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.