Look At That Escargot!

car design sketch

Dogleg. Rocker panel. Tumblehome. Daylight opening. Strake. Mohican Line.

Do these terms bring to mind something in your garage? Well, they should! They’re automotive design terms that describe just a few of the styling cues that make your car look the way it does.

I’m far from your typical car guy—horsepower has always been less interesting to me than form & function—but I’ve long since been fascinated with the design choices, compromises, and risks that automobile creators take that ultimately shape (and continually reshape) what we perceive as appealing. It’s amazing how easily automakers can tweak their designs to visually imply capabilities or imbue their creations with certain assumed characteristics:

  • Want a muscle car? Oversize the rear fender flares like the beefy haunches of an animal, emphasize the front wheel arches, and add sculpted swage lines to suggest bulging, sinewy biceps. Also lower the front to again emphasize the hips and reduce the metal-to-glass ratio.
  • Want to make a car seem nimble? Shift the cab forward (increasing visibility and shortening the hood), radically reduce the rear overhang, set the chassis higher on the suspension, and black out the turnunders so it appears perched for attack. An arched beltline also suggests sprightliness and affords a taller DLO without it seeming like, well, a greenhouse.
  • Want a robust and sturdy vehicle? Increase ground clearance, carve out chunky, squarish bumpers, scale up the fenders, and use an imposing, monolithic grill & fascia to communicate ruggedness. Also, be sure to use wheels that borrow heavily from industrial themes wrapped in large knobby rubber. Wheels and wheelarches pulled out from the body sides help imply aggression. Here too, you’ll want to reduce the height of the greenhouse so there’s a higher metal-to-glass ratio.
  • Want a ride that seems lightning quick? Slide the cabin backwards, sharpen the rake (the windshield angle), emphasize the swag and beltlines, and hug the body to the ground. Adding scoops and gills, even if non-functional, implies that this beast runs so hot you have to make extra efforts to draw in cooling air. A spoiler, even if little more than an integral bump off the trunk lid, suggests sportscar-like performance.

Mind you, all of this is largely irrespective of the underlying mechanics. The design of the vehicle makes subliminal “claims” that you subconsciously associate with that car—regardless of whether it’s true or not. These design “tricks” work even if the car in question is, for example, neither fast or agile—used effectively, overall stance and sharply contoured bodylines connote movement, or dynamism, even when the car is sitting still.

Now sure, form does generally follow function and automakers do usually try to back up the implied “claims” that their highly-sculpted exteriors make with complementary powertain, suspension, etc., but for many buyers, aesthetics remain the key draw. And automobile designers have an exhaustive toolkit to tweak those aesthetics to wordlessly convey volumes.

Does the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor rev you up even though it’s simply 8″ of added muscular fiberglass and a chunky grill rework? Do the subtle waves in the sides of the Mazda 5 do anything for you? What’re your favorite automotive styling cues? Or maybe you have some distinct car design peeves? Did the 2015 Mustang break too many ties to its visual heritage to still live up to the name? Does the squashed roofline of the 2014 Volkswagen New Beetle destroy the iconic shape for you? Leave a comment and share car designs that you love or hate!

New Car Fever

I’ve had the bug for awhile, but when Dede’s Honda-CRV (a.k.a. “Rocket“) was totaled last year and we replaced it with a zippy Mazda CX-5 (a.k.a. “Rojo”)…

2014 Mazda CX-5

Dede’s 2014 Mazda CX-5 a.k.a. “Rojo”

That’s when my new car fever started to become chronic!

I’d had my Honda Element since ’03 and it was still working fine. But it had always been really basic, devoid of all of the nice features that more modern cars have, and was also downright anemic on horsepower. With all of the comforts, electronic gadgetry goodness, and zoom zoom of Rojo, my ride seemed all that much more dated.

'03 Honda Element

Rob’s “Ellie” – ’03 Honda Element EX

My new car fever stayed in remission for a few more months but it sure didn’t help when Rich & Benie upgraded to a snazzy new Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Turbo. Lots of others were getting new cool rides too… Trey & Rob M. got hot new sports cars. A super clean used Highlander was an overdue upgrade for Clems & Sophie. Ryan & Daniel both got new cars? Yep! See the trend?

Plus, a host of small problems was starting to plague the Element, including the an A/C compressor on the fritz (projected to be a very costly fix) and some flaky electrical issue that was either draining the batter or causing it not to charge properly. I had looked at lots of different options but on Dede’s urging & Georgina’s seconding, I decided to test drive a Jeep Wrangler.

Sure enough, I really liked the Jeep’s elevated and upright seating position, the nimble handling, and lots of oompfh to spare. As much as I had loved my Element for the past 11+ years, I grudgingly but unceremoniously just… let it go. Now I’m a Jeep owner! It’s a 2014 Wrangler Sport S 4X4 in Flame Red loaded with 4-wheel drive, Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth phone pairing, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, removable front roof panels and top. And of course, 2 front-mounted tow hooks because, well, you never know…

About the only key thing it doesn’t have yet is a name—and I’m working on that!

2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Rob’s new 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport

There are a few accessories that I’m itching for, including a dead pedal and trailer hitch—to make use of the folding trailer that Liam & I built last year! The vast array of parts, add-ons, and other sundries for the Wrangler “JK” (a.k.a. Third Generation) is almost overwhelming! Just look at the almost-endless assortment of goodies at these sites:

Quadratec – Parts & accessories for Jeep Wrangler, CJ & Cherokee
Mountain Off-Road Enterprises
4Wheel Drive Hardware

What’s more, the Wrangler platform seems expressly built for bolting on or otherwise adding after-market stuff so even a mechanically-challenged guy like me can handle lots of upgrades. There’s also a massive online community of Wrangler owners who post tips, tricks, stories, how-to instructions, and photos galore at forum sites like these:

WranglerForum
JeepForum
JK-Forum



Tip:   By the way, as I was settling in with the new ride, I was reminded of the classic Car Talk instructions for adjusting side mirrors that I heard years ago. Car mirrors are something that you usually just set and rarely change, so follow Tom & Ray Magliozzi’s advice to set ’em right to begin with and reduce your car’s blind spots!

Know When To Fold ‘Em

When we began car-shopping recently to replace Dede’s Honda CR-V, I suppose it was only natural that I’d catch the new car fever too, even though there’s nothing wrong with my trusty Element aside from it being 10+ yrs old and lacking in all of the techno-goodies, conveniences, and creature comforts of the cool new vehicles.

It was while I was half-looking for a suitable replacement, however, that I was very inspired by the EcoModder “Buy a Trailer Instead of a Pickup Truck” thread that I just stumbled upon. The argument that a trailer (and hitch) added to an existing car can give you almost all the functionality of a truck without the lower fuel efficiency—or hefty new car payments—really appealed to me. Even as much as this seemed like a great idea, I had all but dismissed the whole thing as impractical since I don’t have any space to park a trailer. But then several pages deep into the thread, I read a comment about the Haul Master Folding Trailer at Harbor Freight and I was hooked!

So the next thing I knew, I was at Harbor Freight:

Haul Master Folding Trailer - Boxes Loaded

Loaded up at Harbor Freight

Who would’ve guessed that a couple of unassuming (but heavy) boxes would hold an entire trailer?!

Haul Master Folding Trailer boxes unloaded

Boxes unloaded into the garage

Liam and I set about getting the pieces unboxed…

Haul Master Folding Trailer unboxed

Parts staged and ready to go

Then we started putting the puzzle together:

Haul Master Folding Trailer assembly

Assembling the trailer

It went together fairly quickly with Liam manning the power tools!

Haul Master Folding Trailer assembled

Liam rocks the cordless driver!

Once it was all assembled, I called in favors from Pete for bearing lube and Fred for some wiring assistance and it was ready for the decking. Ironically tho, I needed the trailer to get the plywood home! So with the help of a very overworked but friendly guy at the U-Haul store, I added an inexpensive Class 3 (chosen for size and flexibility more than weight capacity) hidden trailer hitch to my Element. Then I hitched up the trailer for its maiden voyage:

Haul Master Folding Trailer hitched up

Hitched and ready for the maiden voyage

After I primed & waterproofed the plywood with truck bed liner paint and attached, the trailer was complete:

Haul Master Folding Trailer completed

Decked out and finshed!

Perhaps the coolest thing is that once the trailer is folded (made much easier thanks to Corky’s clever how-to “rope trick” video), it only occupies an unobtrusive sliver of space in the front of the Element in our garage:

Haul Master Folding Trailer stored in the garage

Folded and stored in front of the Element

Once I started Googling around about this folding trailer, I discovered there are quite a few forums dedicated to building and customizing (sometimes extensively) these for a limitless array of uses:

And there’s tons of cool stuff to accessorize the trailer at Harbor Freight and RedTrailers.com.



Of course, the whole time we were working on this, Kenny Rogers’ “Gambler” was the song that stuck in my head. But Dede’s theme song for this project was different—she kept singing that line “Trailers for sale or rent…” While I’m confident that what was going thru her mind was the classic Roger Miller version, I really dig Josh Turner & Randy Travis’s rendition of “King of the Road”.

New Year, New Car

Rob predicted last month that .   And even before that, he hinted several months ago, that a big car change was afoot.

Still, its come as a huge shock to nearly everyone who knows me, that the Caliente era is coming to a close.   My beloved Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible was a fantastic, fun car for two, but not at all a good fit for three.   So, a couple of weeks ago we said "Hello" to our new, comfy, more family-oriented car (dubbed Rocket by Liam).

2010 Honda CR-V

Its a bit bittersweet, of course, knowing that this means a very sad "Goodbye" to my sweet little Cali, who sits dejected on the curb with a forlorn "For Sale" perched in her windshield.   (Call me for a price on an award-winning, sporty, fun, little car!)

Is this the first of more big changes to come in 2010?   Oh yes!   Stay tuned…
 

End of An Era?

Dede decided it was finally time to let the personalized "CALI N T" license plates on Caliente go.   (It was always a lot of fun to watch people read that plate, scratch their heads a bit, and then see the meaning finally dawn on ’em!)

Is this a foreshadowing of other, bigger changes to come?   Time will tell…

replacing license plates of Dede's car

"Every new beginning, comes from some other beginning’s end."

– from Closing Time by Semisonic

Motivated Marketing

Gasoline has now peaked $4 per gallon and you’re stuck driving a hulking behemoth that gets 12 M.P.G. — if you’ve got a tailwind.   How the heck did this happen?

Marketing.

It’s not easy to admit, but most of us are willing victims of marketing.   Very, very clever people are paid lavish salaries to coax, convince, or otherwise cajole our ideals and opinions about everything from cars to shoes to pizza to trashbags.   Yup, these are the guys whose job it is to bend our wills — and they’re very, very good at it.   In particular, U.S. automakers & their marketing wizards have a magical hold on us.   They’ve been hand-crafting the public’s perceived need for the kind of vehicles they want us to buy for decades now.   Not sure what I mean?   Don’t think you can be manipulated?   Need proof?

     "That thing got a Hemi?"

Pure genius.   I didn’t even know what the heck a Hemi was when that Dodge advertising campaign launched, but I sure was checking the contents of my shorts, feeling so inadequate over not having a big honkin’ truck equipped with a Hemi engine.   Think that doesn’t sell vehicles?   Think again!   Take note of how many big hinkin’, 8-cylinder, 4-wheel drive, quad-cab trucks and lumbering, oversized SUVs are on the road serving as nothing more than single-occupancy commuter vehicles.

Yup, American automakers haven’t needed to be concerned with fuel efficiency or catering to the small car market because they’ve had most of us securely under their spell for so long.   They’ve snookered us into believing that bigger & more cylinders are better and that we need the horsepower to do zero-to-60 in 6.5 seconds or else we’re pansies.   If you’re driving a small, inexpensive car with a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine, you must either be destitute (because affluent people drive big cars with beefy engines), or some kind of treehugging, rice-eating, commie-lovin’, hippie.

By golly, if you’re not driving a big-ass, rubber-burnin’, God Bless America, gas-guzzling GM truck, well, Bob Seger & John Mellencamp are going to come over to your house, beat ya up, drink up all your beer, and prolly take your girlfriend!

And women aren’t immune to the crafty marketing pressures either.   A decade or so ago, U.S. automakers began targeting that segment by hoodwinking safety-conscious moms with the false perception that SUVs are safer.

Even now, they’re feverishly trying to hustle the more environmentally-aware among us with SUV hybrids.   These are nothing more than a sad, misguided, & utterly greedy attempt on the behalf of automakers to seem "green" yet continue to cater to outdated, redneck attitudes.   The whole idea of the improved fuel efficiency of a hybrid is almost completely negated by the added weight & poor aerodynamics of SUVs.   (Not to mention that they’re still not nearly as safe as they’d have you believe.)

So how the heck are we supposed to feel good about buying a small car from these hucksters now?

Marketing.

After more than 50 years of profiting handsomely (to put it mildly) from skillfully shaping our desires & subsequent purchasing habits by building false perceptions and stroking our redneck egos about how horsepower equals manhood, the automotive industry & their marketing geniuses have a social responsibility to apply that same moneygrubbing fervor towards making Americans feel OK about buying smaller, less resource-wasteful cars.

Advertising shapes public opinion so automakers need to get busy selling a new idea!
 

Jumbo Shrimp and SUV Safety

“Jumbo shrimp.”   “Smart bomb.”   “Freezer burn.”

Oxymorons. We’re all familiar with these. Oxymorons are the bringing together of two opposites or contradictory terms. With that in mind, maybe it’s high time we added another phrase to the long list of oxmora:

“SUV safety”

Almost daily, I hear people defaulting to—and defending—the choice of a SUV when the option of buying a new car comes up. In almost every case, the primary reason listed is safety. And who can blame them? We spend an increasing amount of time behind the wheel and people want their families & children to be safe & secure on the road. The perception is that bigger is better, more steel equals stronger, and taller means superior. Add it all up, SUVs just seem like the safest choice, right?

SUV Safety SignFor most SUVs, nothing could be further from the truth…

A string of largely-ignored tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety over recent years has thoroughly documented the fact that many cars are far safer than SUVs. Yet in spite of the known hazards—such as SUVs being prone to rollovers and having weak roofs & comparably poor crash protection—consumer continue to snatch up these hulking behemoths in record numbers. People are, in effect, willfully overlooking vehicle safety concerns because of reasoning that’s known to be untrue.

I urge you to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s very compelling article Big & Bad: How the SUV Ran Over Automotive Safety for a closer look at the pyschology & rationale behind chosing SUVs for safety.

In choosing SUVs, drivers aren’t only placing themselves at greater risk. No, as I mentioned in my Risky Business post back in January, the combination of highly-touted safety innovations (4-wheel drive, ABS brakes, side-curtain airbags, etc.) and the more risk-tolerant attitudes & driving habits of SUV-owners, makes them a greater threat to other drivers as well. Little if any thought seems to go into the issue of SUVs being much more harmful to the other vehicle in a collision but in fact, the more SUVs bought in the interest of safety, the less safe the roads actually are. Popular assumption is that because of the larger size, stiffer frame, and heavier weight of SUVs, they’ll naturally be safer but the taller stance poses a considerably greater rollover risk, the stiffer frame is very inefficient at dissipating collision forces, and the added mass makes for far less break responsiveness & maneuverability.

Be sure to read Physics Today’s very interesting Vehicle Design and the Physics of Safety article for more insight on the impact (pun intended!) of SUVs & pickups on American roadways.

This is all worth considering before plunking down your hard-earned cash on your next vehicle… Will your next ride still be a SUV?

A Weekend of Fun

Top 5 TrophyIt was another fun year at the 8th annual Roswell R2k New Beetle Car Show this past weekend.   We met up with some of our old friends from past years and made some new ones.   It was great seeing everyone again and checking out all the bugs that entered in the show.

There was a group of Volkswagen New Beetles that started in Chicago and did a Route 66 caravan to the show and are continuing on this week to end the route in California.   Thanks to Antoine, I got a copy of all the photos the crew had taken from Chicago to Roswell and it looks like to have been a great trip.   I wished we could’ve taken time off to join in on the fun!

Top 5 trophies for each New Beetle car class were given out at the show and Caliente scored Top 5 in the Convertible class.   Yeah!   There were 2 New Beetles that I hadn’t seen before that quickly became my favorites of this year’s show.   One was The Great Pumpkin and the other was Fastball, the Cracker Jack Baseball car.   The Parade down Main Street followed the awards ceremony and, as always, we had fun throwing out candy to the kids along the street.

Click here to see all the pictures from the Roswell R2kv8 New Beetle Car Show.

Roswell or Bust – Again!

Roswell or BustOnce again, we’re prepped, loaded, & on the road to the 8th Annual Roswell R2k New Beetle Car Show in Roswell, New Mexico.   Although the competition gets stiffer each year, we’re hopeful that Caliente will fare well — maybe even score another trophy — thanks in part to Cali’s newly-painted brake calipers and some new chili-pepper themed decorations.

As with the previous years’ R2k shows, we’re especially excited about the "Parade of Colors" that’s held after the car show on Saturday afternoon.   We’ve bought several pounds of candy to throw to the kids watching the parade — they always get a huge kick out of seeing all of the decorated VW New Beetles cruising down Roswell’s Main Street.

Cali Gets a Pedi

It was a big night for Caliente;   she finally got her long overdue pedi. We’ve been talking for a couple of years about wanting to paint the brake calipers but were afraid to tackle the project alone.   Thanks to Trey (a.k.a. T-Dawg), tonight it finally happened.

It took T-Dawg & Rob about 2 hours from start to finish.   Not bad at all!   I was on-hand as the project manager & official photographer.   I trusted them with my baby and, I must say, the boyz did an awesome job!

Here’s a picture of the guys gearing up to start.   Click here to see the rest of the photos.

Rob & Trey prepare to paint Caliente's brake calipers