extensive circle of the country.” -Hamilton, on making the rural areas of the country more accessible for the masses, something Subaru is quite adept at.

“The rights of neutrality will only be respected, when they are defended by an adequate power.” – Alexander Hamilton on the Subaru XT not having any flashy exterior styling beyond a functional hoodscoop. Why does the XT have such neutral styling? Because it has enough power under the hood that it doesn’t feel it has anything to prove.

“I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man.” – Hamilton, if asked to comment on Subaru’s designers.

“And it is long since I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.” – Alexander Hamilton. I’m pretty sure this quote is stamped somewhere on the chassis of every Forester XT, Impreza Outback Sport, Baja, Brat, Justy, Legacy GT, and WRX Sportwagon.

The added benefit is that Subarus are built in Lafayette in the Northwest Territory — I mean, Indiana.

What about friends and rivals John Adams and Thomas Jefferson? An Aston Martin Vanquish and, of all things, a Citroen DS, respectively:

Adams was a key instrument in declaring independence from Great Britain, but after the war he served as a diplomat in Europe. Adams was one of the men responsible for authoring the eventual treaty between the United States and Great Britain. Therefore, it is only fitting that the would drive a British car… that was built while owned by the MOST American of companies, Ford!

As for Jefferson:

He loved French novelties!

The most exotic choice goes to my favorite Founding Father, Ben Franklin: A Facel Vega, a French-designed car powered by the first and second iterations of the Chrysler Hemi V-8:

French on the outside, American on the inside. It’s badass and I’m sure great for picking up chicks.

The first president, George Washington, is assigned a Jeep Wagoneer:

Washington was probably the wealthiest man in America in the late 18th century – his holdings would easily be worth more than $500 million today, at the low end. This car is the definition of old money landed gentry- the closest American vehicle you can get to a Range Rover, and even 20 years after the last one was built, they’re still fairly popular among upscale East Coast summer colonies like Martha’s Vineyard. This is a car for someone with a large estate that needs to occasionally travel across it for inspections or hunting, and is so wealthy and self-assured that he doesn’t need something flashy and new to prove it. I figure he would have had a Range Rover first, as any good Southerner would have been fairly pro-British before 1775, but he would have swapped it for the Jeep once war clouds started to appear.

Washington might have swapped the Range Rover for the Jeep before “war clouds started to appear” due to the lack of liability for which British cars are legendary.

 

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On Drive Your Corvette to Work Day

Some thoughts about collector cars (none of which I own, including a Corvette, because life is unfair) can be read here.

Sunday is National Corvette Day, recognizing, this year, the 60th anniversary of the sale of the first Corvette, June 30, 1953.

Which brings an interesting question to mind: Why was it named the Corvette? The Gentleman Racer has the answer:

Corvette was the first mass produced post-war American sports car, but when GM introduced the car the name was still up in the air. Hundreds of people submitted ideas, but it would be the submission of Myron E. Scott, a newspaper photographer who would submit the winning name.

Myron thought the name Corvette rolled off the tongue well and thought a tie into the fast strike ships called “Corvette” that gained fame in World War II would appeal to the American men, many who had served in the war. This would go on to form the foundation for the nautical names that would be applied to Corvettes and concepts such as the Mako Shark and Sting Ray (later to be used as Stingray).

That would be, by the way …





The name Corvette was first used on ships in the 1670s by the French Navy. These small, light, and fast ships would often be used as escorts for larger ships. While they generally were under 100 feet long and only had one gun deck, their maneuverability and speed gave them a unique advantage against the larger ships. Literally a Corvette could run circles around larger ships and in the era of cannons fast moving targets were hard to hit. The British would keep Corvettes in their fleet during the colonial incursions into the rivers of the Far-East and Africa, at this point most Corvettes were steam powered.

(And here I thought most Corvettes were V-8-powered.)

The name was revived in World War II, when British naval designer William Reed drafted a plan for a small escort/patrol ship. They saw much success as anti submarine escorts in the Atlantic. Later in the war some Corvettes would be outfitted as minesweepers and saw action in the Pacific. Corvette ships are still used today, mostly has light missile ships or support vessels for fast attack boats.

