The Land Rover Writer

Friday, December 25, 2009

29 Year Old Road Trip

At 29 I loved taking road trips. I've aged, but one car, my 1980 Triumph TR-7, is 29 and still eager to take a ride.

I hadn't the driven the TR much over the early winter, but when an invitation came to visit friends in Connecticut, I decided to make the drive south. The total time each way would be 90 minutes aboard the ferry and 6 1/2 hours on the highways to Fairfield County, CT. The weather forecasts called for sharply decreasing temperatures but unlikely precipitation.

The '66 Land Rover will always make the trip and get you home, but the QE I still has its canvas top [still waiting for a rear door before installing the hard top]. That makes it cold, in addition to noisy and 18 mpg. The TR-7 still gets 26-30 mpg even with 109,000 miles on the odometer, and unlike other TR's, has a real heater and ventilation system. Even with its convertible top, it's fairly tight and warm. I didn't have snow tires, but without a prediction of snow, all should be fine.

So I started up the Triumph and found that, after sitting for a few weeks, it would not idle. It also stalled out a lot. I limped to the local gas station, threw in some dry gas and fresh fuel, and ran the car around the island on a few errands. My trip was to start the next day, so I really hoped this was a temporary condition. I threw the toolkit in from the Corvair and got aboard the ferry the next day.

What could go wrong?

I decided to wash the car when I got to the mainland. After all, every enthusiast knows that a car runs better when it's clean. That night, the temperature dropped precipitously and a fierce wind picked up. So when I parked the car at a motel in Portland, the cold breezes froze up the door locks.

The next morning, I could not unlock the car. I bummed a book of matches from the desk clerk, wrapped a bunch of napkins into a wick and lit the whole thing like a Molotov cocktail. I held it under the key until it singed my fingers. No luck. I ran upstairs to the motel room, aimed the hair dryer at the key until the circuit breaker shut down, and then ran back downstairs with the flaming hot key. Finally, it melted the ice and let me unlock the doors.

On the 4 1/2 trip south, the car ran so well that even the FM radio suddenly started working again! That euphoria lasted until central MA when all radio signals seemed to fade away. I would not pick up a signal again until I crossed into Connecticut.

The last 50 miles of the trip was on the Merritt Parkway, one of the precursors to the interstate highway system. There it appears that the speed limit signs are only decorative; their numbers bear no resemblance to actual traveling speeds. Driving the stated speed limit is an open invitation to be run over.

The TR-7 does not have a GPS so I had to use directions written out on paper in order to find my friend's house. How quaint!

The trip back was a full 6 1/2 hours of relative comfort, stuffed into a TR-7. No wonder that Car and Driver magazine called it "the only sports car we would take on a long trip." For a British sports car without the name "Jaguar" on it, the wedge was remarkably comfortable.

Oh, yes, the car actually ran without incident for the full 600 miles and 13 hours of road time. Triumph used to say the TR-7 was "out to steal the American road." It certainly stole my heart again!

Saab: An oddball in peril - The Boston Globe

I can't think of a better way to writing my opinions about the demise of Saab than this editorial from the Boston Globe of Christmas Day, 2009:

Saab: An oddball in peril - The Boston Globe

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, October 19, 2009

Birthday Drives

Quechup | Blog: British Invasion

Shared via AddThis

It's my birthday today so, while working, I've decided to enjoy the day by making certain I drive each of my classic cars today.

So I took the TR-7 out on a ride to check in with a summer vacation house owner. Then I took the Land Rover out to the far end of the island to an estate there to effect a repair on a piece of mowing equipment.

This evening, I'll take a ride in the Corvair coupe just to relish a birthday ride [sadly, the local bar is closed on Mondays], and hopefully figure out what the squealing is from the rear.

Short of a wild night of romance, the cars will provide the best entertainment today.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Peugeot Gets It

US automotive industry observers, and the industry's political supporters, are mourning the forced removal of Rick Wagoner as the head of GM.

Although GM's share of the US marketed has fallen by 50% since he took over at the turn of this century, and the corporation's product offerings consistently demonstrated they appealed to fewer and fewer purchases, he had to be asked to leave as condition of continued federal support for the corporation.

It makes you wonder what the Board of Directors was thinking. Of course, most Boards wind up representing the interests of senior management; that's how you get invited to join a major Board. GM's Board has promised that next year, "you'll see a majority of new members."

