No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Cars

No Chips, no motion

A couple of weeks ago in The Veteran’s post on Taiwan, I included a graph showing the degree to which the world relies on Taiwan for silicon chips.

I also made the point that the world would likely not even be able to feed itself if there was a major, lengthy disruption to the production of silicon chips, given the degree to which tractors and other farm equipment depend on them to work nowadays.

Here’s the latest evidence, from The Truth About Cars:

Have you heard the one about the dead cars? No, not the ones we find in junkyards, but the ones that haven’t had life yet, thanks to the chip shortage.

These so-called “dead” cars are vehicles that have rolled off the assembly line, otherwise ready for sale, sitting in fields or on lots near the factories that produced them, just waiting for chips.

… that number is set to grow, as GM announced that plants in Indiana, Michigan, and Mexico that produce the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra will halt next week, thanks to, you guessed it, the chip shortage.

GM had so far avoided chip-related shutdowns by skipping some features, and by … building some trucks and adding the chips in later

Written by Tom Hunter

July 24, 2021 at 11:55 am

Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari

The best movie I’ve seen since The Martian (2015) and one you absolutely should not miss on the big screen.

I’m no petrol head, so have never been much into the mechanics of cars or motor racing. I’ve watched parts of Bathurst races and appreciated rally car events because they at least drove on the sort of roads I used. But the idea of going to a Formula 1 track to stand in one place watching large slot cars whip around a corner seems fantastically boring. Let alone something like NASCAR where they fly around a rectangular track with exactly two corners.

Added to all this has been Hollywood’s increasingly rapid descent into Woke World, where seemingly every movie, even “historical” ones have to deliver at least one, and probably several “Messages” that are approved of by the Modern Left, whether it’s LGBTQ, Global Warming, or the evils of the USA and free enterprise (“Big Business”). The two movie stars in this effort – Matt Damon and Christian Bale – are very much plugged into all that.

As a result I had very low expectations going into the movie and only went because of two reviews. I even persuaded my oldest son to go with me and he’s even more reluctant than I am to spend money at movie theatres, so…

But the movie is magnificent and it’s lot more than a car racing movie.

Carrol Shelby
Ken Miles
It tells the story of two men – Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby – who worked together in the mid-1960’s to build race cars for Ford.
And not just any racecars but ones  that could beat the then invincible Ferrari team in the famous Le Mans 24 hour car race in France.
 
Despite Ford’s gigantism, this plays as an underdog story and works as such.
That’s because it’s not actually supporting Ford as much as supporting two guys up against both Ford, with its corporate “suits” and Ferrari, with it’s typical European snobbishness about America.
The Shelby Cobra

Shelby – played by Matt Damon – had actually won Le Mans as a driver several years earlier but been forced out of racing by a heart condition, which is where the movie starts.

He turns his considerable engineering and sales skills to making his own sports cars, including the legendary Shelby Cobra pictured here.

Meantime in the world of corporate cars another legend, Lee Iacocca, then a young executive tyro with Ford Motor Company, is trying to persuade senior management, including CEO Henry Ford II, to “jazz up” their vehicles and appeal to the upcoming Baby Boomers who have jobs and money and want sexy European cars rather than the staid clunkers that Ford is turning out. The attitude is captured perfectly when Iacocca shows a picture of James Bond standing beside his Aston Martin, only to be told that “Bond’s a degenerate” (modern feminists would likely agree). Nevertheless Iacocca wins his sales pitch and support for his plan to buy Ferrari, which is almost bankrupt.

But it all goes wrong. Enzo listens to Iacocca’s offer but goes with Fiat instead, delivering some choice insults along the way about how the Americans should just go back to “their big, ugly factories” to produce “their ugly little cars” – and that Henry Ford II is not the man his grandfather was.

Bale listens to Damon’s Le Mans proposal

Spurred by these insults Ford decides to write a blank cheque to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans race they have dominated for some time.

