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A Case For Right-Hand-Drive Cars in the USA

R H D Corvette Sometimes change and new thinking is difficult. Can some of us remember when most cars were rear-wheel-drive, and the idea to change to front-wheel-drive was hard to grasp? Oh, the promised benefits were wonderful ... better traction in rain and snow, totally flat floors inside the cabin, and less parts, vibration, and costs to build. Not to mention the laughs when we saw somebody putting tire chains on a Honda Civic on the rear wheels.

So, here's a thought ... what if we moved our steering wheels to the right side of the dashboard and drove from there? After all, many vehicles are already being built in both left- and right-hand-drive versions.

Getting into and out of the vehicle on the sidewalk side would be easier and safer. There would be no more waiting for that city bus, ambulance, or minivan to pass, so you can jump out in the traffic lane when the coast is clear. As an added bonus, you might be better able to avoid curb rash on your wheels.

Crash tests favor it. Not only do most head-on collisions hit on the present driver's side, the elimination of the steering wheel and column in front of that area makes a safer area to be hit. And since so many vehicles here carry just one person, probably nobody will be sitting there anyway.

The postal delivery people already do it here in America. I asked all three mail carriers that stop at our house about this, and they all thought right-hand-drive on our roads was a great idea.

I did it in the Bahamas, only backwards. I drove on the left side of the highways, and the steering wheel was also on the left in the rented Suzuki. This took a little getting used to at first, especially a left-hand turn with a car sitting at the intersection, waiting to pull out. But after a couple of tries, this was easy enough to do.

There might be some negative aspects. Manual transmission shifting, which is a dying art anyway, would be hard to get used to. Cupholders may have to be redesigned. And for us righties, operating a cassette, 8-Track, or CD player might be more difficult. But I'm only making a suggestion here, something for us to think about.

So what do you think? Please just give this a thought, and see if you could live with this drastic change in our driving habits.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

The dash image is from Members.Ozemail.com.au.

Car Lust Classic--Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia

This post was originally published on Aug. 20, 2008--to comment, please visit the original post and comment there.

VanagonwestfaliaChris Hafner: The Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia doesn't have much to offer the enthusiast. Even the normal Vanagon was a slow, lumbering, ponderous, wheezing vehicle; only comparison to the original VW bus--a legend of slow motoring--would make the Vanagon look fast or agile. The Westfalia camper package, with added weight and higher center of gravity thanks to its tiny kitchen applicances and a pop-up sleeper tent roof, was even less athletic. The best thing that could be said about a Vanagon Westfalia on a twisty mountain road was that it was slightly racier than an RV.

What the Vanagon Westfalia offered was a dream. Like a turtle that moved slowly but carried its shelter on its back, the Westfalia's self-contained habitat offered the driver some real options. Heading down to the supermarket to grab some groceries? Fine, but if you feel like continuing your trip to, say, the Rocky Mountains, you've got a built-in camping spot. Why drop the kids off at school when you could just keep rolling up to the Yukon Territory to do a little fishing and hiking with the family?

Continue reading "Car Lust Classic--Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia" »

Restomod Roundtable

To restore or modify, that is the question
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of authenticity purists
Or to take arms against a sea of old fuddy-duddies
And by slapping on new engines, trannies, steering and suspension, end them in a cloud of your dust. . .

We now take up the issue of restomodding, or restoration/modification, in which an old car is restored but with some modern equipment added to make it faster and/or better handling and/or more comfortable. Basically, to one extent or another, to make a modern car with the look of a classic. 

This isn't a new concept, of course--people have been modifying stock cars probably since the first one rolled off the assembly line (heck, probably before there were assembly lines) and the whole hod rodding hobby is built around modifying the snot out of dad's old Buick to make it into a mean street racer. At theFiat-126p-monster-truck other extreme are the concours-level restorations in which individual parts are compared to the original for authenticity and woe to he who has '57-style floor mats in his '56.

We'll ignore these established extremes and instead concentrate on the relatively recent "project car" phenomenon in which classic--and sometimes not so classic--cars are thoroughly upgraded to drive like an Accord while looking like a Matador. Why? As we here at Car Lust often say, old cars suck. They're generally slow, handle poorly, are unsafe, and often have all the creature comforts of a trip to the urologist. Still, many of them are achingly beautiful, and even if they're not, they very often have a hold on our psyche such that we long to see and be seen driving them as they were in the old days. So why not throw a few new parts in and make them drive like new? Well, to some it's like the old joke about owning an original walking stick carried by George Washington; except the shaft has been replaced three times and the handle four.

And so we convene another installation of the Car Lust Round TableTM in order to hash out this issue. Is it cheating to take an old car and turn it into the equivalent of a Hyundai? What about that feeling of nostalgia as you motor down the road feeling what your father must have felt when he bought a similar car new? On the other hand, many of those feelings amount to noise, harsh rides, lousy steering, and standing by the side of the road while the engine cools down. For some useful background, see this bit by the boys at Top Gear:

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan--Plymouth Reliant

Reliant WagonHow we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.

