Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “cars”

Occupy Corvair – Roger Ingalls

If you read the blog last week, you probably understand the meaning of the title for this post. My plan is to rebuild and slightly reengineer a 50 year old Chevy Corvair as a protest against California’s crazy smog laws and the kissy-cozy relationship between Big Oil, auto manufacturers and their lobbyists. To understand why rebuilding an old car is a protest, read the previous post.

I did receive a few emails about last week’s post asking why the Corvair was selected for the rebuild protest project. The following few paragraphs explain the technical reasons. Keep in mind that this project is focused on creating a high performance hypermiling vehicle. In this case, high performance does not mean massive horsepower or super speed. It means long distance traveled per gallon of gas consumed or high performing efficiency.


The Corvair is a rear wheel drive, rear engine vehicle. Since the engine is in the back and connected to the rear wheels, there is no heavy transmission and driveshaft running the length of the car. Less weight means more miles per gallon. The elimination of a long heavy spinning driveshaft is important. A pound of rotating mass, in automotive engineering terms, is equivalent to seven pounds of static weight. Again, reducing weight improves mpg because the engine doesn’t work as hard per distance traveled. With the engine in the rear, the Corvair is lighter in the front. The reduced forward weight means less down force on the front tires so turning takes less physical force. The Corvair’s easy steering eliminated the need for power assistance. Most cars have parasitic power steering that takes energy from the engine which should be used to propel the car.

The Corvair has an air-cooled aluminum engine that is lightweight, again, less weight more mpg. Air cooling is also important. No radiator, water pump, hoses or heavy coolant is needed making the vehicle lighter. In addition, the water pump is a parasitic device that must be powered by the engine which further robs energy that could be used to propel the car. One of the engineering modifications I will make is to the air intake that feeds the motor. The new intake will take hot air coming off the motor which is expanded and carrying less oxygen. This has the effect of making the engine smaller. To maintain the proper fuel to air mixture required to burn, less gas is used. This will reduce the horsepower but the project is designed to increase mpg and not for racing at a track.

The Corvair has four wheel independent suspension. Most cars sold in America have their suspension adjust with a toe-out (front wheel slightly pointed outward on the leading edge) to make them easier to handle for novice drivers. This creates rolling resistance which robs power. Since the Corvair has independent suspension, I will be able to precisely adjust all four wheels so they are pointed forward decreasing roll resistance all the way around. As an example of this resistance, try pushing a car with the wheels pointed straight and with them turned; you’ll instantly feel the difference.

The Corvair will be turned into a pseudo hybrid. Multiple car batteries will be put is the trunk (located in the front of the car). These will be used to operate all parasitic devices such as, air conditioning, heater, and engine cooling fan which are normally powered by the gas engine. In addition, the alternator/generator that normally charges the single car battery will be modified. It will be present in the car but not engaged and, if needed, a lever will engage it (an alternator/generator is a parasitic device). Lastly, I will make aerodynamic and overall weight reduction changes to improve fuel efficiency.

This will be a fun project that proves we’ve had the technology to increase gas mileage for over fifty years.

My Dream Protest – Roger Ingalls

My wife’s family is big into vintage American cars; they collect and restore the classics. My brother in-law builds hotrods, ratrods and some of his work has shown up in automotive magazines. I’m a car nut too so I fit right in.

Rat Rod

Prior to meeting my wife and her family, I would frequently hit some of California’s famous road course tracks with my 200mph Viper GTS ACR to release the pressures of corporate life. Later, thanks to my wife, I was introduced to dirt oval track racing and got hooked. I raced in the local series for about five years until a turn three incident at Antioch Speedway put me headfirst into the wall at speed, I survived but the car didn’t. The mangled mess still sits in the trailer exactly where it was dumped two years ago. She’s a sad sight; the only working piece was the battery which now starts my brother in-laws racer.

Finances don’t allow the rebuilding of my racecar and, realistically, I’m too old to compete with the young bucks that don’t give a hoot about destroying theirs or another’s equipment. But I still get the automotive urge to get my hands dirty.

Like my in-laws, I want to rebuild a classic. When talking about the make and model of vintage car I desire, everyone scratches their head and laughs as if I were crazy. But, what they don’t understand, there’s a reason for my apparent lack of coolness. I have a dream. A dream project that incorporates many of the things that I enjoy: cars, engineering and social activism.

