What’s your position on horsepower, Mr. Romney?

I am making my annual trip to the Greater Milwaukee Auto Show this weekend.

The state’s biggest auto show, on through next weekend, shows off the work of the world’s automakers, present and past. It usually demonstrates how much more capable cars are now than they used to be, if you’re OK with your being unable to identify carmakers anymore.

Wisconsin has a relatively limited automotive manufacturing history. (But a lot of fire truck manufacturers.) General Motors closed its Janesville assembly plant, the birthplace of my 1975 Chevrolet Caprice, in 2008. American Motors Corp. had plants in Milwaukee and Kenosha, which were assumed by Chrysler Corp. in its 1987 purchase of AMC. Johnson Controls is one of the biggest suppliers of things like car interiors, seats and doors, and the state has other auto suppliers.

AMC was the result of Nash (from whence came the Milwaukee and Kenosha plants) purchasing Hudson. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the son of George Romney, former governor of Michigan, and before that, president of AMC.

That makes this Automotive News article interesting, starting with the younger Romney’s defense of his 2008 New York Times column suggesting that having GM and Chrysler declare bankruptcy was preferable to their federal bailouts:

Mitt Romney wrote: “Cars got in my bones early. And not just any cars, American cars. When the President of American Motors died suddenly in 1954, my dad … was asked to take his place. I was 7 and got my love of cars and chrome and fins and roaring motors from him.”

Father and son may have shared a love of autos, but George Romney was the prototypical anti-“chrome and fins and roaring motors” guy. He popularized the phrase “gas-guzzling dinosaurs” while competing with the excessively finned Big 3 behemoths of the 1950s. He claimed to have coined the term “compact car” to describe AMC’s Rambler.

Romney said he considered the Rambler “the car of the future” and said in a 1993 interview that he believed “it would revolutionize thinking about cars in America and others would have to copy it.” He even dropped AMC’s Nash and Hudson lines in 1957 to concentrate on the tiny car. When Romney left AMC in 1962 to run for governor, the Rambler grew larger.

“My successors didn’t stick with the Rambler concept,” he said. “They spent $200 million in tooling to try to make the car more like the Big 3’s cars. Later, they began to tool up sports cars, the Javelin and the AMX, to copy the Corvette and the Mustang and its imitators at the Big 3. They literally threw away the biggest opportunity in the auto industry since GM overtook Ford.”

Romney, who died in 1995, said: “The Big 3 were all pushing style, size and power.” He said the Rambler “was like Ford’s original approach, a practical car.”

This seems like a bit of revisionist history on the elder Romney’s part. The Big 3 were pushing style, size and power because that’s what was selling in the marketplace. (Hudson had one of the most successful early NASCAR racers, back in the days when NASCAR cars were close to what you could buy at your local dealer. Hudson was acquired by Nash after the failure of Hudson’s compact Jet.) Romney green-lighted the development of AMC’s first V-8 engine. At 30 cents a gallon for gas, only the thrifty were concerned with gas mileage.

In those days well before computer design, if you bought a small car, everything was small — interior space, trunk space and performance. AMC sold its Metropolitan, built by Britain’s Austin Motor Co., to only 94,986 North American buyers over 10 years. And AMC never had enough money, because it never had enough sales, to change its cars as often as GM, Ford and Chrysler restyled theirs, nearly every year from the mid-’50s into the 1970s. Romney may have been 15 years ahead of his time in pushing compact cars, but he ran AMC until 1962, not in the mid-1970s.

The opposite to the George Romney philosophy, I guess, is the high-performance engine. But as Jalopnik points out, not all high-performance engines were created equal:

Porsche 924 4-cylinder …

Porsche’s four-cylinders are rarely engines to complain about. This one is. Essentially a dressed-up Audi engine back when that wasn’t anything special in the first place, the two-liter four was criticized as much for its vibrations as its soft power output. …

Subaru/Motori Moderni Formula One engine …

Formula One is the most ridiculously harsh competition series in motorsports, but every now and then some well-funded Don Quixote finds a way to get in and be openly humiliated. The 3.5 liter flat-12 was significantly down on power, a bitch to package in the car, and suffered repeatedly from klutzy reliability problems. It never got past the prequalifying stage used at the time. (Many more fun details here.) …

Until I read this, I never knew Subaru had tried Formula 1. This was in the days when relatively few Americans had heard of Subaru, so Subaru presumably would have gotten little American benefit unless it had overwhelmed F1, and possibly not even then. It’s kind of strange to read of 600 horsepower as “significantly down on power,” but there it is. Too bad they couldn’t have figured out how to package a flat-12 — or, for that matter, a flat-8 — into a Subaru.

