Enjoy cheap gas while it lasts


because it won’t be around for long.  Yes, gasoline prices are nearing historical lows.  Interestingly, going back to 1972, 1998 was the year that gas prices hit rock bottom.  You’d have paid approximately $1.06 for regular unleaded, in today’s dollars, that would be about $1.50 per gallon.  I know you may be thinking of a time in the 70’s when you paid less than a dollar at the pump, but if you adjust for inflation, it’d be more like $2.60 per gallon today.  And I would guess your paycheck wasn’t as much in the 70’s as it is now, unless you’ve retired or live off the grid, or both.

When I got my first job in 1979 (not counting my paper route) I made $3.10 an hour.  I’d have been driving the family Chevrolet Impala then with a 21 gallon fuel tank. Gas at the pump at the local DX in Arkansas where I grew up would have been about .675 a gallon, and have cost me a little over $14.00 to fill up the gas loving Impala. $14.00 was about a half day’s work in 1978.  In 2015, the minimum wage or minimal wage if you like, in Arkansas is $7.50, and $9.00 in Massachusetts where I now live, so it would have taken me less than two hours to earn a tank full today.  Of course as a cash starved teenager, I no doubt skimped on the petrol and probably only put in a quarter of a tank.  Adjusted for inflation, that .675 would have cost about $2.44 at the pump today, quite a bit more than the $2.11 per gallon I paid yesterday to fill up my Honda Fit which has a considerably smaller fuel tank than the Impala, and is considerably more fuel efficient.

According to statistics from the website InflationData.com, historical gas prices adjusted for inflation from 1913-2013, have averaged $2.60/gallon.  They argue that when prices are above $2.60, gas is expensive, when below $2.60, cheap. Gas was cheap back in 1979 and is cheap today (as long as you make substantially more than the minimum wage) after about 6 consecutive years of brutally expensive gasoline prices. Thankfully, the forecast is for continued cheap gasoline through 2015, but beyond, don’t bank on it.  This is good news for airlines, bus companies and consumers and perhaps not so great news for big oil, aircraft manufactures (who have been promoting more expensive fuel efficient aircraft) and companies that have invested in clean energy technologies.

The current cheapness factor notwithstanding, now is not the time to buy a gas guzzling SUV or the largest, longest or most powerful car or pickup on the lot. Remember the cars of the 60’s and 70’s that took up like 2 city blocks to park? The 1967 Chrysler New Yorker got 9 mpg and weighed 4,442 pounds. The 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood, a monster of a car and one of the longest passenger cars ever built was 250 inches long, easily took up 3 regular parking spaces and weighed in excess of 5,000. By contrast, my Honda Fit is 161 inches long, gets 36 mpg and weighs a mere 2,496 pounds.

One way to keep oil prices low is to use less, so that demand remains lower than supply.  If you must drive a car, buy a fuel efficient one. Do you really need a Nissan Armada SUV that gets 12 mpg? The thing really is like an armed ship with wheels. Another way to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels is to build a tiny house in the woods, with a windmill and a still (optional) and get yourself off the grid completely because sooner or later, fuel’ll be expensive again. At least in the woods, you can hunt and gather your own food, raise some chickens, and barter with other people, if you happen to run across any.  Be sure to carry a quart of moonshine, some ginseng and a handful of pecans, useful and valuable alternatives to fuels and cash.


Key Free Living

English: Sundry key fobs.

With all of today’s technology, why is it that we have some many keys?  I think I speak  for others on this issue – I can’t believe I am the only person with 15 keys on my main key chain.  Yes, main key chain – that is to say that I have more than one key chain as I suspect is true for you too. I have one for the house, and two for work – totaling something like 25 keys.  Some I have no idea where they came from or what they open.  And they are of all shapes, and sizes.  Some with teeth, some without. Gold, silver, thick and thin – one goes to a suitcase, I think, the other to a cheap filing cabinet on wheels, both thin and pliant like a paper clip for locks that could just as easily be opened by a paper clip or a toothpick.

