Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Crash" -- a UD student "auto" biography by Kristin Cella


Kristin Cella
HST 344
Professor Heitmann
23 January 2013
Crash
I went to a small high school in Elgin, Illinois. It could take anywhere between ten to twenty minutes to get there from my house, the reason being that there is a train station right by the school where there would constantly be cargo and passenger trains coming through. I always hated having to wait at the light for what seemed like forever because of the trains, but one day in particular made me despise it.
I was fifteen years old when my older sister was driving me and our two friends home from our after school field hockey practice. It was just like any other day. We were all talking, listening to the radio, messing with our cell phones, nothing was different. Like most other days, we just barely missed the light so my sister slowly brought her ‘97 Chevy Malibu to a stop right behind the tracks. Our windows were down and I could clearly hear the railroad crossing warning bells. All of a sudden I can’t hear them anymore. It sounded like loud thunder and a long gun shot, and pieces of glass fly everywhere over the road. A grey minivan on the other side of the track took a hard and fast right from the road perpendicular to us. The train hit it with immense force, and it continued to drag it along the tracks like a little boy’s hand steering his toy on the floor. Red warning lights continued to flash as they had started just seconds before.
We all witnessed the whole thing. We couldn’t help but to scream and burst into panic mode. Of course we couldn’t have done anything to prevent it, nor could the train. It blew its whistle just like all trains do when approaching a crossway. The minivan drove over the tracks at the exact moment the train would strike it from the side, and we all knew that lives had just ended. I couldn’t process anything because I was in such a state of shock. I’d never even witnessed a fender bender before this, and I sure as hell had never seen anyone been killed, but it just didn’t seem plausible that anyone could survive a crash like that.
A few people were out of their cars at this point, and my sister frantically grabbed her phone to dial 911. Her voice was shaking as she told them what we just witnessed. I looked around and saw other people on their phones doing the same. Soon after, police cars and an ambulance showed up. I couldn’t stop looking around at all the glass and replaying what I just saw in my head. Weren’t the crossing gates down? How did the driver not hear the train’s loud whistle? Could it have been a suicide attempt? We were all trying to make sense of it all. When our time came to cross, we turned right and drove parallel to the tracks. I started seeing more and more car parts sprinkled across the area and then finally the compacted minivan. The four of us barely talked for the rest of the ride home.
The grey minivan had five people in it. The driver was an adult female and the only one who miraculously survived. The passenger was her sister, and in the back were her two nieces and baby nephew. My sister, myself, and our two friends didn’t talk to each other for days because we were so shaken up, but we were eventually contacted by the police to explain what we witnessed. I hated having to relive the horrific incident; especially because it all happened so fast I wasn’t 100% sure about any of the little details anymore. Yet, seven years later I can still hear the noise of that grey minivan being pulverized and can see it happening in my head.
There weren’t many days throughout the rest of my high school career where I didn’t think about the accident when waiting at that light. To say that I now look both ways when I approach a railroad crossing would be an understatement.

Not this particular accident but a train-mini-van accident nevertheless.(editor)


A funky photo of a 1934 Ford


Hi folks -- I found these photos on the web and thought it was worth a post -- especially the first one with a Maynard G. Krebs look-a-like! This is a 4 door sedan, probably had the V-8 engine, and sold for about $500.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

