Monday, February 29, 2016

The 1971 EFP Electric Passenger Car

The 1971 EFP Electric Passenger Car

If our electric car technology would not have had so many stops along the way, who knows where electric cars  would fit in today’s USA marketplace. It was the product of the Electronic Fuel Propulsion Company of Detroit (founded in 1966 by Robert Aronson), perhaps the only U.S. electric passenger car manufacturer in 1971. The 1971 prototype was based on a AMC Hornet featuring a 144 volt battery pack and a newly designed inverter that charged an accessory battery off the propulsion batteries. It was a heavy car – 5500 pounds, on a platform of an ICE car that in its normal configuration weighed only about 3000 pounds. 

Consequently, vehicle handling could be challenging, including braking. The Hornet had a range of more than fifty miles during a 328 mile test between Detroit and Chicago.

The 1971 version used a 20 hp DC traction motor bolted to a Hornet clutch and three speed transmission. Above the motor were placed angle0iron racks holding a dozen 6 volt EPF Tri-Polar Cobalt batteries. These batteries had three times the internal connections of a typical motor vehicle battery of the day, and plates made with a secret formula surrounded by acid that circulated in an unconventional way.  The solid state controller was a modified  design taken from an English forklift truck, and progressed through three stages.

What ever happened to this venture and the vehicles in designed? If only this R&D project would have been sustained!

The 85 MPH Speedometer

Benz Speedo. Note the 281,000+ miles!

Every time I get in my 1982 Mercedes 380 SL I am reminded a federal government folly dating back to the early 1970s.  Of course, what I am referring to is my 85 MPH top speed speedometer that is in my car, a top speed that I often hit on I-675 around Dayton, OH. For a day I replaced it with a 160 MPH version taken from another dash cluster, but in the end it didn't seem right to take the car out of its true historical context.  During days in which the federal government vigorously pushed the auto industry in all kinds of directions -- 1968-1975 -- one proposal in particular bubbled up in early 1971 that seems to be at the origin of the 85 MPH instrument I live with. That proposed law not only included an 85 MPH speedo, but a feature in which once a car hit 85 MPH its lights would flash and horn honk.  At 95 MPH, a governor would kick in limiting the speed of the car.

While the governor and flashing lights were mover implemented, the 85 MPH speedo was made into law in 1979, although it had a short legal existence, as the Reagan administration reversed the law by late 1981.  Yet, a good number of cars made in the 1980s and 90s still used these limited instruments; as I remember my 4 cylinder 1990 Mustang had an 85 MPH unit, actually in this case rather realistic!

NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook was a big supporter of this measure, and continues as an auto  safety advocate to this day.  Did the speedo change save lives? And about how many.  Do we gauge speed by reading an instrument, or is it the sensation we experience in a vehicle that provides the rush that seems so satisfying, although admittedly resulting in a number of unnecessary deaths, especially of young people?

A Mustang SVO Speedo that defies the spirit of the law!

A Olds Cutlass Speedo.Those boring dashes and instruments from the 1980s!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Dashes and Speedometers, Mercedes-Benz 190, 300, 280, and 450 SLs

190 SL
Speedo, 190 SL

Dash, 300 sl

Dash, 280 SL

Dash, 450 SL

Tetra Ethyl Lead and the AMOCO alternative

From my The Automobile and American Life, chapter 3:

Success came to Charles Franklin Kettering and Thomas Midgley related to tetra-ethyl lead during the early 1920s.  Around 1920 there was a fear that the world was running out of oil, and therefore leading automobile industry executives thought that engines had to be designed to run more efficiently. One way to do this was to increase the compression ratio of the engine, or the volume swept in the cylinder by the piston, but increased compression ratios led to pre-detonation of the fuel-air mixture, a phenomenon that was called knocking. Kettering initiated a search for an additive to prevent knocking, and after many trials, discovered an organo-metallic substance called tetra-ethyl lead, or TEL. There was one hitch with this project, however. Lead compounds had been known since Roman times, to be notoriously poisonous, but it was claimed that in the ratio of 1:1300 in gasoline, the material was harmless. TEL was seen by industry leaders as a “gift from God;” tests made by laboratories after 1925 demonstrated that TEL was supposedly safe for mechanics, gas station attendants and consumers.12 Of course, as we know now, it was not. At low levels lead proved to be a neuro-toxin, but it would remain until the 1960s before improved chemical instrumentation demonstrated the extent of the public health dangers posed by this substance. Beginning in the 1970s, TEL was phased out in the U.S., but only after two generations were exposed to relatively high amounts of lead that eventually entered the human body.

