A Car Lover’s Night Before Christmas

December 20, 2007

(originally published in 2004 — from “Sam Barer’s Sound Classics” newspaper column)

A Christmas Eve tale for car hobbyists…

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the garage,
not an engine was running, not in a Chevy, Triumph nor Dodge.
The tools were put away with order and care,
After hours of battling dual SU carbs, causing me to rip out my hair.

My daughters and wife were all cozy in bed,
So I sprawled-out on the couch to watch Speed Channel instead.
“Pinks”, “My Classic Car” and “Victory By Design,”
Drooling over gorgeous cars that I wish were all mine.

Then a sudden urge – get ready, get set,
To go back to the garage and troubleshoot my old Corvette.
The turn signal would light when the ignition key was turned,
It probably had something to do with a wiring harness that burned.

So over the pajamas went the Roebucks coveralls,
That hang from a hook near the door on the wall.
And just as I grabbed the multimeter and test light,
I heard a rumble outside cutting right through the night.

The sound was so loud it shook the concrete floor,
I quickly identified it – a 426 Hemi with dual-fours.
It then appeared in the flesh, all shining and mean,
A 1970 Hemicuda in Sassy Grass Green.

The driver was old, fat, and had hair of silver-gray,
He looked a lot like my Dad in a strange sort of way.
In his red and white duds hauling wrapped gifts tied with ribbons,
And his beard made him look like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.

More births and missionary successes meant Santa now had to hustle,
So he traded the reindeers and sleigh for something with more muscle.
But instead of giving me gifts he simply offered me a ride,
So I quickly jumped in, taking the seat on the passenger side.

Ahead of schedule this year, Santa had time for reflection,
And to show his favorite collector car columnist his personal collection.
So we raced towards the North Pole, the engine roaring loud,
Although I confess — Santa drove faster than the speed limit allowed.

On the side of Santa’s house, a warehouse was connected,
Giving enough storage space for all the great cars he collected.
On one side were Duesys, Auburns and Cords,
Towards the back were Lincolns, Mercurys, Edsels and Fords.

A Pegaso, Iso Grifo and 550 Spyder by Porsche,
Examples from Gordon-Keeble, Sabra, Tatra, Dellow and Horsch.
We talked about market trends, restoration and horsepower,
But it was clear Santa was quickly running out of prime delivery hours.

So on our way back we joked merrily,
Until we were challenged to a race by an elf in a road-spec GT40.
(At first I was shocked by this site, I really must admit,
But then again nobody taller than an elf could ever comfortably fit.)

Santa’s foot pushed the accelerator right down to the floor.
My backside went through the seat springs and my head hit the door.
It was over in twelve seconds, and of course Santa won,
Then we headed back to my house after this moment of childish fun.

So again we arrived at my humble abode,
As I got out of the car, my disappointment obviously showed.
But Santa winked, smiled and said through his beard,
“A great holiday to all, and here’s to another car crazy New Year!”


Not your grandpa’s ’55 265-ci Corvette — Chevy announces the 2009 Corvette ZR1 with LS9 Small-Block

December 19, 2007

2009 Corvette ZR1 LS9

Ladies and gentlemen, the cat is officially out of the bag.  What started as rumors of a super-Corvette called Blue Devil almost a half-decade ago is finally here!  The most powerful car ever offered by GM, the 2009 Corvette ZR1 shows that the Small-Block Chevy is still the world’s most flexible engine.

Straight from the horse’s mouth — here’s the official press release with all the juicy details!

2009 Corvette ZR1 Powered By The Most Powerful Production Engine Ever From GM: The Supercharged LS9 Small-Block V-8

PONTIAC, Mich. – When it arrives next summer, the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 will be the most powerful and fastest production car ever produced by General Motors, with performance enabled by a new, supercharged 6.2L LS9 small-block V-8 engine.

Incorporating the engineering experience already found in the Corvette Z06’a LS7 engine and the new-for-2008 6.2L LS3 of the Corvette, GM Powertain is targeting 100 horsepower per liter for the LS9, or 620 horsepower (462 kW), and approximately 595 lb.-ft. of torque (807 Nm); final SAE-certified power levels will be available in early March 2008.

It is, indeed, the ultimate small-block engine for the ultimate Corvette.

“When you experience the LS9 in the Corvette ZR1, the terms performance and refinement take on a new meaning,” said Tom Stephens, group vice president for GM Powertrain and Quality. “The LS9 demonstrates an outstanding performance range, with smooth driveability at low speeds, and surprisingly fierce performance when the customer wants more power.”

The enabler of the LS9’s performance is a new, large positive-displacement Roots-type supercharger – with a unique four-lobe design – developed for the engine by Eaton. It is teamed with an integrated charge cooling system that reduces inlet air temperature for maximum performance. The LS9 represents the first of several new, supercharged small-block engines that will be introduced in GM vehicles in the near future, each using superchargers of similar design.

“The small-block V-8 once again demonstrates it boundless horsepower potential, versatile design and an architecture with proven quality, durability and reliability,” said Stephens. “We haven’t yet realized the small-block’s performance potential.”

Performance range

More than just its tremendous peak horsepower and torque numbers, the supercharged LS9 makes big power at lower rpm and carries it in a wide arc to 6,600 rpm. GM Powertrain testing shows the engine makes approximately 300 horsepower (224 kW) at 3,000 rpm and nearly 320 lb.-ft. of torque (434 Nm) at only 1,000 rpm. Torque tops 585 lb.-ft. (793 Nm) at about the 4,000-rpm mark, while horsepower peaks at 6,500 rpm. The engine produces 90 percent of peak torque from 2,600 rpm to 6,000 rpm.

Heavy-duty and lightweight reciprocating components enable the engine’s confident high-rpm performance, while the large-displacement Eaton supercharger pushes enough air to help the engine maintain power through the upper levels of the rpm band.

“The sixth-generation design of the supercharger expands the ‘sweet zone’ of the compressor’s effectiveness, broadening it to help make power lower in the rpm band,” said Ron Meegan, assistant chief engineer. “To put it simply, the low-end torque is amazing.”

The LS9 is assembled by hand at GM’s Performance Build Center, a unique, small-volume engine production facility in Wixom, Mich., that also builds the Corvette Z06’s LS7 engine and other high-performance GM production engines.

Cylinder block and reciprocating assembly details

The LS9’s aluminum cylinder block features steel, six-bolt main bearing caps, with enlarged vent windows in the second and third bulkheads for enhanced bay to bay breathing. Cast iron cylinder liners – measuring 4.06 inches (103.25 mm) in bore diameter – are inserted in the aluminum block and they are finish-bored and honed with a deck plate installed. The deck plate simulates the pressure and minute dimensional variances applied to the block when the cylinder heads are installed, ensuring a higher degree of accuracy that promotes maximum cylinder head sealing, piston ring fit and overall engine performance.

Nestled inside the cylinder block is a forged steel crankshaft that delivers the LS9’s 3.62-inch (92 mm) stroke. It features a smaller-diameter ignition-triggering reluctor wheel and a nine-bolt flange – the outer face of the crankshaft on which the flywheel is mounted – that provides more clamping strength. Other non-supercharged 6.2L engines, such as the base Corvette’s LS3, have a six-bolt flange. A torsional damper mounted to the front of the crankshaft features a keyway and friction washer, which also is designed to support the engine’s high loads.

Attached to the crankshaft is a set of titanium connecting rods and forged aluminum pistons, which, when combined with the cylinder heads, delivers a 9.1:1 compression ratio. This combination is extremely durable and lightweight, enabling the LS9’s high-rpm capability.

Cylinder head details

The basic cylinder head design of the LS9 is similar to the L92-type head found on the LS3 V-8, but it is cast with a premium A356T6 alloy that is better at handling the heat generated by the supercharged engine – particularly in the bridge area of the cylinder head, between the intake and exhaust valves.

In addition to the special aluminum alloy, each head is created with a rotocast method. Also known as spin casting, the process involves pouring the molten alloy into a rotating mold. This makes for more even distribution of the material and virtually eliminates porosity – air bubbles or pockets trapped in the casting – for a stronger finished product.

Although the heads are based on the L92 design, they feature swirl-inducing wings that are cast into the intake ports. This improves the mixture motion of the pressurized air/fuel charge. The charge enters the combustion chambers via titanium intake valves that measure 2.16 inches (55 mm) in diameter. Spent gases exit the chambers through 1.59-inch (40.4 mm) hollow stem sodium-filled exhaust valves. The titanium intake and sodium-filled exhaust valves are used for their lightweight and high-rpm capability.

To ensure sealing of the pressurized engine, unique, four-layer steel head gaskets are used with the LS9’s heads.

Camshaft and valvetrain

The broad power band enabled by the LS9’s large-displacement supercharger allows it to make strong low-end torque and great high-rpm horsepower, which allowed engineers to specify a camshaft with a relatively low lift of 0.555-inch (14.1 mm) for both the intake and exhaust valves. This low-overlap cam has lower lift and slower valve-closing speeds than the Z06’s 505-horsepower (377 kW) LS7, helping the LS9 – with its approximately 620 horsepower – deliver exemplary idle and low-speed driving qualities.

The camshaft actuates a valvetrain that includes many components, including the lifters, rocker arms and valve springs, of the LS3 engine. However, LS7 retainers are used to support the engine’s high-rpm performance.

Supercharger and charge cooler details

The LS9’s R2300 supercharger is a sixth-generation design from Eaton, with a case that is specific to the Corvette application. The supercharger features a new four-lobe rotor design that promotes quieter and more efficient performance, while its large, 2.3-liter displacement ensures adequate air volume at high rpm to support the engine’s high-horsepower aspiration. Maximum boost pressure is 10.5 psi (0.72 bar).

The supercharger is an engine-driven air pump that contains a pair of long rotors that are twisted somewhat like pretzel sticks. As they spin around each other, incoming air is squeezed between the rotors and pushed under pressure into the engine – forcing more air into the engine than it could draw under “natural” aspiration. The rotors are driven by a pulley and belt that are connected to the engine’s accessory drive system.

Because the pressurized air is hotter than naturally aspirated air, the LS9 employs a liquid-to-air charge cooling system to reduce inlet air temperature after it exits the supercharger – reducing the inlet air temperature by up to 60 degrees C (140 F). Cooler air is denser and allows the engine to make the most of its high-pressure air charge. The charge cooling system includes a dedicated coolant circuit with a remote-mounted pump and reservoir.

The design of the supercharger case and its integrated charge cooling system was driven by the space and dimensions afforded under the Corvette’s hood. To that end, the charge cooler was designed as a “dual brick” system, with a pair of low-profile heat exchangers mounted longitudinally on either side of the supercharger. Coupled with the supercharger itself, this integrated design mounts to the engine in place of a conventional intake manifold and is only slightly taller than a non-supercharged 6.2L engine. The air inlet and rotor drive pulley are positioned at the front of the supercharger.

Additional engine details

Oiling system: The LS9 uses a dry-sump oiling system that is similar in design to the LS7’s system, but features a higher-capacity pump to ensure adequate oil pressure at the higher cornering loads the ZR1 is capable of achieving. An oil-pan mounted oil cooler is integrated, too, along with piston-cooling oil squirters located in the cylinder block. The expanded performance envelope of the Corvette ZR1 required changes to the dry sump system also used in the Z06. System capacity is increased and scavenge performance improved to meet the demands of Chevrolet’s highest-performance sportscar.

Water pump: To compensate for the heavier load generated by the supercharger drive system, an LS9-specific water pump with increased bearing capacity is used.

Accessory drive system: In order to package the accessory drive system in the Corvette’s engine compartment, the supercharger drive was integrated into the main drive system. This required a wider 11-rib accessory drive system to be used with the LS9 in order to support the load delivered by the supercharger.

Fuel system: The LS9 uses high-capacity 48-lb./hr. fuel injectors with center-feed fuel lines. The center feed system ensures even fuel flow between the cylinders with less noise. In order to ensure fuel system performance during low speed operation as well as under the extreme performance requirements of wide open throttle (WOT), a dual pressure fuel system was developed. This system operates at 250 kPa at idle and low speed, and ratchets up to 600 kPa at higher-speed and WOT conditions.

Throttle body: An 87-mm, single-bore throttle body is used to draw air into the engine. It is electronically controlled.

Rocker covers / ignition coils: Unique rocker covers with new, direct-mount ignition coils are used. Other Gen IV engines, such as the LS3, feature coil packs mounted to a bracket. The LS9’s direct-mounted coils offer a cleaner appearance and a shorter lead between the coil and spark plug.

Beauty cover: A special engine cover is attached to the top of the LS9. It surrounds the intercooler, which is visible through a hood window, accenting the supercharger while simultaneously reducing noise. The cover has “LS9 SUPERCHARGED” script on the left and right sides, along with a debossed Corvette crossed flags emblem on the front.

New six-speed manual transmission

The Corvette ZR1’s LS9 engine is backed by a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission, with a twin-disc clutch system. It is based on the proven T56 six-speed, but upgraded to handle the LS9’s torque output and delivers improved shift quality

The twin-disc clutch system provides exceptional clamping power, while maintaining an easy clutch effort. The system employs a pair of 260-mm discs, which spreads out the engine’s torque load over a wider area, enabling tremendous clamping power to channel the LS9’s torque. It also dissipates heat better and extends the clutch life (in normal driving).

Thanks to comparatively small plates, the twin-disc system enables similar disc inertia to the Corvette Z06, which has a 290-mm single-disc system, contributing to low shift effort and providing exceptionally smooth engagement and light pedal effort. In fact, the more powerful ZR1 has a pedal effort similar to the Z06.

ZR1-specific gearing in the transmission provides a steep first-gear ratio that helps launch the car. The car’s top speed is achieved in sixth gear – a change from the fifth-gear top-speed run-outs in the manual-transmission Corvette and Corvette Z06. The gears also are designed to balance performance with refinement. The angles of the gear teeth are optimized to provide both strength and quietness.

 


GM and Ford respond to the Energy Bill’s new CAFE standards

December 19, 2007

The Energy Bill was sent to President Bush — a cold shock to the Big Detroit automakers who have held CAFE standards at bay for the better part of 35 years. While a few opposing lawmakers are still using the stale, bogus line that cars and trucks will cost $10,000-$15,000 more because of the increased standards, now that it’s a done deal, GM and Ford have different PR messages.

First — GM:

Statement From Rick Wagoner, Chairman and CEO, General Motors Regarding House Passage of Energy Bill

GM commends the Congress and President for passage of an energy bill. The new fuel economy standards within the bill set a tough, national target that GM will strive to meet. We will focus our engineering and technical resources to attain these standards and we remain hard at work applying the innovation and developing the advanced technologies that will power tomorrow’s cars and trucks. Addressing the nation’s energy security challenges, however, will require all of us working together and we hope to see continued progress on infrastructure and market-driven mechanisms that can augment the auto industry’s efforts.

Background

* GM has an established track record of innovation and a commitment to improving the fuel economy in its cars and trucks. Years of engineering and development, and billions of research dollars have produced the GM vehicles that you see on the road today. Currently, GM offers more vehicles that achieve 30 mpg on the highway, more flex fuel vehicles that can run on E85, and groundbreaking technology such as GM’s two-mode hybrid system found in our full-size light trucks. Far from standing still, GM has more cars and trucks on the way that will offer the broadest line-up of “green” technology.

Here’s how GM plans to lead the industry:

* GM will continue to improve the internal combustion engine, and to dramatically intensify its efforts to displace petroleum fuels with bio-fuel alternatives such as ethanol–the best, near-term solution to actually reduce gasoline consumption. GM alone has produced over 2.5 million E-85 capable vehicles to date–more than any other automaker.

* GM is also releasing an average of one new hybrid model every three months for the next two years that includes the Saturn Vue and Aura Green Line, and Chevrolet Malibu. This year, we’ve introduced the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon two-mode hybrid (the only hybrid system developed and built in the U.S. at our Baltimore, MD transmission plant) that get a 50% improvement in city mileage over gas versions. This level of performance earned the Chevy Tahoe two-mode hybrid the “Green Car of the Year” award at the LA Auto Show. For next year, we’ll be launching three additional two-mode hybrid versions of the Cadillac Escalade, and Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pick-ups.

* In addition, GM is significantly expanding its development work on electrically driven vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Chevy Equinox fuel cell vehicle. This year GM launched Project Driveway, the world’s largest test fleet of fuel cell vehicles, that will have 100 Chevy Equinox fuel cell vehicles distributed in California, New York and Washington, DC. Also this year, two advanced battery development contracts were announced and in August, GM and A123Systems announced an additional agreement to speed development of batteries specifically designed for the Chevy Volt’s extended range electrical powertrain.

Now here’s the word from the Blue Oval crew:
FORD COMMENT ON CONGRESSIONAL PASSAGE OF NEW CAFE STANDARDS AND THE ENERGY BILL

The following is a statement from Ford Motor Company on the final passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 by Congress:

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 18, 2007 — “Ford has worked with lawmakers to enact nationwide requirements that provide a significant increase in fuel economy while protecting consumers’ choices of cars, SUVs and light trucks. We are working to do our part to help reduce greenhouse gases and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

This legislation will provide one clear requirement for increasing fuel economy and provide greater certainty for our product planning. Ford is committed to providing safer, more fuel efficient, quality products – in high volume – that customers want and value.”

No press release can beat the positive PR received by Toyota, when Congress sent the bill to the White House in a Prius — illustrating that American lawmakers couldn’t find a true icon of fuel savings locally.

Henry Ford and Crapo Durant must be spinning in their graves!


December 13, 2007

Those screams you hear from near and far are from GM F-body fans who just learned that the remake of the 1980s television show “Knight Rider” will utilize a 2008 Ford Mustang GT500KR, rather than the iconic Pontiac Trans Am. The cheers you hear are from writers, directors, producers, and critics who now understand that David Hasselhoff, who was upstaged by the Trans Am for many years during the season, will not be returning to his role as Michael Knight.

The series presented a real problem for writers and GM marketing reps. The Trans Am has been out of production for many years now, and the Camaro platform-mate won’t be out for another year. Ford jumped on the opportunity to ensure that the small number of people destined to watch the show will confuse the KR acronym with Knight Rider, as opposed to the King of the Road meaning original given to it by Carroll Shelby nearly forty years ago.

Recreations of television series of this nature have about as much chance of popularity as a red-headed stepchild with a limp in any public high school. People who used to watch the original show have grown up, and are as likely to watch the new show as putting on a Stryper record and rocking out in black and yellow spandex.

The larger issue, however, is that the producers have chosen to completely cut the ties to the show’s iconic star – the Trans Am, not ‘Hoff. Unlike many people who want to see the exact iconic cars in remakes, I feel it’s fine to update. After all, it’s hard to believe that a 1973 Mustang would be stolen in the 1990s for “Gone in Sixty Seconds”, that two cool detectives would drive a white Testarossa in modern “Miami Vice”, or that Michael Knight’s long lost son would drive a car based on the rickety, underpowered 1980s T/A.

But let’s face it; Pontiac fans are the most likely people to watch this show. Removing all ties to the F-body kills any hope that anyone will watch. Switching to Ford is also downright sacrilegious. It would be like casting a Corvette for a “Magnum PI” remake instead of something more reasonable, such as a Ferrari 430.

For if it is okay to have a Mustang in “Knight Rider”, maybe a new “Smokey and the Bandit IV” should be made starring a Hyundai.


Grandpa, sports, longevity, and the unimportance of cars

December 10, 2007

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This weekend I had the honor of helping my grandfather, Leonard Donin, out to center court at Portland’s Rose Garden arena right before tip-off of the basketball game between University of Oregon and University of Utah. At 96 years old, Grandpa is the oldest living U of O varsity athlete, having lettered in basketball and baseball.

My grandfather was introduced over the public address system as the game’s honorary captain.  The entire crowd (which included over thirty family members and friends) came to its feet.  As he waved to the adoring crowd, I applauded the man who not only fathered my mother, but also was responsible for the little athletic ability I received.

Grandpa has never been a car guy. He grew up with little money, and only was able to attend college due to being recruited as a three-sport high school star with a full scholarship. He entered University of Oregon at the beginning of the Great Depression, when car ownership was a luxury few had.

As a top-ranked pitcher, my grandfather would sneak off campus and play for barnstorming pro baseball teams under assumed names. For some appearances, he was paid $500 per game, which was the price of a new Ford V8. Even in those days, however, college athletes weren’t allowed to receive compensation, so my grandfather quietly used the money to pay bills. Interestingly, he pitched against some famous names, such as Dom DiMaggio and Babe Didrikson. (I once asked Grandpa if he struck them out, but he claims he forgot the outcome!)

My grandparents didn’t purchase a car until my mother was a teenager. Their first family car was a 1959 Chevrolet Impala sedan, which was still in use when I was young. I remember those crazy fins, and how different the taillights looked next to the mid-sixties Plymouth Valiant that my grandparents bought later.

The Impala lasted until 1977, when it was replaced with an Oldsmobile Omega. My Grandfather referred to it as “Grandma’s car”, despite the fact that I never once saw Grandma drive it. That Omega was retired in 1995, when they inherited the 1987 Chrysler New Yorker my mom no longer needed after she got herself a Cadillac Seville SLS.

My Grandfather drove until 93 years old. While he could still read street signs from a greater distance than I could, we convinced him that the car was superfluous with the shuttle and the Town Car provided by his retirement home.

In his entire life, my grandfather had only owned four vehicles – fewer than the number currently in my garage, but I couldn’t love and respect him more. And as the crowd cheered for this very humble man (who had to be forced to accept the invitation), it just proved that no matter how fun four-wheeled transportation is, there’s much more to life than cars.


2007 Energy Bill CAFE Standards and a fuel economy history lesson

December 3, 2007

Congress managed to get higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards into the 2007 Energy bill. If everything goes as planned, auto manufacturers product range will have to average 35 mpg by 2020.

As with any threat by politicians to “improve” vehicles, the Big Three came back with “it will drive the cost of cars up”. As always, the cited cost by many industry reps was roughly 30-percent of the current average price of a new car, or $10,000.

Interestingly, however, after the CAFE Standards made it into the bill and seemed to look like it would pass, automakers have put on a better PR face. Ford and Chevy have put out statements indicating they are up to the challenge, showing the market is probably behind the politicians.

This is good news for auto consumers, because current average mpg for each and every company is nothing short of a joke.

I made the comment at Thanksgiving dinner to family and friends that real-world average fuel economy hasn’t improved much (and to some extent, not at all) in the last three to five decades. After getting read the Riot Act by my father, citing the 12 mpg he got on his 1956 Buick, I pulled out road test after road test from Road and Track, Motor Trend, Car and Driver, as well as other publications of the day, and cited fuel economy results from real road tests.

Plain and simple, our view of real-world mpg from the past is simply not accurate. For instance, the hottest 1956 Chevy V8 (the 265-ci equipped with the “Power Pack” for 205 hp) actually delivered 17 city and 21 highway mpg. In contrast the 2006 Impala SS, the only available with a V8, had EPA ratings 18 city/ 28 highway, but Car and Driver saw only 16 mpg actual throughout their test. Just for chuckles, a 1988 Chevy Corsica carried EPA ratings of 19/29, but a C+D test found 21 mpg overall.

In the 1970s fuel economy was chic, and Road and Track found in 1976 that the Honda Accord delivered an average of 32 mpg, which was no different than the VW Beetle’s 30/35 results from over twenty years earlier. In the 1980s, domestic econoboxes looked like the 39 mpg Ford Festiva or 37mpg Chevy Sprint Turbo. Now we get 21 city/ 31 highway Honda Accords and ultra-fuel-efficient 34/30 Ford Escape Hybrid sport ute!

Even sports cars haven’t come a long way, baby. Alfa Romeo’s ’56 Giuletta Spyder gave 27/33 mpg. Porsche’s 356 Coupes were tested at an overall average of 35.2 mpg. And while Triumph TR3 advertisements boasted “up to 30 mpg”, actual testing showed 26 city and 32 highway. Thirty years later, the 1986 Honda CRX was rated at 29/36 and Toyota’s MR2 stickered with 26/32. In 2006, Consumer Guide found a Honda S2000 could only muster 24 mpg, despite clocking 70-percent highway miles on their test regiment.

The first reason for the mileage issue is weight. Cars today weigh more than cars from yesteryear. We all love airbags, stability control, twenty speaker sound systems, and power-adjustable/climate-controlled seats to keep our asses comfy, but all this equipment requires fuel to move down the road.

Secondly, cars now are more powerful than nitro-methane. When Toyota sedans pack 265 horses, you know the power horse race is in full swing.

Nowhere is the weight/power issue more evident than in BMW’s 3 Series Convertible. In 1988, the 325i weighed 2982 pounds and did 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds, courtesy of 168 hp. In 2008, the 335i Convertible (with its folding hardtop) tips the scale at over 3985 pounds, but runs to 60 mph at 5.3 seconds due to 300 hp. The 335i’s direct-injected twin-turbo 3 liter engine is a case study in performance efficiency, but the 18 city mpg is identical to 325’s. C+D’s observed 21 mpg for its 325i was actually better than CNet’s 335i 19.1 test average.

Nobody with any legitimate expertise could argue that cars of the past were better than today’s comfortable road rockets. It’s evident, though, that the market has placed all of its weight in performance, luxury, convenience, and of late on safety. Too little has been placed on fuel economy. Consequently, technological revolution has not benefited those interested in high mpg as much as those wanting to go 0-60 in under 4.5 seconds while coddled in luxury.

Political and business experts can debate until they are blue in the face that whether it is the market’s or government’s position to demand fuel economy, but one thing is for certain, the manufacturers haven’t given the market many good fuel efficient options. Those high mpg options have been mostly saddled with market-perceived downsides of tiny, tinny econoboxes, or smelly, expensive and hard-to-acquire diesel, or unproven, hard to work-on gas/battery hybrid systems. (Again, this is the market perception, not my feeling, so please do not call me anti-diesel or anti-hybrid.)

So maybe it is time that someone in a position of power tells companies that they need to focus on fuel economy? The market can then work out which technologies and products deliver it the best.