PSA, the parent corporation of French automakers Peugeot and Citroen, removed their CEO this weekend because under his leadership, the automaker lost over 340 million Euros, or over $400 million. Their Board of Directors did not need a French government official to participate in a commission review of the company; they saw the existing leadership wasn't producing the desired results. Their new CEO comes from Corus Steel, so he might bring a fresh perspective to with the excellent engineering already on board with the company.

BTW, Corus is owned by Tata, the new parent for Land Rover and Jaguar.

No firing makes either Rick Wagoner or Christian Streiff reprehensible. No one should ever doubt the enormous energy and commitment it takes to run a giant corporation. Neither man went to his office each day looking for the easy way out. Automotive manufacturing is not an industry for the faint-hearted or intellectually deficient. The Donald Trumps of the automotive world might be entertaining to watch but they don't produce any better results than the Donald himself.

That said, the industry cannot pretend that its future operations will resemble the past ones. GM under Wagoner looked an awful lot like GM in the 1980's, and change was unlikely to occur on his watch.

Felicitations to PSA's Board for moving to make change on their own; let's hope that they're not just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why Minivans?

Since their first appearance in the US in the 1980's, minivans have become a symbol of automotive dorkdom. They offer many, many advantages in terms of comfort, carrying capacity, efficiency and ease of use. That's why I have no use for them. Give me a car with character anytime over an appliance.

For a minority - but growing percentage - of Americans, they seem to offer housing. An NPR reporter spent time in Florida this week and interviewed a 40-something man from Alabama. He had a good job for many years, lost it in the recession, couldn't make his house payments, and then became homeless.

So he and two friends now live in his minivan. The roominess of the minivan enables them to sleep in the car, albeit without great comfort. They're finding enough day labor to have food and gas but not enough to make deposits and rent an apartment.

He joins a lot of workers finding tough times in this employment market. Bob Herbert noted today that "
“What we’ve seen over the past eight years, for young people under 30, is the largest age reversal with regard to jobs that we’ve ever had in our history,” said Andrew Sum, the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies. “The younger you are, the more you got pushed out of this labor market.”

So the fellow with the minivan will be joined by a lot more people, and it looks like minivans will have an unfortunate role in this economy for a lot longer than we would want.

I have to admit; it would be hard to sleep in my TR-7.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fill 'Er Up With Electricity?

This past week in Maine, over 145,000 homes lost power in a storm that began early Monday morning. Three days later, over 20,000 homes and businesses remain without electrical service. Regional power companies note that the high amount of snow, poor road conditions, and extreme weight of the moisture-laden snow all contributed to the slow restoration of power.

Am I the only one rethinking plug-in cars?

We lose power routinely enough in northern New England that we know to gas up the vehicles before the onset of a major storm. My 1966 Series II-A has a range of about 200 miles on its 12-gallon tank, and I can always fill additional gas cans should conditions become extreme. By the time I've travelled 200 miles, I can be reasonably certain that the power company has restored electrical power.

What if I had a plug-in car?

First off, I would be doing a lot of walking right now. Secondly, the surge on the power grid - thousands of owners charging up their cars all at once - would be enormous and likely unsustainable. Thirdly, a lot of goods and services would be undeliverable because we made the shift to plug-in electric cars before we constructed the infrastructure to support them.

Dutch Mandel of Autoweek has wisely noted that we could reduce our petroleum consumption by 1.5 million per day just by increasing the diesel fleet of our cars and trucks by 30%. Virtually all Land Rovers sold in the UK and Europe use diesel engines - you can't even get a Defender in the UK with a petrol engine. Across Europe, 53% of the cars sold are diesels; in the US, the diesel fleet constitutes 5% of all cars sold here.

Diesels burn cleaner overall than petrol engines, perform about the same, yet deliver up to 30% better mileage. The US would need to mesh its emissions standards to that of the EU in order for us to get more diesel powered cars here more rapidly, but once manufacturers have ramped up production for the US market, we could then jointly plan for emissions standards that meet both European and American concerns.

Yes, I know you could start up the home generator to produce electricity to plug in your hybrid, but doesn't that defeat the purpose?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cupid, Draw Back Your Bow!

