Tuesday, February 28, 2012

She's Your Wife... Not Your Maid!

I might be going on a bit of rant here, but there’s something I need to address with a few husbands out there. Recently my wife recounted a conversation with a friend, this friend shared that her husband seldom helps around the house. He tends to sleep in on Saturdays while she gets up and begins cooking and cleaning. Her husband doesn’t understand on Saturday night when he wants to go out but she’s wiped out and ready for bed. This friend of my wife’s is also pregnant (as is my wife).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this guy is a bad guy or that their marriage is in trouble. I don’t even know him (or her) personally. I hear these kinds of stories from my wife and others from time to time and I have to say it bothers me. So let’s begin with some background on why it bothers me.
When I was a kid my mother who is a nurse would often have to work weekends. This left at least three if not four or five kids at the house with dad many times. Dad often enlisted us to help with age appropriate chores, but regardless of how we helped the chores got done, they weren’t left for my mother to do when she got home after being at work all day. Dad worked hard too, he put a lot of hours in at his job as well, but my parents viewed taking care of the kids and the house as tasks that they must address equally.
I can recall on many occasions as a kid helping fold laundry with my siblings, running the vacuum, mowing the yard, pulling weeds, helping make dinner or helping my dad with various maintenance or improvements to the house or the yard. As a teenager I’m sure that I displayed the typical teenage laziness and occasional laze fare attitude of many teenagers, by then my mom seldom had to do any weekend shifts, still I had to do chores or whatever task was asked of me or face the consequences. I can recall many weekends when I had stayed up too late, only to be awakened bright and early usually by my dad alerting me to get my tail out of bed and ready to do some work.
Fast forward to today. I’m married now. I’ve found that throughout my life I find joy in doing things that make others happy. I’ve also found that when you’re married sometimes even the smallest things can mean the most to your wife. I don’t do it to score points or earn my allowance as I might have as a child. I do it because I love my wife and because I view our marriage as one of equals, especially in terms of the roles we play in taking care of our home. We both work full time jobs, we both must deal with family issues and we both have other things on many occasions we’d rather be doing than cleaning, cooking and laundry. However these things must get done and if we share the workload they get done faster. Since we enjoy doing many of the same things together it only makes sense that if we help one another out we both get what we want faster.
So husbands I have to ask, if you’re not helping your wife out, why not? Are you lazy? Do you not know what to do? Are you worried you might miss the big game this weekend? Never mind that the big game is probably on for several hours at a time, there’ll be a big recap in the half hour to hour long postgame show that follows with all the important highlights you missed and again that night online and on sportscenter. None of these are an acceptable excuse. You can turn on the TV and run it in the background while you clean if there’s a game on that you want to watch. The vacuum cleaner won’t suck the life out of you while it’s sucking the dirt out of the carpet. Laundry is easy, (what did you do when you were single anyway?). Cleaning the bathroom can be disgusting but as a husband are you not supposed to want to protect your wife? So protect her from the germs and filth in the bathroom and get in there and scrub, it just takes a few minutes anyway. If you have questions about where a certain cleaner is, what to use or what should go in what cycle in the laundry, just ask her. Better yet figure it out yourself! (just don’t’ experiment with laundry cycles and her clothes).  The dishwasher is also another device that was made to be convenient, not frightening, I promise that loading and unloading it will not break your back, and running it is a task of pouring out some soap, flipping a knob or just pushing a few buttons. We’re men, we pride ourselves on being able to do complicated manly tasks, why can’t we do the seemingly complicated buy terribly simple household ones as well.
Then there’s cooking. I go back to, what did you do when you were single? You didn’t live off carry out and going out all the time, or at least I hope not. You don’t have to cook every night, or even every week but once in a while it would be nice for you to contribute to that too. While we’re talking about dinner let’s talk about what’s for dinner. My wife and I decided long ago that since we both work full time jobs that cooking something different and new every night is not always feasible. So what happens most weeks is that we fix something to last the whole week. We might fix a large pot of soup or chili, a big batch of barbecue. Lasagna, spaghetti, there are lots of things you can fix that will last all week. This makes getting a healthy meal by a reasonable time easy to do and neither of us feel as though we waited the whole evening to eat dinner.  I promise this won’t kill you, it won’t upset your stomach or send your taste buds into some kind of funk. You can even make two things and alternate them between different nights. We usually make dinner on Saturday or Sunday afternoon and it’s ready for the week. I will admit that my wife cooks more often than I do, but many times while she’s in the kitchen I’m tending to something else.
So I’ll close this entry out by saying husbands if you really want to show your wife how much you care it’s not always about buying flowers or taking her out to dinner (though that doesn’t hurt either). Sometimes just pitching in and doing your share of the housework is enough to let her know how much you really love her, and I promise she will really appreciate it. After all she’s your wife not your maid.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Future of Pony Cars

