Archive for Driver’s Seat

Sticking it

TTAC commenter “dolorean,” responding to a piece about BMW’s recent disdain for stick shifts, offers ten reasons why the manual-transmission experience is more rewarding, and most of them make perfect sense to me, particularly this one:

6. American car thieves hate manuals. A vast portion of the country doesn’t know how to manipulate the gears themselves, best anti-theft device in the U.S.

They can always haul it away on a flatbed, but this isn’t an option if you’re in a hurry, and most thieves don’t have time to kill.

And then there’s this one:

10. Most important reason, my girlfriend stands nearly 6′ tall and has nearly 4′ of leg. She likes to wear tiny shorts and skirts. NOTHING hotter than to watch her work a stick. Cannot fathom the same joy from an automatic.

I’ll, um, have to take his word for it.

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Only the names are retro

And this is only a rumor, for now: [warning: autostart video]

Ford Motor Co. is considering a revival of the Bronco sport utility vehicle and Ranger small pickup in the U.S., where truck demand is booming, said a person familiar with [the] company’s plans.

The two models would be built at a Wayne, Michigan, factory that now makes small cars, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing product plans. The move would help Ford preserve some U.S. union jobs amid contract talks. The company may assemble the Focus and C-Max in Mexico, a person familiar with the matter had said.

I’m guessing that the person familiar with the plans is not necessarily the person familiar with the matter.

“In which paragraph will they mention O. J. Simpson?” If you had “third,” step up and claim your prize. Slowly.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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Wiser guys

From a couple of weeks ago:

Pretty much every issue of Car and Driver — and I’ve seen them all since 1978 — contains at least one bit of prose that simply screams “They’re trying to get nasty letters, aren’t they?”

The 2016 New Car issue, it turns out, is liberally salted with semi-salty stuff. A couple of examples:

Nissan Maxima: “Asking the Maxima to be a sports sedan is like asking Caitlyn Jenner to get back in her decathlon shorts. It just ain’t gonna happen.”

Land Rover Range Rover Evoque: “There’s also a low-speed cruise control for off-road excursions. It will never be used by any Evoque owner, ever.”

Smart Fortwo: “It’s also four inches wider than the outgoing car, finally allowing two adult humans to sit inside without touching in a Duggarly fashion.”

Dodge Durango: “A Brass Monkey appearance package (20-inch burnished-bronze wheels, gloss-black grille, and more odd embellishments) will hit the Durango later in the year and taste of malt liquor and orange juice.”

It’s like Alterman said “Dammit, it says Irreverence on the cover! Now get out there and Irrev!”

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The ultimate zombiemobile

Somehow, Saab remains sort of undead:

The resurrected Swedish automaker producing electric 9-3s with a Saab badge signed an agreement with Dongfeng Motor Corporation to help stay afloat, GoAuto in Australia is reporting.

National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the Chinese company that purchased the remains of Saab after its parent company Spyker went bankrupt, announced that it would distribute electric cars in China with automotive giant Dongfeng and add a production facility there, the report details.

In return, NEVS will supply Dongfeng with engineering standards to help it meet safety standards in Europe and North America.

“Dongfeng,” I am told, means “east wind” in Chinese. And in my part of the world, east winds usually mean storms are on their way — not that the Chinese need to worry about that.

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Some hosing going on

Pretty much every issue of Car and Driver — and I’ve seen them all since 1978 — contains at least one bit of prose that simply screams “They’re trying to get nasty letters, aren’t they?” In September 2015, it’s this denunciation of a Fiat by Jared Gall:

The 500X will change nobody’s perception of Italian build quality. Many of the plastic interior surfaces feel hard and hollow, and while the gray door-panel pleather feels natural, it’s not the natural leather that it feels like. More like cold, dead skin before it’s turned into leather — and not necessarily cow skin. Maybe dolphin. Or fat Uncle Carl. It puts the lotion squarely in the basket.

I expect several lambs to be speaking up in the December issue.

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Irate, you rate

Lead story in the Oklahoman today begins with this anecdote:

When a passing motorist yelled “Road rage sucks” at Oklahoma City police Sgt. Matthew Downing during a January 2014 traffic stop, Downing chased the man down in a convenience store, wrestled him to the ground and arrested him.