Volkswagen G60 …

The scroll-type G-lader supercharger was an interesting concept, but in reality it combined the worst of both traditional mechanically-driven supercharging and turbocharging: parasitic drag, a peaky power band, soft low-speed response. This motor helped doom the otherwise-capable Corrado and likely made life all that much harder for VW’s American marketing people. …

I drove a Corrado once, not with the supercharged four, but with VW’s VR6. A lot of power, horrible torque steer, and I almost needed the Jaws of Life to get out.

BMW M70 V-12 …

Some high-performance engines are complex, some are heavy, and some have roots in soft luxury-car applications. Few if any others combine these traits to the dizzying heights that BMW achieved with its first production V-12 auto engine. The M70 was huge, heavy, and featured one complete ECU system for each cylinder bank among other gratuitous complexities. The BMW 8-series never shed its lardy image. …

I drove a 12-cylinder BMW as part of the Susan Komen Drive for the Cure at Bergstrom’s Enterprise Motorcars. After driving it, I found I preferred the previous year’s BMW 540i six-speed — fast, but smooth, but fast.

Ford 4.2 V8 …

Ford’s Windsor V8 is one of the really great engines of all time. It’s done everything from cruise Woodward to win at Le Mans. However, if you try hard enough (say, when you choke down displacement to 255 cubic inches and force the works to breathe through a miserly head design and a two-barrel carburetor) you can indeed create an effective boat anchor from one. Available in the Mustang in 1980 and 1981 exclusively with, yes, a three-speed automatic. …

Cosworth Vega 4-cylinder …

The Cosworth-tuned two-liter inline-four was an engine ahead of its time — too far ahead of its time. To read the specs it sounds like something designed last month: all aluminum, sixteen valves, electronic fuel injection, and a really nice stainless-steel exhaust header. All of this produced 110 horsepower. Serious numbers and drivability would have to wait until EFI systems evolved with computer tech in the Eighties.

The fact that this engine went into a Vega did it no favors, either. …

The Cosworth Vega engine was similar to the 1.8-liter four in my 1991 Ford Escort GT — 16 valves, double overhead cam, and much better EFI. As with four-valve-per-cylinder engines, they’re not great from a dead start, but wind them up, and they will go, with gas mileage in the low 30s. Unlike the Vega, the Escort did not rust when you stared at it for a few seconds.

PRV/DeLorean 2.8 V6 …

John DeLorean’s eponymous gullwing GT car deserved better. The Peugeot-Renault-Volvo ZMJ-159 V6 coughed out an anemic 130 horsepower, far less than what was intended for that dazzling Giugiaro shape. No one disputes that the car had other issues, but the pedestrian power level was a massive handicap that did no end of damage to the car’s desirability. …

Chevrolet 305 H.O. V8 …

Little modified internally from station-wagon service, the 305 is a harsh lesson in that most important of engine characteristics: breathing. Camaros, Firebirds, and Monte Carlos all received the underachiever small-block in a variety of intake configurations, none of which came close to doing what a five-liter V8 should do.

The aforementioned 305 was from the early days of smog-control-choked engines of the early computer control era, when the Check Engine light went off regularly for no discernible reason. (Which is different from today because … uh, let me think a moment …) Detroit was only starting to figure out that instead of killing acceleration by installing tall rear ends behind their three-speed automatics, adding a fourth overdrive gear improved mileage at cruising speeds without the car’s needing 60 seconds to get to cruising speeds. By the time I got to drive my father-in-law’s two fuel-injected 305s, they were adequate, although a 350 had improved horsepower and torque for little gas-mileage penalty.

The cars in Milwaukee will have as many as eight forward gears (although you can’t tell from the transmission shifter). Computer controls are much better, and such improvements as direct injection and more use of aluminum in engine blocks and cylinder heads give drivers if not the best of all worlds, then the better of most worlds.

Conservatives believe Mitt Romney is insufficiently conservative. One issue he hasn’t been heard on to my knowledge is the Environmental Protection Agency’s stupid 54.5-mpg standard, which, if it’s not overturned, will result in the construction of vehicles that will not be able to carry anyone besides the driver or any cargo at all, which will be OK because they’ll be too expensive for anyone to buy. That makes you wonder if the Greater Milwaukee Auto Show, which also has a collection of collector cars, will someday become the Greater Milwaukee Old Auto Show.


