Friday, January 29, 2016

Ferdinand Porsche at the 1900 Paris Exhibition

Paris, 1900: The fifth World Exhibition eclipsed everything that had gone before. An area covering more than 200 hectares in the midst of the Metropolis between the Ferris wheel and the Grand Palais presented the “achievements of a century”, with over 75,000 exhibitors displaying everything that was modern and exciting.
Ferdinand Porsche also travelled to Paris, along with his employer, the Austrian vehicle builder Ludwig Lohner. The young Porsche had spent the recent months exclusively in the workshop, deeply immersed in his designs or standing for hours at the workbench bent over electric motors, wheel hubs and massive, heavy lead-acid batteries. After only four years working at the Vereinigte Elektrizitäts-AG in Vienna, the 22-year-old had advanced to become head of the test department, where he had attracted attention by his achievements, including the design of an electric bicycle and a drive system for the Viennese coachbuilder Ludwig Lohner.
Lohner was so inspired by the visionary designer that he headhunted Ferdinand Porsche without further ado in 1898 – and put him completely in charge of building an improved successor to the electric coach. Within a mere ten weeks, Porsche had assembled the first “Lohner Porsche” from his bold plans. Two electric motors were arranged directly in the hub of the front wheels so that the drive wheels also carried out the steering function. However, there was one main reason why Porsche was able to create a drive system of such unparalleled efficiency – by leaving out transmission, belts and chains, he minimised friction losses.
In the automotive sector, this “Electric Phaeton” was the greatest innovation at the World Exhibition – and a tremendous success. The Lohner Porsche was hailed by the press as the “most distinctive novelty” and “epoch-making innovation”. And its creator? The World Exhibition in Paris set the stage for his first major appearance. “He is still very young,” Ludwig Lohner explained when asked about the hitherto unknown designer. “But he is a man with a great career ahead of him. You are going to hear a lot more from him, his name is Ferdinand Porsche.”

An Introduction to the History of the Automobile in America during the 1970s

My wife and our 1973 Pinto?

The 1970s: Never Forgotten, Never Celebrated
“Nobody is apt to look on the 1970s as the good old days.” – Time Magazine.
“It seemed like nothing happened.” – Peter N. Carroll title of his monograph on the 1970s.

Personally, the 1970s was a lost decade. And my memories of that time are for the most part filed in the deepest recesses of my mind, perhaps to preserve my present equillibrium.  My cars from those days reflect a similar mentality.  Nostalgia of those days is largely absent, and amnesia is the general rule. In looking back, how can a decade can be seen as positive  “auto” biographically, when the best car that I owned during the decade was a 1973 Pinto?
 That Pinto was a trooper of a car, powered by a 1.6 liter Kent engine that never quit. And contrary to my student’s perceptions, that car did not explode and kill its occupants! In contrast, my 1974 Capri V-6 was my first (and last) new car, a vehicle plagued with issues that included a clutch cable that kinked time after time after replacement, often at the most inconvenient times as I was crossing the Mississippi River Bridge in New Orleans.  The Capri was equipped with a water pump that for a year or so would last would last less than a 1000 miles. Those were the good ones, as several pumps could not be bolted on properly because flanges were not machined flat and thus uneven pumps fractured when bolted down!   And to add insult to injury, at the end of the decade my family purchased a 1979 Chevy Malibu that I subsequently inherited, featuring the infamous THM-200 transmission that blew pan gaskets and overheated repetitively. That problem was only solved after I tore that transmission out and replaced it with one proper for a V-8 engine. And it seems that everyone from my generation has similar car story disasters to tell.
On a far broader scope than that of personal or auto history, Andreas Killen has argued that the seventies continue as "the foundling of recent American history, claimed by no one." It was a decade of dwindling birth rates, the lowest in American history.  Given what happened to the U.S. in Vietnam, it was a time in which the limits of the nation’s global power was once and for all exposed. And our national identity was transformed, as homogenized culture derived from traditional class and economic structures gave way to new sensibilities that were linked to ethnicity, race, and gender.  Gays, feminists, African –Americans, and the elderly all wanted a place at the table, and to a lesser degree perhaps, their own distinctive rides.
One significant question centers on the extent that a complacent American automobile industry recognize the emergence of a rapidly evolving new social matrix, one contained within an economy characterized by both inflation and recession?[1] Secondly, how pervasive was the notion that the automobile had become a social problem, as argued by James Flink in his The Automobile Age and reflected in the contemporary writings of Ralph Nader, Emma Rothschild, John Jerome, Lester Brown, and others?
For the American automobile industry, the seventies have never ended. Intense foreign competition, high fuel prices, federal government regulation concerning safety and the environment, quality and reliability, potential power train transitions, and disaffected consumers all surfaced during the early 1970s and really never went away.  Yet, scholars focusing on automobile history have utterly neglected the decade.  Perhaps the oversight is because these years followed the glorious 1950s and 60s. Perhaps, the disregard is a consequence of enthusiasts' distain of what is regarded as the post-1972 "Malaise Era." 
      Nevertheless, in terms of both automobile history and global history this period contains all the ingredients of revolutionary and enduring change.  It was an era characterized by the loss of product quality and Detroit Three market shares due to the emergence of a rapidly changing global economy.  On the street, Americans experienced the appearance of cars equipped with ugly bumpers and poor running engines, annoying buzzers, and quick-to-rust body parts.

