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Thread: Mid-70s Survivors

  1. #41
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    And that's as good a reason as any. Drum brakes are a crude design that should have died out long ago.

    There is plenty of technology that is wasted on most American drivers. For example, overhead camshafts, 4 valves/cylinder, dual-clutch manu-matic transmissions... When most drivers would be perfectly well served by an Iron Duke with a Powerglide.

    Still, high tech is part of what makes a quality product I guess.
    There's truth to that, but then it's also true that complexity adds expense as well as increases the probability that something will go wrong sooner.

    My opinion is that most drivers in the US would be perfectly well-served by, say, a pushrod V-6 (GM has proved you can build a "quiet and smooth" pushrod engine!) with TBI and an overdrive automatic. Overhead cams (let alone variable cam/valve timing), multiport EFI/direct injection, etc., are arguably wastes of money. No real-world advantage for the typical American driver.

  2. #42
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Nope!

    Case in point: Both my Nissan Frontiers (1998 and 2002) have ABS and rear drum brakes....

    Yes my Tacoma is like that too. How much more expensive can rear disks be to install on even the cheapo models?

  3. #43
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dieseleverything View Post
    Yes my Tacoma is like that too. How much more expensive can rear disks be to install on even the cheapo models?
    Probably a fair amount.

    A cast iron drum is not a precision part. Then you have some springs and other stamped steel bits. That's pretty much the whole deal.

    A disc brake caliper (and rotor) probably require a higher degree of precision to manufacture - thus more expensive.

    They're certainly more expensive to service and maintain.

    I feel no need for four-wheel disc brakes on my truck.

    Do you?

    My truck stops competently; I have never had any problems related to braking performance.

    I would choose drum rear brakes over four-wheel discs (for this vehicle). Less expensive and works just fine; minimal maintenance - and when maintenance is required, very cheap to do. (Usually, just new shoes; no worries about warped rotors or seized-up calipers. Check the price to replace a warped rotor or ruined caliper vs. the cost of a new brake drum!)

    Now, for a high-performance vehicle, of course I'd want high-capacity disc brakes. But that's a different thing entirely.

    Most vehicles - and most people - would be fine with disc/drum brakes... just as they would be fine with 15 inch steel wheels, standard radial tires and 200 hp V-6s.

    To a great extent, we've bought into the notion that we must have capability/performance well beyond our actual needs.

  4. #44
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Probably a fair amount.

    A cast iron drum is not a precision part. Then you have some springs and other stamped steel bits. That's pretty much the whole deal.

    A disc brake caliper (and rotor) probably require a higher degree of precision to manufacture - thus more expensive.

    They're certainly more expensive to service and maintain.

    I feel no need for four-wheel disc brakes on my truck.

    Do you?

    My truck stops competently; I have never had any problems related to braking performance.

    I would choose drum rear brakes over four-wheel discs (for this vehicle). Less expensive and works just fine; minimal maintenance - and when maintenance is required, very cheap to do. (Usually, just new shoes; no worries about warped rotors or seized-up calipers. Check the price to replace a warped rotor or ruined caliper vs. the cost of a new brake drum!)

    Now, for a high-performance vehicle, of course I'd want high-capacity disc brakes. But that's a different thing entirely.

    Most vehicles - and most people - would be fine with disc/drum brakes... just as they would be fine with 15 inch steel wheels, standard radial tires and 200 hp V-6s.

    To a great extent, we've bought into the notion that we must have capability/performance well beyond our actual needs.

    You're right, I wouldn't spec my truck with disc rear brakes.

  5. #45
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dieseleverything View Post
    You're right, I wouldn't spec my truck with disc rear brakes.
    At least when it comes to cars, there's a lot of truth to the argument that Americans (generally) are wasteful.

    I love powerful cars myself - and things such as four-wheel-disc brakes and light-alloy rims, etc. - are wonderful to have available. I don't want to see them become unavailable.

    What makes me shake my head, though, is seeing all these ordinary Joes and Janes driving around in vehicles fitted out with features/power/capability they simply don't have any need or use for. It bugs me in principle - and it bugs me at a practical level, because this kind of mass wastage will have negative consequences for us all. One is that we're bankrupting ourselves. In a country where the average family income is less than $50,000 it is economically unsustainable for people to be buying $40,000 AWD minivans and SUVs. Another is that the sheer wastage means we're burning through resources much faster than is necessary, which will means fewer resources (and higher prices) down the road.

