Detectives on wheels

While looking for something else (Again?, readers ask), I hit upon the idea of combining two of my favorite subjects — fictional detectives and cars — though I’ve done that before here.

The imperative to create online lists of everything (i.e. top 10 reasons you should read The Presteblog, and by the way YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE NUMBER 7!) has created, to no surprise, several lists of top fictional detectives’ wheels, both here and abroad.

Remember the words “detective” (indicating non-marked police cars) and, most importantly, “fictional.” Along with Raymond Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder and Ten Commandments for the Detective Novel, someone online created this less serious list of private-detective fiction requirements, from which number eight is appropriate for this blog:

  1. Jazzy or Rhythmic Theme Music (if vocalized, should include your name).
  2. At least four suits with assorted ties and one complete tux (for weddings and similar occasions).
  3. A smartass attitude, a smart deductive wit along with a smart mouth (optional depending on who’s holding the gun).
  4. An Admin Specialist who know where all information is stored (along with all hiding places of liquor supply)
  5. The ability to safely tuck and roll while jumping or leaping from a moving vehicle (VERY IMPORTANT!!)
  6. Cache of unlimited funds for informants, bribes and paying off shady gangland figures.
  7. Backup PI partner for real sticky cases or situations (or in case of your untimely demise, will feel obligated to “do something about it”).
  8. A jazzy looking sports car of any year, make or model (SUVs and trucks for emergencies only).
  9. Reliable contact within the Police Department (’cause when the $#!% goes down, SOMEONE’s gonna have to answer the real tough questions).
  10. A capable doctor and a smart, savvy lawyer (preferably of “Perry Mason” caliber).

One of the obvious cars on The Guardian‘s list, Starsky and Hutch’s Ford Torino (which, as with much of you will see herein, fits both rules 1 and 8, at least in the series’ first-season guise) …

… is about as likely to be used by real police detectives as, well, the Ferraris of “Miami Vice”:

Of course, Thomas Magnum can use a Ferrari — well, Robin Masters’ Ferrari (which was modified so Tom Selleck could sit in it):

So could San Francisco police Lt. Frank Bullitt own a Ford Mustang, because it was his personal car that he just happened to be driving on a Sunday morning while doing some work:

So could L.A. private detective Jim Rockford:

The lines got blurred with (one assumes) a Bullitt successor, the SFPD’s Nash Bridges:

To this list I add a detective who may not have made the list because he drove several cars, Joe Mannix …

This was an Oldsmobile Toronado customized into a convertible by George Barris. It was seen in the titles and few other places.

… and a car that doesn’t make nearly enough appearances on TV:

(Apparently the world is waiting for me to create a Corvette-based work of fiction.)

Toptenz contributed its own list of iconic British detective (well, with at least one stretch) cars:

Lotus 7, The Prisoner

Nothing was conventional in the surreal world of the 1960s series The Prisoner, including the choice of car for the lead character Number Six, played by Patrick McGoohan.  Eschewing the director’s suggestion that Number Six should drive a Lotus Elan, McGoohan himself picked out the Lotus 7 arguing that the lightweight two-seater sports car better reflected Number Six’s maverick and freedom-loving persona.

Ironically, said Lotus was driven only in the beginning of every episode pre-capture and in the final scene of the last episode. Motor vehicles apparently were prohibited in The Village.

Volvo P1800, The Saint

Roger Moore’s embodiment of the suave Samaritan Simon Templar meant that nothing less than an ultra-cool car would suffice. Initially a Jaguar was sought, but the company turned down The Saint’s producers fearing that the programme would be unsuccessful. Whoops. For the next seven years Moore drove instead a Volvo P1800: a stylish 2 litre sports car that symbolised Simon Templar’s virtuous, good-looking, sophisticated yet adventurous nature. Roger Moore was so impressed by the Volvo P1800 that he bought one for himself.

Mark III Ford Capri, The Professionals

Tough, reliable, responsive, fast and able to cope in a sticky situation. Are we talking about the car or Bodie and Doyle, mercenary crime-fighters a.k.a. ‘The Professionals’? With its menacing throaty growl, the souped-up 3 litre Mark III Capri stood out in a series that featured many other cars that are considered classics today. With demanding car chases a staple of this action-packed show, the Mark III Capri was a natural choice, not only for its speed but for its (then) sleek lines and agile handling.

1983 Audi Quattro, Ashes to Ashes

“Fire up the Quattro!” barks Detective Inspector Gene Hunt. This is the 1980s, and Hunt’s sporty, four-wheel drive, red Audi Quattro is perfect for throwing around corners and mowing down piles of cardboard boxes in the high-speed pursuit of villains. Getting from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds and a top speed of 140mph helps. And Gene Hunt would no doubt be delighted to know that thanks to his patronage of the classic Audi Quattro demand for 1980s models doubled. Proof, as if further proof was needed, of just how iconic the cars used in British TV shows can become even now.

Ford Granada (various), The Sweeney

Jack Regan, as played by John Thaw (again) was the hard-hitting no-nonsense guv’nor in this 1970s cop series based around the crime busting exploits of the Met’s flying squad. Only a tough-looking dependable brute of a car such as the Ford Granada would do for Jack. Swapping between the Granada S and the Granada Ghia at will, Regan and his sidekick George Carter would routinely chase the baddies at high speeds in these 3 litre beasts before leaping out and cuffing the miscreants with a cry of ‘You’re nicked, Sonny’! Luckily for the production team, not only was the Granada good looking, gruff and well suited to Regan’s character it was also light for its size making it a good choice for stunt work.

The aforementioned “Ashes to Ashes” was a spinoff of the series “Life on Mars,” described thusly by Honest John:

Detective Inspector Gene Hunt, star of Life On Mars, was a no-nonsense copper from the ‘70s, so what better car for him than a beige Ford Cortina? Despite famously trading up to an Audi Quattro in the Ashes To Ashes spinoff, set in the 1980s, the Hunt made his mark in a 1974 Mk III Cortina GXL.

That said, the car used for filming was actually made up of various Cortina parts, rendering it unfaithful to the model year it was supposed to be from: some viewers spotted that its spoiler, for example, wasn’t introduced until the 1975 Cortina, while the dashboard was from a later, facelifted car. Quite.

Away from the home islands, Australia brings us, of course, Mad Max:

A Danish–Swedish series called “The Bridge” apparently includes a Porsche …

… of which actor Sofia Hein tells The Guardian:

‘It’s horrible, I hate that car … I don’t hate it. I love-hate it. The thing is, it’s so hard to drive. The gears are very sensitive’

Speaking of TV series I can’t watch, there is “Alarm für Cobra 11,” a series that has run on German TV for 22 years about “Die Autobahnpolizei,” highway cops:

It remains hard for me to believe that this hasn’t become a U.S. TV series. Yes, we don’t have autobahns in the U.S., but you’d think it’d be ridiculously easy to translate the German setting (to be precise, North Rhine–Westphalia) to a state with a lot of freeways — say, California or, if you want more wide open spaces, Texas — and conjure up sufficient freeway-based crime as needed. (If you need a template, watch “CHiPs.” Like California Highway Patrol motor officers Ponch and Jon, “Die Autobahnpolizei” are state cops.)

I have to add one more series that faded away far too quickly — “Chase,” a little-known Jack Webb production about a special L.A.-ish investigative unit that has all the best vehicular toys, plus a police dog:

There are two episodes (and perhaps more that are hidden) on YouTube. Each of the episodes I’ve seen ends with, of course, a chase.


The Corvette of SUVs

The Detroit News decided to do a thought exercise:

What if Chevrolet made a Corvette SUV?

Maybe that’s not so far-fetched. Corvette is a singular car within Chevrolet, and in many ways is a performance brand unto itself. Almost every performance brand now has its own crossover; the most prominent of which is Porsche’s money-machine, the Cayenne.

If Corvette did make an SUV, what would it look like? Detroit News presentation editor Jamie Hollar drew his own concept car, shown here. And The Detroit News talked to ex-GM big wigs, auto analysts and car enthusiasts for their ideas on what the high-performance SUV should be.

Since the first Jeep sport utility appeared in 1984, the automotive landscape has been transformed by high-riding, five-door SUVs with visibility and utility to spare. Even legendary performance brands that once built only ground-hugging sports cars have jumped in. Beginning with Porsche in 2003, SUVs have become a performance-maker’s goldmine. Nearly every performance badge wants a piece of the lucrative ute market.

Notably absent is the Corvette, America’s V-8-powered workingman’s superhero.

Though technically a Chevrolet product, the Corvette long ago became an iconic nameplate that’s equal to Europe’s elite sports car names. It’s faster than the Porsche 911, Jaguar F-Type, Alfa Romeo 4C and Lamborghini Huracan. And while those brands have all exploited their athletic images to expand into sport utilities — the Jaguar F-Pace, Alfa Stelvio and Lamborghini Urus — the Corvette remains a one-off.