The Future of Pony Cars
Pony cars are a segment of the automotive landscape near and dear to me. I love and respect all three major manufacturer’s versions of these cars as offered in both past and present iterations. All had their perspective strengths and weaknesses and the argument of who built the best one could go on for days if not weeks at a time. This entry is not a focus of where they’ve been or who is building a superior product, rather it’s where they are and where they are headed. I will tackle each of the Big 3’s offerings here and offer what are my opinions of the future of each car. I may be completely off on all of my predictions here or only partly correct, so just remember these are just my opinions and not any facts of production yet, but they are based on my daily readings of various blogs and news stories about the Big 3 or about the pony cars.

Is this the shape of the next Mustang?

Up first is the car that started it all, the original Pony car the Ford Mustang. Significantly revised for 2005 and updated several times since then the Mustang today offers a solid performance value.  The current V6 base model makes more horsepower than many of its V8 predecessors, the legendary 5.0 badge and displacement made their return recently and offered one of the best V8’s Ford has ever produced in terms of performance and technology. For 2013, the Mustang will get a slight bump in power, some cosmetic changes and that’s about it. The Shelby GT500 model gets the significant improvements with a revamped 5.8L DOHC V8 producing an astounding 650HP. Along with that you can get electronically controlled suspension and a top speed in the coupe of at least 200 MPH, provided you can find a police free, empty stretch of road long and straight enough for you to safely enjoy such a feat (better keep that one to the track).
The Mustang will celebrate it’s 50th birthday soon and it would seem that the original Pony will be maturing a bit. Rumors are flying around that the long used 8.8” solid axle will be ditched for an independent rear suspension, let’s hope it’s superior to Ford’s previous attempts at offering an IRS equipped Mustang in the 1999-2004 Cobras.  Since the Mustang is to be a “World Car” in line with Ford’s current “One Ford” strategy it would make sense that an IRS is probably a sure thing in the next generation Mustang in order for it to compete on a global scale.
Rumors abound as well of a four cylinder version coming onboard perhaps in lieu of the current V6. This may make sense as well. The upcoming Focus ST will offer a 250ish HP 2.0L Ecoboost direct injected and turbo charged four cylinder. I would venture that with some tweaks to displacement or in turbo and injector size as well as computer calibrations that this same engine could be applied to a rear drive configuration in a Mustang with the same power as the current V6 offering. Let us hope too though that the next generation car is light enough to make good use of a 4 cylinder base powertrain.  As I am writing and editing this both Top Gear and Motor Trend have rumor reports of a 2.3L SVO powertrain rumored for the next Mustang.
I would expect the 5.0L engine to live on, though I would imagine it will be an updated iteration to feature direct injection allowing for perhaps more power and better fuel economy as well as lower emissions. Remember folks CAFÉ restrictions are coming soon and they threaten to strangle all manner of cars within the auto industry not just the performance cars and big trucks. Direct injection for the 5.0 also makes sense. The current engine’s cylinder heads are setup to easily allow for direct injection as designed originally. Some revisions in designs and tooling as well as a new intake manifold and valve covers are the biggest bits of what will be needed to make this change physically to the current engine. This change may also allow for another bump in the engine’s compression ratio.
The Shelby GT500 if it survives I imagine will also make use of the 5.0L. While Ford made a significant investment in the current 5.8L adding new tech such as piston cooling jets this engine is essentially becoming long in the tooth. Still a derivative of the modular platform that was developed way back in the 1980’s and first seen in Crown Vic’s as a 4.6L in the early 90’s this engine is destined to go by the wayside soon. While the 650HP number is quite spectacular from the current car and the most powerful production Ford engine ever, I don’t see how it can last in this form with the new CAFÉ standards looming.  SVT also is rumored to be going by the wayside as we know it and being incorporated into the ST line as part of the “One Ford” vision. This may also contribute to the Shelby receiving a heavily hopped up version of the 5.0, quite possibly making at or close to the current 650HP mark. A lot of this may also depend on what the competition is doing.
As far as chassis and body goes on the new Mustang. It is my hope that it will be a smaller car, lighter in weight and stiffer. Since this will be the first truly worldwide Mustang sold in multiple international markets would expect the interior to be a little more upscale. The current chassis is good but there is always room for improvement.
As far as appearance goes, what will it look like is perhaps as big a question for most people as is how much horsepower will be under the hood. I say look no further than the EVOS concept for your basic shape and design. This concept according to Ford represents the styling direction of Ford for the next several years. Looking at multiple pictures of this concept there are several things that standout as to why I believe this is the shape of the next generation Mustang. The first is the car’s layout, it is very much Pony car in it’s long hood and short rear deck or even hatchback design. Now forget about the four gullwing doors, that’s just a concept car design gimmick to get attention at shows.  Look closely at the photos too and you see some big brakes on this car, also a performance car hallmark these days. If you removed the taillights from the rear deck and replaced them with an updated variant of the Mustang three bar design that harkens back to 1965 as well as has been back in use since 1994 in some variation or another. Stretch the too thin front lamps down, move the grille up and change it from the current shape to a more traditional for Mustang trapezoid shape, stick the running Pony in the middle and there you have it.

