Despite their Worst Intentions

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Cars are so much better than the government had intended that one can only imagine how good they might have been had the government not been involved at all.

In the first  place, the government meant for most of us (but not them) to be driving small cars with not much power. This was the purpose of Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements, which first went into effect back in the 1970s.

And initially, it worked exactly as intended.

Cars got “downsized” across the board. The typical layout of the American family car went from rear-wheel-drive with a V8 engine up front to front-wheel-drive with a four cylinder engine parked on top of the front wheels. Cars shed horsepower and engine displacement as well as curb weight, as the engineers groped for more MPGs. Instead of 4,000 pound Impalas with 5.7 liter 350s (and 7.4 liter 454s) under their hoods, Americans found themselves driving 2,800 lb. pound K cars with 2.6 liter “hemi” fours.    

Then something marvelous happened.

As a side effect of the quest for Ever More Efficient, engine power began to swell again. Things like roller (rather than flat tappet) camshafts allowed more aggressive valve timing without costing gas or drivability. Cylinder heads – which were increasingly being made out of aluminum rather than cast iron – flowed more air, which made more power. Carburetors were replaced by electronic fuel injection.

All of these things – which are now standard equipment in economy cars – were once exotic technologies used in race cars or very expensive high-performance cars.

We began to have our cake – while Uncle had his, too.

The upswell in power – and performance – continues to this day. Current year family sedans are quicker than most muscle cars ever were – and twice as fuel-efficient.

Despite the government.

It must be infuriating.

Prices, also, have remained reasonable – notwithstanding the constant piling-on of federal mandates that have added expense to cars.

Some will disagree with this – pointing out that the average price paid for a new car is now well over $30,000. This is perfectly true. But it is also perfectly true that there are lots of cars available for about half that and they’re not lacking amenities – or power.

A side-by-side comparison of what was available Then vs. Now – and for how much – is very revealing:

A 2017 Chevy Cruze sedan, as a for instance, stickers for $16,975 – which is almost exactly what a 1981 K-car cost brand-new, in inflation-adjusted dollars ($5,880 in 1981 – the base price of a new K-car – has the same buying power today as $16,477).

The Cruze comes standard with a turbocharged 1.4 liter engine that produces 153 hp and gets the car to 60 MPH in about 8.8 seconds; it comes standard with climate control AC, power windows and locks, a four speaker stereo with in-car WiFi hot spot and a seven inch LCD touchscreen.

The ’81 K-car had a 2.2 liter engine without a turbo that made 82 hp and got the car to 60 in about 12 seconds – without air conditioning or power locks or a stereo with Wi-Fi and a seven-inch LCD touchscreen.

It came with a three-speed automatic (the Cruze comes with a six-speed automatic) a speedometer and some idiot lights.

It did, however, get very good gas mileage: 29 city, 41 highway – which the new Cruze, with all its technological advantages, only manages to just roughly equal (30 city, 40 highway). But this is due to government meddling – specifically, government demands that new cars meet impact standards the K-car and its like could never have met – which have badly hurt the fuel-efficiency potential of modern cars.

The ’81 K-car only weighed 2,338 lbs. A 2017 Chevy Cruze weighs about 500 pounds more (2,870 lbs.) and this added bulk is mostly structural steel – added to make the car more able to absorb impact forces. Which is not a bad thing, except that it compromises the fuel economy potential of the car.

A Cruze that weighed what the K-car did – with all the efficiency advantages of 2017 – would almost certainly achieve at least 50 MPG on the highway.

But the point is that notwithstanding almost 40 years of piling-on regulations and mandates, a modern K-car equivalent like the Cruze is a vastly superior car by just about any measure. It is much more powerful and equipped with amenities that would have been inconceivable back in ’81.

Yet costs almost exactly the same in real terms.

This is nothing less than a miracle . . . of the market. A testimony in steel and glass and plastic to the seemingly inexhaustible ingenuity of  the engineers. Who – despite the obstacles put in their way – have managed to give us cars that perform better and are much better-equipped for no more money than cars cost us decades ago.

Can you imagine what might be possible if they were free to design cars without government constantly interfering?

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  1. Yes, I can.

    We’d probably have autos that could travel 100 MPH, on roads that are safely designed to accommodate them. (Maybe road-building tech would be a good future subject.) And those cars would accelerate to those speeds in under 3 seconds. Yes, I can imagine other possibilities.

    I can also imagine the good that could happen when we stop having different Uncles battling over turf when it comes to creating fatwas against auto manufacturers.

  2. eric (sounds like Clover),you say a new car average price is 30k but you pointed out some months ago the average price of a new car is 34k.

    Seems like you quoted a new figure taking in all cars sold currently.

    Maybe the mean price is one or the other

    Not taking you to task but which is the average?

    And not to muddy the waters but car sales that you quoted are down 7-8% but light trucks are up 6%. Not trying to compare apples and oranges, but what is the true

  3. BUT…..

    The ultimate effects of Uncle’s fartwars may not be readily apparent to many YET, but…they are coming.

    The price we are paying for good performance and good mileage through advanced technology, is in the cost of repair and the fact that these cars not durable.

    I saw a K-car being driven down the road last year. You will not see a Chevy Cruze 35 years from now; probably not even 10 years from now.

