Monday, September 30, 2013 5:45:06 PM America/Detroit


It’s on.

I thought we live in an enlightened society. More genteel. Mankind living in harmony, and all that crap. And then I went on the Internets Tubes. And then I was shocked and awed by this: the mis-named 650 hp 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.

Mustang Shelby GT500
(source: Autoweek)

What. The. Fahrvergnügen?!

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
--Henry Ford (attributed, but he probably didn’t actually say it)

Chevrolet started this round of salvo with its shot across Ford’s bow, the 580 hp 2012 Camaro ZL1.

Now, I wasn’t old enough to ride in the Great Pony Car Wars from 1966-1972, but I’ve listened to stories from the veterans of that era, tales that their gas fume-soaked minds tried to relate. All things were apparently better back then, especially the size of carburetors and back seats.

The first time a car ever wowed me was probably when I saw a 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1. The model is a guess, because it reminded me of James Bond’s Mustang in Diamonds Are Forever*. My family even owned a Mustang, a 1970 model that my dad bought for a few hundred dollars that was more “rust” than “bucket.”

*(Yes, I tried to find a picture of Bond’s Mustang with Jill St. John’s character Tiffany Case, but the Internets wouldn’t cooperate with me. Instead, I’ll throw in the following exchange from the movie.)

(Tiffany Case emerges from dressing room and has changed her wig from blonde to red.)

Bond: “Weren’t you a blonde a few moments ago?”

Case: “Do you not like red heads?”

Bond: “Of course-- as long as the carpet match the drapes.”

On the other side of the fence, my aunt owned a 1969 Camaro that morphed into a white 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, the same year that Bandit drove into cinemas. I remember that my aunt would come over for a visit, and I would just spontaneously wash her car for her because I liked the car so much.

Bandit TA
And yet another chance for a 1970s reference

The fighting stopped for a while when one of the combatants would go MIA (1974-1978 Mustang II, 2003-2009 no Camaro), but now that they’re both back, the ferocity of the action hasn’t waned a bit. And it’s all good.

Now I’m generally opposed to war. Man killing fellow man is insane. But I have to admit that high tech weapons that go BOOM! can be pretty cool. These Mustang and Camaro are good examples of that.

Yes, that's a wimpy 553 hp Bugatti EB110 next to Big Mac
My favorite car of all time, the McLaren F1, had 618 hp

What I find even crazier is the number of cars sold within the last year that are over 600 hp. My non-inclusive list includes:

  • 600 hp Dodge Viper ACR (last sold in 2010)
  • 620 hp Porsche 911 GT2 RS
  • 638 hp Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
  • 651 hp Ferrari FF
  • 670 hp Mercedes SL 65 AMG (Black Series) / 621 hp S65 AMG
  • 690 hp Lamborghini Aventador

I’m even ignoring the 1001 hp Bugatti Veyron, the 806 hp Koenigseggisseggggnignigsegigisegggg CCX, or this announced whatever it is.

Wimpy cars that didn’t make the cut include the 556 hp Cadillac CTS, 592 hp McLaren MP4-12C, 562 hp Ferrari 458 Italia, and the aforementioned 580 hp Camaro ZL1.

Jason: To Hell and Back
And What Would Jason Drive (WWJD)? (source: Car and Driver)

The current Corvette ZR1 has more than three times the horsepower of the original fourth generation (C4) Corvette in 1984, which had a 205 hp V8. And I didn’t look this up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the current ZR1 gets better gas mileage than the original C4 [update: yup—C4 is 13/20 mpg, ZR-1 is 14/21 mpg]. The original Corvette ZR-1, which Car and Driver dubbed “The Corvette from Hell,” had 380 hp when it debuted it 1990. The current “base” C6 Corvette has 430 hp. I don’t know if Chevrolet/GM gets enough credit for this feat of technology.

2007 Chevrolet Corvette
Horsepower, for a lack of a better word, is good

It seems each era has its own golden age of cars, and each succeeding era is better than the previous. So is this the last golden era of cars? It would seem so, especially with proposed CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) mandates of 54.5 mph by 2025. But I’m not quite ready to write off the innovations of automotive engineers yet.