    Alloy wheels, for example. Aluminum is very expensive to manufacture. It takes more energy, too. How much coal/oil - and aluminum precursors - are being wasted to make millions of 17, 18 and 19 inch rims for breedermobile minivans and S mooo Vs?

    How much fuel is wasted - not accelerating swiftly , just idling stupidly in traffic or cruise-controlling down the highway at 64 mph - in the millions of 300-plus horsepower vehicles on the road?

    My guess is we could reduce national fuel consumption by a significant percentage simply by getting most people to drive cars with engines/power in line with how they actually drive.

  6. #46
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    At least when it comes to cars, there's a lot of truth to the argument that Americans (generally) are wasteful.

    I love powerful cars myself - and things such as four-wheel-disc brakes and light-alloy rims, etc. - are wonderful to have available. I don't want to see them become unavailable.

    What makes me shake my head, though, is seeing all these ordinary Joes and Janes driving around in vehicles fitted out with features/power/capability they simply don't have any need or use for. It bugs me in principle - and it bugs me at a practical level, because this kind of mass wastage will have negative consequences for us all. One is that we're bankrupting ourselves. In a country where the average family income is less than $50,000 it is economically unsustainable for people to be buying $40,000 AWD minivans and SUVs. Another is that the sheer wastage means we're burning through resources much faster than is necessary, which will means fewer resources (and higher prices) down the road.

    Alloy wheels, for example. Aluminum is very expensive to manufacture. It takes more energy, too. How much coal/oil - and aluminum precursors - are being wasted to make millions of 17, 18 and 19 inch rims for breedermobile minivans and S mooo Vs?

    How much fuel is wasted - not accelerating swiftly , just idling stupidly in traffic or cruise-controlling down the highway at 64 mph - in the millions of 300-plus horsepower vehicles on the road?

    My guess is we could reduce national fuel consumption by a significant percentage simply by getting most people to drive cars with engines/power in line with how they actually drive.

    Yes, but people think they "need" that extra power, just like they "need" a $300 cell phone with a $100/month plan. And they "need" 10 airbags. They might have operate their vehicle in a slightly different manner then they are used to and actually think about driving efficiently. But they are too stubborn to even consider trying anything with less power (Oh, the horror!!). People (in this day and age) enjoy driving around in cars that make them look loaded, like having a huge house they like to show off, but secretly can't afford. One of the main reasons capitalism works so well is because people have something to strive for, well if they already have all they want, then there goes capitalism.

    It's just like the 60's and 70's except cars proportionally weigh more and have way more power, plus people didn't have the "me, me, me" mindset back then. Soon with the damn 35 MPG or whatever the hell CAFE mandate cars will have to get smaller/slower. Somehow people managed the 80's with smaller cars. The difference is, in the 80's the common man's car did not have to get slower (it was already slow enough), just lighter and less powerful. The safety factor of today's market screws that all up. The media had convinced everyone that they "need" the safest car on the market.

    In the meantime I'll stick to used cars.

  7. #47
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dieseleverything View Post
    Yes, but people think they "need" that extra power, just like they "need" a $300 cell phone with a $100/month plan. And they "need" 10 airbags. They might have operate their vehicle in a slightly different manner then they are used to and actually think about driving efficiently. But they are too stubborn to even consider trying anything with less power (Oh, the horror!!). People (in this day and age) enjoy driving around in cars that make them look loaded, like having a huge house they like to show off, but secretly can't afford. One of the main reasons capitalism works so well is because people have something to strive for, well if they already have all they want, then there goes capitalism.

    It's just like the 60's and 70's except cars proportionally weigh more and have way more power, plus people didn't have the "me, me, me" mindset back then. Soon with the damn 35 MPG or whatever the hell CAFE mandate cars will have to get smaller/slower. Somehow people managed the 80's with smaller cars. The difference is, in the 80's the common man's car did not have to get slower (it was already slow enough), just lighter and less powerful. The safety factor of today's market screws that all up. The media had convinced everyone that they "need" the safest car on the market.

    In the meantime I'll stick to used cars.

    One of these days, when the moment's ripe, I will buy the most massive, obnoxious land yacht I can find.. something like a '77 Continental or a '76 Coupe de Ville.

    I want a titanic-sized V-8 with a carburetor; I want whitewall tires and velour seats with opera lights on the sides of the vinyl roof!

    Civics and Corollas, outta mah way!