“There’s certainly precedent for non-traditional SUV makers to jump into the market,” says Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Every time one of them has jumped in, it has worked.”

With nearly two-thirds of Porsche buyers opting for SUVs, Porsche makes up a whopping one-third of Volkswagen Group’s profits while generating only 2.3 percent of its sales, according to “The idea of a Porsche SUV still rubs sports-car purists the wrong way, but it has been a spectacularly profitable product for the brand,” says John Rosevear, senior auto specialist for the website.

GM executives won’t talk about future vehicles — and even if they did, there’s no evidence a sport utility is in the works. But everywhere we went, car fans loved the idea. The consensus was if Corvette were to build it, it would be a home run.

The News story posits the Corvette XC7 or X06 as a five-door (four doors plus tailgate) all-wheel-drive SUV with one of the real Corvette’s 6.2-liter V-8s, the supercharged one going in the X06, and either an eight- or 10-speed automatic.

Right away you should be able to see the problems in that paragraph. The traditional truck engine was designed less for horsepower than for torque. (Of course, if your standard V-8 has 460 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, with the upgrade adding 190 horsepower and 195 pound-feet, maybe that’s not an issue after all.) Corvettes have two doors, two seats and front-engine V-8s that power the rear wheels, along with a choice between manual and automatic transmissions.

Other details?

“XC7 and X06 (mirroring the high-performance version’s Z06 name) are great starters for naming,” says Tom Wallace, the retired GM engineer who ran Chevrolet’s Corvette program from 2006-08. “Stingray is off limits.”

It would be essential that any Corvette crossover share the sports car’s DNA.

“Front engine, rear drive, with AWD option. Lots of aluminum in the structure,” muses Wallace. “Aluminum is mandatory to support the theme that Corvette embraces to be the lightest vehicle in its class. The two V-8s from the Corvette stable are also a must.”

That means the 460-horse V-8 shared with the base C7 sports car — or for the Z06 version, the supercharged 650-horsepower V-8 for what might be the fastest SUV ever built. Considering the rear-wheel drive Z06 sports car is slightly slower from 0-60 than its all-wheel drive 540-horsepower Porsche Turbo rival, an all-wheel drive X06 crossover should be competitive with the all-wheel drive Cayenne Turbo’s 3.8-second, 0-60 romp.

“Maximum Bob” Lutz, the ex-vice president of GM product design who is revered for bringing back The General’s design mojo, agrees with Wallace’s assessment: “Like the Cayenne, the appeal of the ’Vette SUV would be RWD proportions. It should, in fact, have a silhouette not too different from a Cayenne.”

Start with the C7’s dramatic, sculpted lines created by Tom Peters and widely recognized as one of the best designs in Corvette’s 54 years. All performance SUVs are essentially vertically stretched, five-door versions of familiar sports coupes, giving them an inherently heavy look compared to low-slung two-seaters.

But angular designs like our mock XC7 or Lamborghini’s Urus show that it’s possible to break with the soap-bar shapes of the Porsche Cayenne and Maserati Levante. With Corvette’s trademark shark nose, scooped hood and quad exhaust pipes, it would drip with menace.

Inside, the XC7 would share the C7’s acclaimed interior: comfortable seats, stitched dash and quality trim materials. Naturally, the signature “oh, crap” passenger grab-handles from the sports car would carry over (for those times when dad is seized by the need for speed).

Other parts like transmissions and all-wheel drive systems could come from common GM parts bins, which has been key in keeping Corvette costs down over the years. “To engineer the vehicle, I would have to combine some of the Corvette team with some of the SUV team,” says Wallace.

Price? “More than the $40,000 Cadillac XT5, but about 10 grand below” a $60,000 base V-6 Cayenne, suggests Lutz.

But the chassis might be a deal breaker. “To be successful, this vehicle would require an all-new RWD/AWD architecture, which currently does not exist,” says Lutz. “That’s high investment for relatively low volume.”

Porsche was able to “lunch off” the VW Touareg chassis, which enabled Porsche to package its V-8 engine longitudinally. GM’s new C1XX platform is the backbone for the Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia utilities; it has been lauded for its stiffness and light weight. But its front-wheel drive, transverse engine layout appears ill-suited for our ambitious XC7.

“The Corvette ute probably would be a stand-alone architecture (or a major modification of an existing architecture), so volume would be critical to call it a business success,” Wallace believes.

Cost aside, Lutz says there is another obstacle to an XC7: “The reason a Corvette SUV won’t happen is the business case would be tough. Besides cannibalizing ‘normal’ Corvettes, it can also be expected to damage GMC and certainly the Cadillac XT5.”

And yet, Lutz acknowledges the unique draw of the Corvette: “Corvette is a powerful brand that should be developed. Go upmarket with a mid-engine sedan using big Cadillac CT6 architecture, and maybe eventually something like Cayenne. They would split it off from Chevrolet — nobody makes that connection anyway.”

Kelley Blue Book’s Brauer says financial analysts would grill GM on creating another brand so soon after it axed Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn in bankruptcy. “But history would suggest there is no downside to a performance brand expanding into SUVs,” he says. “Non-Corvette owners who couldn’t justify a two-seat sports car could finally put a Corvette badge in their garage.”

There are SUVs with similar performance numbers; besides the aforementioned Porsche Cayenne and its 570 horsepower in Turbo S guise for $161,600, Land Rover makes the Range Rover Sport SVR with 550 horsepower, for the bargain price of $111,350.

One of the problems with a Corvette SUV might be the price, weirdly. The real Corvette supposedly loses sales to Ferrari and Porsche because it’s not exclusive enough. (What kind of fool thinks a car is too inexpensive compared with its competition, particularly when its performance numbers are comparable?) That’s despite the fact the Corvette is one of the great performance bargains of all time. At $79,450, the Z06 costs $122.23 per horsepower. The standard Stingray costs $120.54 per horsepower. The top-of-the-line Porsche, the 911R, costs $369.80 per horsepower. The new Bugatti Chiron produces 1,500 horsepower (really) for a list price of $2.998 million (really), or $1,998.67 per horsepower.

The bigger issue, of course, is brand dilution. That’s what happened when Nissan added two back seats to the 260Z. (But when the Z was reintroduced in 2002, it lost the back seat.) That’s what happened when Porsche, the maker of 2+2 cars, added the Cayenne SUV and the Panamera sedan. Of course, buyers have sucked up Cayennes, and you’d think GM would have noticed that.

Corvette Online adds:

For some reason, the C7 has polarized more than a few folks on its looks. It seems that while a good majority of us love the latest generation Corvette, there are some who are steadfast in their disapproval. That said, we are doubtful that these images will do much to win them over.

Adding a shooting-brake style hatch to the lineup of Corvettes has been an on-and-off discussion for ages. The shooting brake style would seem to be pretty easy to pull off, given the expanse would cover the space already occupied by the large, curved-glass fastback hatch already in place. Just switch it out. The concept seems easy enough that we could see some developments on this in the near future.

Adding an extra pair of doors is a little bit more controversial. Ultra-luxury sedans are all the rage, but to us, it seems like a boxing ring more suited towards Cadillac, than Corvette. After all, the CTS-V is already there fighting. But four-door Corvettes aren’t entirely new, either. Concepts have been made in the past. Their downfall comes from trying to stretch the Corvette lines over a longer wheelbase. It’s close, but it never seems quite right.

Well, if GM would seriously consider an SUV, why wouldn’t GM consider a sedan too?

There is another major problem with this. The next Corvette reportedly will be rear/mid-engine — the engine will be ahead of the rear axle instead of in front — which, unless you’re talking about old Volkswagens …

… is incompatible with a sedan or a wagon. (As it is I have serious doubts about GM’s ability to pull off a mid-engine drivetrain given GM’s record of sending new technology into the world before it’s ready. Also, why GM, which makes money on every front-engine/rear-drive Corvette it has built for decades, wants to mess with success is a mystery to me.)

If a Corvette is going to happen (and there are numerous reasons already stated that it won’t), it might seem logical for GM to split off the Corvette brand into its own line. It’s one thing for a Chevrolet dealer to sell the current Corvette; it’s another thing entirely for a Chevy dealer to sell two-seat, 2+2, four-door and SUV Corvettes. That would also result in Corvettes being less geographically available, because the number of Corvette dealerships would surely be fewer than the number of Chevy dealerships. And given that GM is a decade removed from culling several of its historic brands — Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Saturn plus Saab and Hummer, which GM purchased — adding a brand seems less likely.

The News adds this:

What do you think a Corvette SUV should look like?