    The cars have gotten so complex (And never mind the fact that the manufacturers have abandoned all sanity when it comes to designing them in such a way to make repairs even accessible enough to be feasible….like on the newer Ford pick-ups, how the CAB must be removed to change the turbo, or even the oil pan!!!) …but they’ve gotten so complex, that independent repair shops are being cut out of the loop, and many newer cars are becoming dealer-only for any repairs (Even something simple, like brake work, now often requires a trip to the stealership to reset a computer/module, which is only do-able with proprietary dealer-only software).

    And with even the simplest functions of cars now being controlled by computers, once the manufacturer stops supporting/updating the software….just throw the car away if it breaks, or won’t pass Uncle’s updated inspections.

    So we may be relaxing a bit, thinking it’s not so bad….but in a few short years, we are going to find that a used car is going to be rarer than hens teeth (It will no longer be economically feasible to buy a car once it’s out of warranty; and any remaining old cars, if not outright out-lawed, will be so valuable, they will only be for show [Heck, it’s practically to that point already])

    Countries around the world are setting a future date for the out-lawing of internal combustion-engined cars (And they all just “coincidentally” happen to be picking the same date- 2030…)- This includes Germany and India, and I’m sure the Scandinavian socialist republics will be onboard soon if not already…

    Here in ‘Merca, instead of just making an overt decree, Uncle does it on the sly. By 2030 here, the same objective will have been accomplished, only through planned obsolescence and making driving economically unfeasible for the masses. -and of course, the car manufacturers will get most, if not all of the blame, in the eyes of the average peon, with the help of the media, of course…..and Uncle will come out looking squeaky clean.

    • good points. I have in mind Range Rovers. Pay $70k for it new and in 10 years it is worth $5k because nothing works on it and is too expensive to fix.

      Cars that have auto braking and all the safety bells and whistles. Are all of those systems tested at safety inspection? Do they have to work like the rear wiper?

      • Oh dear goodness! Range Rover has to be the most extreme/textbook example!

        In the states that have inspections, pretty much anything that doesn’t work will make it “fail”- and there’s usually a light that comes on, to alert “you” [read: “them”] to the fact that that something ain’t working.

        How about all the new cars with ultra-complex “non-serviceable” trannies? Tranny fails? Spend $5K for another one, or scrap the car…..

        I can’t even imagine all the bells and whistles and flashing lights the new cars must have, with all of their “safety” features.

        Heck, my ’00 Excursion would go “dingdingdingding!!!” ever minute or so if you didn’t buckle the seatbelt- Just that one thing was ruinging my enjoyment of the truck- I wanted to drive it off of a cliff! And that was just ONE thing. I couldn’t even imagine dealing with a new car! (I found a way to disable the annoyance).

    • At some point I predict that rebuilding old cars to be daily drivers will be a viable industry. Also there may be a viable business in small volume local auto manufacturing. Companies making yearly production less than the new limits where cars have to comply with all the regulatory burden. My guess is that they will capitalize on the new chassis/bodies available on the market. A couple companies will stamp out classic bodies and then they’ll have a few dozen or more customers that will turn them into finished cars as the manufacturer of record. Each staying below the federal limit.

      After a few years of this rebuilding and building classic-looking cars from scratch the feds will shut the whole thing down.

      • The problem with this small scale stuff is the production never gets large enough to find an economy of scale so they are extremely expensive. Isn’t there a company that sells 69 camaros built with new bodies?

        • There are several companies out there just that I know of (don’t remember the names) who take old cars, or just certain specific vehicles with good bodies, and re-do all the mechanicals, but the finished product costs between $80-$100K, so they’re not really viable for the average person. (And you should see- for that, one company at least, doesn’t even touch the bodies- they just clear coat over ’em- over faded/eroded paint and surface rust and all- they look like “rat-rods”. )

          I think part of the problem too, with Brent’s scenario (as great as it sounds), even if it could be econo,ically feasible, we have to remember that it’s getting to the point where the majority of potential customers now are young enough to have never known the good old simple cars. They think that the way things are now is the only viable way to do things, and that a car without all of the electronics and frills would be like “returning to the stone age”.

          This is exactly why they manage to sell these monstrously complex irreparable Rube Goldberg contraptions-on-four-wheels, because the average person ooo’s and Ahhh’s at all the “advanced technology”- “oh, check this out; automatic braking! And lane-keeper function! And a touchscreen instead of a knob! Yeah!”- because they never even give a thought to what happens a year after the car’s out of warranty, and those things break, and it costs $2K just to fix one little thing….but then again, the car will probably be repo’ed before that happens anyway, right?

          • I have a niece that when she turned 16 was offered a late 90’s cavalier to drive. SHE WOULDN’T TAKE IT!! Demanded something newer. It will be interesting to see how her perception of life changes once she is on her own. Oh her parents bought her a nicer car, it is newer than mine.

            She will be 18 in a month and barely drives at all, she pretty much just sits at home and stares at her phone all day taking pictures of herself.

            • What was my point? I guess that kids thing they need and deserve the newest tech. Leases or renting is probably going to be the new car “ownership” model.

            • Just sounds like a modern entitled kid.

              The rental society is being pushed and people are being conditioned for it. People seem to enjoy modern serfdom so long as their cages are nice. I refuse to participate. My lifestyle may be “poor” but I own it.

              • That is why i say it will be curious to see what she acts like after school. Heading off to college. Has little money, no job. I assume parents will still support her as well as paying for much or all of school. It’s going to be a rude awakening when reality strikes and suddenly she has to pay bills.

