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.

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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.

14566438_1119303324827410_2926711073440063255_o
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.

Engines as God intended them

My new Road & Track magazine included Jack Baruth‘s paean to the best non-nuclear power source man ever invented, which requires multimedia additions:

It starts with the sound. You can’t mistake a V8 at wide-open throttle for anything else, and once that sound gets into you, nothing else will satisfy. The internal-combustion engine offers a veritable symphony of exhaust notes, from the boxer blat of a flat-six to what is often called the “ripping canvas” sound of a V12, but the bent-eight is the violin of the orchestra, the concertmaster’s choice. It is simultaneously exotic and democratic, appearing in quarter-million-dollar supercars and everyday work trucks. You hear its song in the Lotus 49 and the Ford Crown Victoria. The V8 logo has proudly adorned the fenders of Ford Mustangs and AMG-powered Mercedes-Benzes. It is the archetypal American performance engine, but it was also the logical choice for the first Lexus LS 400. Some people say it is the only engine that matters. …

Henry Ford didn’t invent the V8, but he made it available and accessible. In 1932, Ford put a “flathead” V8 in his Model 18 after a short, troubled, and somewhat incomplete design and development process. The flathead design, which placed the exhaust and intake valves in the block next to the cylinder instead of above it, was already old tech at the time. At 65 hp, the flathead’s output was more than 50 percent higher than the four-cylinder in the Model A but wasn’t significantly more powerful than Chevrolet’s inline-six.

Ford’s advantage was curb weight. The Model 18 was a couple hundred pounds lighter than the competition, making it perhaps the first American muscle car. The price was right, too: $460 for the roadster. The flathead wasn’t without teething problems in early production, but nobody seemed to care. Production barely kept up with demand. And just like that, the V8 established itself—in the United States, anyway.

Strictly speaking, the notion of connecting two inline-four engines to make an eight-cylinder wasn’t even an American idea; French engineer Léon Levavasseur filed the first patent for a V8 in 1902, and in 1905, Henry Royce designed one for the Legalimit, a model so named because its engine—powerful enough to go 26 mph—was governed not to exceed the 20-mph British restriction of the time. As with pizza and swiss cheese, however, the new world lost little time in adopting the idea for its own purposes. In 1914, Cadillac became the first automaker to put the V8 into volume production, capturing the imagination of the American public and setting the stage for Ford to democratize the concept 18 short years later. …

American V8s sound different from European V8s …

After the war, a new generation of overhead-valve V8s appeared from the likes of Oldsmobile, Buick, Studebaker, and Cadillac, but those marques all carried a significant price premium. Chevrolet, Ford’s most frequent antagonist for the annual-sales crown, didn’t offer a modern V8 until 1955. To put it mildly, it was worth the wait.

Ed Cole, Chevrolet’s newly promoted chief engineer on the project, had ambitious goals for what came to be known as the “Mighty Mouse” engine. His personal motto was “Kick the hell out of the status quo,” and the Chevrolet small-block did just that. It weighed less than the Blue Flame inline-six that preceded it but made considerably more power. Just as important, it was designed to be capable of growing from its original displacement of 265 cubic inches (4.3 liters) all the way to 428 cubic inches (7.0 liters) in the 2000s. It was an overhead-valve design, with two valves per cylinder operated by a single cam nestled in the vee of its cast-iron block, and it benefited from every innovation, and every lesson, that General Motors had learned during the design and production of its upscale siblings.

Cole’s small-block V8 should be considered one of mankind’s greatest inventions in any area given that the basic design — with aluminum replacing iron, fuel injection replacing carburetors, computer controls and pollution-reduction equipment — is still being used today, even in non-GM cars. (For instance, a ’30s Ford I saw at a car show last weekend.)

Ford had actually beaten Chevrolet to market with its Y-block overhead-valve V8, but it was quickly apparent that it couldn’t cut the mustard against Cole’s brilliant effort. The Y-block’s replacement, the 1961 Windsor V8, made a much better case for itself, particularly in the new Mustang that appeared three years later. In the decades to come, the small-block Ford V8 would become synonymous with the Mustang brand, from the original Shelby GT350 to the Boss 302 all the way to the infamous “five-point-oh” Mustangs of the Eighties and Nineties.