  8. #48
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    One of these days, when the moment's ripe, I will buy the most massive, obnoxious land yacht I can find.. something like a '77 Continental or a '76 Coupe de Ville.

    I want a titanic-sized V-8 with a carburetor; I want whitewall tires and velour seats with opera lights on the sides of the vinyl roof!

    Civics and Corollas, outta mah way!

    Yes I was thinking of something similar, but I was thinking Trabant, or an old Saab 2 stroke. Them little things can push such a stream of (normal) blue smoke out! Just something to drive to town and piss off the damned hippies in their Priuses. Of course I wouldn't want to crash in one.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0h4QOB-H_8
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2FlgFvarcY
    Last edited by dieseleverything; 04-23-2010 at 03:25 PM. Reason: added links

  9. #49
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    Eh, you guys are missing the problem.

    While it's true people DO option vehicles to their taste, their base selections are actually limited by the costs involved. What am I talking about? OK, consider the following...

    Most working couples, living on Mainstreet USA, "need" 2 vehicles to function. Our culture has driven living patterns such that "success" is defined as a single-family house on its own lot. That means that the population denisty in residential areas is too low to support practical mass transit. Furthermore, because of the availability of individual transportation, it's not uncommon for workers to live a considerable distance from their place of employment. Add to that the economies of scale that have evolved via the predominance of the big-box retailers, and you have a recipe where you simply can't function unless you have one vehicle per adult member of the household.

    Given that vehicles are semi-durable goods and aren't exactly cheap, most people are forced to buy a vehicle that meets ALL of their needs, perceived and real. Most families can't pop for 2 new vehicles so one of them is the "hand-me-down" from their last new-car purchase. When looking at new vehicles, the logical choice is to get something that is actually bigger than you need on a daily basis -- large enough to keep you from being screwed when you want to take your kids and 3 of their friends to the movies on Saturday. Then you want to consider those trips to the home-supply center for that bathroom vanity the wife wants to replace in the upstairs bathroom. Once you've figured out that you need something that's absolutely cavernous and mentally adapted to paying the tab for that -- then the larger alloy wheels don't seem like so much extra expense. Ditto the 4WD -- that would have been handy to have in that 30" snowfall that happened last February. Granted, you couldn't possibly need that for another 8 months (and maybe never again), but once people have been screwed over by having an insufficiently-equipped vehicle they tend to err on the side of extras rather than taking a chance on the same thing happening again.

    So... they buy the new oversized vehicle, and the former vehicle #1 goes to secondary use status -- until the cycle repeats. Add in a new teenage driver or two, and the cycle can be extended until they are out of the house.

    People don't buy smaller cars because they don't think they're rich enough to afford to get multiple vehicles. They only think they can afford 1 car per driver, so they get something that is guaranteed to handle nearly all the "exception" limitations on small car utilization.

    The reality is that you really need 4 vehicles to "do it right". You need one small high-mileage car for daily driving use, primarily by the driver who puts on the most miles. Then you need an SUV for hauling around the family and getting to/from the supercenters with the usual load of crap you need to keep the family going. Then you need some sort of pickup truck for very occasionaly use hauling large oversized loads, pulling trailers (including boats and campers) and disgusting stuff like loads of mulch and manure. Finally, you need something that's just for giggles and grins, to have a good time with. If you have teenaged drivers then you need to expand that number of vehicles and uses, but you get the idea.

    Carp and complain about people "overbuying" cars and "overusing" resources, but the above is the core of the problem and you won't crack it anytime soon.

    And, since I know that some of you live along the Eastern seaboard with lots of traffic gridlock, you'll never see practical mass transit in MOST areas of the US anytime soon. It's just not practical for your typical American to ride a bus or train to work, given the layout of the typical community and the cultural lifestyle that has evolved in the past 100 years.

  10. #50
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick View Post
    Eh, you guys are missing the problem.

    While it's true people DO option vehicles to their taste, their base selections are actually limited by the costs involved. What am I talking about? OK, consider the following...

    Most working couples, living on Mainstreet USA, "need" 2 vehicles to function. Our culture has driven living patterns such that "success" is defined as a single-family house on its own lot. That means that the population denisty in residential areas is too low to support practical mass transit. Furthermore, because of the availability of individual transportation, it's not uncommon for workers to live a considerable distance from their place of employment. Add to that the economies of scale that have evolved via the predominance of the big-box retailers, and you have a recipe where you simply can't function unless you have one vehicle per adult member of the household.

