Category: Wheels

Die Diesel-Betrüger

Holman W. Jenkins Jr.:

Martin Winterkorn lost his job over the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, but his head should be the least to roll. Lord forgive us for saying something that could be misconstrued as supportive of Donald Trump: If the Trump phenomenon is a revolt against “stupid” elites, there is much to revolt about.

A consensus has formed, in a remarkably short time since the VW scandal, that Europe’s rush to embrace diesel cars was a colossal policy error. For a meaningless cut in greenhouse emissions, Europe got higher emissions of nitrogen oxides and diesel particulates. While claims of thousands of additional deaths from this diesel pollution are questionable, Europe now realizes it converted half its cars to diesel for no good reason. And this is just the beginning.

If carbon dioxide is a problem, cars were never the solution. Cars and light trucks account for less than 8% of global emissions; U.S. cars and light trucks account for less than 3%. U.S. car makers are being required by government to spend hundreds of billions on fuel-mileage improvements in the name of global warming that will have virtually zero effect on global warming.

The real carbon problem, if it’s a problem, is upstream in power plants and heavy industry. If those problems are solved, cars might as well go on burning gasoline. If those problems aren’t solved, cars contribute little. What if we insist on carbon-free cars anyway? Even then, the internal-combustion engine is far from obsolete. Hydrogen, manufactured using non-carbon energy, could fuel the cars we have on the road now. So could biofuels. Electric cars, which we subsidize out the wazoo, not only are insufficient to solve any carbon problem. They are unnecessary.

Much remains to be learned about the VW scandal, but the Economist magazine, blindly marching along, already thinks the answer is more rigorous testing to make sure cars achieve their meaningless emissions goals. And adds: “If VW’s behavior hastens diesel’s death, it may lead at last, after so many false starts, to the beginning of the electric-car age.”

The electric-car age? Why?

Expect, even now, a decorous investigation of the VW scandal. Don’t expect a full exposure of the panic when the company realized it could not hit the U.S. emissions targets for nitrogen oxide, plus the Obama fuel mileage requirements, plus customer expectations for price and performance in an affordable sedan.

A private study, carried out by West Virginia University and the International Council for Clean Transportation, set off the scandal in the first place. The study focused on three diesel vehicles: two modest VW sedans and a much larger, more expensive BMW SUV.

The BMW was a full 1,600 pounds heavier—thus naturally suited to diesel, with its low-revving torque—and carried twice the sticker price, helping to accommodate elaborate clean-diesel technology. The BMW’s mileage was good, not spectacular, and the vehicle met EPA’s nitrogen-oxide limits.

It’s easy to imagine BMW whispering in somebody’s ear that VW’s claim to have generated low NOX emissions, high mpg, excellent drivability, at a small sedan’s price point, just didn’t add up. And it didn’t.

Yet the iceberg here is much deeper. As we’ve pointed out many times, the Obama fuel-mileage rules are designed to bite after he leaves office. In the meantime, they were mostly designed to prop up Detroit’s SUV and pickup business. Volkswagen itself is partly owned by the German state of Lower Saxony. The company is largely controlled by IG Metall, a German union deeply entwined with German politicians. Don’t believe any guff that the company and politician class did not share a goal of evading any mandates that endangered VW’s growth and employment.

Call it a go-along mind-set in our elites: Politicians who accept huge costs on behalf of the public in order to pose as saviors of the climate, for policies that will have no impact on climate change; business people who play along out of self-interest or fear; a science community whose members endorse the RICO Act to prosecute people who question the claims of climate science.

As a historical note, the mental antecedent here is the energy crisis of the 1970s, which became conflated with the environmental crisis of the 1970s, bequeathing an intuition that requiring higher-mileage vehicles would solve some actual problem (it wouldn’t).

Alas, a genuine coming-clean would be very different from what we’re about to get out of the VW mess. Let car makers build the cars the public wants; these cars would likely be roughly as safe and clean—or more so—than those churned out under regulatory mandate. Naturally, readers will doubt this last bit: They are wrong, because, in their innocence, they believe reason plays a bigger role in our regulatory designs than it actually does.

A vehicular answer in search of an occupational question

The inspiration for this blog post was an effort to get a photo of an airplane whose pilot aborted its takeoff and ended up considerably past the airport’s runway. Getting a photo of said plane wasn’t easy because of local geography and because the airport manager wasn’t enthusiastic about my presence. (I seem to have that effect on people.)

That prompted this idea: What should journalists drive?

Note that second word, “should.” The journalists I know, because of journalism’s poor salaries, drive cars that are either small or old, if not both. So perhaps this is a fantasy exercise, but it’s my blog.

Man has always used powered vehicles, whether powered by engines or animals, for work. The first known pickup truck was a Ford Model T whose owner added a flat bed behind the front seats. Ford quickly picked up on that. Those who used cars for business, though, and wanted creature comforts of cars (for instance, heaters) instead of trucks (namely, none) would buy what were called “business coupes,” a car with a front seat and a large trunk to carry, for instance, salesmen’s samples.

Pickup truck manufacturers have occasionally ventured into the world of more-specific-application vehicles, but usually that’s left up to body manufacturers instead of the Big Three.

Dodge advertised “Job-Rated” trucks in 1947.

Chevrolet had a W/T model of its half-ton pickup that was pretty stripped of such niceties as non-vinyl seats and carpeting. The Land Rover Range Rover was developed for, believe it or don’t, British farmers to use on the farm during the day and take the wife to town at night. And for decades GM, Ford and Chrysler have had law enforcement-specification vehicles, though only in the past 20 or so years have they offered police-spec pickups and SUVs. Ambulances were first hearses, then station wagons (sometimes run by police departments), and now mounted on van or truck chassis. Fire trucks often use commercial chassis.

In the early days of TV, converted buses or box vans hauled the 100-pound cameras and lights out into the field for live broadcast, while station wagons or panel deliveries (station wagons without side windows behind the front doors) carried film cameras. One of the unusual stories about John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the mobile unit of the Fort Worth NBC station, whose engine blew up on the way to Parkland Hospital and had to be towed from place to place until after Lee Harvey Oswald’s death.