A supervisor who soon arrived disagreed with Downing’s use of force and subsequent arrest and released the man.

Police Chief Bill Citty directed the department’s Office of Professional Standards to conduct a criminal investigation into the incident.

In February, Downing pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery and was sentenced to 90 days’ probation. That same day, he resigned from the department, where leaders say he was still under administrative investigation for the incident. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Downing’s guilty plea and resignation were part of his plea agreement, which is typical in criminal cases involving police officers.

Not that I at all object to keeping the police on a fairly tight leash — those rogue cops obsessed with their authority (“Trigger-happy policing,” said Marvin Gaye back in the day) need to be pulled back — but I have to wonder: is it the position of the City, or of the OCPD, that road rage does not suck?

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Land of perversity

A report that Tesla is losing about $4000 on each car it sells drew a dismissive comment to the effect that “people aren’t that stupid,” which prompted this eloquent response:

“Its just a car and people aren’t that stupid.”

THIS IS MURICA!!!

We put 30″ rims on a Chevy Snailblazer.

Our favorite topping for a burger is another burger.

We can’t name even 10 of the people running the country.

I resent your implication that this country is intelligent.

Valerie Jarrett is running the country. Next!

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Noise disabatement

This nimrod showed up yesterday exhibiting both a lack of taste and a lack of patience:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: five variations on I have a Dodge Ram 1500 2wd regular cab. What can I do to it to make it sound good and loud

If he comes back next week asking for stereo advice, well, God help him. Because I won’t.

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A vast waistline

“Who in the heck writes whole paragraphs and posts about highways?” asks Joe. “It’s a road.” Well, yeah. But before he said that, he said this:

Windshield time is not conducive to a positive outlook on life. I-70 in particular seems to wear me down and over the decades I have found this true of the roadway no matter what part of the country it traverses, perhaps because it is mostly a straight slash across the center of the nation. The highway seems to be a weird dividing line for weather; above gets snow, below does not or below sees rain, above the road none. It also seems to be an almost modern Mason-Dixon Line dividing cultures and dialects. I know this to be somewhat true in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. I am not sure if the pattern holds sway in other parts of the country. It is also quite likely the whole idea is a figment of my imagination. Anyway, from Harrisburg to Kansas City and beyond the road is boring unattractive and dull. How US 40, which covers pretty much the same exact ground can be so much more interesting is beyond me. Of course the old National Road will take you twice as long to get you where you are going.

I have the opposite view of windshield time, though this is probably because I don’t get enough of it — at least, not in a good way. (Being stuck behind dawdling members of the Anti-Destination League in the middle of the afternoon commute is not a good way.) Still, US 40 is to be preferred over I-70 at least as far west as Topeka, after which the two roads merge for most of the rest of Kansas. I admit to having less experience with the eastern stretch, which ends up in Atlantic City.

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High-rolling chicane

If you have to drive, but you really, really hate cars, this is what you’re probably driving:

That class of vehicle is the CUV, or compact utility vehicle. “Cute-ute” for short. It’s the perfect car for people who hate cars. It doesn’t handle worth a damn, being basically a short-wheelbase compact car jacked up on tall shock absorbers. It weighs a thousand pounds more than it should and usually has less interior space than one of those wacky Tercel wagons with the single reverse light from the Eighties. It costs more than the mid-size sedans with which it shares showroom space and to which it is inferior in every measure from the quarter-mile to the fuel range. It is worthless off-road and feckless on-road.

The cute-ute exists for one reason and one reason only: to let you “sit high.” It’s a clown car on stilts. If you are ever asked to name the vehicle that is the exact spiritual opposite of the Challenger Hellcat or the Lamborghini Huracán or the Mazda Miata, there’s only one answer, and the cute-ute is that answer. Their drivers are, by and large, slack-jawed pseudo-passengers whose rapt attention to their iPhones or AM radio stations is only occasionally interrupted by a Pequod-worthy swing of the helm or an ABS-squeaking random stab of the brakes. Of the last five vehicles to run my motorcycle out of a freeway lane, three of them were Honda CR-Vs.