              • The fact that businesses like Rent-A-Center and Aaron’s can exist, really confirms what you say, Brent. Have you seen these places?

                Idiots go there and “rent” new furniture and appliances, and end up paying FOUR or FIVES times the retail price for them, by the time they’re paid off.

                I knew someone who used to do repo’s for one of those places. The stories he’d tell! There were several people who ended up paying over $2K for a PLAYSTATION!

                I can’t even imagine paying retail for something…never mind 5x retail!

                Number-wise, my lifestyle may be “poor” too- but I tell you, I could care less about the things that people are selling their souls for these days. $500 cell phones? I freaking hate cell phones!!! I use my $20 phone maybe 2x a year, and one day may just toos it entirely. ($84 a year is really too much to keep the stupid thing active!)

                $150/month cable TV? I wouldn’t have it in my home if they paid ME $150 a month to take it!

                $299K home with 30 year mortgage? No thanks…I like my $12K used mobile home just fine, and it and the 27 acres it sits on are paid for.

                I’m so happy, I’m delirious. Funny thing is though, so many of these people I see, who spend so much money and have all of the stuff that is supposed to make them happy…aren’t.

                My mother and aunts and uncles grew up during the Great Depression. It was a big deal to them when they were kids, if they had a piece of cake. Today, freaking 12 year-olds are walking around with $500 phones and $300 iPuds, and computers and ATVs…and they feel the need to take drugs!

                • There are things I want but I will not be a debt slave to have them. The big garage and workshop probably would make me happy since it has nothing to do with why the debt serfs buy, for status. I buy stuff that makes me more independent of others.

                  27 acres. I would probably live in mobile home for 27 acres while I built more permanent structures. But government forbids such stuff around here. And that $299K barely buys the empty lot of 1 acre or less.

                  • Hi Brent (and Nunzio) –

                    I took the middle path about 15 years ago. Strapped on my parachute and bailed out of the DC area and landed here, in The Woods of rural SW Va. It’s a very nice area and still affordable (which is part of what makes it nice). No zoning laws in this county. No smog check. You can buy 10-20 acres for about $50k, depending on how it lays. I bought mine adjacent to two huge tracts (100-plus acres) and so mine feels like a small country. I heat my place with wood I cut on my land – so, free. I rarely need AC because of the elevation (3,200 feet) and breeze. My cost of living is less than half what it was in DC – where I lived on 1/4 acre with Clovers all around me.

                    I still have to pay rent to Uncle, of course, And there are still Clovers – but fewer of them.

                    • eric, I’ve wondered if you could go to the furthest part of the Nevada desert and not find a Clover. Then again, that desert holds a lot of secrets. Having a resident nosy Clover could be an instance for the three S’s.

                    • 8Man, the thing that spoils the West these days, is that the majority of the land is owned by the Feds. (Yet another part of the Constitution they conveniently ignore….).

                      I’d love to go and set-up shop somewhere in the middle of the desert miles from anyone or anything….but I guarantee ya, if ya did that these days, you’d have helicopters buzzing your place every night; just about every car you’d pass on the highway would contain some government goon, from state po-leece, to county sheriff, to forest “rangers”[read: federal cops] to BLM agents, to conservation agents..military Po-Leece, Border Patrol….. For a place ya’d think would be “free”, there are probably way more government agents than there are private citizens.

                      The West has been conquered 🙁

                    • Hell, Nunzio, you can hang out in my house and get a “helicopter” lesson. I especially like it when they send 2….count em, 2 friggin Apache’s loaded to the gils and hang out ride behind my barn. If you don’t think that gets everything moving you need to try it. Close enough I could take em out with my Garand. Maybe not, but I’d like to see what that 220 Gr. AP would do. Of course, even if I won the battle I’d lose the war. Ground troops seem a good deal more wary.

                    • Yeah, 8Man, we get ’em here too. It had stopped for a year or two…but now they’re back. ‘Least there are plenty of other places for them to look at though, so one doesn’t have to feel quite so paranoid as if they were the only place for miles around (I guess, in which case, the gyros would just hover in one spot for hours?)

                      Another fine use of tax money. “Keeping us safe” and all- and ya know, I guess it works- as every once in a while you read about them find a few marry-jew-wanna plants on someone’s place. Can you imagine the horror? Growing plants?!!!! 😮 Naturally I assume the hell-i-cop-turds all get the mandated CAFE fleet MPG’s and have emission controls, like catholic-converters, so that they don’t inadvertently spew some excess CO2 which might make those plants grow even larger!

                  • I was recently considering building myself a very modest house, Brent- With there being no gov’t interference here, I could probably do so quite cheaply, ‘specially if I was frugal about acquiring materials- but then I think: Why? My property taxes would probably triple; and since modest (small) houses aren’t cin demand by the debt slaves, it likely would not add much value when I want to sell (If i should be so lucky as to be able to exit this country while we still can).

                    After having lived a good part of the first 39 years of my life in apartments, this trailer seems like paradise to me! (My mother somewhat laments hers- which is actually nicer than mine, despite only having cost $7K- …..women!)

                    Eric, Glad to hear that you are living the good life, too. The glimpses I’ve gotten of your place from your vids and reviews, look really idyllic!

