I’ll Drive Anything!

Due to various staffing problems, the post I promised for Friday never graced the glorious text of my blog.  Sorry!  Here’s a really helpful tip:  Never go on vacation and expect your family to post your article for you!  Have a friend do it.  They’re more dependable…

“Really, a thirteen-year-old driving a lawn tractor and backhoe?  I think it’s time to call the Police.”  Don’t.  Really.  It’s okay.  There were adults nearby, and besides I drive the lawn tractor all the time (whenever needed by my parents!). I’m so helpful, as long as it requires heavy machinery and cars (Next up, a cement truck?)

The John Deere L110 (lawn tractor) has a 17.5 horsepower, 0.75 liter single cylinder engine.  It is a two-stroke engine to keep maintenance costs low.  It has a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with a low “gear”, and a high “gear.”  It can tow up to 800 pounds (larger than the competition), and carry up to 400 pounds.  There are some complaints about hitching up the trailer.  Instead of a normal trailer hitch, it has the very old-fashioned way: the Cotter’s pin and small hitch.  It’s very easy to jackknife the trailer, as it is longer than the tractor, and isn’t fifth-wheel.  If it was fifth-wheel, I could go flying (small exaggeration) all over the place!  One can only hope…

With the backhoe, it’s another story.  It was my second time driving one.  The first time, it was a much smaller one (about 5,000 pounds) than the John Deere 310J (around 15,000 pounds) that I drove.  The 310J is easier to drive than it looks.  I mean, you won’t turn out a two minute lap around Virginia International Raceway, but maybe a one hour lap (max speed is 20 mph)!  It won’t turn out a five-second quarter mile either!  But, you can go just about anywhere (that doesn’t include tree-climbing!).  You also should consider a Chrysler Town & Country as a family vehicle; the 310J gets  worse gas mileage and can comfortably hold about three people.  I miss that backhoe SOOOOO much!

Stay tuned for pictures of me driving the family van.

Look out in Italy!

Vroom! Wee-ooh! You’re speeding down an expressway in Italy, and you look back.  There’s a very loud car that looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in a science fiction movie.  You wonder “what is that?”  You think “that can’t be a police car.  It’s too low.  But, there is a light bar and siren.”  So, you pull over.  A well-dressed officer steps out.  You roll down the window, and, believe it or not,  he writes you a ticket.  When he is finished, you ask him what the car is.  He replies “It’s a 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4.  Like it?”  You should.  The car cost the Italian Police Force $350,000!

It started out as a normal Lamborghini Gallardo LP-560-4 with the optional Sea Blue color.  They then took it to a custom hot rod shop, and had them put a siren, light bar, and CB radio.  That cost them $50,000.  Next was all the necessary paint, tires, radar gun and laptop computer.  That was $100,000.

Very few officers get to drive it.  The ones that do are the best of the force.  They are handpicked by the Prime Minister of Italy.

Other high-performance police cars include a: Lamborghini Mercielago, Porsche 911 Turbo S, a Chevy Corvette ZR1, a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Super Snake, and many more.

Sadly, in 2010, this amazing Lamborghini Gallardo went MIA when it was trying to chase down a hipped-up Toyota Prius.  The Prius had the defective gas pedal and floor mats.  The driver [of the Prius] managed to stop, but the Lamborghini Polizia Gallardo wasn’t.  It smashed into the Prius going 175 mph.  The driver of the Prius was uninjured, but the Gallardo officer was severly injured with a broken neck.

Here are some pictures of the Gallardo.  Ouch.

Lamborghini Gallardo Police Car 1119x759

http://image.automobilemag.com/f/multimedia/photo_gallery/sports_cars/6684253+w1024+h768+st0/0503_lamborghini_gallardo_police_car_02_1024.jpg

Car of Your Dreams or Dream a Little Dream For Me

Building the car of your dreams ain’t that hard. No, I don’t mean the building it from the wheels up!  You can do it from the comfort of your living room or office!  It’s that easy!  Just about every automaker has an online configurator that is, quite possibly, the culprit in work-time computer fun.  These configurators go far beyond the days of old, when you just had to hope that the car you wanted was waiting for you in a car lot.  It’s super easy to send the car of your dreams from an online configurator to a dealer.  The dealer will email you, telling you how much your wallet will shrink to have that car in your driveway.

Try not to get carried away with the nearly ten million possible configurations available!  Otherwise, just another lost day at work or school!

If you are looking for a new MINI Cooper S, here is an example: http://www.miniusa.com/#/build/configurator/mini_clubs-m

But, for me, the best one yet is the Bugatti.com configurator.  Try to avoid endless hours of daydreaming at the computer.  You still like your job, right?  http://www.bugatti.com/en/veyron-16.4/configurator.html

With the Rolls-Royce Ghost, the combinations are so endless, that you could stay on the computer until October, and you still wouldn’t be finished picking out every little detail!  I figured that with a cheap car (the MINI), an ultra-exclusive car (the Veyron), I needed something for the everyday person.  I proudly present the Rolls-Royce Ghost!  http://configure.rolls-roycemotorcars.com/ghost.html#/i12,i13

Of course, this wouldn’t be a good post with out some good ol’ American Muscle.  So, I had to include a 2011 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca!  With a Retail price of $48,778, a lease of $884 a month, this car certainly isn’t cheap!

Most automakers have an online configurator for all their cars.  The downsides are that many automakers don’t let you see changes to the car interior. Chevy and Honda let you see the interior, but not the carpets. If it’s under the hood, go onto Google Images.  You won’t find it on the website.  Also, most sites require you to have a good high-speed internet connection.  And all the latest multimedia connections, such as an email address and/or Facebook or Twitter.  If you configure your dream car for me, and post it with your comment, you might have a surprise!

Remember to Dream a Little Dream Of Me!

Survival of the adaptive

The car world according to Darwin.  Since the Ford Taurus made a comeback in 2010, Ford engineers have been working harder than an air traffic controller at La Guardia.  They have been experimenting with radar to avoid the immenent threat of a head-on collision. 

Here is what George Mone of the magazine, Wired, has to say.  “Heading south on the New Jersey Turnpike, Ford Motor Company engineer Jerry Engelmen swings his 2010 Ford Taurus into the left lane to pass a semi.  The Taurus hesitates, slowing down, and then Engelman adjusts his heading.  The car takes off. 

“Larry,” he calls to his colleague in the back seat, “write that down!” 

Engelman is driving, but just barely.  The Taurus has a radar-based adaptive cruise-control system that lets him set a top speed and then simply steer while the car adjusts its velocity according to traffic.  He’s been weaving and changing lanes, doing between 45 and 70 mph- and hasn’t touched a pedal in an hour.” 

Since 2007-8, Ford engineers have been working on this particular system.  They have logged over 60,000 miles a year on a few test cars with the adaptive cruise-control system.  This tech has been around for a while.  Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have all offered this technology since, at least, 2004.  But now its afforable.  Ford now offers the system standard on the Taurus SE model, and hopefully will be putting it in the Super Duty line of trucks by 2013.  The system is similar to the one used in small private planes (such as a Cessna 172).  

The system works by projecting radar beams forward and sideways to look for anything that could cause an accident.  It emits pings, which warn the driver, and tell the cruise-control box that there is a potential hazard ahead.  The radar’s reach is as wide as three Taurus’ put exactly side to side.  On a ten-lane highway, the car will be actively looking at three or four of the lanes on each side.   If there is an immenent collision, the car tightens the seatbelts, warns you, and primes the brakes. 

Engelman says that the production version is pretty much flawless.  Good.  Imagine me driving a Taurus SHO down a quiet country road (of course, I am NOT speeding), and all of a sudden, there’s a dump truck pulling out of a driveway.  I’d probably stop short, thanks to the quick reaction of my radar assisted cruise-control.  But my best guess is that I’d have a seatbelt-shaped bruise across my chest!  I think that I’ll probably be getting the Taurus as my first car, when I’m 16 because my mom thinks that teenage boys plus gas pedals equals disaster!  Whatever.  Call it new math.

Darwin would be proud of the system.

The Remaining History of Nissan/Infiniti

The year 1989 was a milestone for Nissan.  They launched a new luxury line called Infiniti.  The first Infiniti was a large ultra-luxury sedan called the Q45.  The Q45 had a 300 horsepower, 4.5 liter V8.  It also had a four-speed automatic with an available sport mode and standard overdrive.  Another highlight was its four-wheel adaptive suspension.  It drove like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.  The one downfall was that it looked like a hunk of steak!  Toyota responded by starting the Lexus luxury line.  In an October 1989 Motor Trend comparison, the Lexus LS 400 won by a good margin to the Q45. 

In 1991, Nissan received its first award from the EPA.  The Future Electric Vehicle concept car was also unveiled.  The desperately underpowered Infiniti M30 comes into production.  The 162 horsepower from its 3.0 liter V6 couldn’t overcome its obesity of 3,333 pounds.  The convertible version was even slower and heavier.  It was an underpowered and unliked competitor to the Lexus SC. 

In 1992, the first Nissan Altima rolled off the assembly line in Smyrma, Tennessee.  It was fun to drive, had tons of standard features, and was an amazing competitor to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.  The sales of the compact car, the Sentra topped 2 million!  Also the “four-door-coupe” Infiniti J30 was introduced.  Its alien lines were something to behold.  But, it was fun to drive. 

Throughout the 1990’s, sales were dragging Infiniti down to rock-bottom.  Then, the 1997 QX4 was the knight in shining armor saving Infiniti from almost certain death and destruction.  The QX4 was based on the Nissan Pathfinder.  It had more premium accomidations than the Pathfinder.  Because it was truck-based, the QX4 directly competed with the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX. 

In early 2000, Infiniti replaced the J30 with the I30.  The I30 shared a platform and engine with the Nissan Maxima.  In 2002, Infiniti decided that the 201 horsepower, 3.0 liter V6 in the I30 was not powerful enough.  The Maxima had just gotten an engine upgrade to Nissan’s new VQ series engine, which upped the power ante to 228 horsepower.  Now the I30 was the I35.  The I35 had the 3.5 liter V6 standard, with a five-speed automatic borrowed from the XTerra SUV.  My grandma Betty owns an I35, and loves it! 

2003 was a groundbreaking year for Infiniti.  Infiniti was seeing the light.  They redesigned the Q45, but it didn’t sell well.  But, what truly saved Infiniti was the G35.  It was Nissan Skyline based.  It’s 303 horsepower, 3.5 liter V6 and quick-shifting five-speed automatic transmission brought buyers to the dealer like a dog chases a cat.  Infiniti could not keep the G35 in stock!  The next year, the FX35/45  had the same success as the G35.  It had many G35 components and was very fun to drive, had station wagon-like versitility, and all-weather capability.  Plus, it could tow up to 2,000 pounds with the optional 325 horsepower, 4.5 liter V8 from the Q45.  This made it a competitor to the BMW X5 and Lexus RX 330. 

In 2004, Nissan launched it’s biggest vehicle yet: the Armada SUV.  With seating capacity for eight, towing capability up to 8,500 pounds, and four-wheel-drive, the Armada competed with the likes of the: Ford Expidition, Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon.  Infiniti also launched the QX56.  It had the same 317 horsepower, 5.6 liter V8 and five-speed auto.  But, it had many more bells and whistles.  That meant tha it got less mpg than the Armada, which got 15 mpg.  The QX56 got 13. 

Throughout the early 200o’s, Nissan and Infiniti really didn’t change much.  The highlights were the redesign of the Pathfinder, XTerra and Frontier. 

In 2007, Infiniti redesigned the G35 sedan.  The engine got three more horsepower, and there was more interior space.  THe following year, the G35 Coupe followed.  Infiniti decided that the G35 wasn’t powerful enough.  Barely six months into its new redesign, the G35 became the G37.  It had a much more lethal 3.7 liter V6 with 330 horsepower.  A seven-speed auto became standard.  Also, the EX35 small SUV came into production.  It had the seven-speed auto and 3.5 liter V6 from the G. 

Earlier this year, Nissan/Infiniti CEO Carlos Ghosn unveiled the new M sedan.  The previous M35/45 was slow, and didn’t drive well.  The new M37/56 has a 3.7 liter V6 borrowed from the G37.  It also has the seven-speed auto.  The M56 has a 420 horsepower, 5.6 liter V8 with direct injection, variable valve timing and an aluminum engine block. 

In June 2009, the new Nissan Altima and Maxima were unveiled, along with the Rouge and Murano SUV’s. 

Recently, Nissan came out with a convertible version of the Murano, called the Murano CrossCabriolet.  Infiniti also came out with a hybrid version of the M, called the M35h.  It has the 3.5 liter engine from the EX35 SUV, with a lithium-ion battery pack.  It also has a dual-clutch transmission.

As of now, Nissan and Infiniti are enjoying good sales, amazing leadership from Carlos Ghosn, and lots of positive feedback.