Whether this is the last golden age of cars or not, it will pass like other automotive golden ages of my time. I will probably not own any of these 600+ hp cars. But that doesn’t bother me. Just the fact that they exist gives me a good feeling inside. And I have a good reason to check out Craigslist or Auto Trader ten years from now.

blog comments powered by Disqus

What Hath Google Wrought?

After a Google blog post last weekend, it was revealed that Google has been secretly working on autonomous vehicles, cars that can drive themselves. The engineers working on this project had experience from the DARPA challenges, and include Sebastian Thrun of the 2005 winners from Stanford, and Christopher Urmson of the 2007 winners from Carnegie Mellon (of which my company also contributed).

“Your car should drive itself. It just makes sense. It’s a bug that cars were invented before computers.”
--Eric Schmidt, Google CEO

Their fleet of six Prius (Priuses? Prii? Priora? Prissies?) and one Audi TT has driven over 140,000 miles with only occasional human control, and over 1,000 miles with no human intervention according to the New York Times. These cars have driven on the Pacific Coast Highway and Lombard Street. They’ve gone as far as Lake Tahoe (from Mountain View, CA?). I’m assuming they’ve been holding off venturing onto rough, treacherous venues, like Woodward Avenue in New Detroit until their T-1 is operational.

The cars use GPS, pre-mapped information, and sensors to help guide them. The sensors include scanning LIDAR, cameras, and RADARs. The cars may or may not have a flux capacitor— this I can neither confirm nor deny.

The only incident they’ve reported was minor. One of Google’s vehicle was waiting at a light when it was rear-ended, presumably by a car driven by an old fashioned human.

When I heard this news, I immediately bowed down to our auto overlords. And then I e-mailed Wes (and so did four other colleagues).

Wes has been sort of working with Google with one of our radar sensors. I say “sort of” because Google was somewhat secretive in terms of what they were doing with these sensors, so Wes wasn’t really sure what his code was going into, but he had his suspicions.

And he was wrong. Very wrong. (Actually, we all were.)

“I just invent, then wait until man comes around to needing what I’ve invented.”
--R. Buckminster Fuller

Personally, I’m glad we were wrong because I think this is better than what we thought. I’m all for autonomous driving. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t place a lot of faith in my fellow man’s ability to drive. Or breath through his nose. The sooner we have autonomous cars, the better (even if I didn’t work in a related area).

Autonomous cars will drive the speed limit, won’t run red lights, and won’t flip you off as they cut in front of you in rush hour traffic. They will signal for lane changes and turns. They may even stop for school buses with flashing red lights and emergency vehicles.

Robot cars aren’t going to drink and then drive. They won’t fall asleep at the wheel. They won’t brandish a 9mm if you’re tailgating, at least not until Skynet, or whatever Google decides to call it, goes on-line.

This is a good thing.

Of course some will say that if we have autonomous cars, then people won’t pay attention behind the wheel. Well, that’s precisely the point. People already don’t pay attention behind the wheel. With robot cars, at least someone/something will be watching out.

Think about the people that need to be in robot cars: people that don’t want to drive; people that don’t pay attention; people that are bad drivers; people that wear hats. These people should not drive. Let these 99% of the population have robot cars so they continue texting, eating, reading or whatever these people do in cars, and let the other 1% drive in safety.

Car enthusiast should rejoice at this news. It’s a step towards removing bad drivers off the road. What could possibly go wrong?


Now that’s going to leave a mark.

For those that don’t watch BBC’s Top Gear show with religious fervor, I’m talking about the de-helmeting of the Stig from the show. For the last seven years, the current (and likely ex-) Stig was the test driver for Top Gear, doing stunts and setting lap times on various cars on the show. His identity has always been a mystery, and now Ben Collins has written an autobiography claiming to be the Stig.

“Some say he never blinks, and that he roams around the woods at night foraging for wolves...”
Stig Matters
I bet he would be faster if he had more stickers and patches on his suit.
(photo: Top Gear)

The BBC was not happy. And Ben Collins claimed he was crucified for it (after the fact).

The matter was brought to court, and so far Collins and HarperCollins (coincidence?) have won the right to publish the book.