How long have keys been around anyway? A long time, to be sure.   The first ones were thought to have been used by ancient Egyptians some 4,000 years ago.  The principle of a lock and key hasn’t changed that much since and yet technology is so advanced these days that we could really go keyless, just as we’ve gone wireless and paperless for the most part.  I know some cars have keyless entry and do not require ignition keys; just hit the start button and off you go.  I don’t happen to own one of those cars, maybe you do.  Actually, I want my car to read my mind or operate totally on voice commands – my voice and the voices of whoever I might authorize to drive it.  Furthermore, I’d like for it to just drive itself.  I’d get in, tell it where to go and then have my morning coffee and maybe blog or read a book or newspaper until the thing announced it’d reached my destination.

The thing with keys is that they are heavy and bulky on a chain and they clank around and get stuck in my pocket or fall to the bottom of my briefcase where I have to fish them out – I don’t really have a briefcase.  What I have is a student style canvas bookbag which doubles as my lunch bag.  Actually I put my lunch bag inside my bookbag, which I used to call a backpack, but it’s really not – I never carry it on my back or go camping with it – it’s more like a shoulder bag.  Anyway, I’d rather not have to dig for my keys to open my house door.  I’d like for it to open like the automatic doors in supermarkets or like the doors on the Star Trek Enterprise along with those swishing sound effects.

What about this? There should be a key free holiday – something like leave you keys at home day.  Maybe that’s not such a good idea because you’d have to leave your door unlocked and take the bus to work or call a locksmith.  If we went totally keyless, say by executive order or something, this would put locksmiths out of business but maybe they could “retool” and become metallurgical engineers or alchemists with a little job training.  Congress, are you listening?  Call it the key free living jobs bill for the 21st century.  The Government needs a Department of Alchemy to convert all our melted keys to gold.  This would help balance the budget and keep us from going off the fiscal curb.

Top Gear UK reviewed

English: The BBC Top Gear presenting team of ,...

English: The BBC Top Gear presenting team of , and . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had never heard of the show before, not even the American version on the History channel, which incidentally, is now in its third year.  Top Gear UK, the original series has been on the air for some 17 years in the UK and other parts of Europe presumably, and it wasn’t until I stumbled across the show one day clicking around on the cable box that I saw a bit of an episode for the first time.  It was on the BBC channel which I didn’t even know I had, which might explain why I had never seen the show.  I might have just passed it by, but there was something about the scene that caught my attention.  There was some British bloke talking about a Chevy that many stars had driven that he could not sell.  He was driving it to some industrial site where it was to be given a proper Viking burial.  He parked it between two smokestacks and proceeded to blow it up with explosives.  The smokestacks collapsed onto the car simply flattening it, but not completely covering it as its nose stuck out.  This Brit was not impressed by the demolition and thought it a travesty that the car had not received a proper burial.  I thought the whole bit was pretty interesting, so I stuck around to watch the next part of the show, something about a celebrity barbecue to christen a new “reasonably priced car”, which turned out to be a KIA Cee’d, “the only car in the world with an apostrophe in its name”, said co-host, Jeremy Clarkson.  This too sounded intriguing.  Well, no stars appeared, not even Angelina Jolie or Johnny Dep who had been invited twice.  Only random people from the BBC showed up to do laps around a race track in a cheap Korean car with an apostrophe in its name, whilst Hammond, the short co-host who had blown up the Chevy earlier and who looks like Davy Jones of the Monkees horsed around and burned the barbecue sausages and the cauliflower Clarkson had brought for vegetarians.  I don’t think I watched any more of the show after that, tiring of the theatrics, but it was a good laugh.

Fast forward to several weeks later and I found myself on Netflix and once again I randomly stumbled across the show, this time the first 17 series of Top Gear UK.  Curious, and remembering that the first episode I had seen, which was Series 15, episode 1, I started watching random episodes and found myself quite addicted to the show.   If you like cars, super cars, British humor, and the British way with words, you’ll love the show.

