A Perfect Fit

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It was a long time in coming.  Possibly it should have happened sooner, but at that moment everything was in sync so I went for it.  The tan color went with everything, the brim was crisp, the size was right.  A perfect fit. I turned to my wife to show off the quintessential British driving hat.

“Is that to go with the Miata you bright home” She asked in reply.

I stopped dead in shock.  “You remember the Miata?”

“I remember everything about it.”  She answered.  “It was white, with a black interior and top.  It had a manual transmission and pop-up headlights.”

I couldn’t believe that she remembered that car so well. It was over eighteen years ago and I had the car for a total of twenty-five minutes.  Five of those were spent in the driveway.

“I remember the look of fear when you saw me behind the wheel.” I chuckled at the memory.

“It fit you too well.  A perfect fit.”

This wasn’t the only time a sporty, little, two seat, siren sang out.  Years later, two co-workers rushed to me, rapidly talking about some sports car.

“You gotta see it, Gene!  It’s so you!” They cried with such enthusiasm, they were almost shouting.

“Ok! Ok! I’ll check it out.”  I said, curious as to what was causing such a commotion.

When I reached my destination, an Austin “bug-eye” Sprite greeted me in all its crimson splendor.

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Another time, a friend, Jason, told me about two cars some guy had for sale.  One was a late 60’s Camaro while the other was, “Some British car”.

“You should buy it.” Jason said to me.  “He’s only asking $2,500 and it fits you.”

I didn’t have the funds for a second car and the insurance that goes with it, but I figured I’d check it out.  The “British Car” turned out to be a restored MGB decked out in Cobra Blue with white racing stripes.

MG MGB MkIII

I would be lying if I said I was never tempted.  Who wouldn’t want the romance of a private dance with one of these cars as your partner?  Their power isn’t high, so you can flirt at speed without being (too) illegal.  Their skinny tires and manual transmissions bring an intimacy that most have forgotten.  A decreasing radius curve up ahead? Heel, toe shift.  Heel, toe, shift.  Car and driver together in sounds and motion.  Untied in an intimate road dance.

A car like that would be fun, but I’d miss out on so many other moments that I’ve had with my trucks.

Such as all the animals I’ve brought to the wildlife rescue, or the camping I have done.  Fountains, flower beds, and furniture would not have found their way if not for the trucks I’ve owned.  I would’ve never made it to work during the Tropical Storms and aftermaths of Hurricanes without the clearance a pickup provides. Twenty three hours on the road would not have been as comfortable in either a Miata or MG as they were in the Silverado.  Thirty bags of mulch won’t fit into their trunks as they do in the bed of a Ranger.

Sports cars offer the love of machine and person; pickup trucks offer the ability to share the love with fried and family.

For me, that’s a perfect fit.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline – An automotive reboot.

Picture provided by Motortrend.co,

Picture provided by Motortrend.com

When Honda introduced the Ridgeline in 2005, it was the truck equivalent of Zima. Zomething different.  Not quite a truck, not quite a SUV.  It looked kinda like a midsized Chevy Avalanche, but didn’t carry the tough look.  Some would argue that it competed against the Subaru Baja as a modern four door El Camino, but it was chunkier in comparison.  Honda billed it as the truck for “Cool dads”, but the pitch fell too short. Honda’s Ridgeline was just too different.  The sales numbers proved this.

In 2006 The Ridgeline hit its sales peak at 50,193 sold in the U.S. When the original design ended in 2014 the Ridgeline sales struggled at 13,389. To put this in perspective, the Ford Ranger sold 92,420 models in 2006 and in its last year run of 2012, sold 19,366.  (Honda sold 14,068 Ridgelines that year.)*

With such low sales, Honda followed Hollywood’s latest trend and rebooted the Ridgeline.

First they stopped production of the previous design for two years. This let the memory fade a bit and allow a better reaction for the new version.

Second they made it fit the mold better. The original Ridgeline left you wondering what it was. The image of this Ridgeline is better defined.

Alas, as with other reboots, the traditions of the original are easy to spot. The New Ridgeline is of unibody construction just like the old one.  This is proudly acknowledged by the executive vice-president of American Honda, John Mendel.  He touts the rigidity of the unibody, while promising a smoother street ride than the traditional, body on frame trucks of Chevrolet, Toyota, and Nissan.

John is smart to point out that the Ridgeline in no way competes against the big boys of the full size team. No sir!  The Ridgeline is aimed squarely at the Colorado, Tacoma, and Frontier.

But, in a way, it’s not.

Even though Mendel boast that this is a tough truck, and that the payload and towing rates are right in the fight with the other welterweights, (Up to 1,600 pounds payload and an estimated 5,000 pounds towing as of this writing) he openly admits that contractors need not apply.