By 1963, every major American manufacturer had at least one modern V8 design, with some fielding both a small-block for general-purpose use and a big-block for full-size cars and trucks. Most of these engines, like the small-block Chevrolet, were designed with considerable room between the cylinder bores to accommodate increases in displacement. When John Z. DeLorean found a way to circumvent an internal GM policy limiting cars to 10 pounds per cubic inch, the result was the 389-cubic-inch 1964 Pontiac GTO and the beginning of the muscle-car era. …

Perhaps the most interesting overseas V8, however, was one with American origins. In 1960, Buick released a small, light, all-aluminum V8 engine for use in compact and mid-size cars. It wasn’t a big hit, so the company decided to cancel the program. A few enterprising fellows at U.K. automaker Rover convinced GM to sell them the tooling. In 1967, the Rover V8 made its debut in the P5B luxury sedan; three years later, it was used as the power unit in a brand-new off-road vehicle called, simply, Range Rover. The Rover V8 became the engine of choice for a variety of English small-batch sports-car manufacturers, including Morgan, TVR, and even MG, in its MGB GT V8 coupe from 1973 to 1976.

The V8, then, is a global superstar. But what makes it so good, so desirable, so widely adopted for both street and competition cars? There are several answers to that question. The first is that the V8, in its traditional overhead-valve, 90-degree bank-angle form, tends to be light, compact, simple, and smooth. It’s light because the block is considerably smaller than the block of an equivalent inline engine. It’s compact because it is the same length as an inline-four of half the displacement, without being twice as wide. It’s simple because it has a single short camshaft to serve eight cylinders and 16 valves. And it’s smooth because most V8s have a 90-degree crankshaft that balances the firing order, reduces vibration, and spaces out the power pulses.

The 90-degree crankshaft also gives the V8 the unique burble that has threaded its way into the popular consciousness over the past 80 years. It’s the stock soundtrack for every action movie and television show, so much so that Back to the Future used a Porsche 928’s engine noise instead of the actual sound of the DeLorean’s V6. But the V8’s cultural impact goes deeper than an exhaust note. The Beach Boys’ “little deuce coupe with a flathead mill” was “stroked and bored,” and their “409” was, of course, the big-block Chevy engine. Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” is about a race between two V8s—an early Coupe de Ville and a V8 Ford, most likely a flathead since it appears to have that design’s tendency to overheat at high speed.

Nor can you even begin to consider the automobile’s relationship to the silver screen without seeing the outsize star power of the bent-eight. The list includes everything from Mad Max to Vanishing Point to The Blues Brothers. The Bandit’s Trans Am? V8, of course—but you might not know that the Firebirds used in The Rockford Files also had the Pontiac 400 under the hood. Starsky and Hutch had a V8; so did Bo and Luke Duke. Two-Lane Blacktop is the story of a battle between a big-block Chevy-powered ’55 and a 455 Pontiac GTO. Last but not least, there’s that Mustang GT 390 driven by Frank Bullitt, evading a 440 R/T Charger on the hills of San Francisco. It’s about as basic as a Mustang can get, except for the motor—but did you think that Steve McQueen would have been caught dead driving the Thriftpower inline-six that came standard?

As for “Bullitt,” this is what his Mustang actually sounded like …

… and this is when the 390 V-8 was magically replaced by the V-8 from the Ford GT-40 at Le Mans, along with a more-than-four-speed transmission  …

… in the greatest movie car chase scene of all time.

When the fuel crisis of the Seventies hit, the V8 acquired a new name and a new reputation: gas-guzzler. It didn’t help that newly mandated emissions equipment and the unleaded fuel required by the catalytic converter stole a lot of its power and prestige. But even in the darkest days of the energy crisis, when the speed limit was a dismal double-nickel and Jimmy Carter was on television telling us to turn our thermostats down to an equally depressing 55 degrees at night, the romance of the V8 continued. Mad Max drove a V8 Interceptor in 1979’s idea of the future, while the 1982 Corvette still had a 350 small-block. All the V8 needed was some good news on fuel price and maybe a bit of technology to help it reach the next millennium.

