Before Phil Floraday got married, he thought it was perfectly normal to buy cars that didn’t run. He’d make the purchase, remove the parts that he needed, sell the other parts for pocket change and then scrap any leftover sheet metal. In fact, he shares–on his bio as senior web editor for Automobile magazine–that this is how he used to spend his spring breaks. Then, once he had too many pieces and parts lying around, he did the only reasonable thing. He bought a house so that he would have a garage so that he could conveniently store all of his non-working vehicles.
“It was a good way to spend time in my twenties,” Phil says, “because I learned about cars by taking them apart and it seemed cost effective. I eventually learned that I wasn’t taking into account my time, though, which is valuable. And, after I realized that, I’m not fighting rusty bolts so often.”
Phil got a photojournalism degree at Ohio University, following that up with an internship with Auto Week. “I started out by working on the back end of the site,” Phil says, “and then a fulltime job opened up there that gave me more experience with editorial.”
As time passed, Phil’s sets of wheels improved for two reasons: one, he got to test vehicles as part of his Auto Week job; and, two, he got married, which meant that his garage now needed to contain vehicles–and lawnmowers–that worked.
24 Hours of LeMons
Phil has also been a participant in 24 Hours of LeMons races, in which the racing vehicles cannot cost more than $500. “I raced with an 87 Pontiac Fiero,” Phil shares. “I was never able to complete my early races, though, because the car would get hit and something would break, or else it would stall out. My car was always pretty beaten up, too, even by $500-car standards, and I’d need to be wrenching the car while driving it, which is quite the experience.” He also recalls when a gas gauge didn’t work in a LeMons vehicle but, fortunately, his bucket of junk never ran out of gas.
When Phil first got a job at Automobile, his duties were “much more nuts and bolts” as he converted stories that originally appeared in the company’s print publication to be suitable for online use; found extra photos, since the Internet allows for more illustration; reviewed new cars that were launching; and “spent too much time in planes.”
After marrying three years ago, he cut back on travel and began taking on a more active role in shaping the look and function of the online publication, and overseeing a “complete overhaul of the car buyer’s guide.” He also monitors the social media channels associated with the magazine, watching for and responding to any signs of discontent by fans and followers. He used to attend more car trade shows than he does now, in part because of his shifting work responsibilities and in part because manufacturers now reveal most of the information about new launches before the show starts.
“So, attending shows is not as critical,” Phil explains. “There is no substitute for seeing the cars, but we generally already have the pertinent info and then we simply have a few reps check out the actual show.”
Automobile magazine describes itself in this fashion: America’s leading automotive lifestyle publication. Arbiters of the “All-Star” awards. Profiles upcoming car designs from leading manufacturers. Written for the sophisticated enthusiast. Profiles high-end vehicles with compelling editorial & photographic content.
When asked how he defines a “sophisticated enthusiast,” Phil said the following: “Well, if you have faith in reader surveys, our readers are better educated and better off financially than the average reader of other major car magazines, especially when you’re talking about print subscribers. We’re also more literary. I like to describe Automobile as a men’s magazine that happens to feature cars, rather than a car magazine that happens to have well written articles. We believe that the road we take is every bit as important as the car.”
As two examples of quality literary reads found within the online magazine’s virtual pages:
- Noise, Vibration & Harshness: A Boy’s First Sinkhole: a heartwarming story about a dad, his son – and, of course, a car
- Noise, Vibration & Harshness: Going, Going, Gone: touching lament about the disappearing connection between driving and AM radio
Each year, Automobile recognizes ten vehicles for excelling in whatever ways they are designed to excel. This list can include trucks, sedans, luxury vehicles, economy cars–whatever fits the bill. If a vehicle continues to excel from year to year, it can stay on the list indefinitely, unlike many other “best of” lists that only recognize new entries to the field. And, by the way, if you’re looking for exact guidelines and qualifications established for choosing winners, you won’t find them. As the article revealing the 2013 winners says, “We claim no objectivity.”
Automobile: print versus online
“Online,” Phil says, “there is more consumer reach. For instance, some vehicles that aren’t covered in print, because they wouldn’t appeal to those readers, find their way online. We have the same ‘take’ on vehicles, online and in print, but we can cover a broader selection in our car buyer’s guide on the Internet. What matters most is in print, but everything else can be on the website – and features that are designed for print will eventually be uploaded online, too.”
Predictions for the future
Phil’s answer is short and sweet: autonomous driving.
By this, he means the type of driving in which the vehicle’s computer manages its own acceleration, braking and steering, without any need for the human inside the vehicle to push, pull, press or turn anything on off, up or down. Meet the Jetsons, anyone?
“At every show,” Phil continues, “that’s the topic. Each manufacturer’s approach is a bit different, with some wanting the driver to be on standby in case he or she needs to jump in and participate in driving, while others are trying to take people out of the process entirely.”
The technology is moving forward in steps, with features such as emergency stop assist, traffic jam assist, speed limit assist and automatic parallel parking in various stages of development.
One of the earliest examples of this technology is demonstrated in vehicles with smart cruise control, which causes a car to slow down or speed up, based on the distance between its front bumper and the rear bumper of the vehicle directly ahead. “When you’re in these cars,” Phil says, “you have to wonder–‘is it really going to stop?’ For the most part, they work and, really, they’re surprisingly good– but I still don’t know if I 100% trust the system.” Recently, an assistant editor of Automobile sat behind the wheel of one of the more advanced autonomous cars and said he felt like a “passenger in the driver’s seat.”