Here’s a typical show:

  • 3 presenters (co-hosts) Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May
  • A live audience
  • Lots of silly banter
  • New cars, mostly European ones, in the news with reviews of select cars
  • Lots of witty banter
  • Clips from test drives of select cars including super cars
  • Live interview with a celebrity
  • Clip of celebrity going around a track in a “reasonably price car”
  • A road trip with a wacky challenge
  • Lots of witty banter and pranks
  • Wrap-Up

And it works, it really does.  First of all, the chemistry between the presenters is spot-on, as the Brits would say.  They are genuinely funny and even funnier together.  Jeremy is probably the sharpest wit of the lot, and arguably the bully of the bunch.  Hammond, whom they call the hamster because of his size, seems always amazed, or astounded at one thing or another.  He’s rather more prone to hyperbole and is the only one of the three who I think you could genuinely call fearless – the guy to fire out of a cannon or drop from a 30 story building onto a stack of foam cushions.  James May is aptly called the slow one – not slow or dim witted, but slow in a car.  He’s the pessimistic one with a bit of a monotone and dreary disposition whose second nickname is Eeyore.

They describe cars dramatically as “fantastic”, “brilliant”, “magnificent”, “horrific”, “rubbish” or that it’s a “bloody hybrid”. They endlessly insult one another.  James May called Jeremy Clarkson an “apocalyptic dingleberry”, and they often call the other “stuuuupid”,  a “moron” or a “blithering idiot”.    They often “roast” the guest celebrities.  Clarkson introduced Lionel Ritchie as a man who lives in a Hollywood mansion with 17 bathrooms.

On road trips, they are prone to frat boy pranks.  Once Clarkson and Hammond rigged the horn on May’s car to go off every time he hit the brakes.   Another time, Hammond’s 70’s Land Cruiser with suspect brakes rammed into May’s Suzuki 3 wheel drive vehicle every time he needed to stop.  Clarkson “accidentally” set fire to the rag top on Hammond’s Land Cruiser which they had to put out with beer.

Their road trips are journeys that are like no other.  They’ve traveled to India to promote British products, like a self-propelled lawn mower, a travel ironing board kit and English biscuits.  They went to Albania to demolish a building with big trucks rather unsuccessfully.  They traveled through Vietnam on second hand motorbikes – Clarkson on a Vespa.  They  trekked from Florida to New Orleans in cars they bought for 1,000 U.S.  and were nearly killed by the locals they insulted when they spray painted provocative slogans on their cars like “NASCAR sucks”.

They aren’t fond of American cars and don’t seem too fond of America either.  They endlessly insult the country and the culture, but it all seems tongue in check.  They are, well Clarkson at least, Anglo centric and promote the superiority of all things British – which sometimes also sounds tongue in check.  They are each fond of super cars, none of which come from the U.S. Clarkson favors Mercedes AMG cars, Hammond the Porsche 911 and May, any Ferrari or Peugeot.   They typically review cars from Britain, Germany, France and Italy and race them around the track  somewhat non-professionally.  They leave the professional driving to the mysteriously helmeted staff race car driver they simply call the Stig.

Top Gear UK is one of the more entertaining car shows I’ve ever seen.  I’ll have to check out Top Gear USA to see how it stacks up against the original.

Chevy Sonic as American as Tater Tots and…

Photo by Morven

Can you guess which automaker has sold more cars each year in the U.S. for the past 51 years?   If you said Ford, you’d be wrong.  GM is the answer.   This is probably not a shocking revelation except that in the Northeast, the big three automakers seem to be Toyota, Honda and Nissan.  And yet their market share is tiny compared to Ford, GM and Chrysler.  Take June 2012.  Toyota sold 177,795, Honda, 124,808 and Nissan, 81,801.  By comparison, GM sold 248,250 vehicles, Ford 207,759 and Chrysler, 144,811.  Chrysler which includes the brands Fiat, Jeep and Dodge hasn’t really taken root in Boston.  The only Dodge Darts I’ve seen were the ones showcased on 60 Minutes in their piece on Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler/Fiat’s new CEO.  And the only person I’ve even seen driving a Fiat 500 is Jennifer Lopez.  Can you even name one Chrysler car?  Be honest.  The only models I can think of are the LeBaron and the New Yorker which haven’t been produced since the mid 90’s.  What has Chrysler been doing for the last 20 years?  Certainly not building a keeper.  They ought to bring back the Cirrus.  Remember that one? I don’t either.