Let's see, this is a busy weekend in Maine. As everywhere else, it's Valentine's Day on Sunday, and for some, a paid holiday on Monday. So what could I do that would enchant a woman to a weekend of romance?

I know from radio notices that Renee Fleming, the "people's diva" and world famous opera singer, will perform with the Portland Symphony this weekend. That would show my ineffable class, as befits someone who drives a Corvair Monza Coupe. What a perfect car to arrive in at the opera with a stunning date! I can envision myself handing the keys to the valet parking attendant as he gazes in awe at the European lines of the brilliant car. Then he'll start it up and hear the loud tapping of hydraulic lifter seaching for oil and the howl of the air-cooled engine's fan. And I'll have to warn him about the tear in the driver's seat. No, I'll pass on the opera this time. If a Corvair at speed is a bit noisy, what's a soprano at full trill going to sound like?

Even if I took the TR-7, issues would inevitably arise. While I find the thought of a stunning woman exiting from a low slung sports car enticing, some women do not; they use phrases like "Lecher!" whenever I propose taking the Triumph. It's intimate but there are limits of what you can do inside a TR-7.

So if I cannot lure a date with an evening indoors, why not a day spent in Maine's great woods? What says love more than a weekend of off-roading in a Land Rover? This is the weekend of the Maine Winter Romp, now in it's 13th year. Over 100 Land Rovers from New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Maritime Provinces of Canada will likely attend; last year, one fellow drove his Series II-A from Ohio! The total group might be more than 250 people. Nothing says love moreby than huddling together in a Land Rover, Range Rover, Discovery or LR3, on trails that run through the woods, streams, hills and bogs of Unity, Maine.

The cars range from utterly stock, like mine, to fully equipped with locking differentials, jacked up suspensions and 12,000 lb. winches. The attendees range in age from 9 months [Sophia, who rode in my 1966 Land Rover last year] to 70. While the trails are usually broken down by a skidder, or by snowmobiles, in advace, we never know just what conditions we will encounter. Last year the trails had some very deep ruts and a few watery sinkholes. The sides of the trails - the places we had to walk with winch cables to find a purchase spot - were easily thigh deep. Walking in snow that's brushing your crotch gets old fast. It does keep your attention on the task on hand, however.

There are hard core enthusiasts who use the opportunity to camp in cold lean-to's for the weekend. Given that temperatures at night have ranged from -20F to +32 F, I've opted to stay at the "Romp Hotel," a Holiday Inn in nearby Waterville, ME. It has heat to dry out your clothes, a table on which you can disassemble any part in comfort and plenty of towels to clean off your greasy hands. How could a woman say "no?"

I admit that I've run into some resistance with my invitations for this romantic weekend. Oh well, I'll see if Cupid has other plans for me on the trails.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lucked Out

My personal "garage" has extraordinary ventilation, limited ceiling height and plenty of stretch out room. It's a bit cold [or hot, depending on season] but if the sun's out, lots of light. That's because it's a classic, open air "shade tree" garage.

In Maine open air maintenance work can get uncomfortable this time of year. So when the linemen who work for FIEC, our local electric co-op, I jumped at the chance to get my cars up to snuff mechanically. First up was my 1966 Corvair Monza Coupe with the 110 hp/4 speed drivetrain.

I had bought tune-up parts at Clark's Corvairs when the Bay State club held its wonderful Rally there back in September but had unwisely left them sitting in the Clark's bag since then. The car had soldiered on nicely this winter, but I knew it was time for the minor tune-up.

So I enjoyed the warmth of a heated, concrete floored building, with drop lights, a huge floor jack, jack stands, and at the end of the workday, several linemen, fishermen, a plumber, a carpenter and two dogs to watch me, give advice, and comment on my numerous shortcomings. All but one were younger, by decades, than me. Did I mention there were "beverages" cooling in the snowbank just outside the door?

The Monza drew many compliments. Everyone thought it had great style, despite its scabrous paint job. I had a nice conversation with the plumber about engine [the P.O. had once offered him the chance to drive the car at a time when it had no brakes - he still shudders at the ride]. We agreed that it was very clever.

I agreed to let one man and his wife, who had never been in a Corvair, take the car one afternoon this spring or summer to enjoy a warm weather drive in it.

