Category: Wheels

Dogs love you, and your wheels

Car & Driver contributing editor John Pearley Huffman writes on something possibly inspired by a Nissan truck commercial of old:

Alabama, the author’s Husky, will jump into a truck bed before the tailgate is even down. Another staffer’s Newfie dances around as if her paws were in a frying pan and runs in circles when she hears the word “ride.” Only dogs seem to love cars as much as humans. There’s little (or no) science investigating why, so we invited the experts to speculate.

Dogs experience the world more through scent than sight. Where a human’s nose has up to 5 million  olfactory receptors, a dog’s can have up to 300 million. No wonder they like to stick their snoots out the window and into the wind. “I’m not sure they’re getting a high, per se,” says Dr.  Melissa Bain, a veterinarian at the University of California, Davis, who researches animal behavior and welfare. “But they are getting a lot of input in higher speed.”

Dr. Brian Hare, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University and the founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, says the wind blast may be a sort of sensory overload. “It’s the equivalent of watching an incredible movie or reading the latest issue of Car & Driver,” he says (with a little coaching). “There’s so much information they’re taking in, it’s just ‘Whoa.’ Then again, the simpler explanation could e that it just feels good. And it could also  be both.”

The breeze is just part of it, he says. “In most places where you find wolves today, they have to range pretty far. They’ve evolved to go places. They likely enjoy going places. It’s not going to do much good if you’re selected to not enjoy that thing you need to do to survive.” He says it’s possible dogs know the car is going somewhere, “a new place to explore, and there might be other dogs there.” At the very least, he says, “dogs associate the car with a good outcome: ‘When I get in this thing, good things happen.’ At the most they understand that they’re going somewhere.” …

Most of all, he says, dogs are pack animals, social animals. But domestication as tweaked the formula. “If you give that dog a choice between being with a person or with other dogs, dogs prefer to be with people,” Hare says. “They’re the most successful mammals besides humans in the history of the planet,” he continues. “The trust bond with humans has been a huge boost to the domesticated wolves who live with us. Dogs have evolved to be geniuses at taking advantage of the human tool.” It’s dogs’ desire to be with us that makes them eager driving companions. … In other words dogs love cars because they love us.


This (photo taken with my cellphone and blown up) is Max, our PitBasenHerd (also known as the World’s Largest Basenji, given that Basenji are beagle-size, and Max certainly is not), who one day managed to con Mrs. Presteblog into letting him stick his head out the passenger-side window of the van. Now, of course, he wants to stick his head out the window whenever he’s in the van, regardless of weather. (The driver must make sure the power windows are off, lest Max step on the switch and lower the window all the way.)

Our other dog, Leo el Chihuahua obesidad mórbida, sits on the driver’s lap and thinks he’s steering the vehicle. He formerly scratched on the window on the passenger side until the driver let down the window.

Leo and Max are keeping up a tradition started by our two Welsh springer spaniels, Puzzle and Nick, who clamored to go with us wherever we went. Unfortunately for them, kids take up more space and attention, so Leo and Max have less vehicular travel than Puzzle and Nick did.

We once had a car small enough that I could put my arm over the passenger-side front seat. Nick, who often sat in the middle of the back seat, would hang his head over my arm, fall asleep and start snoring while sitting. That worked until my arm fell asleep and I had to move it.

This time of year I am reminded of a Saturday in which the number of high school teams our newspaper had to cover exceeded my ability to cover them. On Saturday morning, I took one of our dogs with me and covered a girls gymnastics sectional meet, then a boys basketball regional final game, while Mrs. Presteblog took the other dog and covered a different boys game. We met in location number four for that night’s girls sectional final game. Puzzle and Nick had no idea where they were going, but didn’t care.

That was back in our pre-child days, when our dogs went most places we went in vehicles, including on overnight trips and to our cut-your-own Christmas tree source. Earlier that year, because there was one game that had to be covered in order to have a sports page that week, we drove to Beloit for a boys basketball holiday tournament game. Since the team we were covering won, the four of us went back to Beloit the next night.