This truck “Isn’t about the jobsite” he stated during the Ridgeline’s introduction at the NAIAS, it’s “about the lifestyle.”

In short, the Ridgeline is for the hobbyists. People who need a truck for light duty projects and occasional hauling, but not a career building companion.  Campers, beach combers, motorcyclists, and kayakers are who Honda is aiming at; not landscapers, pool supply runners, and handymen.  Sure you can fit a sheet of plywood between its wheel wells in the bed, but you still have to lower the tailgate and have it stick out a little to have it lay flat.

Honda also insisted on keeping the spare tire tucked in a separate compartment under the floor of the bed. Not underneath the bed as other truck do, but in a mini trunk under the floor of the bed.  (The mini trunk also has a spot with drain plugs so you can turn it into a cooler.)  This would be such a hassle if you were carrying a load of gravel and you suddenly blew a tire on your way home.  But Honda thinks this will be a rare occurrence with its buyers.  This is reinforced by the addition of a new sound system for the bed and the vehicles front wheel drive layout.

Honda has found a way to turn its bed into a giant speaker using six of what it has named “Exciters”. The exciters vibrate the bed just like a magnet in a speaker, creating a large sound device.  Evidently Honda wants to be all about that base.

If that doesn’t shake up the market, the Ridgeline’s front wheel drive surely will. Besides being body on frame, all trucks have been designed with rear wheel drive as standard.  This is done so that when you put a load in the bed, it adds weight to the driving wheels and adds to their traction.  It also helps when towing. Truck purists are going to give the Ridgeline a long, sideways look before shaking their heads and moving on.  But, again, these are not the people Honda is aiming at.

The Honda Ridgeline is a recreational tool built for fun times. It comes with a six speed auto as its only transmission choice as well as an all-wheel drive option with a multimode terrain management system so owners don’t have to do any work in switching from front wheel drive to all wheel drive. It’s in bed 400 watt converter can power sawzalls and drills, but will more likely be used for margaritas and x-boxes.

Like every reboot, the Honda Ridgeline is high on gloss and shine. Only time will tell if it makes it into the heart of the buyers.

  • Sales numbers provided by left-lane.com
  • Quotes are from the 2016 NAIAS video on youtube

The Last Joy Ride – Part 1

A young boy bursts into the room, yelling with enthusiasm as he swipes at the wall.  “Come on! You’re gonna miss it!”

The wall glows bright blue before filling up with multiple rectangles, each showing a different channel.

“Hurry up!”  The boy whines as he waves his arm dramatically causing the channels to scroll up.

Seeing what he wants, the child pushes his hand forward and the rectangle fills the wall.

The boy squeals with delight as an image of a helmet slides into the center of a rotating tire.  “It’s on!  It’s on!”

An announcer speaks over the exciting background music.  “Tonight on ‘Road and Driver’, we bring to you the most historic road trip ever!  It is the last time a car shall be legally driven by a person across the United States!  So buckle up and stay tuned.”

A different announcer chimes in immediately. “Tonight’s episode of ‘Road and Driver’ is brought to you by ‘Cathose’; a new kind of car for a new kind of mind.”

The wall turns fades before glowing into a new scene.  A man and a woman are sitting next to each other on a couch. Latin and in their early thirties; they are crisp, clean, healthy, and radiant.  The couch is white and the accessories have just the right amount of color without taking attention away from the actors.  The scene had a feeling of warmth, safety, and security.

            “Imagine Seneca,” The man says as he smiles to the camera. “The last driven road trip.  It’s so exciting.”

            “Yes.”  She replies.  “I’m glad we’re watching it, but I’m even more glad we’re not driving it!”

            “You’re right.”  Her imaginary husband agrees.  “Driving is so dangerous now days.  I’m glad we have the new ‘Cathose’ to do it for us.”

            Seneca nods her head.  “The new ‘Cathose’ has all the safety and conveniences we need to get us where we want to go.”

            The fake husband leans in.  “Piece of mind.  It’s a new kind of mind.”

            “Oh look!”  Seneca declares, pointing at the camera.  “The show’s back on.”

            The man quickly adjusts his position and leans forward with feign interest.

The scene dissolves and is replaced by two men book-ending a map on a screen between them.  Canned applause fills the background and fades as the man on the left begins to speak.  “Thank you!  I am your host, Patrick ‘Sherman’ Phillips and this is my co-host, Brock Peter Williams.”

The canned applause rises as Brock bows and gestures slightly to the camera.