David Colborne: It's difficult to understate the importance of the Reliant. It single-handedly revived a moribund franchise, one which made some truly disastrous decisions in the late '70s. It made its parent brand interesting again--sure, the quality wasn't as high as some of the competition out there, and you could tell that the Reliant and its contemporary kin were put together on a budget, but it was still far better executed than anything that preceded it. It wasn't as slow, as heavy, nor as ponderous as its predecessors--in short, it proved that somebody finally got "it." Were it not for Reliant, the Star Trek movie franchise would have died, never to return.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the K-car, didn't you?

It was only the fact of my genetically engineered intellect that allowed us to survive.

Khaaaaan Chris Hafner: In the early 1980s, two American institutions, the Chrysler Corporation and the Star Trek franchise, were teetering at the precipice of failure and irrelevance. Chrysler, perennially a distant third among the Big Three domestic car manufacturers, was on the verge of bankruptcy and had been forced into the indignity of groveling for its solvency in the form of loan guarantees from the federal government. The company badly needed a big hit to repay those loans and to assure its future.

Likewise, while Star Trek had created an enthusiastic fan following with the famous TV show and lightly-watched animation series in the late 1960s and early 1970s, by the beginning of the 1980s its future was in doubt. Based on the fan loyalty inspired by the original series, Paramount had spent $46 million to produce the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That movie, dubbed "The Motionless Picture" by the cruel and cynical, made money but was critically panned and sucked the energy out of the franchise. Given the cancellation of the original show after only three seasons and the relative lack of success of the animated series and the movie, the enthusiasm for more Star Trek appeared to be at a nadir. It would have been very logical to conclude that Star Trek was winding down its run.

As David intimates above, it was Reliant time. Chrysler's recovery depended on its 1981 launch of its pivotal K-car platform, represented most prominently by the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant. Star Trek's ongoing relevance hinged on the success of the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, starring Chrysler pitchman Ricardo Montalban and his commandeered starship, the USS Reliant.*

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Father's Day Round Table

One might reasonably argue that we here at Car Lust do not really write about cars as much as we write about ourselves; the cars are simply a vehicle (pun intended) allowing us to tell a story of how we view ourselves, our friends and family, and society generally. We're mostly average folks with an interest in offbeat automobiles, much like the readers who come here to read our Jws_dad_carmissives to cars gone by. Hardly anyone will ever drive a Lamborghini, but everyone and his brother either had a Ford Pinto or knew someone who did. As Chris put it so aptly regarding the Ford Pinto:

Somewhere, three decades ago, a designer proudly unveiled it to the bosses at Ford; workers spent their waking hours building it. Young families bought Pintos, showed Pintos off to their friends, washed Pintos in their driveways, drove their babies home from the hospital in Pintos. Some of you drove Pintos; some of your parents or grandparents drove Pintos. Pintos were on TV, in movies, in magazines and newspapers. The Pinto is part of the fabric of our history.

Since the child is father (or mother) to the man (or woman), it makes sense for us to look back at our formative years to examine where our attitudes, likes, and dislikes for particular cars comes from.  Setting aside the debate over the accuracy of the stereotype, fathers tend to be associated with the family car far more than mothers are. Most of us have fond (or otherwise) memories of going down to the car dealers with dad to get a new car for the family, driving it home, and then watching as it is shown off to all the other dads in the neighborhood, usually with the hood up and everyone making comments about horsepower, transmission ratios, etc., whether they know what any of it means or not.

Some of the most endearing posts and comments I've read on this blog are memories of dads and cars. And so we have convened another Car Lust Round Table™ to share. Included are reminiscences by Car Lust bloggers as well as links and quotes to some of our favorite posts and comments, all in honor of Dad for this Father's Day.

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Round Table--Pontiac Post-Mortem

Pontiac hood ornament I'm sure you've all noticed that what was meant to be a week-long tribute to Pontiac following the news of its demise has turned into something much longer and more drawn-out than intended. So, as our grand finale wrapping up the topic, we've all put together our thoughts on the passing of Pontiac.

Anthony Cagle:

My own experience is limited, although I have always rather favored the brand. The first car I remember as a child was my parents' maroon 2-door Catalina. I vaguely remember taking trips in it down to Alabama from Wisconsin during the summer. We'd leave at like 4 a.m. and drive all day to get there. I think that was the car I crawled into as a young lad and removed the parking brake and let the damn thing roll backwards down the driveway. I still have nightmares in which I am trying to mash down brake pedals on cars trying to get them to stop. There's at least one driving around Seattle (parked, actually, I don't know if I've ever seen it moving) and I have visions of getting into it and applying the brakes to a full stop just as a cathartic way to assuage the terrors of my youth.

The funny thing about my parents and the Catalina is that they never owned another Pontiac again (though they kept buying GM products), but that was the only car they ever talked about. They would always say, "Remember that old Pontiac we had? What a great car that was."

