Plea To The Universe

My feelings about metaphysics, defined as an abstract theory with no empirical basis in reality, are well known. Nevertheless, in an effort to turn off the bad luck that has befallen me starting with the loss of my lucrative baseball business in 2010 (and, in no way, in an attempt to diminish the significance of current world events) and that continued yesterday with my wonderful wife and me receiving bad news that represents a major obstacle in our efforts to move to the desert ASAP, I offer a plea to the universe. I extend sincere apologies for whatever transgressions I may have committed, to people who believe I have treated them in a mean-spirited and/or insensitive way. Please remove this curse that has hung over me for almost a decade.

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The good news is that five votes have been cast in the first-generation MR2 edition of In Or Out? Surprisingly to me, the vote is 5-0 in favor of In. The “bad” news is I will have to continue the feature. Writing this blog almost every day is not easy. I do enjoy it, otherwise I wouldn’t do it–remember I have yet to be paid so much as a penny even though ads have been shown for almost two years–but I take pride in the quality of the writing and quality takes time and effort, even 500-ish words at a time.

I am asking for submissions for the In Or Out? feature. Remember, cars that are candidates to be near-unanimous selections either way, think the Jaguar E-Type and the Yugo, are not really appropriate in this context. In some ways, the less popular and less well-known the better, although I don’t want to exclude the possibility of a car like the fourth-generation Chevrolet Impala (1965-1970) being considered.

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On this day in 1969 the last Chevrolet Corvair rolled off the assembly line in Willow Run, Michigan. As most car enthusiasts know, the Corvair was a major departure from the architecture of the day being powered by an air-cooled engine mounted in the rear as opposed to a liquid-cooled engine mounted in the front.

Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe At Any Speed, along with General Motors’ efforts to smear Nader’s reputation played a role in the demise of the Corvair, but were hardly the only reasons the car ultimately failed. The Corvair’s unique setup, at least unique among cars from an American car company, left it in no position to compete with the Mustang, which was introduced in April, 1964 as a 1965 model year car. For example, from the very beginning Mustangs were available with V-8 engines. That was an impossibility with the Corvair.

From chevy-wiki.com a chart of Corvair production figures:

 

1960 253,268
1961 337,371
1962 336,005
1963 288,419
1964 214,483
1965 247,092
1966 109,880
1967 27,253
1968 15,399
1969 6,000
Total 1,835,170

 

It is written in places like Encyclopedia of American Cars by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide® that General Motors had determined the ultimate fate of the Corvair as early as April of 1965 with an internal memo that read, “Regarding the Corvair: no more development work. Do only enough to meet federal requirements.” Other sources claim that GM wanted to make a third-generation Corvair beginning in model year 1970, but the sales figures dictated otherwise. Note that even before publication of Nader’s book and the introduction of the Mustang, Corvair sales declined by 36 percent from 1962 to 1964. The blip in 1965 was due to the introduction of the second-generation car of which Car and Driver’s David E. Davis wrote, “…[T]he Corvair is in our opinion the most important new car of the entire crop of ’65 models, and the most beautiful car to appear in this country since before World War II.”

I also am quite fond of the looks of the second-generation Corvair and agree with Davis when he wrote, “The ’65 Corvair is an outstanding car. It doesn’t go fast enough [emphasis mine], but we love it.” From the car blog of The New York Times (of all places) a picture of a 1965 Corvair:

 

See the source image

 

I think that’s a great-looking car. A report released in 1972 (too late to save the Corvair) by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated:

 

“The 1960-1963 Corvair [my note: the car cited in Nader’s book] understeers in the same manner as conventional passenger cars up to about 0.4g lateral acceleration, makes a transition from understeer, through neutral steer, to oversteer in a range from about 0.4g to 0.5g lateral acceleration. This transition does not result in abnormal potential for loss of control. The limited accident data available indicates that the rollover rate of the 1960-1963 Corvair is comparable to other light domestic cars. The 1960-1963 Corvair compared favorably with the other contemporary vehicles used in the NHTSA Input Response Tests. The handling and stability performance of the 1960-1963 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic.”

 

One might question the competence of a government agency, but the report is what it is. It is true that in an effort to cut costs GM omitted antiroll bars in the first three model years, which would have improved handling in the Corvair. Like most “problems” there’s plenty of blame to go around. Keep that in mind; excessive distillation of reality from those blinded by ideology or those unable to understand the complexity of the world is almost never useful for understanding a problem.

 

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Connections

Connections is a fascinating (IMO) TV series created, written and narrated by James Burke, a science historian. Each episode would link people or inventions that didn’t seem to be related at all. From the Wikipedia article about the series here is the synopsis for a typical episode:

“‘Eat, Drink and Be Merry…’ begins with plastic, the plastic credit card, and the concept of credit, then leaps back to the time of the dukes of Burgundy, the first state to use credit. The dukes used credit for many luxuries, and to buy more armor for a stronger army. The Swiss opposed the army of Burgundy and invented a new military formation (with soldiers using pikes) called the pike square. The pike square, along with events following the French Revolution, set in motion the growth in the size of armies and in the use of ill-trained peasant soldiers. Feeding these large armies became a problem for Napoleon, which caused the innovation of bottled food. The bottled food was first put in champagne bottles then in tin cans. Canned food was used for armies and for navies. In one of the bottles, the canned food went bad, and people blamed the spoiled food on ‘bad air’, also known as swamp air. Investigations around ‘bad air’ and malaria led to the innovation of air conditioning and refrigeration. In 1892, Sir James Dewar invented a container that could keep liquids hot or cold (the thermos) which led three men – Konstanin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard, and Hermann Oberth – to construct a large thermal flask for either liquid hydrogen and oxygen or for solid fuel combustion for use in rocket propulsion, applying the thermal flask principle to keep rocket fuel cold and successfully using it for the V-2 rocket and the Saturn V rocket that put man on the moon.”