“Some say he is illegal in 17 US states, and he blinks horizontally...”

So now he’s out of a job.

“Some say that he’s terrified of ducks, and that there’s an airport in Russia named after him...”

The writing was probably on the wall, or in this case, power lap board, as his lap time (1:44.4) in a Reasonably Priced Car was recently bested by Rubens Barrichello (1:44.3), Formula 1’s most experienced racing driver ever.

“Some say that on really warm days he sheds his skin like a snake, and that for some reason he’s allergic to the Dutch...”

Collins probably did break the terms of his contract. But did Collins break the hearts of Top Gear enthusiasts? Probably some. Collins is the seconds Stig on the show after the first Stig, Perry McCarthy as the “black” Stig, left the show after two years through similar circumstances. Any one remember Perry? There you go. The show will go on.

“Some say that the outline of his left nipple is exactly the same shape as the Nürburgring, and that if you give him a really important job to do, he’ll skive off and play croquet...”

There will be another Stig, possibly in another color. (I’m hoping for Rambunctiosus Red or Violent Pink.) There have already been other Stigs on the show such as: Stig’s African cousin, the African Stig dressed in a loincloth; Stig’s truck-driving cousin, Rig Stig, complete with requisite truck-driver belly; Stig’s American cousin, Big Stig, with a relaxed driving style; and the Stig’s mullet-wearing German cousin, Herr Stig, or Stiggy Ray Cyrus. Rumors say that a new Stig is already in place. You can place your bet on the next Stig. Personally, I would like it to be Sabine Schmitz, but that may be too obvious.

“Some say that he sucks the moisture from ducks, and that his crash helmet is modeled on Britney Spears’ head...”

I can’t say if Mr. Collins made the right decision or not. I haven’t driven in his racing shoes, but it’s ultimately his life to live, not mine. But his de-masking of the Stig has stripped away some of the mysticism of the character. The Stig was the creature that powered exotics around Top Gear’s test track. He’s been crashed, smashed, and set on fire, and yet he’s still the fastest (or was). Now, another myth has been exposed, or at least lost some of its luster. Thank goodness we still have Santa.

“Some say that his tears are adhesive, and that if he caught fire he’d burn for a thousand days...”

The only thing I would like to see from all this is a spectacular on-screen farewell, like an automotive Viking funeral, or a Death Race on the Nürburgring, backwards. At night. In the rain. The previous Stig met its demise on the HMS Invincible. One can only hope for a similar fitting ending for the current Stig.

“Some say the Scottish released him a little bit too soon. And that he spent all week pushing an effigy of Rubens Barrichello through his desk fan...”

[update 2010-09-14 18:43]
As much as I love Top Gear and the Stig’s mystique, I’ve decided to fall on the side Ben Collins and not the BBC in this case. Americans love the rags-to-riches/ underdog/ Cinderella-in-a-Simpson-racing-slipper story, and love to stick it to big corporations. Relatively speaking, he wasn’t making that much money in Top Gear, although it was probably okay as a side gig. In any case, I will buy his book, The Man in the White Suit, as soon as it is available in the States.

It’s a bit trashy, but here’s a story on Ben Collins from the Daily Mail, although I cannot speak for its veracity. It can’t be any worse than his wiki page.

Mercury Falling

Mercury, the Jan Brady of the Ford Automotive family, was euthanized last Wednesday after Ford decided to pull the plug. Mercury was 72 years old.

(image source:

Edsel Ford begat Mercury in 1938. Alcohol was reported to have been involved. Edsel named Mercury after the Roman god known for delivering flowers on Valentine’s day, and not the toxic element found in low energy fluorescent lamps and in kids’ fish sticks.

In 1945, Mercury combined with his bigger, better looking, more luxurious brother Lincoln to form Lincoln-Mercury. They were joined by their sibling Edsel a few years later in 1958. Tragically, the public declared Edsel to be ugly and after a couple of years, was never heard of again. The Lincoln-Mercury relation has existed ever since.

During the 1970s disco era, Mercury, known for his astrological sign of the cat, was linked to the fabulous Farrah Fawcett, as these self-made videos show.