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The death of driving?

That is the headline with which Automotive News’ Mark Rechtin begins:

You know that study that just came out declaring “the end of the driving boom,” because Gen Y supposedly doesn’t care about cars?

Ignore it.

The 69-page study by the Frontier Group and the Public Interest Research Group is just another case of inside-the-beltway thinking attempting to drive public policy decisions. Or using statistics to ignore the real causal evidence for why something is happening.

According to the study, “Young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001 — a greater decline in driving than any other age group. The severe economic recession was likely responsible for some of the decline, but not all.”

The study posits that millenials would rather Tweet than drive, and would rather live in an urban setting with mass transit than commute in from the suburbs.

When you read between the lines, the Frontier/PIRG study is a clear call for investing less in freeways and main arteries, and a call for more subways and light rail. …

But the biggest problem with the survey is its basic psychographic misunderstanding: Young people do care about cars. They just haven’t had to.

Either unemployed or underemployed, many Gen Y college grads have moved back home with their helicopter parents who have resumed their role as their childrens’ personal taxi services. Gen Ys can’t afford cars, but they can afford iPhones.

At some point, however, the economy will improve. Recent grads will get real jobs, have boyfriends and girlfriends, and realize that having mom chauffeur a date to see Vampire Weekend isn’t cool when you’re 25.

Then there’s the marriage factor. Even if millenials can afford that cool 600-square-foot artist’s loft close to the subway station, it won’t fit a family, and it’s in a cruddy, crowded neighborhood with a lousy school district.

Gen Y will enter suburban life — it’s a demographic certainty. Kicking and screaming, the last bohemians of Gen Y will realize the car has changed from being an unneeded luxury to an absolute necessity. …

The same day that the Frontier/PIRG study came out, Edmunds.com released its own findings about Gen Y buyers.

“With higher unemployment, lower income and a greater propensity to live at home than previous generations at this age, it hardly comes as a surprise that these younger adults have failed to buy new cars at the same rate as their predecessors,” Edmunds chief economist Lacey Plache wrote.

Rechtin points out that since 1956, vehicle miles driven have tracked growth, or lack thereof, in the gross domestic product. If driving is or has decreased, it’s because of the (still) crappy economy, with a major assist to gas prices nearing $4 per gallon once again.

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GM’s other Corvettes

I have written a lot in this space about the Corvette.  (And by the way, my birthday is one month from today.)

The Corvette is a car that by conventional business standards probably should have been discontinued after its third year, when just 700 of them were sold. But 1955 was the year the Corvette got an actual engine, Chevy’s first V-8, after it got an engineer who actually cared about the car, Zora Arkus-Duntov.

The rest, as they say, is history. Except that GM’s other divisions wanted Corvettes too, or at least cars like Corvettes — two-seat sports, or sporty, cars. (Well, except GMC, although one could easily put together a two-seat pickup truck with a big V-8 and manual transmission. Styling might leave something to be desired, though, but imagine the cargo space.)

Every other GM division apparently got the two-seat bug in 1954. The list begins with the Pontiac Bonneville Special …

… powered by a bored-out Pontiac straight-eight.

One of the remaining Specials sold for $2.8 million. That is not a misprint.

That same year, Oldsmobile trotted out its own two-seat concept, the F-88.

The F-88 was designed the same time as the initial Corvette, but was powered by an Olds V-8 of 250 horsepower, 100 more than the initial Corvette six. After it appeared in GM’s Motorama, it became the personal transportation of the legendary Harley Earl, GM’s chief designer of the time. One of its duties was to represent GM at the grand opening of Road America in Elkhart Lake in 1955.

The lone surviving F-88, by the way, sold at an auction for $3.24 million. That is not a misprint.

Buick’s contribution was the Wildcat II, slightly smaller than the Corvette, and again with a stronger motor, a Buick 322 V-8.

The Wildcat is in the foreground; the F-88 is in the background.