                    Sounds like our areas are similar. It’s amazing how well we can live; how are quality of life increased dramatically, on a substantially lower income than what we had previously, just by getting away from the other rats in the rat race, and the extra layers of gov’t in such places.

                    And the beauty is: We are as free as one can get in this people’s socialist republic today- freer than 99.8% of the population.

                    • That .2% who haven’t used their SS card since 1970 as some I know haven’t really are freer. Yep, they pay a price, no payments for anything, cash on the barrelhead but that ain’t all bad. If they have it, they own it. I sometimes wish I’d done that.

                    • Yes, I don’t want any part of their Ponzi scheme either.

                      The very idea that because you pay a tax (as if we had a choice), at some point, that will entitle you to benefits provided by those who have to pay an even higher tax to supply those benefits to you, while making the average person think that “they earned it”, was probably the single most diabolical larceny ever perpetrated- snd one that will never be undone until the very day that the system goes down in flames, because people see it as “their money”- although in reality, all it is, is a mortgage on the futures of their own children and all of their countrymen.

                      At least when people used to support just their own parents, the parents would usually take responsibility to ensure that they weren’t a burden to their children; and if they were, it wasn’t such a byrden, as most people had more than one kid, so they could share the expense- and once your parents were gone, that was the end of it- but thanks to SS….you pay as long as you work….and few bother to worry about saving for retirement, as “the government will take care of them”…..

            • That seems to have become the new American way of life, Todd. Not just for the middle class, either.

              I have these relatives who are one step from being indigents. Middle-aged people who work near minimum-wage jobs and get entitlements. Bought their fat pig of a son a late-model car when he was a teen. Paid his insurance, bought him gas even.

              He wrecked the car a couple of times, then blew the engine. The guy’s 23 now. Never held a job for more than 2 weeks. Is on food stamps. Uses meth, and commits burglaries. Sells his brother’s and sister’s stuff when he needs more money for drugs.

              Another relative’s teenage daughter wanted a baby- so she got pregnant by a hood rat. Now the taxpayer’s can pay for her to be a mommy. Who needs a husband or a daddy when you have Uncle? (Guess the husband/daddy concept is foreign to her anyway, since hers is nothing but a middle-aged waste of breath).

              This is not going to end well. We are looking at the creation of slave-class. We think things are bad now? Wait till these buffoons are the majority…..

            • As someone who drove, and loved, a 1993 Pontiac Sunbird (rebadged Cavalier) for several years, I’m personally offended by this kid. An old Cavalier is probably one of the best “do everything cars” ever built. Mine could even do some mild offroading if you were good with the clutch.

              Another I’d like to get my hands on at some point is a straight-6, 2WD Jeep Comanche. Probably a little better in the curves and a lot better offroad.

              • My brother had a 1990 Cavalier for years. I think he got close to 200k miles out of his. He and his GF took a nationwide road trip with it. It was a good, little car… 🙂

                • Mark, he should’ve put a Crapillac emblem on the hood and some woodgrain Contac paper on the door panels- then he would’ve had a Cimmaron! (Or, as I called ’em, A “Simmerin”[pile of….] )

        • They are extremely expensive because they aren’t being built as daily drivers. The paint jobs are often 10-15K all by themselves. I’ve seen more modest builds costing in the current new car range.

          Build them as daily drivers, get some bulk pricing from suppliers, and it can be done once new cars get outrageously expensive.

          • Even if you do the work yourself, and start out with a solid body that doesn’t even need paint….it’s expensive to restore a car. Not too big of a deal to rebuild an engine- and I’ve done so for under $500 if it was a simple and common engine, but then there’s the tranny, and the rear and the suspension and the front-end parts, and the body mounts and the wiring…..and you know what really eats up money fast? The LITTLE things. A little rubber seal or gasket, or one little part that they don’t make anymore, so you have to fabricate or find a work-around for. Get 10 or 20 such things going at once…. youch! And that’s just for a functional daily driver….not a show car…not doing it right….nothing fancy- and no sought-after “hot” collector car- just say an old 60’s shoebox with a straight-6.

            Believe me, I’ve though about doing it….but when I actually start thinking about it…. And then unless you get a car from out west in the desert, it’s GOING to need body work and paint……and if it doesn’t, you’ll pay dearly for it.

            We’re really running out of options.

            • There’s a huge difference between what we pay at retail to restore a car vs. what a company in the business of creating daily drivers would pay. It’s not viable at the moment. I figure the cars would have to retail between 35-40K to make a good profit with what it would cost to do the work, but there are no customers for daily driver ‘remanufactured’ cars at that price point.

              However when new cars are $80K in today’s dollars and interest rates are 5-15% that’s a different story. At that point there is demand and thus volume to make the process more efficient.

              It’s a matter of timing. Now is not the time. Maybe the time won’t come because the plans will fail, but if they don’t it will.

              • It’s hard to say, Brent. Sure, such a company could get the parts cheaper *then again, that would be assuming that they had a steady supply of certain vehicles- if it were whatever ones they could find, the variety would mean small orders of specific parts, in which case they wouldn’t save much at all.

                A big thing would be that they’d need skilled labor. Decent competent skilled labor these days in the USofA isn’t cheap.

                And don’t forget, overhead and lots of insurance….

                It would be interesting to see if they could do it for $35-$40K.

                Finding cars with good enough bodies to do would be the hard part- and then if there were a demand for such, such cars would become even more expensive for them to acquire.