For this silly exercise the medium of the journalist doesn’t matter; it doesn’t matter anyway because journalists now work in more than one medium, with newspaper and radio reporters shooting video. Our vehicle should be designed as much as possible to be a mobile office. (In seven years of working for one employer I had four different offices and almost a fifth. In three years of working for another employer I had three different offices. I suggested finding a used moving van and moving my desk, chair, filing cabinets, computer and other parts of my office into it. If you choose to do that, find an International moving truck with the DT466 diesel engine, which provides remarkable performance for moving your house. For that matter, I once thought it would be fun to live in a motor home until I determined that (1) motor home furnishings are not like a house’s, you need external access to (2A) electricity and (2B) water, and (3) living in a motor home is illegal in most incorporated communities.)

Even with the electronic tools of the journalism trade much smaller in size than in the old days, journalists still need storage space for them, which is why the best vehicle would be a hatchback, station wagon, SUV, pickup truck or (the horror) minivan. (You can always not use space you don’t need; you can’t use space you don’t have.) Space is needed to write on or download photos to a laptop or tablet. In keeping with the goal of any journalist worthy of the title, staying out of the office as much as possible, we need space for lunch on the go, and perhaps even for sleeping in case of long-duration on-the-scene work. (I draw the line at a bathroom, because, number one, men only need trees.)

I would lean toward the SUV or truck because they are more likely to have four-wheel drive, and getting to where you’re going regardless of weather is a necessity. (Or for getting to various assignments. I once had to get the newspaper’s brand new truck pulled out of a farm field by a tractor, when I was doing a story about a house being moved, because said truck lacked four-wheel drive. I also once slid off the road delivering newspapers when I hit ice, and avoided getting stuck looking for The Point of Beginning, where the Wisconsin-Illinois state line and Grant-Lafayette county line meet and from where the entire state was surveyed, only because I abandoned looking as the alleged road to the location decayed.)

The other reason for a truck-like vehicle is that they might be stout enough for you to stand in the box or even on the roof, to be able to shoot from above and be able to see where you’re shooting. (I could have used the ability to do that earlier this week.)


Photographer  Ansel Adams shot photos of the American Southwest from the top of his Pontiac station wagon.


I haven’t done this, but some people I know have announced games from their vehicles in the case of inadequate on-site facilities. (There are still some athletic fields without press boxes. Those usually were places without telephone lines, too, but the advent of cellphones means you can broadcast pretty much anywhere you can get a cell signal. In the early days of radio sports, decades before games were broadcast over telephone, one announcer broadcasted a game from the passenger seat of his car parked on the sideline, which worked fine until the players crashed into the car and knocked them off the air for 45 minutes.)

The first vehicle that came to mind is from old video I saw on YouTube of a Studebaker Lark Wagonaire being used by a TV station.

The sliding roof on the Wagonaire was supposed to allow owners to haul items taller than the back of the wagon. Apparently TV stations in the early 1960s used that feature to mount a camera (which was much larger than today’s minicams) in back for field video. Apparently few others used it for that, or any remotely similar, purpose because the Wagonaire died with Studebaker Corp.

The closest more current vehicle to the Wagonaire was last decade’s GMC Envoy XUV. That, too, flopped in the marketplace. There is one Envoy XUV on eBay, and it’s a two-wheel-drive model instead of the more desirable four-wheel-drive version.

Not only does Reportermobile need enough space for laptop use (a design feature of the Dodge — I mean Ram — 40/20/40 seat), it needs to have plenty of power ports, preferably with 12-volt inverters. Work sucks the batteries of cellphones and laptops, and after a point professional-quality digital cameras. It also needs space for maps and even atlases, even in this age of the GPS, along with a place for better clothing than you usually wear when needed.

A public-service-band radio scanner needs to be inside, so that the journalist can find where the incident is. (There are scanner apps for cellphones, but imagine the bite out of your data plan.) Driving lights on the front would be useful for photos shot at, say, a dark crash scene if you’re not friendly with the local firefighters who turn on their scene lights for you. (Fortunately, I don’t have that problem.) Amber LED lights mounted in the back window might prevent getting rear-ended at said night crash scene. For that matter, a dashcam might be handy because you never know what you might drive into:

This is a Range Rover customized in Germany with additional headlights and fog lights, as well as a sunroof. Too bad Range Rovers have famously hideous reliability.

You may think what I’m describing would have to be a fancy vehicle. That is really not the case. A journalist’s vehicle is likely to have pens that may or may not work, food wrappers (hopefully not with food still in them, though that probably cannot be guaranteed), old drink cups, old coffee cups, cigarette butts, receipts of unknown origin, napkins, and other detritus inside. One might be better off having an old pickup-truck interior with vinyl seats and rubber floor mats that can just be hosed off.

One other point: Should your vehicle identify yourself as being in the media? I believe the answer is yes, but quietly. (Which would not be defined as putting STEVEPRESTEGARD.COM in big letters on the side of your vehicle.) The Wisconsin Newspaper Association used to give out window stickers that said PRESS on them. Given that journalists are known for parking wherever they feel they need to park, something like that might be helpful in avoiding a parking ticket. Or so you hope.


See the USA in your (photographed and airbrushed) Chevrolet …

The first thing I remember really, really, really, really, really wanting to do was to drive.

If you are not remotely close to legal driving age (or you don’t live in a farm family so you can drive vehicles on the farm), how can you deal with that desire? There were, and perhaps still are, two ways. One is by buying and/or reading every car magazine you can get your hands on, from Motor Trend (a magazine famously known for never negatively reviewing a car, perhaps due to advertising revenue reasons) to Hot Rod (cars improved by fat wheels and tires, worked-upon engines, and paint schemes no manufacturer will sell you) to Car Craft (fast cars with a dollop of snark).

The other way in my case was to visit car dealers and take, then read, car catalogs. (Which, my mother would then add, would pile up in my room.) Car catalogs can be worth amazing sums of money now based on the rarity of the car and the catalog. (Unless said catalog included checkmarks and circles from the original reader as to what he would order, which greatly diminish the value of the catalog. I would go through and see what I had to get if I got, for instance, air conditioning, back in the days when car A/C was rare, and darn it to heck if I couldn’t get the biggest engine with a manual transmission.)

Before I left home, my parents may have grabbed these to make their auto purchases:

The first car of theirs I remember was a 1966 Chevy Nova wagon, in dark red. That was followed by …

… a 1969 Chevy Nomad wagon. It was LeMans blue, and it had the 350 V-8, Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, roof rack, and power tailgate. The dealer-installed accessory presumably not included in the catalog was clear plastic dimpled seat covers for cleanup of the messes the back-seat occupants might generate. (You’ll notice the lack of the words “air conditioning” before now in this paragraph. Said seat covers could get infernally hot, at least to a four-year-old’s definition.)