Create your own design and enter The Detroit News design contest. Our team of judges — ex-Corvette chief engineer Tom Wallace, Detroit News auto columnist Henry Payne and Detroit News presentation editor Jamie Hollar — will pick a winner. Top entries will be published in The Detroit News and at

Entries can be done in any medium: computer rendering, pencil sketch, watercolor, whatever you prefer. Send a high-resolution copy by email to Henry Payne at

Deadline for entries is April 17.

If I only had drawing skills.

Truck yeah

This blog has to start with music …

… though it is neither about country music nor the subgenre called “bro-country.” Even though Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” isn’t entirely about pickup trucks, this blog is about the country’s leading selling vehicles.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the year-to-date sales of new U.S. vehicles through September, the traditional (but not so much anymore) start of the new car season:

  1. Ford F-Series, 595,656.
  2. Chevrolet Silverado, 425,556.
  3. Ram pickup, 361,086.
  4. Toyota Camry, 297,453.

(By the way: For whatever reason most of my life I have tied popular music to events in my life, such as family vacations. The first year I was paid to cover sports Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” was on top 40 radio, as was Waukesha’s Bodeans’ “Fadeaway,” while I was driving to Waukesha to cover my first state softball tournament. I think one of them was on while I tried to get a photo of the back of the softball team’s bus while driving on Interstate 94 with, of course, a manual-focus film camera. Don’t attempt that at home; I am a trained professional.)

Like almost everything else, truck ownership sets off, or perhaps more accurately exposes, a cultural divide in this country. I blogged previously about a question posed of Washington-area journalists — how many of them knew a truck owner — and how the questioner got his head practically bitten off by those who didn’t want to answer.

By now you’re probably wondering why I decided to bring this up this week. It has nothing to do with this:

This is a 1995 Chevrolet K-1500, now part of the Presteblog fleet. This style of truck was sold by Chevy and GMC for 13 years, following the previous design that was sold for 15 years.

This is a kind of truck I’ve always wanted for reasons revealed in the next paragraph, though perhaps there was some hypnotic suggestion involved from Max the copilot, because …

This truck includes several features on my list of proper things for vehicles in a combination you cannot buy new today. It has a 350 V-8, an engine that, speaking from past experience, is practically indestructible even if you take less care of it than you should. (The engine design dates back to the original Chevy small-block V-8, first produced in 1955. For a company known for sending technology into the world before it was really ready, GM got the small-block right.) It has real gauges instead of low-battery and low-oil-pressure idiot lights. It has four-wheel drive, though the kind the driver has to turn on and off through shifting a floor shifter. And speaking of shifting, it has the millennial anti-theft device, a five-speed manual transmission.

It is the first Chevrolet we’ve owned in 25 years, after I replaced my 1988 Beretta GT two years after purchase due to simultaneously making car payments and paying repair bills. (“Beretta” is Italian for “lemon” or the French word “merde,” I believe.) Our truck, built in Oshawa, Ont., is a pre-Government Motors Chevy, our first GM product since our blast-to-drive-but-too-small-for-a-baby-seat Pontiac Sunbird GT was retired for a minivan. But neither GM nor Ford nor Fiat Chrysler nor anyone else sells a new gas-V8-powered four-wheel-drive truck with a proper stick shift. (With a clutch that will give me a nice left-leg workout every time I drive it. Driving a truck with a stick is not like driving most cars with a stick.)

The previous owner said he did a lot of work on the truck, so while the outside looks like a 22-year-old truck, the mechanicals appear to have been upgraded (including a three-inch lift kit for previous larger tires), including a replacement transmission. (In our search for this truck, it amazed me how many vehicles were for sale with it-didn’t-come-with-the-vehicle engines and/or transmissions. Then again, I know someone who purchased a demonstrator Buick Regal that ended up with a replacement engine and transmission.) He used his for work; I plan on the same, though I do not intend to take it off road unless, well, you know.

I certainly hope it’s been mechanically improved, lest …

Readers will recall I once mused about what a journalist should drive due to a problem getting a particular photo. Well, here’s the answer to at least the issue of being able to get up high enough — to get on top of the truck’s topper, or stand in the bed, if the local authorities don’t want you getting a particular photo. Add to that a dashcam, public-service-band radio scanner, and 12-volt power inverter, and who needs an office?

Ansel Adams

According to a Facebook meme I saw yesterday, owning a Chevy means “I love America and may own guns.” That could apply to Ford as well, of course. It’s been said that you don’t actually need to own a pickup (or boat), you just need to know someone who has one. I guess we’ll

Our new-to-us truck shows off the emotional attachment some drivers have with their vehicles. The seller asked to start what he called “The Beast.” He had installed a MagnaFlow muffler and dual exhaust on it (thus most likely improving the engine from its 1995 listing of 210 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque), and he wanted to hear the engine and exhaust sound one last time. Driving is a sensory experience.


The transportation “deficit”

Those who read Wisconsin newspapers have been reading all about the $1 billion transportation spending deficit.

But is there a deficit? The MacIver Institute does some math work, starting with …

A billion-dollar shortfall in the next transportation budget started the debate about raising Wisconsin’s gas tax, which was so explosive, no one seemingly had the time to confirm there is a billion-dollar shortfall. If they had, the current debate might not be centered on the gas tax, but instead on how we fund roads in the first place, because there’s only a shortfall if you change the way Wisconsin funds transportation.

The current 2015-2017 state budget spends $2.8 billion on highways, and $855 million of that comes from bonding. That means about 30 percent of everything Wisconsin spends on roads is borrowed, and there are those who believe the state should not be borrowing at all to pay for roads. That was the cover story for a peculiar request the Legislative Fiscal Bureau received last summer.

Even though the DOT was about to submit a new budget request in less than two months, Fiscal Bureau was asked to project what the DOT’s budget would look like under an unlikely set of circumstances. The request wanted the Fiscal Bureau to omit all bonding under a cost-to-continue scenario. The result was a $939 million difference between the current budget and the next.

The billion-dollar transportation deficit was born.

That number started the narrative that Wisconsin has a transportation funding crisis. It didn’t matter that two months later the DOT presented its actual budget request that included spending projections, revenue estimates, current federal funding commitments, and existing bonding. That request also indicated there would be a shortfall, but at $449 million, it was less than half of the previous projection. When Governor Walker presented his budget proposal, he included $500 million in new transportation bonding to fill that gap, which would be the lowest amount since the 2001-2003 budget. It would also mean no delays on major projects currently underway.

Still, the fabricated billion-dollar deficit dominates coverage of the transportation budget, and it continues to frame the debate over the gas tax. Framing the transportation debate this benefits those who want to raise the gas tax. However, they will still readily point to bonding as an underlying concern.

“It is more conservative to pay for projects today than it is to borrow the money and make our children pay the price. But for far too long under Democratic and Republican leadership, the state has relied too heavily on bonding.  According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin will spend roughly 20 cents on every transportation dollar on debt service for this fiscal year,” Vos said in a September 15, 2016 press release.

The Walker Administration, on the other hand, argues that transportation bonding is no different than taking out a mortgage for your house. The idea is you spread out the expense over the amount time you plan to use it.

Bonding is the one of the most common ways states fund transportation projects. There are only five states that don’t use transportation bonds at all. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) released a report in November that found bonding to be one of the most successful approaches to transportation funding and finance.

Meanwhile, heavy reliance on fuel taxes is considered one of the least successful approaches to transportation funding according to AASHTO. In fact, many experts say fuel taxes are becoming obsolete as people drive less and cars become more fuel efficient. Even the supporters of raising the gas tax in Wisconsin admit it’s not a perfect solution.

“Even though a lot of conversations have been about the gas tax being a declining revenue source or a dying revenue source long term, there are limitations to every different option that’s out there,” Representative John Nygren, Co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, told the Milwaukee Press Club at a luncheon on January 11th.

When it comes to options, Wisconsin has 19 different sources of revenue for its Transportation Fund. That’s more than any other state in the country, according to AASHTO. These include aircraft registration fees, airline property tax, drivers and vehicle records fees, driver’s license and state ID card fees, fines for truck size and weight violations, fuel tax, general funds, interest income, outdoor advertising revenues, oversize/overweight truck permit fees, passenger rail station sponsorship, passenger vehicle fees, petroleum inspection fund revenues, property sales, railroad property taxes, state rental vehicles fees, taxes on alternative fuels, taxes on aviation fuels, and truck registration fees. This is expected to bring in a total of $3.5 billion over the next biennium. When it comes to user fees specifically, Wisconsin’s collections of user fees per lane mile are comparable to its neighbors.

However, when we compare total highway spending (including administrative and debt service costs) per mile to road quality, we see that Wisconsin spends more for poorer quality roads. The state is clearly not getting a good deal on its roadwork, and it begs the question why? Fortunately, lawmakers sensed something was not right at DOT and ordered an audit last year.