Moving March Madness

The prospect of the WIAA state basketball tournaments moving from Madison to Green Bay, perhaps as early as next season, is going over as well as Minnesota’s beating Wisconsin in any sport.

The best analysis comes from the Wisconsin State Journal’s Tom Oates:

… This is the dumbest move in Wisconsin sports since somebody decided Don Morton could coach football in the Big Ten Conference. UW and the WIAA have taken one of the greatest and most enduring sports traditions in the state and put its future in serious jeopardy because neither side was willing to be reasonable and compromise on the matter. Throughout the, um, negotiations, both sides have been arrogant, bull-headed, shortsighted, greedy and completely out of touch with what the people of Wisconsin want.

And that, folks, is as positive as I can be about this unless the principals on both sides come to their senses in the next few weeks. …

UW will lose one of its best marketing tools for prospective students and their tuition-paying parents. The athletic department, thanks to this decision and the recent format change in the Big Ten hockey playoffs, will see its 17,000-seat arena sit empty for two weeks during March Madness almost every year. UW’s basketball programs will lose a powerful recruiting tool because the Kohl Center will no longer be the place every high school player aspires to get to.

Local merchants will lose millions in revenue and Madison will lose some of its charm without letter jacket-wearing teens roaming State Street and the UW campus throughout March. Prep athletes and their school’s fans will lose a treasured destination, one that combines atmosphere and mystique like no other city in the state. Casual basketball fans will lose a great tradition and, one suspects, their interest in the tournament if it leaves the city to which they’ve made pilgrimages for decades. …

[WIAA executive director Dave] Anderson opted for short-term cash incentives offered by Green Bay as opposed to the long-term effects of moving the tournaments to a city where there is no State Street, no appealing college campus and no hope of re-creating the atmosphere of a tournament weekend in Madison. Truth is, the WIAA has done a good job of running its tournaments into the ground for years. And if adding a fifth division and reducing the Division 1 field to four teams put the first few nails in the tournaments’ coffin, moving them to Green Bay should finish the job. …

Sorry, I’d like to be more positive than that, but UW’s arrogance and the WIAA’s stubbornness are making that impossible.

It’s usually a copout for a commentator to blame everybody, but not in this case. The only people to escape blame should be the Green Bay organizers who came up with a bid with which the WIAA felt enough comfort to trash more  than 90 years of tradition.

The Wisconsin Sports Network performed a flagrant act of journalism by reprinting the UW memo suggesting ways the WIAA could reschedule to fit into UW’s schedule:

February 2013

– If Penn State men’s hockey series cannot be moved, WIAA could move individual wrestling tournament to Thursday-Friday-Saturday (Feb 28-March 1-2) at the Kohl Center and combine with team wrestling tournament currently scheduled in the Field House Friday-Saturday (March 1-2). …

March 2013

– WIAA has moved the dates of their girls basketball tournament to Thursday-Friday-Saturday (March 7-8-9).  The Kohl Center is not available on these dates due to a UW men’s hockey series.  The UW Field House has been offered as an option for this tournament to be played in.  If WIAA is not interested in this facility, girls basketball tournament could be played in the Kohl Center Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday (March 5-6-7). …

– Boys basketball tournament could be played in the Kohl Center Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday (March 12-13-14) or Thursday-Friday-Saturday (March 21-22-23).

– We have also suggested to the WIAA that they combine the boys and girls basketball tournaments into one weekend at the Kohl Center and only play the 10 championship games in order to fit the games into 3 days.

The state individual wrestling tournament and the state team wrestling tournaments — the latter a series of dual meets between teams — are separate for a reason. If you’re trying to have the team tournament at the same time as the individual tournament, you might as well not even bother with the team tournament. And as one comment put it, “I was searching for a scenario that would make GB favorable to me- a mid week tournament at the Kohl as an alternate just did it.”

Let’s remember that UW will be giving up tournaments that bring in $9 million every year for tournaments that will have fewer people attending every few years or so. UW will get more national attention from a Big Ten or NCAA tournament than from a state tournament, but thanks to being in the Big Ten with its national TV contracts, national notoriety doesn’t seem to be UW’s problem.

The dumbest comment comes from a man who doesn’t usually write dumb things, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Michael Hunt:

There is no need for the event to remain rooted in one location like it has in Madison for just about forever.

And if it does prove to be movable, the tournament needs to be in the state’s major city at some point.

The tournament belongs in Milwaukee. …

The tournament has been in Madison since glaciers cut the isthmus. Not knocking Green Bay, but when the Packers aren’t in season, which would include the entire month of March, the place can take on the feel of the dark side of the moon.

