Tuesday, November 13, 2012

That makes sense...

Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" award just went to the Tesla Motors Model S.

This puts it in the elite company of previous winners, such as the '71 Chevy Vega, the '74 Ford Pinto GT Mustang II, the rolling Sominex substitute '76 Dodge Aspen, the 1980 Chevy Slowtation, the '83 AMC/Renault Alliance (there's business sense for you: when your American car company is circling the drain, an injection of French automotive technology is as useful as a lead life preserver), the dull-as-dishwater '95 Chrysler Cirrus, and that star of rental fleets at airport parking lots around the nation, the monumentally forgettable 1997 Chevy Malibu.

50 comments:

rickn8or said...

Maybe they're aping the Nobel Peace prizes; awarding the prize not so much for what the car actually does, but what it's capable of in the future.

(Or would be capable of in case someone were to actually buy one.)

drjim said...

I've always considered Motor Trend to be prime bird cage liner....

Fred said...

I used that as a feature on the '04 (Malibu) Classic I just sold. Remarkebly unremarkable and boringly reliable.

og said...

There was a malibu in 97? Good lord, I'm GLAD I missed it.

Justthisguy said...

I had a '71 Chevy Vega. What I learned from that, was how to find the best places where I could buy oil cheaply by the gallon.

Farmgirl said...

I actually adored my 98 Malibu and pretty much literally drove it until the engine fell out, after buying it at ten years old and running it for another seven.

No, it wasn't anything fancy but it worked wonderfully for me.

Still, not exactly the drool inspiring type of car.

Borepatch said...

I had a buddy growing up whose folks got a '71 Vega. All they did was change the oil every 3000 miles, and the car went for more than 10 years. Maybe they got the only good one.

Anonymous said...

@Farmgirl: check yor math. It isn't 2015 yet.

Justthisguy said...

P.s. I was being too harsh on the poor thing, in my comment above. It ran great until it overheated, when its nasty little thermostat failed shut, when I was driving back to my place from Redstone Arsenal. I saw the "hot" light go on, but figured I was only a mile or so from the house, and could nurse it home.

Silly Jtg; There was no overheating margin in the Vega motor. After I bought a fitted block and got the thing running again, it ran great until the rear axle failed and I sold it for $20.

I did save the engine block it came with. It was some kind of aluminum-silicon alloy, nowhere thicker, as far as I could see, than 1/4". I'll take my oath before the Throne of God, that I could easily pick up the Vega engine block with the little finger of either hand.

I was going to save the thing to make a pedestal for a coffee table, or something, when Dennis Hayes, the modem guy, my employer at the time did something to get me really annoyed at him.

Rather than hit Dennis with a hammer, I hit the old Vega block with a hammer. That was some fun destruction. That was a very brittle alloy.

Y'all can look up Dennis on Wikipedia, if ya like. He might still be alive, the loathesome horndog.

Tom said...

They named a car after the band?

deadcenter said...

I had a 74 mustang II. I referred to it as a Pinto with delusions of grandeur. No fond memories of that car.

drjim said...

I has a '73 Vega GT Station wagon, or "Kammback" as they preferred to call it.
I took excellent care of it, and it went through FOUR engines in 50,000 miles.
GM gave me the first one free, the second one for $150, the third one for $250, and the fourth one was a free rebuilt one, rather than a new-in-the-crate one.
I sold it a week after they put the fourth one in it......

Paul, Dammit! said...

I had the guilty pleasure of watching a dozen or so $100,000 Fisker Karma's blow up like popcorn in a microwave during the storm surge from hurricane Sandy. They went underwater, and those 700-lb batteries shorted out nicely when the water receded. Karma indeed.

Justthisguy said...

P.s. For a while there, Dennis Hayes was not only my boss, but also my landlord, and also my housemate. I do not recommend that kind of relationship to _anybody_.

Melita, his wife, took him for a huge amount of money in the divorce, the biggest divorce settlement in the history of the State of Georgia.

