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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Avoidable Contact #134: How Bonzo's sidekick killed the mass-produced mid-engined car

I was doing 90 miles per hour, and I was moving out of the left lane, but not fast enough. The car behind me took a little swerve onto the shoulder in order to hasten the passing maneuver, followed by a little swing towards my side mirror on the way by.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/avoidable-contact/avoidable-contact-134-how-bonzos-sidekick-ki...
60 REPLIES 60
daffodildeb
Intermediate Driver

Yes, I remember my parents being astounded that anyone would want to drive the posted speed limit of 75 on some of the roads between Chicago and Philadelphia in the '50s. We drove that route a couple of times a year, and when the new signs went up, my parents decided to continue driving at about 65. In a Rambler.
JDHilton
Intermediate Driver

One of the most valuable moments in my automotive education came when I tried to pass on a Wisconsin freeway in a rainstorm at 70 or so in my parent's 1962 Rambler Classic wagon. When I floored it and the engine-vacuum wipers stopped moving, it belatedly occurred to me that I was exceeding my vehicle's design speed for those circumstances. (The same car provided an equally valuable lesson on my first winter drive, when I turned a corner at the speed I did in summer and came to rest facing the far curb.)
CJinSD
Instructor

There were American minivans in the '60s. They were all based on their manufacturers' compacts, and they were small. The 1964 Dodge A100 was 171 inches long on a 90-inch wheelbase. Ford and GM made competitors based on the Falcon and Corvair. When the Corvair Greenbriar van had run its course, GM introduced the A100-clone G10, also on a 90-inch wheelbase.

The lack of available affordable new cars is a feature of federal regulations. EVs will be the straw that breaks the working class's back. Serfs will be moved in boxcars soon after.
MajorTomB
Intermediate Driver

Before they get to the EVs, come 2026, the serfs will have to blow into a straw to start their new car.
Studenorton
Instructor
eighthtry
Advanced Driver

Why?
Rider79
Technician

My dad spoke of driving out west in the early 1950's at 70 MPH, with the occasional VW Beetle passing by, taking perhaps a mile or more to pass, the speed differential being so small. He also spoke of driving his 1954 Buick Special V8 at an indicated 112 MPH, back when our state had a "safe and sane" speed standard. So, it surprises me to hear that many/most folks did not go much over 60 MPH; Dad apparently did. My maternal grandfather also was a fast (and often risk-taking) driver back then; fortunately for him and grandma, his 1954 automatic Dodge was not predisposed to go TOO fast!

Back in the 55 MPH bad-old-days, I usually drove at 60 MPH, and was not passed all that often. Now, I drive at about 5-over what ever the highway speed limit is, be it 55 or 75, and am often seemingly a rolling roadblock. Times have certainly changed. I am all for better speed limit enforcement, but do not want to see a return to the "double-nickel" days!
Rider79
Technician

Those mid-engine Japanese vans were not good designs for this country, so it is no surprise that the Japanese (and later Korean) makes had their minivan lunches eaten by the American brands. Somewhere along the line, the Asian vans became a LOT better, and are in many ways (see Kia Carnival) superior to their American counterparts now.

As for slow, more "interesting" designs coming back, I just don't see that happening, for various reasons.
JDHilton
Intermediate Driver

Chrysler didn't pay for that lunch itself - Lee Iacoca got the feds to slap a 25% (!) tariff on imported minivans - the same one that's penalized trucks for almost 60 years: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-02-17-fi-2955-story.html
bblhed
Instructor

Thank you for the reminder that the "Good Old Days" of the automobile were not all that good, and in fact quite dangerous at times. Also think you for the reminder that the danger taught people how to actually operate a car, not just make it go where they wanted it to go but actually get them there with a reasonable amount of safety with the available equipment. I wonder how many lives were saved by the lack of crumple zones, no seat belts, steel dashboard, and bias tires forcing people to slow down and pay attention. Also thank you for the reminder that a 54 Horsepower Pinto would get people to work just as well as a 250 Horsepower car of today. I would love a commuter car that gets good mileage and can only go an asthmatic 70, I'm in no rush to get to work and I spend the afternoon in traffic that is doing about 50 on average anyway.
espo70
Advanced Driver

I agree with you, but I'm not sure "Pinto" is the best analogy here. Consequently, a ride in that might be your last to work.
Tinkerah
Engineer

"...vehicles that are larger and faster than ever before, being operated by people who have never been less qualified, more distracted, or more uninterested in the process of driving." Hear here. The primary reason I will be selling my motorcycle this summer.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

In my pre-Hagerty day job, I had a twelve-mile freeway commute that I did on a motorcycle about 3/5ths of the time. It was a rare day when I didn't have a woman in an SUV simply take my lane at some point during the drive to work or back. I got in the habit of simply knocking on their window politely, which caused ninety percent of them to move back over and ten percent to force me the rest of the way out!
Tinkerah
Engineer

I've been tempted to rap on windows but I'm sure I'd startle some livestreamer into jerking into me. Been riding since '78, never seriously hurt, quitting while I'm ahead with many memories and most of my epidermis.

limoguy
Detailer

It took one trip on I-405 on Eastside Seattle to convince me to sell my motorcycle.
buellerdan
Instructor

For that very reason I too sold my last motorcycle about 6 years ago after 35 years of accident free riding. The handwriting was on the wall after several close calls with cell phone wielding myopic SUV pilots.
mfp4073
Advanced Driver

Me too!
Rick2
Instructor

I will not be selling my Moto Guzzi! But I avoid Freeways and high traffic areas as best I can.
Tinkerah
Engineer

I'd never suggest anyone sell anything they're enjoying, and I'll try to enjoy riding vicariously through you. But even local roads can be deadly if some oncoming Instafluencer wanders into your lane. For me, always being hyper alert has taken too much of the pleasure out of pleasure riding.

eldoroddo
New Driver

Me neither!

73 Eldo Civilian/Police

80 CX100

 

Although the CX is fun as heck on an empty 405 at 6AM!

RichardsMG
Pit Crew

Hi All,

I just spent 2.5 years or so completely refitting my 1976 MG Midget 1500 ( that I bought brand new) for my son and grandson to sue this coming year. It had been properly mothballed for on and off 25 - 30 years. For nearly 20 years into the early 90s I drove the car everywhere throughout the mid-Atlantic ( I live in Philadelphia's region). Back then I had no fear of being run over in the car, as drivers weren't going 75+ everywhere and yakking distractedly on smart phones.

My Midget has 55 horses, is all iron and weighs nearly 1 ton. Top, safe handling speed is 50 to 60 mph. It was built for English roads not US Interstates, but back then it was adequate on them.

Now, all my Little British Car (LBC) associates are adding third brake lights and sticking to secondary roads under pain of death. It is simply sad that there are so many selfish and thoughtless drivers out there theses days. One thought is is all cars/trucks were manual stick shifts, then drivers would have to pay more attention to what is ahead of them.

My father often told me that manual transmission drivers were better drivers because they had to stay aware of their immediate reality.

So it goes . . .
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

My father bought a yellow '79 Midget from the Baltimore dealership. It was frankly terrifying on the Capital Beltway. Things were better once we moved to Ohio but the little MG developed a habit of dying for no reason. After three tows home, Dad, who was nothing like a mechanic and didn't own a socket set, sold it to someone who was, and did.
audiocage
Advanced Driver

The Capital Beltway can be terrifying in just about anything. Except when it becomes a parking lot.
YoungerthanmyMG
Pit Crew

Richard! Nice to see you out in the wild, been a bit since I've been on MGExp, but post(ed) over there quite a bit for awhile.

I too own a '76 Midget.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

Glad you're both here!
eldoroddo
New Driver

I'm pretty close to getting my 66 Spitfire on the road.

I was thinking maybe I should install one of those off-highway vehicle flags so I can be seen!

Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

My parents had a 1986 Toyota Van. 101hp from a 2.2L 4-Cylinder. Mid-engined like a Ferrari! (Well not really). 0 to 60? Yes, to quote the VW Bug ads of the time. I learned to drive on that RWD, no-ABS and Goodyear Aquatread'd van. Top speed was 87mph in overdrive or if you turned that off you could hit an indicated 94mph on the Kennedy expressway in Chicago. (Don't ask how I know that). It made mean burnouts if you floored it while cranking the wheel hard from a dead stop. It held 7 people in it and had a huuuuge sunroof that was perfect for friends to stand up in and celebrate when the Chicago Bulls won their many championships in the Michael Jordan era. It was not fast in any sense of the word but it comfortably took us to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons, the Smokey Mountains, Georgia, etc. as a kid. I have somewhat nostalgic feelings for that van.
MATTMERICA
Technician

Let's be honest Jack - if you (collective "you") get a speeding ticket today, you most assuredly deserve it, and the main reason you got a speeding ticket is that you were not paying attention. If you live in the mid atlantic and use 95 and the related "main roads" and DO NOT use the Waze app, it is truly like being in 1980 again. And I know how that sucks, I grew up in PA, where those a$$holes put a speeding MENU of fines on their interstate. The "speed traps" of today are on "family" roads and places where people cross the street, where going 45 in a 25 will really put people in harm's way. Otherwise, if you use the app, check your rearview every 6-10 seconds, and be wary of the ultimate speed cop - the motor cycle cop - you can pretty much go as fast as traffic/conditions dictate. I live in VA and have for 20+ years. And unlike what Sammy Hagar laments in his famous speeding song, what used to take me 4 hours now takes me 3. If you really want to rip up and down 95, the best time is 6am-830am. That is when most of the dad-is-angry-he-is-driving-mom's-minivan are out and those folks are fa-lying. But the one thing I don't get is why the gene pool hasn't fixed some of the chronic speeders. You know, the woman who almost ended you at the beginning of the story. I see people on 95, going 100mph, in some POS with no lights and no wipers on and there is standing water on the road and they are just fine. Where is the karma?!?
JDHilton
Intermediate Driver

CitationMan
Gearhead

Most drivers these days don't look much past the hood of their cars. That behavior is deadly at current Interstate speeds. Only truckers consistently look ahead.
Have you noticed the drivers using their radar cruise control while they ignore the road, then being dangerously surprised by an event because they were not paying attention? I've seen this in my rear view mirror countless times.
Where are the government safety regulators? (joke)
RokemRonnie
Instructor

<I>"What was the first minivan to go on sale in the United States?"</i>

An argument can be made that the first minivan sold in the U.S. would be the Volkswagen Type II, aka MicroBus. It even had a sliding passenger door.
61Rampy
Instructor

The sliding door did not appear until 1968, when they redesigned the whole van. (I think it still was the first).
RokemRonnie
Instructor

My father was from Brooklyn so we traveled to NYC from Detroit fairly frequently. How frequently? My mom would joke that Dad would come home from work at his veterinary clinic and say, "Pauline, pack up the kids, we're going to New York." An early memory is Dad putting a sheet a plywood on the back seat, extending over the foot well, so there'd be room for all three 'big' kids to lay down and sleep (our baby sister was up front with Mom).

When Interstate 80 was completed, it was a great occasion in our family. Formerly we'd usually go through Ontario and take the NY Thruway down from Niagara Falls as that was faster than the patchwork roads through Ohio, PA, and NJ. I don't think it ever took my folks less than 12 hours via Canada. Once I-80 was completed, with a 70 mph speed limit, Dad would put the speedometer at 80 mph and keep it there all the way to NYC. One trip took him just 10 hours.

I've noticed since the pandemic that average speeds on Michigan freeways have gone up significantly. 90th percentile speed used to be about 80, now it's closer to 85.
RokemRonnie
Instructor

" When I got my driver’s license, doing 62 mph on an Ohio freeway would get you a guaranteed ticket. Today the cops yawn at 82 and often don’t start ticketing until 90."

That rule doesn't apply in Ohio if your car is wearing plates from Michigan. I typically set the cruise control at 4mph over the posted limit when driving in Ohio. Not that long ago I was doing 64 in a 60 mph construction zone south of Toledo. I was passed by a Michigan plated Dodge Charger doing no more than 66, really just fast enough to pass me. He got pulled over.
JDHilton
Intermediate Driver

I was pinged at 6 over back in the 1980s. My folks'Plymouth Valiant, Michigan plates, and when the cop asked what I did and I said, "I build cars," he asked, "race cars?"
hyperv6
Racer

Here is the sad truth. The 55 MPH era was a total joke and to think it back again today on products that easily and safely can travel faster is just a foolish venture. 

 

The truth is cars do not kill people, fast cars do not kill people, Ignorant people not paying attention on the road kill people and they do it at any speed. 

 

The old days of 85 MPH speedometers and the like were pure jokes. 

 

The problem is there are places that speed is safe and easy to use the troubler is people will not always put down their Damn'd cell phone long enough to pay attention to the road and where they are going. 

 

Also when it comes to speed some people just do not have the talent either. 

 

We should have reasonable  speeds that are fit for the vehicles on our roads and we should  should really begin to hold people responsible for their actions. If they are unable to pay attention and cause great harm to another make em pay for it. I for one was nearly killed by a Cell phone texting driver on a 55 MPH limited access road when he turned in front of me blocking my lane. 

 

I would love to have a Motorcycle but I never will due to the fact so many people are not paying attention.  

 

As for the cars not permitted here thank God most of them never made it. These things were crap in Japan and here in Ohio the rust would render them to dust in a few short years. They also would never keep up in traffic and create problems by drivers with no sense of self preservation. 

 

As Brock Yates once said that speed does not kill bad drivers. He also is the one who stated that Ohio is the only state that renders the death penalty for speeding. 

 

Also Brock was one if not one of the best automotive writers out there. Too bad we lost him just a few years ago as we lack some really good automotive writers anymore. 

 

Thank God for Ron or we would still be putzing along wasting time and not have cars build as well as we do today I would gladly give up a crappy Asian Mid Engine Van for a Z06 Mid Engine Corvette. 

Rick2
Instructor

I agree with most of the article. Except for the speeds in the 1950's. Daily driving you are correct, but on long trips my dad, uncles and in-laws treated the two lane roads like race tracks. How fast can we do 700 miles? 10 hours including necessary stops. Yes that 1956 Ford can hit 120 between towns!
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

This is the kind of feedback I was hoping for -- so far it seems split between "we didn't exceed 60" and "we were slightly ahead of the F-104 that was heading to Nellis."

🙂
hyperv6
Racer

Many people think that if they exceed 80 mph they will implode and their engines will blow up. 

The truth is todays cars with correct tires can run at excessive speeds in the proper areas by attentive skills drivers with out issues. 

The real trouble is often the inattentive driver or someone driving faster than an area or road can sustain safely. 

Note the weak spot here is the human factor. We even see it on race tracks where there are some drivers that just should not be out there. 

Some people just lack skills and judgment in some activities. We see it all the time. 

Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

If I'd known you were seeing anecdotal speed feedback, I would have submitted a few thoughts...

In the early 2000s I purchased many a malaise-era cruiser while living in the Phoenix area as an OEM test driver/mechanic. All the muscle cars were gone, but you could still get things like:

1975 Plymouth Duster with a slant-six and cold AC for $1000
1976 Chrysler Newport coupe with plaid seats in a Sun City driveway for $200
1977 Chrysler Cordoba in a JUNKYARD with a botched lean-burn removal for $400

...and an easy 1/2 dozen more with similar stories. I'd buy them, fix their woes, drive them the daily 60 mile round trip from my house in Glendale to the Proving Grounds for a few months and once the bugs were shaken out, haul-ass with them back to Michigan with my girlfriend and I pulling shifts behind the wheel and rarely stopping to sleep. Back in Detroit, these cars were still loved and examples with decent paint/interiors and more importantly; without rust were easy flips for $5000-$8000.

We had the benefit of modern radial rubber, but they were otherwise stock. We probably never did less than 70, spending most of our time around 80; obviously slowing down in urban areas.

In 2006, back in MI full time but laid-off for a few months I made a run to LA with friends who needed to transport industrial sewing machines to re-fit gym equipment. Then we did the same in Vegas. I took them to the airport and stayed around Phoenix a few weeks, winning the "long distance award" at a local Mopar show. They flew back and all of us drove to Minnesota to reupholster yet another big gym, finally ending back in Detroit, about 7500 miles later. Between Vegas and Phoenix, we had long stretches at 100mph with the AC on. I doubt we putted about at much less than 70 on average. Our conveyance of choice? A survivor '73 Imperial with nothing more than 17" rims with then-current Lincoln Town Car Michelin tires. Photo taken randomly after parking next to a cool van at the Avondale Jack-in-the-Box.

 

1358247581_ORIG.jpg

JDHilton
Intermediate Driver

THAT is a great American photo - thanks for the smile (and for enjoying that Imperial)
86
Intermediate Driver

Let's not absolve the automakers of their responsibility for the flouting of speed limits and promotion of hooniganism by engaging in a seeming arms race, making vehicles that have way more power than the average driver needs. Offering 4-5-6 hundred horsepower vehicles to drive on public roads in the most populous parts of America is going to tempt even the most mature motorist to want to go Dominic Toretto on occasion. I'm tempted at times and I'm around 200 hp shy of qualifying for "the brotherhood." As much as I speed - and agree that the limits are too low even in high population areas - I understand why they're there. Any fool can go fast but that doesn't mean that you can drive fast. I see way too many of the former who don't care about safety or courtesy. If you live in a part of the country where the roads are overcrowded that's - as the saying goes - an accident waiting to happen. Your policy proposals are both worthy of adoption - each for their appropriate driving conditions. As much as I'd like to check out the vanishing point I'm perfectly okay with going "a little slower, a little smaller, a little weirder." If you knew me you'd know that I'm already there.
AG1962
Instructor

My father went to McGill in the 1950s, where his Army-brat self met some very wealthy people, including one who had the use of his father’s 1936 Cord. Dad recalls a trip in that car from Montreal to Toronto at night on the old King’s Highway 1 (before the 401 or “McDonald-Cartier Freeway”), which was two lanes and ran through dozens of towns and villages. They managed the 400-mile trip (miles in those days), which usually took seven or eight hours, in around five. The Cord swallowed the empty spaces between towns at 100 mph plus. Normal people, by the way, did not drive a normal car from Montreal to Toronto in those days, unless they were moving or on an extended vacation; they still took the train to go any longer distance (much faster than you could do it driving a normal car on a two-lane road). That changed only after central Canada’s four-lane highways were completed by the mid-1960s. As for small, weird cars: the first car I really owned was in the mid-1980s in Germany, a tiny Audi 50 (a 1000cc VW Polo with a woodgrain dash) that I could wind up to its peak of maybe 130 km/h when I had to use the Autobahn (I normally avoided it). I agree that we might well benefit from allowing much smaller, cheaper cars, and removing speed limits from limited-access highways outside built-up areas across North America in dry conditions — but then setting a hard limit of 55 mph/90 kmh in built-up and high-traffic areas, and enforcing it seriously. The first place this should be imposed is the section of the 401 that runs through Toronto, the busiest stretch of highway in North America (believe it or not), and one of the widest too.

wdb
Advanced Driver

More likely future: autonomic electric cars, owned by a gargantuan monolith, which we peons will be permitted to use occasionally, which vehicles will contain a gizmo over which Big Brother has control. Speeds limits won't need to be enforced by the side of the road because they'll be enforced by the ether.

I'm not sure I'd like universal speed cameras either, as far as it goes. That's what it would take to accomplish the first part of your plan. It would also be a heavy, messy solution when compared to a microchip and some radio waves.
Ark-med
Detailer

I observe different styles of electric car driving. On the highways, they're the ones usually driving a tick or five below prevailing speeds. In town, many of them tend to be quite a bit quicker, especially off the line. The highway style, I do not mind—they're trying to maximize range—it's the in-town behavior that could cause some damage, ½mv² and F=ma style.
MR
Intermediate Driver

I have a couple of vintage VW's. Five years ago I didn't think twice about driving them on the freeways. Today I pull out the paper maps along with Google and do some serious back road route planning. It's just too risky these days to travel with a pack of the blissfully ignorant and unaware on the interstates.

compaqdeskpro
Detailer

This Youtube video gives you an idea of the point of view of those who see the everyday suburban American way of travel as a problem to be solved.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORzNZUeUHAM&t=812s
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

Two weeks to slow the "stroads"!
DougL
Detailer

I was certainly disappointed to see the very false claim that first minivan to go on sale in the United States was the Toyota TownAce. Back in the 50's, we had underpowered, ill handling minivans with too much sail area, in the VW Type 2, and I'm sure that there were other horrid little van like vehicles that preceded the VW. Maybe the real claim to fame for the Plymouth Voyager, is that it was the first minivan that you could put your family into and have them be reasonably safe.