                And ya know, for less than $35K you can just go out and buy a nice old non-collector, non-show daily driver car……

                The sad thing is, that no one is making what we want, but Tesla is making functionally obsolete electric toys that sell for $100K- and people are buying them, and they’re even getting subsidies for making ’em!

                In a crazy world, it pays to cater to the insane, rather than the sensible, because the former are the majority.

                It’s kind of like when a friend of mine was trying to sell a good old car, and not having much luck. He’d say “What is going on?! People will pay $xx,xxx for a piece of junk, but this old car is more reliable, and will still be running long after that other car is scrapped, but nobody wants it for a third the price of that piece of junk?!”

                And I’d tell him: When selecting a car to resell, don’t buy what YOU or i would buy, as that is not what the average person wants. Look at what THEY’RE buying and paying big money for, and buy THOSE, even if you know that it’s inferior, and wouldn’t have one yourself; because YOU can not educate these people at the point of sale, and even if you could, it wouldn’t matter, as most of them make their buying decisions based on emotion rather than knowledge.

                • In Ford Maverick circles there is a guy restoring Mavericks for profit. Not sure what he asks for a finished car but he has the metal working shop that is able to produce patch and full panels for just about every place the cars have rust. His labor seems to be largely his children.

                  I’ve also seen builds from dynacorn bodies, brand new cars essentially, professionally done go for $40K.

                  I make product for a living and thus I know the difference between what things cost retail and what they really cost to make.

                  If government doesn’t stomp on people its viable once the demand is created through the aim to take away private transportation for the ordinary person.

                  • Wow, that’s cool, Brent. I wish someone would start making those old flat-fender 4×4 Dodge Power Wagons! Holy crud- talk about a do-anything vehicle! It’s ouregeous what ya see ’em going for these days. Yet another great old vehicle relegated to the too-expensive-to-drive/only for show category.

                    I’d love to have an early to mid 60’s 4-door Fairlane with a straight 6. Simple, bulletproof, do everything you need it to do economical (yet has character and charm) transportation.

                    • Hi Nunzio, my beater of choice would be the Chrysler slant six. Everything that needed maintenance was readily accessible, and my ’75 Dart had enough room in the engine compartment to sit inside it. Unfortunately the body rusted away at the speed of light; when the frame rusted to the point that the torsion bar let go I got rid of it, but would love that engine in body built to last.

                    • Hey Ya, Mike,

                      My first car was ’74 Duster with the Slant-6. Had to patch both rear quarters with fiberglass cloth….but that 6 was a champ- I just hated the way they all soulded like sewing machines. Pretty much ALL of the old straight-6’s were bulletproof.

                      Those Dusters/Darts/Valiants were good cheap reliable transportation…..they kept going till they rusted away. (And what doesn’t rust away in Taxachussetts?)

      • Brent, I’d sure LOVE to see that scenario come to pass (except for the part about the Feds shutting ‘er donw…)- But I don’t think the Feds would even have to shut it down. The person who crashes one of the cars and cripples himself, through no fault of the manufacturer, will sue, and just the cost of the company defending itself, regardless of whether it even wins or loses, will probably be enough to shut down a small operation….or at least keep the price of the product sky-high for the liability insurance they’d need to guard against that. (Remember the parents who bought their teenage kid a Trans_Am, and then sued GM when the kid crashed it?….)

  4. I had to drive a new car recently. Rented it when my car (a 2002 Durango) died and ended up keeping it almost two months while we waited for the vehicle we planned to purchase became available. The first rental car was a Nissan Versa, and you couldn’t pay me to own that car. It was, among other things, dangerously underpowered, and the outside mirrors were cute rather than functional. After a day and a half, I traded up to a Hundai Elantra. It wasn’t quite so underpowered and the outside mirrors were modestly functional. You could pay me to own that car, but it would have to be the full price of the vehicle every time I got into it. I’m vertically challenged, and I had to duck every time I got into the vehicle or I’d bang my head. And because it was so low to the ground, I’m pretty sure I ended up twisting my knee getting in and out of it as I started having problems with my knee after about six weeks of driving the thing. Thankfully, the car we were waiting on finally became available. I now drive a 2001 Excursion. It’s not diesel and it’s not four wheel drive, but it handles beautifully and gets much better gas mileage than I expected from something so large and heavy. Even better, it doesn’t have that horrible head restraint which forces one’s head into an uncomfortable angle unless one drive lying down. I happen to drive sitting in a vertical position practicing good posture. Trust the government to force a one size fits all, every one drives the same way solution onto the unsuspecting and unwilling world.

    • We drove a Versa for a couple weeks. I made a 600 mile trip with the wife driving it. I spent the way going cussing the godawful racket coming from the roof and the return in the back seat working on the cab light in the center of the car. Now when I work on something and identify the source of the noise, you can bet it’s not long for this world. Surprise surprise as Gomer would say, that sumbitch thwarted me with everything I tried. I spent 200 miles non-stop working on it. It finally became one of those things. I wasn’t about to give up to a shit car even if I had to overtighten every screw and remove half of the stuff holding it up. Well, there wasn’t shit holding it up so I only had about one screw to tighten, which I did with a vengeance using my badass Greenlee driver, a professional tool that will allow you to twist just about anything off if you have to. Oh, but no matter how tight I got that screw it wouldn’t stop raising hell. Raising hell, making it so the radio(sic)could be heard and so I didn’t have that fucker buzzing my ear every nanosecond of the way. If I’d had my T&B crimpers with screw cutters I still couldn’t have fixed it. I was ready to stop and find a welder but since that’s not weldable I gave up. It was bendable but only if you’re willing to have it fall off and pay for it to be fixed in some body shop that rightly would have charged no telling what to “fix” it.