Among its qualities as a destination point for the small towns that follow the WIAA tournament, Milwaukee has an undeniable basketball heritage. If you don’t believe it by the current state of its NBA franchise, look at the buildings it has in tribute.

Despite its status as the NBA’s oldest non-renovated arena, the Bradley Center is clean, has all the amenities the tournament would require and, most important, would be a dream destination for high school kids. Who wouldn’t want to launch jumpers in the same building where Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade played?

Hunt evidently needs to sit somewhere in the Bradley Center other than press row or the lower-section seats behind the sidelines. The Bradley Center was designed not for basketball, but for hockey; the Bradley family once included the owners of the Milwaukee Admirals. (Wisconsin’s last hockey Frozen Four win was at the Bradley Center in 2006.) Having sat in the Bradley Center for a Bucks game, I can tell you if you’re not sitting in the 94 feet of the lower level behind the sidelines, you might as well be watching the game from Waukesha. And as far as Milwaukee’s “undeniable basketball heritage,” the Bucks won the NBA title a month before my sixth birthday, and won nothing while Allen played for them. Wade, a native of Chicago, not Milwaukee, plays for the NBA’s answer to the Dallas Cowboys. I can name more native-Milwaukee basketball players than anyone playing at the state tournament next month.

But wait! There’s more!

The knock against the 18,777-seat Bradley Center is it is too large for the state tournament. But that’s a minor thing next to the building’s schedule and parking. Parking, scarce and expensive, would be a negotiation point with the WIAA, especially compared to the cheap expanses of Green Bay.

But please, do not raise the tired myth of downtown Milwaukee safety, especially after a big event lets out into the streets. Seriously, it is not an issue, no matter how many people who have never been to the city try to push it.

I wrote last week that the protests du jour had nothing to do with state basketball’s possibly leaving Madison. It is more plausible that concerns over student safety in downtown Madison, with its State Street-area riffraff, may have been a factor, though I’m skeptical.

Concerns over student safety based upon Milwaukee’s role as the capital of most of Wisconsin’s social pathologies and crime (such as the mugging of the mayor) make state’s moving to Milwaukee as likely as my being elected president in November. (As one comment on Hunt’s piece put it, “The city public schools of Milwaukee should have to raise their combined high school graduation rate to even be considered for any WIAA tournaments.”) Who out there is OK with letting your 16-year-old run around in downtown Milwaukee? (And by the way, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel readers, calling Wisconsinites who have concerns about their safety in Milwaukee ignorant racists is not likely to encourage them to come to Milwaukee for any reason.)

The State Journal’s Andy Baggot thinks the heat is now on UW athletic director Barry Alvarez for reasons that go beyond where the WIAA goes:

Between the looming Adidas fiasco, the John Chadima investigation and the WIAA controversy, Alvarez has some sizeable, hard-to-digest entrees on his administrative plate at the moment. …

The WIAA matter is a major image concern for Alvarez. If scheduling conflicts can’t be resolved and the boys and girls state basketball tournaments are purposely yanked out of Madison for the first time since 1920, he will be high on a list of people targeted for blame.

When we define Alvarez’s legacy as UW athletic director years from now, this moment will definitely catch our eye.

Alvarez’s success as UW’s football coach speaks for itself. And UW is better off financially because of Alvarez’s work. Alvarez also has made many Wisconsinites believe that his last name is Spanish for “arrogant,” something Wisconsinites really do not like in people. Similar to UW coaches, Alvarez will be judged on whether the teams he supervises continue to put butts with wallets in seats. And Alvarez is in danger of having 70,000 or so fewer of them sitting in the Kohl Center in March.


Presty the DJ for Feb. 24

The number one single today in 1973:

Today in 1976, the Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits” became the first platinum album, exceeding 1 million sales:

Today in 2000, Carlos Santana won eight Grammy Awards for “Supernatural”:

The number one British album today in 2002 was “The Very Best of Sting and the Police”:

Today in 2005, Edwyn Collins, known as a solo artist here but as a member of a band called Orange Juice in Britain, was rushed to a hospital after a brain hemorrhage.

Birthdays begin with Paul Jones of Manfred Mann:

Lonnie Turner played bass for the Steve Miller Band:

Dennis Waterman played Sgt. Carter in “The Sweeney” …


… but also sung the theme from another British TV series, “Minder”:

Colin Farley played bass for Cutting Crew:

One death of note today in 2004: Estelle Axton, cocreator of Stax Records: