Monday Musings

Thanks to 56packardman for putting a link to yesterday’s post on the Studebaker Drivers Club (SDC) forum. I would thank SDC members for clicking on that link often enough so that views of Disaffected Musings reached their highest level in about a month, but I doubt any of them are reading this.

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I absolutely do not condone industrial espionage and theft of IP by Chinese companies and the Chinese government. Without respect for property rights economic activity is excessively constrained and without healthy economic activity nothing that a population and its government want to achieve is really possible. Such behavior is also, obviously, a blatant violation of international law.

However, I understand the motivation for such illegal and unethical behavior. Between the so-called “one child policy” and the enormous number of deaths due to pollution in China, the country is at real risk of growing old, of demographic “collapse,” before its population can become first-world wealthy. Yes, I know the “one child policy” is no longer in effect, but the policy existed in one form or another from 1979 to 2015.

Many people say that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t care about the Chinese people since the party holds control without fear of political opposition. While I don’t accept the view held by many in this country that the Chinese Communists are infallible and all-knowing, the party leadership is not stupid. Economic stagnation and retreat after years of progress could cause widespread dissatisfaction leading, possibly, to rebellion.

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On this day in 1965, the Oldsmobile Toronado debuted (as a 1966 model year car). Of course, the Toronado was the first US-produced front-wheel drive car since the Cord 812 in 1937. The car was named 1966 Motor Trend Car Of The Year and also finished third in the European Car Of The Year competition.

Oldsmobile had been working on front-wheel drive (FWD) since 1958, although at first the goal was to put FWD in a compact car. It’s probably difficult to understand today given how many FWD vehicles exist, but for the US market at this time FWD was “way out” there. Eventually, given that buyers of economy compact cars were less likely to be influenced by technical innovation than buyers of larger cars (and more likely to balk at the cost of a car that included some amortization of significant development expenses), Oldsmobile moved its focus to putting FWD in a “personal luxury” car.

(A personal note: my father, who was an auto mechanic, was very dismissive of front-wheel drive cars. He did, however, own many four-wheel drive Jeeps.)

From Mecum Auctions a picture of a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado offered at its Kissimmee auction in 2016:

 

See the source image

 

The engine for the Toronado was Oldsmobile’s 425 cubic-inch V-8, but tweaked to give more horsepower and torque than the engine did in other cars. (The Toronado motor produced 385 HP/475 LB-FT of torque compared to the 375 HP/470 LB-FT or 365 HP/470 LB-FT output of other cars.)

The transmission was the Turbo Hydra-Matic 425, which was based on the Turbo Hydra-Matic 400. However, compared to the TH400, in the TH425 the gearbox was separated from the torque converter, turned 180 degrees (which also required reversing the directions of its internal gear rotation and clutch engagements), and offset to the left. The Toronado transmission also used chains, and not gears, to transmit power.

The Toronado was a success selling about 41,000 units in model year 1966. This was a very similar performance to the debut year (1963) of the Buick Riviera, a car in the same market segment as the Toronado, in which 40,000 cars were sold. Although Toronado sales declined by half in 1967 they subsequently recovered and reached nearly 56,000 in 1973 after a redesign in 1971. The car was produced in four different generations through 1992 with almost 800,000 built in total.

Sadly, Oldsmobile cars are no longer manufactured. The company that introduced (or co-introduced) modern front-wheel drive, the modern overhead-valve V8 and, of course, the modern automatic transmission has been out of existence for over a decade. As has been mentioned before, Oldsmobile is the only US company to have produced cars in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. I think aficionados of American cars should never forget Oldsmobile.

 

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Frugal Friday, Pioneer Edition

No, not going to list covered wagons that one can buy for little money. First…”There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Second…”People are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”

Of course, the first quote can be attributed to Shakespeare while a version of the second has been attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I don’t know about you, but I am not a big fan of people who pontificate without command of the facts. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean anyone has to listen and to paraphrase Asimov one more time, democracy does not mean that Person A’s ignorance equals Person B’s knowledge. Of course, I would add the caveat that lack of credentials doesn’t necessarily mean lack of knowledge.