Corolla, Camry, Prius, Rav4, Highlander, Civic, Accord, Fit, Altima, Rogue, Maxima, and Pathfinder are the brands I see most often rolling along on the roads of Boston.  Don’t see any Darts, or many Fiestas, and Impalas on the streets of Beantowne. And the Volt, America’s “revolutionary” gas-electric plug in vehicle, hasn’t sold well in the birthplace of American liberty.  I’m not exactly sure why, but reports of fiery batteries haven’t helped.  I also haven’t seen a Chevy Sonic yet, but I finally found a Sonic in Massachusetts.  Love me some tater tots.   How about a new Chevy Sonic ad, “it’s as American as tater tots, chilly cheese fries and a Supersonic Double Cheeseburger with Mayo and 1290 calories and 87 grams of fat”.

Auto Sales Up Despite “Uncertainty”, but…

The Auto Industry in the U.S. is alive and thriving, thanks in part to President Obama’s auto bailout, an improved economy and, let’s see, meals on wheels, no…cash for clunkers? no, not that either…I’m going out on a limb here but I think car shows have whetted our appetite for cars, or as the Brit Mike from Wheeler Dealers would say, motas.  Americans are crazy about their motors again thanks to the many TV car shows on the airwaves including Chasing Classic Cars, Mecum Auto Auctions, What’s my Car Worth (mine, not much), Desert Kings, All Girls Garage, Overhaulin’ , and West Coast Customs.  These shows glorify the car and plant the seed in our brains that we need to buy one or another.  The car products sponsors on the shows create other needs in our tiny brains for synthetic motor oils, all-weather floor mats, brighter halogen headlamps so that we can see people standing in the middle of the highway who would otherwise be invisible until it was too late, and bullet proof all-weather tires built to grip the road during a tornado.  Ok, I just made that one up.

U.S. Car Sales are up for all makes.  But one dealer says that sales would be even better if there weren’t so much uncertainty, uncertainty of who will be President in 2013.  I’m sorry, but I beg to differ with the dealer who is no doubt a Republican.  Consumers are not saying behind close doors: “because of the uncertainty honey, let’s delay the purchase of a new car until after the Presidential election.”

What difference would it make, really, who is President, except that if Mitt Romney were elected, he’d probably “roll” back all the safety and environmental regulations in place so that automakers would be once again free to pollute with impunity, and design cheap gas guzzling cars that are Unsafe At Any Speed, and really light trucks made of vinyl siding or balsa wood.

Car Addict

I’m always working the remote  to find a car show.  I can’t get enough of shows like Chasing Classic Cars, Wheeler Dealer, West Coast Customs, Mecum Auto Auction.  My memory is not all that great so I watch episodes I’ve already seen. My wife says “again”? I don’t know what it is about cars, but I enjoy seeing new ones, old ones, classic cars, muscle cars, vintage cars, sports cars, and roadsters.

I guess it all started when I was kid.  Hot Wheels.  I had a ton of them and a coffee can full of plastic cars too.  I remember driving a pedal car and a souped  up tricycle with a roaring toy motorcycle engine.  When I got a little older, I was into building model cars and collecting car cards.

I inherited my love of cars from my dad.  He raced track cars at  some smoke filled pool hall with Schlitz and PBR on tap.  My dad was a Kools Filter Kings Schlitz drinking man.  He also had some Kool cars.  One was a aqua colored Ford Falcon.  It didn’t run well, but I remember sitting in it and pushing and pulling all the knobs on the dash. My dad also bought a used MG Midget and it was the car on which I learned to drive a stick.  Later he bought a Camero that became mine when I went off to college.

And even though I have not owned a special car since the Camero, I have not abandoned the idea of one day buying a roadster or a new Camero to relive my youth.  Until then, I’ll be watching car shows and driving my wife crazy naming every car I see on the road.