    Given that vehicles are semi-durable goods and aren't exactly cheap, most people are forced to buy a vehicle that meets ALL of their needs, perceived and real. Most families can't pop for 2 new vehicles so one of them is the "hand-me-down" from their last new-car purchase. When looking at new vehicles, the logical choice is to get something that is actually bigger than you need on a daily basis -- large enough to keep you from being screwed when you want to take your kids and 3 of their friends to the movies on Saturday. Then you want to consider those trips to the home-supply center for that bathroom vanity the wife wants to replace in the upstairs bathroom. Once you've figured out that you need something that's absolutely cavernous and mentally adapted to paying the tab for that -- then the larger alloy wheels don't seem like so much extra expense. Ditto the 4WD -- that would have been handy to have in that 30" snowfall that happened last February. Granted, you couldn't possibly need that for another 8 months (and maybe never again), but once people have been screwed over by having an insufficiently-equipped vehicle they tend to err on the side of extras rather than taking a chance on the same thing happening again.

    So... they buy the new oversized vehicle, and the former vehicle #1 goes to secondary use status -- until the cycle repeats. Add in a new teenage driver or two, and the cycle can be extended until they are out of the house.

    People don't buy smaller cars because they don't think they're rich enough to afford to get multiple vehicles. They only think they can afford 1 car per driver, so they get something that is guaranteed to handle nearly all the "exception" limitations on small car utilization.

    The reality is that you really need 4 vehicles to "do it right". You need one small high-mileage car for daily driving use, primarily by the driver who puts on the most miles. Then you need an SUV for hauling around the family and getting to/from the supercenters with the usual load of crap you need to keep the family going. Then you need some sort of pickup truck for very occasionaly use hauling large oversized loads, pulling trailers (including boats and campers) and disgusting stuff like loads of mulch and manure. Finally, you need something that's just for giggles and grins, to have a good time with. If you have teenaged drivers then you need to expand that number of vehicles and uses, but you get the idea.

    Carp and complain about people "overbuying" cars and "overusing" resources, but the above is the core of the problem and you won't crack it anytime soon.

    And, since I know that some of you live along the Eastern seaboard with lots of traffic gridlock, you'll never see practical mass transit in MOST areas of the US anytime soon. It's just not practical for your typical American to ride a bus or train to work, given the layout of the typical community and the cultural lifestyle that has evolved in the past 100 years.

    Hey Rick,

    Good analysis; I don't disagree with any of it. I'd only add that much of what you describe is optional in the sense that people don't have to live this way but allow themselves to be convinced they do by PR/marketing.

    The suburban McMansion, for example, usually necessitates two income earners to support it. That, in turn, prompts the couple to each own a late-model (and usually at least fairly fancy) vehicle because after all, if you're stuck in traffic a couple of hours each day you want to make it bearable.

    But if you don't buy the McMansion and instead buy a more modest (affordable) place, all of a sudden it's possible to get by on a single income -and one "primary" car, with a so-so car in the driveway, maybe, as a back-up.

    Let me give you an example from my own life.

    We used to live in suburbia (Northern Va., outside of DC)....

    Six years ago, when we sold our old house, we did not "move up" into a more expensive house (though we easily could have). Instead, we bought a less expensive house in a more affordable area. We reasoned that it would be more desirable to have less debt than more house. In fact, we used the proceeds from the sale of our old house to buy our current house outright. Thus we have no mortgage at all.

    That, in turn, means we can get by comfortably on one income - which doesn't even need to be a very large income. Granted, we don't live in an "upscale" gated community, but that matters to us not at all. Far more important is the financial peace that came as a result of the decisions we made with respect to housing.

    Many people could choose to do something similar but do the opposite.

    We also manage to get by with two older (1998, 2002) vehicles, neither of which cost more than $7,500 (but both are perfectly nice/perfectly functional machines). I do have a few (three) motorcycles in addition to this for fun - but, again, the total investment there is well under $15k. My wife - bless her - is not one of those status-obsessed materialistic you-know-whats who "can't be seen" in anything less than a BMW or an Audi (or an S Moo Veee).

    When I was single/out of college, I drove a succession of el cheapos - including an $800 VW Squareback - because I wanted to save money and thought it would be stupid to spend my then very limited resources on a new car loan for a depreciating asset (car). This enabled me to buy my '76 TA, incidentally - because I had the $5,400 (this is back in 1990) necessary to buy it. Had I bought the $300/month new car instead of the $800 VW, no way could I have afforded the TA... .