So . . . what does Phil think about this trend? “I’m not a huge proponent,” he admits. “I want people to have the driving experience. Face it, at Automobile, we still like manual transmissions. We believe in man-machine interaction because of the amount of joy you can get from really good transmission, from really good brakes. You blend into the car and become like one.”
And, the automated vehicle? “Complete opposite,” Phil announces. “Drivers are taken out of the equation.”
Automated vehicles: a deeper look
Wired shares a prediction that, by 2040, you will no longer need a driver’s license–because you will technically no longer be driving; rather you will be being driven. This raises the question of–what will that do to car insurance prices? Will companies decide that a person–or his or her automated car–is the better bet as far as risk? If cars are chosen as the better drivers, that’s good for your pocketbook . . . but kind of insulting. I mean, c’,mon. If, however, cars are determined to be more risky as “drivers,” then that’s an added expense, besides the estimated $3,000 or so that will be added to a vehicle’s price when it is fully automated.
Traffic lights? Stop signs? Speed limits? Who needs ‘em??
And, the time of automation is drawing nearer, as:
- General Motors’ Cadillac division projects:
- partially autonomous cars on a large scale by 2015
- fully autonomous cars by the end of the decade
- Audi and BMW have conceptually created self-driving vehicles
- Google uses a fleet of fully autonomous Toyota Prius hybrids, already having put 300,000 miles on their odometers
- The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has predicted that, by 2040, 75% of vehicles being used will be autonomous
- Vehicle-to-vehicle communications are being tested, which will allow cars to talk to one another, so to speak, to avoid crashes
- Volvo is testing “road trains” in Europe, which consists of vehicles moving very closely to one another; this would be possible with automation and would allow more cars on the road, with lower fuel consumption
And, of course, what’s the world of driving without competitions–in this case, the DARPA Urban Challenge, where teams needed to build automated vehicles that can drive themselves in traffic safely and effectively. Events were held in 2004, 2005 and 2007, representing the first time that traditionally driven cars intermingled normally with autonomous ones in a typical road environment.
Five stages of autonomy
To get answers to some practical questions, we talked to Steve Garfink of Seer Communications, a business writer who consults with companies, research groups and governmental agencies that are focusing on the transition from human driving to autonomous driving. Steve explains that the technologies needed for autonomous driving are being introduced in stages, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) listing these five levels:
- Level 0: no automation, with the driver needing to be in complete control of steering, braking and the like at all times
- Level 1: function-specific automation, where vehicles have at least one automated feature, such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, which help a driver brake more quickly
- Level 2: the combination of two or more autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering; in this level, a driver must be prepared to take manual control of his or her vehicle back at any time. Some of these technologies may only be workable in highway driving, in favorable weather conditions and the like.
- Level 3: in this level, drivers will not need to constantly monitor road conditions; rather, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to transition from the autonomous driving experience to the more traditional manual driving; in theory, a driver of a level 3 car would, according to Steve, presumably “be free to talk on the phone, text, read the paper, or do whatever else they want knowing they will have plenty of reaction time before they have to pay attention to the road.” When this type of driving becomes available, a long trip could become a productive time, without the “tension of navigating among the big rigs plying” the highway.
- Level 4: the vehicle can handle all “safety-critical driving functions,” and can simply provide destination/navigation information; this vehicle could be occupied or unoccupied.
“The big question, in my view,” Steve shares, “is whether Level 2 vehicles will be treated by their drivers as Level 3 vehicles, making this a distinction without much meaning. It is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.”
Steve expects that, at least in California, level 1 and level 2 types of cars will not be saddled with regulation, while level 3 and level 4 cars will be regulated. Therefore, because the average person is not fond of needing to abide by more regulations, car manufacturers have a vested interest in having their vehicles categorized as level 1 or 2.
Steve shares a specific example, in which Cadillac is stating that its “Super Cruise” technology is level 2; this technology will allow people to drive without needing to use their hands or feet, probably by the end of this decade. “What is unclear,” Steve says, “is how Cadillac will ensure that they driver remains attentive, though there are technologies in test that monitor eye position in order to alert the drivers if their focus wanders too much.”
When asked if he thought that increased vehicle autonomy was a positive or negative trend, he replied with, “I think the question is moot: it is the direction the industry is heading.” In a white paper titled Driverless Cars Ahead: Get Out Front or Get Run Over!, he states that “those who fail to adjust in a timely manner will surely share the fate of the whip & buggy business early in the 20th century.”
Steve believes that there is a good reason that the auto industry is moving towards automation. “There is fairly general agreement,” he says, “that these technologies promise the most dramatic reduction in accidents–and their attendant costs, which is hundreds of billions of dollars yearly, in lives, injuries and property damages–ever experienced in the automobile’s history, simply because human error plays a role in 90%+ of all accidents.”
So, Steve lists the following benefits of “removing the human from the equation” will:
- comparably reduces accidents over the coming decades.
- eventually eliminate most traffic congestion
- decrease the need for highway expansion (basically, because the automated vehicles can operate bumper-to-bumper at higher speeds), thereby reducing both fuel consumption and emissions per mile
“However,” he adds, “the biggest value will be the time freed up from the task of driving. Soon everyone will have low cost access to a 24/7 incredibly reliable and safe chauffeur.”
To find out more about anticipated regulations associated with an automated car, Advance Auto Parts reached out to the office of Paul Laurenza, a member of the national law firm of Dykema Gossett, who counsels automotive clients on federal regulatory and litigation issues. According to Paul, the NHTSA’s preliminary policy statement “recognizes the potential safety and other benefits from increasing automated driving, as well as the importance of regulatory policy not impeding continued innovation. On the other hand, the statement voices clear concern regarding overly permissive operation of automated technologies, cautioning the states against allowing operation of self-driving vehicles, except for testing purposes, and offering detailed recommendations in the testing context.”
Does driving an automated car appeal to you?
In the 2012 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study, 20 percent of those surveyed said they “definitely would” or “probably would” be willing to pay an additional $3,000 for an automated car; before the additional cost was disclosed, 37 percent of drivers expressed interest in the technology.
Not surprisingly, people expressing the most interest in autonomous driving are males, especially those between the ages of 18 and 37, and especially those living in urban areas. People who are excited about the trend see these benefits:
- Careless drivers would no longer be responsible for controlling the actions of their automated vehicles
- Drivers can be free to simply enjoy the ride, sort of like taking public transportation but in your own private vehicle
The study also talked to people who “see autonomous driving as the loss of status and would not want to give up the pleasure of driving.” Sounds a lot like Phil Floraday’s point of view!
Still others would appreciate the availability of autonomy during times of “boring” driving, such as the same old, same old daily commute; but, when going on a pleasure cruise, they would want to take back control.
Editor’s note: How about you? Are you ready and willing to turn over the reins of your vehicle to . . . well, to your vehicle? Leave your comments below.
Sadly, Paul Walker is gone, and much too soon. We salute the man for his contributions in bringing car culture to the masses via his Fast and Furious films, as well as the generosity displayed through his charitable efforts.
True to form, Walker was helping others right up until the end, attending a “Charity Toy Drive & Automotive Social Gathering” to benefit survivors of the recent typhoon in the Philippines on the afternoon of his death, according to CNN.
Walker wasn’t just a fan of hot cars on screen–where he was usually seen driving an import such as a Mitsubishi Evo, Nissan Skyline GT-R or Toyota Supra–but loved cars off screen as well, competing in the Redline Time Attack racing series. At this point in his life, he was in the middle of filming the seventh Fast and Furious installment, and presumably doing what he loved to do best.
Paul Walker’s family has asked that he be remembered best with donations to the charity he founded and loved – Reach Out Worldwide. Universal Pictures has also announced that a portion of the proceeds from the home video release of Fast and Furious 6 will go to Walker’s charity.
Photo courtesy of FOX.
There’s something extra-special about this time of year…the frosty weather, the sumptuous food, the gifts, parties and special visits with family and friends.
But for car enthusiasts, it’s all about the LA Auto Show and its bounty of drool-inducing new rides.
The 2013 LA Auto Show went out with a turbo-charged roar this past weekend. Here you’ll find a few hot items that literally gave us goosebumps. (Double click pictures for larger views.)
Cadillac CTS-V wagon on its farewell tour. 6.2-liter supercharged V8, 556 horsepower. We’ll miss you, old fella.
Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo Concept. Not coming soon to a dealer near you, but it’s easily the most exciting design we’ve seen from Mercedes in years.
The 2015 Jaguar F-Type R coupe rocks a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 that cranks out 550 horsepower, but forget about that–just look at the body on this thing!
This is the Youabian Puma. Designed by an Angeleno named Dr. K. Youabian and built right here in LA, the Puma is a four-seat convertible with 44-inch tires, a power hardtop and a 505-horsepower V8 from the Corvette Z06. It’s also 20 feet long, and apparently you can drive it on the street. Check out Puma Automobiles for more.
Meet the Galpin Ford GTR1, another new face at the 2013 LA Auto Show. Based on the short-lived Ford GT supercar, the GTR1′s got a twin-turbo 5.4-liter V8 (the regular GT was supercharged) with–not a typo–1024 horsepower. That’s good for 0-100 mph in 6.8 seconds and a theoretical top speed of 225 mph. The transmission is a dual-clutch automated manual. The price? If you have to ask…
Bugatti Veyron sighting! Someone commuted here in that. You never know what you’re going to find in the LA Auto Show parking lot! (Notice how it’s not even parked correctly in the spot!)
Well, that’s it for this year—we look forward to a 2014 full of hot new cars to get excited about. And, while your salivating over this latest clutch of concepts and new releases, always ensure that your current ride is up to snuff. Advance Auto Parts can help, with great deals on parts, tools, accessories and more. Buy online, pick up in store.
Looking to read the life story of your tires? Well, to a degree, you can. Each car tire reveals its uses and specs through a code that consists of numbers and letters, a code that is usually found in the tire sidewall. But, because the code is constantly changing to provide more information, it may look like a hodgepodge that’s as clear as an obscure foreign language.
Fortunately, with a little help, anyone can understand what’s written on their tires. And, once you do, it can make all the difference in what you purchase and how you use the tires.
To start, the majority of tires are given a measurement from the ISO metric sizing system.
Discover what an ISO metric tire marking can tell you:
Starting with the ISO code, you will often find a letter(s) on the tire that tells you if the tires are intended for a:
- P: standard passenger car
- LT: a light truck
- ST: special trailer
If you see the letter “T,” it stands for “temporary” and is often written on spare tires and other emergency tire types.
You will also sometimes see a 3-digit number, which provides the tire’s nominal section width. This is usually measured and marked in millimeters, from the widest point of both outer edges.
The aspect ratio is also listed on the tire’s sidewall, and this is usually a two- or three-digit number that is written as a percentage. If this is not listed on your tire, then your tire’s aspect ratio is the standard 82%, which means that the sidewall height is 82% of its width. Any other measurement will be marked.
Finally, there will sometimes be a letter on the tire that tells you what the fabric of the tire is constructed of:
- B is for bias belt, which is great for a rough ride.
- D is for diagonal.
- R is for radial. Radial is one of the most prolific tire materials on the market.
- If there is no letter marking, then you likely have a cross ply tire.
The load index is a tire marking that denotes how much a tire can carry. For example:
- A code of 60 means a tire can carry up to 550 pounds.
- The highest code is 125, which can carry approximately 3,600 pounds per tire.
Finally, once you know the load index number of your tire, you can begin to pay attention to its speed rating. This tells you how fast you can go based upon your specified load index. So:
- Code A1 means that you can go 3 mph at the specified load index.
- This goes up to code Y, which allows you to travel up to 186 mph.
These are the basics of how to read tire markings. They are important to know when you’re shopping for replacement tires or just need to be educated on what your car can do.
Editor’s note: Shop Advance Auto Parts for a wide variety of tire gauges, tire repair tools, accessories and more. Buy online, pick up in store.
Graphic courtesy of Consumer Reports.
Cheers to you and yours.
Editor • DIY’er
Graphic courtesy of Boston Magazine.
When you need auto repair advice, you may have been told to consult with someone with ASE certification–and that’s a great suggestion. Here, you’ll find more information about what ASE certifications really mean for you.
ASE is an abbreviation for the independent non-profit agency National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. The agency focuses on improving the level of vehicle repair and service quality by testing and certifying professionals.
Each ASE test focuses on practical skills; about 1/3 of test takers do not pass on the first round, which is a testament to the depth of the tests. Once an automotive professional does pass a test (there are 40 tests available, grouped by specialties) and shows proof of two years of relevant work experience, then he/she can be certified. Tests must be retaken every five years to maintain certification.
Those who receive certification can wear and display the blue-and-white ASE logo. This demonstrates their knowledge of and commitment to the auto repair industry.
Advance Auto Parts Team Members: ASE Certifications
Let’s face it. Vehicle systems are becoming increasingly more advanced and auto technology is constantly changing and improving. When you stop by an auto parts store, it may not be immediately obvious which parts and tools you need to get the job done right. When you need guidance, you’ll want to ask someone knowledgeable in the latest car technology news.
Most Advance Auto Parts stores have ASE Certified Team Members ready to help you choose the best parts for your project and to talk you through the repair process. Find the Advance Auto Parts store closest to you.
Editor’s note: Be sure to also check out the many videos and articles available on our site to help you prepare for the repair you’re about to take on.
To get him out of his undisclosed location for some fresh air, we sent our resident Gearhead over to the 2013 LA Auto Show. Read on for his expert take on the proceedings, and see what’s hot for the coming year.
When I was a kid–before most of you were even born, I’m sure–I remember dreaming of going to an auto show. There would always be shiny photos from those shows in the magazines, and I’d pore over them at the local newsstand, leafing through the pages till the old man told me to skedaddle.
Well, now I’m an old man, and I finally got my chance this week: I scored an invite to the 2013 LA Auto Show. They’ve got these “Press Days,” you see, where members of the media are allowed to walk the halls before they let the riff-raff in. And I’ve been writing these little columns for a while now, so I guess that makes me a member of the media. Got my press credentials and everything, like I’m a regular reporter for the LA Times.
So what’d I think? Great experience overall, a real privilege. Let me say that upfront. But I wish there were more emphasis on the cars this year, and less on the technology that goes inside them. Just my two cents, and hey, there were still some great cars on display. Anyway, here are a couple things I liked and a couple I didn’t.
What I Liked
2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe
Goodness me, that’s a beautiful car. Beautiful! Well, let me qualify that: it’s beautiful from the back and from the side. I’m talking don’t-change-a-thing beautiful. I just wish the front end didn’t remind me so much of a Nissan 350Z.
But I could get used to that part, I think, especially if I had the F-Type R. That’s a super-fast version with a 550-horsepower supercharged V8, special brakes, you get the idea. I’ve driven the 495-hp convertible version, and the passing power in that thing was just fearsome. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt anything like it. But give me another 55 horsepower and I won’t complain.
Best car at the show, this Jag. Really a job well done. All I want for Christmas is a 2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe.
Cadillac Elmiraj Concept
This big Caddy coupe caused a stir when it debuted at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and rightly so. It’s the kind of car Cadillac should be building. See, I’m old enough to remember when Cadillac only built cars like this. Big, long, elegant cruisers with endless power and opulent interiors. That’s why the company’s old tagline, “The standard of the world,” actually meant something.
But will they actually bring the Cadillac Elmiraj to production? I’ll believe it when I see it. These days Cadillac is stuck on making “sport sedans” that do fast laps at German racetracks. To me, that’s not a Cadillac. But the Elmiraj? Yes sirree, that there is a Cadillac. Come on, GM–let’s get back to the days when Cadillac was the first name in luxury. Enough of trying to beat the other guys at their own game.
What I Didn’t Like
2015 MINI Cooper
Now I’ve driven a lot of MINIs in my day, and I love being behind the wheel. BMW makes modern MINIs, if you didn’t know, and it seems they decided to put all of the real enthusiasts on the MINI team. Driving a Cooper is like hitching a ride on a rambunctious puppy, is the best way I can describe it. It’s the very definition of “fun to drive.”
But I don’t like how this new, third-generation 2015 MINI Cooper looks! Sure, at a quick glance it’s just another MINI, but take a longer look at the front end of the car. From the side, you can see that the nose sticks out over the front axle a lot more than before. This is called “front overhang” in the trade, and MINI used to be known for having basically none of it whatsoever. It gave the car a really clipped, athletic profile that fit perfectly with its driving character. But for 2015, there’s that elongated “snowplow” look out front, and I don’t know if it’s because of crash-test requirements or what. But to me, it’s just not quite a MINI anymore.
Makes me want to go out and buy a used current-generation MINI Cooper S with the turbo before they’re all gone.
I’m not going to pick on any particular car or manufacturer here, and I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. Back when I was leafing through those auto show photos at the newsstand, it was all about design and performance. That’s what these cars of the future promised: radical new looks and envelope-pushing driving dynamics. And that’s what got my heart pumping.
But nowadays, it seems like cars increasingly just look the same, like melted bars of soap, because they’re all designed with computers to be perfectly aerodynamic for fuel-efficiency and whatnot. And the emphasis isn’t on performance anymore, either; it’s on how many whiz-bang gadgets and TV screens are stuffed into the dashboard. Don’t believe me? Just look at the entire first day of the 2013 LA Auto Show–it was a “Connected Car Expo” that was solely about technology! You had to wait till Day 2 if you wanted to hear about the cars themselves.
And you know what, I did wait till Day 2. While they were talking about computers at that Expo on Day 1, I put the top down on my V8 convertible and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway. I may be in the minority here, but I still think that’s what driving is all about.
The Bottom Line
Don’t get me wrong, I still had a blast. And there’s a ton of photos out there covering all the new metal at the 2013 LA Auto Show. Y’all got any questions for me, since I was there? What are your likes and dislikes from this year’s show?
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a plush new vehicle or an old beater, Advance Auto Parts can help you ensure it runs right and looks great.
In honor of Go for a Ride Day, held annually on November 22, Advance Auto Parts presents “Braking for Fish.” To preserve our sanity and good health, we researched this story while it was still warm outside.
“For some reason,” Herb de la Porte from Elyria, Ohio wrote in a July 2013 YouTube description, “not too many folks ventured out on [Grand] Lake St. Marys Saturday.” If you click on this 16-second video link, you’ll quickly see why. “Needless to say,” the description continues, “the roof was up and so were the windows. We still got soaked and the bilge pumps worked pretty hard.”
This video was shot from inside of Herb’s 1962 Amphicar 770, an amphibious vehicle built in Berlin, Germany. The Amphicar Corporation was originally funded by the German government and had ties with other German car manufacturers such as Borgward, Mercedes and BMW. The initial plan was to create 20,000 cars annually and targeted the North American market. The model number of “770” indicates that the vehicle can move 7 miles per hour in water and 70 miles per hour on land.
Herb bought his used Amphicar five years ago, with a price “in the mid-20s,” and he takes it out about half a dozen times a year, driving it for a couple of days each time; he then needs to remove the wheels and clean the brakes.
Nuts and bolts
The Amphicar 770 is a compact convertible with the following:
- 43 horsepower
- 4 cylinder engine in the rear; 1.2 liter Triumph Herald motor
- Custom 4-speed Hermes transmission, with the transmission driving the rear wheels through its one-of-a-kind land/water gearbox
- Braking and suspension systems that were sourced from Mercedes
- A Porsche transaxle
- 12-volt Lucas battery
- The highest rear fins of any car, about an inch higher than a 1959 Cadillac
- Steel body; the steel is thicker than on a typical car, with continuous welds
- Rubber strips in the doors that seal them as tightly as refrigerator doors
- Front wheels that serve as rudders/steer in the water
- Marine lights
- Bilge pumps
- A second gear that controls the two 12-inch propellers, both forward and back
To drive an Amphicar 770, an owner must get two licenses: one for land and the other for water.
History of amphibious vehicles
The advent of World War II provided the impetus for “making cars that can swim,” according to Popular Mechanics. Here are two examples:
- VW Schwimmwagen: this vehicle was crafted by the inventor of the VW Beetle, Ferdinand Porsche, for the German army. He’d made a larger version in 1941 and then scaled the vehicle down to create the VW Schwimmwagen. The vehicle was powered, according to the magazine, “by a 1.2-liter air-cooled flat four, which also drove a single propeller.” Front wheels served as rudders in water and, on land, the propeller swung up and disengaged from the engine.
- U.S. Army DUKW: Built by GM and nicknamed “Duck,” the United States military created this vehicle in 1942 to carry 5,000 pounds or 25 soldiers, with the ability to go 50 mph on land and 5 in water. George Patton used 1,000 of these vehicles when he landed in Sicily; 2,000 were used in the D-Day landing in France in 1944.
Then, Amphicars were manufactured in Germany from 1961-1967, the only mass produced non-military amphibious vehicle to date; somewhere between 3,700 to 4,500 of these beauties were built (estimates vary by source), with the great majority of them sent to North America (between 3,000-3,700 vehicles). The company invested $5 million in creating these watertight vehicles; the cost to purchase one was $2,900, at a time when a new Corvette cost just $3,400.
By 1968, new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations made the manufacturing of an Amphicar too expensive, so the company stopped producing them. With today’s regulatory environment, it’s hard to imagine another mass produced amphibious car entering the market (but, never say never?).
It is believed that approximately 500 of the Amphicar 770 are still operational; 7 have been identified in the United Kingdom and 80 throughout the rest of Europe, so most are likely to still be in North America.
As a lighter note (we think!), rumor has it that U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson used to enjoy scaring visitors by driving his Amphicar into a lake while pretending that his brakes had given out.
We need to go for a ride!
By now, some of us at Advance Auto Parts were curious enough about amphibious vehicles to ask for a ride in Herb’s Amphicar–and he graciously agreed, warning us that the vehicle “rides like a boat on land and like a car in the water.”
Meeting him at the Black River Wharf in the Cleveland area (Lorain, Ohio), we were amazed by the number of people who pulled out their cameras to take a picture as the vehicle made its way to the Black River, which is a tributary of Lake Erie. At the river’s edge, we were greeted by Rudy, the guard dog/adorable basset hound who lives in the bait shop–plus Gus, the friendly neighborhood goose. We were told that Rudy and Gus always get along–that is, until Gus steals some dog food, and then the fur and feathers fly.
After being welcomed by people and creatures alike, Herb drove the Amphicar down a ramp and into the river. Although we got splashed when the vehicle initially hit the water, we otherwise stayed dry, thanks to better weather than when Herb visited Grand Lake St. Marys. All in all, the time in the water felt like an amusement park water ride, bumpy but not scary.
Don’t try this at home
When asked about his craziest Amphicar ride to date, Herb immediately knew which story to share. It started out as a relaxing water ride with his wife, Sheila. But. When Herb decided to head up to land via a sand bar, Sheila had this to say: “Herb, this sounds like a really bad idea.”
“No it isn’t, dear,” Herb responded. “You just need to trust me.”
The conversation continued along in that vein, with Sheila worried and Herb certain that they’d be just fine–until, that is, they got stuck. “Easy fix,” Herb reassured Sheila as he put the car in reverse, intending to get back into the water. But, he forgot to put his propellers in reverse and all he really got was even more stuck. The next time he tried to move the vehicle, the shaft got entangled in the sand and the propeller fell off. So, he got was stuck even further, half in the water and half in the mucky, yucky sand. Soon, they began to sink, until water nearly reached the vehicle’s windows.
Seeing a need to revise his plan, Herb got out of the car and intended to call for help, until his wife realized that their cell phone was gone, probably lost in the lake. “By this time,” Herb says, “it was dark and desolate, and we were dripping wet. So we started walking, looking for a place where people might let us use their phone. Along the way, my wife kept repeating her original objections to my idea about driving up the sand bar, but in words that I won’t use right now.”
When the couple finally reached a well-lit building, it wasn’t the type of establishment to visit with a lady, but it had a phone, so they went inside. And, the first call Herb made from the bar’s phone was for coworkers to come get his wife. After that, he and a friend returned to the beach and tried to dig his car out of the sludge, but they failed.
Giving up for the night, Herb returned the next morning with a group of volunteers, and one of them noticed a backhoe being used to redo a nearby lawn. Renting the backhoe from the homeowners, they dug a path from the lake’s edge to the nearest road and the people living in the area helped Herb to get his car to dry land, using four wheelers as needed. “After that,” Herb says with a sigh, “my wife has been more pensive and less trusting of me whenever we get in the Amphicar. Go figure.”
On the other side of the pond
The love of amphibious vehicles is felt and shown in many places around the globe. In fact, Englishman Doug Hilton has created a website, Land, Air and Sea, to showcase his proposed museum that will be specifically dedicated to dual-purpose vehicles, including but not limited to the Amphicar.
He describes the vision of his future museum as follows: “This is a collection of mechanical ambition, enthusiasm and aspiration and about the importance of having a go, not just about preserving history. We aim to show that individuals can dare to follow their dreams, to be different, to reach out and create things and then to pass on the torch of inspiration to others. If things do not perform as well in the end as one hoped, then have another go or use the knowledge gained elsewhere. As Taylor, the inventor of the Aerocar of the 1950s is reported to have said, ‘if it weren’t for us nuts, you’d still be reading by candlelight and wearing button shoes.’”
Just a few of the items collected by Doug for eventual exhibition include a fold away float plane, amphibious bicycles, “one of the amazing Rokon go anywhere off road motorcycles from the US” and a swamp crawler. The latter was created when an agricultural machine dealer put together the following pieces and parts, among others:
- Old Land Rover wheels mounted on steel rods
- Tracks from an old excavator
- Sprocket drives to add to the end of the excavator
- Hydraulic parts from an old air compressor
- 60 year old Morris Minor car engine
This vehicle worked well, both on land and in swamps, but then sat in a barn for 10 years before Doug rescued it for his museum.
When asked how his plan for a museum is progressing, the good news is that he has “one of everything I need now for the museum that can be reasonably stored in shipping containers and barns around the country, and many more items that people want to loan if we need them.” What’s still missing, then? “Premises, time and cash are the only missing ingredients,” Doug says. “Still bags of enthusiasm, though, and lots of exciting projects and interesting people always buzzing around.”
He notes that many of his exhibits have come from the United States, rather than from his country of England or elsewhere in Europe. Why? He believes it’s because the US allows “backyard mechanics” to have the “mental freedom of improvisation and creation.”
Doug enjoys writing about what he discovers, particularly looking for stories about “the human endeavor in the making of a machine, because this puts creative invention across to people as a living story . . . and most of these simple, crazy and fun looking machines cover some very complicated technical, mechanical, lifestyle and endeavor issues.”
Another example of “don’t try this at home”
On November 6, 2006, Doug and Adam Solomon climbed into an amphibious car built in the United Kingdom, the Dutton. Next to them, Tim Dutton, creator of the Dutton, climbed into another of his amphibious cars. Their goal was to cross the English Channel in these vehicles, starting in England and ending up in France. This had never been accomplished in civilian amphibious vehicles and the purpose of the crossing was to draw attention to a wildlife cause (involving geese) that is close to Doug’s heart. He therefore had Percy, a plastic goose, attached to his vehicle so Percy could “fly” alongside him on his adventure.
To call this an ambitious undertaking is an understatement. The narrowest portion of the English Channel is approximately 20 miles wide; this area is known as the Strait of Dover in England and as the Pas de Calais in France. The depth of this waterway ranges from 120 to 180 feet, with strong winds a constant possibility.
To avoid the worst of the weather-related challenges, the men chose a calm time in August to attempt the crossing. As luck would have it, though, “last minute intermittent electrical problems” took place–and then the weather turned bad, causing a lengthy delay. Waves were choppy and the wind was going against tide, a combination that contributes to making the English Channel one of the most unpredictable sea places on the planet.
For three long months, the men “sat glued to the daily forecasts” until, finally, a 24-hour “weather eye appeared.” It was now wintry, with fewer hours of daylight to assist in this endeavor. And, just when Doug, Adam and Tim thought all was a go, the men struggled with getting appropriate permissions; for liability reasons, they ultimately needed to sign a £5 million GBP indemnity and listen to a health and safety presentation before launching.
Finally at 10 a.m. on November 6, the quest was on! “Both cars,” wrote Doug, “slid gracefully into the water from the narrow slipway and the raucous clatter of the engine rose.” Once they began to travel, though, they quickly discovered why officials had been so dubious about their plan. The men found themselves surrounded by turbulent waves, “with the cars rearing, rolling and pitching, regularly disappearing from each other’s view.” A new wave hit them every few seconds and all they could do was hang on, especially since their water-soaked CB radio had already hissed and died, and their glasses were horribly smeared by salt water.
These conditions lasted for the first two miles of their journey before the weather somewhat calmed down. Here is more detail: “wave chop had finally reduced to about 60cm [2 feet], with regular swells of twice this but it felt like a cruise compared to what had gone before.” Another crisis occurred when the emergency tow rope in Tim’s car was torn loose by the waves and had wrapped itself around his front wheel. They needed to prevent the rope from going through the propeller, so they stopped and spent 15 chilly, nerve-wracking minutes on this repair.
When the men finally reached Calais in France, it was pitch dark–and seven long hours and nine long minutes after they’d left England’s dry shore. Two loyal friends were waiting on the shore to cheer them on as the men climbed up on land; soon afterwards, a small crowd of people came by to see what the heck was going on–which was the first successful crossing of the English Channel by amphibious vehicles.
Whenever someone asks Doug if he intends to repeat this experience, he says that, “Once was enough.” He says that plenty of people have offered to pay him money to take them across the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle, “but, to me, there is no point. I already did it.”
Now that he can look at his trip in hindsight, he tells Advance Auto Parts the following: “Like so many things, it was a challenge at the time. But, when these types of things are done, it feels almost as if it was someone else that did it, and only memories and photos remain.”
He admits that numerous people tried to talk him out of this trip, including his wife, “who really thought all was lost, but I didn’t see it that way, then or now.”
The appeal of the amphibious
Clearly, the pull of the amphibious is strong for people like Herb and Doug. Wanting to know why, we asked the question; and we found out that driving or riding in an amphibious vehicle is, according to Doug, “a really weird experience, and the transition between water and road–and road and water–never fails to bring a smile onto my face even when the sky is grey.” After you ride in one, he shares, “you are left with a nagging feeling that something highly unusual happened . . . it can make you an addict as you come back, time and time again, to try to capture exactly what that mystical thing is.”
“That’s the mystery of all multi-role machines,” he muses. “They are built by people who haven’t learned yet that it’s impossible to build what they are intending to do–and, as a result, they have just gone ahead and done it.”
“I can only akin it to something like a sense and feeling of freedom, empowerment, joy and excitement in a blow being struck for mankind against the impossible when they see that someone has dared to be different and has pulled it off.”
Editor’s note: What’s the most unusual way you’ve ever gone for a ride? Let us know in the comments below!
“And she said, ‘Hey, boy, do you mind taking me home tonight, cuz’ I ain’t never see a country boy with tires on his truck this high.’” Jake Owen. “Eight Second Ride.”
Out here, it seems like the only thing a lot of people like more than their trucks is the art of raising them up. Followed closely by a mud-bogging hole or field filled with red Virginia clay that’s just waiting to get torn up by those lifted trucks.
Now, I don’t say this from experience, as my workhorse consists of a highly functional but decidedly tame, un-lifted F150. Rather, I make that call based on the number of lifted trucks I see around here, and the fact that they’re often covered top to bottom, including windows, in mud.
Why do we have a love affair with lifted trucks, and why do we raise them up in the first place? For some insight, I turned to an expert in the field of lifting trucks – Chris Dye. He’s the store manager at Super Trucks Plus LLC in North Carolina, and describes it as “probably Raleigh’s only full custom shop.” Chris and his crew specialize in transforming ordinary vehicles into amazing lifted trucks.
“Most people lift trucks to achieve a higher ground clearance,” Chris explains. They do this to avoid bottoming out or getting stuck when driving off-road, and to allow for the fitment of larger tires.
Higher ground clearance? Sounds plausible, but my gut tells me there’s another, more common reason that people lift their trucks, and it didn’t take long for Chris to confirm my suspicions. “A lot of people lift ‘em just for looks these days. They’ll take a brand-new truck, lift it, and it’ll never go off-road.”