That audit came back in January 2017, and it was, in a word, devastating. The auditors found the DOT regularly breaks state law in budgeting, negotiating, communicating, and managing contracts. Among these statutory violations: the department does not always solicit bids from more than one vendor, it does not spread out solicitations throughout the year, it does not post required information on its website, its cost estimates to the governor are incomplete, and it skips steps in the evaluation process for selecting projects. These practices manifest themselves through an inescapable reality: the cost of major projects tends to double after the DOT gets approval from the governor and legislature to proceed. The auditors looked at 16 current highway projects and found they are over-budget by $3.1 billion. …

The side arguing for more highway spending hasn’t provided a solid figure. We often hear about that fabricated billion-dollar deficit, but now there are some, like Rep. Nygren, who say even that might not be enough. On the other hand, Rep. Vos has suggested $300 million might be a realistic amount given the governor’s budget criteria.

The governor has been firm and public in his opposition to raising taxes or fees for transportation. However, in December he made a comment that the only reason he might reconsider is if there were tax cuts in other parts of the budget to offset it. Vos took that comment and ran with it. He announced the $300 million target a month later, and Walker quickly clarified there was no deal to begin with.

Hypothetically, if Wisconsin were to boost highway funding by $300 million and it all came from a gas tax increase, the state’s gas tax would have to go from 32.9 cents to 37.7 cents a gallon. That would give Wisconsin the eighth highest gas tax in the country. Of course, Vos’ plan could spread that $300 million out across various taxes and fees in order to soften the blow. No one’s really talked about that $300 million for over a month now, but then again, Vos and his allies are playing this very close to the vest. …

Yet, the only option we continue to hear is raise the gas tax, and the best evidence to support that option is the fabricated billion-dollar shortfall. And nobody has definitively promised if we raise the gas tax, there will be no transportation bonding – which supposedly initiated this debate in the first place.

The next Chevy, or Cadillac, Corvette?

Automotive News reports:

There’s another round of midengine Chevrolet Corvette spy photos, and they’re perhaps the best look at the long-rumored sports car yet.

Spy photographers spotted what appears to be a midengine Corvette at one of General Motors’ winter-testing facilities.

The photos indicate that the vehicle will have a lower hood line, a longer rear deck and a much shorter dash-to-axle ratio.

The midengine mule was spotted, at times, next to a pair of other Corvette prototypes that are likely next-gen ZR1 mules.

Despite being heavily camouflaged, some key design features such as taillights and the vehicle’s exhaust layout were visible.

The latest photos illustrate just how much of a departure, in terms of design and engineering, a midengine Corvette would be for GM.

It remains unclear where a midengine Corvette would stand in the Chevrolet performance lineup and whether it will replace the C7 Corvette outright or coexist with the current generation.

In August, The Detroit News, citing multiple sources, reported that GM plans to begin selling a midengine Corvette in early 2019.

The Corvette, one of GM’s oldest nameplates, continues to attract mostly older buyers, and the automaker is eager to switch to a midengine layout to attract younger consumers, the paper said.

There have been several reports in Car and Driver and other media outlets over the past three years speculating about revived plans for a midengine Corvette.

While the Corvette has been GM’s premier performance vehicle for decades, a switch to a midengine layout would entail a major overhaul of the current car, the C7.

Almost no parts could be carried over because nearly all of the major components on a midengine car would be in different locations.

Switching from a front to midengine layout would entail engineering a new chassis, creating a new transaxle — the transmission and axle — to drive the rear wheels, developing new cooling, air-conditioning and suspension systems, and designing an all-new body.

A midengine Corvette would give GM a true competitor to Ford’s GT supercar, which is midengined, as well as supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche.

In June 2016, GM disclosed plans to spend $290 million to retool the Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant where the Corvette is assembled.

The factory’s assembly operations are set to be upgraded and modified for “technology upgrades and manufacturing process improvements.”

In 2015, GM said it would spend $439 million on a new paint shop at the Corvette-only plant. Work on the paint shop began in 2015 that year and will run until mid-2017.

Motor1 suggests that the mid-engine car will be in addition to, not in place of, the current Corvette:

Two of the most anticipated American sports cars are under development side by side.

The engineers in charge of the Chevrolet Corvette are keeping very busy this winter by developing several versions of the sports car at once, and these spy photos offer a fantastic look of the mid-engine model and future ZR1 testing together. This is our first opportunity to compare them next to each other.

With its short, sloping nose and long rear section, Chevy is taking a familiar supercar design approach for its mid-engine Corvette. The undulating camouflage on the bulging hood suggests there might be an intake there or the designers are going for a highly sculpted shape. Two bubbles in the roof give the driver and passenger more headroom while keeping the center section low.

Openings in the concealment along the rear fenders hint that there might be intakes there for feeding air to the engine. The camouflage at the tail hides the lights but keeps the taillights relatively unhidden. The quad exhausts and exposed muffler look good, but it’s surprising not to see a big diffuser or wing back there. These aerodynamic devices are largely the norm at the rear of many super cars today.

When not on the test track, these spy shots show that Chevy is keeping the mid-engine Corvette highly camouflaged. Not only does a massive covering completely hide the shape of the body, but the company also has a pair of pickups flanking the much-anticipated vehicle.

In comparison, the ZR1 appears to sit slightly higher than the mid-engine ‘Vette but still looks mean. These shots show it with two separate wings – an incredibly tall one with large end plates and a smaller example. The ZR1s here feature bulging hoods and aggressive front fascia designs.

We expect the ZR1 to arrive late in 2017 as a 2018 model year vehicle, and it might use Chevy’s new LT5 6.2-liter dual-overhead cam V8. The different wings hint that there might be an even hotter performance package.

The first question that comes to mind is: Is this actually a Corvette, or is this perhaps the next Cadillac XLR, which was based on the Corvette but with the NorthStar V-8 engine and more luxury accouterments.

There remains a certain illogic in replacing the rear-wheel-drive Corvette, of which Chevrolet sells every one it makes, with a mid-engine replacement using unproven technology (of which GM has a bad habit of sending into the marketplace before it’s really ready) and a list price likely to be far beyond $100,000.

CarGurus presents GM’s supposed rationale:

The average ‘Vette buyer is a 59-year-old male, but Chevrolet would love to start sending Corvettes home with guys and gals a decade or two younger. Certainly the C7 appeals to a younger crowd, but the Corvette brand has become associated with being a mid-life crisis purchase. When was the last time you saw someone driving a Corvette who didn’t have white hair?

Younger folks tend to buy the Camaro or Mustang.

Part of the reason is because older buyers are usually better-equipped to buy such an expensive car than their younger counterparts. In fact, more than 40 percent of Corvettes are purchased with cash.

There’s a new Corvette on the horizon, though, that might be enough to persuade younger folks with extra cash to jump on the Corvette train. …

It would also, GM hopes, make the car appeal to a younger crowd. Ferrari’s average buyer is 47, and Lamborghini’s is 48, while the average Porsche 911 buyer is 52.

The biggest problem, in my humble opinion, is that the Corvette was coolest when older people were young. The other brands require a deeper appreciation for quality cars, while the Corvette is a feel-good purchase that makes people reminiscent of when they were younger.

Happily, even at my advanced age I am younger than the average Corvette buyer. Does that explain why I don’t own one, or is it the manifest unfairness of life>

That rationale lacks logic. Comments on the Car Gurus post point out that you can spend $90,000 on the current Corvette. A mid-engined Corvette would be far more expensive than that. If younger buyers don’t buy Corvettes due to their price now, a more expensive Corvette won’t change that. And if you’re, say, 35 to 45 and rich, you seem more likely to buy a Ferrari or Porsche.

The current Corvette is a performance bargain for the price. I’m not certain why Chevy wants to screw that up, but it is GM we’re talking about.


Starbucks vs. Silverados

Kevin D. Williamson picked up on last week’s kerfuffle over how many Washington media types know pickup truck owners:

Living in Texas, I have a rarefied point of view on this. Because I have decided today to be an unbearable cliché, I am writing this column at a Starbucks (America’s leading psych ward and homeless shelter, with pretty good coffee), about five feet from a Ford F-150 and with seven other pick-ups in my immediate field of vision.

But there are pick-ups and there are pick-ups. In the nothing-but-mansions Houston neighborhood of River Oaks (Molly Ivins grew up there after her family moved to Texas from California; her salt-of-the-earth act was developed at the yacht club), the residential streets are clogged during the day with white pick-ups bearing largely Mexican work crews who keep the sprawling faux-Tudor country houses and Rococo palaces spruce and spiffy; inside the garages are more pick-ups, $60,000 and $70,000 specimens that are never used to haul anything other than grass-fed steaks from Whole Foods and never go farther off road than the gravel trail leading to the weekend “ranch,” which is what rich Texas oil guys call their country homes. …

Pick-ups are taken as an emblem of American life outside the coastal metropolises, an indicator of heartland authenticity. In reality, a pick-up truck indicates about as much connection to the farming and laboring life as the plaid flannel shirt on a Seattle barista does to the world of lumberjacks. Perhaps it is in some part aspirational or affiliation-oriented, in the same sense that most people wearing North Face gear don’t climb mountains on the weekends but would very much like to be the sort of people who do, if life weren’t so full already.