    The jist of it is -

    No one has to have a big box McMansion - or a $50,000 Tahoe with 18 inch rims on it. People choose to buy into these things, even thought they may not necessarily even provide a tangible benefit, other than filling some manufactured "need" (as you described) confected by advertising/marketing and the societal pressures that urge people to conform to the image purveyed by TV, film, culture, etc.

    But it's our choice to a very great extent. And for many people, buying the McMansion - and the $50,000 SUV with 18 inch rims - is an objectively poor choice as it chains them to debt service and, probably, a life of endless economic insecurity.

    I think that's sad - and stupid.

  11. #51
    Administrator Ken's Avatar
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    Then, of course, there is the 'added kudos' or 'penis extension' incentive. 'Look and weep guys, I've got a brand new Super-Truckmobile with all the added extras and you're still driving last years model.'

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  12. #52
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    Then, of course, there is the 'added kudos' or 'penis extension' incentive. 'Look and weep guys, I've got a brand new Super-Truckmobile with all the added extras and you're still driving last years model.'

    Ken.
    I can appreciate desiring something "nice" because you appreciate it. For example, you or me buying a new sport bike because we want (and will use) the performance/capability it offers, etc. But it's sad and kind of demented to buy the "latest" S Mooo Veee just to "keep up with the Joneses" and because you're desperately concerned about what they think of you.

  13. #53
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    I can appreciate desiring something "nice" because you appreciate it. For example, you or me buying a new sport bike because we want (and will use) the performance/capability it offers, etc. But it's sad and kind of demented to buy the "latest" S Mooo Veee just to "keep up with the Joneses" and because you're desperately concerned about what they think of you.
    'Sad and kind of demented', desperate even - sums it up nicely, Eric. Unfortunately it is all too common and I have seen the 'Keeping up with the Jones's' syndrome many times. Out here in the rural sticks it is not so prevalent but back in the hell of London's suburbia it was very common, neighbours vying with neighbours to have the latest car, the biggest television, the latest multi burner barbeque, the newest kitchen etc.

    Luckily the Jones's I have to keep up with are very sensible and have no such aspirations.


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  14. #54
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    "Luckily the Jones's I have to keep up with are very sensible and have no such aspirations. "

    Same here!

    Our neighbors/people around here are (mostly) "salt of the earth" types; unassuming, helpful and friendly people. Most of us drive older/slightly battered (but well-kept, mechanically) vehicles long since paid-for.

    There is an ocean's gulf of difference between the attitudes and values of people "in the sticks" and the suburban/urban Yuppie types we left behind six years ago!

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    (Gee, I sure hope thread hijacking isn't frowned upon here... if so, begging forgiveness in advance...)

    Eric -- your comments about people overbuying (and outspending) their income is certainly applicable in a goodly number of cases, but it's less prevalent today than it was 18 months ago. I'm going to note upfront that while I drive a 2010 Camaro and we have not one but 2 SUVs in the family I'll exempt myself from that group. Through hard work and significant fiscal discipline I only owe my monthly utility bills, even though we live in something that probably exceeds your definition of a "McMansion" and I own 9 other houses and an additional 25 parcels of undeveloped real estate. But most of the other people I know are two-income families and they are sweating their jobs, so they've streamlined their expenses and are foreswearing many of the things previously considered "must haves".

    The core of the problem with vehicle size and fuel economy remains, regardless of the price range of the housing under consideration. That is because the geographical distribution of American housing is controlled by zoning ordinances and economics, and those are driven by the peculiarly American model of population density. What am I describing? Let me explain.

    In most "old world" cultures (such as European and Asian, with Central and South America based on similar precepts), the wealthiest segment of the population lives in the core of the city. That's because the real estate there is closest to the center of commerce, and rich people want ready access to those amenities. They are willing to pay the cost of maintaining a residence in the most expensive area of real estate. The less wealthy live a little further out, and the poorest live the furthest away of anyone. The closest physical example of this to the US is in Mexico City, where the city is encircled in a ring of slums inhabited by the very poorest residents.

    American cities, by contrast, have developed for the past 100 years with the automobile as an integral part of the civilization. Cars began the 20th century as the novel possession of the rich. The wealthy found that they'd rather establish a residence out away from the grit and grime of urban life at the center of the city, and with the automobile they didn't have to sacrifice ready access to the centers of commerce. The urban cores were abandoned to those without such means of access. The reality of this development was that the poor couldn't afford the spacious digs vacated by the wealthy when they left -- so the response was to subdivide those buildings into very small apartments that the poor COULD afford. That had the result of driving up the population density in the center of the city, allowing rents to go even higher on a per square foot basis. Between the rising cost of living in the population center, the dropping price of the automobile as they entered mass production, and the stigma of living with the underclass -- the "old world" model was turned upside down. Now, if you had means, you moved OUT of the dense city environment and out into suburbia -- with the wealthy ending up in the least dense areas and the poor in the most dense, with everybody else averaging out the in-between areas according to their income level.

    To protect their investment in their residences, each level of progressively higher economic groups demanded -- and got -- protection for their neighborhoods in the form of zoning ordinances. These zoning ordinances were constructed to enforce the pecking order via regulation of housing standards and (in particular) housing density. Those zoning ordinances (which virtually every jurisdiction in the US has) are still in effect and constrain future residential development patterns via their regulations and restrictions.

    Moan, cry, and complain all you want -- mass transit simply won't work under those circumstances. You can build all the light rail you want and schedule all the buses ever built, but mass transit in most areas of the US simply won't work. The people who live outside the city core, who live out there precisely because they have the funds to afford it, will NOT deem to ride public transit as long as they can afford more personalized means of transportation. While the price of the vehicle they buy may change with economic fortunes may ebb and flow (i.e., they may not pop for all the extras in today's climate), the basic size and utility if it won't -- and physics will limit the fuel efficiency of the vehicle they DO buy. With all due respect, the basic size and fuel efficiency of their vehicles has more to do with these economic factors than it does with marketing, competition with their neighbors, or even penis envy. Those factors might influence the "extras", but they don't drive the need for vehicles with those characteristics. Indeed, back in the 50s and 60s, Detroit sold a ton of station wagons that were relatively spartan by today's standards -- and for the same reasons. But sell they did, and very well.

    I don't look for American executives to start bicycling to work en mass any time soon. Their time is too valuable to spend that way, which is why they won't stand on a corner waiting for a bus either. They MIGHT consent to a train ride if it's long enough to allow them to work on a laptop, but that would involve a longer distance commute than most do daily in their cars now. (The key is how long the ride is versus the length of time waiting at the station for the train -- most suburban commutes wouldn't shake out favorably.)

    A far better answer than mass transit to the congestion/resource consumption problem would be to encourage business to become distributed throughout the community rather than concentrated in downtown areas or even large "office parks". Most offices are fairly small (under 50 employees), so it wouldn't be any big trick to scatter them throughout the area and effect group communications via electronic means (teleconferencing). Sadly, that idea seems to be too far "out of the box" for most plan commissions and zoning authorities to comprehend.

  16. #56
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Hey Rick,

    All valid points.

    Still, we have the issue of, among other things:

    * Much more power/speed capability, etc. than is remotely relevant for U.S. driving patterns (legally and behaviorally). The typical mid-sized SUV or crossover, for example, has at least 240 or so hp. This is more power than most high-performance sports cars of the 1980s offered. Many large luxury cars now have well in excess of 300 hp and 150 mph top speed capability.

    This has become typical, routine.

    If the power is needed or actually used, then certainly it's desirable to have. But the reality is many (probably most) of the people who own such vehicles rarely use two-thirds of the available power. It's just wastage in the name of the image; an image provided by PR and marketing. How many owners of, say, a Lexus LS600 have ever driven 100-plus mph or blast 0-60 as quickly as the car is capable of going?

    Average family-type cars now have more real power/performance capability than many muscle cars of the '60s and '70s. A V-6 Toyota Camry can run a 15 second quarter mile and is capable of getting to 60 in under 7 seconds; it's quicker and faster than either of our TAs (each with massive V-8s) was when they were new. It's as as quick - or quicker - than most '60s-era GTOs!

    Don't misunderstand me. I love that powerful cars are available. I like to drive fast myself (and do, often). But most people in this country don't. Yes, they drive 5-10 mph or so faster than the posted limit - but that's hardly fast and certainly far below the capability of the vehicles currently available.

    It's like a 45-year-old with a beer gut who decides to buy a $6,000 Lance Armstrong-esque carbon fiber cycle and uses the thing to roll down the street to 7-11 and back.

    If he can afford it and he likes the bike, hey more power to him. I don't advocate taking away his opportunity to buy it. I just think it's a little silly, that's all!

    And: Many of the people buying the four-wheeled equivalents of that Lance Armstrong-esque bicycle can't afford it. They get into deep debt to acquire the thing. And that's more than just silly.

    Take current minivans as another example. These "family" cars have, to a great extent, become $30,000-plus Wurlitzers on wheels. Their weight has ballooned by 1,000 pounds or more relative to the minivans of the not-so-distant past, which in turn necessitates a large V-6 just to get the barge moving.

    Mind, the average family income in this country is well under $60k annually. Yet it is precisely this demographic that's bought into the $30k van with AWD and multi-screen DVD entertainment system, etc.

    Again, silly (my opinion) and a whole 'nother issue vis-a-vis housing/transportation.

    The sad thing is the sensible among us who buy what we need and live within our means are dragged along by the ad and marketing-fueled urges of the general public, which results in ever-increasing cost/complexity for new cars generally.

    Example: Remote/keyless ignition is fast becoming commonplace; five years ago it was mostly a high-end feature. I can see it becoming a de facto standard on virtually all new cars (like power windows are now) within 3-5 years if not sooner. Well, these keys can cost a couple hundred bucks to replace vs. $5 for a new mechanical key cut for you down at Lowes.

    Who really needs this stuff? Like cell phones, though, the masses glom on and in short order, we "can't live without it."

  17. #57
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    You make some good points, but allow me to jump to the other end of the spectrum -- and I think you'll agree with that too.

    Leasing a vehicle for personal use has got to be the silliest notion I've ever heard. Why not just go down to Hertz or Avis and rent the thing when you really need it? If one would only parse the times when it's really "needed" (as opposed to "wanted") you'd surely save money. My personal philosophy has always been to purchase outright and use until it starts to cost more to put the wheels back on (after they fall off from wear) than it is to buy a new one, then repeat the cycle. Most of the time the old vehicle is sold rather than traded in because it has so little resale value to a dealer.

    And I have family members who have gotten themselves into a jackpot by insisting on having all the "things" in life as soon as they got out of their parents house. A new house, 2 new luxury vehicles, and a house full of furniture. The house was 100% financed (mortgage + interest only loan), the vehicles were both leased, and the furniture was financed by the supplier. And of course all these expenses came hard on the heels of the $30,000 wedding and the $10,000 Carribbean honeymoon. The timing couldn't have been better -- right before the Crash. Now their salaries have stagnated (although still employed thus far, no promotions or raises and in fact one of their salaries now brings in less per hour) and the house has lost 35% of its pre-crash value. They can't afford to sell, and they can't refinance because they don't have the cash to pay down the balance. My observation is that they're hung out to dry for at least 15 years. Well, at least it was a hell of a wedding...

    I've always thought that trinkets such as DVD players were ridiculous, but typical purchases for "helicopter parents" (always hovering in case their dear offspring should want for anything at all). I likewise don't have a lot of love for built-in navigation systems, because I find that people who rely upon them exclusively never develop much sense of direction (and why should they, if they can have a disembodied voice yelling at them when it's time to turn?). The problem is that without a sense of the "big picture" it's too easy to get lost if the real-world varies from the digital representation of it in the nav system, and happens more often than you'd think.

    Other automotive innovations are the result of Big Brother Government second-guessing its citizens, such as air bags. If more people drove to avoid denting their cars there wouldn't really be a need for functional bumpers much less air bags, no? Some studies suggest that the more safety equipment is mandated by the government, the less care drivers will take with their driving habits because they think they're "safer" because of the extra equipment. Hence, the push for "safer" cars has the perverse outcome of yielding less-safe driving habits in the general population.

    The one area where I tend to vary with your thoughts is on the relative power of the vehicle. The objective of my purchasing cars with up-scale power isn't for the top speed. While I admit to having tested all of my early cars for that quantity, I don't any longer and it's not really important. But I DO want the necessary muscle on hand to effect a crisp passing maneuver on a 2 lane road when needed. The first vehicle I ever did much driving in was a 1969 VW Beetle, which is as horrid car as ever made. Your clue that you had floored the throttle was the somewhat increased note in the engine nose, as there was no appreciable acceleration. A semi-truck tractor had NO PROBLEM shutting me down pulling away from a stoplight. You get a whole different feel for that problem when you find yourself stuck out in the passing lane and somebody unexpectedly turns onto the road coming at you, and you don't have enough muscle to complete the pass. After a few of those experiences I reached the decision to make sure that I got enough under the hood when I purchased my next vehicle. I haven't varied from that practice and haven't regretted it in the least. The fact that vehicles with that kind of power also happen to sport very extra-legal top speeds is inconsequential to me.

    Bottom line -- I could live with far plainer vehicles for less cost, but I wouldn't want to give up that ability under the hood.

    Still, you can't deny that these things get added into our cars because of the market response to them. While it may not be wise on the part of many individuals, it's the result of individual liberty and economic freedom at play. And a free society, in case you hadn't noticed, is a very messy business.

  18. #58
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Amen to all that (and sorry to hear about the family member left holding the proverbial bag; we have that in our family, too).

    On "slow cars" -

    I, too, am a former Old Beetle owner, so I am very familiar with the palsied "acceleration" (0-60 in roughly 30 seconds, if everything worked right) these vehicles delivered. They could be genuinely dangerous, as when trying to merge/pull into traffic.

    Today though, there really is nothing comparable. I think the dead slowest current year passenger car you can buy needs about 11 seconds to reach 60. And there are only a handful that slow. Most 2010 economy cars get to 60 in well under 10 seconds; not spine-compressing speed but certainly adequate for most routine driving.

    I think I have a reasonable perspective on this, since I drive 1-3 new cars every week and have done so for almost 20 years now.

    Even a Prius hybrid can hold 70 mph without much strain. And it will do more than 100, if you give it a little room and time.

    Many current-year economy cars are capable of 120-plus; virtually all mid-sized, V-6 "family" sedans will do that (and more) easily.

    Cars with 130-plus top speeds are common. 140, 150 is no longer anything especially special. To stand out these days, a new "performance" car needs to get to 60 in less than 5 seconds and top out well over 150 mph.

    In the past five years of test-driving new cars, I can honestly say not one of them was dangerously underpowered. Not particularly fun, ok. But a serious lack of adequate power to merge/pass? Nope.

    Cars like that just aren't made anymore.

  19. #59
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    In the past five years of test-driving new cars, I can honestly say not one of them was dangerously underpowered. Not particularly fun, ok. But a serious lack of adequate power to merge/pass? Nope.

    Cars like that just aren't made anymore.
    That in itself is great news! One of my college professors used to say that the VW Beetle was Hitler's secret plan for revenge on the Allied powers. It was his opinion that in addition to the horrible little engine in them, they also sprayed rust on the dies before they stamped the body panels. The higher iron content of the metal combined with the funky primer jobs from the factory made rust repairs extremely difficult.

    Which raises another observation about modern cars -- they don't rust any more. Back in the day within 3-5 years of leaving the factory you could expect to see holes appearing in the lower fenders and around the rocker panels. Today you routinely see 10-12 year old cars without any sign of body degredation from rust, even here in the "salt belt" of the midwest. It's probably the least-heralded development in automotive technology in the past 30 years.

  20. #60
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick View Post
    That in itself is great news! One of my college professors used to say that the VW Beetle was Hitler's secret plan for revenge on the Allied powers. It was his opinion that in addition to the horrible little engine in them, they also sprayed rust on the dies before they stamped the body panels. The higher iron content of the metal combined with the funky primer jobs from the factory made rust repairs extremely difficult.

    Which raises another observation about modern cars -- they don't rust any more. Back in the day within 3-5 years of leaving the factory you could expect to see holes appearing in the lower fenders and around the rocker panels. Today you routinely see 10-12 year old cars without any sign of body degredation from rust, even here in the "salt belt" of the midwest. It's probably the least-heralded development in automotive technology in the past 30 years.
    Rust was, indeed, a common issue with those cars - pretty much all cars built before about the mid-late '80s.

    Around this time, not just factory rust-proofing but also body integrity began to get much better, across the board. Take a look, for example, at our TAs vs. 'third-gen '80s era TAs. Our cars don't have flush-mounted glass; they have lots of poorly-fitted plastic chrome trim that allows water to seep in and retains it, too - accelerating rust (virtually all '70s-era F-cars, except those that never, ever get wet, have some rust around the bottom corner of the rear glass). Body panel fit is much looser and it's much easier for water to seep into areas where it doesn't dry out quickly.

    Hence, rust!

    Things are exponential better these days. I own, for example, a "beater" pick-up that sits outside and only gets washed/cleaned a few time each year. It is driven in snow and gets a salt bath every winter. The thing is 12 years old and has no visible rust perforation anywhere yet. Amazing!

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