Now, normally I don't approve of that kind of thing, but I do believe that Melita Easters Hayes had a good case, and that Dennis had it coming.

Melita convinced the Court that she was instrumental in growing Dennis's modem busines, by holding his nose to the grindstone. Having known both of them, I believe her argument.

The proximate cause of the famous divorce, IIRC, was that horndog Dennis couldn't keep his hands, and mucous membranes, away from some cute young female Asian employee.

Dennis had fired me, and the rest of the founders, years before, so I just wallowed in the Schadenfreude when I read what happened.

I should try to look up Melita some time and see if she still remembers me. I wonder if she still lives in Tifton.

Steve Skubinna said...

Don't be dissing the Tesla. If I had a hundred grand to blow, and an otherwise reliable "real" car to actually, you know, drive around in, I'd consider a Tesla. I could probably score with a bunch of eco-chicks.

Thing is, I already have two real cars to drive around in and no hundred grand to blow.

And come to think of it, I'm not really interested in eco-chicks. Or even their girlfriends.

Wraith said...

@ Tom: I hope.

Because if they named it after the inventor, I'm pretty sure Nikolai is going to come back to life, blast his way out of his grave with no other force but white-hot umbrage, and bitch-slap them mercilessly for daring to attach his name to something that horrifically uncool.

The man who invented the 20th Century deserves better.

Tim Ellwood said...

I have had about half the cars on that list, I had a couple of 73 vettes that I lavished all my money and attention on but always had to have a "real car" also, 71 vega (Notchback), more rust than metal, cleaned the oil off the spark plugs every 150 miles ( remember those spark plug cleaners you plugged into the wall, I burned out 3 of them) and poured in another quart and it was good for 150 more, it was that nice rotten green color, The mustang II was that Ford silver that flaked off after a year in the sun, then back to true oxidized green fun mobile, the Aspen ( with the option of the half white vinyl roof) . Now that I buy a new F-150 every few years, I miss all that fun, breakdowns, overheats, doors falling off, leaving large portions of the car behind after every speed bump. ah, the good old days

staghounds said...

I think car dealers and fleet operators LOVE natural disasters.

docjim505 said...

It leads one to wonder just what the criteria are for "Car of the Year". Cutting-edge technology? Rock-solid reliability? Cool points?

og said...

Looks like Motor Trend is trying to mimic Leopold Brown. Damn, I'm glad I found this column by Shep, I was beginning to think I'd imagined it.

Anonymous said...

@docjim505: Elections have consequences.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Ken O said...

Vegas are only useful when fitted with a small block transplant and destined for the drag strip. Perhaps, eventually, that can be the fate of the Tesla. Ok, wishful thinking.

Lazy Bike Commuter said...

Believe it or not, my dad did years of field service for IBM in a 76 Vega. It had something very near 400k miles on it by the time he gave it away and got a Mercury Topaz.

He did all the maintenance on the thing himself, including the engine changes...going back to the lightness of the block, he would put he front of the car an jack stands, then unbolted the engine and transmission and drop then onto his chest.

Will from Bama said...

I had the misfortune of having TWO Vegas - a '74 with a manual transmission and (a few months later) a '75 with an automatic. The '74 actually drove well but used so much oil that I expected to receive an honorary ambassadorship from the Arabs. After I had figured THAT out (didn't take long), imagine my horror when my father-in-law GAVE us the '75. And that thing, besides being so slow we were lapped by tortoises, went through two transmissions in 3000 miles.

I did not buy another GM product until I took a chance on Saturn, and to my pleased surprise, found them (at least the '94 and '98 models) to be extremely reliable.

Dwight Brown said...

"It leads one to wonder just what the criteria are for 'Car of the Year'."

I've always heard the criterion for being named "Motor Trend Car of the Year" was whoever spent the most money on advertising with "Motor Trend".

Tam said...

Dwight Brown,

+1

Anonymous said...