When Mrs. Presteblog flew to Guatemala via Mitchell Field in Milwaukee, we stayed the previous night at a hotel near the airport, since her flight left at 6 a.m. (I don’t remember if the hotel allowed pets or not.) I parked our car in an underground garage. When I returned, I found a note on the car criticizing me for keeping our “poor babbies” in a locked car, despite the fact that (1) they had been there for all of an hour (2) in a covered garage (3) before sunrise (4) with the windows cracked. (Irrelevant aside: That was the same day that John F. Kennedy Jr. made his last flight.)

It wasn’t an overnight trip, but we once went to Door County on a summer day. We stopped at a beach on the Green Bay side, and watched the dogs jump off a seaweed-covered boat ramp. Puzzle had bad back hips due to dysplasia, but powerful front legs and chest. That, however, failed to prevent her from not being able to stop and, though I don’t think she intended to, skid off the ramp into the water. Later, they discovered the joys of rolling in dead fish, and their owners discovered the non-joys of driving 90 minutes back home in a car full of dogs smelling of dead fish.


Left turns and right turns

Author and new Facebook Friend Peter Manso wrote this for Car & Driver:

In this wacky election cycle of ours, I’m being asked by some of my academic neighbors here in Berkeley to generalize on how racers vote. My answer is simple: The majority of car people, especially racers, are righties. As evidence, I offer Richard Childress and his years of serving on the NRA’s board of directors; Roger Penske as one of the country’s herculean big-money contributors to presidential candidates; and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who years back ran as a candidate for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, calling for the FBI to”turn up the heat” on any American failing to espouse patriotic beliefs. The question of a racer’s GOP affinity is not “if” so much as “why,” and the answer is that conservative politics mirror who and what these guys really are.

What’s the difference between a liberal and a conservative? For the quick and easy answer we must go to John Locke and Edmund Burke, the two 17th- and 18th-century philosophers who cemented the left-right distinction for all of modern times. The liberal, per Locke, believes in the perfectibility of mankind, whereas Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, a bestselling pamphlet when published in 1790, preached human limitation and the doggedness of original sin. For the conservative, government is suspect. To the liberal, society should be improved through human intelligence, which is the seed of all human progress. Conservativism sees human beings as bestial and selfish; people are basically competitive, as well as unequal in their abilities or value to society, and those who contribute most deserve greater rewards. The well-intentioned collectivism of the liberal, the conservative argues, only deprives society of its vitality and inhibits the achievement that comes with individualism.

Leave it to Richard Petty: “The majority of the people I associate with are conservative because they make their own decisions on what to do on the race car, when to make pit stops. They’re very individual people. … City people wind up more liberal because they’re depending on somebody to own their house or clean their streets.”

There have been exceptions. Ayrton Senna gave huge sums to Brazil’s poor, and Paul Newman’s charities and support of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern put him on the left. But the racer’s task, first and foremost, is to test himself. He is not a normal person, no 9-t0-5’er with the security of dental insurance, but a self-absorbed, self-enmeshed figure. His job is to live on the edge and do so unrelentingly, with the knowledge that there can be a very steep price to pay for failure. …

Like many an artist, he’s driven, and it’s not hard to see that he’s simply too focused, too self-centered to spend much time thinking about homelessness, racism, unemployment, or the unbalanced economy. “It’s me and me alone” is the mantra. …

Who do you hear more clearly here, Clinton or Trump-Cruz-Bush & Co.? It’s been said that no one with a heart can resist being a liberal, and that no one with a brain can resist being a conservative. But the answer for a racer, I think, is obvious.

You can quibble with some of Manso’s characterizations (conservatives, even non-wealthy conservatives, donate more to charity than liberals, and no one who thinks people are “bestial and selfish” is likely to support self-government) and yet still agree with Manso’s argument. American conservatism is about freedom much more than American liberalism is today.

The junction of transportation and sports is a good example. Liberals are considerably more likely to favor mass transit, the exact opposite of transportation freedom. Liberals thought Barack Obama’s Cash for Clunkers was a great idea, probably because it served to make used cars more expensive. (Obama should have been impeached for Cash for Clunkers.) Liberals favor high taxes to discourage such behaviors as driving (high gas taxes and low speed limits), smoking, drinking (Prohibition was the crowning failure of the we-can-improve-mankind Progressive Era), eating the wrong foods, owning firearms and ammunition, and other lifestyle choices of which they disapprove. Liberals are also more likely to oppose hunting and fishing, which tend to be activities favored by those who know who Richard Petty is. (He ran for North Carolina secretary of state in 1996 as a Republican, but lost.)

It’s certainly dangerous to make blanket statements about athletes and their political beliefs as far as what they are or should be. (Nor should a conservative want to politiize everything more than our world already is politicized. The phrase “the personal is political” was not devised by a conservative.) One reason why sports is vastly preferable to politics is that there are clear-cut winners and losers in sports. The human drama of athletic competition, as ABC-TV’s Jim McKay termed it, is about making yourself better, both vs. yourself (improving running or swimming times) and against your competition, the latter of which involves taking advantage of opportunities your opponent(s) presents you. The liberal obsession with income inequality and equality of result would seem the polar opposite of what world-class athletes do.


Obama vs. driving

Proof of yet another area where Barack Obama is a complete disaster comes from Jalopnik:

The National Transportation Safety Board just released its Most Wanted list for 2016. In hopes to end the boozing and the cruising once and for all, the agency wants states to drop their drunk driving blood alcohol content limit from .08 to .05 or lower.

The NTSB, an independent federal agency whose main jobs are to determine the cause of transportation accidents and to promote safety on our roadways, has been after a lower blood alcohol content limit for years now. We wrote about their proposal to bring that limit down to .05 back in 2013, and it looks like they’re still not backing down.

With a sub-heading “End Substance Impairment In Transportation,” the NTSB 2016 Most Wanted List Of Transportation Improvements discusses the prevalence of driver impairment in fatal accidents and proposes ways to reduce such tragedies.

The board’s suggestions include heavier use of sobriety checkpoints, ignition interlocks to prevent drunkards from starting their cars, treatment and supervision of repeat DUI offenders, and lowering the DUI blood alcohol content limit from .08 down to .05. …

This limit would mean your average american could consume only approximately two drinks in an hour, and that doesn’t jive well with the folks who want to sell you alcohol. The American Beverage Institute, a trade group based in Washington D.C. that lobbies for alcohol-serving restaurants, is pissed about the NTSB’s suggestion. The group’s managing director, Sarah Longwell thinks the proposal is targeting the wrong people, telling The Hill:

Instead of targeting the heavily intoxicated drivers who cause most fatal drunk driving crashes, the NTSB wants to penalize responsible adults who enjoy one or two drinks with dinner.

Longwell thinks we’ve been there, done that, saying:

More than a decade ago, we lowered the legal limit from 0.1 percent to 0.08 after groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving promised a huge drop in fatalities. Yet the proportion of traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers has remained the same for the past 15 years. Why would moving to .05 suddenly stop truly drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel? The fact is, it won’t.

… But you have to wonder: if states decide to follow the NTSB’s advice and drop the limit, how many more Americans will end up with DUIs? How many Americans currently regularly drive with a blood alcohol content between .05 and .08 after a night on the town?

Sobriety checkpoints are as unconstitutional as speed- or red-light cameras. Given the Obama administration’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, it’s hardly surprising that Obama’s NTSB favors more of them.

The bigger question is whether or not reducing the legal intoxication level will actually lead to more drunk driving arrests. It actually won’t, at least until more totalitarian traffic law enforcement accompanies the lower levels. Police officers have to have probable cause of a traffic violation to pull over someone. Drivers do not generally get arrested for drunk driving right at .08. Ask your nearest law enforcement officer to estimate the average blood alcohol level of his or her drunk driving arrest. You’d be surprised how high the number is.