Which is to say, this is about that most mythical of places: “The Real America.”

A few years ago, Glenn Beck announced on his radio program that he was in search of a scenic barn. (I feel okay about picking on Glenn Beck: I am a big Glenn Beck fan, and my few personal encounters with him suggest that he is an extraordinary man.) He was working on a book to be called The Real America, and he wanted to take a picture of himself in front of a pretty, virtuous farmscape for the book cover. I assume this was good marketing (it would be easier to measure his book sales in tons than in units), and I get the emotional place this comes from. Farming America is, indeed, part of the real America.

But so is Broadway. So is Wall Street. So is Hollywood and Malibu and glorious Big Sur, and Chicago and Detroit and Miami and all the weird old places in America that don’t even feel like America at all, like New Orleans and Aroostook County, Maine. So is Muleshoe, Texas, and the campus of Harvard. America is a big, splendid place.

My parents and grandparents worked on farms, and I’ve done a (very) little bit of that myself. We have pick-up trucks and live in places where the economic indicators are corn and cotton prices — and, increasingly, oil and gas prices. We may be tied more directly into the physical world than are people who live and work in different environments: In the Texas Panhandle, a drought is a great deal more than an occasion to think about the nuances of climate-change rhetoric.

Russell Kirk, describing his “canons of conservative thought,” argued that to be a conservative is to appreciate genuine diversity, “the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.” The Left is living up to Kirk’s expectations: The increasingly sneering attitude of coastal elites toward the more conservative interior, particularly for the poor communities there, is as undeniable as it is distasteful. But conservatives are not immune to these Kulturkampf tendencies, either. No, the whole country does not need to be Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It doesn’t need to be Lubbock, Texas, either.
We instinctively understand that an economically healthy community has lots of different kinds of productive activities going on, that one-horse economies, whether in our state capitals or in Arab oil emirates, are almost always stunted in some way. And sneer all you like at Wall Street, nobody appreciates the value of effective financial services (especially commercial banking and insurance) more than an American farmer. The loan on his F-150 is hardly his most important financial obligation. But our diversity indicates more than economic health. It indicates a culture and a society that are genuinely alive and genuinely vital.

Our politics is less and less about using the clumsy machinery of the state to try to mitigate the effects of this or that problem, and more and more about what kind of people we are, what kind of people we aspire to be, and — not least, never least — what kind of people we hate: effete Santa Monica liberals who don’t know where their food comes from, small-minded prairie bigots who shop at Walmart and have never visited Europe. We have a keen understanding for the vices of those who are unlike us. Their virtues, less so. But the farmers and the bankers need each other.

It is a big country, and there is room for both.

A few years ago, there was a controversial Republican political figure who spoke to this under rather more intense circumstances: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” The election of 2016 was divisive, to be sure. It wasn’t Appomattox. The Real America has been through worse.

The four-wheeled culture war

This may have started with a New York Times story:

Tim Spell has noticed a peculiar condition that affects Texans’ mental, physical and automotive well-being.

“I call it ‘truck-itis,’” said Mr. Spell, the former automotive editor for The Houston Chronicle. “People in Texas will buy trucks even if they’re not going to haul anything heavier than raindrops. I was interviewing one guy. He had a 4-by-4. I said: ‘You live in Houston. Why do you have this 4-by-4?’ He said, ‘Well, I own a bar, and 4-by-4s are higher, and I can climb up on the cab and change out the letters of my marquee.’”

Whether for high-up urban letter-switching or more rural and rugged purposes, pickup trucks are to Texas what cowboy boots and oil derricks are to the state — a potent part of the brand. No other state has a bigger influence on the marketing of American pickup trucks.

Texas is No. 1 in the country for full-size pickup trucks. More of them were sold in 2015 in the Dallas and Houston areas than in the entire state of California, according to the research firm IHS Markit. There is the Ford F-150 King Ranch, named for the iconic Texas ranch. And the Nissan Texas Titan, the floor mats and tailgate of which are emblazoned with the shape of Texas. And the Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition, featuring leather seats that mimic the look and feel of Western saddles, was named for the year that the JLC Ranch in San Antonio was established.

The Texas-edition truck is a product of the state’s pull on the truck world. Some truck styles are sold and marketed only in the state as Texas editions, ensuring that pickup trucks, like a lot of things in Texas, are different here than elsewhere.

The F-150 may be the truck of Texas, but as of the 2014 model year (the latest year I could find) the most popular new vehicle in Wisconsin is …

… a Chevrolet Silverado, the F-150’s main competitor. Notice it’s easier to find states where the top selling vehicle is a pickup truck than states where a car is the best-seller.

That makes what Sean Davis reports rather mystifying:

Even after a presidential election in which scores of media personalities were shown to be entirely disconnected from the country and people they report on, the liberal media bubble is alive and well. All it took to reveal the durability of that bubble was a simple question about pickup trucks.

For those who might not be aware, trucks are really popular in America and have been for decades. The Ford F-series, for example, has been the most popular line of vehicles in America for 34 years in a row. Ford F-150’s are basically the jeans of vehicles: it’s nearly impossible to find a person in America who either doesn’t own one or doesn’t know someone who owns one. The top three best-selling vehicles in America are not cars, but trucks: the Ford F-series, Chevy Silverado, and Dodge Ram. The top-selling sedan is but a distant fourth. According to a 2014 survey conducted by IHS automotive, trucks were the most popular vehicles in a whopping 34 states. A separate 2015 study found that the F-150 was the most popular used vehicle in 36 states.
Why is this important? Because research has shown that vehicle preferences and political preferences are linked. According to a 2016 survey of 170,000 vehicle buyers conducted by market research firm Strategic Vision, what you drive can reveal a great deal about which political candidates you prefer.

The five most popular vehicle models among Republicans, for example, are all trucks, with the ubiquitous Ford F-150 leading the way. Among Democrats, the Subaru Outback is the most popular choice. If you drive a truck, you’re probably a Republican. If you drive a Subaru, you’re probably a Democrat. Donald Trump won every single state in which the Ford F-150 is the most popular vehicle (even Pennsylvania). He won all but four of the states in which the Chevy Silverado is the most popular vehicle, including Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton handily won the states where people prefer Subarus.

Which brings us to the simple question about truck ownership from John Ekdahl that drove Acela corridor progressive political journalists into a frenzy on Tuesday night: “The top 3 best selling vehicles in America are pick-ups. Question to reporters: do you personally know someone that owns one?”

Rather than answer with a simple “no,” the esteemed members of the most cloistered and provincial class in America–political journalists who live in New York City or Washington, D.C.–reacted by doing their best impersonation of a vampire who had just been dragged into the sunshine and presented with a garlic-adorned crucifix.

There were basically three types of hysterical response to a simple question about truck owners: 1) shut up, 2) you’re stupid and/or sexist and/or racist, and 3) whatever, liar, trucks aren’t popular (far and away my favorite delusional response to a simple question from a group of people who want you to believe they’re extremely concerned about “fake news”). It turns out that people who are paid large sums of money to opine on what Americans outside the Acela province think get very upset if you demonstrate that they don’t actually know any of the people about whom they pretend to be experts.

Click here to see the Twitter responses to which Davis refers.

The Right Scoop adds:

Like, seriously, it’s not even combative or anything. But it doesn’t matter because journalists and liberals could sniff out that if they answered honestly they’d expose themselves and their safe space echo chambers, so they lashed out at Ekdahl in smug, self-righteous, condescending anger.
Which kinda proves his point, doesn’t it? …

The automotive editor for Ars Technica compares truck owning to BEING A HEROIN ADDICT BECAUSE HE’S NOT SENSITIVE ABOUT IT AT ALL:

.@JohnEkdahl plenty of heartlanders are opioid addicts. Does that mean to report on real Amerikkka you need an oxy habit?

… For as little as I know Ekdahl personally, I have no doubt he didn’t mean his question in a malicious way, but snowflake libs are terribly sensitive about their safe spaces. …

Ekdahl closed out the night with this explosive retweet:

The state deficit caused by excessive spending

Legislative Republicans are debating between themselves whether or not to raise the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees, opposed by Gov. Scott Walker, to fund new road construction.

