High MPG Does NOT Mean Gutless Shitbox: Part I

I’m here to warn about vehicular complacency in the face of expensive gas.  (Not that gas is expensive right now but it’ll go up again.  I’m placing bets on shortly after November 2012.)

We are Americans.  We should love driving.  Slinking around in gutless jellybeans is not in our DNA.  Expensive gas should not turn us into dour losers in boring wheeled appliances.  Leave that for the French.

I’ve seen the small car conundrum before:  In the late 1970’s something terrible happened; I’m not talking about disco, Carter, or polyester pants…I’m talking about Detroit’s self immolation.

Detroit had long churned out massive bloatmobiles.  Some were cool.  Some where shit.  Most were low quality.  All were based on cheap gas.

The price of gasoline soared.  In 1978 the price of gas was about $0.63.  In 1979 it jumped 36% to about $0.86.  In 1980 it jumped another 45% to about $1.25.  That’s 98% in two years. Ouch!

Detroit, land of big companies and bigger unions, rose to the challenge.  Ha ha…I’m just kidding.  It shit itself.  Even as a child I was disgusted.  Look at the title of my blog; I think “adaptability” is a big deal.  Things that can’t adapt are either extinct or should be.

Our government and Detroit were maladapted to expensive gas.  Together they bailed out Chrysler in 1979.  Americans were rewarded with the Dodge Aries / Chrysler K-Car.  Japan, a place nobody at the time cared about, displayed adaptability and ate Detriot’s lunch.  Well played gentlemen.

The thing that bothered me, even as a wee lad back then, was that Detroit had decided that a small car was a shitty car.  Wrong!  Being a kid, I knew better.  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a small car and that son of a bitch flew!

My folks (and I’ve always remembered this lesson in adaptation) dumped a standard American gas hog and bought a fuel efficient German car.  (Imports were practically unheard of in my redneck town).  It got great mileage.  More importantly it was fun to drive.  Even as a kid I decided it was fun even to ride in it.  It had farfegnugen!  Suck it Detroit!

Years later nearly every car on the road is better than a late 1970’s Detroit wheeled slab.  Most get wildly superior MPG, they’ve got better suspensions, cupholders, and AC is pretty much assumed.  But joy?  Still spotty.

When my household has needed a high MPG car we’ve bought from Japan.  Our current high MPG machine looks like a doorstop from the outside but it has a fun little five speed and I smile every time I drive it.  I’d hop in and drive cross country right now…no hesitation…it’s that fun.  It gets around 36 and that’s not screwing with the numbers or driving like an anemic octogenarian hypermiling weenie.

If I need higher MPG I’ll take my motorcycle (a Honda that’s made in Ohio).  I’ll smile like a madman, dress like a Klingon, rev the throaty engine, and blast out of town like a freaking maniac.  I’ll still crack 45 MPG at any non-stupid speed.  In any summer month I’ll hop on my motorcycle for a cross country trip at the slightest excuse.

Once my wife and I caravaned across the Wyoming high desert in dual high MPG vehicles.  My motorcycle was suitably black and menacing.  Her Miata had the top down and she looked hot.  (Yeah baby…I noticed!)  We both rocketed across Wyoming both faster and more efficient than most “economy cars” and it was fun.  (In the wind and high speeds the Miata beat my MPG…all hail fuel injection and sleek bodywork.)

High mileage does not mean low fun unless you’re an unimaginative asshole; which seems to be where a lot of car manufactures are coming from.  Learn it, know it, live it.  And it you can’t use a clutch…get that maladaption rectified right quick because part II will give an example of high MPG machines that rock.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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15 Responses to High MPG Does NOT Mean Gutless Shitbox: Part I

  1. Mack505 says:

    Have to agree. I drive a VW TDI wagon. Manual transmission, lots of fun-to-drive torque, can handle 98% of the STUFF I need to carry, and never less than 37 MPG. I’d buy Amemrican if Detroit made something comparable.

    Why does every American car maker treat me like I’m nuts when I want a manual transmission?

    • I prefer manual and have a hard time finding it in Wal-Mart land. So frustrating! Which brings up a story:

      Once I was at a rental car outlet in Europe when the guy at the counter said “I’m sorry but I have no cars you can drive.”

      I wasn’t too sure about the local language so this confused me. (His lot was full of little puddle jumper cars.) He explained “We are out of cars with American transmission”.

      “What the heck is ‘American Transmission’?” I asked.

      His English wasn’t that great but he managed to say “The cars that shift for you. The ones Americans need.”

      I almost died of shame. I assured the man that some Americans still know how to use a clutch and those that can’t should be corrected in their ignorance. I told him that as an American he had my permission to ridicule and belittle anyone who was so pathetic that they couldn’t shift a damn Fiat. This brought gales of laughter and he promised to offer them a mule, or maybe a child to drive for them. I rented a little car which was more like a go-kart than a Buick and got where I had to go. Actually I had a grand time driving the tiny little ratbox.

      Even so, I’m haunted by the idea that there is a concept such as “American Transmission”. The people who invented the monster truck and the tail finned Cadillac are now considered incapable of operating a cheap Fiat. What have we done to ourselves?

      • Wolfman says:

        I scoured the land for a manual tranny when I bought my latest truck (3/4t Chevy diesel). I know they are out there, because I test drove one several years ago, same year and features, but I didn’t have the money. The closest one I could find was in Arkansas (a little too far from AZ, now OR). I’ve been to the Chevy ‘build it yourself’ website, and there is no Manual Transmission option. Maybe Dodge still puts one behind the Cummins, but they’re hen’s teeth. Sad…

      • Tam says:

        When I was narrowing down my Sporty Car Choices back in ’01, I looked at all four German compact two-seaters: Boxster, Z3, SLK, and TT.

        While the Benz SLK was only available with a slushbox, the thing that absolutely appalled me is that, of the other three cars, 2-seat roadsters all, fully 75% of the ones I saw on dealership lots were equipped with granny gearchangers. Anybody who’d order a lightweight sports car with a sub-3-liter engine and request a dorkomatic would fornicate with sheep, of that I’m certain.

      • “Dorkmatic” now that is a word for the day!

  2. MAJMike says:

    I agree with everything you said in your post. I have an F150 because as a home-owner I still have to haul compost, mulch, paving stones, bricks, etc. Its also a comfortable ride and nicely tricked out inside. In Texas, we drive long distances and haul things. A clown car does not serve my purposes.

    Miatas are really desirable, but I can’t fit too many bags of compost into it.

    • Douglas2 says:

      Ahh, the need pickup-truck for hauling loads problem. When I lived abroad most homeowners there seemed to have “LittleGiant Trailer” style lightweight aluminum trailers for the compost and concrete-mix runs. AFAIK the biggest official tow rating for any Miata is 900lbs, so with a 400lb trailer that will still leave you 1/4 ton cargo capacity. I think I’d want trailer brakes in that scenario.

      • A good trailer is the greatest thing since sliced bread but they’re never quite as handy as a pickup truck. If they were, SUVs would overtake trucks for good. I shudder to ponder such a fate.

  3. Wolfman says:

    I had an 89 Chevy that did pretty good, but sometime in the late 90’s both power and mileage took a hit again. Right now, even the Duramax is getting detuned and having its mileage rating cut. My old CB750 gets 50mpg and eats ‘tuner cars’ like candy. I want my next project truck to be an old Scout (the little one) with an Isuzu diesel (3.5-4.3L). I figure that would be fun, and worth around 35 mpg, with the right setup.

  4. Suz says:

    😦 I miss my Blue Beast – full size 4WD Chevy with a good clutch. Lordy but how she sucked down the gas!

  5. cwbramley@netscape.net says:

    I want a BMW 123d with a manual transmission!
    Unfortunately, BMW has no plans to import such a cool car.

  6. Joat says:

    I had to drive my backup car today, it’s a striped down 4 cylinder 4 speed Tercel. It must have been the cheapest car Toyota sold in ’92 but I can fit my 6’2″ frame in it with reasonable comfort it’s not bad to drive and even as worn out as the engine is it still gets better than 30 MPG even if I drive with a heavy foot. If it only got better than 200 miles to a quart of oil, it wouldn’t be the backup car.

  7. dontbug@me.com says:

    The UK actually has a special “Automatic Only” class of driver’s license. If you pass the test in an Automatic, you are only legally allowed to drive Automatic cars.
    I think it was in Cyprus that the rental agent told me that the law required them to treat all American licenses as “automatic” licenses, so they could only rent me an Automatic car. I’ve always loved the Nissan Micra, but it sucks with an auto-box. My experience elsewhere has been that with some car-hire firms I’ve had no issue, some would relent when I showed them the US registration from my (european car that was never available with an auto box), and some would just say “this Automatic is the car we have available.”

  8. Will says:

    I still laugh about the CHP and their Mustangs. Back in the early 80’s, CA bought non-smogged (not approved for CA) Mustangs with the Hi-Po 302ci, which Ford only built with a 4sp stick. After taking delivery, they discovered most of the officers, especially the younger ones, did not know how to drive stick. Then, after getting the cars on the road, they crashed them at a good clip. Single car crashes, mostly. They pulled them from normal duty, and only used them in places they expected high-speed pursuits, with certified race track trained drivers. Since the cars were not smogged, they couldn’t sell them at auction as they would normally do. I think they held onto them for twenty years or so.

    Had one try to catch us going downhill on US80 in ’83 or 84, coming home from the Reno Air Races. Told us he followed for twenty minutes, running 120 on the straights, before we slowed down. We were cruising in a Datsun 810 sedan, running around 90 steady, no slowing for curves. The Datsun was impressive, the ‘Stang and driver, not so much. Didn’t know we were being chased, til he hit the lights.

  9. Pingback: The Volt (As Was Always Its Fate) Swirls The Drain | The Adaptive Curmudgeon's Blog

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