So I swapped out the points, rotor and condenser. The Clark's distributor cap on the car was the brass contact model; the one I purchased at Clark's had the aluminum contacts. Since the brass one looked perfect, I left it in place and put the new one in the trunk. When I went to restart the car, it would not, so I checked my point gap again - too wide. Once adjusted correctly it started up right away and purred.

Swapping plugs always gives you a chance to examine the engine's condition. I had last changed them in November 2007. The mayo in the air cleaner made it clear that the car's oil [changed in November] had condensation in it; I'm just not going far enough each time I drive the car. Plug #1 was wet and a bit gunked up, the others on the right bank were a bit wet but without evidence of much oil. The left bank plugs were all just brown and worn out. So I was relieved that all seemed well enough for the 123,000 mile engine that shows no evidence of being apart since new.

Last was a grease job on the front end. As I took out my pistol grip grease gun, a roar of derision rose and the line crew foreman handed me their battery operated grease gun, one that uses a small electric motor to pump the grease. If I had a lot of greasing to do, it would be slick to use; as it was, a few seconds with the electric gun filled everything just fine.

So the Monza runs great, will certainly start that much better, gained new appreciation from locals, provided me with a satisfying few hours, and the heat of a waste-oil furnace as well as the heat of satirical ridicule.

What a great way to pass a late afternoon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Twin Spokesmen With Opposite Messages

Two veteran actors passed away recently. Both proved to be spokesmen for opposite approaches to building and selling automobiles.

Patrick McGoohan, the English actor who gained television fame in "Secret Agent Man" one of the finest Columbo episodes ever [it's the "urinal" episode], and "The Prisoner." The latter took "The Avengers" and swept away the humor. It spoke of a dark world in which a character, known only as Number 6, tries to figure out who he is and where he is being held; it's a mix of drama and science fiction. In the manner of great British series of the '60's, only 17 episodes were made, despite its commercial success on the air.

The signature opening of the show was McGoohan [presumably] in a Lotus 7, a tiny, light, cycle fendered sports car, that in the '860's of American cars, looked like an escapee from a carnival ride. They handled better than most race cars, offered minimal interior comfort, had hankie-in-the-wind tops and flapping side curtains. They weighed about as much as a Twinkie so their small engines could still propel them to fantastic speeds. Your passenger, should they be brave, sat about 2 inches to your right and still could barely hear you over the roar of wind, engine and transmission.

When McGoohan died recently and media commentators spoke of his career [his last big role was in Braveheart], they went right to the visual impact of this little car speeding down a road on a quest for freedom. To drivers of any American car, the Lotus 7 was an impossible consideration as transportation. I still want one.

Its antithesis was the Chrysler Cordoba,hawked on television and print in a memorable advertising campaign.

Ricardo Montalban, notorious for his role on Fantasy Island and as an evil warrior in Star Trek movies, rose to fame in movies as one of the first Mexican-born leading men in US films. For the automotive world, his timeless notoriety came out of his time as a spokesman for the Chrysler Cordoba, a "personal luxury car" for the '70's.

The Cordoba resembled something you would design in study hall if you had come to school stoned. The car featured one wretched excess after another: a garish grille; a wide body stance that from the rear, looked like an offensive guard on an NFL team; a vinyl roof; more bling than an NBA draft choice; and two doors too big for most barns. That said, the car sold awfully well during the decades that cemented Detroit's current reputation for unsalable cars.

But it was the interior that made Montalban's career as a car spokesman. In a hard-to-believe accent, Montalban extolled interiors of "fine Corinthian leather." Decked out in a suit that only a "Saturday Night Fever" extra could love, in a shirt with collar points larger than the wings on a 747, he let his tongue trill over the word "Corinthian." Clearly buyers sweated bullets in their polyester suits and headed right for the dealership. Except, of course, there's no such thing as "Corinthian leather." The seats were just a fancy vinyl.

How opposite the messages presented by these two spokesmen, now sadly departed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Zut Alors - Une Jeep Francaise?

Just like Land Rover, ownership of Jeep has become a sort of holy grail for automobile companies. Regardless of the corporate parent, the two marques seem to "Carry On, Jeeves," with their own enthusiasts bolstering sales and building brand awareness.

Now the rumors abound that Renault, and its partner Nissan, are toying with making a bid for Jeep from Chrysler. This will complete a circle.

