Volkswagen Engineer Pleads Guilty for Involvement in Dieselgate

A VW engineer pleaded guilty today in a federal court in Detroit for his involvement with the automaker’s diesel emissions cheat device. This makes him the first person to face any criminal charges in connection with the emissions scandal.

According to Bloomberg, Volkswagen engineer James Liang is being charged with “conspiracy to commit fraud against U.S. regulators and customers and to violate the Clean Air Act.” He will be sentenced in January, and he could face up to five years in prison. Bloomberg‘s report states that Liang’s guilty plea comes after a year-long investigation by the Justice Department, which has faced tremendous pressure to hold more individuals accountable in high-profile cases, such as this diesel emissions cheating scandal, which has been dubbed “Dieselgate” by the automotive community.

James Liang is a long-time VW employee who reportedly worked on the team that developed the diesel cheat device for the VW Jetta back in 2006. He is also accused of assisting Volkswagen in its attempt to deceive U.S. regulators during their investigation into how the cheat devices worked.

Liang told the judge, “I know VW did not disclose the defeat device to U.S. regulators in order to sell the cars in the U.S. That’s what makes me guilty.”

His plea comes after VW has agreed to pay at least $16.5 billion to settle a whole host of claims. They also face ongoing investigations in Europe where the European Commission is encouraging consumer groups to take legal action against VW.

Here’s my opinion on what’s going on so far:

In addition to fines, if VW executives are to be paid for the responsibility of overseeing the manufacturing and sales of products, then they should be held fully responsible for such gross negligence. They have already been caught not telling the truth numerous times. James Liang is just a scapegoat for VW executives, who use a lot of money, power, and influence to get off squeaky clean.

This scandal comes amid the Takata airbags scandal and the GM ignition switch scandal, among other things. How many people have died from those? Far too many. Millions of people a year die from respiratory ailments, while millions more are diagnosed with asthma. How many asthma attacks have been triggered by Volkswagen’s emissions cheat device?

Liang is essentially saying “I would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!” The judge and attorneys were soon seen peeling out in a green van marked “Mystery Machine.”

In my eyes, it should be former VW chairman, Martin Winterkorn, who should be dragged off to prison. James Liang was following orders given to him by greedy pricks on the other side of the Atlantic. He was ultimately the one who gave the emissions cheating project a green light, but he’s got enough money and influence in the European Commission to stay out of court. Winterkorn must surrender his golden parachute and his gigantic pension, and serve the rest of his life in a federal prison for the crimes he and Volkswagen committed against governments and consumers.

I’m wondering how much VW is going to pay Liang’s family in exchange for his agreeing to fall on the sword for the emperor. It certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

It seems that VW was on top of the world, and now their empire is going to slowly come crashing down on their heads. It was a wicked and wild wind (filled with the emissions their cars spewed out) that opened the doors that has brought down the end of an era. It’s only a matter of time before VW is forced to sell off their many assets – they own Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini, and other automakers. They’re a true giant in the world’s automotive market, but it’s only a matter of time before they’re a shell of what they once were.

The Perfect Balance of Street and Track in a Corvette

Some of you might know how the “Grand Sport” name for the Chevrolet Corvette. If you don’t, let me explain. In 1963, Zora Arkus-Duntov was hoping to build 125 lightweight, high-power homologation-special Corvette Sting Rays so Chevrolet could qualify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. GM smashed that plan to smithereens after Chevrolet had built just five of the so-called Corvette Grand Sports. All five were quickly spirited under the table off to legendary racers with last names like Penske, Foyt, and Hall. All five cars were raced without any factory support.

Since then, Chevrolet has revived the Grand Sport name twice – once in 1996 and once in 2010. Both of those times, the badge meant special editions with beautiful bodywork, but no massive performance gain, unlike the 1963 Grand Sports. The 1996 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and 2010 Z06 would still outperform the Grand Sports. Of course, the 2010 Corvette ZR1 was still the most serious Corvette of that generation of Corvette.

Of course, Chevrolet’s engineers went hog-wild with the C7 Stingray Z06. It’s a combination of a massively powerful engine that has been described as one of the best-sounding engines ever (I agree), absolutely brilliant suspension, and enough computing power to sequence the human genome. Yet, it’s so approachable for the average driver that it’s truly mind-boggling. It also costs around $80,000. It’s a true giant-killer, especially with a professional driver. Even without a professional driver, this is not a car you want to tangle with.

The Z06 is also quite unlike the Corvette Racing C7.R that competes in one of the highest echelons of motorsports – endurance racing. The C7.R’s that quite simply walked away with the win at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona actually make less power than the Z06 you can get on your dealership’s showroom floor. There’s no supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 shrieking under the hood of the race-winning C7.R – those drivers have to make do with a 5.5-liter V8 sucking air through a restricted air intake the diameter of a garden hose. Because power is handicapped by a rule book (which didn’t stop NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick), the Corvette Racing team wins races with unworldly grip and highly aggressive aerodynamics. Let’s put it this way – their strategy works well.

It’s interesting that the new Grand Sport, which is the mid-range model, lives up to the “street-legal race car” cliche. It’s got some of the best street tires in the world, aggressive aerodynamics enhancements, and stock engine. Oh, and it comes with a warranty, something most race cars can’t brag about.

Let’s start off with the tires – Michelin Pilot Super Sports are standard tires, or even stickier Pilot Sport Cup 2s with the Z07 high-performance option package, which are the same tires you can get on the Z06. They’re much wider than the standard Stingray tires (40 mm wider up front, 50 mm wider out back), which means that Chevy had to put the Z06’s massive, bulging fenders to clear the massive tires.

GM’s truly brilliant Magnetic Ride Control is standard equipment, as is the highly advanced electronic limited-slip differential, as are the Z06-derived chassis sports custom stabilizer bars and springs. You can pair the brilliant 460-horsepower, 465 lb-ft, dry-sump LT1 V8 with a fantastic 7-speed manual transmission or a pretty darn good 8-speed automatic, both of which come with the Stingray and Z06. What does the Z07 package add? Carbon ceramic brakes, and even more aggressive aero, mostly.

Now, let’s move onto the beautiful bodywork. It’s mostly borrowed from the Z06 part bin. However, it’s got Grand Sport-specific front fender vent inserts. What about from the Z06? It’s got the Z06’s wider track (how far apart the wheels are from each other), an open-mouth front grille, and big differential cooling vents on the rear fenders. The Grand Sport has a Z06-spec front splitter, front splitters, and wickerbill rear spoiler, all of which are finished in carbon fiber in the Z07 trim. Chevy claims that they all create downforce, but the Z06’s clear plastic Gurney flip isn’t available on the Grand Sport. Oh, and then there’s a Heritage package, which adds the traditional front fender hash marks, which are now connected in a horseshoe shape. I somehow forgot to mention that Chevy has more than the entire rainbow’s worth of body, hash, and full-length racing stripe combinations.

Inside the Grand Sport, there is badging depicting the 1963 Grand Sport #002 (the only roadster out of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s original five Grand Sports) on the floor mats, headrests, and on a dash plaque directly ahead of the shifter. The brushed aluminum halo on the right of the center stack has a subtle racing stripe, which is created by rotating the brushing pattern on the metal 90 degrees during the polishing process.

Chevy says that the Grand Sport will hurtle it’s way to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, and blast through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds. I’m going to say that’s probably because the Grand Sport has much better tires than the Stingray does.

The Grand Sport weighs in at 3,252 pounds, which is 98 pounds lighter than the Z06. Because there’s no gigantic supercharger, the hood is lower, affording much greater visibility of the road.

Even with the windows up, the A/C on full blast, and the engine contentedly burbling along at 1500 rpm in one of the Grand Sport’s many overdrive gears, you’ll still easily pull over 1 g without the car breaking a sweat. You won’t either.

We’ll move onto the price now. The Grand Sport coupe starts at just a freckle under $66,500, which is a $5,000 premium over the Stingray. It’s also about $14,000 cheaper than a Z06. If you want to drop the top on any Corvette, plan to shell out an additional $4,000. Do you want the Z07 package? Give Chevy $8,000. Even if you buy the Grand Sport convertible with the Z07 package, that still gives you about $2000 to get some accessories, or haggling wiggle room.

The Z06 is a great car – don’t get me wrong. However, the Grand Sport was designed with a different purpose in mind. The Z06 is powerful in a way that you’ll rarely be able to enjoy. 650 horsepower is more than you’ll ever be able to use on the street – with one quick stab of the gas pedal, you’ll be well on your way to jail. On the track, it goads you into probing it’s incredibly high limits, all the while serving a main course of absolutely brilliant chassis tuning and suspension, with a side of driver aides for that moment when you push it too far. To do that on public roads, you’d better have a top-notch lawyer, a very good health insurance plan, and a glovebox filled with bribe money. OK, you can forget about the last part. Cops really don’t like it if you try and give them $20,000 in $1 bills…

The Grand Sport does something truly incredible. Chevrolet designed this car to have the same absurd limits as the Z06, but never leave you feeling like it’s a waste of horsepower because you can never floor it. While grip, balance, and power all work together, which is what makes low-power sports cars so fun, they become magical when you turn the dial up to 11.

What would happen if you put the optional Z06-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires to your Corvette Stingray Z51? It’s obvious that sticky tires are key to making a good car handle well. However, good tires won’t work as well unless the chassis and suspension are dialed into those tires. Even if you somehow figured out how to make those tires fit under a stock Stingray Z51’s seductive bodywork (remember that the Z06 is three inches wider in the back), you still would have a lot of work to do. The ABS system wouldn’t be properly calibrated. Stability control intervention would be much more sudden, and the brakes would slow you down almost instantly because the Z51’s brake calibration is designed for less sticky tires. That means it would apply more brake than necessary. The electronic limited-slip differential wouldn’t perform as well, either. The suspension would also be woefully undersized relative to the massive amounts of grip that the tires generate, which would make the car feel sloppy.

What does this all boil down to? It’s more than a sloppy badge job, far more than a Corvette with some random Z06 parts, and more than a throwback to a legend. It’s the real deal, folks. This car isn’t tuned to within an inch of it’s life (and yours). This is a race car for the…wait, I don’t endorse illegal activities here.

Why Porsche Placed a Bet on Front-Engine Sports Cars

When you hear the word “Porsche,” what car do you think of? Of course it’s the 911. However, Porsche owes much more credit than it is given for the front-engine 944 and 928. Why’s that?

In the mid-1970s, Porsche executives were imagining a vastly different future for Porsche than where it is now. The rear-engine 911, was in their eyes, a flawed and rapidly aging design. They started developing two front-engine cars to replace it. What were those cars? the 924 and the 928. My grandfather owned a 924 at one point, but that’s a story I won’t tell now. Anyways, back to the point. We all know that the future those Porsche executives had planned out didn’t happen. The 911 still remains in production, and is a true masterpiece of automotive engineering and design. However, the 924 and 928 played a vital role in Porsche’s storied history.

The front-engine cars, especially the 944 , were the knight in shining armor for Porsche in the 1980s. They certainly stumbled with the slow, VW-derived 924, but they had a truly runaway success with the 944, which was what kept the 911 in production. In my eyes, it was unfortunate that the big, V8-powered 928 never really caught on with Porsche’s intended audience, but it has gained somewhat of a cult following in the past 15 years or so.

While the 928, and 944 are dearly departed, their spirit lives on, albeit in a different form. The 718 Boxster/Cayman occupy the same space that the 944 did. One can make the case that the 928 was reborn as the Panamera.

What about the 924? While it’s popular for budget track day enthusiasts, it never became as popular as the 928 and 944. Even though it had a VW engine, Porsche was in charge of developing the head for the engine. They played around with a 16-valve head, which meant it had four valves per cylinder (two intake, two exhaust), a turbocharger (which made the 924 quite formidable on a windy road), among other things.

This is a 1976 Porsche 924. You can definitely see the VW design in it, right?
This is a 1976 Porsche 924. You can definitely see the VW design in it, right?
The Porsche 944 was just a 924 with a bigger engine and better suspension. It was aimed at cash-rich, young professionals who wanted a nice sports car. It sold in droves.
The Porsche 944 was just a 924 with a bigger engine and better suspension. It was aimed at cash-rich, young professionals who wanted a nice sports car. It sold in droves.
This is a 1991 Porsche 928 GTS. It had a V8, lots of power, and I think, might have been the ultimate iteration of the front-engine Porsche sports cars born in the mid-1970s.
This is a 1991 Porsche 928 GTS. It had a V8, lots of power, and I think, might have been the ultimate iteration of the front-engine Porsche sports cars born in the mid-1970s.

What to Buy Car People This Holiday Season

You have a car person in your family. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s that cool cousin who just got a classic car. It can even be a friend. Whomever it may be, these are the gifts to buy them.

  • Blipshift T-Shirts: I’ve always loved the Blipshift designs. They are humorous, and all around awesome. In the world of car-themed t-shirts, nobody does it better than Blipshift. Their shirts are affordable and cool. The catch is that they are all limited editions. Once that shirt sells out, that design is gone forever (or at least for a few years, when they’ll do an extremely limited run). Plus, they always have amazing deals around this time. A perfect excuse to buy one (or six). But don’t take my word for it. Visit them at blipshift.com
  • HeritageRacing Motorsports Calendar: Lots of races happen throughout the year. If you like going to some (but not all), it can be difficult to keep up with them. That won’t be a problem for this calendar! It has the entire racing schedule for 13 racing series. An added bonus is the retro racing artwork. You can buy it at https://www.etsy.com/listing/245716201/2016-racing-calendar?ref=shop_home_active_1
  • Valentine One Radar Detector: When you have a lead right foot, it can be very hard to stay under or at the speed limit. I know. I’m one of those people. Get a Valentine One radar detector for that member of your family. Buy one at http://www.valentine1.com/
  • One More Than 10: Singer and the Porsche 911: Air-cooled Porsche 911’s are the new classic car fad. If you, or someone in your family is a Porsche 911 fan, chances are they are a huge fan of Singer’s restomodded (restored and modified) classic 911’s. Even if you can’t afford to buy them a classic 911, you can at least keep them temporarily happy with reading the story of Singer on their coffee table. Just make sure to get a copy for me. http://www.stanceandspeed.com/automotive-books/one-more-than-10-singer-and-the-porsche-911
  • Side Glances: Anybody who has read “Road & Track” in the past, oh, 10 years or so, will recognize the name Peter Egan. Any fan of Road & Track, or anybody who’s a fan of amazing writing will never stop thanking you for this gift. It’s more than 300 pages of Peter Egan’s incredible columns on literally every aspect of the automotive industry. He shares 48 of his columns, all of which are bound to teach you something new, or make you become incredibly fond of British cars (I am, thanks to him). These columns cover his time at Road & Track between 2002-2006. Again, you can get me a copy at http://www.roadandtrackshop.com/road-and-track-books/!/peter-egan-side-glances
  • Die Cast Cars: Die cast cars of any make and model are a great addition to a desk, a diorama, a bookshelf or your garage. Even if you just buy one, it will be a nice addition to that collection we all have. These die casts are high-quality, and worth a boy. http://www.roadandtrackshop.com/road-and-track-die-cast
  • Forza 6: Even if cars are your life passion, you will likely never be able to drive a hypercar around a world-famous racetrack. Most people will only be able to somewhat replicate that experience by playing a world-class racing game like Forza 6. If the person you’re buying Forza 6 for doesn’t have an XBox One, you can buy the two in a bundle at http://www.xbox.com/en-US/xbox-one/consoles/1tb-forza-6
  • Motoring Art: Every car enthusiast worth the oil running through their veins needs some automotive art gracing their garage or living room. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better than Guy Allen’s motoring art. It’s truly beautiful. http://guyallen.co.uk/motoring-art
  • Cutaways: David Kimble is a well-known automotive artist. If you’ve ever seen a cutaway of a car, chances are, he drew it. His illustrations are incredibly intricate. In Cutaways, he shows you the secrets, techniques and procedures he uses to create his masterpieces. Definitely a good gift for that family member who loves the technical aspects of cars. http://www.roadandtrackshop.com/road-and-track-books/!/rt-david-kimble-cutaways
  • Team O’Neil Rally School: It doesn’t matter how talented of a driver you, or anyone you know is. You can never have enough training driving a car. If you’ve ever seen videos of how fast rally cars go, and the superhuman reflexes of the drivers, you’ve probably wondered if you could do that too. Yes, you can, thanks to Team O’Neil Rally School. https://teamoneil.com/rally-school/

That’s all folks!

Why Legislation A.B. 550 Matters to Car People

California has recently proposeda new legislation.  While that might not mean all that much to us, it should.  Legislation A.B. 550 would allow for the owner of a motor vehicle subjected to the rigorous California smog check program to pay a $200 smog abatement fee instead of having to go to the trouble of smogging the car.

This bill would require the payment to go to the Air Quality Improvement Fund.  The measure will be considered by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Currently, the smog check program requires an inspection of all motor vehicles when the car is initially registered, then biennially upon registration renewal, transfer of ownership, and various other circumstances.  You can find all of that on the DMV’s website.

The law currently exempts all cars manufactured prior to 1976, and certain other vehicles.

What’s so special about A.B. 550 is that it would allow the owner(s) of a motor vehicle that is required to take a smog test to pay a 200 dollar smog abatement fee IF the car meets the following criteria:

  • The motor vehicle is 30 model years or older
  • The motor vehicle was manufactured during or after the 1976 model year
  • The motor vehicle fails a smog test
  • The motor vehicle fails a subsequent smog test after necessary repairs were performed

This could mean a lot to hot rodding.  Newer cars are easier and cheaper to insure, parts are more plentiful and cheaper, and, since newer cars have the necessary smog equipment, hot rodders can start to build killer smog-legal street cars.

It’s extremely important to me and many others in the automotive industry that we (as in auto enthusiasts) contact the California Assembly Transportation Committee to voice your opinion of A.B. 550.

Here’s how to do it.  Email Steve McDonald at stevem@sema.org a copy of your letter. Also, send this to your automotive enthusiast friends! The more people who voice their opinions, the more likely the bill is to pass.

Here is a (very) long list of the committee members’ contact information:

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (Chair)
Phone: (916) 319-2011
Email: assemblymember.frazier@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian (Vice Chair)
Phone: (916) 319-2035
Email: assemblymember.achadjian@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Catharine B. Baker
Phone: (916) 319-2016
Email: assemblymember.baker@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Richard Bloom
Phone: (916) 319-2050
Email: assemblymember.bloom@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Nora Campos
Phone: (916) 319-2027
Email: assemblymember.campos@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Kansen Chu
Phone: (916) 319-2025
Email: assemblymember.chu@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Tom Daly
Phone: (916) 319-2069
Email: assemblymember.daly@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Bill Dodd
Phone: (916) 319-2004
Email: assemblymember.dodd@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia
Phone: (916) 319-2056
Email: assemblymember.eduardo.garcia@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez
Phone: (916) 319-2051
Email: assemblymember.gomez@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Young O. Kim
Phone: (916) 319-2065
Email: assemblymember.kim@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Eric Linder
Phone: (916) 319-2060
Email: assemblymember.linder@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Jose Medina
Phone: (916) 319-2061
Email: assemblymember.medina@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Melissa A. Melendez
Phone: (916) 319-2067
Email: assemblymember.melendez@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian
Phone: (916) 319-2046
Email: assemblymember.nazarian@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell
Phone: (916) 319-2070
Email: assemblymember.odonnell@assembly.ca.gov

Thanks for listening to my rambling about how this could turn the hot rodding hobby around.  If the bill passes, there will be people who abuse the system, but they already do that.  I wouldn’t worry that much about it.

I think these cars that are only slightly customized could greatly benefit from A.B. 550:

This bone-stock 1976 Camaro could benefit from an LS-motor swap.  Chevy Performance even offers an LS3 E-Rod engine that is smog-legal in all 50 states.  You just install the engine and slap on a couple of stickers that let the smog guys know.  These second-generation Camaros are popular among hot rodders, and one could throw on aftermarket suspension pieces and nobody would notice.

This is a simply tasteful C-10 stepside.  The wheels go well with the dark blue/black paint on the truck.  The big visor over the windshield is a cool touch from the 1950s.  It would be even better if the owner could put a thundering big-block with EFI on it.

This 1985 Fox-Body Mustang is an early Saleen Mustang.  It looks better than the flashier late-model Saleens.  It was a performer in the day, but my Mazda3 could beat it to 60, through the quarter mile, and in just about everything but looks.  If somebody bought a Fox-Body, got a body kit (Saleen rip-off body kits are common in drifting), put in an EcoBoost V-6 found in the Taurus SHO, this would look amazing, and go like stink.  If there was an aftermarket suspension kit on it, even better.  This would be a holy terror at autocross and track day events.  Plus, it would be a fun daily driver.  OK, I’m going to rein myself in now…

The last car on this little list is one I really want.  It’s a Chevy C3 Corvette.  Let me explain. It has stunning good looks, and would be quite the performer with a modern LS engine under the hood.  It’s already been done, and that’s the car in the picture.  It’s got an LS3 E-Rod under the hood, and even though it’s a 1972, one could very easily do the same thing to a 1976 or later model.