Sherman gives a serious look as he opens his monologue.  “Tonight is a poignant night for us here at Road and Driver. Tonight we witness the last time a car will be legally driven across the country by a person.”

Brock nods in solemn agreement. “Yes, yes.  It is a bitter-sweet time for us. A new era of transportation is upon us and we must say goodbye to a rite of passage and a way of life.”

Sherman claps his hands in a soft prayer and continues.  “And we are saying goodbye in a way only Road and Driver can do.  We have listened to you, our viewers and have teamed up your perfect driver with your perfect car.  Let’s take a look.”

The map on the screen gives way to show a man in his fifties standing next to a car.  The car is low and sleek and the man is surprisingly fit.

“Nathan!”  Brock cheers.  “How are you doing?”

The African-American smiles brightly.  “It’s been a blessing, Brock.  I have been humbled and honored by the people’s choice to be their ambassador on this last great trip across America.”

“What do you think of the car?”  Sherman asks.

“They picked a wonderful choice, Sherm.”  Nathan replies.  “The Chevrolet Corvette is the top of the line American sports car.  With its hybrid technology and mid-engine design, this Corvette is the smoothest, strongest, and most agile Corvette to date.  It’s America’s first sports car and carries with it the embodiment of driving passion.  There is no better car to take this trip with.”

“And what a trip it is.”  Brock interjects.  “This adventure loops the countryside.  Starting in Los Angeles, it moves upward through California, hitting Seattle before heading east, and visiting Sturgis, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, D.C., Charlotte, Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas before crossing the checkered flag in front of the Peterson Museum in Los Angeles.  A true lap of America.”

The camera cuts to Sherman.  “Now since we have been given only three hours to present this historic event.  Most of the trip has already been completed.  Nathan, where are you now?”

Nathan smiles and answers, “I am in wild Las Vegas and getting ready to throttle down to L.A..”

To which Sherman replies, “We will be bringing it to you live along with highlights of the journey taken.”

“Roll on!”  Nathan shouts as he jumps into the seat of the Corvette and hits the start button.

Your basic truck

Along a twisting ribbon of asphalt, an old Dodge pickup rambles on; its 64 year old engine chugging dutifully.  As mix of patina and rust, the old Dodge isn’t doddering along a dusty country road, no sir.  It’s running hard and heavy against much newer iron on a full-fledged race track!

LeMons_Miller_Leaders-50Dodge

This is the Twenty Four Hours of LeMons; a race where cars of questionable reliability and near the end of perceived life expectancy are given a last chance for fame and glory.  The old Dodge is here running its first race.

Grumpy Cat Racing 1950 Dodge

Four months ago, the Dodge wouldn’t have imagined it.  The truck was lying derelict behind a garage in Denver.  The owner bought the truck through sweat equity in December2013 and started wrenching on it in January.  There he found it had been in an accident and that the springs were literally held on with bailing wire!

The owner, under the handle of wizard0ne0, tuned up the engine, replaced the radiator, replaced both front and rear axles, gutted the interior, replaced the floor pan, installed a roll cage, and put in a proper fuel cell (gas tank).

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With six drivers pulling four hour stints behind the wheel, the truck that could did the impossible and became the first new to racing vehicle to not break down and complete the entire race with 149 laps.  (Very slow laps.)  Team Grumpy Cat racing might not have won the race with their old Dodge, but they did win the Index of Effluency award.

What amazes me about this truck wasn’t just the feat it had accomplishes, but that the exact same make and year of truck is the focal point for a man named John Jerome in his autobiographical book, “Truck”.

Truck-book

Through his writings, John describes in vivid detail the trials and tribulations of buying a 1950 Dodge pickup and rebuilding it from the ground up.  Not restoring it, mind you, but rebuilding it in order to make it better than when it left the factory.  “Supertruck” he called it.  From precariously hoisting the engine on a creaking barn beam, to finding out that the wheel bolts on the right side of the truck are reverse threaded for safety, John spends a year on his project before succumbing to reality and slapping the thing back together pretty much the way it was when he bought it.

The book is hilarious and full of zen-like moments.  It’s also his most popular writing.

It’s ironic that over thirty years later someone decides to take the same type of truck he had and make it work in a way he never imagined with less work and angst that he endured.

If John was alive today, I’m sure he’d bristle at this young upstart so quickly building his project and accomplishing his goals.  John would then, just as quickly admire the man’s feat before heading out to the barn to admire the honest beauty of your basic truck.

1950 Dodge

If you know who wizard0ne0 of Grumpy Cat Racing is, please put his name in the responses so I can give him the credit he, his team, and all those that helped him deserve.

From Car and Driver magazine

 

 

 

What makes a truck?

Image from Topspeed.com

 

 

Unless you are an auto enthusiast, you might not know how bizarre and convoluted the classifications of vehicles truly are.

I knew about this weird world of government vehicle classifications from various resources, but quickly set it aside to maintain my sanity.

Take for instance the question posted above:  What makes a truck?

Define it.

I bet you could rattle off the names of trucks without trying.

F-150, Silverado, Ram, Sierra, Tundra, Titan, Ranger, Colorado, Tacoma, B-2000, Frontier, Dakota… It’s as easy as looking down the street or in your parking lot. (For those outside the U.S. let me throw in HiLux, Amarok, and G-Ute trayback.)

image: Fourwheeler.com

But what about vans?  Do they count?  They do if you ask plumbers, florists, electrical workers and water technicians.  These people own vans to help earn their living and usually treat them as such.

image: Ford.com

How about SUVs?  Are they a truck or are they an amped up station wagon? A Cadillac SRX argues the case for station wagon, but what about a Nissan Xterra or Jeep Wrangler? Some would argue that their body on frame construction earns their membership into the truck club.

Image: Cadillac.com

The truth is that the “truck” classification by CAFÉ and the EPA is very broad and diverse group.  Did you know that the Chevrolet HHR and Chrysler PT Cruiser are listed as SUVs and thus in the truck club?

Image: motortrend.com

How about Subaru’s medium sized wagon? In 2006 this vehicle was listed as a wagon and an SUV depending on model.  If you picked the Legacy, it was listed as a station wagon.  If you chose the Outback version (Basically the same thing with an inch or two more ground clearance, different fog lights and plastic cladding on the bottom of the sides) according to the EPA and CAFÉ, you bought an SUV.  The Baja is also classified as a SUV, but I was half expecting it to be classified a small pickup given that Subaru cut the back of the roof off to make an open bed for it.

image: Carbl.com

image: Jasononcars.com

image: Norcalcars.com

See, I told you it was bizarre and convoluted.  (Ok. The Baja is an earlier design, but you get the point.)

One of the reasons it is so are the lobbyists and the EPA itself.  The government mandates that vehicles get a certain amount of gas mileage per class.  The problem is that for some companies their best-selling vehicle in that class is also the one that has the worst fuel mileage.  You might see a lot of SIlverados running around hauling nothing heavier that their owner and maybe their dog, but there are also a lot of them running around packed to the gills with heavy, bulky equipment or pulling trailers around.  These vehicles are designed to carry heavy loads and the strength and power needed to do it safely comes at the cost of mileage.  These trucks also have one of the highest owner loyalty groups ever.  That’s something these companies will almost kill for.  (Not including my wife and I.  Together we have own both the small and large versions of pickups from every member of the big three.)

The problem comes with trying to balance out the poor mileage truck sales with good mileage truck sales.

“Just sell more small trucks like the Tacoma and Colorado.” You say.  It’s not so simple.  See, because of all the safety regulations put into these trucks, their weight has gotten so high they are almost comparable to full sized trucks.

“Make them lighter.”  Easier said than done.  Ford is the first company to risk building a pickup with an all-aluminum body to save weight.  The metal costs more that standard steel, the build process had to be completely rethought.  (Welded aluminum will actually cause electrons from one atom “shift” to another until the entire weld breaks.), and every single Ford dealership that deal with bodywork had to learn how to properly fix damage to these panels when accidents happen and buy special equipment to fix them.  Guess where all that extra expense is going.  Yep.  Right into the sticker price.

“Well, offer engines that run on things other than gas.”  They do now.  It’s just not cheap.  You can get flex-fuel, hybrid, diesel, and even compressed natural gas engine for trucks… at  cost.

Hybrids usual cost about $1,000 to $1,500 more than a standard gas engine.

Diesels used to cost $2,000 more but with the new smog regulations the price has raised upward to $4,000 over the price of a gas engine.  (Plus diesel fuel costs roughly 50 cents more per gallon than 87 octane gasoline and you can’t use veggie oils anymore since it will clog up all the new technology.)

Compressed Natural Gas in the latest offering to help the EPA ratings.  Not being gasoline at all, it really boosts the numbers up and at roughly $1.50 per gallon to fill-up, the compressed natural gas option looks really good.  Until you see the price tag of $9,500 for this choice.  And that’s down a thousand from last year’s price!  CNG also has the wonderful challenge of dealing with safety in crashes.  Remember the press GM got over its Volt electric car?  People were shocked that the batteries ripped open when the vehicles were crashed so hard into walls that the frames ripped apart.  (Something that happens to all the cars tested when doing the offset crash into a giant, sharp block of concrete.)  Imagine the sheer terror when one of these trucks is hit so hard that the compressed gas tank ruptures.  The reports will have you think a nuke went off!