[Disclosure: Back in the 1970s, the author had a Farrah poster, but not the real one. He couldn’t afford to buy one, so he had the two-color newspaper cutout from the Detroit News. Yes, this is a disclosure of how sad his life was.]

Internet rumor has it that if Mercury was still selling the Cougar today, he would have Demi Moore as the Cougar girl.

“Well my baby went out
She didn’t stay long
Bought herself a Mercury, come a cruisin’ home
She’s crazy...”
--K. C. Douglas

“... about a Mercury”
--K. C. Douglas

In the 1980s, Mercury tried to Europeanize itself by importing Merkur (“mare-koor”), the German translation for Mercury. While technically an independent brand, Merkur was offered exclusively to Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Lasting a little longer Edsel, it eventually took its “uniquely” styled cars back to Europe. The only lasting impression the author had about these vehicles was when someone called a Merkur XR4ti an “Exarrati,” which would have been the coolest sounding name for a vehicle in the 1980s.

Before its demise, Mercury still sold four vehicles: two SUVs, a car called the Mercury M.... something... (pretty sure it starts with the letter “M”), and the Septuagenarian Saturday Special. It’s possible that the last name not be the correct name for the vehicle.

Mercury is survived by his brother Lincoln, and his father Ford. Services are expected later this year.

[Disclosure #2: The author used to drive a used 1975 Mercury Monarch Ghia. Doctors believe that, eventually, the author’s on-going therapy will allow him to live a (more) normal automotive life.]

GM Posts First Profits in 3 Years

DETROIT — GM posted a profit of $865 million in the first quarter, its first quarterly profits since 2007, and then promptly lost the money gambling at the Motor City casino near downtown Detroit.

Still in a stupor from the previous night’s partying, GM said it was unsure how it lost it all so fast.

“I came home yesterday with the check and then called my buddies. We decided to go to the casino to celebrate. The last thing I remember was ordering the first round before heading out to the tables in the casino,” said GM groggily, staring into his coffee mug.

Witnesses saw GM drinking bourbon and shooting dice at the craps table most of the night.

“At first he was up a little,” said Fred, one of his buddies. “But then his luck turned and he ended up losing it all. At some point, he started borrowing money from everyone.”

“I just needed a bit of luck... I know I could have won it all back...” GM’s voice trails off as he looks blankly out the kitchen window.

“You should have been more like your brother Gordon! Gordy would have never lost so much money. He’s a banker!” shot GM’s mother. “I knew something like this would happen to you!”

Sources say that besides his buddies, GM still owes money around town, including to his brother Gordy.

“What am I going to do?” muttered GM. “Well, at least I still have my Trans Am.”

Gazing through the window at the empty driveway, GM suddenly cried out, “My car! What happened to my Pontiac!”

“My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”
--Woody Allen

We’re Finally Number One...

....and I don’t like it.

The Detroit Free Press had an article last week that stated that we had the highest gas prices in the country. At an average of $3.53/gallon, Michigan beat out Illinois ($3.52), California ($3.42) and Hawaii ($3.40).

That’s right. We had higher gas prices than a state with the most draconian emissions regulations, and a state that ships its gasoline on outrigger canoes. I don’t know why the prices are so high in Illinois. It’s probably because of the same factors that affect Michigan, or the gridlock they call Chicago that keeps the gas from being delivered.

“Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil.”
--Jean Paul Getty

I got my Honda Civic back from Germany in November 2004. I log all of my gas fill-ups, since I am an engineer with a compulsion to record data. I fill up with premium about every four or five days (excluding weekends), generally at the same gas station in town.

Here are the gas prices of my fill-ups since then.

As the chart shows, the gas prices today are higher than they have ever been, including the time of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. So what does this all mean? Well, based on my commute to work, every $0.10 increase in gas prices add $52/year to my gas cost. That’s equivalent to thirteen grande frappuccinos (caramel).

Since I’ve been back to the U.S., however, the cost of gas has gone up $1.62/gallon. That’s over $831/year, for my car. It would go up to $1936/year when I include my wife’s car. That’s a lot of frappuccinos. That’s double what I pay for insurance.

And that’s enough to make any driver cranky.