Through Iacocca they pick Shelby to get it done, and he in turn picks Ken Miles – played by Christian Bale – as his primary driver-engineer.

Miles is an Englishman and a WWII veteran who drove tanks from D-Day to the end of the war and now lives with his wife and son in California.

He loves his family very much and shows it – but he’s also loves cars and racing them. More than just a driver he runs a small car repair shop (which has tax problems), understands every aspect of car engineering, and berates the occasional customer for not driving a sports car as it needs to be driven. He’s also a very combustible chap.

The two men get to work to build what eventually becomes the Ford GT40. They test the hell out of it at Los Angeles International Airport and after initial doubts, Miles comes to love every minute, even the problems, one of which involves the brakes failing at high speed.

Ford GT 40 Mark II – 1966 Le Mans

But Miles is not liked by some of Ford’s management, especially Senior VP Leo Beebe, who does not consider such a volatile man, and a Brit, to be “the Face of Ford”.

It doesn’t help when Miles, on first meeting Beebe and not knowing who he is, tells him that the newly unveiled Mustang is “a lump of lard“.

Rejected from joining their first Le Mans attempt, Miles listens to the race as all the GT40’s steadily drop out with various mechanical failures, as he had warned would happen if they did not drive them carefully.

Shelby has to answer to an angry Henry Ford who wants him to give one good reason why the whole show should not be canned after such a humiliation. Shelby’s answer is that even with all the failures, one GT40 went down the Mulsanne Straight faster than anything Ferrari has ever produced and that “Old Man Enzo” must know that and be fearful of it.

Ferrari 330 P3 – 1966 Le Mans

The next year Miles gets his shot and the last hour of the movie centres on the race itself and his role in it as one of the co-drivers of the three GT40’s Shelby put into the race.

One of the keys to winning is their idea of swapping out the entire brake system, which is within the letter of the law. It’s not a spoiler to say that they win: you can look it up on the Internet.

But there is an unexpected, bitter-sweet moment when Beebe demands that all three GT40’s cross the finish line together to provide “a great photo“, despite Miles’s car having to slow down and wait for them since he’s leading by almost two laps. And this is added to by the pathos of how the movie ends a little later.

Christian Bale as Ken Miles

Christian Bale is just fantastic as Ken Miles, even if he is aided by getting all the meaty scenes. Although the Oscars have fallen from most people’s view, this role should surely net him another win, this time finally for Best Actor: he’s been nominated twice for it as well as twice for Best Supporting Actor, with one win for the latter.

Watching the movie I’d wondered what criticisms I’d find later about his wonderful “Brummie” accent – only to find out that his actual British accent is not too different. Perhaps his native heritage is a cheat here but even holding one of his endless “moogs” of tea he looks the part.

But Bale’s performance clearly conveys that underneath the language, oil, grease and mechanical knowledge Miles is also an artist, with an artist’s temperament; he absolutely cannot stand authority, at one point telling Shelby that the Ford “suits” will destroy them simply because they hate men who refuse to follow the slots and grooves of everyday life.

We can see that he is desperate to do what he was born for, but only on his terms, meaning that he seeks perfection, as he explains to his son in this quiet and beautiful scene:

The perfect lap. No mistakes. Every gear change. Every corner. Perfect

Matt Damon is ok as Shelby, although an actor like Matthew McConaughey probably would have been a better pick. Damon just doesn’t look right in a cowboy hat and boots with a Texas twang – which he completely gives up on by the end of the movie! But if Bales shows us the artist’s temper, then Damon certainly portrays with compassion the pride and ambition of a man as he swallows corporate bullshit and deals with his disappointments – and navigates between the suits and Miles.

“Got a face like a smacked arse now, haven’t ya?”

And the two actors do have great chemistry on the screen, in dramatic and comedic moments. They’re helped greatly by sparkling dialog:

They said I’d have carte blanche this time. I looked it up, it’s French for ‘horseshit.’“.