Cadillac had multiple efforts at its own two-seater. In 1954 Cadillac unveiled the El Camino coupe …

1954 Cadillac El Camino

… and La Espada convertible …

1954 Cadillac La Espada

… both powered by Caddy V-8s. Each was 200 inches long, or a full two feet longer than the same year Corvette, so they weren’t intended as Corvette competitors, but they weren’t designed for production either.

Cadillac LaSalle II coupe concept

One year later Cadillac created two LaSalle II concepts — the pictured roadster and a four-door with suicide doors, a few inches longer than the ’55 Vette. The engine was an experimental aluminum V-6. The first GM V-6 was in a Buick nearly a decade later, and by the time Cadillac got a V-6, well, recall the difference between wanting something and finally getting it.

None of these cars reached production; none was ever intended to reach production. The Bonneville became the top-of-the-line Pontiac (my mother-in-law owns the last Bonneville); the Wildcat became a sporty full-size Buick; the El Camino became, of course, a Chevy cartruck, or “coupe utility”; and despite numerous proposals, Cadillac never used the name “LaSalle” for one of its models.

That more or less ended Olds’ and Buick’s attempts at Corvette-style cars. A decade later, however, Pontiac put together a car smaller than the Corvette, powered by Pontiac’s overhead-cam six, the Banshee. Motor Trend Classic sets the scene:

Imagine yourself as the general manager of Chevrolet in 1966. You’re at the wheel of the largest division of General Motors, with total passenger car production in excess of 2 million units under your watch. Things are good, right? Not so fast. In 1966, Chevrolet was taking a beating on several fronts, and there was a sense that the competition was beginning to eat USA-1′s lunch. The greatest hit came from Ford’s Mustang. Without any direct competing model to consider (the Camaro was still a year away), a million Mustang buyers skipped past Chevy showrooms, where boxy Chevy II Novas and reputation-tarnished Corvairs were the only lines of defense.

In this context of mounting hostility from Ford and the rest of Detroit, the last thing Chevy wanted was more competition from within General Motors. And that seems to be where the story of the Pontiac XP-833 begins — and ends.

The sleek silver two-seat Banshee sports car on display was poised to enter production in 1966, but obviously never reached that goal. Some say its demise was a direct result of complaints from Chevrolet that it would bite deeply into Corvette sales. That assumption makes sense in light of the fact the XP-833 was a fiberglass-bodied two-seater, just like the Corvette. And with annual Corvette sales in the low 20,000-unit range, there wasn’t much room for competition.

This car was at an Iola Old Car Show during a tribute to Pontiac (R.I.P.). It is smaller than any Corvette, and powered by a six, not a V-8. John DeLorean (yes, that John DeLorean) headed Pontiac at the time.

Should the Corvette team have been frightened by Pontiac’s proposed lower-cost sports car? The likely answer is yes. While it would have snared a good number of potential Mustang buyers, its similar theme would have also been attractive to the lower end of the Corvette buyer demographic. Adding the XP-833 to Pontiac showrooms nationwide, especially at the height of GTO mania, would have resulted in excitement you could have seen from outer space. And with the possibility of options like disc brakes, performance-suspension goodies, and that big 421 riding the XP-833′s miniscule 91-inch wheelbase, maybe the 427 Corvette (half a foot longer) wouldn’t have seemed so hot after all.And so it was when DeLorean, [Pontiac engineer Bill] Collins, and the rest of the team unveiled the XP-833 to top GM executives in mid-1965. Permission and funding for further development were denied; the XP-833 program was over. …

The Banshee offers a rare glimpse of what might have been. And if any comparison to the nearly 66,000 Solstices sold between 2006 and 2009 can be made, perhaps Pontiac’s concept of an affordable two-seat sports car wasn’t off base after all.

The Solstice, and the companion Saturn Sky, were smaller-than-Corvette two-seaters. There was, however, a Cadillac “Corvette,” the XLR, built on the Corvette platform, but with the 32-valve Northstar V-8 (and, disgracefully, an automatic) instead of the Corvette small-block. Where the Corvette has sold in the tens of thousands every year, the XLR sold in the thousands.