Chris said that one of the more common and popular requests when it comes to lifted trucks is a six-inch lift with 35’s, with “35” referring to the tire size. These suspension lift kits can start out at four inches of lift and go all the way to 12 inches, or higher. Chris then began explaining other vehicle parts that get involved with suspension lift kits, including independent front suspension, shocks versus struts, drop cradles, larger knuckles and steering geometry, and this was about the time that I realized that lifting a truck might be more involved than I realized.
He went on to explain that once you maxed out your lift with suspension lift kits, you can still go higher by choosing a body lift. With a body lift, the vehicle body has to be disconnected from every spot it’s mounted to, new spacers inserted, and then the body bolted back down to all its connecting points.
As for height, it seems like that’s more a matter of personal choice. Chris said the highest he’s ever lifted was 26 inches, and that was enough to clear a set of 54’s. In his opinion, the maximum comfortable lift he’d recommend for someone’s daily driver, as opposed to a show truck, is a 12-inch lift with 40-inch tires.
What do you think? Are you driving a lifted truck? If so, let me know your lift height and tire size, and what you think is the optimal set up.
“It’s all about personal preference. If you’re building a show truck, the sky’s the limit,” Chris adds.
As for my truck, if I were to do anything, I’d be inclined to start with Chris’ recommendation of just a leveling kit. “It’s your most basic kind of lift,” Chris explains. “That’s going to take most trucks and lift the front up about two inches so that the front height equals the height of the rear. This will allow you to go up one tire size from factory specs and gives you essentially two inches of lift.”
Cost is another consideration when deciding how high to lift because the two seem to rise in unison. Chris said that a ballpark cost for a six-inch lift on 35’s is about $5,000 to $6,000, but that he’s done lift jobs that total over $20,000.
If you’re looking for ideas on what others have done with their lifts, Chris recommends Mud Life and Four Wheel & Off-Road, as well as the online forum at Lifted Trucks USA. And, of course, you can always check out some projects that he and Super Trucks Plus have performed.
As for me, what do think I should do to it? Stick with the leveling kit? Go a little bigger and get a six-inch lift? Maybe just switch to bigger tires? Leave me a comment, and please include thoughts on how I can sell the idea to my significant other. Chances are, she’s going to be less than pleased instead of asking me to take her home tonight because she’s impressed with my truck’s tire height!
Editor’s note: If there’s a lift or an off-road adventure in your truck’s future, make your first stop Advance Auto Parts, for all the best in parts, tools and accessories at a great price. Buy online, pick up in store.
I’m old enough to have driven the first-generation Ford Mustang when it was new, so take it from me: the Mustang has come a very, very long way over the years. Tell you what, I can’t believe they’re about to replace the current fifth generation Mustang for 2015, because the car is just so darned good the way it is now.
I know, I know–they’ve got to make the body sleeker, and it’s got to have more computer screens and warning systems and whatnot. That’s the way cars are going these days. But if you ask me, the 2014 Mustang GT just might be considered the best Mustang ever when all’s said and done. Let me tell you three reasons why.
1. World Class 420-Horsepower V8
I hear the next Mustang’s going to have this V8 too, so fortunately 2014 won’t be its swan song. But my goodness, what a motor! The only real problem with this modern-day “five-point-oh” is that it’s so smooth and high-revving, some folks might tell you it’s not a proper muscle-car engine. To be honest with you, the engine it most reminds me of is the 4.0-liter V8 in the previous-generation BMW M3. But I see that as a good thing, not a bad thing. When a Mustang V8 makes me think of one of the most thrilling engines ever built, it’s a great day for America. An engine doesn’t have to shake the car all over the place at idle to make me smile.
2. Track-Ready Performance
Pick up any car magazine and you’ll hear them singing the same tune. “The Mustang’s got a solid rear axle! It can’t compete with sophisticated imports!” Listen, that’s just a load of bunk. I drove a 2014 Mustang GT on a track recently, and it was the perfect tool. The steering is sharp, the brakes are strong, and the chassis keeps you planted like–yeah, I’ll say it–a “sophisticated import.”
I gather they’re going to make the rear suspension independent for 2015, and that kind of bums me out. It’s not just a heritage feature, after all; you also get better launches at the dragstrip with a solid rear end, and Ford has engineered the Mustang’s suspension so well that you hardly ever notice any handling issues. To me, you take away that solid axle and you lose part of what has always made the Mustang cool.
3. Plenty of Technology
When you read the reviews of the 2015 Mustang, they’re going to go on about how the previous car was so outdated, but look at all the fancy doohickeys in the new one…yada yada yada. Let me tell you something: the 2014 Mustang GT has enough technology for just about anyone’s taste. Shoot, you can get the full-on MyFord Touch infotainment suite if you want it, but I’m more interested in the functional stuff, like three-mode adjustable steering effort and an available “Track Apps” system that can keep a record of your acceleration runs and lap times.
What’s really great about these gadgets is that they don’t at all detract from the Mustang’s authentic muscle-car character. I’m afraid the 2015 Mustang’s going to be like some sort of spaceship inside, and that’s just going to make me miss the 2014 Mustang GT more.
What do you all think? Is the 2014 Mustang GT the pinnacle for Ford’s pony car, or will the 2015 Mustang prove me wrong?
Editor’s note: As you absorb our Gearhead’s astute observations, make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for all the best in auto parts, accessories and more. And while you’re at it, make sure to let us know how we’re doing in the comments section below!
Photo courtesy of Ford.