Before they decide to do that, they may want to read Jerry Bader:

While Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature argue over whether a gas tax increase is needed to pay for road repair, one GOP lawmaker is making the case that millions of dollars can be saved at the State Department of Transportation. DOT secretary Mark Gottlieb was grilled by lawmakers on the Assembly Transportation committee on December 6 over Governor Scott Walker’s plan not to raise gas taxes or vehicle fees. Walker has instead proposed closing a two-year, one-billion-dollar budget gap through borrowing and project delays, a plan Gottlieb defended. But West Allis Republican State Representative Joe Sanfelippo said in an interview this week that tens of millions can be saved from DOT spending and that lawmakers should look there first before raising any taxes or fees.

Sanfelippo’s questions to Gottlieb on agency spending received sparse coverage in the media. But Sanfelippo has been examining DOT practices for years and he says cutting wasteful spending could save tens of millions of dollars. Sanfelippo says lawmakers don’t even know how much money they would need to raise in taxes and fees because no one is looking at the money the department has now and what they’re spending. He gives several examples:

  • Sanfelippo says in two major projects in the Milwaukee area, the Zoo Interchange reconstruction and the Hoan Bridge, the DOT chose to use stainless steel rebar in the concrete, as opposed to the epoxy coated iron rebar that is commonly used. Sanfelippo says the stainless-steel rebar costs 250% more than the iron rebar. Sanfelippo says Gottlieb told him the intent was to have the bridge deck last as long as the bridge structure. But Sanfelippo says the stainless steel will long outlive the concrete structures. He says between those two projects the difference was $28 million for an item Sanfelippo argues was unnecessary. Sanfelippo says he’s continuing to investigate to determine how many times the stainless-steel rebar has been used in projects around the state.
  • New traffic signals that the DOT claims are safer but Sanfelippo is dubious. He says the DOT is replacing the long-used “trombone arm” style traffic lights with large, costlier “monotubes.” Sanfelippo says the DOT spent $57.5 million more in the past five years on 1,100 of the monotube units than would have been needed for the traditional traffic lights. Sanfelippo says the DOT’s claims that the new design is safer go no further than claiming “studies show…” Sanfelippo says he’s asked to see those studies but has never been provided specifics.
  • Purchasing cards: Sanfelippo says hundreds of DOT employees have access to “purchasing cards,” which he describes as essentially being credit cards. Sanfelippo says employees can use the cards to make purchases that don’t go through the normal procurement process. Sanfelippo says tens of millions of dollars are being spent by employees using these cards with “no checks and balances. “There are individuals on this list spending three hundred thousand, four hundred thousand, five hundred thousand dollars annually on these purchasing cards.” Sanfelippo says when the cards were developed in the 1990’s they were intended for “small purchases.” He asks: “how can you have $500,000 a year, in small purchases, for just one year. Sanfelippo stresses that he is not alleging wrongdoing. But he wonders what auditing procedures are in place to “watch all this money going out the door” and to make sure it’s being used properly.

Sanfelippo says that the DOT, in effect, is spending money on top of the line items and then “at the same time they’re telling us they’re broke and they can’t afford to continue their road construction projects that we need done, it just doesn’t make sense.” Further, he believes the DOT needs to account for the money spent on the purchasing cards before any revue increases are approved by lawmakers. And Sanfelippo says these items are the tip of the iceberg, while already totaling well into the tens of millions of dollars.

And Sanfelippo says these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. “We’re not talking nickels and dimes here. Every one of these items are millions and millions of dollars.” Sanfelippo says he has binders full of other examples. And Sanfelippo says the legislature needs to examine those costs before starting any discussion on revenue increases.

You would think $86 million (the total in Sanfelippo’s three examples) would have been better used on road projects.

And speaking of WisDOT employees, Owen Robinson adds:

I wrote about this fact last May when this issue flared up again and it has not changed. A look at the Reason Foundation’s most recent 21st annual highway report shows Wisconsin is spending way more than comparable states.

For example, Wisconsin and Minnesota have almost the same number of highway miles at 11,766 and 11,833, respectively. They also have almost the same number of lane miles. They are both cold-weather states with a major metropolitan area. In terms of total spending on roads, Minnesota spends just over $132,000 per state-controlled mile. Wisconsin spends 72 percent more for a total of almost $227,000 per mile.

Breaking down the numbers is even more interesting. Wisconsin spends 25 percent more on administrative costs, but actually spends 38 percent less on maintenance. The big difference comes with construction. Wisconsin is spending 75 percent more than Minnesota for every new mile of road. In summary, Wisconsin spends a lot more money on administration and construction, but less on maintenance than Minnesota. That is a difference in priorities.

To think of it another way, if Wisconsin just lowered its spending to the same amount per mile as Minnesota and prioritized maintenance over construction, it would save Wisconsin $1.1 billion per year and solve the transportation budget problem overnight while leaving a surplus to return to the taxpayers.

Sanfelippo is not new to this subject. M.D. Kittle reports:

Before Republicans join Democrats in selling motorists tax and fee hikes for the privilege of driving on Wisconsin roads, one conservative lawmaker wants to detour the taxing conversation.

State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, said not every Republican is jumping on board the revenue-hike train to “fix” a transportation budget shortfall nearing $1 billion. He and other conservatives are calling for a thorough review of how the Badger State builds and pays for its transportation projects.

“There are so many things we can enact in transportation, from how we fund projects to how we finance them to how we build them,” the lawmaker said, insisting there are significant cost savings to be had. “This isn’t pie in the sky stuff. All we have to do is look at other states.”

Sanfelippo’s office has put together a white paper on alternative building and financing ideas, including telling the federal government what it can do with its strings-attached shared transportation funds. …

In his white paper, Sanfelippo proposes the state research the savings of a design-build-finance method in which the design-builder assumes responsibility for the brunt of the design work, all construction tasks, short-term financing and the risk of providing the suite of services for a fixed fee.

“The model takes advantage of the efficiencies of design-build and also allows the project sponsor to completely or partially defer financing during the construction phase,” the white paper states.

As of January, more than 40 states – including California and Texas – had “authorized broad use of design-build as a cost-savings technique,” according to the Albany, N.Y., Times Union.

The savings in New York through design-build have been remarkable, despite limited use to date.

“The Tappan Zee Bridge project has saved taxpayers $1.1 billion compared to the cost under the traditional design-bid-build model, according to the newspaper. ”The bridge will also be completed 18 months early, relieving taxpayers of the annual $100 million maintenance cost of the old bridge sooner.”

Sanfelippo’s white paper also recommends the Legislature explore keeping the federal fuel tax revenue marked for the federal highway account of the Highway Trust Fund. Wisconsin gets back just over a dollar on every dollar it sends to Washington, D.C., but the myriad strings attached to the “free money” drive up the cost of road projects, Sanfelippo said.

“Screw you, federal government. We’re not sending you that federal gas tax money. We’ll keep it here, fund our own projects and therefore we don’t have to jump through all of these stupid hoops,” the lawmaker said.

Waukesha County recently rebuilt County Highway L (Janesville Road) in the city of Muskego. Local funds paid for the first 1.2 miles of the project; the second 1.2 miles with 80 percent federal dollars.

Phase 1 cost $352,000 for construction management, and $5,928,000 for construction. Phase 2, completed with federal funding, cost $719,600 for construction management services, and the construction bill was $7,196,139. That’s a cost difference of more than $1.9 million.

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Rep. Rob Brooks, also a Saukville Republican, are sponsoring legislation that would “swap” federal money currently in appropriation accounts for specified highway programs with state money. Not surprisingly, Waukesha County heartily supports the concept of the legislation.

“The states sold our souls to the devil a long time ago when we started taking this federal money,” Sanfelippo said. “Now we are addicted to it.”

“We’re not getting a gift from the federal government. It’s our own money.”

One of the federal strings attached is the requirement under the federal Davis–Bacon Act to use prevailing (that is, union) wages on projects funded with federal money. The state prevailing-wage law was repealed, but the federal law, as you can imagine, has much more impact. Perhaps Congress can be led by Wisconsin’s representatives in a repeal of Davis–Bacon.


Corvettes I have driven

The first Corvette I remember was the down-the-street neighbor’s 1970 dark-green coupe with the base 350 V-8 and automatic.

NOTE: Not the actual first Corvette I remember seeing.
NOTE: Not the actual first Corvette I remember seeing.

The first Corvette I drove looked a lot like it, except it was a 1969, and it had a tan interior instead of a green interior. Oh, and it had a 427 V-8 with three carburetors, running on racing gas, and M-22 “rock-crusher” four-speed. It did not have power steering or brakes.

NOTE: Not the actual Corvette I drove. I think.
NOTE: Not the actual Corvette I drove. I think.

It was a cloudy, not very warm summer day, which was a good time to notice how much heat the V-8 produced. I noticed that after I noticed how much noise the V-8 produced. To paraphrase Robert Duvall’s cavalry colonel from “Apocalypse Now,” the smell of unburned hydrocarbons from gasoline-powered V-8s is the smell of … victory.