Motor Trend:

Who says money can't buy you love?

My dad had a 73 Vega GT wagon which I did drive. We didn't have any problems until my sister with the heavy foot got it spitting aluminium out the tail pipe.

Gerry

Robb Harbaugh said...

If you believe that Formula 1 race cars are the most technologically advanced race cars (and I do), and the last two years (and maybe this year also)have been won by a Renault powered car, I'm wondering how you equate French automotive technology with a lead life preserver?

drjim said...

Because Formula 1 technology has about as much in common with "street cars" as the Space Shuttle does with model airplanes.

Farmgirl said...

Anonymous... typos happen. How's this? I bought the car in 2003 and drove it until it died right after the first Blogorado.

Feel free to continue picking nits, though.

rickn8or said...

drjim, the motor mounts strapped down with velcro should have been your first clue...

rickn8or said...

@ Steve Skubinna, same boat here, but substitute not one but TWO pickup trucks.

Is America a great country or what??

Ken said...

I have a '99 Malibu, and can testify to its utter unremarkability. Starts the first time every time, though.

Bram said...

Just what everyone wants - a $90k golf cart. If I understand the charge times, I could drive back and forth to work every 2nd day.

Ancient Woodsman said...

Downtown Alton, NH, across from the fire station there is a street called "Letter 'S' Road". It doesn't really go anywhere; I'm guessing the Tesla car-naming guys were in Alton recently.

Now I know why.

Robb Harbaugh said...

@drjim: Are you kidding me? Every major advancement to automobiles has been on a race car first. From engines to brakes, aerodynamics, electronics. Ever drive a car with four wheel drum brakes through a puddle? You had to ride the brakes for a block or two to dry them out so they would work. Disc brakes were tested and refined on race cars and then brought to market on conventional vehicles. Race cars pioneered aluminum, carbon fiber, plastics, and adhesives. All the technology used on a Formula 1 car will be adapted, and adopted for the street.

drjim said...

No, I'm not kidding you. I'm fully aware of the fact that LOTS of the technology used on racing cars filters down to street cars. I used to build racing engines, and ran my own cars in several different SCCA Production Classes, so I've been around the block a few times when it comes to automotive technology.
Current Formula 1 cars have very little in common with current street cars, other than they roll on 4 tires and burn a hydrocarbon fuel. They have evolved into such a specialist vehicle, that trying to trickle down their technology to street cars would be futile.
Some of their concepts, perhaps, but NONE of their hardware.

Anonymous said...

And in fairness to the French, they have pioneered a LOT of automotive technology take for granted.

Take Citroen "Traction Avant" car.

A pre WWII car , with disk brakes ( not in the wheel: at the center, to make the aluminium wheels lighter, front wheel drive, etc.. also reliable, good looking, fast ( for the time) and several other technical innovations that only took US manufacturers 30+ more years to catch up to.

Michelin: basically invented the modern tire, don't believe me? Check the patents.

The 2CV. ( that funny French hatch back built about the same time, and for as along as as Volkswagen Bug variants) brilliant design, for what it was, a cheap, easy to fix car.



Etc...





Matt G said...

"In 2009, Car and Driver effectively recanted naming the Alliance to their 1983 Ten Best list, stating, 'the Alliance proved that Wisconsin workers could assemble a Renault with the same indifference to quality that was a hallmark of the French automotive industry.'" --Wikipedia.

Heh.

Rabbit said...

The alloy used in casting the Vega engine block was the same alloy Porsche used in the 928. At least there are some people who think 928s are worth saving; I see three of them around town frequently.Haven't seen a Vega move under its own power or otherwise in maybe three years.

RevolverRob said...

I remember in my ill-spent youth, reading a copy of Hot Rod. One of my favorite quotes was something akin to, "The new Jaguar S-Type is a lame automobile. It's really meant for guys who were tweed jackets with patches on the sleeves and read Motor Trend."

