Worst Cars List Needs Work

Time Magazine marked the 50th anniversary of the Edsel with a list of the 50 worst cars in history. Syndicated columnist, Dan Neil, did the honors.

The list features the bizarre, the brash, and a few boondoggles. Like the spartan Briggs & Stratton Flyer from 1920 (right). I agree with many of lemons on this list- and have more experience with some than I care to admit- like the Triumph Stag, Masarati Biturbo and V-12 E-Type.

But many of Neil’s picks flat miss the mark. He claims the original 1909 Model T was “the Yugo of its day.” While it was certainly simple, okay- downright crude by modern standards, the Tin Lizzy sported some ingenious design features. The planetary transmission was simple and rugged, even it wasn’t fashionable among automakers. So to was the flywheel-integrated magneto.

Other entries I take exception with include the DeSoto Airflow, MGA Twin Cam, Chevy Corvair, and General Motors ill-fated EV-1. His concept that being too forward-thinking is a bad notion might be true sometimes. But most of the more recent cars on the list (Pontiac Aztek, Hummer H2) illustrate the utter lack of it.

After all, designing cars to satisfy the quarterly report is what got us into this mess in the first place.

50 Worst Cars of All Time

Can’t Afford to Drive? Ride.

It’s sad that it takes $5 gas to force most Americans to consider being efficient. As Winston Churchill put it: “Americans will always do the right thing. When they absolutely have to.”

Gas is really pretty cheap. But I’ve always kept the price of gasoline in perspective. Consider the fact that you can walk into most any convenience store in this country and drop a buck on a liter of water. Until recently, gas was cheaper than water.

So with the threat of $5 a gallon looming on our dashboard horizon, we collectively pause to consider the options. Apparently many people are considering two wheels instead of four…

Survey shows gas prices cause more people to consider motorcycles
Powersports Business
Friday June 27, 2008

More than one-quarter of U.S. consumers are considering purchasing a motorcycle or scooter, according to a survey released by Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Eighteen percent are thinking of buying a motorcycle while 14 percent are contemplating motor scooters. The survey also revealed that men are more apt to make the switch with most of them being between the ages of 18-34. In 2007, consumers said they would reduce driving when gas hit $3.50 per gallon. That has proven true as year-to-date 20 billion fewer miles have been traveled compared to the same period last year, stated the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The survey was a random, nationwide telephone survey from June 5-8, 2008. Interviews were conducted with 884 adults, ages 18 years or older, who drive a vehicle and whose household owns at least one vehicle.

This is an excellent time to mention Ride to Work Day is July 16, 2008.

Riding my BMW R1150R near Keatonville
Rex rides his BMW for work and play.
Around here motorcycles are typically considered recreational vehicles. But consider the efficiency with which they can move people from point A to point B with no appreciable wear and tear on our roads, using very little fuel and requiring no modification to existing infrastructure. The reduction in traffic congestion alone would seem to have far-reaching economic repercussions. Not to mention less parking space, reduced consumption of foreign oil and fewer carbon emissions.

The practical side of scooters and motorcycles was overlooked while we were filling our SUVs. Maybe now we’ll reconsider.

Resources for the potential motorcyclist…

Food for Thought: Corn

Or, what does ethanol have to do with carpaccio?

Rising fuel prices have focused more attention on ethanol lately. Consumers have discovered the trade-off in power between a gallon of gasoline and a gallon of E85, which essentially balances the price difference. And then there’s the corrosion issues the futurists from the Corn Belt neglected to tell us about. Yet government mandates in the Energy Act of 2005 require that a certain portion of our automotive fuel supply be spiked with the stuff. Some experts warn that current production capacity can’t even supply these mandated quantities.

Miles of open ranch land in OklahomaImporting ethanol is not an option because of protectionist tariffs. So the net result has been an increase in commodity prices as the demand for corn increases. Biofuel makers bid against food suppliers and drive up the price. Food or fuel, the critics ask. But using corn as a fuel is not a new idea- we’ve been doing it for years with cows. And they don’t run on the stuff much better than our cars do.

Gas, Grass or ..
About a zillion years ago cows grazed in pastures and ate grass. Then came McDonald’s and everyone decided it was a good idea to eat hamburgers four times a day. This increased demand for beef required a factory approach to raising cattle. And grazing in picturesque pastures had nothing to do with it.

Ranchers found that feeding cattle a corn diet caused them to fatten up more quickly and gave the beef a marbled appearance. Since they aren’t built to eat corn they convert the sugars to fat, and it also gives them gas. Now if your child was eating a diet that had such an effect we would call him… well, an average American, but we’d also consider it unhealthy. And the same goes for the cows- it’s not good for them.

This factory farming approach requires huge amounts of antibiotics to fight disease- 70% of all the antibiotics our country consumes is used on cows. Fear of raw or undercooked meat has not been exaggerated. The incidence of foodborn disease, such as E.colli or Campylobacter, in feedlot beef is 300 times more likely than in pasture-fed beef. Add to this the practice of grinding up beef from hundreds of cows at one time for hamburger and it pretty much guarantees you a bacterium-laden burger.

