Tuesday, March 1, 2011 03:05
On behalf of my fellow journalists, I apologize to Toyota for our ignorance and incompetence. In my defense, I tried to spread the word that they were screwing up. And now the U.S. Department of Transportation has confirmed it.
During the height of the Toyota/Lexus “sudden acceleration” media feeding frenzy, I informed (among others) my professors and fellow students in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s journalism Master’s degree program that Toyotas (or any other car) don’t run away on their own. The drivers, I said, were either pushing the accelerator in the mistaken, but unshakeable, belief they were pushing on the brakes. Or, if the gas pedal was truly stuck open, the drivers were failing to push adequately hard on the brakes.
As the DOT recently confirmed, almost all instances of “sudden acceleration”—whether in Toyota products or not—is caused by “pedal misapplication.” The government confirms the drivers were pushing the gas instead of the brake.
I told my classmates and teachers that, as a high-performance driving instructor, I’ve ridden with dozens of people who mistook the gas for the brake. One driver pressed the clutch instead of the brake. Also, I sat beside other drivers who refused to push adequately hard on the brakes despite me yelling in their ears: “BRAKE!” One said she was afraid she might skid. “You’d rather run off the track than skid?” I asked.
Gas pedals stick for any number of reasons, including floor mats and problem throttle linkages. (Toyota is not innocent in those areas.) However, the brakes will easily overpower the engine in any modern, modestly well-maintained car. I have tested this on perhaps 100 cars, from Corollas to Corvettes to Suburbans. Here’s the test: Right foot hard on the gas, left foot hard on the brakes, and leave them both there. I’ve done it from well more than 100 mph. The cars stopped. Every time. More...
Tuesday, February 8, 2011 05:31
“It’s a sign,” old folks used to say when something they witnessed seemed to predict the future. “It’s a sign” that electric cars are on their way to being fully embraced when all-electric cars start showing up at the dragstrip. Those who hot-rod electric cars are what marketing folks call “early adopters” and average people call “nuts,” “super nerds,” or “whackos.” Versions of those names where applied to people who stuffed V8s into Model T chassis back in the 1940s. (Somehow, those who put V8s into 3 Series BMWs or overly shortened the suspension springs of Hondas earned the more respectable-sounding moniker of “tuner.”)
Someone who would build a street-legal electric drag racer capable of running a quarter mile in 10.3 seconds at just over 120 mph is far more of an early adopter (and a car guy) than the Ed Begley Jr. types who acquire, but don’t often drive, a Prius, Leaf or Volt.
John Wayland has converted a 1972 Datsun 1200 Coupe into what he calls the “world’s quickest street-legal car.” (Wayland calls himself “Plasma Boy.” Ladies, that’s a pretty good indication he’s single.)
A video of Plasma Boy’s racing exploits shows him racing—and beating—Corvettes and BMWs among others. One of Wayland’s advantages is that, like every electric car, his makes maximum torque at zero rpm. Combined with the made-for-drag-racing tires, that means the White Zombie launches like a real drag racer every time. It helps that his opponents in the video have the reaction times and shifting skills of cannabis-browsing koalas. (Since the video, a switch to lighter and more potent lithium-ion batteries has allowed Wayland’s car to run much faster.) More...
Monday, January 17, 2011 05:56
Just as going out for the football team doesn’t mean you’re potential NFL material, buying a high-performance car doesn’t make you a skilled driver. This is a lesson some car enthusiasts learn shortly after taking delivery of the supercar of their dreams. Chevrolet doesn’t want Corvette buyers to realize their limits behind the wheel during a ride in a tow truck, so it’s offering free tuition at one of two driving schools to anyone who buys a new Corvette between now and February 28. (Feel free to share this blog with anyone you think might be willing to help.)
This isn’t the first time Chevy has offered driving schools to Corvette buyers. The deal was already open to anyone who bought a ZR1. But by extending the offer to buyers of any new Corvette model, from the Coupe and Convertible, to the Grand Sport and Z06 models, Chevy is making sure fewer of its cars––and its customers––end up being towed away from accident scenes.
You get your choice of two driving schools. The first is the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving near Phoenix, Arizona, and the second is the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch outside Las Vegas, Nevada.
You have one year from your delivery date to take advantage of the driving school offer. You have to pay for your own travel to the school of your choice––that part should be easy to manage since you need to bring your Corvette along, and really, who isn’t going to want to drive it there?––and you’re on your own for accommodations, but access to the schools and two-day tuition is free. And if the Corvette you buy is a ZR1, and you buy it by the February 28 deadline, you get a third day free. How much do you want to bet that nobody ditches the last day of this school?
Monday, December 20, 2010 04:15
Luxury-class cars aren’t known for their tasteful restraint. After all, when you’re paying the same price for a car as you would for a house in Los Angeles, you want the best—and the most––money can buy. The cup holders should accommodate champagne flutes, not just Starbucks lattes, and the seats should be made of the skin of not just any animal, but an endangered one. So when Mercedes-Benz announced in July that it was working on a 9-speed automatic transmission for its large-displacement luxo-car engines, some people figured it was just the latest example of one-upmanship in a class that already boasted several 8-speed units.
The truth is more complicated. These days, car engineers are no longer free to let their imaginations run wild, because the EPA is looking over their shoulders to make sure nothing they do increases emissions. The problem is that all engines produce more emissions at some rpm than others, and yet they need to rev up to move the car.
The ideal solution would be a CVT (constantly variable transmission) like the ones in scooters and snowmobiles, which keeps the engine running at the most efficient rpm while the trans does the work of varying the speed of the vehicle. But current CVTs can’t handle the weight and torque of large cars, so engineers add more speeds to the automatic transmission, resulting in more gear ratios and fewer shifts and changes in engine rpm. More...
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 02:37
If there's one thing that defines a high-performance car, it’s the manual transmission. That four (or five, or sometimes six)-on-the-floor says the hand on the knob belongs to a driver with the skill to meter out the horsepower in the right amount and at the right time, without the intervention of some granny-friendly slushbox, thank you very much.
But manual transmissions are disappearing. It used to be that sticks were the default transmission, and automatics the high-priced option. Now, with electronic controls determining shift points and engine rpm, and with more drivers needing their hands free to text, phone, and hold their lattes, automatics are fast becoming the only choice in many models, with manual shifting the extra-cost option—if it’s even available at all. More...