Elizabeth Harrington adds:

The agency issued the recommendation while admitting that “the amount consumed and crash risk is not well understood.”

“We need more and better data to understand the scope of the problem and the effectiveness of countermeasures,” they said. …

The National Transportation Safety Board also is seeking a ban on hands-free technology in cars.

“Hands-free cell phone use causes cognitive distraction,” said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, during a press conference announcing the recommendations.

“We have recommended prohibiting all cell phone use, including hands-free, because a driver’s mind must be on the driving, just as their hands must be on the wheel,” he said.

The agency called for a “cultural change” for its recommendation, since no states or the District of Columbia currently outlaw hands-free devices.

“Since people have limited attention, each auxiliary task impairs our processing of the primary task. For safety-critical operations, distraction must be managed, even engineered, to ensure safe operations,” according to the agency’s recommendations.

So logically the NTSB favors eliminating roadside features such as signs, other vehicles, and passengers. They are all distractions.


The man who may have saved the Corvette

Daniel Strohl tells this story about America’s sports car:

By the mid-1990s, Russ McLean had already worked for GM for many years – including stints in Spain and in Mexico – and developed a reputation as a cost-cutter and turnaround champ. That reputation led to his appointment as manager of the Corvette platform at a time when the fourth-generation Corvette was losing about $1,000 per car. At the time, McLean noted, GM suffered from a one-two punch of financial difficulties and continuous reorganization, so he decided to isolate the Corvette team from “all that noise.” By maintaining one stable organizational structure independent from the overall GM structure, he said he was able to make necessary changes – improving the Corvette’s quality and reducing overall costs – that in turn led to Corvette making a profit within McLean’s first year.

With the fourth-generation Corvette’s stability ensured, McLean believed his next task was to focus on developing the C5, which GM had already approved. However, a management change brought with it a new order from GM’s board of directors: Stop development on the Corvette and let it sunset. For somebody like McLean, who had bought a 1960 Corvette in 1962 and who believed in the Corvette, he couldn’t accept that order. So he ignored it.

“As a manager, I believed in doing the right things rather than doing things right,” McLean said. “The Corvette was always the innovation leader for General Motors and for the world, and that innovation flowed into so many other cars. So when somebody told me to let that icon die, I just couldn’t let that happen – it was not the right thing to do.”

He decided then and there not to tell his staff – or anybody else in the world, save for his wife – what his boss had ordered him to do. He kept the Corvette platform team running in silence, not asking permission for anything they did, and he avoided contact and communication with his boss and GM management. He continued the C5’s development as if nothing had happened and was able to launch it for the 1997 model year.

And he did indeed face repercussions for what he did. “I wasn’t considered a team player, I didn’t follow directions,” McLean said of his later evaluations. “Yes, I lost out on promotions after that.” In 1996, he left the Corvette team and in the fall of 2001 he left GM entirely. He bought a couple vintage Corvettes – a 1963 split-window fuelie and a 1958 airbox car – and settled into taking care of his aging parents and the family farm.

The definitive book on the creation of the fifth-generation Corvette is James Schefter’s All Corvettes Are Red. Schefter’s book covers the entire eight-year process that included repeated murder attempts. (To put it mildly, GM was a mess in the 1980s and 1990s, which differs from the 2000s and now … not much.) I don’t recall how much McLean was mentioned in Schefter’s book, which tells as much about the people who developed the C5 (including Corvette chief engineer Dave Hill and stylist Wayne Cherry and others) as the car itself.

What’s crazy to me is that GM would even momentarily consider killing a car that (1) brought people into dealerships and (2) made money for the company. (The Corvette has also for years introduced technologies that made their way to lesser GM models, but that’s less important to the bean-counters than the first two points.)

Of course, if there was no C5 Corvette …

… there wouldn’t have been (probably, anyway) a C6 …

… or (given what happened to GM in the late 2000s) a C7 today:

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.