I once coveted one of those wacky Tercel wagons, which should tell you how questionable my automotive tastes are.

That said, if I may twist up an observation by young Dashiell Robert Parr: if everybody sits up high, then nobody sits up high.

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Standard government response

Warren Meyer explains it as tersely as is humanly possible:

Problem: Long waits at the DMV

Solution: Triple the size of the waiting room

And so they did:

The [Arizona] state Motor Vehicle Division office in Surprise is about to reopen following renovations that include a near-tripling of the capacity of its customer waiting area.

Arizona Department of Transportation officials say the waiting area will accommodate 188 customers, up from 68 previously.

Wait a minute. That’s it?

ADOT officials say the renovations also included upgrading the air conditioning system and restrooms.

Still, this is a good thing, considering what I had to go through, not in the 48th state, but the 46th:

Now you should know that “nearest” does not necessarily mean “near”: the only station in Oklahoma City proper is on the far southside, which meant a trip to either Yukon or Edmond. I opted for the latter, contriving to arrive 75 minutes before closing. This got me a 50-minute stay on what you’d get if they’d ordered chairs to match the Group W bench, after which I was admitted to the Inner Sanctum.

I remember paying a visit to the California DMV about 27 years ago, and it wasn’t nearly as horrible as I’d anticipated. Then again, California had maybe two-thirds its current population about 27 years ago. (If you care, it was the office in Torrance, 1785 West 220th Street, which currently has 2½ stars on Yelp.)

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It’s right there on the sticker

I’ve visited actual Turkish bazaars, and they’re a lot more pleasant than shopping for cars in the States. So I applaud this tentative gesture by Lexus:

Would no-haggle car pricing make the car-buying process more pleasant, and make you feel more warm and cuddly toward car dealers and toward the brand? Lexus apparently hopes so, and they plan to test this kind of pricing at a dozen of their dealerships.

The general manager for Lexus U.S.A. announced the experiment [yesterday] at a Center for Automotive Research event. “While negotiation-free pricing is not revolutionary, we strongly believe the concept will further elevate transaction transparency and customer care,” he told his audience of people in the industry.

It helps that Lexus has already developed a (mostly) stellar reputation for customer care.

This is, of course, not new; Toyota’s #3 brand, Scion, not only offers fixed prices but allows for a whole lot of customer, um, customization. And no-haggle was at the heart of the short-lived Saturn experiment over at General Motors. Then again, Saturn is dead, and Scion sales are circling the drain, so Lexus is probably wise to limit this practice to a handful of dealers for now.

Consumerist is running a poll (see link), and the hard-bargainer types are at this writing trailing by a fairly substantial margin.

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All pink and curvy and everything

There’s a feature in the current Automobile (September) about the pink AMX awarded to Angela Dorian as part of her 1968 Playmate of the Year, um, booty. Dorian, a small-time actress under her real name — Victoria Vetri — got a small career boost from being PMOY, but careers in Hollywood tend to be shortish. (You have to wonder how things might be different had she taken the job of dubbing Natalie Wood’s voice in West Side Story earlier in the decade.) Still, she held onto the car until 2010, by which time it had been repainted several times and was in bad need of some TLC. Arguably, so was Vetri, who was charged with shooting her husband in the back. The attempted-murder charge filed against her was eventually reduced to attempted voluntary manslaughter; she pleaded no contest and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Meanwhile, a chap named Mark Melvin happened upon the AMX at a lot in Venice Beach; he bought it and restored it, at a cost of somewhere over $50,000. There exists a Web site for the car, which also includes a recap of Vetri’s career and eventual undoing that was actually written by Robert Stacy McCain, its appearance a product of the miracle of cut-and-paste. The car, of course, now looks utterly wonderful; Vetri, now in her seventies, perhaps not so much.

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Not exactly forward progress

And if we don’t have a carless future, this is what we have to look forward to after a decade or so, says TTAC commenter DeadWeight:

I look forward to 2025, and 0.4 liter, turbocharged, CVT vehicles made of carbon-parmesan cheese bonded fibers, getting 125 mpg on the EPA loop test, and between 22 mpg and 28 mpg in the real world.

Cylinder count is not specified, but with everyone and his corporate cousins now offering 2.0-liter inline fours, suggesting a half-liter standard cylinder, I’m speculating that this is a single cylinder turned upside down, in the manner of the V-12s built by Daimler-Benz for the Luftwaffe.

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Aw, ya big lug

I don’t like the idea of an utterly carless future, but I am forced to concede that never seeing anything like this again will provide one tiny sliver of consolation:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: How can I put rims with 6 lugs on a Chevrolet Tahoe that has 5 lugs on the wheel assembly?

The only thing we really want to know here is “Did he already buy the wrong wheels?”

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The new Shell game

I am a consistent user of Shell V-Power gasoline, partly because this town is awash in Shell stations, but mostly because Gwendolyn seems to like it, whether or not it’s cut with a few percentage points of ethanol.

Of late, Shell is claiming a new formulation which they have dubbed “V-Power NiTRO+,” a name it’s probably too late to change. I have just enough background in chemistry to wonder just what the hell difference a shot of nitrogen is going to make to the inside of a combustion chamber. I admit, I have my tires pumped up with nitrogen, mostly because it doesn’t leak quite as quickly as ordinary four-fifths-nitrogen air, but this wouldn’t seem to be an issue with engine internals, though Shell assures me that it contains “seven times the cleaning agents required to meet federal standards [and] removes an average of 60% of harmful intake valve deposits left behind by lower quality premium gasoline.”

In other words, their premium gas is premium-er. It’s certainly priced that way. Over the years, the gap between regular and premium has grown from 20 to 26 to 32 cents; the new stuff commands a 40-cent surcharge at two stations I checked, one a chain, one an independent. “Must be really Top Tier,” I said to myself as I listened to the gas cap click.

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Angle of attack

Professional race-car driver Jack Baruth has seen plenty of this:

[T]he average American driver merges onto the freeway by looking dead straight ahead, accelerating to about ten miles per hour below the speed limit, and rolling down said merge lane until it ends, at which point he moves over without turning his head a millimeter in either direction.

Imagine how below-average American drivers must do it. I see plenty of them every day on the freeways of Oklahoma City, which have adequate capacity but which are often clogged because of said below-average drivers. One particular subgenus thereof has been on the receiving end of my wrath for at least seventeen years now:

Around here, the police call it “rubbernecking”, and you’ve seen it too: six-car pileup in the far lane, doofus driving by goes through some seriously-contorting neck-craning to get a good look at the carnage, and suddenly it’s a seven-car pileup. Needless to say, the fellows in blue are not thrilled with this sort of thing, but it’s never going to go away — it’s as American as baseball, apple pie, and the remains of a ’91 Chevy being dragged onto a tow-hook. As a people, we love it.

Which is of course untrue: we don’t love it, unless we’re doing it ourselves, as does some corksoaking icehole on I-35 north of I-40 a minimum of four days a week. Then again, traffic moving at 15 mph almost simplifies merging.

Almost. We must allow for the fact that until early in the twenty-first century, ODOT budgeted a maximum of $19.95 per onramp, and as a result the older freeway approaches are nasty, brutish and short. Few, though, are as bad as Classen to I-44 eastbound, which (1) approaches from the left and (2) does so blindly until the last possible moment. I take this every morning, every weekday morning, usually in the dark — the absolute earliest the sunrise comes in this town is 6:14 am, no thanks to DST — and whoever’s choogling along in the left lane, latte in hand, is never going to see me coming.

Reasoning that the latte-bearer is probably doing ten over, I make a practice of being fifteen over by the time the merge lane disappears into a line of Jersey barriers. This is more problematic than you think, since the approach starts on the last curve of the Classen Circle, and the first point at which oncoming traffic is visible is maybe 1.5 seconds away from the time you plow into it. I comfort myself with the thought that at 5000 rpm, I still have 1500 left. And this almost always works. But the operative word, once again, is “almost”:

I’ve seen plenty of cars just stopped dead at the end of on-ramps waiting for a thousand feet of clear space. That’s what happens when the driver simply can’t process the situation well enough to make it work any other way.

So I round the curve at 40, stretch toward the loud pedal, and as light falls upon the scene there’s someone just stopped dead, waiting for me to make his death a literal one. I have yet to plow into any of these folks, but the last time it happened there were two tailgaters trying to inhale my exhaust, and, well, it’s a damn good thing no one was around to take my blood-pressure reading.

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Fuzzy message

Haval is a Chinese automotive nameplate, an SUV-only line manufactured by Great Wall. (It does not include the teensy Great Wall Coolbear, which is strictly a city car, mentioned here solely because it’s called “Coolbear.”) In the opinion of Matt Gasnier, Haval did themselves proud at the Shanghai Auto Show, but one particular bit of news makes no sense:

Haval unveiled a new Red/Blue logo strategy at the Show. It’s a mystery to me that some Chinese manufacturers seem to often mess with something very clear and single-minded — this time brand positioning — by confusing the heck out of it. The creation, success and growth of the SUV-exclusive Haval brand in China in the past two years is potentially the most impressive strategic achievement of any Chinese carmaker, ever. Now to confuse it with two different philosophies and logos — labelled as “an impressive fission of Haval that will bring the brand to a new level” (cough) — this new strategy means Haval’s products will now be divided into two lines represented by a red or a blue logo. “Luxurious and classic Red Logo Haval targets mainstream families, and cool and trendy Blue Logo Haval targets young consumers” (Haval words). In the future, Haval’s sales network will be divided into the red network and the blue network, too. Say what?

Let’s see now. Who else had a Red and a Blue network?

On January 1, 1927, NBC formally divided its programming along two networks. The two NBC networks did not have distinct identities or “formats.” The NBC Red Network, with WEAF as its flagship station and a stronger line-up of affiliated stations, often carried the more popular, “big budget” sponsored programs. The Blue Network and WJZ carried with a somewhat smaller line-up of often lower powered stations sold program time to advertisers at a lower cost. It often carried newer, untried programs (which, if successful, often moved “up” to the Red Network), lower cost programs and un-sponsored or “sustaining” programs (which were often news, cultural and educational programs).

With the specter of antitrust action — remember antitrust action? — hanging over its head, NBC took its name off the Blue Network in 1942, then sold it the next year to a group that renamed it the American Broadcasting Company.

Still, that scheme lasted for a decade and a half. It shouldn’t take that long for Haval to figure out that this is a dumb idea.

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Quote of the week

Preston Lerner, in the September Automobile, on Nissan’s entry at 24 Hours of LeMans:

Some race cars inspire love. Others generate hate. Nissan’s GT-R LM NISMO does both. It couldn’t be more polarizing if it were a nuclear-powered, transgender cyborg engineered to perform Masses and abortions on alternating weekends.

I’m betting editor-in-chief Mike Floyd stared at that for several minutes before finally putting down his pencil.

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All zoom, no doom

So you’ve just picked up your brand-new Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster from the dealership, and suddenly the Worst Possible Thing ensues:

Things started on Monday, when the Miata’s buyer and his wife went to pick up their new, unashamedly red (“Soul Red,” according to Mazda) Launch Edition Miata, which is one of a series of only 1000. Barely a mile or so away from the dealership, a Ford F-150, slammed into the rear of the Miata without even taking the courtesy to brake.

The force of the impact shoved the Miata into the car in front of it, basing in both ends and seemingly bending the unibody itself — which means the damage is likely much worse than it looks. Happily, neither the owner nor his wife were seriously injured. They weren’t entirely uninjured, as there was bruising and other sorts of injuries you’d expect from having an F-150 slam into your ass.

The car, of course, did not survive this intrusion by a hulking beast roughly two and a half times its weight. Post-wreck depression settled on the couple. The dealership went looking for another Launch Edition MX-5 for them, since they’re good customers.

But this was wholly unexpected. The buyer posted the following on an MX-5 forum:

Then, yesterday afternoon, I received 2 calls from [Mazda North American Operations] informing me that my name was on a replacement LE 6MT that is in transit and will dock in Jacksonville around August 15. On to Tom Bush [the dealership] soon after that.

Dejargoning: “6MT” indicates a six-speed manual transmission. Otherwise, does that sound like what I think it does? Yes, it does:

Yep, Mazda is stepping up and sending them a replacement, brand-new Miata. It’s worth noting that Mazda was really in no way obligated to do this — the whole mess was clearly the owner’s and insurance companies’ problem at this point — but that they did it anyway speaks volumes, and I suspect the good PR they get will easily be worth the value of the car.

MNAO will take possession of the remains, perhaps for research purposes: this is the first car of this design actually to be crashed, and much might be learned from it. And if they sell only a dozen additional cars to people who are impressed by this gesture, they’ve more than earned back the price of that single roadster.

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Which is where it bytes you

There might be more software in a new car than there is in a cheap commodity PC. (Brand-name makers tend to lard the machines up with crapware.) Given the slightest bit of connectivity, this was inevitable:

Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system. Next the radio switched to the local hip hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass.

And then things got worse:

As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.

Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.

Yes, there were two. He knew this because he’d arranged this test with them, to look for vulnerabilities in Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect system. Used to be, someone had to tap a physical port in the car to hack it. Not anymore.

As it happens, Fiat Chrysler (1) is not amused and (2) has issued a patch:

Under no circumstances does FCA condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose “how-to information” that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems.

FCA has a dedicated team from System Quality Engineering focused on identifying and implementing software best practices across FCA globally. The team’s responsibilities include development and implementation of cybersecurity standards for all vehicle content, including on-board and remote services.

As such, FCA released a software update that offers customers improved vehicle electronic security and communications system enhancements. The Company monitors and tests the information systems of all of its products to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities in the ordinary course of business.

Still, all software has holes. Just ask Microsoft.

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Triumphantly so

In 1959, the US found itself awash in foreign cars. Volkswagen, which had set up shop in 1949, dominated the market with its Beetles, but France was selling a fair number of Renaults, Toyota had tentatively dipped a toe into the Stateside milieu with the Toyopet Crown, and the British seemed to be everywhere: my father, in fact, put up some presumably modest sum for a Ford Anglia from beautiful downtown Dagenham. In general, economy was the name of the game, and this Triumph advertisement from 1959 makes darn sure you know that:

Print ad for '59 Triumph

There were no real fuel-economy rules in those days, but 40 mpg doesn’t seem too far out of reach, providing you weren’t doing things like climbing hills in San Francisco. The engine was dinky by American standards: a 948-cc (58 cubic inches, wow!) overhead-valve inline four, pumping out 37 hp, competitive with the Beetle’s flat four. I was amused by this bit: “It will travel up to 60,000 miles without a major overhaul — often 100,000.” Today, needing an overhaul at 60k is the sign of Heavy Citrus, but back then, things wore out a whole lot faster.

Still, the funniest part, at least to me, is that it’s not really a Triumph. This is actually a ’59 Standard Ten sedan, given a Triumph badge because those Yanks know the name, having bought several Triumph TR-series sports cars in the decade. And if you saw “Triumph” and thought “sports-car engine,” who could blame you? The TR3A of that era had an engine twice as big with nearly three times the ponies.

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Did I call it, or what?

Back in January I ran a shot from a Tesla Model S P85D’s touchscreen, with two speed options selectable: “Sport” or “Insane.” Total tool of pop culture that I am, I titled that piece “Ludicrous speed.”

And now “Ludicrous” is being added as a legitimate option:

[O]wners and buyers can now upgrade to the new Ludicrous Mode on the Model S P85D. This upgrade is quite involved, requiring a new, advanced “smart fuse” and upgraded main pack contacter. Together, the upgrades result in a 2.8 second sprint to 60 mph — an improvement of 10 percent — and a quarter-mile time of 10.9 seconds, states [Elon] Musk. Car and Driver says the upgrade gives the Model S 762 horsepower.

If you are ordering a new P85D and want the Ludicrous Model update, prepare to shell out $10,000 plus another $3,000 for the required range update.

As usual, the upgrade will be offered to current P85D owners, though since it involves about $5000 worth of new hardware, it will require more than just the usual software download.