Space Engineers Vindicate Toyota

Toyota is on the way back after suffering a near collaspe, not unlike the U.S. economy.  And
it should be forever grateful to the team of NASA scientists who found no problems whatever with the car maker’s electronics, or as the Brits like to call them “electrics”, or at least Mike Brewer from the TV show Wheeler Dealers.  It should be said that the engineers could not replicate the sudden acceleration problems many Toyota drivers have encountered, problems that led to lawsuits and a massive recall.  And if you recall, Toyota came under heavy fire for moving slowly to recall the models believed to be dangerous.Sales declined spelling the near ruin of the company and the desperate recall of their retired spokesman, a caffeinated version of the late Bob Baker.

Pedal misapplication, a term used frequently by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), seems to have been the most likely cause of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.  Victims of runaway vehicles would obviously beg to differ.  It makes sense though, pedal misapplication that is.  If you mistake the gas pedal for the brake, you will not slow down or stop as expected.  Hit the gas hard enough and the vehicle will surge and accelerate.  And with the lead-footed driver, the pedal might just stick – could even get tangled up with the floor mat, which in fact did happen – happened with some Honda’s too.  

Have you seen all those folks crashing into banks and convenience stores?  I would predict in most of the cases, the driver simply got the pedals confused and hit the gas instead of the brakes.  This sudden acceleration phenomenon has happened to a disproportinate number of elderly drivers who in some cases should not be behind the wheel.

Sudden acceleration problems could be caused by cruise control misapplication too. Think about it.  Newer cars have some fancy control sticks branching out from the steering column and sleek buttons embedded into the steering wheel. Some of these buttons are hard to see and touch sensitive. And the sticks, like the old column stick shifts back in the day have to be twisted and shifted to activate a number of commands from wiper movements and windshield fluids to turn signals.  And then there are those pesky paddle shifters few know how to use that seem better suited for a boater or a beaver.  What are those things anyway and what do they do? The point is, a driver who is not technology savvy could easily activate the cruise control, freak when the car suddenly accelerates and then misapply the pedal to inadvertantly command the car to go even faster.  By this time, the panicked driver might truly believe the car is runaway mode. 

I’m not a big Toyota fan.  I never much cared for the looks of their cars – boring lines, bland and conservative.  The only Toyota I really liked was the Celica of the late 80’s which was futuristic looking, straight out of the Jetsons; it might have come with a joystick option to let the driver hover and zoom about like a helicopter.  No need for pedals at all.

Chrysler To Turn a Corner, Maybe

I saw this headline in the NY Times today – Chrysler Lost $4 Billion but Sees Signs of Improvement.  What?  Now that’s an optimistic outlook and refreshing.  A car company out to improve.  But how?

Apparently Chrysler-Fiat plans to reintroduce the Alfa Romeo and Fiat brands to the U.S. market and clean fuel efficiency technology including some diesel engines. Alfa Romeo would roll out an S.U.V. and a small roadster looking machine called the MiTo.  And Fiat has plans to sell the Fiat 500, which looks a little like a VW bug or one of those toy cars that you roll on the floor and then release.   Diesel, roadsters, S.U.V.’s, and a VW or Mini Cooper look alike. That’s the plan to turn Chrysler around?

First, Americans won’t buy diesel.  No way.  And diesel fuel is too expensive.  When I think of diesel, I think of a Mack truck.  And where can you buy diesel fuel?  No one wants to fill up a car at a truck stop.

Second, as long as we have a weak global economy and high gas prices, what kind of market is there for a new S.U.V., particularly an Alfa Romeo?  Most Americans are going to associate Alfa Romeo with exotic race cars.  No one is going to want to buy an exotic S.U.V.  And the MiTo.  I don’t think so.

Third, Fiat is not a brand with much of a reputation in the States.  Remember the Fiat X19 back in the late 70’s – early 80’s? I didn’t think so.  Japanese cars drove them right out of the market and the country.

I have an idea for Fiat.  Bring over the Fiat Panda.  Sell them cheaply.  Market them cleverly in urban areas where parking is difficult to find and expensive.  Do one in black with a white racing stripe or something.  Sell them to rental car companies and Zipcar.  And Fiat, don’t allow Chrysler to make cars anymore. Have them make boats, or outboard motors or skateboards, mopeds, anything but cars.   Have them sell Fiats (the Panda) anyway.  And maybe allow them to bring back the Dodge Dart and Dodge Colt, with Italian styling.

Looks a bit like a Yugo, no?