Because people want real good mileage in a class of vehicle that is designed to do heavy work, we have odd things like station wagons and minivans listed as trucks.

So I ask, what is a truck?

Let me know in the response section.

2015 Jeep Renegade – Have we met before?

Jeep Renegade

Jeep is screaming at the top of their lungs about the new Renegade.  Oddly enough, it seems familiar.

It’s not the full independent suspension.  That’s completely new and going to cause all sorts of revolts from the Jeep purists.  (It is based off the Fiat 500 after all.)

It’s not the size.  It’s roughly the same as the square head-lighted, YJ Wrangler, but the four doors changes the feel dramatically.

It’s the look!  I’ve seen that look before.  No.  Not on a Jeep.  I’ve seen it somewhere else.  Oh, that’s right.  The International Scout II.

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The Scout II was International’s attempt to compete against the popular Jeep CJ-7.  They made it a little bigger to carry people in the back more comfortably and give a little more storage space behind them.

amunoz

Never heard of them?  They started out making competitors to the Chevy Suburban and worked there way down in size.  They never had a lot of sales, so they eventually went bankrupt in the Eighties.

Now Jeep brings out this little runabout and I can’t help  but notice the similarities.

Same round headlights

2015-Jeep-Renegade-Trailhawk-show-floor-on-stage

Same upright grill

Same boxy look

And same kick up in the bottom of the rear side window.

It’s a modern Scout  to me.  Possibly getting a diesel option for it doesn’t separate the idea either.  International threw diesel engines in the Scouts back in the day as well.

But then, Jeep doesn’t really have to worry about people like me noticing the look. They aren’t aiming this at me.  They aiming at the people who have Soul.  Kia Soul that is.

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Yep.  They built this to go after Kia.  I didn’t know the urban commuter was so important to Jeep.  You sure wouldn’t know this from their commercials.

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To compete against the Soul, The Renegade will have the same interior mood lighting and techno gadgets galore.  To one up Kia, Jeep will offer a double sunroof as an option.  It’s called a sky roof and will let a lot of sunlight in to wash out the touch screen on the dash quite nicely.

2015-jeep-renegade_100458780_m

As you can bet, the hardcore religious Jeep worshipers are going into hysterics over this.  They are crucifying the Renegade and anyone who defends it with a passion that would make any political party envious.  “Ugly” and “Fiat Panda wannabe” are among the few comments I can repeat here.  Most are far worse.

There is a chance for Jeep to get a marketing win out of this though.  The know it’s not a Wrangler.  They don’t want to try to sell it to Wrangler buyers.  They want to sell it to Kia owners.  So they need to make their commercials for this market.  This give them a chance to spoof themselves.  Using an overly dramatic voice they could talk about conquering deadly potholes, splashing through the torrents of the neighborhood sprinklers, and narrowly avoiding the rampaging large SUV wildlife on the road while snagging the tight parking spot right next to whatever hangout is popular at the moment.  Don’t think it will work?  It did for Suzuki (until Consumer reports killed it)

 

Now if Jeep wants to get crossovers from their own brand there’s only two ways of doing this.  Camping and Ralley.

Mini-Countryman-ALL4-Camp

Mini Countryman mud

Either way it’s going to be an interesting time for Jeep – even with a 30 year old style.

Jeep-Renegade-2014-Image-069-800

Turning the Flywheel of inspiration and hope.

If there’s one thing a writer or blogger will talk about is the persistent problem of writers block.  It can come numerous sources.  Boredom, stress, family, work, obligations, distractions; the list is endless.

But there is a book that puts all these problems to shame.

Flywheel:  Memories of the open road.

It’s a collection of an automotive monthly magazine put into book form but it is unlike any automotive magazine you’ve ever heard of.  This magazine was created by and for Allied prisoners of war during World War Two.

Soldiers imprisoned in Stalag IVB formed a small “car club” called The Muhlberg Motor Club (MMC).  A membership of six soon grew to over 200 with most never even owning a car.  (Most learned to drive while in the military.)

Not only did they have the challenge of creating stories to write about, but they had to work hard just to get ink and paper!  To create colored ink, they stole quinine tablets from the infirmary.  The glue binding the pages together was created from their daily millet soup.

Under the stress of imprisonment, these soldiers  created storylines, thought of new technologies, wrote and illustrated not only the vehicles of the times but of what the future would bring as featured in a report of an auto show.

Flywheel:  Memories of the open road shows that inspiration and creativity can happen in even the worst conditions imagined.