Car Guy

Car Guy

How Uncle Killed Pontiac

By 12.15.14

The French philosopher-economist Frederic Bastiat wrote about the unseen repercussions of government interfering with the market’s natural progressions. In other words, what might have been. Perhaps the saddest four words in the language.

One such might-have-been is the 1982 Turbo Trans-Am.

You have probably never heard of it. Because, of course, it was never produced. But it almost was. And had it been, Pontiac might not have gone out of business.

But, I am getting ahead of the story.

It was the early ’80s and the Pontiac Firebird (and its sister car, the Chevy Camaro) were long overdue for a major update. They’d been in continuous production since 1970 and although they’d both set sales records for their respective divisions in the mid-late ’70s — in part because they were neat cars but also because there were so few other neat cars around during the disco-era darkness — by the time of Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration, it was clearly time for a change.

Car Guy

If the Tesla D’s Such a Great Car…

By 10.20.14

My teeth hurt. Over the past week, I’ve been assaulted by one “news” story after the next about the latest fruit of government motors. Not GM. Tesla. The Model D. It is very slick! And very quick! It has all-wheel-drive! Not one but two electric motors (which isn’t new, by the way). Orgiastic comparisons with Porsche 911s and other exotic high-performance cars.

No mention, of course, that the government doesn’t pay people to buy 911s. Nor is Porsche a rent-seeking cartel whose existence depends on government support.

I was asked recently during a radio interview (here) why I do not like the Tesla. But that is not the right question, much less a fair question.

Car Guy

Bring Back T-Tops!

By 10.2.14

Some things — bell bottom corduroys, for instance — will never make a comeback. Well, hopefully. But I’d really like to see a new car with T-tops again.

Remember T-tops?

The ’68 Corvette was the first production car to offer them (though the idea had been patented in 1951 by Gordon Buehrig, automotive god/he-who-designed the ’35 Auburn Speedster and Cord 810, among other beautiful things) and by the late ’70s — by which time convertibles had all-but-ceased-to-exist — they had become a popular way to experience the wind in your hair.

They weren’t flimsy and easily damaged — stained/torn — like convertible soft-tops. And they weren’t heavy and unwieldy, like a removable hardtop. (This was before the invention/widespread availability of the folding retractable hardtop — which eliminated the need for a block and tackle or, at least, two strong men plus somewhere to put the damned thing once you got it off the car.)

You enjoyed the open-air experience when the weather was nice and you were so inclined. The rest of the time, you had the physical security against the elements (and the maggots) of a hardtop.

Well, except when it rained.

Car Guy

Another One Bites The Dust

By 8.7.14

Some unhappy news came in the mail yesterday. A notice that my favorite car magazine—High Performance Pontiac—will be ceasing publication after the October issue.

Pontiac itself, of course, ceased building—scratch that, selling—cars almost ten years ago (in 2006) and really—if you’re a purist like me—hasn’t purveyed anything truly “Pontiac” since the very early ‘80s, when the last-of-the-line Pontiac V-8s were made. I’d go back even farther, to 1979. That was the last year you could buy a brand-new Pontiac powered by a high performance Pontiac V-8. And even those—the final run of “T/A” 6.6 liter 400s—were leftovers from the ’78 production run. They were installed in a relative handful of Trans-Ams and even fewer Formula Firebirds, and only paired with a manual transmission. The smart set knew these would be last of ’em—and snapped ’em up quick, at top dollar. Today—almost 40 years later—these second gen birds of rare plumage are highly collectible.

But that’s just the problem—well, HPP’s problem.

I guess it’s my problem, too.

Car Guy

Roasting Kids

By 8.6.14

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you already know all about it. And you know what’s coming on account of it. Homer’s car — you know — the one designed by Homer Simpson, with every Rube Goldberg-esque gewgaw imaginable by the mind of a cartoon TV show idiot — is becoming a reality, courtesy of unfortunately all-too-real-idiots who get to dictate car design such that it assuages their overwrought emotions.

At other people’s expense, of course.