I always preferred the Trans Am and Firebird to the Camaro myself. That probably started with the Bandit edition because I really loved the way that car looked. It always seemed a bit more younger/sportier and maybe a bit more upscale than the Camaro, though this may be projection on my part ("*I* like it, so it must be more sophisticated"). And I remember liking the whole "Wide Track" ad campaign. To be honest, that was about the only generation I really liked of the T/A. The follow-on seemed a bit too contrived to me, and the earlier versions just lacked any real styling. Give me a black '76 with that enormous, ridiculous screaming chicken, and I would never need another car.

 

 

Continue reading "Round Table--Pontiac Post-Mortem" »

1985 Mercedes-Benz 300TD

Maroon300td When I first read David Drucker's piece on W124-series Benzes, my interest was definitely piqued. One of my first cars was a previous generation 300TD, a big maroon diesel belching beast that's probably still running around to this very day. Then I read this small piece of soul-wrenching blasphemy:

"Fairness requires that I present an opposing point of view, and as it happens, I have one. First: you can keep the Diesels. They’re slow, noisy, and hard to start. And the smoke is embarrassing. And second: the W123 wagon--the 300TD through the 1985 model--could be the most boring vehicle of its type since the first generation International Travelall. That it was burdened with a Diesel engine can only be ascribed to our government’s Draconian CAFE regulations. But regardless of motive, the Series 123 300TD was doubly cursed, and I don’t want one. And here in Scarsdale, where Mercedes-Benzes are fairly thick on the ground, neither does anybody else. 

"It’s not that nobody in these parts needs a station wagon. (Everyone, everywhere, needs a station wagon; most folks just don’t know it yet.) No, Scarsdale has plenty of station wagons, just about every one of them a Volvo. My guess is that the locals see the 300TD as being about as exciting as yesterday’s yawn. Since station wagons themselves are perceived as being pretty dull, it’s only natural that the less boring ones get the nod. That staid old Volvo finds itself in that position indicates that some of the Turbo’s panache has rubbed off on the lesser models."

Mr. Drucker is absolutely correct that, on paper, the W123-series 300TD was about as exciting as waterlogged Melba toast. 0-60 times were best measured epochally and referenced apocryphally ("It may get to freeway speed before the next mass extinction!"). Driving one with its characteristic black plumes of diesel smoke emanating from the tailpipe in California and parts of New York may run afoul of public health regulations that prohibit second-hand smoke. It handles precisely how you would expect a heavy station wagon with an inscrutably byzantine pneumatic suspension system would handle.

None of that matters.  That was never the point.

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Point/Counterpoint--Retro Cars

08_challenger Cookie the Dog’s Owner: Not too long ago, we Car Lust contributors had a lively discussion on the philosophy of automobile design and styling which was sparked by an e-mail from distinguished automobile designer Virgil Exner Jr. In the course of the discussion, my brother contributor Rob the SVX Guy said some things about “retro” cars that I felt compelled to respond to.

Rob wrote:

"You're wrapping modern internals around an outdated design language, which can be amusing, but it isn't really good design. For example, take the new Mustang, or the new Challenger. I mean, yeah, they're kinda neat, but over the long run I doubt they'll have the appeal of a car designed for today's era, with today's technology, and today's style. They exist because an aging demographic has the money to finally buy what they wanted 30 years ago, and that's what sells."

With all due respect, Rob, I think you are entirely too negative about retro styling.

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The Exner Files

My two postings on the 1970s Stutz "revival" cars (original article here, follow-up conversation with Stutz owner Jim Milliken here) led to a rather momentous event. Appearing in the inbox at Car Lust World Headquarters was an e-mail from none other than Virgil M. Exner, Jr., the son of the legendary automobile stylist Virgil M. Exner.

66_duesy_stutz 

Mr. Exner's father designed the Stutz Blackhawk, of course, but he is best remembered for the Chrysler "Forward Look" cars of the 1950s and 60s. (He also designed the first postwar Studebakers, the timelessly cool Diablo concept car, and a few others you might have heard of.) Mr. Exner, Jr., who has had a distinguished career in design in his own right, had some interesting things to say about the design of the Esquire/Renwal "revival" cars, the stillborn Deusenberg, the Stutz, and just about automotive design in general. I've reproduced his letter below the fold, followed by my reactions and those of some of the other Car Lust contributors.

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Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia

VanagonwestfaliaChris Hafner: The Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia doesn't have much to offer the enthusiast. Even the normal Vanagon was a slow, lumbering, ponderous, wheezing vehicle; only comparison to the original VW bus--a legend of slow motoring--would make the Vanagon look fast or agile. The Westfalia camper package, with added weight and higher center of gravity thanks to its tiny kitchen applicances and a pop-up sleeper tent roof, was even less athletic. The best thing that could be said about a Vanagon Westfalia on a twisty mountain road was that it was slightly racier than an RV.

What the Vanagon Westfalia offered was a dream. Like a turtle that moved slowly but carried its shelter on its back, the Westfalia's self-contained habitat offered the driver some real options. Heading down to the supermarket to grab some groceries? Fine, but if you feel like continuing your trip to, say, the Rocky Mountains, you've got a built-in camping spot. Why drop the kids off at school when you could just keep rolling up to the Yukon Territory to do a little fishing and hiking with the family?

Continue reading "Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia" »

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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