Before that was the Cadillac Allanté, another two-seater that was more like a Mercedes–Benz SL than a sports car.


So why did the Corvette avoid inside-GM competition, let alone GM’s usual badge engineering? Part of it was perhaps corporate politics. Corvette has always had high-level backers within GM’s Byzantine management structure. Part of it also was perhaps GM’s realization of how much money the Corvette, even with  five-figure yearly production levels, made for GM, and GM was therefore reluctant to create an in-house competitor that wouldn’t have necessarily made more money for GM.

Chevrolet (which was purchased by GM 95 years ago yesterday) has always been the most-things-to-most-buyers division of GM. The 6,000 or so Chevy dealers in the late 1970s sold everything from the minicompact Chevette to the land yacht Caprice, plus trucks and SUVs. The Corvette by rights should have been built by Pontiac, the “excitement division” (though it wasn’t when the Corvette was built), or even Cadillac for exclusivity. It’s been suggested more than once that Corvette should be split off into its own division. (Only about one-third of Chevy dealers are reportedly getting the new Corvette.)

The other reason is that, for all the occasional criticism of way-out-there styling (the C3), the Vette’s being more expensive than other Chevys, and Chevy’s refusal to green-light a mid-engine Corvette, Chevy actually got the Corvette right as an affordable (by the standards of the genre) supercar. Consider this from Corvette Online:

Some interesting facts:

  • Most expensive Corvette in constant dollars? The 1989 C4, at $59,216
  • Least expensive? $24,004 for the 1954 Corvette
  • Over its lengthy run, the MSRP of the C3 nearly quadrupled, and even adjusted for inflation, it still rose more than $10,000
  • The switch between C3 and C4 saw the biggest run up in real cost, jumping 15.5% from 1982 to 1984
  • On average, the adjusted cost of buying a Corvette has gone down since the dawn of the C4 era, from the mid-$56,000 range to $51k for the C6

If not for Zora Arkus-Duntov, who turned the Corvette into an actual sports car, and Bill Mitchell, who designed the most recognizable Corvettes, perhaps the Corvette would have died after a few years. Or perhaps the Corvette would have  died after faring badly against inside-GM competition. Instead, the Corvette remains America’s sports car.

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Steve designs an SUV

The idea for this exercise came from a Motor Trend Classic story:

Envision this: You’re the editor of Motor Trend. And, naturally, you have lots of friends in automotive journalism. You see them at industry events, major auto shows, and press launches of important new vehicles, typically at exotic locations here in the U.S. and overseas. Now imagine inviting those friends to a bar after the first day of the New York auto show in April with these words: “Let’s design a dream car.” You’ll build a driveable version in less than six months, in time to be unveiled on a turntable in Los Angeles in November.

Sound improbable? Of course. But, believe it or not, this scenario transpired 45 years ago. Instead of New York, it was in London, England. The publication was The Daily Telegraph Magazine, and the editor was John Anstey. The car was a collaboration among auto journalists, Anstey, Jaguar, and the design house of Bertone, and was known as the 1967 Jaguar Bertone Pirana Coupe.

In March 1967, the increasingly powerful Anstey cooked up another wild scheme to promote his weekend magazine, gathering a group of motoring writers at that year’s Geneva motor show and asking them, in effect, “If you could build your dream car, what would it be?” The group of motoring scribes examined what was then the state-of-the-art in automotive design, culling elements from Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Lotus, and Maserati to come up with their ideal 2+2 Grand Touring coupe. But this was no mere pipe dream. After pushing the magazine’s senior management, Anstey actually obtained the budget to push the “dream coupe” vision forward. What’s more, he had the audacity to promise delivery of an actual car in just six months.

Sad to say, no such scenario presented itself when I was a business magazine editor. But the concept of this story was so captivating that I decided to create my own 2+2 as the one-man design team.