I mean, Hot Rod magazine, isn't exactly the finest literary fodder either. But it does rank about Motor Trend, and moderately above, Autoweek.

-Rob

JebTexas said...

Gotta call BS on y'all dissing the Tesla, I have a bro who works for Elon, and I have no doubt that bunch can accomplish ANYTHING they say. He hires the absolutely brilliant, and then gets out of the way. You ought to see the long hair, tats, piercings etc. on the younger crowd at SpaceX!

Armadillo Aerospace has worked for 15 yrs on a vertical take off and landing rocket, and posted all of their data, logs, video etc. daily on the net. Elon saw that, and decided to build one also. Enter Grasshopper, composed of the Falcon engine which powers their entire fleet and some control stuff. A few weeks later, they have a working model and fly successfully the first time they try. Oh yeah, the AA rocket is 15 ft tall. The Grasshopper? It's full size, 100Ft+. No scale models here!

The goal of the Tesla is to see if it is POSSIBLE to build an electric car that is "close to useful for normal auto travel." When(if) they succeed, Elon will have no problem ramping up production. Did you know the fast recharge stations are free?

mariner said...

drjim,
I've been around the block a few times when it comes to automotive technology

I saw what you did there.

Nathan said...

Didn't we already know that every COTY award is bought and paid for by OEMs?

I won't be buying a Model S, both for the fact that it's insanely expensive, and the detail that I don't want a car.
That said, it's still the first decently viable electric car.

Now if it can keep from exploding like the Fisker Karma, it should be decent.

Steve Skubinna said...

rickn8or, I have a close (in all senses) relative with a pickup so I figure I have use of one of those when I need a yard of gravel or whatever as well. I have another close friend with a backhoe so I know where to go when I need a trench dug. Another friend has a Bobcat.

And so, yes, America... what a country!

tailwind said...

Actually, aerospace pioneered aluminum (and Ti), carbon fiber, plastics and adhesives.

Anonymous said...

Karmas are the perfect end-of-days vehicle. It's kinda like havin a $100k Bic lighter.

Daniel E. Watters said...

I've always wanted to track the fates of firearm industries award winners. For instance, the Para-Ordnance TTR won the 2010 Golden Bullseye Award for Rifle of the Year. Production is now discontinued.

markm said...

"The alloy used in casting the Vega engine block was the same alloy Porsche used in the 928."

I suspect that almost no Porsche owners stint on oil changes. If they aren't wealthy enough to easily pay someone to change the oil every 3,000 miles, they're the type that *enjoys* doing it themselves. I also suspect that a Porsche engine will be seriously overbuilt for a street car, while the Vega design cut everything to the bare minimum.

But if built to design, the Vega did meet the minimum requirements for an American car. It had to be maintained properly and strictly to schedule, and driven reasonably, but it really wasn't that bad - once the factory defects had been tracked down and corrected. The biggest problem was that it was built by bored and resentful union workers on a line running at double-speed. If a screw didn't go in on the first try, there was no time to try again - so it went down the line short that piece. And sometimes the problem looked more like deliberate sabotage...

Not that there weren't some unique cost-saving features that could be jarring. Such as the combined fan-belt and timing belt. I've had more than one fan belt snap in my lifetime, but only once that the engine had to be re-timed because of it.

drjim said...

It wasn't so much a lack of oil changes that killed Vega engines as it was overheating. The block didn't have any deck surface, and the cylinders were free-standing, supported only at the bottom of the block.
Overheating would make things 'move around', and you'd lose the seal on the head gasket, making the overheating worse, and pretty soon the silicon "grains" that the rings sealed on would flake off, opening up the piston-to-cylinder wall clearance, and tremendously increasing the oil consumption.
The car itself (at least mine was) was pretty well screwed together, and the GT with the big sway bars and bigger wheels and tires handled extremely well.
A friend of mine retrofitted his with the 2.5L "Iron Duke" they used in Pontiacs, and had a really nice, well running little car when he was finished.