The Nomad was augmented by their first second car, a 1965 Chevy Bel Air sedan, purchased six years old. (That’s why it’s not pictured here — a point I will get to eventually.) Two years later came their first new second car …

… a 1973 AMC Javelin, dark brown with a gold side stripe that started cracking about 32 seconds after the car left the dealership. This car had a 304 V-8, automatic, and power steering but not power brakes. (Nor did it have a parking brake indicator, which resulted in an interesting moment when someone tried to drive off with the parking brake.) This was the first car I drove.

The aforementioned Nomad was replaced by …

… our 1975 Chevy Caprice Classic coupe, the 18-foot-long two-door sedan, dark red with dark red full (not landau) vinyl roof and a red interior, with room for as many people as we ever wanted to fit in it, and all their stuff in the trunk.

A few years later, my parents saw their oldest son’s age nearing the magic 16, concluded that another car might be needed, and purchased …

… a 1981 Chevy Malibu Classic sedan, black with a black vinyl roof. This was for its day a good looking car. And that is the only good thing you could say about it, other than the fact that I passed my driver’s license test in it … the second time I took the test. Before that, the neighbor’s bratty little kid’s throwing rocks at it and chipping the paint was the first tipoff that the ownership experience was going to be less than satisfactory. (“Malibu” apparently is a French word meaning “lemon.”)

Upon having a fourth driver in the house, my mother apparently decided she needed a car more often than her oldest son was willing to part with the Caprice, so she bought …

… a 1985 Chevy Camaro, in bright red. The only problem I noticed with the Camaro was my trying to get in and out of it — to get out required me to put my hand on the ground to brace myself for exit. I am pretty sure no one ever sat in the back seat. Otherwise, it looked close enough to Thomas Magnum’s Ferrari that I once borrowed it to go someplace wearing a Hawaiian-like shirt. (Well, Tom Selleck and I are both 6-foot-4, and we have mustaches.)

Then I left home and took the Caprice with me. After paying for alarming (to me anyway) repair bills for the 14-year-old Caprice (in addition to paying for gas for a car that got, by then, 11 to 16 mpg in the hideous days of $1.30 a gallon gasoline), I decided to buy my first car, a 1988 Chevy Beretta. That car replaced the repair-bill experience with the car-payment and repair-bill experience. (Apparently “Beretta” is the Italian synonym for “Malibu.”)

After two years, thanks to the marvel of 2.9-percent financing, I bought my first new car …

… a 1991 Ford Escort GT, a car that, as you see, had its own special catalog. Which is how I noticed the car in the first place, because of the Cayman Green Metallic paint. (That was at a dealership that was so uninterested in selling me a car that I bought it from another Ford dealer.)

The Escort lasted seven years and 127,000 miles, but we needed more room and the car was starting to fall apart, so it was replaced by …

… a 1998 Subaru Outback, on which we put 228,000 miles.

Car catalogs showed off the vehicle in perfect condition, unmaligned by such realities of life as dirty rain, bird droppings, road salt, or leaks of brown (oil), red (transmission fluid), green (antifreeze) or whatever else. In fact, creative art designers would make the car look better in print — catalogs or print ads …

… than it existed even in showroom condition.

Car catalogs also showed the drivers and passengers just short of ecstatic about their ownership experience, which is a damned lie based on the reliability of cars of the ’70s and ’80s.

Not to mention, obviously, comfortably well off. These are classic examples of the mastery theme of advertising I learned in journalism class in high school — buy this car, and your life will be so much better.

(The corollary to car catalogs, by the way, was owner’s manuals, which I would borrow and read more religiously than the car owners. But that is a subject for another week.)

For whatever reason, car dealers let me waltz in and grab what I wanted, even when I was all of 10 years old. I was even able to grab catalogs for vehicles I was unlikely to drive at any point, let alone when I reached driving age. For instance …

(Actually, I have driven trucks this size. Moving trucks. Based on past experience, I suggest the biggest International moving truck you can legally drive. The International DT466 diesel moves the truck surprisingly well, in sharp contrast to the similar Isuzu diesel, which is a dog.)

As I was writing this it occurred to me that my best friend growing up was the son of a salesman of International trucks, back when International sold pickup trucks and four-wheel-drive Scouts and Travelalls.

He never gave me one of these, though.

No discussion of car catalogs that involves me would be complete without, of course …

… the Corvette, whose catalogs I was able to get even though the car dealers from which I got these catalogs probably sold zero of them. It was, I believe, with the introduction of the C4 Corvette that Chevy dealers started charging for Corvette catalogs — $6 sticks in my mind for some reason. So I stopped getting them up until I got into the business magazine world, where I discovered that the car manufacturers would send you catalogs by request, including of the Corvette. I also got, even better, press kits, including the breathtaking announcement of the newest Chevy Impala and its revolutionary new design feature … an ignition switch on the dashboard, last seen in 1968.

Car dealers still have car catalogs, though more information — including the opportunity to order what you want, and have the dealer find one, and a sales representative contact you — is available online. When I go to the Iola Old Car Show, I still look at the old catalogs, though, and I even own a couple, including:

Change ≠ progress, automotive division

The Wall Street Journal reports on a nefarious development for gearheads:

Do you own the car you’ve bought and paid for? Not really, not all of it. At least that’s what auto makers are asserting to the U.S. Copyright Office.

Tinkerers, aftermarket repair shops and copyright activists are lobbying for an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 to guarantee car owners the right to alter the software in their vehicles. Dozens of “electronic control units” in modern cars regulate emissions, steering and other aspects of automotive performance.

The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Automobile Association — speaking for car owners — back the exemption, as do security researchers who want to probe auto software for vulnerabilities. Ford, GM, Toyota and other major car makers are adamantly opposed. Their argument is that a car buyer merely licenses that software code from the auto maker and cannot break the security measures walling it off without violating copyright law.

This claim could end the American pastime of tinkering under the hood. But the precedent will reach beyond the auto shop, particularly as more everyday products begin to include software code. Futurists talk of an “Internet of things,” a world in which everything from your thermostat to refrigerator is run in part by networked electronics.