UD "Auto" Biography -- Stephanie Wilhelm and her 1999 Mustang








Stephanie Wilhelm
HST-344
1/23/13
“Auto” Biography
I still remember that hot summer day when my mom and I were driving by my high school parking lot when something caught my eye.  Silver, shiny, and an object of pure beauty.  There in that parking lot, I spotted my first car.  A ’99, Automatic, V6, Ford Mustang.  I still had my temporary permit, but begged my mom to pull in the lot.  I remember jumping out of the car before she had finished parking, and just staring at the heat rolling off the tinted windows.  I walked over to the car and started inspecting everything about it.  Brand new tires, shiny hubcaps, and the word MUSTANG written on the rear bumper with letters cut from what looked like a mirror.  The car looked brand new with not even a scratch.  I then examined the inside through the dark tinted windows.  All black interior with black cloth seats.  I turned to my mom and she could see the plea in my eyes, and we called the number on the FOR SALE sign.  The owner agreed to meet us in ten minutes so we could take it for a test drive.
                That was the longest ten minutes of my life.  When they finally showed up, they said they didn’t mind if I drove it even though I still had my temps.  Naturally, this worried my mom; she said she wanted to drive it first, as to not get my hopes up, just in case something was wrong.  She drove it to our house where my dad was waiting to inspect it.  He didn’t see anything wrong with it, which is when they agreed I could take it for a spin.  I sat down in the driver seat and instantly knew it was meant to be.  I adjusted the seat, mirrors and rolled down the windows, I was ready to go.  I pulled out of our driveway and didn’t even think about having to drive back to the real owner of the car.  I wanted this car, it felt like my own home, and my own space.
                As I knew it was coming, I had to drive my newfound love back to the owner.  My parents agreed to talk to each other about whether or not I could get the car that evening.  I tried to keep my mind occupied by going to my neighbor’s house and hanging out but I just couldn’t wait.  After about an hour of struggling not to talk about the car I may get, I ran home and pleaded with my parents what their decision would be.  They both just smiled and said “we already called them, and are picking it up tomorrow.”  My jaw dropped.  I was shocked; they had just purchased my teenage dream.
                This car continued to share wonderful memories with me.  This car took me everywhere, from driving me to high school, sports practices, work, friends’ houses, out to dinner, and eventually off to college.  This is when I experienced a life changing event in this car.  Winter, snow storms, and a rear wheel drive car do not mix well.  It was the middle of February, and snowing.  My friend Sarah and I were driving back to my house to see a concert. We were on I-70, and she was following me in her black Nissan Altima.  The snow had really started to pick up, so we were averaging about 25mph on the freeway.  We had been passing car after car that was stuck in the snow on the side of the road.  I should have taken this as a sign, but wanting to get home sooner I ignored it.  This was when the cars in front of me started to pick up speed.  I figured since they were going a little faster, I could manage too.  I knew I had sand bags in my trunk, along with all my laundry from school.  This is the moment my back end started to fishtail.
                Now my dad had taken me out plenty of times to “practice” donuts in my car.  I think this was more to have fun then to learn how to control the car in the snow.  Nevertheless, I knew what I needed to do.  I did not try to fix the car and jerk the steering wheel back so the car would go straight because that could cause me to go across the lanes into the traffic next to me.  Instead I turned the wheel slightly to the left, so any motion would be away from traffic toward the ditch in the median.  In what seemed like a second, I was sitting in the ditch, car facing the oncoming traffic.  Trying to move my car was no use, my tires only spun in the snow.  I had to leave my car there, as there was no way I could manage getting it to move, especially with the snow continuing to fall.  The next day my dad and I rode down to get my car.  We had called the state highway patrol and AAA.  They closed down the freeway and took two tow trucks to pull my car out.  It will always be embedded in my mind, rear wheel drive plus snow or rain is never a good combination.



Monday, January 28, 2013

UD Student "Auto Biography:" Scott Adinolfi's 1984 Renault Alliance!