The latest affectation aborning is a mechanism to prevent children inadvertently left in the backseat by their negligent parents from being roasted to death. It is the latest cause célèbre. You’d think — if you watched the news — that kids roasting to death in cars was a national epidemic. Like kids being crushed underneath the tires of backing up cars (which prompted mandatory in-car back-up cameras, whether you’ve got a kid or not).

Car Guy

The Old Car Loophole: When Will It Close?

By 6.9.14

They haven’t — yet — succeeded in “controlling” guns. Taking them out of our control, that is. One reason for this is the ferocious pushback from gun owners, who are numerous and take the threat posed by even innocuous-seeming schemes such as “background checks” and bans of “high capacity” magazines (and so on) very seriously.

It’s been the same — so far — with regard to their so-far-unsuccessful efforts to outlaw old cars. Or to enact legislation that would amount to the same thing via various end-runs.

Car Guy

The Electric Crack Pipe

By 5.30.14

I never “took” drugs — but I increasingly feel as though I’m the only one who’s not on the pipe.

In the June issue of Cycle World, there’s a friendly article about the Zero SR electric motorcycle. Reading it made my teeth hurt.

The SR is a two-wheeled Tesla whose only redeeming feature is that Uncle isn’t paying people to buy it.


Here’s what you get for your almost $17k — the base price of a new SR:

* Maximum range, ideal conditions, gimping along to conserve battery life: About 93 miles.

Even my grotesquely fuel-inefficient ’70s-era two-stroke triple — mid-20s, atrocious for a bike — can beat that. Including when it’s cold outside. When the SR’s maximum range is less — because battery performance drops when it gets cold. Which is why the company is located in California. And even if it’s warm, if you ride it hard, the bike’s range drops to about 60 miles (per Cycle World’s write-up). But the relevant point is that I can “recharge” the triple — any gas-engined bike — in about two minutes.

Car Guy

A Rearview Camera in Every Garage

By 4.3.14

Rearview cameras are now mandatory — or soon will be, starting with model year 2018 vehicles (see here for more). The government takes the position that you and I cannot back into a parking spot or out of a driveway without driving over a small child… unless we have the assistance of a closed-circuit camera system built into the car.

Ironically, it is because of the government that people have been backing up over small children.

Car Guy

Dodge Dart Debacle

By 3.19.14

Will Fiat pull the plug on Chrysler?

Just the other day, it was announced that sales of the Dodge Dart — one of the first post-bankruptcy new-design Chrysler products — are down 33 percent this year so far. Toyota has sold nearly five times as many Corollas during the same period. The Dart is now in 9th place in the segment, sales-wise.

Given that the Dart is only one year old (launched as an all-new model for 2013) this is extremely worrisome news for Chrysler. The Belvidere, Illinois plant where Darts are assembled has been partially idled — with weeks-long layoffs for hundreds of workers. And — sure sign of desperation — Chrysler has upped the incentives for prospective Dart buyers from $400 last year to $2,200 per vehicle.

But even that is not likely to work if buyers think the Dart’s a stinker. It does Chrysler no good to “sell” cars at a loss, either.

That can go on for only so long.

Whatever affection older generations felt for the original Dart, it hasn’t transferred to the new one — or to younger generations who have no memory of the original car.

Car Guy

Air-Cooled vs. Water-Cooled

By 3.7.14

Most of us have a preference for one — or the other.

I own — and have owned — numerous examples of both types. There are pros — and cons — either way.

My ’76 Kawasaki Kz900 is, of course, air-cooled. To be precise, it is air and oil-cooled — as all such bikes are. The engine castings are finned for a very functional reason: to help transfer — to radiate — heat away from the engine to the cooler surrounding air and so that airflow over the fins (and so on) can do the same thing. But oil is also used to keep the engine cool (as it does in water and oil-cooled bikes).

Because there is no other fluid to help keep things cool, the oil has to work harder in an engine sans water jackets, radiator and so on. It gets hotter — and thinner — faster. This is why many air/oil-cooled bikes have external oil coolers (mini-radiators, except for oil rather than anti-freeze) and — in some case — deep sump or additional capacity oiling systems.