Dark Helmet, I assume, will be pleased.

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A slightly quieter crash

A lot of different things happen during a car crash, none of them good and several of them loud. Mercedes-Benz is trying to offset that noise:

When your ear hears a sudden loud noise, the acoustic reflex contracts the stapedius muscle in the middle ear to block out the sound, protecting the sensitive eardrums and other bits of the inner ear.

Mercedes has taken advantage of this in the E-Class, with a new feature called Pre-Safe Sound. When the car senses an imminent impact (using onboard cameras and ultrasonic sensors), the stereo plays a loud static-type noise around 85 decibels. It’s not so loud that it hurts, but it’s loud enough to trigger the acoustic reflex and protect the ear from the much louder sound of the accident that arrives a moment later.

This strikes me as eminently more useful than, for instance, the recent tendency of automakers to pipe engine noise into the cabin.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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Shades being thrown

This perplexes me for several reasons:

A recent study by iSeeCars.com shows men prefer brighter, bolder car colors — orange, brown and yellow — compared to women, who preferred more neutral colors such as gold, silver and beige. The study analyzed more than 25 million used cars and 200,000 shoppers.

Orange was the big polarizer for 2014; men were 25 percent more likely to pick that color than women. Last year’s popular picks for men, red and black, fell out of the top three this year in favor of brown and yellow.

Women’s picks of gold, silver and beige may have more to do with the segment in which females traditionally shop. iSeeCars said men’s interest in muscle cars can help explain the palette preferences.

In other news, brown is now considered bright and/or bold.

I might believe the muscle-car reference in connection with the Dodge Challenger, which can be had in Atomic Puke Green and a little bit of the ultra-violet, but I don’t think I’ll go any farther with that, except to remind you of Bark M.’s Boss Mustang in Screaming Yellow Zonker.

As close as I got to brown was my second Mazda 626 in Mojave Beige Mica, a color I never quite understood: I have crossed the Mojave, more than once, and none of it looked particularly beige. I did, however, like the butterscotch-pudding interior, especially since the only alternative being offered by Mazda was cheese-mold grey. (Infiniti calls it “dark taupe” or something.)

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Give ’em enough grope

TTAC head honcho Mark Stevenson reviews the V6 version of the Dodge Charger, and in so doing contrasts it with another largish sedan with sporting pretensions: Nissan’s Maxima. One particular data point that wounds me to the quick:

If you are looking for a driver-oriented cockpit, the Maxima wins this round as well, with an interior feeling very similar to the [Cadillac] CTS Vsport in the way it encapsulates you. The Charger is much more open up front and lets you put your hand on the leg of the lady next to you.

I am required to point out here that (1) my current ride is basically a three-generations-ago Maxima and (2) if the passenger seat is occupied, my hand does not stray east of the shift lever. Which is not to say that I’ve never thought about it.

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Faster than you’re allowed to imagine

You may remember the Joan Claybrook Memorial Speedometer, an artifact of the Malaise Era that topped out at 85 mph (insult one) and highlighted the 55-mph national speed limit (insults two through infinity). It died an unlamented death in the late 1980s, and in a Junkyard Find piece for TTAC, Murilee Martin finds the rare example that adheres to the letter of the law while hurling all over its putative spirit:

Speedometer from Merkur XR4ti

Said Martin by way of explanation:

The Merkur XR4Ti also had an 85 mph speedometer, but it was presented with a certain amount of winking and nudging.

Nudge, nudge, say no more.

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The Era of Bad Feeling

Tam captures exactly the mood during the automotive Malaise Era:

To someone growing up in 6th or 7th Century England, the world must have seemed overshadowed by a glorious past. Like Tolkein’s Gondor, the reminders of civilization were all around: in grand villas with no-longer-functional plumbing; huge, decrepit public buildings looted for stone to make pasture fences; and ruler-straight, board-flat paved roads, with weeds and trees growing between the frost-heaved pavers.

How similar the life of the auto enthusiast on these shores in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Performance was a thing of the past, strangled by emissions and fuel economy needs and gun-shy insurers.

Yea, verily. I had to sympathize with the plight of a lad who’d acquired a 1980 Dodge Aspen with the legendary Mopar slant six; he apparently was not aware that the ’80 model reverted to a single-barrel carb and struggled to produce 90 hp, six less than my ’75 Toyota Celica with one-third less displacement. (And after that, Aspen and sister Volaré flew out the window, replaced by an endless stream of decidedly unspecial Ks.)

Tam also cites the case of the ’76 Cadillac Eldorado ragtop, billed as “The Last American Convertible.” I dug out a guidebook to “collectible cars,” published in 1982, which had this to say:

Our guess is that it may not be until the year 2000 that the ’76 Eldo convertible becomes scarce enough to be noticed by serious collectors — about the only reason it would be desirable even then. And because most owners have already mothballed their cars as future investments, mint-condition ’76s may actually be a bit more commonplace in a few years than the lower-production, less “worthy” 1971-75 models, which aren’t all that different anyway.

Lower production? Yep. This generation of Eldo moved about 7000-9000 ragtops a year, until GM made all this noise about “Get it while it’s last” and built 14,000 of them, almost all of which went into storage.

Then convertible production resumed in the 1980s, and legalarity ensued:

In the lawsuit, filed in federal court here … two men contend GM embarked on a fraudulent advertising campaign, deliberately misrepresenting the ’76 convertible as the “last of the breed” and a “priceless collector’s item” and luring thousands of buyers with “cavalier campaign promises.”

GM attorneys countered that the lawsuit was vague and contained no evidence that GM intended, as part of a fraudulent scheme, to resume convertible production after the 1976 model year.

“Because ‘Murrica!” says Tam. Yep.

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Without so much as a PRNDL

You know about the PRNDL, of course:

That de-roundeled Bimmer probably doesn’t have a true PRNDL, but I never actually saw one until the middle 1970s, since we had owned only manual-transmission cars until I reached my teen years, and the first automatic I ever saw was this weird American Motors gadget:

Gear selection in 1962 Rambler

What we had was a 1962 Rambler, and this was the shift mechanism, such as it was, for the three-speed automatic. At the time, I somehow failed to comprehend that “D1” was the normal driving mode, and that “D2” started you off in second. The Park function, apparently an afterthought, was controlled by a lever down below, east of the emergency-brake release.

After an indifferent experience with AMC, the family switched to Volkswagen Type 2s — Microbuses — with about twice the interior space and maybe one-quarter the horsepower. (It was in the second of those VeeDubs, a ’69 T2a, that I got my first chance behind the wheel. It was, of course, a four-speed manual, and in the absence of a tach, I learned how to maximize power from the little boxer four: shift when you’re afraid not to.)

My first actual PRNDL, then, was in the ’66 Chevrolet, acquired in 1975. A two-speed, yet.

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We trike harder

Yours truly, a few months back:

The Elio Motors three-wheeler, to borrow an old phrase, is the car of the future, and it always will be. I mentioned the little ultra-econobox last year, and quoted its ship date as “next spring.” It’s not going to happen in the next eighty days, guys.

That said, the unicorn has been sighted and even photographed:

Occasionally the Elio team travels around the country showing off the Elio. Last week I was finally able to see one in person and actually sit inside.

There’s a decent amount of room inside for humans. For baggage, not so much:

The trunk’s measurements are 27″x14″x10″. For comparison, American Airlines allows 22″x14″9″ for carry on bags. Essentially you’ll have enough room back there for one carry on bag and a couple of sandwiches or something.

None of that Dagwood stuff, though.

Still, hope springs eternal:

Currently I am holding a reservation spot with a $100 down payment, but based on what I saw I am thinking about upgrading to the maximum $1,000 spot. My only trepidation at the moment is that the car was originally slated for a 2014 release date and it has already been pushed back 2½ years to mid-2016 … and with where I would end up in line I most likely wouldn’t see mine until 2017, if the car ships at all. $100 isn’t much to hold a spot for a car that might eventually see the market, but $1,000 is a serious investment.

The incentive on non-refundable reservations: half again as much gets applied to the purchase price. So he’ll get $150 off when they ship. (For now, MSRP is a stunningly modest $6,800.)

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