There is much one can add to the TEL story. However, only recently was I reminded that there is another angle to this story, namely the sale of lead-free AMOCO (American Oil Company) gasoline between the 20s and the 70s, long before lead-free gasoline was the norm. During the late 1960s and early 1970s there was plenty of controversy over catalytic converter technology and the poisoning of the catalyst by lead compounds added to the gasoline. Industry critics continually argued that catalytic converters were impractical and that government mandates for air pollution abetment were unreasonable. Amoco premium lead free gasoline was sold only in the east and south between 1915 and 1970. In a May 1970 Motor Trend article, writer John Ethridge asserted that "there's an overwhelming mass of evidence that unleaded gasoline will ruin most engines...." The issue centered on valve problems on one hand, and more hydrocarbon emissions that are subject to photochemical reactions.
Yet, scientific evidence from studies at Ford and DuPont pointed to lead deposits in an engine increased exhaust emissions. Studies followed during the early 1970s validating the feasibility of lead free gasoline coupled with platinum-activated converters. . Furthermore, there was unequivocal evidence that TEL actually wore out spark plugs and exhaust systems prematurely!
Dr. Ted B. Tom, vice president of R&D at Amoco correctly foresaw the future when in 1971 he predicted that "when lead free gasoline is combined with catalytic converter systems, the auto will disappear from the black list of polluters." (MT, 2/1971, p. 12).

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Recent Scholarship in Automotive History

Recent Scholarship in Automotive History

Peter Norton, “Four Paradigms: Traffic Safety in the Twentieth Century United States,” Technology & Culture, 56 (April, 2015), 319-34.

James M. Wetmore, “Delegating to the Automobile,” Technology & Culture, 56 (April, 2015), 440-463.

Gijs Mom, “Orchestrating Automobile Technology: Comfort, Mobility Culture and the Construction of the Family Touring Car 1917-1940”,  Technology &
, 55(2014), 299-325.

David Z. Morris, “Cars with the Boom: identity and Territory in American Postwar Automobile Sound,” Technology & Culture, 55(2014), 326-353.

Stefan Krebs, “Dial Gauge Verses Senses 1-0: German Car Mechanics and the Introduction of New Diagnostic Equipment 1950-1980,” Technology & Culture, 55 (2014), 354-389.”

David N. Lucsko, “Of Clunkers and Camaros: Accelerated Vehicle Retirement Programs and the Automobile Enthusiast 1990-2009,” Technology  & Culture, 55(2014), 390-428.

Chrisotpher Neumair, “Eco-Friendly Verses Cancer Causing: perceptions of Diesel Cars in West Germany and the United States 1970-1990,” Technology and Culture, 55 (2014), 429-460.

David E. Greenstein, “Assembling Fordizm: The Production of Automobiles, Americans and Bolshevism in Detroit and Early Soviet Russia,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 56 (2014), 259-289.

Chris Lezotte, “Born to take the Highway: Women, the Automobile and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Journal of American Culture, 36 (September 2013), 161-176.

Carl A. Zimring, “The Complex Environmental Legacy of the Automobile Shredder,” Technology and Culture, 52 (2011).

Tomas Errazuriz, “Santiago/Chile on Wheels. Three Distinctions to Help Understand how Automobiles have Impacted Latin American Cities ,” icon, 13( 2007), 125-134.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ed's 15 Personal Favorite Car Songs

There isn’t a better marriage than the one shared by the music and auto industry. Cars personify individual wealth, power, and mobility, both of the social and physical kind, while music captures the thrill, love, and even the consequence of owning and operating a gas-guzzling, four-wheeled beast. Like singers and songwriters, cars have a story to tell — and not just about the person behind the wheel, but stories drivers make themselves.
I doubt very few reading this have gone through life without forging some memorable tale involving an automobile. Not all the songs on this list are obvious choices, although many are. The tracks are chosen not only because of their lyrical fidelity, but because of the emotional response they illicit. It’s a myriad of music meant for all types of tastes. So, in no particular order, here are my personal picks for the fifteen most memorable songs about cars and driving.  These are in no rank order, but I do favor Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” for its sheer humor and audacity and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” for its clarion call to the lure of the road.
1.    One Piece at a Time (Johnny Cash)
Though another country singer originally wrote “One Piece at a Time,” it was the great Johnny Cash that brought the song to the limelight. It tells the tale of a General Motors employee who works on the Cadillac assembly line who, over the course of 24 years, smuggles enough parts to assemble a Cadillac of his own (albeit not the most attractive one). The song noted for being Cash’s last chart-toppers, along with first recorded usage of “psychobilly” as a music genre.
2.    Mustang Sally (Wilson Pickett)
American songwriter Mack Rice may have written “Mustang Sally” — and change the title from “Mustang Mama” per Aretha Franklin’s suggestion — but it was the late Wilson Picket that popularized the song a year after its initial radio debut. The hallmark chorus quickly became even more iconic when newspaper headlines pronounced Sally Ride the first American woman in space. Also, bonus points if you’re actually cruising around town in a a classic ’65 ‘Stang.
3.    American Pie (Don McLean)
Folk rocker Don McLean has never fully explained the lyrics of his 1972 magnum opus “American Pie,” but it’s widely believed to be inspired by the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. It’s an incredibly sad song of reflection, rollicking in quiet piano before burgeoning with acoustic guitar and brushed drums following the first verse. Madonna’s rendition of the song was absolutely terrible, but the original is the longest song to ever top the charts.