The auto makers’ claim might at first seem reasonable. They contend that third-party mechanics must use manufacturer-approved diagnostic equipment to analyze problems, and that fixes must stay within manufacturer-approved limits. Giving car owners freedom to change the code, they say, would further devalue their intellectual property, as defined by the DMCA. It could also undermine road safety and emissions standards. A malevolent tinkerer could alter a car’s braking code to make the car uncontrollable. Hackers could use networked systems — GM’s OnStar, for instance, lets the company unlock doors remotely or slow down cars reported stolen—to cause mayhem on roadways.

But this argument assumes that code is more secure when it is tightly held, a notion sometimes described as “security by obscurity.” The truth is the opposite: When systems are closed, through copyright or other means, they become less secure.

Does anyone think a hacker would stop breaking into car software for fear of copyright infringement? The only people who would obey these laws are aboveboard professional and amateur tinkerers. That means consumers would have to trust that car makers and their consultants will be able to identify and fix every potential code issue.

Better to allow many outside experts and tinkerers to study the software. Some companies even encourage this by offering prizes, cash bounties for reported bugs. Two years ago a British security researcher won $100,000 from Microsoft for finding a major flaw in the Windows operating system that had not yet been exploited by hackers.

The argument that letting people fiddle with their cars compromises safety also goes against history: Since the Model T, gear heads have switched out tires and suspension systems, adding turbochargers and other performance boosters. One reason that some states mandate regular vehicle inspections is to ensure that this doesn’t get out of hand. Car makers have never complained about these “mods” in the past, and in any case there wasn’t much they could do. The rise of new copyright laws, however, has given them additional leverage.

Aftermarket parts-and-tuning is a $35 billion industry, according to Derive Systems, a car-software company that opposes the auto companies on software tinkering. Derive estimates that 60% or more of aftermarket mods require software tuning. Powertrains are now so carefully calibrated that even adding bigger tires might require a software tweak.

Derive Systems says it has completed more than 1.3 million code modifications since 2003 without a single known related accident. One particularly innocuous modification involves changing how a vehicle consumes fuel while idling. Taxis, for example, tend to idle more than other cars. Derive can change the software settings to improve fuel efficiency in idling taxi fleets by as much as 30%. Under the car makers’ interpretation of copyright law, that would be illegal.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that auto makers are engaging in “copyright creep.” The DMCA, they argue, was designed to protect creative works, such as recorded songs, not software code in automobiles.

When the Copyright Office makes its recommendations, expected this fall — the Librarian of Congress makes the final decision — it should consider the precedent it would set. Do you want to be told someday that you or a repairman can’t modify your refrigerator or thermostat to improve its performance or keep it running? In a world in which every device may someday include software, it is essential to preserve the right to tinker.

Then there’s this, from My Classic Garage:

A new day might be donning in America for the classic car market. Currently in Congress in a bill poised to allow Auto Manufacturers reproduction on classic car under new government specs. H.R. 2675, as it’s labelled, has some big implication for both sides of the table. It would give more people to experience of driving and owning classic cars, but there is a serious potential to hurt business for certain companies.

The Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2105 officially says:

“To direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to establish a program allowing low volume motor vehicle manufacturers to produce a limited number of vehicles annually within a regulatory system that addresses the unique safety and financial issues associated with limited production, and to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to allow low volume motor vehicle manufacturers to install engines from vehicles that have been issued certificates of conformity.”

It goes into more detail about how each manufacturer would be allowed to produce up to 500 of these ‘limited vehicles.’ Even more detail is given stating that the car must be drawn from a pool of vehicles that qualify as ‘classic’ which is 25 years and older.

This is has a few people buzzing around the internet. Some of our friends are tickled at the thought of seeing a first generation challenger with all modern equipment, or even better, a Daytona powered by the Hellcat drive train. Just the thought itself makes us a little giggly because that would just be freaking awesome! But flip that coin over and there a few who worry this will kill the Classic Market.

If more cars are pumped into production will they decrease the value of current ‘originals?’ It’s an argument that some say has more bad implications than good intention. The all original Mustang someone has been holding onto as their retirement fund just got a lot more affordable to everyone else. The premium goes down, and suddenly the market crashes.

Obviously, Market crash is a bit extreme, I’ll admit I am playing on fear there, but I also think something like this could negatively affect businesses. Auction houses such as Barrett-Jackson, Leake, and specialty shops around the country are suddenly competing with manufacturers for market space. It’s like going from Mom and Pop Hardware to the brand new Home Depot next door. There will always be nostalgic value, but if you can save more at the Home Depot why spend more?

Either way this coin gets flipped there are benefits and deficits, but at the end of the day it would be great to see more people behind the wheel of cool cars.

Essentially this sounds an attempt by carmakers to do their own restomods. Your position on whether this would negatively affect classic car values depends on whether you own one, I imagine, similar to your opinion about home values where you live.

The Corvette industry

Facebook has two groups with the same initials focusing on my favorite car, the Corvette. (One of which — the car, not the Facebook group — again did not show up in my driveway on my birthday, or Father’s Day, and most likely will not show up on Tuesday, National Corvette Day, commemorating the first day of Corvette production June 30, 1953.)

One group is the National Corvette Restorers Society, dedicated to, as you can imagine, restoring Corvettes to their showroom original condition.

The other takes those initials and does something different — the Not Correctly Restored Society, whose administrator says is about “the kind that really pisses off the purists that think all Vettes should remain stock and as they left the factory.” Such as …

In the days when you could actually modify your car, Corvettes may have been the most modified car of all. Sidepipes and new wheels are a relatively minor pair of mods. The editor or publisher (I forget which) of Car Craft magazine once featured his ’68 Vette convertible, which was so modified with a different front end, body (wider to accommodate much wider wheels and tires) and back end that you could not tell it was a ’68. And it was banana yellow.

Photo by Stefen Winchester/21 East Photography

I’m pretty sure that shade of red never came from the St. Louis factory. (Or from Bowling Green, where Corvettes are now built.) Nor the wheels, which I would not put on any car. Apparently some people don’t grasp that metals are heavier than rubber, and therefore the bigger the wheel the heavier the car. And we won’t even bring up what that does to suspension parts. But it’s not my car, and not my repair bills.

The ultimate modified car is a race car built from a stock car. Suffice to say this didn’t come from the factory looking like this, including the color; I believe orange wasn’t available until the C3 generation.

Body and paint is one thing. Engine work is another. This car came from an era in which Corvettes could be ordered with up to 465 gross horsepower. (Horsepower is now measured as net, with engine-driven accessories included; in those days net was usually 100 horsepower less than gross.) Apparently the owner channeled his inner Tim Allen and decided it needed MORE POWER!