Now for all you bowtie lovers, let’s talk about the Camaro. This car was late getting back in the party having only just recently come back to market. Like anyone who is late to the party though, the Camaro has made a big entrance. Coming on the scene besting it’s chief competitor (the Mustang) by 100 horsepower when it debuted the Camaro has made waves once again in the pony car/muscle car market, just as it did back in 1967. The styling of the current car can be a bit polarizing, it also kills visibility from the driver’s seat, some love it, some hate it. I will admit from my perspective that while the concept was great at the time it was revealed GM was too slow to market with this car and it came in far too late in the retro crazy pony car rebirth. In spite of all this the Camaro has managed to outsell the Mustang the past two years in a row, no small feat, and probably partially attributed to loyal fans holding out for the Camaro to return to the scene.
The upcoming ZL1 Camaro promises even more fun for those who can afford the sticker. Much like the GT500 is Ford’s top Mustang offering the ZL1 will be the top shelf Camaro. Currently boasting a supercharged 580HP as well as electronically adjustable suspension technology taken from the Corvette, the ZL1 will be a force to be reckoned with on the street and track. Make no mistake about it there will be a horsepower and a performance figures war between Ford and GM for supremacy, bragging rights and customer’s cash at least until 2015.

My opinion Code 130R = 2015 Camaro

Also due for a refresh in 2015 the Camaro faces the same challenges as the Mustang in terms of fuel economy while maintaining performance.  GM has already shown its hand in terms of what will be under the hood though.  The next generation small block Chevy V8 is set to debut in the 2013 Chevy Corvette. Much like the LS1 debuted in the mid 90’s in the C5 corvette the new small block will debut here in GM’s flagship before various versions of it make their way throughout the production line over the next few years. Technology that GM V8’s have made due without (and by made due I mean done very well for themselves)  for the last several years will be standard on this engine, variable camshaft timing and direct injection are promised. We know in the C7 Vette that displacement will drop to 5.5 liters although GM maintains that performance will be equal or better than current power outputs. It would make sense that the Camaro will receive either a 5.5 liter, 5.0 liter or similar version of this same engine, with the same or slightly less power than the big brother Corvette makes.
Base powertrain is also likely to be a forced induction four cylinder. GM has a lot more experience in this department than Ford having developed hot cars like the Cobalt SS and the turbocharged Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice a few years back. They also have already proven these types of powertrains in a rear drive applications (the above mentioned Pontiac and Saturn). I would expect these four cylinders to also deliver the same or better performance than the V6’s they will likely replace though their power output will likely be in the 300HP range.
The ZL1 like the GT500 will either remain or will be the last gasp of the high horsepower battle between Ford and GM. I fully expect the ZL1 to get even more power before 2015 as Ford and Chevy duke it out for pony car muscle supremacy. If the ZL1 remains it will likely be just as the GT500 would be a lower displacement but still high output engine. Still utilizing forced induction this GM performance bruiser could theoretically continue fighting against Shelby until the market for such cars dries up.
As far as appearance and chassis goes. Much like I believe Ford has already shown their cards in this respect I also believe that GM has shown it as well. Look at the Code 130R concept car from GM. Right now GM has an issue, an age issue. The average age of a Chevy buyer is 55. They need to attract a younger audience. However building two rear wheel drive performance cars in the current market (the Camaro and the 130R) makes little sense to me as one could cannibalize the sales of the other. This might have made sense in the 1960’s but today there is too much competition from other brands, let alone from within. Higher ups at Chevy have said they will tour the Code 130R concept this year to gauge public opinion. I see this as the next Camaro and Chevy shifting the focus from aging Baby Boomers and 40+ crowd buyers for Camaros back to the youth market that the car was originally intended for in the 60’s when it first debuted.