There she was, silver paint, two doors, and a 65 HP engine under the hood.  My first car was a 1984 AMC Renault Alliance.  It was originally my grandmothers “beauty shop” car, and did not travel more than a hand full of miles during any trip.  When the car was gifted to me it was 22 years old with 27,000 miles on the odometer.  Few have had the opportunity to see a product by the late AMC, let alone drive one.  American Motors was bought out by Chrysler in 1987 and renamed Eagle.  However, Renault remains very popular in the European market and in racing.  Although it was not the Acura RSX I had my eye on, it had plenty of character to leave a lasting memory for my friends and I during its year long tenure as my daily driver.  When piling three friends in the car, the shocks would sit low and flooring the gas pedal was a must to get the car up to cruising speed.  I quickly decided that the push-button radio had to go, and a new CD player along with four fresh speakers were installed.  Occasionally, the vibration from the bass would cause the rearview mirror to fall off the windshield.  This would have not been a problem but the Renault was only equipped with a side mirror on the drivers side, limiting view behind and on the sides of the car.  Parking was quite easy in this car, it was so narrow and short it could be parked in narrow spots and fit in any parallel parking spot suitable for a Mini Cooper.  The 1.4L engine paired with a 3-speed automatic transmission limited my top speed to around 68 miles an hour, a characteristic that made my parents feel at ease.  Due to the cars age it became a maintenance nightmare.  Seals and gaskets leaked regularly, the tires had dry-rot and the muffler quickly rusted through.  Even ordering an oil filter for the car was a pain, the metric threads and style required it to be ordered online each time the oil was to be changed.  The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred when the cable controlling the speedometer snapped and couldn’t be repaired.  Sadly, the Renault was retired and it was time to search for a suitable replacement.
It was August of 2008 when the Renault was replaced.  A gold colored 2005 Honda Accord was the next car that became mine.  My dad had purchased a new car, thus handing his down to me.  The driving experience I have had behind the wheel of this car has totaled up to 30,000+ miles and many different states along the way.  My first long distance trip came when I drove to North Carolina from Chicago for my summer internship.  Winding through the mountains in West Virginia was an entirely new experience for me and allowed me to develop a more personal relationship with my vehicle.  The 240 HP V6 engine made climbing steep grades a breeze, while the car hugged the road while traveling down a hills and navigating a curves.   Most recently a trip from Chicago to Kansas City completed.  This trip allowed the Accord to prove its fuel efficiency, averaging 28 MPG throughout the trip.  This vehicle at 107,000 miles has required minimal service during its lifetime.  To me, this solidifies Honda as a brand I will highly consider when looking for my next car.  
During each summer in high school I worked a landscaping job at a middle school.  This opportunity allowed me to fall in love with one particular car.  It was a Ford F-250 Super Duty work truck.  The first time I sat behind the wheel of this massive beast a smile came across my face.  The power available via the large V8 engine made hauling a load or a trailer a breeze.  This vehicle inspired my interest in country music, a genre that remains as my favorite today.  

A 1952 Chevy and the most Traumatic Moment in My Life

Hi folks -- I just thought of this this morning and in mentioning it to my wife, she suggested I write this up as an "auto" biographical piece. This is all brought on by present experience.  We have an outdoor cat by the name of "Blackie." She is such a loving cat, and when I get up in the morning and go to the end of the drive way to get the newspaper, Blackie follows -- prancing and loving me along the way.  The problem is she can go into the street, which that time of day has little traffic, but still cars do pass by. I worry about her if she gets into the street, and a few days ago a Mustang drove up, however cautiously as I held out my hand to slow down.  I would be devastated if she were hit while fetching the paper, and it brings back to memory perhaps the most horrific episode in my childhood.

I was maybe eight years old and in the second grade, living in North Tonawanda, New York. Every day I would come home for lunch, and one day my best friend and dog, "Sparkie," followed me as I walked back to school. Sparkie, like Blackie, was full of energy, and rarely listened. So much so that she wandered on a main street where she was hit by a pale green 1952 Chevy that did not stop. Sparkie was mortally wounded, and after a short time a policeman came by and shot her in front of me to put Sparkie out of her misery.  To this day I remember the speeding Chevy and exactly how Sparkie was hit by that car.  If I ever catch that driver, I'll kill him or her.