See previous comments about engine, wheels and non-stock paint. (Though I like green, I’m not sure I’d choose this green. I’m more of a Fathom or Polo Green — that is, dark green — guy myself.)

One reason to own a Corvette is the easy ability to find replacement parts — to replace or upgrade original parts — from places like Mid America Motorworks. This is a C5, built between 1997 and 2004. Generally, the newer the Corvette, the less likely it seems to be modded. I don’t think I’ve seen a C5 that looks like this, with the body mods and non-stock hood.

This is more like it to some, but if you look at the lower right you can probably tell it too is not stock. I have limited experience in C2s, which I gather have a more normal driving position than Corvettes since then. The hidden headlights are, to me, required to be a Vette. The downside of the C2, I guess, is the lack of T-top or targa top found on the C3 and succeeding Corvettes, which give you fresh air when you want it and not when you don’t.

Note the sidepipes as well. I can’t speak from experience, but I think they are in a dangerous position for someone getting out of the car. Their position also would seem to make the car much louder than exhaust pipes out the back.

This owner appears to have removed the tailgate to create a Corvette El Camino. The paint is cool, but the rest counts as, to quote the late Paul Harvey, Just What, Not Why.

You would think having the engine stick up that much it wouldbe impossible to see to drive. The photo does that somewhat since it’s from the front, not the driving position, and angled to  \make the engine look bigger. This engine is supercharged (see previous Tim Allen quote), and the car appears set up for drag racing. If you have to ask the fuel economy, you can’t afford the fuel.

This, of course, is all a matter of personal taste. I cannot understand why someone would put Lamborghini-style scissor doors on any car. And you already read my thoughts about 20-plus-inch wheels. I wouldn’t be obsessed with resale value for reasons I’ll get to at the finish line, but some mods are difficult at best to undo.

I am not opposed to mods that improve the drivability of the car, though. Some Corvettes didn’t have much horsepower (as little as 180 in the late ’70s). Others had unacceptably (by today’s standards) narrow tires and wheels, and insufficient brakes. The seats in earlier Vettes wouldn’t do a good job keeping the driver in place. Most Corvettes before late in the C3 generation didn’t have air conditioning, and factory radios are not of the quality you can get from the aftermarket. And I would not own a C4 without a replacement for the hideously bizarre instrument cluster.

Part of my rationale also is the obvious (to me, anyway) dictum that Corvettes should be driven. I would not want to own a Corvette, or any collector car, that was restored or built so perfectly that I would be afraid of driving it for marring its appearance or diminishing its resale value.

It’s about time

The National Motorists Association is happy, because …

Thanks to the efforts of many citizens and public officials, Wisconsin’s maximum speed limit will soon be raised to 70 mph. The new limit will apply to select stretches of interstate highways and freeways throughout the state.

The NMA has supported the increase ever since Manitowoc Assemblyman Paul Tittl took up the fight for higher speed limits two years ago. Rep. Tittl’s initial bill failed to clear the Senate Transportation Committee in 2013. But Rep. Tittl did not give up and proposed a simplified bill this year while redoubling his efforts to garner support. NMA representatives also testified in favor of higher speed limits at four public hearings over the last two legislative terms.

The speed limit increase in Wisconsin is long overdue. All of our neighboring states went to 70 mph years ago, and Wisconsin and Oregon are the only states west of New York with 65 mph maximum speed limits.

But that will change tomorrow when Gov. Walker signs the new speed limit into law.

This was emailed yesterday, which means “tomorrow” is today, although it’s more like as soon as the 70 mph signs go up along Interstates and elsewhere. I guarantee you that Gov. James Doyle or wannabee governors Tom Barrett or Mary Burke would have never signed a speed-limit increase into law.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to all four-lane highways. U.S. 151 from the Wisconsin-Iowa state line to Fond du Lac won’t go to 70 because of the at-grade intersections, the result of farm machinery traveling the same highways as those trying to get, or deliver, from one place to another.

I also think 70 mph is too slow, though 70 is better than 65, and 65 is better than the stupid 55-mph speed limit on non-four-lane highways. (The 55-mph national speed limit should have gotten Richard Nixon impeached before Watergate.)

I support higher speed limits because speed limits usually are set too low under traffic engineers’ 85th-percentile rule, the speed at which 85 percent of traffic on a highway travels. They are also set too low as the result of certain politicians’ desire for more money, whether by hook (taxes) or crook (fees, fines, etc.). Speed limits are analogous to ticketing a driver for blood alcohol concentration higher than legal levels instead of ticketing a driver for drunk driving based on his wandering all over the road and being a danger to other drivers.

There is, you see, only one truly, provably nonrenewable resource: time.


The sweetest sounds

Legendary Speed Shop passes on Nitto Tire’s video:

As you know, one of my weird interests is car starter sounds. A car’s starter motor (assuming it successfully starts the car) is a promise of a trip to a destination, the expression of transportation freedom found in no other mode of transportation.

The ultimate starter sound still is probably Brutus …

… powered by a BMW 48-liter V-12 engine which perfectly embodies the phrase “exploded into life.” Although Rolls–Royce might have a contrary argument:



The infrastructure deficit, and how to fix it

State Sen. Frank Lasee (R–De Pere):

The debate over Wisconsin Prevailing Wage law is reaching a fevered pitch. Many are still unclear about what prevailing wage is and how repealing it will save taxpayers millions and help local and state government reduce their building costs for years to come.

Prevailing wage is a mandatory, government-set price for wages on taxpayer funded projects based on the average of the highest paid workers doing the same type of work in that county (that’s right, when a road project crosses a county line the workers all have to paid a different rate for the work they do on each side of the county line). Prevailing wage artificially inflates the cost of construction by setting wages higher than other free market rates for the same work. Whenever government bureaucracy gets in the way of business, experience has shown us that it becomes less efficient and more costly.

The current prevailing wage law costs taxpayers and small businesses more in two different ways:

First, is the increased costs to taxpayers. The artificially high wages drive up the cost of public projects like school buildings, roads, and work on government buildings. Since the price is fixed at the highest union wage in the area, there are no bargains in the competitive bid process like there are on private sector projects that drive down prices. This lack of competition and government-set wages and benefits higher than private sector building projects results in higher costs for projects which use our tax dollars.

Second, the way the system is set up is confusing, complicated, and difficult for business and contractors doing the work. As I have talked with constituents who own contracting or trucking businesses, they always tell me that calculating prevailing wage is an “accounting nightmare”.