[1] Peter N. Carroll, It Seemed Like Nothing Happened (New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 2nd ed., 2000), Preface.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Salon Retromobile February 3 to 7 2016

from the 2011 show

French classic-car enthusiasts established the Salon Rétromobile 40 years ago. Since its premiere in 1976, the show has become one of the most important events on the international classic-car calendar and also the season's curtain-raiser. Given the huge popularity of the show in recent years, the 2016 event is being held in Halls 1 and 2.2 of the Exhibition Centre at Porte de Versailles, Paris.
The organisers are expecting around 450 exhibitors and more than 100 clubs with over 500 vehicles on display. In addition to manufacturers, associations and dealers, exhibitors include restorers, art dealers and service providers covering multiple aspects of classic cars. Focal points of the event include the new vehicles from the year in which the Rétromobile was established – 1976 – among them the Mercedes-Benz W 123, which marks a milestone in the E-Class tradition.
Further highlights include an exhibition of record-breaking cars from the collection at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, futuristic vehicle designs from past decades and classics from the early years of the 20th century. Rétromobile 2016 will also feature auctions of historic cars, hosted by the Artcurial auction house among others.
The Salon Rétromobile show takes place from 3 to 7 February 2016. On the Wednesday (3 February) the show is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., while on the other days the opening times are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Preview: Porsche and the 24 Hours at Daytona, January 30-31, 2016

The new Porsche 911 RSR and the new Porsche 911 GT3 R contest their first races on the Daytona International Speedway. The Porsche North America works squad campaigns the 911 RSR in the GTLM class, with the 911 GT3 R fielded by customer teams in the GTD class. Porsche’s track record at Daytona includes 22 overall and 76 class victories, making Porsche the most successful manufacturer in the history of this prestigious race.

The race

Next to Le Mans, Daytona is the greatest long distance classic in international motor racing. The 24-hour event is held on the 5.729-kilometre Daytona International Speedway, one of the most famous racetracks in the world. Combining the original oval and the infield, the circuit includes twelve turns, two of them banked.

The Porsche drivers

Nine Porsche factory pilots and one Porsche Junior tackle Daytona. The reigning IMSA GT Champion Patrick Pilet (France) as well as Nick Tandy (Great Britain) and Kévin Estre (France) take on the GTLM class in the number 911 vehicle of Porsche North America, the winner of all three GT titles in the 2015 IMSA SportsCar Championship. Sharing the cockpit of the number 912 contender for the legendary endurance race are their works driver colleagues Earl Bamber (New Zealand), Frédéric Makowiecki (France) and Michael Christensen (Denmark). Other Porsche works drivers contest the GTD class with the 911 GT3 R for customer teams: Wolf Henzler (Germany) drives for Seattle/Alex Job Racing, Patrick Long (USA) for Black Swan Racing and Jörg Bergmeister (Germany) for Park Place Motorsports. Porsche Junior Sven Müller (Germany) will also compete at Daytona in the 911 GT3 R fielded by Frikadelli Racing.

The Porsche vehicles

The 911 RSR received not only a new factory finish for the 2016 season. The 470 hp winning racer from Weissach, which is based on the seventh generation of the iconic 911 sports car, received modifications to the aerodynamics to comply with the new regulations. The position of the rear wing was moved further to the back, with the rear diffuser now considerably larger. Moreover, the 911 RSR received a modified front spoiler lip as well as wide side sills. The new 911 GT3 R celebrates its race debut at Daytona mounted with the new ultra-modern four-litre flat-six engine with direct fuel injection. Porsche built the 500 hp customer sport racer, based on the 911 GT3 RS production sports car, for GT3 series worldwide. In developing the vehicle, the engineers at Weissach paid special attention to lightweight design, better aerodynamic efficiency, reducing consumption as well as improved handling.