That, however, got waylaid by another idea — to create the ultimate sport utility vehicle. Not something like a Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator, but the original intention of the British Land Rover Range Rover — a vehicle that farmers could use for their daily work and take the family somewhere for the weekend. So it needs to be on- and off-road capable, but not Spartan.

Range Rover, you ask? According to Range Rover Classic, the original Range Rover was designed as a “Four-In-One car” …

  •  “A luxury car”
  •  “A performance car”
  •  “An estate car”
  •  “A cross country car”

… or, put another way in brochures …

  1. “It is a seven-days-a-week luxury motor car for all business, social and domestic purposes.”
  2. “It is a leisure vehicle that will range far and wide on the highways and noways of the world in pursuit of its owner’s activities and interests.”
  3. “It is a high-performance car for long distance travel in the grand manner.”
  4. “It is a working cross-country vehicle with a payload capacity of 1200 lb.”

… all by the definitions of 1970 Great Britain. (An “estate car” there is a station wagon here, but you knew that.) Today’s definition of “luxury motor car” generally does not include nonexistent air conditioning, rudimentary carpeting or a lack of automatic transmission choice, but none of those were available on the original Range Rover. Nor were four doors, until 1982.

I assume the Range Rover was developed because of a lack of British pickup truck tradition. In part for that reason, the Range Rover got some interesting uses:

The Range Rover became very popular as a police vehicle to patrol motorways (“freeways” over here).

Fire truck. Notice the extra rear axle.

Think of this as the six-wheel Vista Cruiser edition.

Before the Nissan Murano convertible SUV, there was …

The other inspiration is the Mercedes–Benz Geländewagen, developed by, of all people, the Shah of Iran. So obviously it had some military uses:

Canadian military, with the roof machine gun option.

Norwegian military.

Also with six wheels.

We’ll call our SUV the Cross Country, the former name of Rambler station wagons in the 1960s, because this SUV is intended to meet that purpose. What I have in mind bridges the gap between SUV and truck (with a specific retro design feature in mind), for those who might need either at some point.

(Unfortunately, since I can’t really draw, I have to describe, instead of show, what I have in mind.)

One goal here is to offer a few choices for the buyer. You can buy a Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition or Jeep Grand Cherokee with any engine and transmission combination you like, as long as it’s a gas engine attached to an automatic transmission. GM and Ford no longer build pickups with manual transmissions, and the only Dodge — I mean Ram — you can buy with a proper transmission is the 3500 attached to a Cummins diesel.

The gas motor choice is GM’s LS3 E-Rod V-8, which is rated at 430 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. Why 430 horsepower in an SUV? That’s 20 fewer horsepower than the answer-in-search-of-a-question Lamborghini LM002, the 12-cylinder four-door pickup.

The diesel choice is the Navistar Maxxforce 7, which has 300 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque. (The diesel was formerly used in Ford Super Duty pickups until Ford designed its own diesel. Having driven a Maxxforce-equipped moving truck, I am much more impressed with Navistar engines than with, say, Isuzu diesels.)

The manual transmission would be the ZF 6S700, which offers a low first gear and an overdrive sixth. The automatic would also be from ZF, the AS Tronic 700.

The Cross County would be a four-wheel-drive, not all-wheel-drive, vehicle most likely, for heavier-duty truck-like uses. I think independent front and rear suspension works better for handling, with (based on the Range Rover) lots of suspension travel built in, and, borrowing from the Corvette, magnetic shock absorbers with adjustable stiffness control inside the Cross Country.

Inside would have the usual SUV accouterments (air, stereo/navigation system, sunroof), with the extra proviso of a lot of gauges, which are always preferable to idiot lights. (The first Range Rovers had just a speedometer, fuel gauge and temperature gauge; the lack of tachometer is strange for a manual-transmission-only vehicle).

About that design feature: The first Range Rovers and G-wagons were two-doors. Four-doors are all they sell now. (G-wagons were available in two- and four-door versions and as convertibles.) You’d probably want at least an option for a third row of seats. But, you think to yourself, how do you get the utility of a pickup truck and the seating capacity of an SUV?

