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The last operational German battleship – Scharnhorst – was hounded to her doom by a fleet of British warships tasked with sinking her, which they did after a furious sea battle culminating in a lucky shot (from the British point-of-view) that crippled the fleeing ship, which had almost out-paced her pursuers when the fatal blow was landed. She lost her speed advantage and her enemies closed in for the kill.

But she might have been able to escape had she seen what was coming.

Scharnhorst’s radar was not very effective even when it was working – and it wasn’t working at all when she sortied in rough seas for what would prove to be the last time. The British fleet sent to intercept her had better detection equipment and were thus better able to keep track of where she was – and where she was going. Which was, ultimately, to the bottom of the sea.

Driving any new vehicle without a radar detector can be similarly fatal – to your wallet and your driving privileges. In italics to emphasize the transition of what was once understood to be a right that was sacrosanct into something you’re allowed to exercise (in a very conditional way) if you obey.

The incongruity between what any modern car is capable of doing – safely – and what we’re allowed to do with a modern car is striking.

And frustrating.

As an example, this week I am test driving a 2024 Toyota Tundra, which is a truck. Some will remember when trucks did not drive like cars. More specifically, like high-performance cars. They do now. Or at least, this one does. It has a 437 horsepower twin-turbo engine and a ten speed transmission, the top three gears being overdrive gears. You’re doing 75 before you have time to glance at the speedometer.

And 75 feels like 45.

Holding it back to 55 – the speed limit on the road I was on the other day – is not unlike emulating the old-man shuffle down the sidewalk when you’re a young man and perfectly capable of walking at a brisk pace.

The Tundra is not an extreme example, either. Consider the other end of the spectrum – the 2024 Toyota Prius hybrid I test drove a few weeks ago. It is capable of accelerating to 60 MPH more quickly (in about 7 seconds) than roughly two-thirds of the V8-powered muscle cars of the late 1960s and early 1970s. And – like the Tundra and like all vehicles made over the past 10-15 years or so – has deep overdrive gearing, meant to reduce engine RPM at high speed in order to reduce fuel consumption. But this gearing also has the effect of making high speeds feel slow. At 70-75 MPH, the engine in such a car is typically fast-idling. At the same road speed, a ’60s or ’70s muscle car’s engine would be screaming – well on its way to redlining – because there was no overdrive gearing and also because the final drive gearing (in the axle) was usually low, to get the car moving quickly. Zero to 60 and how quickly a car could cover the quarter-mile was everything in those days.

But you felt like you were going really fast by the end of the quarter mile – even though in most cases you were only going 100 MPH or so. In a new Tundra – or Prius – 100 is what 60 used to be. It does not feel especially fast, as it did back in the day. The Tundra – or the Prius – isn’t working very hard at 100 MPH. You will need to go considerably faster to get the same or even a similar feeling as you got back in the day doing 70 or 80 in a muscle car.

All modern cars are sorely under-used relative to their capability. It is not merely that they are able to go so much faster (and make you feel silly for driving them so slowly). They are able to go faster safely. Because they are able to slow-down faster and with greater controllability, courtesy of now ubiquitous four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS and vastly better tires. If a car made in 1970 was “safe” to drive 70-75 MPH (this was the legal highway speed limit in most states back then) then surely a vehicle – even a truck – made 50 years later is just as “safe” to drive at 80-85.

And of course, that’s true.

The problem is, it’s illegal. In some states, it is criminal. Virginia says driving faster than 80 MPH anywhere (even on a highway with a 70 MPH speed limit) is prima facie “reckless” driving and the offender can be arrested and jailed for it.

It makes driving any modern vehicle unsafe, alright – for the driver. Who will find himself in essentially the same harrowing position as the skipper of Scharnhorst, if he sorties without a radar detector.

Readers of this column know I almost never leave port without one – and neither should you, if you don’t want to find yourself signing a piece of payin’ paper. And possibly dealing with something worse than that.

. . .

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  1. If you’re dancing right next to an open air concentration camp I don’t have a lot of sympathy for you. I just don’t. Rest in pieces.

  2. Modern cars are crazy powerful. As we all know they lack soul or personality though, they’re just transportation appliances. They lack esthetic beauty as well. There was one 70’s Fiat I saw recently that made you want to sell your mother for. Just gorgeous. All gone now.

        • A deer could fix that grill, right quick.

          …Then, do a mod.

          …Or, in some parts of the world, a moose?
          …Or, a coyote, possibly, …or, a gazelle/pronghorn/those big straight-antler mean fuckers from Africa they got in Texas/or a bison….?

          …A barricade?

          …An A.S.S. in front of you?
          …A Cadillac with brake issues?

  3. And yet, 90% of drivers continue to coast through the on ramp, only to romp on it when they get on the interstate (and after they’ve screwed up flow for everyone else).

    • I-25 during the winter months in northern Colorado can sometimes be covered in snow with ice patches. A driver tried to pass, drove into an ice slick and did a 360 in the middle of the southbound lane, had to slow down to avoid a potential collision.

      It was a bit nerve wracking and pulled off the interstate for some relief. A Colorado highway patrol stopped to know if there was a problem. Just have to get off the road for awhile is all I said. Not a problem, no interrogating police state goon in my face. On his way, on my way. Life goes on.

      Always drive accordingly to road conditions during the winter months.

      Never brake if you come upon an ice patch, you’ll be in the ditch wheels up.

      Take your foot off of the foot-feet and glide through it.

      Better safe than sorry. Reminds me, time to buy radial tire chains.

      Also, if you catch a ridge of gravel on a gravel road at a high speed, more than 55 mph, the ridge of gravel will steer you off the road and more than likely on your side. Gravel has 45 mph travel speeds. Dust and rocks that can throw makes for difficult driving at times, the washboard areas slow you down.

      Free Wheelin’ Franklin says keep on truckin’.

  4. Not fully protected with a radar detector. Laser, instant-on radar,
    speed cameras, and more, are all used in our current police state
    environment. Prisons are full, mostly with “victimless crime”
    inmates, in the “land of free”.

  5. Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!

    You can take the day off, no one will care.

    Quite a few shootin’ matches going on out there these days, you’d think it is the Old West or something. Abraham made a mess of things long before Mohammed showed up at the scene. Some folks got blindsided.

    Classic cars and pickups at the Feral Irishman. It’s out there in the ether universe.

  6. It’s crazy how fast cars can go, yet it being illegal for them to do so. Typical of the age we live in, it’s all for show. High performance you cannot use.

    Regarding speed limits, the problem is the one size fits all model. You have high performance vehicles driven by people that can handle it, sharing the road with old and young people that have trouble with regular speeds. Not to mention in some areas there are a lot of old and beat up cars. In the end no one is happy. I am surprised with all the the control tech on cars they don’t limit them to the posted speeds.

  7. Our po po use radar, laser, aerial observation, and guesstimates to catch “speeders”. In other words, there’s other means to entrap citizens apart from radar. If a costumed enforcer does try to ticket you with radar as a justification, demand to see the calibration certificate. If it’s out of date, tell them to shove the ticket up their goose steppin’ ass.

    • Hi Mike,

      They used to use airplanes to enforce highway speed limits here in VA, too. Imagine the cost of keeping even a small aircraft up for hours to surveil one stretch of highway for one day…

      • The downside of airplanes used to be the requirement to broadcast ADS-B “Out” data on one second intervals while in flight, but that changed in a vaguely worded rule from the FAA in 2019 allowing the transponder to be deactivated for law enforcement operations.

      • For the longest time Pennsylvania was unable to use radar for speed enforcement. Instead they used a product called VASCAR (Visual Average Speed Computer And Recorder). The way it worked was you’d drive over a known point (usually just a white line perpendicular to the road), a cop would push a start button. Then when you’d pass another, he’d push the end button. Based on how long it took you to get from A → B, it would calculate your speed. Because it was dependent on Sgt Rosco to hit the button at the right time, it wasn’t at all accurate. The upside is minor speeding wasn’t enforceable. Downside is if you’re way over the limit you’re probably going to get a ton of points and fine, and not much you can do to fight it.

    • Probably won’t matter, last traffic court I was in, the judge flat out said that a trained police officers guess was good enough for him.

      • > the judge flat out said that a trained police officers guess was good enough for him

        …because it isn’t actually about “saaaaaaaafety,” but revenue farming.

        I spent a week in England recently. Know what I never saw while I was over there? “PC Plod” on the other side of an overpass, with a speed gun in his hand. There were speed traps on the motorways and many of the A roads, but in addition to my phone giving me plenty of warning that they were coming up, there were also signs a mile or two in advance, and usually a sign after you’d passed it, in case you missed the bright yellow box on the side of the road. Slow down for a bit, then speed up again if you want. (TBH, I mostly stayed at or slightly below the speed limit because I wasn’t comfortable going faster on such narrow roads. Perhaps with a bit more experience things would’ve been different, but it took me nearly the whole week just to get somewhat comfortable driving a manual transmission again after not having had one since 1996.)

        I’m sure they were put in place by the same safety-minded nannyism that is the ostensible reasoning behind speed traps here (and the 20-mph in-town speed limit they’re currently rolling out is more of the same), but at least they’re honest about it and not using it as an excuse to rob the public. Our own chickenshit ticket-writers, by comparison, aren’t that much different than the highwaymen of the past.

        • Hi Scott. It’s not just revenue farming either. It’s mainly about drugs and warrants. In a typical suburban police department, about 80 percent of their arrests are the result of a traffic stop.

  8. Funny thing about driving by feel: I was running my tires down to baldness, and with one of them being mismatched, gave quite the noise and feel at 70 or so. Basically, it was a self-limiting speed limit, because I would feel that I was going too fast. Both yes, to the speed limit and the wear condition of my tires. Anyhow, I then put a new set of tires on the car and boy, oh boy! The same feel from the old tires at 70 was now at almost 90! Now, I had to start paying attention… I have now recalibrated my “feel” and am good at avoiding the 90!

    • I’m getting a little vibration at 75 right now. I’m holding off on new tires for a few more weeks just because of timing. But I’m so used to the shake letting me know I’m at speed I wonder if I’ll start to speed?

  9. There are two things I never leave home without: My .45 and my Valentine One.

    Nice reference to the Scharnhorst. The HMS Duke of York did her in the end with some excellent radar-guided gunnery.

  10. In the photo below the video, it’s remarkable how much the Toyota Tundra resembles its apparent design inspiration, a 19th century steam locomotive with a cow-catcher and tiny slits in the cab to see over the boiler’s black bulk.

    One could cut the Tundra some slack if it actually were a steam-powered beast. But its four-foot thick front end with its gaping black frog-mouth piehole is just butt ugly.

    Years ago, speaking with Automotive News, Lexus global design chief Koichi Suga acknowledged US market research showing that oversized front grilles can, in the publication’s words, be a “turnoff” for buyers, with a look Suga noted “many people mention … looks like Darth Vader.”

    Yet they keep doing it, apparently appealing to insecure buyers with Freightliner envy.

    There’s a speed trap ahead in Selma Town
    But no local yokel gonna shut me down
    ‘Cause me and my boys got this rig unwound
    And we’ve come a thousand miles from the Guitar Town

    Well, I gotta keep rockin’ while I still can
    Got a two pack habit and a motel tan
    When my boots hit the boards I’m a brand new man
    With my back to the riser, I make my stand

    — Steve Earle, Guitar Town

    • “ its gaping black frog-mouth piehole is just butt ugly “

      OK it’s not just me. Hope they give you a free car/truck cover so you don’t have to look at that monstrosity sitting in your driveway. What’s odd is they finally made the Pious a decent looking car. Not the Camry though, looks like Hot Wheels mated with The Batmobile, ugg.

    • They have to get enough air into the radiator without affecting aerodynamics. Just ramming air past it won’t maximize efficiency. Send just enough air past to keep the engine cool, but not so much that it disturbs the flow across the bow.

  11. The manufacturers figured out that it was far easier to convince a household to overspend on Papa’s daily commuter than the standard grocery hauler, at least until Brie and her ilk made the choice of hauler and drivetrain about “empowerment”.

    The tradeoff is that the half ton trucks had to become mass appeal vehicles, capable of hauling the family plus Grandma on occasion and cruising comfortably at highway speeds like the Wagon Queen Family Truckster used to do.

    I don’t see how the manufacturers justify the expense and long term durability questions of the overdrive transmissions if Mayor Pete gets his wish and the Federal speed limit policy returns to 55 MPH.

      • No state will accept 55 MPH again, but lowering Federal speed limit policy will change the EPA tests for MPG, most likely eliminating the higher speed testing and reintroducing the “fudge factor” on the highway numbers.


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