Here’s a story that illustrates how overlapping prevailing wage boundaries and rates makes work less efficient and more costly.

Imagine you’re at the grocery store buying milk. You get your gallon, make your way to the front of the store, but there’s an error message when the milk is scanned. The clerk tells you the price is different depending on how you’re going to use it. You pause because that just doesn’t make sense–it’s the same milk in the jug. How does the price change depending on where I pour it? The clerk asks you how much of the milk you plan to use for cereal. Baking? Mac n’ Cheese? Drinking? You end up paying four different prices for four different uses of milk based on the percentage of use in each category. By now your head is spinning, you’ve been at the register for 10 minutes, and you end up paying more money for the same milk. You leave the store angry and thinking about switching to *gasp* pressed soy drink to avoid the hassle over purchasing milk in the future.

Many Wisconsin contractors go through this same, unnecessary headache when calculating prevailing wage job costs. There is a prevailing wage set by the federal government in Washington, DC, and a county-specific wage rate and a job-specific wage rate. Then there is a state prevailing wage rate, different from the federal rate, for use on projects that don’t have federal tax dollars paying for them. The state and federal rates are different.

Workers on road building projects will often work on more than one project with different rates on the same day, with the multiple prevailing wage rates in the same week. The time worked on each project has to be tracked and the worker has to be paid the right government-set prevailing wage rate.

By eliminating prevailing wage mandates, Wisconsin taxpayers win and save hundreds of millions of dollars because smaller, qualified companies that previously couldn’t or didn’t want to handle the administrative burdens of prevailing wage will be able to bid for taxpayer funded construction projects. As with everything else – from TV’s to toasters – competition drives down costs, increases innovation, and allows our government tax dollars to be more wisely spent. We will get more building for our tax dollars.

Labor costs are the number one component of nearly everything we purchase. Reduce labor costs, and you reduce the costs of what you’re buying, including refurbished roads.

Interstate 41

I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus,
Rollin’ down Interstate 41 …

OK, the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” doesn’t particularly fit here. (For one thing, the narrator is the son of a Georgia gambler who wound up on the wrong end of a gun; nevertheless them Delta women thought the world of him.) It does, however, commemorate the news Gov. Scott Walker’s office released Thursday:

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced today that U.S. 41 in the eastern part of the state has been officially added to the Interstate System as I-41.

“The Interstate designation is the culmination of years of hard work by federal, state, and local officials that will stimulate economic opportunities from Milwaukee to Green Bay and beyond,” Governor Walker said. “Our Interstate system is a critical part of our infrastructure, which fuels commerce, helps grow the economy, and create jobs.”

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officially approved the Interstate designation – the final step in a process that began nearly 10 years ago.  Installation of about 3,000 new signs will begin this summer with signing expected to be completed by November 2015.

“The official designation of I-41 is tremendous news that will support the safe, efficient movement of people and commerce for many years to come,” said Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.  “Along with Governor Walker’s leadership, I want to thank former Congressman Tom Petri, our current Congressional delegation, state legislators, local government officials, and community leaders who helped make I-41 a reality.

Wisconsin’s newest Interstate route runs concurrently with US 41 for the entire route.  I-41 begins at the I-94/US 41 interchange located about one mile south of the Wisconsin/Illinois border.  It follows I-94 north to the Mitchell Interchange, I-894 and US 45 around Milwaukee and then joins US 41 north to Green Bay where it ends at the I-43 Interchange.

Existing US 41 in the Milwaukee area will be re-routed to follow I-41 along I-894 and US 45.  Current US 41 along Lisbon Avenue and Appleton Avenue from I-94 at the Stadium Interchange northwesterly to the interchange with US 45 will be re-numbered WIS 175.

Got all that?

This was one of the issues I watched in my previous life as a business magazine editor. The great (though apparently not currently updated) Wisconsin Highways website brings some history of Wisconsin’s efforts at Interstates from the state Department of Transportation:

The State Highway Engineer, in 1945, submitted tentative route designations that included the currently used I-94 in southeast Wisconsin plus the Highway 18 zone between Madison-Prairie du Chien; Highway 51 northerly from the present Interstate toward Hurley; Hwy. 53 between Eau Claire-Superior; a route between Milwaukee-Green Bay; and an east-west loop between Green Bay-Eau Claire where it would have linked with the present I-94.

The first Washington response was to substitute Tomah-La Crosse for Madison-Prairie du Chien. Other responses followed.

In the meantime, the Turnpike Commission, established by Wisconsin Laws of 1953, was looking over the situation.

Wisconsin had anticipated the Interstate, in a way, with studies of a possible toll road-turnpike. Consulting engineers from Baltimore, Md., and New York City in 1954 submitted, respectively, a preliminary engineering statement and traffic-revenue study.

The latter concluded that a toll road between Hudson and Hwy. 41, the Hwy. 29 loop, would be “cost beneficial” for motorists and profitable for the state.

The Maryland consultant’s study looked at routes in the present I-90/94 corridor, except Tomah-La Crosse, along with a loop between Madison-Wisconsin Dells through Sauk City and another connecting Hwy. 41 near Kenosha through Burlington and Fort Atkinson to Madison. This study inferred that parallel routes might reduce potential tolls and lead to unprofitability.

In June 1955, the Turnpike Commission reported to the Legislature that the Illinois-Wisconsin corridor was not feasible at the time and recommended delay “until future developments can be fully appraised.”

Another toll road study was conducted at the State Legislature’s request in 1982. Both a cursory Departmental analysis and a consultant’s subsequent assessment reached negative conclusions.7
Meanwhile, Washington-Madison negotiations continued. In 1955, assuming that there would be 2,400 miles of urban additions to the Interstate system, the Commission asked for four more sections in the city of Milwaukee. This included a loop around the central district, Howard Avenue-South 44th Street, a 2.3 mile extension toward Glendale, and a 7.3 mile extension toward Hwy. 100.

Letter exchanges continued in 1956 with requests for extensions into Madison, La Crosse, and Eau Claire—all denied.

Other decisions came in December. Washington denied the state’s request for a route between Genoa City-Beloit, opting instead for Madison-Janesville-Beloit. A Milwaukee-Green Bay (Hwy. 41) route was approved, but the state failed to get plans completed in time to meet a deadline and the effort failed, according to G. H. Bakke, a legislator at the time.