My first idea was to adapt the sliding roof design of the Studebaker Wagonaire and the GMC Envoy XUV. Those were huge failures in the marketplace, which is why despite seeming like a good idea, it apparently isn’t.

The roof of the first two generations (this is a 1977) of Chevrolet Blazers was removable.

The same was the case with the first Dodge Ramchargers. That, I think, solves the pickup-vs.-SUV issue. If you need the extra space, take off the top.

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Just what, not why

You weren’t expecting motor home racing? The BBC’s TopGear (far superior to the American version) probably didn’t start a new sport, but …

… you probably weren’t expecting airport vehicle racing either.

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The Chrysler Corvette

This is not a post about the Dodge Viper. (Although I do know a Viper owner.)

This is about a car that could have predated not just the Viper, but the 1955 Ford Thunderbird (briefly Ford’s Corvette), and been a competitor to the first Corvette, from Jalopnik and Hemmings:

While some call it the Dodge Storm or a Bertone, it is actually the Zeder Z-250 (just when you thought Nissan made “Z” cars). The sports car was created by Fred Zeder Jr., son of Frederick Zeder of The Three Musketeers, the engineering team that started the Chrysler Corporation. …

Zeder’s idea was that two cars should be made using a common platform: a two seater race car with a fiber glass body weighting only 150 pounds, and a luxurious aluminum coupe. The bodies were to be easily swappable by using four rubber-bushed nuts, where the performance remained the same in both forms. The Z-250 used a modified version of the Dodge HEMI V8 truck engine, which produced 260 horsepower and about 330 ft-lbs of torque according to this article. That propelled the car from 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds, and the quarter mile took just 14.7 seconds. Other parts like the brakes, radiator, clutch, steering, rear axle, fuel tank and electronics came from the shelves of Plymouth and Dodge. The rest like the tube space frame, the suspension and the two bodies were unique to the car, while the transmission was a brand new unit developed by the Spicer Division of Dana Corporation. …

In April 1954, Fred took his pride (now called the Storm Z-250) to Chrysler’s design headquarters in Hamtramck. After his father’s death, his uncle Jim Zeder became the Chief Engineer. He was trained for years by the old trio to not be supportive when it came to new ideas. He borrowed the car so Chrysler could evaluate it, but instead he locked it up in the factory’s storage for two years, under which nobody was supposed to touch or even mention the car. …

Fred’s guess was that Jim feared he wouldn’t get any credit if it succeeded, but would take the heat if it failed. The official reason was that the car was too expensive to produce in order to sell it in profitable quantities. By the time Fred got back his car, people were driving Corvettes and brand new Ford Thunderbirds, not to mention Nash-Healeys, Kaiser-Darrins, and Cunninghams on the tracks. Just like the Oldsmobile or Pontiac “Corvettes,” Chrysler’s was killed as well before it could prove itself.

That is, you must admit, a breathtaking car.

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Dirty green

Environmental skeptic Bjorn Lomborg:

Electric cars are promoted as the chic harbinger of an environmentally benign future. Ads assure us of “zero emissions,” and President Obama has promised a million on the road by 2015. With sales for 2012 coming in at about 50,000, that million-car figure is a pipe dream. …

For proponents such as the actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio, the main argument is that their electric cars—whether it’s a $100,000 Fisker Karma (Mr. DiCaprio’s ride) or a $28,000 Nissan Leaf—don’t contribute to global warming. And, sure, electric cars don’t emit carbon-dioxide on the road. But the energy used for their manufacture and continual battery charges certainly does—far more than most people realize.

A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery. The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity. By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission. The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds.

 While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally. And that turns out to be a challenge. Consider the Nissan Leaf. It has only a 73-mile range per charge. Drivers attempting long road trips, as in one BBC test drive, have reported that recharging takes so long that the average speed is close to six miles per hour—a bit faster than your average jogger.

To make matters worse, the batteries in electric cars fade with time, just as they do in a cellphone. Nissan estimates that after five years, the less effective batteries in a typical Leaf bring the range down to 55 miles. As the MIT Technology Review cautioned last year: “Don’t Drive Your Nissan Leaf Too Much.”