Both were forthcoming, leading to a veritable supernova of new V8 designs and new homes for those designs. Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Cadillac, and Lincoln all introduced new 32-valve, overhead-cam V8s. Ford modernized its V8 with the Modular overhead-cam engine, while Chevrolet reengineered the traditional small-block into the LS series. You could get a V8 in everything from the Yamaha-engined, third-gen Ford Taurus SHO to the outrageous BMW Z8. The horsepower wars returned in earnest, and the V8 led the charge. …

The good news is, there are still plenty of brilliant V8s on the market. On the exotic side, there’s the Ferrari 488 GTB and every new McLaren supercar. Affordable V8 choices exist in the form of both pickup trucks and pony cars from Ford, GM, and Chrysler.

Somewhere in the middle, you have the stunning 8250-rpm flat-crank 5.2-liter mill in the Shelby GT350 Mustang; the Corvette Stingray’s stout-hearted, naturally aspirated LT1; and the almighty supercharged 707-horse Hemi from the Dodge Charger and Challenger SRT Hellcats. The latter engine is a testament to what can happen when modern technology is applied to a traditional formula. From its iron block to the single camshaft nestled in the bank between its cylinders, very little about the Hellcat’s basic design would shock the men who designed the 135-hp Oldsmobile Rocket V8 for the 1949 model year, but every aspect of that design has been painstakingly massaged and computer-engineered to a space-age level. …

So although the future might be filled with snail-stuffed small-displacement engines thrashing tunelessly through a CVT or assisted by an electric motor, you can consider us unconvinced. A boosted V6 or inline-four might turn impressive numbers on the dyno or the drag strip, but the bent-eight remains the gold standard of internal-combustion engines. It sounds right. It feels right. And it looks stunning beneath the lifted hood of a Mustang or the glass engine cover of a Ferrari. We’ll continue to cheer, and choose, the V8 as long as we can. Even after the last small-block Chevy or flathead Ford or flat-crank Shelby GT350 is silenced forever. As long as that sound exists, even in our memories, the V8 will continue to be the only engine that matters.

What Would Chicago Drive?

Right on time for Chicago’s appearances in Appleton Saturday, Rockford Monday and Madison Tuesday, Motor Trend interviewed Chicago trumpet player Lee Loughnane:

While Chicago has celebrated 49 years music that has spoken to several generations, and was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lee Loughnane considers his BMW M5 the first real rock-star car he’s ever owned.

“I don’t know if I ever considered myself getting a rock star car, I just got a car to drive around in. I wasn’t going, ‘I’m a rock star, I’m doing this.’ I always felt, ‘I’m a musician and I’m having a great time on the road,’” he says. “And now it’s 50 years later, and I’m going , ‘Oh my God, I still get to do this.’ Now I got a rock-star car with the M5. I definitely consider that a rock-star car.”

He gives his 2008 BMW M5 a perfect 10. “I was looking for a 5 series and there was an M series sitting in the parking lot that was used and for sale. That was after I (drove) the 5 series, it was a 530 or 540,” Loughnane says.

Loughnane test-drove the used 2004 BMW M5 and the salesman suggested taking it up to 70 and then hitting the brakes. “It stopped on a dime, straight as an arrow, there was no swerving at all. I went, ‘Yeah, this is pretty nice,’” he says. “I started driving it around, taking it too fast for particular corners and that sucker would move around the corners with no problem at all. So it really hugged the road nice. It’s a great car. Unbelievable.”

He bought the used 2004 M5 back when he was living in California and that sold him on the model, so four years later Loughnane got a new M5 in 2008. That M5 is his current daily driver.

“I still only have about 40,000 miles on it,” he says , laughing. “This one I’m probably going to drive into the ground, I have what – 200-300,00 miles to go? This one does the same thing however, so I knew that all the M5s were going to be as good,” he says.

He’s planning on keeping this M5 for the long haul but his son has other ideas. “My son wants me to get a new car. He keeps looking at cars on the highway and wants me to get new stuff, and I’m, ‘I’m happy with this, it’s paid off. Come on!’” he says.