Each episode in the original series (1978) was fascinating to me. I didn’t enjoy the book anywhere near as much nor did I enjoy the “sequels,” Connections2 or Connections3 as much as the original.

In his book Steve Magnante’s 1001 Corvette Facts, Magnante writes about a “Connections” event. Fact #518 links the Chevrolet Corvair, the Porsche 928 and the C4 Corvette. Magnante writes that Porsche developed the front-engined 924 and 928 as a response to the reaction to the rear-engined Corvair. Porsche worried that the US, its largest export market, might ban rear-engined cars. The introduction of the 924 and particularly the 928 led General Motors/Chevrolet to abandon any mid-engined Corvette and re-commit to a front-engine layout in the C4. (In my opinion much of the excessive and vitriolic criticism of corporate America has its roots in the Corvair and the controversy it created. In his book Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars, Paul Ingrassia connects the Corvair to the election of George Bush in 2000. Ralph Nader became so famous that he ran for President and received enough votes in Florida so that the state and its electoral votes would be awarded to Bush instead of Al Gore. That’s a real Connections story!)

 

See the source image

From journal.classiccars.com a picture of a first-generation Corvair.

 

See the source image

From momentcar.com a picture of a Porsche 928.

 

https://www.corvsport.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/VHaFnI.jpg

From corvsport.com a picture of a C4 Corvette. This happens to be a 1990 model.

 

People who think they can predict the future are either delusional or lying. Nature is extremely complex and the only prediction that can be made is that nature is unpredictable. Human behavior, while not as complex as nature, can be inscrutable as well.

 

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Underrated

Bill James (yes, his name is here again) once wrote about how he didn’t like the terms overrated and underrated. His point was that there really are no official ratings for most things in life and, therefore, how can anything be underrated or overrated? OK, good point, but this post from thrillist.com is about the ten most underrated American cars, at least according to the author. Some of these cars will be familiar to those of you who read this blog.

At #10 is one of my favorites, the Cadillac Allante. From the thrillist piece: “A spiritual predecessor to the Corvette-based XLR, the Allante was somewhat ill-received because it was front-wheel drive and thus didn’t have world-crushing handling. The rest of the car was an odd mix that involved Pininfarina (the same Italian design house that’s responsible for scores of your favorite Ferraris over the years) building the bodies in Italy, flying them to Detroit, and mating a decent chassis and V8 to the car. If you’re just cruising around, it’s hard to argue against its value.” It was also ill-received because it was under-powered at first (170 HP/235 LB-FT of torque for its first two model years, 1987 and 1988) and fraught with quality issues.

I still think the Allante is a beautiful car and if you can get a later one that’s been looked after, it’s a bargain and a great entry point into the world of car collecting. Here’s a picture from autoevolution.com:

See the source image

So, what was/is the #1 most underrated American car? Here’s a picture from the thrillist piece:

Corvair

This is the Chevrolet Corvair and this one is supposed to be in Monza trim. The Corvair, of course, is one of the most controversial cars in US history and the car that made Ralph Nader famous, for better or for worse. (It’s a little bit of both, in my opinion.) From thrillist: “Today, the Corvair is most known as the subject of Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed, wherein he argues that many people died as a result of GM cutting corners with the car’s suspension. In truth, however, the suspension setup was fundamentally the same as contemporary Porsches and Mercedes, and statistically, the car wasn’t any more dangerous than other vehicles. It had an advanced air-cooled flat six engine that was mounted in the rear. It was basically GM’s version of a Porsche for normal people, but thanks to Nader’s controversy, the car died, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was born.”

Many car “experts” argue with the claim that Nader’s book killed the Corvair. Those “experts” believe it was actually the Ford Mustang that killed the Corvair because the Mustang was more versatile. For example, the Mustang, which was released in April of 1964, was offered with many engine options, including various V-8s. It was impossible to put an 8-cylinder engine into the Corvair. (Nader’s book was published in 1965.) The story of the Corvair is quite interesting and I think the best history of the car is in Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars by Paul Ingrassia.

The Corvair is another way to get into the car hobby without taking out a second mortgage. I did a search on Hemmings of second generation Corvairs (1965-1969). I found two that look decent and were priced under $10,000. I think the second generation cars look much better than the first and had the “bugs” worked out.

What cars do you think are underrated? Do you think that the concepts of underrated and overrated are valid? By the way, I am still hoping for honest, constructive feedback about Disaffected Musings. I am very proud of this blog, but maybe I am missing something that can only be seen by someone with a different perspective.

 

If you’re here after clicking on a link from Hemmings, welcome. Please feel free to bookmark the blog URL (https://disaffectedmusings.com) and to visit often. Thanks.