Porsche’s successes

The first of 22 outright victories for Porsche at Daytona went to Vic Elford, Jochen Neerpasch, Rolf Stommelen, Jo Siffert and Hans Herrmann in 1968 with the Porsche 907. The most recent overall win in 2010 went to Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller, Ryan Dalziel and Mike Rockenfeller with the Porsche-Riley. In the traditionally very competitive GT classes, Porsche has notched up a record 76 wins. 2014 yielded the most recent victory with Richard Lietz, Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet clinching GTLM class honours. 

The schedule

The Daytona 24-hour race starts on Saturday, 30 January, at 14.40 hours local time (20.40 hours CET). Outside the USA, the race can be seen live on

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Part II: A Second "Simple" Article on what is a Sports Car

In a March, 1956 Road & Track article Alan Beck, wrote perhaps the best contemporary explanation of what exactly was this unpractical thing  called a sports car:
A sports car is a fast-moving, slow-drifting, road loving heap of mechanistic perfection that will go faster, stop quicker, last longer, outgun, out run, and out fun any other pile of iron ever bolted together in this, or any other grand old country. It is like a smooth, well-built, brown-eyed blond who moves in the society of Hollywood, Manhattan, London, Paris, or Rome, but prefers stupid old you from Keokuk, Iowa….
            A sports car is a flash in the rainy night, a creature with a mind and a will of its own….
            A sports car is the twin jabs of the downshift at 50 miles an hour as the 90 degree corner comes up without any tire-screaming, gravel throwing slide into the shoulder. It is the rock-steady whine of 5000 rpm on the long straight-away, the big needle touching the magic 100 figure on the circular black dial. It is the whoosh that went by you on the lonely back road. It is what gives that heart-in-the mouth sensation as you sail as you sail down the long hill into Watkins Glen for race week and the sense the magic ahead….
            A sports car expects and deserves the pampering of a spoiled and expensive wife….
            It is a barky exhaust, the long sweep of a clean fender, an honesty of line, a functional hunk of power dictated by engineers instead of housewives….

            Sports cars are a happy and proud breed – like the Scotch tartans, French fleur-de-lis. And British crests, but wjen you acquire one, don’t expect understanding, credit, appreciation, or admiration. To the world, a sports car will ever evoke: “What do you want that thing for?  It’s not practical.” And you can’t answer – because the answer is out there in the sunset of a winter’s day on the wide open road, the wind stinging past your upturned mackinaw, the contented purr of the big engine turning into a whine, and the needle of the rev counter creeping up into the red.

Carl Benz and his 1886 Gas-Powered Vehicle Patent

It was the document that set the world in motion: on 29 January 1886, Carl Benz applied for a patent on his "gas-powered vehicle". This was the day the automobile was born. Later the same year, independently of Benz, Gottlieb Daimler built his motorised carriage. Thus it was that 1886 marked the beginning of the so far 130-year-long success story of Mercedes-Benz.
Stuttgart. The birth certificate of the automobile bears the number DRP 37435. For that was the reference under which the patent on a "gas-powered vehicle" filed by the Mannheim engineer Carl Benz on 29 January 1886 was registered with the German Imperial Patent Office in Berlin. The 130-year-old document is testimony to Carl Benz's innovative spirit, creative power and entrepreneurial vision. Since 2011, the patent document has been part of UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme, which also includes the Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta and Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B Minor.
How it all began
Carl Benz developed the world's first automobile in 1885. To do this, he installed a high-speed one-cylinder four-stroke engine (954 cc displacement running at 400 rpm with 0.55 kW/0.75 hp output) horizontally in a specially designed chassis. The top speed was 16 km/h. This three-wheeled patent motor car was an absolute world first: a totally self-contained, self-propelled vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.
The patent motor car made its first public appearance on 3 July 1886 on Ringstrasse in Mannheim. Yet it was the long-distance journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in 1888 in the improved Model III patent motor car that was to fully demonstrate the automobile's suitability for everyday use.
That journey was undertaken not by Carl Benz himself, but by his wife, Bertha. In a show of utmost confidence in her husband's invention, which had been filed with the Patent Office on 29 January 1886, Bertha Benz was accompanied by her sons Eugen and Richard – entirely unbeknown to the inventor – as she took to the wheel on this first long-distance journey in the history of the automobile in August 1888. Bertha and her sons thus proved how well the concept of a motor vehicle worked at the technical level. At the same time, they gave a practical demonstration of the today still typical application of a passenger car. This was set out by Carl Benz in his patent application when he referred to the "operation of mainly light carriages for the conveyance of one to four passengers".
In 1886, the pioneering inventions of Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler brought a revolutionary, new dimension to mobility. For the past 130 years, the innovations presented by Mercedes-Benz have built on that accomplishment: in the interests of safety, comfort, efficiency and confidence. With present-day developments in areas such as autonomous driving, intelligently connected vehicles and electric mobility, Mercedes-Benz is introducing the future of the automobile. It was a visionary path on which Carl Benz set out on 29 January 1886 when he applied for a patent on his motor car.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Ford Pinto: A Scapegoat?