Fuel for Thought
Ironically, it takes someone threatening our cars to wake up many Americans. If the price of gas continues to rise, and the use of ethanol remains fashionable, the food-or-fuel or fuel-for-food debate will rage on. Eventually the beef industry will weigh in with a Toby Keith song playing in the background. But maybe there’s another way.

Instead of raising corn to feed to cows, maybe we could raise corn and feed it to people? And maybe the cows could eat grass like they used to? Sure, we would see the end of 59 cent hamburgers. But imagine ordering a steak cooked “rare.” Imagine buying a pound of hamburger that came from one cow. Maybe even one day saying, “Pass the carpaccio, please.”

Ref: Wikipedia- Cattle Feeding

JUST STOP, DAMMIT!

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed a weird trend in daily traffic. Drivers pull it up to a traffic light and stop several feet away from the car ahead of them. A friend of mine calls it “pre-stopping.” I call it aggravating.

It’s especially so if you drive a manual transmission car. Or a bike. Drivers stop several feet before they should, then roll up like they’re stalking the preceding vehicle. The cars ahead of me keep crawling forward instead of just pulling up to the stop light and- well, stopping. Busy intersections nowadays are more like pausing… to creep forward… every few… seconds.

At first I blamed this on small people piloting huge vehicles. The acreage your common SUV covers makes it challenging for the average driver to negotiate their expansive property line. How can we expect mom to see over the hood of that Tot Rod when she can barely see over the dash?

But when I began observing their techniques this theory seemed to evaporate like fuel from a Ford Expedition’s gas tank. I noticed the vehicles the “pre-stoppists” drive are not always huge. Or not by American standards anyway. Sure, you’ll see plenty of Hummers leaving a full car length or more ahead of themselves- but you’ll also see Camrys and Subarus sneaking up to the light.

So if the vehicle isn’t the common thread, maybe it’s the drivers? I started watching what people in the car were doing when stopping short. It didn’t surprise me there were a lot of cell phones visible. But I’m not so sure there is any higher proportion of conversations inside those cars waiting blocks away from the stop light. In fact, the scariest realization for me was everyone in traffic seems to be yakking on their cell phone!

So for now we’ll just wait and wonder. But please wait several feet behind me.

Yield… to Clinton Riggs

Clinton Riggs probably never considered himself a “graphic designer.” Heck, the term probably hadn’t even been invented back in 1939 when he was creating his magnum opus. But I’ll bet you’ve seen his work. They’re triangular and red & white. In some parts of the world they have no verbiage, but around here most of them just say YEILD.

When Riggs first ventured into the world of traffic control systems and graphical designs he envisioned a device he called a “responsibility sign.” That would have probably never made it in this day and age, and fortunately the key element “yield” came along. The first signs said: “YIELD right of way” in black letters on a yellow background. In 1939 he tried to sell the idea to Tulsa’s municipal government to no avail. Ironically, interest from afar was enthusiastic about the idea. But it was still another ten years before the Yield sign really started rolling.

Finally, in 1951 Captain Riggs took it upon himself to put his sign to work. Back then the most dangerous intersection in Tulsa was 1st Street and Columbia Avenue. For some reason no stop sign had ever been installed, even though accidents were common. Riggs had the world’s first Yield sign made to his specification out of his own pocket. He promptly mounted a pair on poles and planted them at 1st and Columbia. Accidents immediately decreased.

A modern example of the Yield sign in the US.Over time the Yield sign slowly became more common. There was some trepidation on the part of those that felt it was an unnecessary new sign. The thinking was– any intersection that merits slowing down needs to have a stop sign installed. Internationally acceptance was more rapid and letters poured in from around the world asking about design and implementation of the new sign. And then in the late Fifties came the Interstate Highway System.

Suddenly roadways all across the nation were being built with merge lanes and exit ramps. Even cities built predominantly on a gridwork pattern, like Tulsa, were dealing with curved intersections where traffic flowed together. Perpendicular intersections were one thing, but no one was going to suggest putting a stop sign on a superhighway cloverleaf. The Yield sign was immediately requisite.

I can remember seeing the distinctive original yellow signs as a child. In fact, I recall traveling to other cities and noticing unusual triangular Yield signs. It never occurred to me why there might be different styles of the same sign. Eventually triangular signs replaced all of the original keystone-shaped versions. Years later the Yield sign was “globalized” with a new coat of paint and now the yellow ones have all but vanished.

Riggs retired in 1970 and is best known in the Department as the commander of the police-training academy, a job he held for many years. The southwest precinct of the TPD is named in his honor. His widow, Vera Riggs, still has that original prototype sign, along with those letters from all over the world. An example also resides in the Smithsonian.

And to this day every officer of the Tulsa Police Department wears a small homage to this self-made graphic designer/traffic control engineer. If you look closely at their shoulder patch you can see a little bit of that very first black and yellow Yield sign.

This article was originally written for the Tulsa channel on About.com in June 2000.