The 427 three-carb V-8 was rated at 435 gross horsepower. “Gross” means horsepower before engine-driven accessories; since 1971 engines have been measured in “net” horsepower, after the drag from such accessories as the fan, alternator, power steering, etc. Of course, it didn’t have power steering, so that was one major drag missing. I think the engine wasn’t originally rated for only racing gas, so someone may have tweaked it to exceed the rating, which may have been underreprted anyway because insurance companies were starting to hyperventilate about horsepower.

The owner drove it around for a few minutes, and then punched the loud pedal, and the world moved by at increasing speeds. Things don’t go by in a blur at such speeds; they just go by really, really fast. Based on what the owner told me the speedometer said (even if the speedometer was 10 mph off at those speeds) … put it this way: It was the second fastest I’ve been in a motor vehicle, the first being in a NASCAR racing truck on a Road America straightaway.

Then I got to drive. Of course, I killed it the first two (or so) times I tried to take off, not having familiarity with the ballet of clutch pedal and accelerator pedal. (Brakes weren’t even an issue yet.) Generally the first manual-transmission car one drives is probably not one whose transmission is known as the “rock-crusher.” As someone whose arm strength has never been confused for Popeye’s, driving a car without power steering but with most of its weight atop the front wheels (thanks to the iron-block iron-head big-block V-8). You discover that steering isn’t so bad at speed, but low-speed turns are brutal, at least when the most strenuous thing you do with your arms is type or pick up a trumpet. The brakes weren’t really an issue given all the marching I had done and the fact I didn’t drive it very fast.

I managed to neither wreck nor, I think, harm the Vette in my few minutes of driving on city streets. (If a car is built for drag racing, it should be able to stand a few minutes at the hands of a ham-handed novice driver, right?)

For as small a car as the Corvette is, that was a beast to drive. As with all cars of the era, it had little in the way of safety features beyond collapsible steering column (as if hitting something at three-digit speeds wouldn’t kill you anyway) and seat belts. It had an AM/FM radio, and that was about it. The seats didn’t adjust other than sliding up and back. Compared with today’s Corvettes (or even cars with much less performance), it didn’t have much in tires — bias-ply 60-series tires with 15-inch eight-inch-wide wheels. Those Corvettes didn’t even have rack-and-pinion steering, a feature that wasn’t added until the C4 was designed.

(Side note: A few months later I was in Las Vegas with the UW Band. The first night we were there I walked up to a slot machine whose jackpot, five 7s, was a new Ferrari. I put in some money, and on my third attempt I saw four 7s and … not a 7. The interesting question to ponder is what a 21-year-old college student living in the Snowbelt would have done with a Ferrari. Maybe trade it for the Corvette?)

Several years later, I test-drove a 1976 coupe — red, of course — with the L-82 V-8 and four-speed. That V-8, in the depths of the Smog Era, generated all of 220 horsepower. The Vette was less than $10,000, but it wasn’t affordable at that time, in part because adding another car payment seemed a bad idea.

NOTE: Not necessarily the Corvette I test-drove.
NOTE: Not necessarily the Corvette I test-drove.

The funny thing about driving that Corvette was that it gave more of a feel of driving a luge, nearly lying down with my feet way out in front, than the previous Corvette I drove. The other funny thing is that performance-wise there are few worse Corvettes, but they sold very well, perhaps because there was little else for high-speed vehicle choice in those days — basically only the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am, with its larger but weaker 400 V-8.

A few years after that I drove a coworker’s 1973 Corvette before he sold it. This too had a four-speed, and it was augmented further by fantastic red-over-gold paint.

NOTE: Not the same Corvette I drove.
NOTE: Not necessarily the same Corvette I drove.

Again, I didn’t drive it very fast, though I was about to before, as I steered onto a straight road, I saw a police car in front of me. (This was the same road where I had previously test-driven a 1994 BMW 540i with a V-8 and six-speed. It was so smooth that I didn’t realize I was driving 73 mph until I passed a 35-mph speed limit sign.) The owner may have done a little engine work, but like the ’76 it didn’t offer that much compared to earlier Vettes — 190 or 250 horsepower from the 350 V-8s.

For a variety of reasons, then, it has been almost 20 years since I’ve driven any Corvette. That personal losing streak of mine ended Sunday.

NOTE: Yes, this is the Corvette I drove.

This is a 2014 Corvette convertible with the LT-1 V-8, which sends 450 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque through a proper seven-speed manual transmission. CorvSport adds:

The LT1 engine combines advanced technologies, including direct fuel injection, Active Fuel Management, continuously variable valve timing, and an advanced combustion system that delivers more power while using less fuel. In fact, during normal driving conditions, it is estimated that the new Corvette gets an approximate 26 miles per gallon (highway), thanks in part to the LT1’s ability to run in a fuel-saving V-4 mode while driving at cruising speeds.
The LT1 engine is backed by a choice of active exhaust systems that are less restrictive than the previous generation. This reduction in exhaust restriction was achieved by increasing the diameter of the pipes from 2.5 inches to 2.75 inches, which resulted in a 13-percent improvement in airflow through the standard system. Additionally, there is also an optional dual-mode active exhaust system which offers a 27-percent improvement in airflow. It features two additional valves that open to a lower-restriction path through the mufflers. When opened, these valves increase engine performance and produce a more powerful exhaust note.

The LT1 engine is paired to an industry-exclusive TREMEC TR 6070 seven-speed manual transmission (standard) with Active Rev Matching for more precise upshifts and downshifts.  This driver-selectable feature can be easily engaged or disengaged via paddles on the steering wheel. …
In addition, shift feel and shift points can be adjusted through the Driver Mode Selector – a five-position dial that tailors 12 vehicle attributes to fit the driver’s environment and produce one of several unique driving experiences.
The cockpit mounted Driver Mode Selector utilizes a rotary knob near the shifter that allows drivers to select between one of five drive settings: Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport, and Track.  The Tour Mode is the default setting for everyday driving.  The Weather Mode was designed primarily for added confidence while driving in rain and snow.  The Eco Mode was developed for achieving optimal fuel economy.  The Sport Mode was developed for drivers looking for a more adventurous, or “spirited” driving experience.  The Track Mode was developed for a single reason – as it’s name implies – for running the car at a racetrack. …
For C7 Corvettes equipped with the Z51 Performance Package, it will be set up with 45-mm piston Bilstein dampers for more aggressive body control and track capability.  The Z51 is available with the third-generation Magnetic Ride Control, which features a new twin-wire/dual-coil damper system that react 40 percent more efficiently, enabling improved ride comfort and body control.
The Corvette Stingray now rides on new 18x 8.5-inch front and 19 x 10-inch rear wheels.  New Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat tires, which were developed specifically for the seventh-generation Corvette. These tires deliver comparable levels of grip with the previous generation of Corvette, despite having a narrow profile than their predecessors.  Given the reduced “footprint”, the track-oriented Corvette Stingray, when equipped with the Z51 Performance Package, is capable of 1g in cornering acceleration – which is comparable to the performance of the 2013 Corvette Grand Sport.

The Driver Mode Selector was in Sport, I believe. I didn’t drive it at, well, very much faster than legal speeds, though I did drive it the wrong way down a one-way street, smiling all the way. I didn’t drive that fast because it’s not my car, I wasn’t familiar with the area, and I didn’t want to do something stupid, like, say, hit the rear end of a manure spreader in a brand new Mustang convertible (really) or hit two houses and land on top of a parked car (really). Nevertheless, driving that Corvette made my week.

The owner is about my size, so the car fit me just fine. (Which is good, since Corvettes I’ve fit in have been tight fits, though perhaps at car shows the dealers don’t have the cars set up to have people screw around with seat adjustments.) And, yes, the driving experience was unparalleled, even though not very fast. The engine sounds as it should. The transmission is a little tall in first, and it’s easy to go from second to fifth because the gears are close together.

The nice thing about the Vette from the late C3 onward is that it’s now a usable car beyond just driving it. The convertibles have small trunks, but the coupes have hatchbacks suitable for overnight bags or golf bags, or a few groceries. Some Vette fans don’t like that, but how many people do nothing but drive a car without using it for something else? The owner claimed he got in the low 30s in highway mileage. You could not get low 30s in highway mileage if you disconneccted seven cylinders.

I have been a bit of a naysayer about the C7 and the C6 before it in part because of the end of the hidden headlights. (Europe’s fault, apparently. Brexit!) It’s also seemed to me that the car has gotten too complex for its audience. (The owner said the tires are not designed for weather colder than 40 degrees.) It is still an affordable supercar when compared with much more expensive European cars. And the driving experience is incomparable to any I’ve had, including the original Vettebeast. I may have to rethink my opinion of the C7.

Powerball is worth $122 million ($81.9 million cash value) Saturday night.