At this point, you may be asking, “what the hell does social activism have to do with rebuilding an old jalopy?” The project will show how big business conspires to keep the demand for oil high by not engineering cars that can easily get 50 plus mph. It will also protest California’s draconian smog laws by avoiding the issue altogether due to the old age of the car. I’m all for clear air but anti-smog regulations should be based on actual engine emissions and not on tactics truly meant to raise revenue for the state (don’t mask a revenue generating tax under the veil of smog reducing propaganda).


The desired car for my project that brings laughter to friends and family is…wait for it…a Corvair, the car that put Ralph Nader on the radar. The Chevy Corvair only had a ten year production run due to bad press, some deserved but most of it was hyped misinformation. The car was a technological marvel that was years ahead of its time. A list of design elements for a 1960 Corvair family car and the world famous Porsche 911 sports car, first introduced in 1965, are almost identical.

It’s my belief that with some engineering, this 50 year old car will get more than 40 mpg proving that technology has existed for many years to make automobiles more efficient. The only roadblock to improved mpg has been oil and automotive lobbyist. Since the Corvair was manufactured before 1975, it is exempt from CA smog requirements allowing me to give a big FU to the crazy smog regulation that have nothing to do with exhaust emissions.

This is my dream project, my dream protest. It combines cars, engineering and a little activism…fun stuff.

Special note: For those interested in knowing why the Corvair was selected for this project, leave a comment and I will explain the technical benefits of the car.

Freeway Isolation and Gas Bag Inflation – Tom Rossi

California is an interesting place, politically I mean. Geographically, there is a whole lot more land area where conservatives are in the majority. It’s in the areas of concentrated population – the Bay Area, Los Angeles – where people tend to vote in their own favor (to whatever degree possible) rather than in favor of corporations and the super rich.

This week I drove deep into conservative territory – central California, where agriculture is king. All the radio stations change as you head into the San Joaquin Valley and there’s not so much variety. Faced with the total lack of any kind of jazz music, I found myself listening to none other than the big gas-bag himself – Rush Limbaugh.

It had been a while since I last was subjected to Rush (it really burns my butt that the name of one of my favorite rock bands is now synonymous with cretinous drivel) and I listened for most of an hour. I have to admit, I was smiling and laughing pretty much the entire time.

On this particular day, Limbaugh added the Center for Science in the Public Interest to his usual vilifying rants about President Obama and the terrible things he does to America. Debating the details of his blithering blather aren’t really important. It’s not important to have a long discussion with a four-year-old about why one plus one is two and not three.

But this was “call-in day” when listeners can call in and profess that they agree that one plus one is three. I wondered how the callers could take this stuff so seriously and even enjoy it – and not sarcastically, like me. Each caller started with something like, “I love your show” or “I’ve been a fan for years.”

While my mind drifted and I watched the cars around me, going down the freeway, I began to think about how cars tend to separate us from each other.

In most areas of California, people spend huge proportions of their lives in cars, much of that time alone. But it’s not just that they are alone; it’s that they are isolated. Their thoughts, sometimes spoken out loud to the empty seat beside them, are unchecked by any social interaction.

When you are isolated, you can easily go down a narrative path that is neither algorithmic nor logical, but there is no one to point that out.

During the 2008 election circus, if you were on the road, alone, and you heard some genius on AM radio say that Barack Obama is a terrorist, and you didn’t think of this question yourself, there would have been no one next to you to ask, “What does that mean? Do these people think that Obama would plant a bomb in the White House? Or on Capitol Hill? Is that really what these people think?”

I grew up in a car town, surrounded by other car towns. There was little public transportation and I almost never saw anyone walking. People drove their cars everywhere, all the time, then drove directly into their garages, never having to suffer the burden of actually talking to their neighbors.

It’s easy, in these circumstances, to feel separate and dependent only upon yourself and your family. It’s easy to start thinking that the “others” are only competition for what you want: money and resources of various kinds. It’s easy to think of yourself as a downhill skier rather than a member of a hockey, basketball, or football team.

Something strange happens when you literally rub shoulders with your fellow astronauts on spaceship Earth – they actually begin to feel human.

It seems that isolation from a wide sample of people, whether in fact due to time spent in cars or something else, correlates better with voting habits than does any other factor except possibly wealth. If you look at the map, from the 2004 presidential election, of where people voted Democrat versus Republican, Democratic voters were located in places with high population density – New York City, San Francisco, Miami, Denver, Seattle, Baltimore, etc.

Ideas, opinions… thoughts of many kinds cry out for discussion. We are a gregarious species and we work better together.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


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