4.    Little Deuce Coupe (The Beach Boys)
The Beach Boys’ highest charting B-side, “Little Deuce Coupe” is specifically about the 1932 Ford Model B. It’s often cited as mastermind Brian Wilson’s favorite car song, instantly glamorizing the life of California teens with a passion for cars and high swells. It’s incredibly bouncy, adorned with some of the most iconic harmonies of all time and featuring a unique shuffle rhythm that was ahead of its time. It simply encapsulates hot-rodding Americana at its pinnacle.
5.    I’m in Love With My Car (Queen)
There’s something to be said about a band where the drummer often turns out to be a better singer than the lead singer of most other bands. Queen lead Freddie Mercury decided to simply take piano duties on “I’m in Love With My Car,” and as a result, ” Roger Taylor took lead vocals. Also, rumor has it, Taylor locked himself in a cupboard until Mercury agreed to make the track the B-side to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Plus, it’s still a better love story than any Twilight novel to date.
6.    Long May You Run (Neil Young)
Officially credited to the Stills-Young Band, a joint collaboration between Stephen Stills and Neil Young following their brief stint in Buffalo Springfield, “Long May You Run” is a simple elegy for Young’s first car --  a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse. It’s a nostalgic piece with Young reminiscing about his final days with the car down by the Blind River, along with projections of where “Mort” may now reside. There’s harmonica, sun-dappled guitar, and harmonies galore.
7.    Life is a Highway (Tom Cochrane)
No doubt cliché, but Canadian Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” remains one of the most endearing metaphors of all time. Cochrane wrote the southern-soul rocker following a trip to west Africa with his family in 1990, as he was raising awareness on behalf of a famine relief organization. Being the case, the Top 40 song makes cursory references to Mozambique and the infamous Khyber Pass, along with his hometown of Vancouver and simply the open road.
8.    Car Wash (Rose Royce)
The theme of the 1976 film Car Wash, Motown producer Norman Whitfield’s “Car Wash” remains one of the few renowned successes of the disco era aside from tracks like Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive.” The tune describes the easy-going atmosphere of working at a car wash, set to a melange of funky bass, trumpets, and hand claps, the latter component of which has been sampled on countless tracks since. Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliot revamped it in 2005, but to no avail.
9     Mercedes-Benz (Janis Joplin)
 Although Janis Joplin died a mere three days after recording “Mercedes Benz,” that never stop Mercedes-Benz from utilizing the song in a number of the automaker’s advertisements. The acapella track, which graced Joplin’s phenomenal post-humous album Pearl, is also considered a blatant hippie-era rejection of consumerism. It remains one of the most iconic songs about a luxury car, yet it’s also one of the most rawcuts on our list, recorded in a single take.
Automobile (John Prine)
Although Prine’s “Automobile” graces his 1979 album Pink Cadillac, it’s actually a reference to a 1951 Ford Club Coupe. The song is a testament, not to the luxury sedans of the world, but the beater vehicle of the everyday man. There isn’t much more to it aside from chugging acoustic guitar and short harmonica bursts, but it does showcase a breakneck guitar solo and the utter sadness accompanying a dead battery. Apparently, it takes nine versus just to convey it, though.
On the Road Again (Willie Nelson)
Willie Nelson’s classic is less about your driving and more about the slew of feelings the open road evokes. It’s a song that has crossed genres and generations, one that defines the automotive experience and the overwhelming freedom we all feel behind the wheel. It’s a country-western song at heart, one written as the theme song for the film Honeysuckle Rose and winner of the Best Country Song at the 23 Annual Grammy Awards. What more do you need to know?
      Hot Rod Lincoln (Commander Cody)
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen might have one of the longest band names ever, but drive the same way the song’s protagonist does, and it’s the fastest way to a night spent in the slammer. The song was a 1951 hit for Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys, but Cody’s version opens with different dialogue and guitar lick, while splicing lyrics from several other covers of the song. At a mere three minutes in length, it’s quick, but it’s the lesson that matters. 
 Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen)
The Boss’ “Pink Cadillac” has never been issued on an official studio album, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t heard it before. It was a staple on his Born in the U.S.A. tour, noted for its not-so-subtle use of metaphor. As one might expect, Springsteen doesn’t necessarily like the girl for her “pink cadillac,” but something else entirely. Regardless, the chugging bass and spare toms render it the perfect track for cruising down the street, waving to the girls, and feeling out of sight.
     Riding in My Car (Woody Guthrie)
Singer-songwriter and folk legend Woody Guthrie might be best known for his classic “This Land Is Your Land” and the icon slogan “this machine kills fascists” displayed on his guitar. However, his lighthearted, folky ode to the automobile will likely have you grinning from ear to ear. It’s undeniably silly, with Guthrie haphazardly spouting phonetic renditions of a car engine against a backdrop of acoustic guitar.
      Ol’ 55 (Tom Waits)

"Ol' '55" is a song by American musician Tom Waits. It is the opening track and lead single from Waits' debut studio album, Closing Time, released in March 1973 on Asylum Records.  Written by Waits and produced by Jerry Yester, "Ol' '55" was a minor hit. The song has been covered by numerous artists, most notably by the Eagles on their On the Border (1974).