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Friday, April 22, 2011

Driving the Chevy Volt Through The Streets Of Atlanta

Story by Miguel Caparros
  We have been hearing about it; saw one on Hwy 400 a month ago, sat in one at the Atlanta International Auto Show. Today I got to drive one.  Walking around it out in the open air the car looks much better than in the photos or in the lights of the auto show. The Chrystal Red Metallic paint looks real good, and those of you that know me and paint jobs can attest that I am brutal in my quality inspection. This car's fit and finish were way above from what I have come to expect from the General. The color also made the car look bigger than it really is. With a wheelbase just short of 106 inches it is not a large car but the forward cabin placement makes the best use of the space. At 6' and 225 lbs I am a heavy weight in the ring and most of my height is in my torso, yet I had no issues fitting in the drivers' seat and then in the back seat with the front seat adjusted for me. The all digital instruments and touch screen controls may seem a little daunting at first, get used to it, this is from now on the normal. The quality of the interior two tone leather like seats and the brushed aluminum look is very tasteful and right in line with what you would expect in a car optioned to $40,000. The MSRP for the base car price is $32,700.Chevy Volt Brochure here.
To start, put your foot on the brake and push the blue start button and you hear......nothing. The only indication you are ready to go is that the instrument panel is lit up. Pull the center console mounted shift lever towards you and you are ready to go silently down the road. In city driving is where this car can save you a fortune in fuel as it operates in full electric mode unless the battery voltage drops to low. When that happens, the performance management computer seamlessly kicks in to move you like a conventional gas powered car and charges the batteries. It's the electric motor that really supplies the performance of this car and it does accelerate well.
Driving the car in electric mode is eerily quiet; all that quiet dictated that Chevrolet Noise and Vibration Engineers had to pay close scrutiny all the things that can rattle and vibrate as there is no noise to mask and confuse the ears. I am happy to say the Volt NVH group did a great job, I have always preferred the ride motions of a firm suspension as long as it does not loosen my fillings or rattles things in the interior. Once again I was very surprised how tight this car felt driving around the streets near Piedmont Park. Like most major older cities, the streets are less that billiard table smooth, and there is lots of torn up spots where there is construction going on. The Volt's suspension handled every thing perfectly and maintained perfect comfort inside. 
There was only one thing that I did not like and it would not be something most people would notice unless they sit in the drivers' seat as far back as I do. As a racer of all kinds of vehicle I rely, and I am very aware of what is going on in my peripheral vision. Due to my seating position and the very thick B pillar, that is also a key to achieving side crash protection and roll over integrity, when I would scan my eyes to see what is over my left shoulder all I would see is the pillar. Please understand that I am part of a very small minority of people that this would affect, I just have to rely more on the mirror and lean forward to see around the pillar. 
Hopefully in the near future we can bring you a long term Video test and answer questions on long distance driving, overnight charging and then perform instrumented fuel consumption and performance test. I want to thank General Motors Southeast Region for making this car available.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Restore Or Preserve The Patina? A Discussion With Steve Natale

 By Steve Natale.
Does an old car need to be perfectly restored to be enjoyed, or can an original car preserved in its current condition provide the same enjoyment to its owner.  It depends who you ask.  For many, only a near perfect restoration will do, and their passion is that goal.  But recently, an increasing number of collectors are starting to re-think the entire restoration process.  Rather than performing a restoration, more owners are choosing preservation, as opposed to restoration.  I am seeing more and more cars with their original “patina” intact at car shows and cruise nights, and drawing a lot of attention in the process.  In past, I have seen some tragic restorations done to beautiful, but not perfect, low mileage original cars.  They are only original once, and after they are repainted and reupholstered, a historical artifact is gone forever.  The trend is catching on, and un-restored, or “survivor” car prices are going up at auctions and shows.
  The appreciation for original cars is a fairly new trend here in the US, but in Europe, an original car with the right patina has been admired for many years, especially with vintage sports and racing cars. Original paint cars have character, with each area of wear a document of the cars past and a piece of its history.  It is like watching an episode of the Antiques Road Show, when the anxious owner of a chair made in 1825 asks “how much is it worth?”  The expert replies “One like this with the original patina intact is worth easily $50,000, but since you had it refinished……only $5,000.”  
  Besides preserving automotive history, the un-restored original is cheaper to own.  Of course a super low mileage, beautiful original car will command a premium, but well-worn cars with thin paint and surface rust can be a lot of fun.  With paint costing north of $10,000, not mention chrome plating and reproduction parts costs rising, it makes economic sense as well.  Plus you don’t have to worry as much about people touching the paint, or getting caught in the rain.  Dial it in mechanically, and start driving. Sometimes it is just nice to get back to having fun, care-free driving, without all the fussing over making everything perfect.  Back to the original car, having fun like you did originally, when you had your first not so perfect car.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tell Us About Your First Car

By Miguel Caparros

Strangely enough I have not put on paper much about my first car. It was 1968, I was attending Plymouth High School in New Hampshire. I had my learners permit at 14 and could not wait until my 16th birthday to legally get on the road with out an adult. Your past rules your future and mine was thick with European car influences. Among those that influenced me was my apprenticeship teacher,Claude Meder who was an ex works driver for Peugeot, Renault and Dyna Panhard, also my fathers rally tested Peugeot 404 made me want one of my own. I wanted a car that was up to the challenge of the back roads of rural New England, a young man's dreams of the Monte Carlo Rally or the East Africa Safari Rally. I was destined to race with the best, so I needed a world class car to cut my teeth on. Besides my father's 404 a few VW's there were not many foreign cars in central New Hampshire, except for this grey Peugeot 403 that I would see in town every so often. One day I approached the driver of the car and asked him if he was interested in selling it. The answer was yes, as anything he drove was for sale, he was the owner of the local junk yard in Plymouth. The car was a 1959. It ran and shifted well, the sun roof worked and it had all the things a proper New England car has, rust holes here and there but for the most part it was in good shape. The 4 on the tree confounded my friends and the American hot rodder in me wanted to convert it to a floor shift. The French must have had a very serious problem with hub cap theft as all of our French cars had caps that bolted on to the center. $125.00 dollars exchanged hands and I now owned the Junk Mans Car. First thing I did was to take it home and clean it. After I washed it I started to polish the paint with compound. The grey chalky color came off on the polishing cloth and below was a light green color with some great shine.  All the bright trim on the Peugeot's was stainless steel and after I polished all the trim and bumpers it was another car altogether. The summer of this car was full of adventures and happy times that are still fresh in my mind, "give or take a lie or two".