If a typical electric car is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the car will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles. Similarly, if the energy used to recharge the electric car comes mostly from coal-fired power plants, it will be responsible for the emission of almost 15 ounces of carbon-dioxide for every one of the 50,000 miles it is driven—three ounces more than a similar gas-powered car.

Categories: US politics, Wheels | 2 Comments

Alternative Corvettes

This blog is not about past Corvette design proposals that did not come to fruition.

This is about how Chevrolet could have done a better job with the C7 Corvette, premiering later this year.

The outstanding Art and Colour Cars blog, which contributed to my popular (as in more than 2,800 views) Cadillac piece, improved the rear view of the C7.

First

The Split-Window is Back! For my take on the new C7 Corvette Stingray I went backwards in time a bit. To begin with I restored its traditional four round taillights. I gave it a much more traditional greenhouse rather than the new car’s first time and rather forced rear quarter windows. I also added a thin central paint-colored spine to the hatchglass, following the existing indented roof panel. I also edited the side vents so they’d fit better with the last several generations. Detail changes include moving the new Stingray logo to the B pillar and flattened out the new “winged” crossed flags

It’s not clear to me why rear quarter windows are a good idea on a two-seat car. I understand why the ’63 split-window C2 is so popular, because it was found only on the ’63 Vettes. Of course, there’s a reason only the ’63 Vettes had a split rear window — drivers couldn’t see out the back. Now, though, with the ability to use opaque-on-the-outside tinted-from-the-inside window coverings, this might make sense.

Version two:

For my second take on the C7, I decided to keep the idea of a rear quarter window, but I reshaped it into a much simpler graphic. By bringing this new side window to a point, I referenced the Corvette supercar prototype from the 1970s, the mid-engined 4-Rotor.At the back  I created a set of aluminum-ringed quad circular taillight and replaced the new “V” crossed flags emblem with a “proper” set of flags from ’72 ‘Vette. I cut down on the visual height of the bodysides by using another ’70s styling trick: Argent colored rocker panels. The cool new Stingray logo has been moved to the B pillar when it’s noticeable every time you open the door.

The aforementioned rear quarter window is a clever tribute for the AstroVette. Either of these is an improvement from what Chevy is introducing, although I do have to give Chevy credit for one C7 feature:

green VetteWhat, you ask? A green Corvette? (To be precise, Lime Rock Green.) Aren’t all Corvettes red (as the book on the creation of the C5 claimed)?

No, there are green Corvettes:

pretty_corvette_by_stalliondesigns-d48c73i

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very_dark_green_corvette_convertible_by_theman268-d50544n

Those are all Corvettes in the standard-for-that-year green color. Most green Corvettes were dark green (for instance, “Glen Green” in 1965, “Fathom Green” in 1969, “Donnybrooke Green” one year later in the first Corvette I recall seeing down the street). Variations of lime started intruding in the early ’70s, but went the way of polyester disco outfits.

Some people decided to choose green after buying their cars, and some, unable to choose one shade of green, decided upon “all of the above”:

 

 

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Corvettes on the screen

I’ve noted a couple of times on this blog that few memorable movies or TV series have featured a Corvette as an important part of the production.

The only one that comes immediately to mind is “Route 66″ …

… although as you know from this blog, there are lesser examples:

Corvette Online reports on the next one featuring actor-turned-governor-turned actor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Thanks to this recent post on Collider.com, we learned that the former Governator himself will be staring in a new movie titled The Last Stand. The synopsis follows a typical cop-chases-cartel-leader-with-hostage-in-tow story line, which actually sounds like it might be pretty good. But what really grabbed our attention were the cars that are reportedly going to be featured in the movie. The Bad-Guy car is said to be a “specially-outfitted Corvette ZR1”, and if the movie poster is any indication Schwarzenegger will be chasing down the bad guys in a new Camaro ZL1.

Corvette Online points out that “Muscle cars can take a good movie and make it even better, or take a really crappy movie and make it somewhat tolerable.”