And it does not always require dialog. In one dramatic scene Shelby has literally bet the sale of his little company to Ford plus Miles driving at Le Mans, on winning the Daytona 24 hour race and finds Beebe scheming to get the other Ford GT40 team to win by using a NASCAR pit team rather than the build crew Shelby has. Under instructions to keep the engine below 6000rpm, Shelby, near the end of the race and with everything to lose, writes on an instruction blackboard and carries it across to the side of the track where Miles can see it:

7000rpm+. Go like Hell.

In keeping with the joyousness of the whole movie, Miles whoops with delight at being able to unleash both himself and the machine he rides.

The movie’s story may be simple but it is beautifully structured and flows effortlessly, with scene after scene that amount to brilliant little movies in themselves. None more so than the last part about the 1966 Le Mans race. There are breaks in the action as drivers swap out and rest, pit stops made and problems – both human and mechanical – are dealt with. It’s not forty continuous minutes of racing, which would be boring.

There is some CGI in the film, mainly around the crowd scenes and the accidents, which are fast and brutal but, as from the drivers perspective, not lingered upon. The racing sequences were mostly filmed on tracks with replica cars, and they are some of the most intense and real that I’ve ever seen, whether externally or as the drivers must have seen it from inside the cars. Whether it’s evading the accidents, cornering, passing, watching the brakes become glowing red discs, or ploughing into rain and darkness at 200mph you truly get to feel how dangerous this is. I saw audience members flinch during one accident scene as a car literally comes apart in front of Miles.

But it also captures those quiet moments that Miles reaches for, where he is simply, “a body moving through time and space“. And yet even in that there is nothing pretentious about this movie: no reference to Zen.

Also no lecturing buzzkills, no puffed up self-importance, none of the usual “messages”. No woke. There certainly is a message told through character and story though and it’s a vital one in these days of whining Western self-criticism and self-pity, and that’s a message about being your own man, about not getting chewed up and spat out in some corporate or government collective, about sons and fathers and husbands and wives and friends and chasing impossible dreams.

By contrast there were those two reviews I mentioned at the start, from which I’ll provide some excerpts. First up is one Hannah Elliott in Canada’s National Post:

Ford v Ferrari shows a generation best left dead and gone….men dominate the screen for 98% of the time, by my unofficial count….. And when I say men, I mean white, straight men…It’s no surprise to survey this patriarchal wasteland — but it’s no less depressing to see it, nonetheless.

Second is something called L.V. Anderson, in The Daily Grist:

‘Ford v Ferrari’ is the climate change horror film nobody needed…  As wildfires rage in Australia, a record-breaking hurricane season draws to a close, and meteorologists predict that this year will go down as the second-hottest in recorded history, it’s clear that Ford v Ferrari is the wrong movie for 2019…

Thanks idiots, it’s called The Streisand Effect.  As soon as I read all that I knew that this was a movie I had to see.

You should see it too – and take your sons and daughters and grandsons and grandaughters as well. They’ll probably be able to see past the 98% aspect and know that it’s 100% about human beings with a human story that they might be inspired by.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 28, 2019 at 7:44 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , , ,

Ressurecting the DeLorean

I came across this very cool story some months ago, where a company has been set up in the USA to build DeLorean cars;  “new” versions of the iconic car from the 1980’s classic movie, Back To The Future.

The speedometer climbs as we race down a straightaway in Humble, Texas. As the needle edges to 60, 70, then 80 miles per hour, the 36-year-old automobile rattles and the wind whistles through the windows. Finally the DeLorean zooms up to 88 miles per hour and we feel, just for a moment, like we’ve gone back to the future.

Then, a series of loud honks from the other side of the road, followed by animated waving, awaken us out of our speed spell. “We get that all the time,” says DeLorean Motor Company CEO Stephen Wynne, sitting shotgun. “That doesn’t happen with any other car.”

Lady Penelope’s Roller

Well, I’d be willing to bet it would with Lady Penelope’s six-wheeled Rolls Royce from the 1960’s TV series Thunderbirds, but nobody’s building those.

Like that vehicle the DeLorean should be just another one-off car that sits in a museum, but the three Back To The Future movies established it as an icon of popular culture.

And it inspired one English mechanic to pursue a dream.

John DeLorean at his “hip” 1970’s best

Even before its Hollywood debut, the DeLorean had more publicity than most new cars get. This was mainly because of the reputation of the guy behind it, John DeLorean, a legendary executive with General Motors. He wrote a book that is still considered to be a classic about the US automobile industry – On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors.

Through the 1960’s and 70’s DeLorean had pushed the development of a number of vehicles that became mainstays of GM, including the Pontiac GTO muscle car, the Pontiac Firebird and Pontiac Grand Prix. He was the youngest GM division head when he quit in 1979 to build what he called “the new American sports car.” His reputation enabled him to borrow $200 million in 1981 – an incredible sum of money for one man in those days – and he set to work to build the cars in Belfast.

Gull-winged, with a stainless-steel body, the DeLorean caught people’s attention. But it was all downhill from there. Cost overruns meant it got pushed to market at twice the price planned and with a lot of engineering bugs. Poor reviews and slow sales doomed the enterprise and by early 1982, after making just 9000 cars, the company declared bankruptcy. DeLorean himself ran into financial problems as his star dimmed, eventually getting charged for trafficking cocaine, a charge he defeated on the basis of entrapment by the FBI (sounds familiar).

And that was that! At least until 1985, when it rolled out the back of Doc Brown’s trailer and became cool all over again. Over the decades various collectors have obtained used versions and spent untold hours fixing them up or even converting them to look like the modified version in the movies. They spend between $20,000 and $50,000 on each restoration.

But several years ago, Wynne, a native of Liverpool, put together a more ambitious plan. He’s basically bought all the leftover spare parts, body shells, engines, transmissions, trademarks, documentation, intellectual property – everything – from the original company and factory. Enough hardware was made to build 30,000 DeLoreans and it’s all stored in Houston, Texas.

And with that he has set out to build about 300 new DeLoreans a year.

Wynne had a wealth of experience working on similar cars—after all, DeLorean’s preproduction and development was primarily done by Lotus, while the car’s engine and transmission were made by Renault. “It was basically a mix of the English and the French,” says Wynne. “Everything about the [car] was what I already knew.”

He’s also helped by the FAST Act, a piece of legislation passed by the US Congress in December 2015, which allows for low-volume manufacturers (i.e. 300 per year) to produce cars that can be built conforming to the production year’s requirements. Just as an example, airbags were not mandatory in 1981 when the DeLorean was first built.

DeLoreans outside the Texas factory

There have been the usual holdups on putting the legislation into practice – what will the bureaucratic forms and processes be for example? But setting that aside, Wynne has a good chance to achieving his dream.

The big joke about American cars like the DeLorean is that they were actually quite shitty in terms of handling and mechanics. The original engine produced 130hp, which is a joke by modern standards. Wynne plans to dump in a modified version that will crank 300-400hp. I assume the transmission and suspension will be upgraded to handle all that as well, otherwise we’re going to have a few dead DeLorean drivers!

I recall that there was some little company in NZ – based in Napier I think – that specialised in taking classic English and American cars and updating them with all mod cons without changing their internal or external appearence. I think some doctor owned a piece of it. I’d be interested if readers have any knowledge of it and whether it’s still in business.

Evie – Mercury Power’s electrified Classic Car

I would also think we may see some classic cars on the road with fully electric motors in a few years time. I note that one power company has already done this with Evie, a converted 1957 Ford Fairlane.

So good on Mr Wynne and here’s hoping we might see one or two of these curiosities here in NZ in the next few years.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 3, 2019 at 10:33 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , ,

Your First Car

Can you remember your first car? I certainly remember mine. A pristine, electric blue, 1975 Ford Escort. Seatbelts (barely). No airbags. No crush zones. No radio – though I quickly borrowed my brother-in-law’s discarded Euro model, which played tape cassettes and had FM, though that was little use in most of 80’s NZ!. Heating? Barely. A/C? That’s what the manual windows are for. The massive 4 cylinder, 1300cc engine could squeeze out the speed limit of 80km/h – if you were willing to put up with the shaking!

