Thursday, July 23, 2015

FranktoidTM No. 15 - Safety First

Safety equipment on vehicles today is not only the norm, it's expected. And as manufactures have discovered, it is a big selling point. It was not too long ago that safety was actually the last thing on a automobile engineer's mind. It wasn't that safety items weren't thought of or invented, it was that they were expensive to put in a mass produced vehicle. I don't know if back then it was too hard to sell a consumer on safety items or if the major automobile corporations just didn't want to spend the money to make their vehicles safer.

There were a few car companies that use to exist that were way ahead of their time, both in innovation and safety. The stories vary but some were bought out and others were driven out of business. This was usually because of a superior design or feature that if left unchecked, could potentially catch on with consumers and eventually force the large manufactures to adopt a similar feature or design which would ultimately affect their profits. Heck, there was even a movie made about one such company called Tucker: The Man and His Machine. Another company that was ahead of it's time was Kaiser Motors Corporation. As early as 1950, the then Kaiser-Frazer Corporation started engineering safety features into their cars. By 1953 Kaiser had what they called "the world's first 'safety first' car". To quote General Manager Edgar F. Kaiser, "We chose safety before horsepower." In brief, these safety features included the following:
1) A padded crash panel which extends the full width of the dash.
2) Seat design that cradles passenger weight at a point near the center gravity, below the tire line.
3) Extra leg room so that passengers ride in a safer semi-reclining position.
4) A safety mounted one piece windshield designed to "give" upon severe impact.
5) Location of the hand brake brake in it's most accessible position.
6) All instrument panel controls recessed below the dash surface.

This was 1953 folks! Jump in a '53 Ford or Chevy and see how many of these features they have. It wasn't until 1959 that Congress passed legislation requiring all automobiles to comply with certain safety standards. Keep in mind that even seat belts were an option back then that you had to pay extra for and that's only if the manufacturer offered them. Believe it or not seat belts were not made mandatory in passenger vehicles until 1968. So the next time you go new car shopping take a minute and think about this: most of the safety features on today's cars that we take for granted weren't even available to most of our grandparents...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Land of the Lost

Do you remember that time in your life when you were between 18 and 21? I remember it well and refer to it as the dead zone. I was too young to go to the clubs or bars and too old to hang out with the High School kids. The paradox of the dead zone is that you are old enough to vote and buy cigarettes but forget about buying any alcohol or blowing your money on gambling. We all spend three years exiled in the dead zone, but as soon as you turn 21 a whole new world opens up and that zone becomes a distant memory.

 I have recently discovered an automotive equivalent of the dead zone and it lives in the land of the lost. What is this vehicular heresy that I am eluding to? Well my faithful readers, it is none other then the classic American four door sedan. Now I'm not talking about a Ford Taurus or Buick Regal, but referring to select, full-size old school 4 doors like the Pontiac Star Chief, Oldsmobile Delta 88, Ford Galaxie, Buick Electra, and of course the Cadillac Sedan DeVille. It seems like these are the classic cars that nobody wants, except maybe the Caddy, at least that's what I have observed. I purposely left out the Chevy Impala because these seem to be collectable in any configuration. Why is it that these more-doors are treated like the bastard step child? I think the four door variant of the full size sedan actually looks shorter then the two door version, but this fact has yet to dissuade the masses to embrace these monoliths as equals to their two door counterparts. I guess I really can't complain too much as it was this very attitude that enabled me to score a sweet deal on my large and in charge '67 Olds Delmont, which has proven to be a very reliable vehicle.

My larger then life Olds-mo-bubble is a daily driver and as such, I get to observe people's reactions to it as I ooze into work and back home each day. Maybe it's where I live but most folks don't seem to take too kindly to OFDs (old four doors). I have had people laugh at it (ironically they were walking); chuck food at it (who throws a cupcake? Honestly!); try to run me off the road (I think they were texting but it still happened); challenge me to a race with their Prius (the Prius won); and of course flip me off ! In all honesty the middle digit salute was probably due to one of the following. I was either: A) driving too slow because they were following too close or B) spraying their windshield with oil residue and carbon from my exhaust because they were following too close. Either way, they were following too close. I actually took my OFD to a car show once. As soon as I pulled into the roped off area where the cars were located a person quickly told me that the spectator parking was located outside the roped area and could I please park there! I just drove away... Another time I was at a gas station filling up my ginormous tank of an Oldsmobile when this environmentalist type came up to me and accused me of increasing the earth's carbon footprint! She continued to spew more vile from her mouth as she drove away in her Prius. (I think it was the same Prius that beat me!)

Seriously, these full size, four door "B" bodies just don't seem to be that collectable. You know what? I don't really care and neither should you. In fact, every classic car lover should go out and purchase one right now. Most of them can be found dirt cheap, parts are readily available, and most of them are reliable as hell. Remember, these were the family sedans of the 60's, way before mini-vans. BOP's of this era that were properly maintained were known to go well in excess of a quarter million miles on their original engine and chassis. Some of the transmissions were problematic but that's because most folks back in day did not use trans fluid coolers and also used their cars to tow camping trailers and such. Remember, this was pre-SUV so if any towing was to be done, the family sedan usually got delegated to do the task. So while folks are laughing at my OFD, throwing food at it, running me off the road, blowing my doors off, and flipping me off, I'll continue to cruise in comfort with the A/C blowing cold and the 45+ year old suspension design smoothing out the rode for me. What do you think? Are you going to join me in the land of the lost or do you believe these cars belong in the "dead zone"? Either way it's a win-win for me, unless you drive a Prius....