The Long and Winding Road from DAT to Nissan

“To Infiniti and Beyond!”  Those (kind of) famous words from Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story really describe the amount of work Nissan and its sister company, Infiniti put in.  As I write these words, there are probably some next-generation Infiniti G’s, Nissan Altima’s and many more that we’ll delve into another time. 

The history of Nissan and Infiniti is lengthy, but interesting.   

In 1914, in Japan, three men; Kenjiro Den, Rokuro Aoyama, and Meitaro Takehuchi founded an automobile company called DAT.  They took the first letter from their last names to make the acronym: DAT.  DAT made military trucks, but the demand for military trucks was nil.  It forced DAT to merge with another company (but I am getting ahead of myself!).  Two years before DAT was bought by Nissan, they came out with a car called the Datson (son of DAT). In 1933 DAT was bought by an auto-parts supplier; Nissan When Nissan bought DAT, the Datson was renamed the Datsun.  “Son” in Japanese means ‘loss’.  ‘Nissan’ was an abbreviation used on the Japanese stock market (the founders of Nissan Auto Parts liked the sound of Nissan). 

During WWII, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd and all its subsidiaries (including DAT) made trucks, planes and engines for the Japanese military.  DAT was temporarily moved to captured land in China.  It kept on producing military equipment until China threatened to bomb the factory in 1948.  Then DAT went back to Japan.  Cars were imported under the Mitsubishi name to South America, where there was a booming business for foreign cars.

Shortly after the DAT company was renamed Datsun, in 1951, Nissan started to make its own cars.  Using help from Datsun, they built a legendary vehicle.  It could be called one of the first SUV’s, and was Japan’s answer to the Willys and Ford Jeeps.  It had more horsepower than the Willys and Ford (85), a complex (for the day) 4×4 system, and was more capable in everything.  The vehicle was named the Patrol.  It is still sold everywhere around the world except in the U.S.  You can have one shipped over in parts and register it as a kit car. 

In 1958, the first Datsun to go on U.S. roads was a Datsun Bluebird, becoming one of Datsun’s top sellers until the 1970’s.  “Fuel-efficient, fun, fast enough, and big enough for the whole family!” was Datsun’s advertisement.  What kind of person is in the market for a “fast enough”car?

In 1960, the Datsun Motor Company (but owned by Nissan, so you can call it the Nissan Motor Company) established a firm hold on U.S. soil when they bought a headquarters building in Santa Barbara, California.  Los Angeles, forget it!  Too expensive.  Santa Barbara was perfect:  Right by the sea, pretty, and close to LA. 

In 1962, Nissan finally had to tackle the European market.  They set up headquarters in Sunderland, England.  Since then, there are Nissan HQ’s all over Europe.  Four years later, Nissan merged with the Prince Motor Co.  This meant that there was a larger pool of engineers.  Nissan added the Gloria and Skyline models within a year.  One concept for each car, and three prototypes total.  Wow.  Usually, there are about two concepts per car, and close to twenty prototypes.  Boy, the Japanese are efficient!

The legendary Datsun 240Z came roaring into production in 1969!  With 150 horsepower, it had Porsche performance at half the price!  The four-speed manual had  a beefy, yet easy to use clutch.  According to my dad (who drove one!), as the 240Z aged, the carb had to be tweaked every 150 miles! 

During the 1970’s oil crisis, the 1973 Nissan Sunny was the car to get, as it scored number 1 on EPA tests.  It achieved huge popularity in the U.S. and around the world. It got over 65 mpg!  No wonder it was so popular!  They should bring it back into production.  Say your prayers Prius!

The year 1980 was groundbreaking for Nissan.  A new plant opened up in Tennessee for trucks, thus avoiding the chicken tax. 

Three years later, the Datsun name was discontinued.  All vehicles that were previously Datsuns were then Nissans.  The Datsun 280Z was discontinued.  To make up for the loss of the amazing Z line, Nissan started to make the 300ZX.  It was the next generation Datsun Z!  Even today, Nissan still makes the Z line (with the 370Z!).

Three years later, the first Nissan Bluebirds for Europe started flying off the production line in Sunderland, England.  Bluebirds had been in production for 30 years, when they started making them for the Western European market.     

In 1988, Nissan of Europe was very well-established, and started to win a lot of awards.

Tune into my blog next Tuesday to read about what happens next to Nissan!  Happy weekend!