I threw whatever money I had into the pot and my parents did the rest. Dad grinned and informed me that it was “payment for five years unpaid farm work”! The idea was that I’d be able to see them once a month by driving the 100km or so from varsity, and for the next three years I pretty much kept to that bargain.

Here it is during my first South Island trip, a couple of klicks north of Hampden, North Otago, looking across at the foothills of the Horse Range and the Kakanui Mountains.

There were’nt many kids with cars at varsity, certainly not First Year students, so it was in this year that I first heard the term, “rich prick”: one still applied during our Old Boy reunions. As the year wore on, the number of old bombs in the car park steadily increased, together with mechanical knowledge forced upon people if they wanted to use the damned things. More motorcycles too, this being the age when any car less than five years old was not cheap. I’ve often wondered how many lives have been saved since 1984 by Rogernomics ending car tariffs, import duties and import licences, thereby making cars more affordable and steadily reducing motorcycle use?

And all of this was simply an extension of the near-mania for getting a drivers licence when we turned 15. We wanted to be independent and even borrowing the parent’s car did not dent that feeling. Several of my mates got their licence on their actual birthdays. In my case it happened a couple of months later, delayed for reasons I cannot recall.

None of us had cars at that point of course but some families were lucky enough to have two so you got the oldest. I have vivid memories of a 4th Form party where my mate Albert and I did a night race in his parent’s tiny, aging Fiat, pushing towards 100mph down a long straight beside other nutters from our class, including a couple on motorbikes. Within two years I’d hit “The Ton” while driving back from some tennis tournament. For that I could thank my parent’s 1973 Ford Falcon, as well as another long straight road out in the countryside, and the cloak of darkness. Traffic cops were rarely seen or heard of there. Whenever I think of kids doing stupid shit I have to remember what I was like at age 16, although frankly I was a much safer driver then than in my mid-20’s when I’d gained “confidence”. Living far out in the boonies with the family’s only car forced responsibility, so no drinking and driving and being pretty careful – aside from that tempting 5km straight.

There were also practical reasons for getting a licence. Many kids would leave school at 15 and their jobs pretty much demanded they be able to drive. A lot of farmers were grateful for having a kid who could shoot into town for some spare machinery part or some other item while they continued to work. And of course sporting events became a lot easier for parents when they no longer had to drive the spawn to them.

These memories have been sparked by two things. First, my eldest son just got his first car. Second was this recent article: US Love Affair With Cars Nearly Finished. It points out a problem with new car sales:

J.D. Power estimates that Gen Zers will purchase about 120,000 fewer new vehicles this year compared with millennials in 2004, when they were the new generation of drivers—or 488,198 vehicles versus 607,329 then.

Cost is having an impact, mainly because car companies in the US seem to be focusing on SUV’s, targeted at Boomers and others enjoying the wealth of the stock market and pensions. SUV prices are over $US 30,000 and insurance costs are also rising.

Of course I have to laugh a bit at all that. As I described earlier – and I’m sure NZ reader’s experiences will be the same – getting a new car in NZ used to be something that might happen to you in Middle Age. In fact I did not get my first new car until I landed in the USA, where the combination of low deposit and low interest financing made it an easy choice.

Millennials and Generation Z saw what happened in the the Great Financial crisis and the first few years of the rebound. They saw their parents arguing over debt in fear of losing their house. They do not want to fall into the same trap.

Used cars? The horror! Bah humbug and “wah” for US Millennials and Gen Z’s: they can live as we did for a decade or two.