That’s one point of view. The contrary is demonstrated in several other movies that feature Corvettes, perhaps unfortunately.

The movie “Stingray” features TV character actor (as in you don’t know his name, but you recognize his face) William Watson and Christopher Mitchum, son of Robert, in a movie in which two drug dealers discover they probably shouldn’t have stashed their $1 million in a ’64 Corvette parked in a used car lot.

About “Stingray,” Corvette Online writes:

There are some situations that even the addition of coolest of cars cannot improve.

The scene in this clip inserts two stereotypically dumb rednecks driving a beat up Chevy pick-up into the car chase mix. The “hilarity” ensues as the “country boys” and the “master criminals” battle it out to on the road to see who has the lowest IQs. And since no car chase scene is complete without an explosion, hand grenades magically appear to end the rolling roadblock.

Corvette Summer” makes Fox News‘ list of the six best movies featuring Corvettes. (Which isn’t really much of a list, since in the other five movies Vettes make only brief appearances.)

First: The car is a disaster. Asymmetrical hood scoops. Conversion to right-hand drive. Elimination of the iconic hidden headlights.

As for the movie itself, according to IMDB.com:

For a shop class project, he and his classmates build a Corvette (“Stingray”). The car is a big hit — so big, in fact, that gets stolen! Kenny, having fallen in love with the car, sets out on a summer-long adventure in Las Vegas to find it. Along the way, he meets up with a “hooker-in-training” named “Vanessa”. The two encounter danger and romance as they try to steal back the Stingray.

Then there’s “Nasty Hero“: “Chase delivers expensive cars between car dealers or to their rich customers. Six months ago he was deceived and caught by the police with a stolen car. Now he’s back with a black Porsche to find the bad guys and to take revenge.”

On a scale of 1 to 10, IMDB.com gave it a 3.2.

And there’s “Mad Foxes,” discovered 30 years after its production when it showed up on YouTube, as Corvette Online writes:

First released in West Germany in August of ’81 and directed by Paul Grau, the half-assed Nazi/biker film is a cheaply-filmed exploitation film revolving around the theme of revenge, as our featured protagonist and his C3 customized by Neufield Special Cars chases and gets chased by a mob of swastika-wearing street hoods.

As you’d probably expect, the trick C3 takes the spotlight, and if it doesn’t stand as evidence of what customizing in the late ’70s and early ’80s was all about then we honestly don’t know what will! The 3rd-Gen Vette’s stereotypical orange and yellow crescendo of custom striping screams of what was in vogue during the golden age of disco-era hot rodding.

Somehow “Mad Foxes” generates a 5.6 from IMDB.com, despite one review that calls it “properly the stupidest movie ever made”:

The dubbing is properly the worst ever and the film is drenched in blood, swastikas, disco, heavy metal, small bikes, sex and bad acting. The spirit of Herschell Gordon Lewis lives on, so get a copy of this obscure anti-masterpiece!

“Anti-masterpiece” sounds like the 1981 California-only Corvette with a 305 V-8 and automatic.

The Internet Movie Cars Database lists 1,439 separate uses of Corvettes in TV or movies, including cartoon versions.  Only “Corvette Summer,” “Mad Foxes,” and the TV and movie iterations of “Stingray” rate five stars, “The vehicle is part of the movie.” Go to four stars, “Vehicle used a lot by main character or for a long time,” and you get such movies as “Kiss Me Deadly” (the second car Mike Hammer has) …

… something called “Hot Rods to Hell” …

… “King of the Mountain” …

… “Body Heat” …

… the ’80s flick “Less Than Zero” …

… “The A-Team” …

… “Sunset Grill” …

… a German TV series I mentioned here last week, “Alarm für Cobra 11 – Die Autobahnpolizei”…

… and, well, read the rest for yourself.

There’s still an opportunity for someone to write a movie that features a Corvette that isn’t as ludicrous as “Corvette Summer.” If I could only write scripts for “Super Steve: Man of Action” …

Categories: media, Wheels | Tags: | 1 Comment

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