This is exactly the color of the car as I remember it. It was unwashed and looked  not cared for, probably in 1957 or 1958.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On Barney Oldfield -- Another View: I Stand Corrected

Barney Oldfield and Harvey Firestone


As a Professor you really need to get your facts straight. Barney Oldfield, Master Driver of the World won two National races, Venice, CA. 300M Race, March 17. 1915 & Tuscan 100M Race, March 20, 1915. Barney died Oct. 4, 1946 not 1947 also sorry to hear that you think of Barney Oldfield as a bully. Barney was the toast of the town because he set World Speed Records and helped Henry Ford , Harvey Firestone, Harry Miller, Walter Christie and others to fame among some of his accomplishments. Barney Oldfield was one of the true American Automotive pioneers. Barney Oldfield love of racing was 55 years old when he raced tractors and actually set a record in a Allis-Chalmers tractor in Texas. Barney Oldfield promoted auto racing safety, first to introduce seat belts, enclosed race cars designed by Harry Miller & Barney Oldfield, tires by Harvey Firstone & Barney Oldfield to name a few. Barney went on an automotive safety quest after good friend Bob Burman, land speed record holder was killed in a auto race. Auto racing during this period was dangerous and a lot of drivers were killed or injured because of the lack of safety equipment. I do not believe Barney Oldfield turned on the sport of auto racing but believe he was trying to make people more aware of how dangerous the sport was and to promote safety. His article Widows in Waiting was quite true as during this period of auto racing there were a lot of auto racers that were killed or injured because of the times, no seat belts, no enclosed race cars, etc. I also disagree some what that Barney Oldfield had no say in his racing career with his promoter Bill Pickens and Brickyard owner Carl Fisher and others. Barney Oldfield called the shots most of the time, a few examples the Oldfield Jack Johnson Race, Barney had committed to this race before AAA got involved and told Barney if he went through with this unsanctioned race he would be suspended from AAA racing for a period of time, he could have not gone through with the race but decided to race because he had given his word and commitment also the Cactus Derby Race, he decided which car to use the Stutz Racer. Barney Oldfield was one of the first to be inducted into America's Motorsports Hall of Fames and Automotive Hall of Fames among a few so I am disappointed you have portrayed Barney Oldfield as a Blusterer and someone that had turned on this sport he so loved.
Wayne Carroll Petersen
Barney Oldfield Great Great nephew 


 Wayne Petersen and Donald Davidson
William F.Nolan, Mark Godfrey, and Wayne Petersen

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Keroauc's On the Road -- a new book on the topic by Mark Sayers






Hi folks -- as some of you know, I use Jack Keroauc's On the Road in my Automobile and American Life class. And I am currently pondering an on the road trip of my own in my Porsche 911 soon -- very soon.  So when I say the title The Road trip that Changed the World: The Unlikely Theory That Will Change How you View Culture, The Church, and Most Importantly Yourself, my interest was piqued.

Here is an important sample from the book, pp.22-3:

"Keroauc would call for a "rucksack revolution," a generational move away from home on to the road, a new kind of lifestyle for young people that would be built upon experience, pleasure, spiritual exploration, mobility, and self-discovery.  Keroauc would write that he saw "a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks"  For Keroauc this revolution would be a way of resisting what he saw as the secularizing and stupefying effects iof mass consumer culture. His hope was founded in a sense that a new generation with a new vision for humanity was:
refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for  the privilege of consuming all that...they didn't want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume."



In sum, according to this author Keroauc presided over a post-WWII cultural revolution in the U.S. in which discipline, commitment, spiritual worship, dedication to the home and family was supplanted by instant gratification, self-actualization, selfish ends, and rootless and at times purposeless mobility.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Porsche 550 photos

 At the Paramount Ranch (LA) races 1956. During a book signing at the Petersen in LA I met the National Park Service Ranger in charge of the Paramount Ranch. See the following links: http://thechicaneblog.com/2010/01/18/lost-track-paramount-ranch/; http://srmz.net/index.php?showtopic=5735;http://www.avoidingregret.com/2012/01/photo-essay-paramount-ranch-raceway.html.



Tire testing Hochenheim 1953. I visited the Hochenheim track years ago -- but I have no sense of its history.  Anyone able to fill me in on it?.



 Mexico
 Sebring

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1967 soft window Porsche 911S Targa

Hi folks -- nice promo photo released at the time of the introduction of the Targa in 1967. Today the soft rear window is desired by collectors, as is the S model. Note pressed steel wheels with hub caps rather than alloys.