In my son’s case he got a 2008 Toyota Camry with 120,000k on the clock. Six cylinders to easily push it to 160km/h, if desired. Smooth to drive. Cruise control. Radio. Heating – and A/C!!! Crush zones. Airbags. And unlike my Escort, it’s pretty much certain to get to 200,000 or even 300,000 klicks before needing any serious work. It also cost about 1/4 of what my old Escort did in inflation-adjusted dollars. Free enterprise at its best. I would not want my Ford Escort back.

But while the car side has progressed in all ways, getting the licence to use it has become far more painful. You have to be 16 now to sit the written test. Then there’s a year of “Learner” driving, with me or Beloved Wife in the passenger seat. A second driving test finally passed has then meant a year of “Restricted” driving, which means passengers can be carried only if there is another licenced driver in the car, and they still have to be in the front passenger seat. Comments in that US article point to similar issues there.

But there are other factors too. My son did not even bother sitting the written test until he was 18, then stretched the learners stage by almost two years through sheer inertia/laziness, and this too seems to be what’s happening in the USA:

Whereas a driver’s license once was a symbol of freedom, teenagers are reaching their driving age at a time when most have access to ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to shuttle them around town. At the same time, social media and video chat let them hang out with friends without actually leaving the house.

“That freedom of getting your own wheels and a license—and that being the most important thing in life—is gone,” said Brent Wall, owner of All Star Driver Education in Michigan, a chain of drivers’-ed schools. He said the average age of students in his class is rising. “It used to be the day they turned 14 years and eight months, everybody was lining up at the door. Now I’m starting to see more 15- and 16-year-olds in class.” He frequently hears from parents that they’re the ones pushing their children to enroll.

Yep! All of that certainly was our experience with No. 1 son, and it’s even worse with the younger siblings. At this rate they’ll be in their early 20’s before they’re driving as I was when I was 15. And it is a pain when it comes to family logistics.

The article finishes on a typical Boomer gloom note:

When they reach their 20s, more are moving to big cities with mass transit, where owning a car is neither necessary nor practical.

The auto industry will soon not look like what it does today. Cars will be smaller, lighter, electric, and self-driving. Boomers will be gone. Those living in big cities will not need to own a car at all, and most won’t.

Boomers are the primary force keeping the current auto trends alive. Demographically-speaking, it won’t last.

We’ll see about that. There’s always been a bit of a hatefest against cars by “city planners” because they can’t be controlled the way trains and buses can be, and I’ve been hearing this stuff about the “youf” moving to big cities with mass transit for two decades now: the usual poorly researched MSM crap. Turns out that the opposite is the case::

In fact, as a new Brookings study shows, millennials are not moving en masse to metros with dense big cities, but away from them. According to demographer Bill Frey, the 2013–2017 American Community Survey shows that New York now suffers the largest net annual outmigration of post-college millennials (ages 25–34) of any metro area—some 38,000 annually—followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Diego. New York’s losses are 75 percent higher than during the previous five-year period.

By contrast, the biggest winner is Houston, a metro area that many planners and urban theorists regard with contempt. The Bayou City gained nearly 15,000 millennials net last year, while other big gainers included Dallas–Fort Worth and Austin, which gained 12,700 and 9,000, respectively.

I hear the same crap about Millennials and Gen Z with regard to detached suburban homes: that they love living in downtown apartments. More grist to city planners naturally, but again the stats don’t support that:.

Perhaps even more significant has been the geographic shift within metro areas. The media frequently has exaggerated millennial growth in the urban cores. In reality, nearly 80 percent of millennial population growth since 2010 has been in the suburbs.

As they can afford to, these generations move to detached housing. As they can afford to, they’ll take up cars more, including new cars.

Considering what a pain city driving is, I’d be more than happy to hand over to a self-driving car now. But that doesn’t help trains and buses much. We’d still be better to plan for cars than mass transit.

And on the open road, which will still be necessary for travelling, will humans dump that feeling of freedom? I suspect they’ll tell the AI to take a break and then grab the controls to have some fun.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 28, 2019 at 8:50 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , , , ,