The Land Rover Writer

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.