New Cover Art for Kindle Edition of my The Automobile and American Life!

Hi folks -- I was surprised to see this new cover for the Kindle edition of my book. Very appropriate since I simply love the California coast! The 1958 two-tone Chevy in the foreground and Corvette in the background take me back to those simple days of my childhood, minus the beach!  Lake Erie beaches don't quite look like this one!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Can you identify the old cars in the photos?

 Hint: a GM brand


A Chrysler Product

Hint: It was air-cooled 




Hell if I know!


Should be easy to ID 


Not so easy -- hint -- one is a Studebaker

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Photographs of Porsche 356 assembly and inspection



The worker above is assembling a bearing roller crankshaft.  This is a very precise and difficult task Advantages of this kind of design is that it allows the crankshaft to rotate with less friction, and it doesn't need to operate with constant oil pressure as plain bearings do. To rebuild one of these you have to split the crankshaft in pieces as it is held together by serrated pins and bolts. You need special jigs and dial indicators to do this.






Friday, January 18, 2013

Auto History Trivia: Can you answer these car culture questions?

Hi folks --  a new feature of the blog. Test your knowledge against a pompous professor!

Choose the BEST answer.

1. Who invented the automobile?
a. George Selden
b. Gottlieb Daimlier
c. Carl Benz
d. Henry Ford

2. Name the oil heiress who, attired in a negligee, was buried in her Ferrari in 1977:
a. Barbara Hutton
b. Erin Rockefeller
c. Sandra West
d. Paula Matson

3. In 1958 a car was buried in Tulsa, Oklahoma and served as a time capsule. It contained a case of beer, just in case 50 years later there would be no more beer available. It was a
a. Thunderbird
b. Plymouth
c. DeSoto
d. Chevrolet

4. This machinist is usually credited with the invention of the carburetor:
a. Hiram Maxim
b. Wilhem Maybach
c. Carl Benz
d. Etienne Lenoir

5. The first automobile race staged in America took place in November 1895 in this city:
a. Chicago
b. Newport, Rhode Island
c. New York City
d. Indianapolis, Indiana

Images to help or confuse you!





Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hit While Parked: Your Car is Not Safe in Front of Your Home

 It can happen in front of your house, or...

A train car can fall on it ....


Or someone can not pay attention ...

Hi folks -- interesting story this morning at 5 Seasons Sports Club. John Wannamaker, the guy who runs to front desk, had a hard time sleeping last night due to a barking dog. So he is up at 2:30 a.m. and hears a terrific smash outside of his home in Kettering, Ohio. He doesn't have his glasses on, so he doesn't see as well as he normally does, and things happen so fast!  It turns out someone -- maybe a drunk -- hit his neighbor's car that was parked in the street full bore, and the offending car and driver are  in the yard.  John's thinking is slow (it is 2:30 a.m.), and before he gets his wits together to get the license plate, the guy is gone.  Four cruisers quickly appear, and who knows if the police have tracked this guy down yet.  But chances are if they do not, this jerk while do it again.  This was no simple crease of a fender or door. Get your car off the street, if you value it!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Light Brown or Tan Buick -- what it says about my neighbors in the suburbs

Hi folks -- I was just going over my lecture material this morning for the first real class tomorrow and thought of the ever-pervasive brown or tan Buick that is driven by those typically over 50 in my suburb of Centerville Ohio. I can't get away from them around here, and I seemingly always encounter one lagging in the left lane on Far Hills as I go to and from work. If the driver is male, he seems to always have pattern baldness. Whether male or female, time is catching up with them. One in four and five are so short they are shrunk below the headrest, almost all wear some kind of glasses, and sunglasses can be those plastic wrap-around kind
The color, light brown, suggests a kind of blandness, like life is for all purposes no longer exciting, but rather placid.  The owner wants to be in the background, and perhaps the color also is a reflection of youth spent in the 1950s, when consensus in America ruled the day. But I should not be so hard, for I am quickly becoming one of these folks. After years of toil and trouble, there is a longing for peacefulness, for things that work without any trouble, for reliability without time  or money spent on much upkeep. We of this generation have earned a rest from the tumult of life, and the Buick delivers with little fan fare.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

When an historian admits that he might be wrong: The Corvair


Hi folks -- what follows is a section from my book The Automobile and American Life concerning the Chevrolet Corvair. The more I learn, the more my views shift.  History is never set in stone.  And in the case of the Corvair, I took the easy way out initially, following well-worn interpretations.  When you read history, beware. You need to question assertions, not only because some are based on deception and lies, but also a few like mine here is derived from taking the path of least resistance.  Dig deep!  It amy well be that the Corvair was "assassinated" during the second half of the 1960s.  It may be that had the Corvair succeeded, the entire American auto industry would have taken a different direction at a critical time in its history, thus avoiding the decline that it has experienced. Yes, the Corvair had quality problems, but it was built in an era when quality was rarely considered.  It was fun to drive, and economical. So in the weeks ahead I will be addressing the Corvair story with new information and at the same time exploring the context of mid-to-late 1960s America.


"And as much as Ralph Nader attacked GM for its Corvair in his Unsafe at Any Speed, he also broadened his critique to include the engineers who worked in Detroit. Perhaps more than anyone else since Thorsten Veblen, Ralph Nader focused on the shortcomings of engineers and in the flawed institutional arrangements that existed where they worked. Published in 1965, Unsafe at Any Speed accused automotive engineers of disregarding ethical principles and ignoring public safety. The publicity given to his critical analysis, and Nader’s own crusade spurred the consumer movement and the work of trial lawyers, both of which have led to powerful social changes since the early 1960s.[1]
            At the heart of Nader’s early work was his attack on the safety of General Motor’s Corvair. In Nader’s opinion, “the Corvair was tragedy not a blunder.” The tragedy was a consequence of engineers who cut corners to shave costs. This was a common occurrence in the auto industry and indeed all manufacturing, but with the Corvair it happened in a big way. Fatefully, during the late 1950s, General Motors, under the leadership of engineer Ed Cole, developed the Corvair, in part the consequence of the unexpected success of the Volkswagen Beetle, but also the result of two decades of engineers’ fascination with the concept of a vehicle with its engine placed in the rear. While the Corvair had its supporters who argued that the car got a raw deal by consumer advocates, it was generally regarded as one of a number of post-1960 Detroit products that were egregiously unsafe and based on flawed designs. It was hubris, economics, and blind obedience on the part of engineers working in a flawed institutional environment that led to the Corvair tragedy. The Corvair was the wrong car at the wrong time in American history.
            The tragedy can be translated into human terms. For example, in August 1961, Mrs. Rose Pierini of Santa Barbara lost control of her new Corvair while driving 35 mph. The car flipped on its top, and Mrs. Pierini was trapped underneath, blood gushing from a dismembered arm that was lying in the street. She would later receive $70,000 after being worn down by GM attorneys and deciding not to go any further with her lawsuit. In a similar fashion, GM Truck and Bus Vice-President Calvin J. Werner, living in Dayton, Ohio, purchased a Corvair for his daughter. She was afraid to drive the car, but her brother was not. That brother would also die in a low-speed accident, the consequence of the vehicle’s inherent instability. The Werner family’s plight is reflective of just how little the public, and indeed even GM insiders, knew about the inherent design flaws of the Corvair during the first few years after its introduction. There was a conspiracy of silence about unsafe vehicles before the era of recalls.
            Indeed, during the 1960 to 1964 model years, the Corvair could go out of control at 22 mph with a turning radius of 50 degrees and front rear and tire pressures of 26 psi. Ford engineers quickly discovered this fact, when in 1959 two of them lost control of an early Corvair on the Dearborn, Michigan test track.
            The tragedy began with conception and development of the Corvair by leading GM engineers – Edward Cole, Harry Barr, Robert Schilling, Kai Hansen, and Frank Winchell. Cole, an long-time devotee of rear-engined cars, saw a market as early as 1955 for a small, compact car, and in 1956, after rising to the head of the Chevrolet Division, put his finest engineering talent to work on the project. By 1957, the program was given a full go ahead, even though executives knew that several design obstacles had yet to be overcome.
            As early as 1953, GM executives were aware of the main problem that was associated later with the Corvairs. In that year, one of the GM’s brightest engineers, Maurice Olley, wrote a technical paper, “European Postwar Cars,” that contained a sharp critique of rear-engined automobiles with swing-axle suspension systems. He called such vehicles “a poor bargain, at least in the form in which they are at present built,” adding that they could not handle safely in wind even at moderate speeds, despite the tire pressure differential between front and rear. Olley went further, depicting the “forward fuel tank as a collision risk as is the mass of engine in the rear.”[2]
            Despite these warnings, GM went ahead, with its primary aim being a target rate of return on investment. The 1960 Corvair came off the assembly line at two-thirds the weight of a standard Chevrolet, with a selling price $200 lower than standard models, but to keep costs down and profits high, compromises had to be made. Suspension stabilizers were left off, and a peculiar kind of swing axle was used that created “oversteer” or instability when deviating from a straight path. To compensate for oversteer, Corvair engineers recommended that owners maintain critical tire pressure differentials between front and rear wheels. This whole design, confessed one GM engineer, was based on lower cost, ease of assembly, ease of service, simplicity of design, and the desire to create a soft ride.
            The biggest problem with the Corvair was that GM was slow to react to a known problem – the large number of accidents due to loss of control. The company was silent when questioned on the matter. Until Nader gained a wide public audience, GM did little or nothing. The moral of the story is that the corporations of the early 1960s only faced the consequences of their actions when threatened with government sanctions, expensive litigation and court judgments, or public hostility on a massive scale. Indeed, it took GM four years and 1,124,076 Corvairs to correct the problem.[3]
            The convergence of forces for change took the industry by total surprise in the months immediately after the 1964 presidential election. The Johnson administration's willingness to sponsor social reform legislation, the appearance on the Washington scene of Ralph Nader, Abraham Ribicoff, and the American Trial Lawyers' Association are all part of the story. Significantly, a 1966 landmark case, Larsen vs. General Motors, marked a new trend in automobile liability decisions.[4] Manufacturers were now held responsible for inadequate designs that resulted in injuries due to a collision. Other cases followed Larsen, but it was this case, involving the dangerous design of the Corvair steering column, that made possible an additional recourse for consumers. With agencies like the Department of Transportation often influenced by industry, the judiciary was a second route to ultimately enhancing automobile safety."


[1] Ralph Nader, Unsafe at any Speed (New York: Grossman, 1965). On Nader, see Justin Martin, Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002). See also Mervyn Kaufman, “Ralph Nader: “Crusader for Safety,” Automobile Quarterly 5 (Summer 1966), 4-7.
[2] Maurice Olley, “European Postwar Cars,” SAE Transactions 61 (1953): 503-28.
[3] Corvair enthusiasts and apologists abound, despite the historical record concerning its safety in models manufactured between 1960 and 1963. See David E. Davis, “Why Ralph Nader was Wrong,” Automobile (January 2006): 87-90.
[4] “Automobile Design Liability:  Larsen v. Genera Motors and its Aftermath,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 118 (December 1969), 299-312; Ralph Nader and Joseph A. Page, “Automobile Design and the Judicial Process,” California Law Review 55 (August 1967): 645‑77.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Quick Trip to Flint MI, the Birthplace of General Motors

 Hi folks-- just back from an SAH trip to get information so I can better arrange the future board meeting, slated for April 25-27, 2013.
 One glimpse of the Scharchburg Archives, Kettering University

The home of Charles Nash
The second floor was where Durant had his sales office and where carriages were on display for sales

 The surviving section of the carriage factory

The office of J. Dallas Dort, now a meeting room



Statues of Billy Durant and J. Dallas Dort by the river


Flint has some attractive scenes