The Commission made another try in March 1958 for additional mileage between Marinette-Milwaukee. This was denied is less than a month.

In February 1963, a request was submitted for a route between Milwaukee and Superior by way of Green Bay, Wausau, Hurley and Ashland. The additions, the covering letter said, could be done in “increments, if necessary: Milwaukee-Green Bay, Green Bay urban extension, Green Bay-Wausau, Wausau-Superior.” Except for Milwaukee-Green Bay [in 1972] this, too, was denied.

Nearly a decade later, still another try was made. In separate booklets, emphasizing necessary connections, the Department of Transportation asked for approval of Interstates between Milwaukee-Beloit and Milwaukee-Janesville; for connections again via Hwys. 52[sic] and 53 to the northlands, for the east-west (Hwy. 29) freeway, for extensions southerly in the Milwaukee area, for Green Bay-Milwaukee, and the Airport Spur.

The Green Bay-Milwaukee (now I-43), the Lake Freeway (I-794), and Airport Spur extensions were subsequently approved. From what had been some 480 miles of Interstate, the Wisconsin system became 578 miles.

Immediately ahead lay controversy about the location and numbering of the Milwaukee-Green Bay route. The first proposal was a Hwy. 57 corridor about midway between Hwy. 141 along Lake Michigan on the east and Hwy. 41 through the Fox Valley to the west. The ultimate compromise was to use most of existing Hwy. 141 between Milwaukee-Sheboygan, then to angle mostly on new location between Sheboygan-Green Bay, and to call it I-43.

The final Wisconsin Interstate project was authorized in 1985 in the form of an I-43 ramp connection in Sheboygan.

In a concluding word about the Interstate discussion to this point, state statistics supported claims for more corridors. As a two percent state (population, vehicles, other common indicators) but with only a shade over one percent of the national Interstate mileage, Wisconsin authorities felt deprived.

They also felt Wisconsin met all of the criteria for Interstate corridors: serving national defense; integrating the national system by filling missing links; assisting industrial, recreational and commercial movement, and “providing direct access to, for, and from rural and urban areas.”

Apparently, being tucked away from major east-west and north-south routings, perhaps lacking enough aggressiveness, and being out of federal political favor at the wrong times, were handicaps too great to be overcome by logic.

At the same time, there was evidence of limited foresight and apathy, according to Bakke.

Bakke added that lack of state vision and local enthusiasm—especially in Madison—also contributed to the shortchanging of the state. He noted the Turnpike Commission estimated Beloit-Madison traffic would reach 4,000 by 1980. In reality, it was 16,000-plus.

(As I wrote here Saturday: Government incompetence is not a recent development.)

It is interesting to note that of the original proposed list of Interstates, the only one that didn’t become an Interstate was the Madison-to-Prairie du Chien route. There apparently also was a proposal at some point to make what now is U.S. 14 from La Crosse to Madison a freeway instead of the route that became Interstate 90 to Tomah. That would have eliminated the instant bottleneck that I-90/94 from Tomah to Madison became (particularly when you got to the Dells, thanks to Tommy Bartlett and his successors), and it certainly would have been an economic shot in the arm to southwest Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Highways also has an exhaustive history of 41 dating back to when it went through downtown Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Appleton and Green Bay, beginning with:

While the State of Wisconsin is home to several US Highways and four Interstates, US-41 has always seemed to outshine them all for some reason. From its inception, it has not only served the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, but also serves or connects more of the state’s other large cities together than any other primary route. From Racine and Kenosha south of Milwaukee to Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Appleton and the rest of the Fox Cities up to Green Bay and Marinette on the Michigan state line. US-41 was also the first highway to see major upgrades and realignments, even before the Interstate highway system was a glint in someone’s eye.

I look at 41 as the highway that builds things too. Go from Fond du Lac to Green Bay, and you find Mercury Marine, Oshkosh Corp., a huge number of other manufacturers, and major paper operations.

State transportation officials hoped that what now is I-41 could become an extension of Interstate 55, which runs from Chicago to New Orleans. WisDOT’s Illinois counterparts were uninterested. Other numbers then were considered, but it’s a good thing, absent extending I-55, that it will be known as I-41, even though it follows U.S. 41 and part of U.S. 45 along the way. It would be nice to extend I-41 to the Wisconsin/Michigan state line, but that would require the state of Michigan to care at all about its Upper Peninsula. (North of I-43 U.S. 41 is now four lanes into Marinette, but 41 is two lanes once you get into Michigan. The only Upper Peninsula Interstate is I-75 from the adventure that is the Mackinac Bridge up to Sault Ste. Marie.)

I last drove 41 a month ago when I got to cover the state girls basketball tournament. I am a little surprised the state is putting up Interstate shields; I thought WisDOT would just put up green flags, given that if you’re going the speed limit, you’re going to get passed.

One interesting fact about I-41 is that as an Interstate it is now subject to the Highway Beautification Act. All the billboards you see along 41 will be the only billboards you see on 41, because said Highway Beautification Act prohibits new or expanded billboards along Interstates. Given that it seems like half the state’s billboards are along 41, well, what you see is what you will get.

Interstate 41 is an example of one of the few actually worthwhile big-ticket government spending projects, because (1) Interstates get goods from manufacturer to seller, and (2) Interstates are the best current example of transportation freedom, where you go where you want to go when you want to go, unlike airplanes, trains or buses.

I-41 also is an example that political clout matters. The credit for pushing I-41 where it counts, since Interstates are federal highways, goes to former U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-Fond du Lac), who was in his third decade in Congress when he was able to successfully get the Interstate designation through Congress. Petri represented Wisconsin much better than the two U.S. senators who claimed to be representing Wisconsin but weren’t in the 1990s and 2000s, Herb “Nobody’s Senator But” Kohl and Rusty the Phony Maverick Feingold. Neither did one thing to promote 41 as an Interstate. Petri did, and Republicans thanked him by hounding him out of office.

At any rate, Interstate 41 is important for Wisconsin for the reasons Walker mentioned and others. Just make sure you keep up with the traffic.


The dead end of an era

There are supposedly no irreplaceable people in the work world.

There are, however, people in the media world who are so identified with their work that they really cannot be replaced. Paul Harvey was one. Heaven help the eventual replacement for the Dodgers’ Vin Scully.

And now there is Jeremy Clarkson, “sacked,” to use the British term, by the BBC (“the Beeb,” as it’s known across the pond) from “Top Gear”:

Jeremy Clarkson’s contract will not be renewed after an “unprovoked physical attack” on a Top Gear producer, the BBC’s director general has confirmed.

Tony Hall said he had “not taken this decision lightly” and recognised it would “divide opinion”.

However, he added “a line has been crossed” and he “cannot condone what has happened on this occasion”.

Clarkson was suspended on 10 March, following what was called a “fracas” with Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon.

The row, which took place in a Yorkshire hotel, was said to have occurred because no hot food was provided following a day’s filming.

An internal investigation began last week, led by Ken MacQuarrie, the director of BBC Scotland.

It found that Mr Tymon took himself to hospital after he was subject to an “unprovoked physical and verbal attack”.

“During the physical attack Oisin Tymon was struck, resulting in swelling and bleeding to his lip.”

It lasted “around 30 seconds and was halted by the intervention of a witness,” Mr MacQuarrie noted in his report.

“The verbal abuse was sustained over a longer period” and “contained the strongest expletives and threats to sack” Mr Tymon, who believed he had lost his job.

Mr Tymon did not file a formal complaint and it is understood Clarkson reported himself to BBC bosses following the incident.

After that, the BBC’s director of television, Danny Cohen, felt he had no choice but to suspend the presenter pending an investigation. …

Jeremy Clarkson took a slightly dull and failing car programme and turned it in to the biggest factual TV show in the world.

But this sacking has nothing to do with style, opinions, popularity – or even his language on the show.

It’s about what stars are allowed to get away with off screen, a topic that’s been top of the agenda for the BBC in recent months.

The corporation has had to overhaul all of its policies and attitudes towards bullying and harassment, and a long verbal tirade and a physical assault would have crossed the line for any member of staff.

Clarkson may be popular with the audience, and the BBC really did not want to lose him, but this was a star who admitted he was on his final warning and a corporation that was under intense scrutiny over what its top talent can and cannot get away with.

Top Gear, which is one of BBC Two’s most popular programmes, will continue without Clarkson, who will now become the subject of a bidding war by other broadcasters.

The magazine show is one of the BBC’s biggest properties, with overseas sales worth an estimated £50m a year for the corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. …

Whether Clarkson’s co-presenters James May and Richard Hammond will remain on the show has yet to be confirmed.

All three had their contracts up for renewal this year, with Clarkson’s due to expire at the end of March.

Hammond tweeted: “Gutted at such a sad end to an era. We’re all three of us idiots in our different ways but it’s been an incredible ride together.”

May also updated his Twitter profile to say: “Former TV presenter”.

This is most likely the end of the original Top Gear as we know it. (Though Clarkson and his colleagues may well end up on another British channel on another show, as a Facebook friend predicted Wednesday.)

The considerable irony here is that had Clarkson been an American media figure he probably would not have been fired. We Americans are the supposed prudes, and yet for decades people in the entertainment world have gotten away with actions far worse than this (see Polanski, Roman) and maintained their jobs. Notice that after “misremembering” his exploits in Iraq NBC hasn’t fired Brian Williams … yet. Keith Olbermann is, to use the name of one of his segments, apparently The Worst Person in the World to work with, and yet he moves from one employer to another.

On the other hand, some of the things Clarkson has said over the years probably would have gotten him fired here. Clarkson fits the British definition of “politically incorrect,” and once called former British prime minister Gordon Brown … a term that will certainly not be reprinted here. (No, it doesn’t start with the letter F. It’s worse.) That’s a bit ironic given that the U.S. has the First Amendment and Britain has no counterpart, but on this side of the Atlantic free speech is not unlimited, particularly when it offends the chronically offended.

Facebook Friend Larry L. Tebo compares Clarkson with the great American car writers:

Love him or otherwise, Jeremy Clarkson stands apart from every other living automotive journalist simply due to the fact that he has so much STYLE. I’ve loved great automotive journalists since I was a boy first reading Ken Purdy’s prose and even the pedestrian-but-informative output of Floyd Clymer. I loved Brock Yates gonzo style and incisiveness, and David E. Davis’ intelligence, wit, and again…..STYLE led an entire generation of car guys to the promised land of “no boring cars”, and indeed, no boring stories. Charles Fox wrote about cars with a feeling of beauty in his words. Jean Shepherd wrote about everything, but when he wrote about automobiles, as he did for quite some time as a monthly columnist in Car and Driver, he brought the human spirit of warmth along with his incomparable humor to the subject, making cars much more than just machines. That’s what all these writers did with cars, and that is what makes them so special. Clarkson is almost like a distillation of all of these greats, IMO, into one very cranky, very funny, very irritating, yet a very ingratiating person who commands attention because he is so damned GOOD at what he does.

Why is Clarkson so important in the car world? Jalopnik explains:

The third biggest loser in this sad saga of Top Gear is the wider car media, and the business that surrounds it. Of course the first is the vast fan base that has followed the show for many years. The second, assuming the brand struggles to survive, is the team who work on it – and I can’t imagine how they feel right now. But sitting here it strikes me that so many people also engaged in this business of writing or making films about cars haven’t stopped to understand just what Top Gear did for all us ordinary folk. Nor what it did for the car industry in general.

Top Gear has acted like some vast, entirely free marketing service for all of us. I have always viewed it as the primary sales funnel for my videos, and the analytics support the theory: 350 million people watch the three boys doing their thing on a Sunday night and a very small percentage think they might want to know a bit more about the car featured that week, and so they type the car’s name into YouTube and they might just happen across one of our low-budget productions. A very small percentage of 350 million is still a very large number.

I’m like that little, nagging fish constantly nibbling a whale shark’s barnacles. I’m a TG parasite, and it’s worked bloody well for me up to now.

More importantly Jeremy, James and Richard have not just maintained the public’s love affair with the motor car, they’ve grown it – a feat I’d have thought impossible ten years ago in the face of political and environmental pressures. The conventional car print media – the one I have always been a part of – has failed in many ways with dwindling circulations and diminished influence, but its biggest crime is a total failure to connect with a younger audience. Thankfully for all of us, Top Gear’s role as compulsory Sunday night family viewing has excited a whole new generation of youngsters to not only be interested in cars, but to love cars. And for that I think it has already shaped the car industry as we currently know it, and how it will be in the future.

I suspect Clarkson and his colleagues will reappear elsewhere. Clarkson is the indispensable man of “Top Gear.” (The lack of him is why the U.S. “Top Gear” is severely lacking.)