A real-world example: I commented on an article about the C8 Corvette on an automotive website. (Imagine that…) Part of my comment was anticipating the groan from the manual transmission snobs who would bemoan lack of same in the new Corvette, at least at first. Someone replied that Chevrolet was restricting its market because most Corvette drivers drove a manual transmission. This person was obviously unaware that the majority of Corvettes have been sold with an automatic transmission every model year since 1972! I stated that fact in a reply of my own. What I didn’t state (sorry for gilding the lily) is that more automatic transmission Corvettes were sold in the ten model years 2007-2016, inclusive, then the total of all Corvettes sold from 1953 to 1965. Remember, too, that Corvette sales were seriously affected by the “Great Recession.” Corvette sales declined by 71% between model years 2007 and 2012.

You know, it’s really not that difficult to look stuff up these days. If you find two or three “reliable” sources that agree you can have some confidence in whatever fact(s) you found. Also, loud and wrong is still wrong.

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From this Hemmings listing a picture of a 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder convertible. OK, what’s “pioneer-ish” about this car? It has a turbocharged engine. In 1962, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile (another first for them) introduced the first mass-produced turbocharged cars anywhere in the world. The turbo system was not sophisticated at all compared to today, but GM deserves kudos for basically seeing the future. Turbocharged cars are now common.

A turbo engine was available in the Corvair from 1962 through 1966; the Olds Jetfire was only available in 1962 and 1963. This particular Corvair is being advertised at $10,000. On Hemmings I searched for Corvair turbo cars from 1962 or 1963. If I limited my search just to the debut year I might not have found anything. I think being able to buy a turbo Corvair for about ten grand is a very frugal way to buy a pioneering car. By the way, Chevrolet produced about 19,000 Monza Spyders in 1963 of which approximately 7,500 were convertibles.

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Also from Hemmings a picture of a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado:

 

 

This was the first model year for the Toronado, which was the first mass-produced front-wheel drive American car since the Cord 810/812 of 1936-37. Once again, Oldsmobile and General Motors were ahead of the eventual trend toward FWD cars. Olds produced almost 41,000 Toronados in its debut year. The seller is asking $9,595 for this example. Another Toronado, a ’67 model, was actually advertised at a lower price, but didn’t look good in the photos. This example isn’t pristine, either, but for less than ten grand that wouldn’t be a big deal to me.

To be able to buy such an important car for less than ten grand is the definition of frugal for me. Oh, if you buy this car and live in a climate that receives snow in the winter, please remember to put the snow tires on the front! 🙂

 

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More “trivia”

What is the only US car company to operate in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries? (Cue the Final Jeopardy music…)

The answer is Oldsmobile, which, of course, is no longer in operation. On this day in 1901, with five or six different “horseless carriage” prototypes complete, a fire erupted at the Olds factory in Lansing, Michigan. As the story goes, the only prototype to be saved was the little Curved Dash runabout. When a new factory was built, Random Eli Olds had no choice but to build the Curved Dash model, which became the first car “mass produced” in the world and led Oldsmobile to the top of the production charts in 1903, 1904 and 1905.

Some historians question whether the fire is the reason that the Curved Dash model was built. Obviously, I don’t know what happened, but I do know that some people are knee-jerk contrarians who always have to argue with the consensus.

See the source image

From Wikipedia a picture of the Curved Dash runabout. Oldsmobile actually has quite a history of innovation that could probably be the subject of a book. Here’s a picture of another Olds landmark:

See the source image

From hdw.eweb4.com a picture of a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. This was the first real front-wheel drive car produced in the US since the Cord 810/812 in 1936-37. Although I prefer its GM cousin, the Cadillac Eldorado that was introduced in 1967, I like the Toronado and appreciate its significance.

While acknowledging the inevitability of changes in the auto industry, I lament the loss of makes like Oldsmobile because I think that fewer makes mean fewer sources of innovation in styling and engineering. For some people, a car is not just transportation.