Other reasons I believe the Code 130R to be the next Camaro, it is built on the same platform as the upcoming Cadillac ATS sedan. This is also the same platform that the next generation Camaro will ride on according to GM. Again final shape and styling are all subject to a little tweaking but the retro theme is now literally old and will most likely see its end with the debut of the next car. This small lightweight car would be a true pony car in every sense. The concept also featured an independent rear suspension, something already present in the current Camaro.
Inside I would look for plenty of upgrades to the Camaro over even the current car. I also would imagine a new infotainment system similar to what will be offered on the upcoming ATS. Again I might be totally wrong on this prediction but the more I look at the pictures of the Code 130R the more I say, there’s your next generation Camaro.
In the handling department I expect the electronically adjustable suspension which is debuting on the upcoming ZL1 to trickle its way to the option packages on future Camaros, perhaps even on this generation car as well as the next generation much like it has over the years on the Corvette where it first appeared.
Transmission wise I think a 6 speed manual is the available transmission across the board in all models as well as possibly an eight speed automatic. Rumor is that a seven or eight speed manual trans will be available in the upcoming C7 Corvette, if this is true I would look for that to take the place of a 6 speed manual in the 2015 Camaro.
The last of the Big 3 ponycars is the Dodge Challenger. Little has been mentioned other than a few whispers about the future of the Challenger. Rumor has it that this nameplate is going by the wayside along with the current “big” car. The Challenger is a big car indeed, bigger than either the Camaro or the Mustang. While stylistically the closest appearing to its retro inspiration it is also the lowest volume seller of the three. Still the Challenger is a good car, with great power and plenty of options.  This is a car is a platform that was missing from Chrysler’s lineup for over 30 years in terms of a rear wheel drive pony car.
All of my info on the future of a Chrysler pony car is based on rumors I’ve read and speculation on my part. Chrysler has been either tight lipped or is simply behind in developing a plan for what’s next. Rumor has it that Chrysler will replace the Dodge Challenger with an SRT branded ‘Cuda or Barracuda model in the near future. The car will still be rear wheel drive. Powertrains are as yet unnamed. I would suspect a variant of the Hemi V8, perhaps even with variable cam timing and Chrysler’s displacement on demand systems shutting down individual cylinders during even or part throttle cruising to save fuel.
I would also suspect much like Ford and GM that a four cylinder forced induction base model engine will be offered that is at least the equivalent in power and performance to the current V6 base model. If the current model is an SRT brand only though, it is possible that it may only be offered as a hot V8 and in limited production. Think little brother to the Viper but not a high volume car like the Camaro or Mustang. Another possibility is that the Pentastar which is Chrysler’s new V6 could remain an option as the base engine in the ‘Cuda as this engine offers significant refinements in terms of power and efficiency, all of this is of course speculation.
In the styling department Chrysler has said that the replacement for the Challenger will not be retro. This is the first of the big 3 to come out and make this statement known. Though they have said that the new car will pay homage however to the models that came before it and bore its name just not in a completely retro fashion as the Challenger does.  It would also make sense that the ‘Cuda replacement will be a much smaller car than the current Challenger.
Chrysler has in the last two years made dramatic improvements with respect to interior quality throughout its lineup, I expect this to continue here.  This really is all I have read or know about what’s coming from Chrysler with respect to their pony car, a model which may have been neglected in the recent merger with Fiat due to the increased focus on small cars.
Chances are if you’re reading this blog posting you have at least some interest in performance cars or pony cars in general. What I hope is not going to happen is 1974 all over again. Manufacturer’s back then delayed far too long and did not develop the necessary technologies and strategies to meet consumer and government demands. Performance can be had in smaller, lighter packages but without sacrificing V8 power and while netting better fuel economy. Let’s hope that the Big 3 learn from the past and don’t set our performance figures back 20+ years because they were unable to cope with changing times and standards.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Geographical Oddity

A Geographical Oddity

On this day I nearly was a man of cosntant sorrow

I felt like I was in a movie, one movie in particular came to mind, even a specific scene from “O Brother Where Art Thou”. I’ve seen this film I don’t know how many times and I found myself now in a situation that resembled a comic moment from that movie. Let me back things up to how I got there first.
It was a very hot and humid summer day a few years back, I’m going to say around 2007, or 2008. Sydney and I had left the house late in the morning and were headed to her sister’s home outside of Bloomfield, KY. We were going to a birthday party for one of my nephews although at this time I don’t remember which one.
Since these three nephews in particular are car crazy there was no debating on which car to drive, we took my Mustang. The kids always got a kick out of it, primarily because its loud and to them it’s fast (It’s fun to me not necessarily what I would describe as fast). The car’s loud, (because of the changes I made to the exhaust), it’s shiny, it looks pretty good and it’s a Mustang so the kids are into it. I try to make it a point to bring it over on special occasions since it usually gets them excited.
Since this car is only driven in nice weather it also spends a lot of time sitting in my garage. Normally I keep a trickle charger or battery maintaining device connected to the car so the battery does not drain during long periods between drives. That being said on this particular day the battery was low because it was summer and I hadn’t hooked the car up the charger (I drive it a lot more in the summer).  I had to jump start the car to get it going. I had no reason to be worried otherwise, it had been sitting for about a month as I’d been to busy to get it out and drive it. I was working under the false assumption that a jumpstart and the drive to see the kids would be enough to recharge my battery.
Upon hitting the interstate I realized I would need to get gas at some point if I was to make it to Bloomfield. I decided that I would stop at one of the several stations that dotted hwy 55 between Jeffersontown and Taylorsville, planning to stop closer to Taylorsville since it would give the battery longer to be recharged by the car’s alternator. I chose a gas station and pulled in, filled the tank up and to my horror found that the battery still lacked a strong enough charge to start my car. Since I had yet to make the changeover to a manual transmission that I desired to have in this car from the automatic transmission it came with there would be no push starting.
I was certain that the gas station which featured a small general store/food mart would sell jumper cables as I can recall seeing them at several gas stations through the years. This however was not the case, there were plenty of fireworks and overpriced engine oil, but no jumper cables to be found.
 A good Samaritan inside the gas station offered to go to his house, retrieve jumper cables and come back to get me started, he made good on his offer and I thanked him profusely. Back on the road I knew there was a NAPA auto parts store just on the edge of Taylorsville, my plan was to stop in, buy a new battery and a wrench to install it, this would keep me going not only for the day but also be a better solution to this minor but agitating problem. I found it ironic as well that as someone who worked in the car business daily I was on the other side of the counter so to speak, now in need of someone else’s assistance so I could remedy my car woes.
Upon arrive at NAPA I left the car idling with my wife sitting in the passenger’s seat and ran inside. I was certain they would have a battery since it should have been a common size fitting many Ford and other applications . Approaching the parts counter a rather greasy man with a scraggly beard and dirty t-shirt seemed to ask with his eyes