I am now looking at various cars from the 1970s, just to get a broad sense of the auto history decade. For the most part, writing on 1970s automobiles in America centers on the "worst " cars or crap cars, with only a few few articles on "cool"cars from that decade. Invariably at the top of the crap cars list is the Ford Pinto.

We had a 1973 Ford Pinto, purchased in 1974 at Canal Ford in New Orleans. It was dark green exterior and light green interior, with the small Kent 4 cylinder engine that was made in Great Britain. As it turned out, we kept it for 11 years and it was a fine car, with minimal repairs. It never let me down, got good gas mileage, was more than a bit slow, and had absolutely no panache!

So I started to rethink the Pinto story, given my own experience. More significantly, automobile history is proliferated with myths and mistruths that are repeated time and time again.

I found an article on the Pinto safety cases that is definitely worth reading:  Gary T. Schwartz, "The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case," Rutgers Law Review, (1990-1991), p1013 ff.  There is plenty here to consider.
Included in the footnotes is a table compelled by Schwartz from NHTSA Vehicle Fatality Data.
p. 1029

Car                                          1975                                   1976
AMC Gremlin                        274                                     315
Chevrolet Vega                       288                                     310
Datsun 1200/210                    392                                      418
Datsun 510                             294                                      340
Ford Pinto                              298                                      322
Toyota Corolla                       333                                      293
VW Beetle                             378                                      370

A thirteen-year-old boy suffered severe burns when the 1972 Pinto in which he was a passenger burst into flames in a rear-end collision‚ This was the accident litigated in the celebrated Grimshaw Case in CA.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Interview with Romain Monti: the Maserati Trofeo’s 2015 Champion

Romain Monti: the Maserati Trofeo’s last champion
Modena (I), 9 January 2016 - His first taste of the Maserati Trofeo dates back to the final round of the 2014 Maserati Trofeo. The title was eventually won by Mauro Calamia while Romain Monti was just another driver on the entry list. He was young, French, full of ambition and bursting with potential. He left a memorable calling card: a win, a second and a third spot. Not bad for a beginner. On the eve of the 2015 series, he was not considered among the fancied drivers but as a contender. However, the Frenchman from Vitry Sur Seine, over the course of the season, put everyone in their place, including runner-up Riccardo Ragazzi. The Italian’s fate was decided when he missed the second round at Spielberg, Austria. Romain made the most of it as he collected a first and a second spot, building a lead the chasing pack could not bridge. Overall, it was a sparkling season for Monti, born in 1990. He scored five wins and four second places in the twelve races he ran. Some going.
You drove karts, in the Porsche Carrera Cup France for four years, and then turned out in the Blancpain Endurance Series. How did you end up choosing the Trofeo Maserati?
“I had never driven a Maserati; one of the biggest brands in the world. I am not only talking about cars, but everything the brand represents. If I think back to how many, and which, drivers have appeared in a Maserati, I can’t help but feel honoured to have competed in this series. Also, all the cars are the same in the Maserati Trofeo; everyone is on the same level and it is the driver who makes the difference. This is not something to be underestimated.
How do you judge the level of the series you have just won? 
“Over the season, I discovered that there were very quick and competitive drivers out there. Some of them have been around for years and have bags of experience. I am happy to have taken them on”.
Your first Trofeo Maserati appearance came in 2014…
“Yes, I was at Abu Dhabi in 2014. I felt at home straight away and picked up a win, perhaps because I am able to adapt to new circuits quickly”.
Talk us through the 2015 victory.
“I had a difficult start at Paul Ricard: I clashed with Ragazzi at turn one in the first race and went off the track. I didn’t give in and hit back with a win in Race 2. By the end of the second round, in Austria, I was in the overall lead. Over the subsequent races I tried to collect as many points as possible. It wasn’t easy because finishing in the top three means carrying a big weight handicap for the next race. This made things harder but didn’t prevent me from taking the championship”.
Who was your toughest opponent?
“There were a few, including guests like Japanese driver Shinji Nakano and Derek Hill. It was an honour to go up against them. Of course, Ragazzi was very competitive and Adrien De Leener was the driver who surprised me most”.
Is this victory important in terms of your career?
“It adds something to my profile, for sure: winning in a Maserati is significant. Also, taking part in this single-make series gave me the chance to travel the world and put myself out there. I have made new friends, got to know new circuits and buiIt up my experience. These are all factors that will be important for upcoming series. Maybe I will continue in the GT3 series”.
Who would you like to dedicate the title to?
“To my father in particular. He was always by my side and helped me. I would not have been able to do it without him. I would also like to thank my friends and the sponsors who supported me”. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Photos of a 1928 Mercedes-Benz SS

Mercedes-Benz SS, 1928.

The SS continued a design that had been started in 1926 with the Mercedes 'K' series cars. Power was supplied by a Ferdinand Porsche designed 6.3-liter six-cylinder SOHC supercharged engine. The engine may have been powerful but the chassis was unforgiving. To solve those problems Mercedes introduced the 6.8-liter S series in 1926, featuring a lower chassis and the engine moved back to capitalize on better weight distribution. In 1928 the SS and SSK model were unveiled, both powered by a 7.1 liter engines producing 225 horsepower. The beautiful bodies were graceful and made possible by a hood line that cleared the engine only by inches. The bodywork was mostly handled by the factory but often outfitted by European and American coachbuilders such as Murphy. Production continued until 1934 with 173 examples being produced. The SS was reserved for the wealthy and exclusive clientele. 

Crossing Africa in an Automobile 1909: Paul Graetz in his 35 hp Suddeutsche Automobile Fabrik Gaggenau GmbH

May 1, 1909 in Swakopmund: Paul Graetz crosses Afrika in his 35 hp special vehicle produced by Süddeutsche Automobilfabrik Gaggenau GmbH.
Paul Graetz arrives in Swakopmund, German South-West Africa, to complete the first crossing of Africa in an automobile. His specially-designed 35 hp car is constructed at "Süddeutsche Automobilfabrik Gaggenau GmbH" and features a special body built by the Neuss coachworks in Berlin. The 9,500 km journey had begun on August 10, 1907 in Dar-es-Salaam, German East Africa. The construction of a 60 hp, 4-cylinder engine marks Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft's debut in aero-engine manufacture. Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft acquires the license for the sleeve-valve engine invented by the American Charles J. Knight.
The brave (some would say foolhardy) first lieutenant in the East African protective forces had to leave the German army before attempting his epic journey, not because he was refused leave, but because the army felt that - if he failed - it would be a national embarrassment. As it turned out, he not only became the first man to cross Africa by car, he later became the first to cross the continent by motorboat. But that only took 12 months.
The first real crossing of Africa was completed in 1908, by a well-supported German team, who aroused so much interest “national pride” was at stake to the point that even the Kaiser was to support the attempt. Oberleutnant Paul Graetz, of the Imperial German Army, had served in German East Africa in 1902, on a road building programme. It gave him the idea to become the first to cross Africa by car, and on the same day that the intrepid Prince Borghese rode across the finishing line of the 1907 Peking to Paris, Graetz set out in a 40 hp six-litre Gaggenaue, a vehicle very similar to Borghese’s six-litre Itala. Fuel tanks for 625 miles were fitted, giant wooden wheels, 48 inches in diameter, were specially made, giving 14 inches of ground clearance. Like Borghese, he startled the locals wherever he went – they had never seen a car before. His aim was to cross Africa from Dar-es-Salam to Swakopmund, on the coast of German Namibia, reckoning it could be done in just six weeks. 
First troubles were encountered in the crossing of the Rufuma river, the car sank and became glued in the mud at the bottom. Once on the far side, Graetz decided to ditch vast quantities of provisions and spares, learning lessons the hard way the car was stripped to just an emergency seat on the chassis, and an absolute minimum of personal gear. 
Then a chain of disasters struck. Crossing the Ugamberenga river, water got into the engine, and cracked all four of the separate cylinder blocks. They had now a useless car, after just one week on the road. The car was towed across the veldt to Kilossa, and a crew member despatched back to Germany to find new parts. The runner fell ill in Dar-es-Salam and decided against returning – it was three months before spare blocks were sent, and even then they were put on the wrong boat. A new chauffeur arrived, a man named Koch, who brought not just new engine bits but a whole new front axle – this was not needed so was left in Dar. 
Delays had meant the crew were now facing the rainy season. Most bridges were only designed to carry men in single file, or, the odd ox-cart, and the crew needed gangs of natives to rebuild bridges and haul the car with hours of back-breaking labour. When a fall bent the front axle, a runner had to be sent back to fetch the spare, causing more delays. Rocks were blasted away with dynamite. Four months in from the start, the car had covered 625 miles. 

Somewhere on the road to Lake Tanganyika, the car lurched into a sudden hole in torrential rains, and Graetz found that splitting the sump had caused the crankshaft to be twisted, all the bolts attaching the flywheel to the shaft sheared, and the clutch plate split. There was no hope of repairing it for 70 miles. A team of porters was assembled to pull the car – at one point 200 were needed. 
Their entry into British Northern Rhodesia was marked by almost a month of gruelling toil, with miles of swamp. Another set-back was running out of fuel – it took a month for supplies to find the crew. In the heat, the monotony got to the crew, who played draughts with nuts and bolts, when they were found they were living on small game they had shot themselves and were drinking out of stinking, muddy puddles. 
Crossing the Zambezi by using the railway bridge near Victoria Falls, the crew were put on the wrong road, and ran straight into a bush fire, the tyres were burned clean off the wheels before they managed to burst through a corridor of flames. Miraculously, the fuel tanks were unscathed. The crew limped on to Bulawayo, and then Palapye Road on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. It had now taken so long, the 1908 rains were about to set in so the crew altered course for Pretoria and Jo’Burg, to spend their second Christmas on the road in some comfort. 
The final 2,000 miles saw drifting sand and stony desert, and petrol consumption in low first-gear falling to less than two miles per gallon. With fuel dumps hidden in the ground marked by stakes with metal tags attached, the going was slow. They ran out of water, and co-driver Gould, racked with thirst and in complete despair, finally resorted to drinking petrol. Attacked by fever as a result, for four days he lay between life and death. Oxon towed the car and crew to Chansi, where they found fuel and supplies, and welded up a broken valve. One day, they heard an almost forgotten sound – a dog barking. The crew had discovered a lonely Boer farm. Milk, butter, eggs were greeted as luxuries. The following day, a patrol of German cavalry from the fort at North Rietfontein came across the car – as soon as Graetz spotted his flag, he knew his problems were now over. They entered Swakopmund 18 months to the day after leaving the Indian Ocean. The 5,625 miles had been averaged at just nine miles a day. 
It was an all-German triumph, but it was almost as if the horrors of African travel were to put off all other attempts – it was not until 1924 that a Cape to Cairo run was successfully achieved in something resembling a normal car.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Do we really want self-driving cars?

Yes, I am a dinosaur! And that is especially true about preferences related to cars and driving.  In yesterday's Dayton Daily News I read an article by Justin Pritchard entitled "California drafts cautious set of rules for self-driving cars." (DDN, Wheels, p.2).  I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

"Google believes the safest path is to take people out of the equation by having control limited to stop and go buttons, with the leader of Google's project saying that  humans are "the bug" in the driving task."

The groups pushing for self-driving cars use the moniker of safety as the reason to undertake this technological revolution. This assertion is yet to be proven.  BUT more significantly, the very foundations of automobility center of freedom, autonomy, and deep psychological gratification associated with getting in the car and determining one's location in space and time.  Personally I love driving and the ART of driving.  Sure in urban settings driving is a chore, and from experiencing LA traffic I can see why self-driving vehicles have an allure.  But even in driving in cities, there are moments of joy in hitting a curve a certain way, in moving from lane to lane -- essentially in determining my own way in life.

So this envisioned new way of experiencing personal transport is not from me.  Not that it matters what I think, but the transition to self-driving cars brings with potentially profound alterations in psychological and sociological behaviors that certainly will lather the meaning of what it means to be human.