Yates’ checkered flag

I’ve written before that I was a fan of the work of David E. Davis Jr., the former editor of three car magazines and author of my favorite quote about cars:

We drive our cars because they make us free. With cars we need not wait in airline terminals, or travel only where the railway tracks go. Governments detest our cars: they give us too much freedom. How do you control people who can climb into a car at any hour of the day or night and drive to who knows where?

Davis died in 2011. One of Davis’ most colorful Car and Driver writers, Brock Yates, died Wednesday.

Autoweek writes:

“Brock has been a hero of mine since I first got to know him,” Dan Gurney said at a Yates tribute several years ago at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. Gurney and Yates drove a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 across the country in 1971 in 35 hours, 54 minutes in the original Cannonball. “He is a pioneer, historian, instigator and defender of freedom.”

Yates’ columns in Car and Driver attacked everything from the 55-mph speed limit to the arrogance of safety advocate Ralph Nader. They spoke to the frustrations of people who loved cars but who were prevented from enjoying them by meddling government bureaucrats. Yates said in the pages of the magazine and in other outlets in which his work appeared what so many car enthusiasts felt.

“He was always a guy who was just a little farther than the rest,” said Yates fan Jay Leno, who also spoke at the Petersen tribute.

“Brock and I were in a bar,” said director Hal Needham, recounting the founding of “The Cannonball Run” movie, “and he told me about this race he created.”

Other tributes that night came in video form from Bob Lutz, Bob Varsha and David Hobbs. By the time Yates got up to speak, he was, uncharacteristically, at a loss for words.

“I don’t know what to say other than to say, thank you,” he said that night.

No, thank you Brock, for everything you did and everything you inspired us to do. Godspeed.

Yates joined Car and Driver in 1964, as managing editor—although he claimed no experience in either managing or editing. The task at hand, envisioned by editor and publisher David E. Davis, Jr., was lifting Car and Driver up and out of the mediocrity miring the day’s automotive publications. Along with Leon Mandel, Steve Smith, and Patrick Bedard, Davis and Yates sharpened their wits and words to venture well beyond routine race reports and road tests. Nicknamed “car and social commentary,” this publication nominated Dan Gurney for president, toasted the day’s brightest engineers and executives, and mounted vicious attacks on those deemed impediments to the automobile’s advancement. Yates earned his Assassin sobriquet with a 1968 exposé of Detroit’s intransigence titled The Grosse Pointe Myopians, which accurately forecast the rise of Japanese-made cars in America. The barbs of Yates’s pen sank deep and often into early safety advocates Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook.

Bored with tilting at windmills, Yates created the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash in 1971, a coast-to-coast public road race. Although it was never officially sanctioned by this publication, the inaugural test run and four additional sprints following the rules-free format made memorable reading in Car and Driver. Yates and Dan Gurney won the first race in just under 36 hours in 1971 with a (borrowed) Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona. About that exploit, Gurney noted, “At no time did we exceed 175 mph.” When Hollywood took notice, Yates teamed with stuntman and director Hal Needham to write the screenplays for Smokey and the Bandit II and The Cannonball Run I and II, which, together, earned more than $100 million at the box office.

Yates penned 15 books, sharing his insights as an amateur racer in Sunday Driver and untold drama in Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Cars, The Races, The Machine. He contributed to Car and Driver as an editor at large for four decades, but Yates and Davis exchanged virulent verbal assaults through the 1980s. These sumos of the written word eventually shook hands and resumed their friendship. …

A selection of Brock Yates’s best writing for Car and Driver can be found here.

The best way to give tribute to a writer is to show off his writing. Yates wrote this in 2002:

A couple of months ago I received a phone call of a type that is common to ink-stained wretches in this trade. A young graduate student was preparing a thesis in his field of study-motion-picture history-and was seeking information on the madness I composed over 20 years ago called The Cannonball Run. This seemed odd, considering the fact that the old flick has long since descended into late-night limbo and video and DVD sales.

Moreover, the whole movie thing has never been a source of great pride for me, in that Burt Reynolds, who starred in the picture, butchered the original script I had written for the late Steve McQueen, and the result, while a massive moneymaker, was lashed by the critics. But like the old joke about Pierre the Bridge Builder, The Cannonball Run is indelibly inscribed on my so-called career portfolio, and few conversations with strangers pass without the subject of the picture arising.

But the conversation with the student took a strange turn. Although he insisted the picture is a cult favorite among his fellow students, he had no idea The Cannonball Run was based on a real event; that five actual Cannonball races were run between 1971 and 1979, with all manner of incidents in the picture based on fact. I explained to him that three guys actually ran disguised as priests (a modest sin, considering the firestorm that has descended on the Catholic Church recently) and that myself; the movie’s director, Hal Needham; my wife, Pamela; and a Los Angeles radiologist named Lyle Royer drove the same ambulance used in the movie to compete in the last Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash in April 1979.

Here was a kid practically young enough to be my grandson, waxing eloquent over a movie he could recite line for line, yet he had no idea its genesis arose from the real stories behind it. As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. But only when the reality has not been subsumed by foamy legends and fantasies that radiate outward from the actual event.

Now, 23 years after the last Cannonball was run, the whole wacky affair is coming back to life. Within weeks, Motorbooks International will publish Cannonball! World’s Greatest Outlaw Road Race. Because I was the founder of the races, I served as a sort of trail boss of the book and managed to herd 37 of my co-conspirators to write their own recollections. These “usual suspects” include Dan Gurney, with whom I won the 1971 race; Cobra designer Peter Brock (one of the “priests”); edgy Indianapolis journalist Robin Miller; director Needham; Amelia Island Concours impresario Bill Warner; our own Fred Gregory; La Carrera Panamericana organizer Loyal Truesdale (who with a pal ran the Cannonball in 1979 on a motorcycle); and other notables. Their stories are universally riveting and often hilarious.

About the time you read this, Pamela and I will embark on a coast-to-coast book tour driving a Jaguar XK8, the modern counterpart to the 1979 version that holds the cross-country record at 32 hours and 51 minutes.

Within hours of the Cannonball book going to press, a wonderful footnote surfaced. It was triggered, oddly enough, in the carriage house of our home in upstate New York. Barry Meguiar, the well-known, widely respected owner of the splendid line of Meguiar’s car-care products, came to Wyoming to tape Car Crazy-his half-hour show on the automotive hobby he hosts on the Speed Channel.

Surrounded by my two Eliminator hot rods, old and new, and my old Cannonball Dodge Challenger that is a veteran of two Cannonballs (1972 and 1975), the interview inevitably turned to those legendary races and the madness surrounding them.

I noted that the 130-mph, Bill Mitchell-modified, Dick Landy 440 Dodge ambulance we used in 1979 was in fact the vehicle used by Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Jack Elam, and Farrah Fawcett in the movie and that the scene in which they were stopped was a near-verbatim repeat of the near-arrest of Needham and me on Interstate 80 in the Garden State. I mused to Barry that for more than 20 years I have wondered if the two cops who stopped us ever found out about the scam.

At that point, Meguiar turned to the camera and asked that if either officer were watching, he should contact Meguiar headquarters in Irvine, California. A neat idea, I thought, but was convinced that nobody would surface.

I was wrong. Within hours of the show’s airing, a friend of one of the officers called Meguiar and hooked us up with now-retired Bergen County Police Department deputy chief Marc Fenech. During a four-way conference call with Fenech, Needham, Meguiar, and myself, it was revealed that Fenech and (now) police chief Jack Schmidig were on drug patrol on the night of April 1, 1979 when I-who was driving at the time-tore past them at somewhere between 95 and 100 mph.

“Actually, we weren’t on speed-enforcement patrol,” recalled Fenech, “but your speed got our attention, and we began to follow. Then you kept going past exits leading to nearby hospitals. When you drove by the last one for another 50 miles, we stopped you.”

Fenech, a car nut and regular reader of this magazine who has two Vipers in his garage, recalled the entire incident with grand humor. “We let you go after the ‘doctor’ told us the ‘patient’ [Lady Pamela], a ‘senator’s wife,’ could not be flown in a pressurized cabin and had to be driven to California-although we wondered later why you didn’t ship her by train.

“Actually, I didn’t think any more about the incident until Jack called me up after reading a story about Yates and the movie in People magazine. He said, ‘Marc, we’ve been had.'”

Although some victims of such a ruse might take umbrage and refuse to discuss it, both Fenech and Schmidig recall the incident with great amusement and have told their story hundreds of times over the years. “It’s one of those things in a career that you never forget,” said Fenech during the call.

I guess Marc’s like the rest of us who played roles, large and small, in those outrageous convulsions of motorsport called the Cannonballs. Now comes the book, and yes, serious discussions about yet another movie-the seventh-dealing with the races that began in idle conversation and general paranoia (a common malady in the ’70s) over the rising power of Ralph Nader.

There will probably never be another race like it. (I say probably.) But damn, it was fun. You had to have been there.