Renault once sold a lot of cars here, with the Dauphine model in the '60's, but it's propensity to overheat and blow head gaskets reduced sales over time. Even though the cars got a lot better - the Renault 5, 12, 16, 17, 18, Fuego - and sold very well in Europe, they just did not capture American hearts. By the '70's, Renault was hiring USAC race drivers like Bobby and Al Unser for tv and print ads extolling the virtues of the Renault 12. In the '80's, Renault bought up the remnants of American Motors, which included Jeep.

One problem for Renault was the dealer network, a small collection of out-of-the-way dealers in smaller markets. When they showed up in major cities the dealers combined them with other makes; they rarely showed up in stand-alone locations. Renault had visions of American Motors dealers now selling Renaults, Jeeps, and the remaining line of American Motors, the Eagle.

Eventually Renault produced the Alliance and the Encore, two cars oriented to the American market. They sold in modest numbers but never broke through. Eventually Renault sold off the remaining American Motors assets - and Jeep - to Chrysler.

The opportunities presented by Jeep - like Land Rover - to larger manufacturers lie in their name recognition, established technology, enthusiast base, and name recognition. It's very alluring to a succession of owners; in recent decades, BMW, Ford and now Tata have adopted Land Rover.

Could there be some elan in Jeep's future? It would be interesting to see some of Nissan's successful engineering incorporating Jeep's 4WD experience. Renault rescued Nissan and made it successful again; maybe together they will work their magic on Jeep.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Other Side of Island Living

Yesterday the island received 8-10" of snow, depending on drifting. So that morning, I decided not to go to church and just work online, have a leisurely breakfast and enjoy watching the snow from the in front of the woodstove. Around 9:30, the snowfall thickened. I looked across the lane to the Corvair, covered with snow and a sort of sheen underneath it. How pretty, I thought.

I picked up a pair of binoculars and saw what caused the sheen - it was seawater!

I scanned the cove and realized that we had a wicked high tide. I thought about the huge full moon of last night, before the storm, and quickly went back online to my tide chart page. Holy *** - high tide was not for another hour and the height was extreme, 11.5 feet instead of the usual 9 feet. So much for relaxing.

Now I had to shovel out the Corvair , uncover it, start it [it has sat for the better part of this week], warm it up, and try and reverse it away from the water. The plows have not come yet so there was no other place to put it on the lane. Naturally, the seawater had mixed with the snow and frozen nice and slick. The car would not move very far.

So I went to the cellar when I store a tote of woodstove ash just for occasions like this, and spread some out underneath the rear wheels. That did the trick and I backed the car uphill just enough to avoid the water and yet not be in the way of the plow [there are no plows out yet anyway].

Just another complication of island living. Glad I didn't have to call FEMA.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Run Your Classic Car Everyday

There was a great article in the New York Times Sunday edition recently. A fellow from New Jersey really liked his late '70's Mercedes 300 D diesel. It ran wonderfully and it seemed to be built like a tank. So he kept his eyes open and wound up buying two more: one for his wife and one to keep at a vacation home in Vermont. They're similar cars from the late '70's-early 80's.

The owners says he's 50 years old which means he'll probably never have to buy another car in his lifetime. He sounds very pleased with his approach.

His total costs of purchase are less than a Nissan Versa. By virtue of age and original price, his registration fees/excise taxes and insurance are substantially less than they would be with new cars.

They have high mileage but as Mercedes diesels, they'll run for a long time. Parts support remains great so the cars are never tied up for parts. This is in sharp contrast to a friend's VW Jetta, which has sat at our local mechanics shop for 10 days waiting for the VW dealer on the mainland to actually get him a heater motor. You'd think that in New England, which has real winters, dealers would have adequate access to something as critical as a heater blower motor - not so.

With classic cars you give up many active aids to crash safety, so guess what - you have to drive with greater care. Classic cars have plenty of passive safety features built into their designs, but of course, they were designed during a time that it was assumed the whole idea of driving was avoiding accidents.

If you don't want to, or can't, work on them yourself, you'll help the national economy by moving parts [which then must be manufactured somewhere], keeping local mechanics employed, and actually buying something you can afford.

Think about it - now's the time to change and enjoy that classic car you've always wanted. If you have to drive, why not make it fun?