The M5 has a nickname. “I call it the Batmobile because it’s so fast off the line. It’s 500 horsepower. It’s fast, it’s like a rocket ship. The biggest problem is I don’t really get to put it through its paces because you can only do 80 miles an hour. I do five miles an hour over the speed limit because I’ve gotten a couple of tickets for doing too much. I’ve had it up to 90, but I don’t want to keep getting tickets, so I don’t do it. But it definitely deserves to be driven and it’s not fair that I can’t put it through its paces. Maybe I should take it down to Bondurant or something when I have some time off,” he says. “We work a lot. And then when I’m home I’m raising my son, taking him back and forth to school and stuff in that car.”

Clearly the M5 is the car that …

I have never driven an M5, but I did drive a 1994 540i with the six-speed once. To say that was nice is a gross understatement, though when a former coworker mentioned the $125 oil changes BMW sells for his 3-series … well, I’ve never had a car whose oil change costs $125.

The story also mentions Loughnane’s first car, first purchased car and favorite drive:

Loughnane grew up in Chicago, where he learned to drive in a 1960 Ford Fairlane 500, “With those big wings in the back, you could you hurt yourself if you ran into those.”

His dad bought it for him for $400 and he passed his driver’s test in it as well. “I was raised in Elmwood Park, city streets. It wasn’t highway driving but there were people going different speeds all at different times, so it was getting used to all that stuff. He didn’t want me borrowing his car anymore. The first night I took it out I got into a fender bender,” he says, with a laugh.

Loughnane drove it to the South Side that night. It was raining and he was too close to the car in front. “He stopped, I hit the brakes, but the brakes weren’t great at the time, we had to get the brakes fixed, and I ran into the guy in front of me,” he says, with a laugh, mimicking his voice back then. “Dad! I had an accident!”

His dad got it for him as his high school car and a neighbor helped teach Loughnane to drive. “My next-door neighbor actually took me out in his stickshift and started teaching me some of that stuff. It wasn’t all that often, but I remember him putting me in the car and teaching a few things about it,” he says. “I met my first wife in California. She had a stick shift, that’s how I learned to drive stick shift, with those hills, learned how to put the emergency brake on it or you slide all the way down the hill.”

Since it was just meant to be his high school ride, Loughnane says the Fairlane “wasn’t that great of a car. On a scale of 1 to 10 I give it about a 4 or 5. It was just a car to be driving around and it gave me independence.”

He adds, it was a good car to learn to drive on, “Figuring out the right side of the road, how to stay in the lane, because looking off the right fender, it always looked like you were closer to that side of the road than you actually were.”

First car bought

Loughnane was one of the founding members of Chicago and by 1971 he was living in Malibu when he bought his first car, a new Pontiac Firebird. “We had made some money with the band at that time, so I was able to buy a car,” he says. “We had a couple records out, we were doing pretty good.”

Comparing it now to his M5 it wasn’t that great, he says, but back then it got him where he needed to go. “I went everywhere in it – practice, to dinner, everywhere, to the airport. And I loved driving though Malibu canyon with it, it was great, with those turns,” he says.

He kept it for a while until one day when he was on the 405 freeway when he got into an accident. “We were coming home from a tour and I remember Robert (Lamm) and Jimmy (Pankow) were in the car with me, and when the cops came up to the scene, they put us in separate areas so we couldn’t practice our story,” he said. ‘They talked to us individually, we all came up with the same story, and they let us go home. They realized it was the other guy’s fault. He had stopped on the highway, you couldn’t tell right away, about 200 yards ahead of us.”

Loughnane got rid of the Firebird after that accident. “I don’t remember what I bought after that,” he says, with a laugh. “I might have bought the CJ-7. By that time, it had the rotating hubs in the front you had to get out to put it into four wheel drive.”

His mid-1970s CJ-7 came in handy for his Malibu life then. “I had a lot of fun with that car because I put a winch on the front of it. It wasn’t good for the radiator, it heated it up for long drives, but just driving around the city and up to my house, I had a house on the top of a hill in Malibu. It was on a dirt road, and the dirt was clay, so when it got wet, it turned to – like ice,” he says, laughing.

It was tough to navigate the dirt road when it rained. “The tires went around it one time, the tires would kick up with the clay and you had no more traction after that,” he recalls. “So if you hit the brakes, you’d slide whatever way the road was graded, so you just had to keep going straight if you could.”

When he did get stuck, the winch helped get him out.

Favorite road trip

Loughnane’s favorite drive is one he does often, driving the two hours from his Sedona home to Phoenix and back. “It’s just really pleasant. I just have a good time doing it. It’s comfortable, the car is great, and I love the drive, I love the scenery. I wish I could take it through its paces more, but I can’t without getting pulled over,” he says, with a laugh.

The route he takes is I-17 north. “It’s running errands, it’s going to the airport to go on the road, for a one-nighter we’ll take a plane over to the gig, play the next day and then the day after that we fly back home, so I just leave my car at the airport,” he says. “If my son has something to do in Phoenix, we’ll drive down there in that. Airport, shopping, there’s more shopping in Phoenix than there is in Sedona, a small town.”

On the drive, Loughnane usually listens to Real Jazz on SiriusXM. “They play some of the greatest stuff,” he says. “I usually listen to jazz and make phone calls. I can catch up on a lot of business too.”

One wonders if Loughnane thinks to himself on one of those I–17 runs …

Loughnane came up with one of the funnier lines in Chicago’s (ridiculously overdue) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction when he listed the three things he said have never failed him — his trumpet, his lungs and his bandmates — and then added, “I want to thank all my ex-wives for making sure I have to keep working.”

 

News on Take Your Corvette to Work Day

The question was asked of Bob Lutz, former GM vice chairman and now the answer man of Road & Track’s “Go Lutz Yourself”:

Dear Bob,
Does Chevy need a mid-engine Corvette and Cadillac a mid-engine sports car? You can’t have Ford selling a $450,000 GT while GM has only a Z06, right?

Well, neither Chevrolet nor Cadillac “needs” a mid-engine car. A mid-engine Corvette would likely coexist with the regular model but be priced at least $30,000 to $40,000 higher, my guess, about $130,000 to $150,000. A logical assumption would be 700 to 750 hp, massive torque, and decent fuel economy. GM won’t do it unless it’s a world-beater, so we should expect it to suck the doors off all the Europeans (Veyron excluded) and the Ford GT, which, while a nice car, would soon seem poor value. A possible Cadillac execution would have to exceed the Corvette and would be priced higher. I’m all for it, and I definitely “need” at least the Corvette.

Well, Lutz may get his wish, because, Motor Trend reports:

It’s time to clear those eyes and lean into the screen because these grainy spy photos reveal what is likely the mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette that’s coming sooner rather than later. These photos, along with recent rumors, further solidify that General Motors is serious about producing the most balanced Corvette we’ve seen yet.

This mule was caught at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds. It’s disguised in C7 Corvette body panels and heavy camouflage, but there are a few clues suggesting this isn’t a normal Stingray. The mule’s rear hatch appears to be missing its glass cover, likely to provide enough cool air to the engine sitting behind the seats. The prototype is lapping the track alongside a C7 Corvette and a few Caddies like the CT6, which the photographer says should provide some perspective on the test mule’s stance and size.

A number of recent events have given hope to ‘Vette fans clamoring for a mid-engine version. Early last year, GM was caught testing a strange prototype that was essentially a mashup of a C7 Corvette and a Holden Commodore SSV, which the rumor mill suggested was housing its engine behind the front seats. In 2014, GM trademarked the name “Zora,” which could hint at a future Corvette moniker. The name is a reference to Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Corvette who made numerous attempts to produce a mid-engine version.

Many GM engineers and executives have also tried to make a mid-engine Corvette a reality and it appears it could happen by the end of the decade. The 650-hp Corvette Z06is already pushing the limits of the current front-engine, rear-drive platform, which means a mid-engine layout is perhaps the only option GM has to take the ‘Vette to the next level.

The supposed mid-engine Vette is following a Cadillac and the current Vette.

If your mind reels at the prospect of a $150,000 Chevrolet, well, assuming the spy photographers are correct, there it is. Readers know I have a number of questions, beginning with why there’s a need for this car when GM sells every Corvette it builds now, and at a profit. The nitpickers about the current Corvette, over its brand and the subpar interiors, seem to me unlikely to choose a Chevy over a Ferrari or a Porsche because it’s a Chevy.

Unless it isn’t a Chevy. Michael Austin is properly skeptical:

Call me crazy, but I’m not convinced the mid-engine Corvette is the next Corvette. The rumor is strong, yes. And, contrary to some of the comments on our site, Car and Driver – leader of the mid-engine Corvette speculation brigade – has a pretty good record predicting future models. But it’s another comment that got me thinking: or maybe it’s a Cadillac.

There is clearly something mid-engine going on at GM, and I think it makes sense for the car to be a Cadillac. First off, check out how sweet the 2002 Cadillac Cien concept car still looks in the photo …

Second, there are too many holes in the mid-engine Corvette theory.

The C7 is relatively young in Corvette years, starting production almost three years ago as a 2014 model. Showing a 2019 model at the 2018 North American International Auto Show would kill sales of a strong-selling car before its time. Not to mention it would only mean a short run for the Grand Sport, which was the best-selling version of the previous generation.

More stuff doesn’t add up. Mid-engine cars are, in general, more expensive. Moving the Vette upmarket leaves a void that the Camaro does not fill. There’s not much overlap between Camaro and Corvette customers. Corvette owners are older and enjoy features like a big trunk that holds golf clubs. Mid-engine means less trunk space and alienating a happy, loyal buyer. Also, more than 60 years of history. The Corvette is an icon along the likes of the Porsche 911 and Ford Mustang. I’m not sure the car-buying public wants a Corvette that abandons all previous conventions. And big changes bring uncertainty – I don’t think GM would make such a risky bet.

Chevrolet could build a mid-engine ZR1, you might say, and keep the other Corvettes front-engine. Yes they could, and it would cost a ton of money. And they still need to fund development of that front-engine car. I highly doubt the corporate accountants would go for that.

But a Cadillac? Totally. Cadillac is in the middle of a brand repositioning. GM is throwing money at this effort. A mid-engine halo car is the just the splash the brand needs to shake off the ghosts of Fleetwoods past. And it’s already in Cadillac President Johan De Nysschen’s playbook. He was in charge of Audi’s North America arm when the R8 came out. A Caddy sports car priced above $100,000 isn’t that unreasonable when you can already price a CTS-V in that range.

Switch the NAIAS debut rumor to Cadillac, maybe even make it for 2017. Remove the conflict of abandoning Corvette history or running two costly model developments for one car. Heck, a mid-engine Cadillac could even act as a Trojan horse if the rumored demise of the current small-block engine is true. Launch a high-powered overhead-cam V8 in the Caddy and after a few years Corvette fans will be begging for an engine swap instead of grabbing their pitchforks and demanding more pushrods.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Corvette engineers, or former Corvette engineers, are working on a mid-engine car. There’s a lot of talent working on GM’s performance vehicles, and people move between teams on a regular basis. And the Corvette’s Bowling Green, Kentucky plant is a great place to make a low-volume sports car with advanced materials. But it’s not clear that GM plus mid-engine equals Corvette. While we’re still making random guesses, my money is on Cadillac.

Whether this is the next Corvette or the next Cadillac XLR-V: I  understand bulletproof reliability is not common with supercars, but I would be extremely hesitant to purchase a mid-engine vehicle from a company famous for sending new technology into the marketplace before it’s ready. (Remember the Vega and its melting engine? The Oldsmobile diesel? The Chevy Citation and the other X-body cars? Computer Command Control? The Cadillac V-8-6-4? The Pontiac Fiero?) And it seems strange to combine a mid-engine design and probably all-wheel drive (also commonplace in supercars) with the usual pushrod V-8. And yet the usual pushrod V-8 has powered every Corvette since 1955 except the C4 King of the Hill, powered by the Mercury Marine-built 32-valve double overhead cam V-8, which was eventually superseded by the pushrods, which obviously work quite well, old tech or not. (Which might confirm Austin’s suspicions about an engine GM currently doesn’t offer in this Caddivette. One hopes that Cadillac wouldn’t emulate Ford’s mistake of throwing the Ecoboost V6 into the Ford GT by using the ATS-V’s 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6.)

At least for those of us who have enough money to consider a Corvette (which once again doesn’t include me), the rear-drive Vette will remain available if Lutz is correct.