How hard could it be to find a battery to fit this car?

“Whaddya need city boy” (he didn’t say that, he didn’t say a word).
“Hi, I need a battery for a ’98 Mustang, 4.6L.” I began.
He grunted and began staring at his computer as if it had heard my voice and was going to give an audible response.  He finger pecked away at the keys and tapped the keyboard a few more times.
“Ain’t got it, could have one Monday, probably more like Tuesday though.” He said.
“You don’t have something that I could substitute in it’s place do you? I’m not from this area and so I really can’t wait until Tuesday.” I asked.
“Nope, but you can try ole Smitty’s gas station ‘round the corner, he might have one.”  He said in between drags on his ashy Marlboro.
“Great thanks”.
I made my way out the door and kept my fingers crossed that the car had not stalled or shut off for some inexplicable reason. Five minutes later I was “’round the corner” at “ole Smitty’s”.  I found an older man, balding with white hair and glasses sitting in coveralls on a bench in the shade just outside the garage door on the side of the building.
“How you doing” I greeted him.
“Well, it’s hot” he replied grumpily.  With that reply, I wanted to smartly say “well you know it’s probably not the best weather for coveralls” but I refrained. I could already tell this was most likely also going to be futile, since I wasn’t driving a 1975 Chevy or 1984 Ford pickup it would seem that no one stocked batteries that fit anything but these two models. I would soon find that this premonition had been correct.
After telling the man what battery I needed he lead me to a room in the back where he had batteries literally stacked or piled almost floor to ceiling. After scanning his “Inventory” for a few minutes he said:
“Ain’t got one, probably have it Monday, more like Tuesday”.
It was at that moment I realized I was trapped in a scene similar to the one in “O Brother Where Art Thou”. If you’ve seen this movie try to recall the scene at the general store where George Clooney’s character (Ulysses “Everett” McGill) is looking for parts to repair his broken down (and stolen) car as well as some “Dapper Dan” hair jelly. The store owner tells him both the car parts and the hair jelly are about two weeks away, to which Everett replies “Well ain’t this place a geographical oddity, two weeks from everywhere”.  That one line sums up how I was feeling about Taylorsville on this particular Saturday afternoon.
I am thankful to say that we made it to the birthday party, and with the aide of my brother in law Terry we hit the Wal-Mart in the big metropolis of Bardstown, KY to get a battery so Sydney and I could get home that evening.
I grew up in and still live in what I consider a small town, but I have to say that I was probably spoiled by living in such close proximity to Louisville. It always seemed if we couldn’t find what we needed as kids we were just a short drive from somewhere else that would have it.
It was interesting also to be the customer for a change and remember that helpless feeling when you’re hoping someone else can help you with your car. Sometimes in my work life I forget how much more I know about cars than many of my customer’s and how they must feel being on the other side of the counter. It’s times like that when I need to remember how I felt standing in that NAPA store or there with “ole Smitty” trying to get something as simple as a new battery so I could get on with what I had planned for my Saturday.