      Rent “cars” suck….period, even the ones with larger wheels and tires. The wife really liked the Altima and I would have too but the seats don’t fit my shoulders. Ever try sitting with your shoulders being held back from the seat by the side bolsters? Fun, it ain’t. And the Fusion wasn’t bad really except I had to drive it at night on two lane roads with fairly thick traffic and Clovers clogging my direction going too slow. Every time I’d get a chance to pass I’d tromp it and holy Jezus did it have power but it had torque steer you wouldn’t believe so every time I’d pull out and go over the stripe, it would jerk hard to the left and pulling back in, to the right. Up to that point I thought torque steer had fairly well been tamed but I just hadn’t driven a Ford and the rest of the car was fine with the best of seats out of all we’ve tried and that’s pretty much all brands. I don’t find it amazing in the least to see everyone buying full size SUV’s and Pickups. They’re the only things I can get my fat ass in and be comfortable. Not a month ago I found an Excursion in the Wally parking lot and was willing to wait for the owner but alas, it wasn’t a diesel. Last time I found a diesel the guy just laughed and said not over his dead body would he sell it. Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying. I’m still miffed GM put diesels in early 90’s Suburbans at a rate that I’m waiting to see my first one besides a Mexican model you can’t register here….and I found in Texas which was weird. It was sitting on a lot, not far from the border. So, as far as I’m concerned, the crewcab pickup thing that seems to have everybody else miffed isn’t a mystery to me. Big tires that eat up the road and no rough ride and no tinny noise, well, not much outside sound of any sort. And things like the front seats that recline to nearly level without impinging on back seat passengers and if they do, plenty room for a couple people in the back seat to use two-thirds of it and be as comfy as you can be in the rear seat. And speaking of rear seats, what other vehicles have rear seats that are comfortable to sleep on? You….and someone else can be comfy there even if it’s a stacked deck so to speak. And my 93’s front seats in the extra cab would lie back level to the back seat so you can turn up the a/c and use both sets of seats to sleep. This may not be a requirement for everyone but it is for many. I’ve spent nights with the diesel humming and the hanging meat a/c going and slept like a baby. No doubt that’s one of the things Pookie likes about the Excursion and if he doesn’t sleep like that, then there’s always the back that will hold a pretty wide air mattress or two. With the back windows blacked out and the front seats up you can be fairly much invisible back there to anyone looking in. It gives you the sense of security of not being visible and nobody looking in being able to see that .45 in your hand.

      If you ever noticed, leo’s don’t go down into rest areas and get out and look in dark vehicles at night. “Occifer safety” as they’d say.

    • Hey Pookie, welcome to the club! There’s no going back once you get an Excursion! Love my ’00 V-10 4×4! The thing drives like a sports car, and yet it’s a real truck [Apologies to 8SM… 😉 )

      And if it wasn’t that mine has 4.30 gears, it would even get decent gas mileage! (I don’t even mind the 10MPG though, because it’s the best vehicle i’ve ever owned!)

  5. So True:

    If not for uncle, we could have 60 mpg, 0-60 sub five seconds, nice stereo, reliable, low maintenance, and less than $15k describe the SAME car.

  6. The funniest part is the move to more fuel efficient cars was a product of the oil shortages in the late 70s. Had the government done nothing the economics of it all would have led car design in a similar direction… only without all the stifling regulations and bureaucrats. If anything I think you have done a great job (in this article and others) in illustrating how the government actually directly and indirectly makes cars less fuel efficient.

  7. IIRC ’96 was the last year for the Fleetwood (and also caprice/roadmaster which were nearly identical to the Fleetwood) but also the first year for OBD2. 94 & 95 had flash programmable ECMs rather than having to screw with burning chips, plus the software for such is free, thus making them more desireable in my opinion.
    Here’s my ’95 Roady on it’s first foray to the track.
    Ran a 14.97 @ 90.5 mph with a 1400′ density altitude. Pretty meh but the car is stock except for the 3.42 gears and a stall converter that feels way too tight. Will see if I can tune a bit more out of it but I doubt it will go quicker than 14.6 with a perfect tune and some mineshaft air…
    On the plus side ETs only varied by .07 seconds even with me screwing around on the starting line trying to figure out the best way to cut a light.

  8. Another thing is the huge used car market. Bought a 2015 Impala (6 cyl) in October of 2016 with 35,000 miles on it for $15,000. The cash for clunkers deal got rid of hundreds of thousands of low quality used cars and allowed the market to renew that market with huge amounts of current fleet, repos and lease cars at reasonable prices.

  9. There was a meme going around in the 1990s comparing cars and computers. The idea was that if cars were advancing at the same pace as silicon chips a Rolls Royce would go 10,000 miles on a gallon of fuel, easily go 200+ miles per hour and cost $10. Look at a Rolls and compare it to a Hyundai. Sure, there’s no automatically retracting hood ornament on the Sonata, but it’s one heck of a lot cheaper and will be 90% of the RR for 1/10th the money. It’s true that the RR got a lot of the incremental improvements too, but it is the same as buying a luxury cell phone. Just a name plate and a pretty wrapper for the same internals.

    Of course, everyone laughs when the low end brands compare themselves to Rolls Royce in their ads.

  10. Eric,
    You forgot that the K-car came with those fantastic vinyl bench seats up front. Better for your Honey to snuggle up close and any fluids, regardless of their origin, could be easily wiped away. Try that in your beloved Cruze.

    • Mine had the instant-stain cloth seats (and “aftermarket” cup holder that guaranteed a spill). I also remember the AC drain clogged all the time and you could hear the water sloshing around on corners. Then came the funk. I smoked at the time so that covered up a lot of other smells.

      But it usually got me where I wanted to go. Had to carry a set of jumper cables around because the regulator would burn out every few months (but they were about $10 or so) and destroy the battery (a little more to replace but not like today for sure). Also handy for helping out stranded co-eds who left their lights on overnight.

  11. Now if only a chucklehead like me could fix the Cruze like he might be able to fix the K car, or afford to pay someone else to do so.

    The modern car is a marvel in many ways. It can also now be tracked, monitored, and controlled by outside forces. I don’t like the trade-off.

    • Hi Ross,

      The trade-off, New vs. Old, is that the Old needed fairly frequent minor adjustments while the New usually needs nothing (beyond oil and filters, etc.) for years at a time. The upside to the Old was that the minor adjustments could be done by a person with basic mechanical skills and some basic hand tools. The downside to the New is that when something does go awry, it often requires higher-aptitude skills and equipment to deal with.

      Also, of course, there is the Big Brother aspect…the K car and its kind were autonomous in the proper sense of the word. Thew New stuff is part of the Hive.

  12. I always think that what the feds want (and progressives too, but I repeat myself) is to do away with privately owned cars. The genius of automotive engineers that have performed miracles have at least postponed that fate.

      • eric, yep, you fairly nailed it. I could look on this period with a bit more sense of humor had I not been the victim of doubled fuel cost in a several month span.

        The sick part was leaving the the hauling I had done and going to the patch where the freight couldn’t be hauled fast enough. I delivered every kind of thing you can’t imagine used in the oil field to places in countless states where drilling was booming. Even hauled offshore rig equipment to the coast where guys were leaving dead jobs on land for big pay on an offshore rig. It was a mess of trucks at refineries, the empties trying to get in and the loaded ones getting out. Hell, I even hauled quite a bit of steel to what had been a natgas powered plant that had changed to #2 fuel….that’s still working today. We brought in far west Tx. wells and NM wells that made the owners millionaires in months and produced nothing but huge amounts of natgas. So why the change? I recall a winter or two back in the late 80’s or early 90’s when people got soaked for natgas but those buying propane did it on the cheap. More than a few houses had propane tanks show up in the back yard in towns without some fatwa from a city council forbidding it. $200K back in the early 70’s every month changed a lot of lives….but not mine nearly enough. We get back to commodities of which I was one, the cheap part.

  13. Things have changed. The knowledge we value is about as relevant canoe building or buffalo hunting.

    The new thinking is the government—which is ultimately the source of all dollars, taxed or untaxed—pays or spends first and taxes later.

    When it funds programs, it literally spends money into existence, injecting cash into the economy. Taxes exist in order to control inflation by reducing the money supply, and to ensure that dollars, as the only currency accepted for tax payments, remain in demand.

  14. It’s difficult to express the lost opportunity cost to most people of government regulations. Most still believe most of the regulation is done for our own “good”. Many believe most private industry would only produce shoddy, deadly crap if it wasn’t for the government making the “rules”.

    Most industries likely would have evolved very differently, even if some of the results would have been similar. The auto industry would probably have far more variety, probably far more players for sure. Would there be lots of electronics on cars? Probably, but there would be choices that wouldn’t have them too, which we don’t have anymore.

    • Most people seem to have the idea that “Regulations are what happens to other people.” Not realizing that the increased burden affects the cost of everything they buy.

      Some regulations I’m actually OK with – I like having clean air to breath, for one. But in recent years the regulations have become ever more detail focused as the government workers seek to justify their jobs.

  15. I’m sure the feds will take credit for this. But really I think it was the increased competition from the Europeans and especially the Japanese makers that did it (I have little doubt the US automakers were complacent, back in the 60’s and 70’s). Imagine what we’d have in the midsize pickup market if the Chicken Tax were repealed.

    My high school car was a 1975 Impala, BTW. What a boat!

    • Speaking to your comment about US automakers, my first car was my mother’s 1986 Cadillac Coupe De Ville, one of the worst cars GM ever made. It should have come with its own mechanic. It was the era of the 1980’s shrunken “luxury cars” from GM with a shelf life of 50,000 miles. A pretty car all in all, but horribly underpowered and a ticking mechanical time bomb. By the time we traded it in in in 1995, it had 63,000 miles on it and had gone through $10,000 in repairs in only the previous two years. This was a car that was babied and maintained, yet it couldn’t be counted on to go a month sometimes without breaking down. The worst was when an ignition module failed just after turning off the Southern State Parkway – no warning, it just died. Not even a suggestion that something was wrong. An oil pump failed around 58,000 miles, an alternator at 45,000 miles, the radiator at 50,000, the brake master cylinder, the air conditioner compressor clutch.

      This was what GM was fielding for their “luxury” Cadillac brand in the mid 1980’s. The reduced size was what swore my father off of Cadillacs in the mid 1980’s. A man who was the quintessential Cadillac man having had one since the 1950’s and idolized the brand since the 1930’s found himself driving a Lincoln. First a 1984 Mark VII – a beautiful car that was more advanced jet than 1980’s car. The following year he traded that in and bought a 1985 Lincoln Continental for its larger passenger area. It is a car I fondly remember and marvel at the style and luxury still. It too had the same shelf life of an 1980’s Cadillac – at 50,000 miles it twice blew a head gasket allowing anti-freeze to mix with the engine oil. The second time our mechanic warned my father to get rid of it because the engine was going to need to be rebuilt or replaced.

      Such was the quality of the premiere American luxury cars of the mid-1980’s. A 50,000 mile shelf life and the need for a ride along mechanic as a factory installed option. It wasn’t Government regulation that made US automakers field better products, it was foreign automakers that already fielded a better product and abused American consumers who flocked to the foreign automakers in favor of cars that didn’t self destruct at 50,000 miles.

      • So true @ those mid 80’s (even into the very early 90’s) caddies. My dad had two of them: and 87 4.1L and a 90 4.5?L. The 87 needed a short block while under warranty and the 90 needed an entire new engine. And yes, he babied both of those cars. After the major engine repairs, he gave the 87 to me and I ran it for a few years. It was a good car to me, never leaving me stranded. Verrrry nice ride and interior. I wish I still had it to keep as a classic today. However, I had it when I was in my 30’s with not much $$ to spend on car maintenance. I’d buy another one as a hobby car should the situation present itself today. I was really fond of that car…

        • The 4.1 was a horror. I remember the dealer we traded it in to telling us that they replaced those engines before reselling them.

          As many fond memories I have of the ’86, I wake up in a cold sweat that it is back in my my driveway, its mechanical ticking time bomb ticking away.

          I am surprised you had problems with the 1990 because by 1988 Cadillac was supposed to have improved their quality. My father bought a 1989 Coupe De Ville with the 4.5 engine it. It was a pretty car that he had offered to give me when he got a 1993 Sedan De Ville, but I declined as I was attached to the ’86 having been my mother’s. He warned me then that the car was going to run into trouble by 50,000 miles. I had no idea how right he was. I was trying to be pragmatic and didn’t want a nicer car to drive to college – that mistake cost $10,000 in repairs.

          I still get angry when I think that GM was fielding such horrible “luxury” cars then and is one of the reasons I would never go back to a GM car. We leased a used 1992 Seville for a few years in the mid 1990’s – it was a really nice car, but even that had an alternator fail at 30,000 miles. When that lease ended we leased an Acura – a really well made car, but under powered, followed by a 1996 Lexus ES300 that I am convinced was one of the best made cars of that era judging by the few problems I had with it until Hurricane Sandy and the number of them I still see on the road.

          I know it was back on the road after we released to the insurance company following the hurricane. Seawater only got a half inch into the cabin, but damaged the electrical system – something I didn’t want to take on in repairing especially a car with 90,000 miles on it. We got a call that it was blocking someone’s driveway a year later and that they found our phone number in it to call us.

          You can find those mid 1980’s Cadillacs for sale very cheap. There isn’t much demand for them even as a “classic” car.

        • My $.02 on finding a decent Caddy, look for a 94 or 95 Fleetwood. I see a lot of them in great shape with low-ish miles (under 140k) for $3k or less. Typically belonged to an old fart that has passed on or no longer drives…

          • The 1995 Fleetwood was the last of the true “guinea gunboats.” It literally could swallow all of the other Cadillacs at that time and especially now with the exception being the monstrous Escalade.

            When I lived in DC for a summer I had to take the ’92 Seville to a dealer in Vienna Virginia to have the shift replaced (that fine GM engineering again) and saw a diplomat’s Fleetwood in the mechanic’s bay for service. It was fully armored and bullet proofed glass. It was an absolute tank. The mechanic told me all of the extra weight added up to several thousand pounds more on the chassis.

            Those Fleetwoods harkened back to the rolling living rooms of the 1950’s and seemed nearly as big as the early 1970’s Buick Electras.

            My idiot cousin had a 1995 Fleetwood that despite the abuse and neglect he put it through still retained much of its prestige at 15 years old and being driven by a moron.

            It was the last of the dinosaurs.

            My father had a 2009 De Ville, that is the last year Cadillac made “Cadillacs,” cars that had some visual semblance of their ancestors. I personally hated it for being so huge and difficult to park in NY City.
            I used to laugh when my father would tell me about all of the compliments he would get on it, not believing him until I was was paid similar compliments when I drove it. A big Carmine Red boat that seemed like a dinosaur somehow managed to survive the giant meteor and evolve a bit. My father misses that car now.

            He leased himself a 2015 with the ergonomics of an interior designed by a dyslexic contortionist and Rube Goldberg. I can’t even figure out how to change the radio. To open the glovebox you have to hit a button next to the radio. Intentionally making the most basic things overly complex and counter intuitive.

            It is a pretty car, but lost the Cadillac design pedigree. For an soon to be 85-year-old “Cadillac Man” – it is overly complex and leaves him missing the 2009.


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