Exxon Reports Highest US Corporate Profits

IRVING — ExxonMobil, the Irving, Texas-based company, posted the largest corporate profits in U.S. history. Its earnings of $39.5 billion for 2006 on revenues of $377.6 billion exceed the previous record of $36.13 billion in 2005, also posted by ExxonMobil.

Other oil companies posting best-ever profits for their companies include Chevron ($17.1 billion), ConocoPhilips ($15.6 billion) and Royal Dutch Shell ($25.4 billion).

“When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him: ‘Whose?’”
--Don Marquis

ExxonMobil company spokesman Kevin Cohen defended the profits, saying that the profits are only 10% of revenues.

“Our revenues are large and they need to be to support the huge investments we make to produce the energy our country and the world needs,” he said.

These investments include the $25 billion Exxon used to buy back its stock in 2006, driving its share price up. Apparently, burning the paper from $25 billion worth of stock certificates can provide enough energy to keep a city like Detroit running for a year. Who knew?

Mr. Cohen then proceeded to light a hand-rolled cigar made of $100 bills with a gold, disposal Bic lighter shortly before getting into an idling Lamborghini Murcielago to another interview across the street.

Ford Loses $12.7 Billion in 2006

“If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.”
--Henry Ford

DEARBORN — Ford announced recently that it had losses of $12.7 billion for 2006, its largest loss in history (although still far below GM’s 1992 losses of $23.5 billion).

Most of the losses, totaling $9.9 billion, were due to buyouts and writing down assets as part of its reorganizing plan. Its North American automotive operations also lost $6.6 billion, offsetting gains in Europe and the rest of the world.

When asked to comment on the losses, Ford replied, “I don’t know. Maybe I lost it on the couch. I was watching Malcolm in the Middle and fell asleep. When I woke up, I walked down to the 7-11 to buy an orange Slurpy, and noticed my money was gone.”

Ford indicated that if it doesn’t find the $12.7 billion between the sofa cushions, it would trace its steps back to 7-11 to look for the money.

When asked to comment to this story, Ford’s mother replied, “I swear if that boy’s head wasn’t attached to his shoulders, he’d lose that, too.”

Ford’s father, declining to comment, only shook his head slowly.

Detroit Auto Show Attendance Down Again

“The average human has about one breast and one testicle.”
--From Statistics 101

(If you’re one of my anal-retentive engineer friends, please don’t e-mail me about that last quote. I know that men technically have breasts as well, even if they’re not the pert, firm type—unless we’re talking about Ricardo Montalbán’s. The statement is meant to be humorous—you know, like a joke.)

According to the Detroit News, the attendance for the Detroit auto show was down for the fourth consecutive year. This year’s auto show had 759,310 visitors, down 9% from the record high of 838,000 visitors in 2003. Factors such as last week’s ice storm and the state’s economy are thought to have been factors in the decline this year.

So after 120 years, cars have finally jumped the shark.

The numbers suggest that cars are no longer popular. The decrease in attendance correlates to a drop in 2006 U.S. auto and light truck sales, down 2.6% from 2005 to 16.6 million vehicles. U.S. manufacturers are shedding workers and factories.

This was the 100th Detroit auto show. After seeing the same horseless, four-wheeled carriages powered by combustion engines 80 or 90 times, people are getting bored. Car manufacturers can’t even come up with new designs—just take a look at the current Mustang and upcoming Camaro. The turbocharger was invented in 1905, the supercharger in 1860.

What modern feature do most people look for in a new car? An iPod jack.

Who wants a 505 hp sports car anymore? Or an all-wheel drive sedan with 420 hp? Today’s consumers are moving onto the Next Big Thing. With growing concerns about the automobile’s effect on the environment, groups are turning to other, more ecologically friendly forms of transportation. A group in Pennsylvania is already leading the charge to motorless vehicles.

The automobile is dead.

So what happens to today’s cars? The future’s not so bright. As nobody likes cars anymore, the value will soon plummet, leaving their owners in despair. This is where I can help. Please send the keys to these 505 hp pieces of junk to myself, and I do everything in my power to find them a good home. It’s the least I can do for my fellow man.