Car Guy

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.

Car Guy

The Car as Codpiece

By 1.22.14

Americans are a passive people — much as they like to imagine themselves vigorous, decisive, and independent. They like to watch football. And they certainly don’t do much more than that behind the wheel.

Driving is an active verb.

But observe the typical American driver. He is soporific passivity personified. He coasts along, lost in thought (or lost in chat). Eyes half-closed, mind half lit, he rarely pays much attention to things outside his immediate orbit — unless it’s something edible. Forget about what’s happening in the rearview. He target fixates on the bumper of the car head. He plods along in line with bovine serenity.

If there are two left turn lanes at an intersection and the car head of him ambles to the rightmost one, in line with the cars ahead, so will he — even if the leftmost lane is completely empty. It will not occur to him to use that lane. Such thoughts do not penetrate his stupor.

Car Guy

Waterloo for the Radar Detector?

By 12.31.13

I love my V1 radar detector. It has without doubt saved me thousands that would otherwise been mulcted out of my hide by radar-trapping cops — and it has made driving fun again. But it’s got an issue you probably ought to be aware of.

I suspect other radar detectors have the same issue, too.

More and more new cars now come with park sensors, or collision-avoidance/lane departure warning systems. Some of these systems use — you guessed it — radar or laser signals to sense the presence of objects around the perimeter of the car. These signals constantly emanate from within (and around) the car.

(Watch video here.)

The V1 picks up this “noise” — and false alerts — because it cannot weed out the signals generated by your car’s electronics (which in my experience generate police-type K band signals) and police radar, which is almost always K or Ka band. So, as you’re driving along, the detector is beeping the warning tone for K band — and the LED warning lights are dancing — even when there’s no cop around for miles.


Car Guy

Dead Pool 2014

By 12.5.13

I keep reading stories about how healthy the car industry is. If that’s true, how come so many car brands have croaked recently? Since ’08 at least seven have gone wheels up: Saab, Saturn, Suzuki, Mercury, Pontiac, Isuzu, and Hummer. That’s more dead brands in the space of six years than kicked the bucket during the 30 years prior.

And I suspect it’s not over yet.

There are several brands — some of them big names — looking a bit green around the gills lately. It would not surprise me to see any of the following go for that ride on the white canoe:

* Scion (2004-?)
Toyota’s youth-focused small car spin-off brand is in need of the crash cart, stat.

It’s three weeks away from 2014 and there is nothing new in the pipeline. The 2014s will be the same as the 2013s — and those were pretty much the same as the ’12s… which were the same as… well, you see where this is headed. The only car in the entire Scion lineup that’s not going on four years old without much more than trim tweaking here and there is the FR-S sports car — and it’s a Subaru in Scion drag.