Sunday, November 2, 2014

What the Heck is Going On With California’s Smog Inspection Program?

One of the things anyone who moves to California has to deal with is the Smog Inspection Program. California is the father of motor vehicle smog inspections; it all started here. California used to lead the pack in innovation. I say used to because I don’t think they do anymore.

A disclaimer is called for before I proceed. I worked for the Department of Consumer Affairs and/or Bureau of Automotive Repair for twenty years, primarily on the Smog Program for over ten years. I also sat on the Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee (IMRC), a governmental advisory committee, from 2001 until I moved in late 2010 (the committee was disbanded shortly after I stepped down).

I was amazed when I had to get my vehicles inspected in Vegas at how easy it was, especially for the 2002 Focus. That car has second generation On Board Diagnostics generally known as OBD II. The smog inspection consisted of the technician connected the smog machine to the OBD port on the Focus and wait for the download of information. That was it; it took all of fifteen minutes from start to finish.

My ’87 Toyota pickup needed what is known as a Two-Speed Idle test. The engine is run at two RPMs; 2,500 and idle. A visual inspection of required smog equipment and a fuel cap test are also performed. The test has its limitations but USEPA approves of Nevada’s tests.

The amazing part of the Nevada tests is that both tests use the exact same machine. The downside to Nevada’s tests is the seeming large number of fraudulent inspections. I say “seemingly” because of the large number of vehicles I saw that never could have passed a legitimate inspection. Whether these vehicles received fraudulent inspections or otherwise avoided inspections is unknown to me.

Having been away from California for almost four years, and knowing that OBD II testing had been debated before I left; I was curious how it would go. I’m curious no more.

As part of the registration process our cars have to pass a smog inspection. The Focus was first. Because of misinformation and poor planning (DMV in the first case; me in the second) I had to scramble to find a smog station and didn’t have any coupons at hand. I paid full freight. But that really isn’t relevant.

What is relevant was watching the inspection process. The whole process was similar to what I experienced in Vegas with the exception of a full visual inspection and a completely separate smog machine (OIS or OBD Inspection System) for the OBD inspection instead of the EIS (Emissions Inspection System). That’s the problem in my opinion; California has once again decided to reinvent the wheel. And it is still just a wheel.

When I first joined the BAR, BAR 90, the “new” smog inspection program and machine, had just recently been implemented. It was supposed to be a ten year program/machine. Later on when Smog Check II was implemented it was supposed to be an upgradable program which would allow the smog machine to soldier on. Both fell short of their goals.

In my opinion one of the fatal flaws of these smog machines was actually with BAR. Smog machines are run by computers and computers, as we all know, have a useful life that expire before they even hit the market. Instead of allowing the equipment makers to sell the latest computers to upgrade machines BAR demanded new machines. There have been exceptions of course.

Smog station owners regularly complained that the new equipment was too expensive and took too long to amortize. This was especially true for the repair shop owners whose main business was not smog inspections. (Some shops that specialized in smog inspections complained regardless, it was almost a sport for them. I remember one station complaining that they couldn’t afford to replace a hose for the machine; I pointed out that they performed 1,200 inspections per month at an average of $20.00 per inspection. They bought a new hose.)

So why did BAR require an all new machine for OBD testing? It makes no sense. A smog station has the regular smog machine (EIS), a dynometer (a stationary rolling road that allows a car to be tested in “real” world conditions), a fuel cap tester (sometimes stand alone), and now an OBD (OIS) testing machine.

To make matters worse for the smog stations the legislature has reduced the number of vehicles that need to be tested. Some vehicles six years old or newer are exempt, 1974 and older are exempt and a few others. The BAR has a table to show what needs to be inspected at:

When I was on the IMRC we discussed OBD testing. The prevailing wisdom from USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) was that OBD testing was the best way to go. The On-Board Diagnostic system, built into most cars produced since 2000, checks the operating systems of the vehicle, setting codes (and turning on warning lights) for malfunctions. In theory and in practice any system that affects the emissions systems is monitored. There have been exceptions though.

And it is those exceptions that were argued against wide-spread adoption of OBD only testing for OBD vehicles. “What if there are false passes?” was a frequent question. The fact that these are few and far between (yes there are some false pass results).

But that doesn’t answer why the BAR requires a special test machine for OBD testing. In Nevada the same machine is used for both tests. I would imagine that it required a software update but so what? It amazes me that the BAR couldn’t partner with some of Silicon Valley’s best to spec out a smog machine that could be updated whenever needed.

The BAR also requires a visual inspection of all vehicles for removed or tampered equipment. This may still be important on older vehicles but on OBD vehicles it seems unneeded. Again in theory if a piece of equipment adversely affects emissions the OBD system will detect it and turn on the warning light. Yes it may not always catch a problem but by and large it works.

Think about that – you could modify your vehicle and as long as it didn’t upset the OBD system your vehicle would pass the inspection. It seems like a sensible solution to illegally modified vehicles. I don’t know if BAR or the Air Resources Board (ARB) was behind the visual inspection but I do know who pays – the consumer.

The BAR needs to have a more common sense approach to the Smog Inspection Program, one that uses technology in a smarter way. One problem as I see it is that the BAR’s Engineering Department is woefully short of engineers of any kind. Another problem is their inability to use ideas and/or equipment that wasn’t developed or designed in house.

The political process deserves much of the blame as well. Like anything else done in any capitol the smog program is essentially designed by lobbyists. The auto makers and their dealers lobbied for exemptions for new vehicles because less than 1% fail an inspection and those that do fail will be repaired under warranty. Old car collectors lobbied to exempt all older vehicles and the result is that all cars 1974 and older are now exempt (even though in the West and Southwest older cars stay on the road longer). The available pool of vehicles in the smog program has shrunk drastically.

The IMRC disbanded itself deciding it was no longer needed. I disagree; the IMRC is needed now more than ever. The BAR continues to grow in ways that do little to benefit the consumers and more to benefit itself. ARB continues to live in a world of their own (which may be a good thing but they need someone to say, “Good idea but what about …”). Smog stations are forced to buy new and expensive equipment to service a dwindling vehicular population. These are not problems that cannot be resolved.

I’d like to see California return to a leadership position in Smog Inspections. I’d like to see a reconstituted IMRC, one that includes the best minds without the bickering that paralyzed it for years (when I was appointed they were voting for the umpteenth time whether to exempt collector cars or not).

OBD testing should be the rule for newer cars without requiring separate machines or visual inspections. Older vehicles, at least those from 1966 through 1974, should be brought back into the program or, and this is a big or, their registration fees should increase to offset their pollution potential. (In fact maybe the whole registration fee schedule should be revamped to encourage consumers to purchase newer, less polluting vehicles.)

I say all of this as an old car owner, a consumer, and a person who likes to breathe clean air. All of these are not incompatible. A sensible Smog Inspection Program can make it happen.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

More Monkey Motion

My fair lady's 2002 Ford Focus had a bit of battery trouble recently. At first I thought it was just a loose battery cable terminal - the positive cable was slightly loose on the post. No big deal right? Just tighten up the clamp and away we go. Oh if it was only that easy.

Ford, in their infinite wisdom, decided that a normal battery cable end just wouldn't do. No they had to reinvent the wheel. And like so many instances of reinvention they didn't improve on the original that we all know and love so well.

With the exception of GM's side terminal batteries we all are accustomed to the clamping type of battery cable end like seen in this picture.

It's pretty simple. The large end goes over the battery post; the end has a gap and a bolt and nut runs through it. By tightening the nut on the bolt the gap is squeezed and the end is tightened around the post. Pretty simple.

So how could Ford improve upon that age old design? Well in my opinion they didn't. The cable end looks similar to that above but instead of a bolt and nut squeezing the end tight they use shims to pull up on the sides of the cable end to squeeze the gap closed. The cable ends are bronze or brass. This is how it looks

Rube Goldberg couldn't have done a better job. Really. Let's see to squeeze to sides together let's pull up instead of doing it the easy way.

By the way, Monkey Motion is a term that the great mechanic that I apprenticed under used frequently. I always thought it meant extraneous motion and it kind of does. The Urban Dictionary defines it as thus:
"A lot of needless, senseless, non-value added activity; use of this expression should invoke images of a monkey masturbating on top of a boulder."

I've run into Ford's Monkey Motion before when I did the brakes on the Focus. Man I wish people would stop trying to reinvent things that work.

Oh the Focus? Nothing wrong with it that a new battery didn't cure.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Compact Pickup? Who needs a compact pickup?

I read this morning that Ford is reconsidering the demise of the Ranger. They think maybe, just maybe, there is a market for a compact pickup truck after all. Duh! That's what I've been saying all along.

A Ford spokesperson (and I'm sure those from other companies feel the same way) said that compacts are not needed because of the strides made in fuel economy of full size pickups. It is true that the most recent full size pickups get extraordinary economy but fuel economy was not the only reason people bought compact trucks. It's about the size - bigger is not always better.

Let's take a look at pickup specs over the years using Ford models just because. Here's some comparisons:
YR/Make/Model Overall Length Wheelbase Width Bed Length Load Height
50 Ford F-100 188.78" 114" 75.68" 6.5' 24.09"
10 Ford Ranger 189.4" 111.5" 69.3" 6' 29.7"
15 Ford F150 209.3" 122.4" 79.9" 6.5' (std) 34.1" (2014)

It's pretty obvious that the newest Ford pickup is considerably larger than either a '50 F-150 or a Ranger. It is also more fuel efficient than the Ranger even though it has an engine with more power. But ask yourself, how fuel efficient would a Ranger with an Eco-Boost engine be?

As I said it isn't all about fuel economy. Not every truck owner lives in the wide open spaces. Many, maybe even a majority, live and work in urban areas where parking is at a premium. How many of us have driven down a narrow street only to have to squeeze by some "full size" pickup? Way too many.

Narrow streets are not restricted to urban areas. In my old hometown of Pacifica, CA (and many small towns around this nation) there are many narrow, winding streets. When a few contractors show up it's almost impossible to get by the job site or find a parking spot. That's one problem with full size pickups.

But why did I put full size in quotes above? Because full size has grown over the years. Check out pickups from the '60s or '70s and compare them to anything built after 2000; big difference. One difference that baffles me is the load height. Why in the world does anyone want a higher load height?

And consider the non-contractor, people like me who like the utility of a pickup but who don't need a big one. I would venture a guess that most non-professionals rarely have anything in the bed and almost never load their truck to capacity.

I have an old Toyota pickup, a 1987. It gets pretty good fuel economy, about 25 mpg on the highway, and it will carry just about anything I desire. And I can afford to use it as a daily driver.

I'm not alone. There is a market for compact pickups. Ford should take the lead and build a next generation Ranger, one with a 4-cylinder Eco-Boost engine.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I was contacted by Metal Flowers Media about their soon to be show about poor car repairs. If you've ever watched "To Catch A Contractor" hosted by Adam Carolla you know the premise. If you're in the LA area and you or someone you know has had a bad car repair they may be looking for you. 

In some ways it's a shame that there is a need for a show like this but unfortunately not all repair shops or mechanics are honest and/or competent. The California Bureau of Automotive Repair used to try and keep the bad guys in check but they seem to be fighting a losing battle. 

If I ran an honest repair shop I'd be happy to see a show like "Catch A Car Guy"; if I were a crook I'd be worried.

CALLING ALL LOS ANGELES CAR OWNERS – Did you just get screwed over by an auto mechanic? Did you pay top dollar for a lemon? Was your Car stereo actually installed with duct tape and band aids? If you are the victim of an auto scam, we want to help you get the justice you deserve. 

Automobiles are expensive, complicated and confusing. Most Americans own them, but few understand them. That makes them targets for the shadiest scammers on the planet. Greedy car guys from all areas of the automotive industry are finding new ways to rip off consumers.

In each episode, our car experts answer the call of a victim of a shady car scammer. The experts lure him into a closed set environment for a shocking confrontation. If you are living in a damaging wake of a con artist who needs to pay for what they have done, let us create the opportunity to receive what you are fairly due and get your retribution.

If you feel like you fit the bill, email us directly at Please include your name, age, city, phone number, a short paragraph about yourself (and significant others and family if applicable), and as much information as possible about the shady car situation you were involved in

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Keep Cadillac In Detroit

I see where Cadillac is moving its HQ to New York City. The rationale is that Cadillac needs some fresh new thinking. Here's a clue GM; Moving the same people to a new location won't solve that problem.

Of course moving to NYC may change the players because once Cadillac folks realize that they will no longer be able to afford those 3,000 square foot houses and end up in an exorbitant, tiny apartment.

So here's a suggestion to Cadillac. If you really, really want to go toe-to-toe with the likes of BMW and Mercedes stop badge engineering. Yes the ATS is a good car (or so I've been told, I've never driven one) but it is no BMW and never will be unless GM gets serious. That isn't going to happen just because they move to NYC. It may happen if and when they build a rear-wheel-drive vehicle with an engine specific to Cadillac.

You want to know how to build a world beating Cadillac? It's easy; either give your designers and engineers free rein to build a car, just one model, that wows the world. If you cannot do it with the talent you have right now, right in Detroit, maybe there is no hope. I refuse to accept that though. I know there are extremely talented people at GM. Heck there are even components on the shelf that could be used to build a Cadillac to beat the competition.

Ford went through this in the '90s when they moved Lincoln to Southern California. It really didn't do much for them did it? And Lincoln is back in Detroit (not that Lincoln has found their way yet).

The same can be said of Chrysler and Ford (much less Chrysler than Ford) even though they aren't moving to reinvigorate their companies.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


The Monterey Car Week starts next week and I won't be there. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go. There is always something for everyone even though it is car week (I mean c'mon it's on the Monterey Peninsula - you've got great seafood, the beach, cars, beautiful people, cars and cars). So in alphabetical order here's the events I usually attend (there are always others going on). The web sites give you dates, times, prices and locations.

Automobilia Monterey
Automobilia Monterey is a great place to browse and buy those auto memorabilia pieces you've been dreaming about. 

Automotive Fine Arts Society

Great are isn't just at the Louvre; it is also at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. If you are going to Pebble be sure to visit the AFAS exhibit. It isn't just auto art; it is art.

Bonhams: Quail Lodge Auction

Bonhams always has a great selection of memorable cars to auction. If you can't afford to bid you can always look and dream.

Carmel-By-The-Sea Concours On The Avenue
The bargain of the week - a free car show on Ocean Avenue, Carmel-By-The-Sea. Go to see the cars (and people) but patronize the shops as well (there's some great food in Carmel).

Concorso Italiano

The show for everything Italian. The focus is cars but you'll find boats, bicycles, motorcycles, food, memorabilia, parts, fashion and more beautiful people.

Gooding & Company - The Pebble Beach Auctions
In my opinion Gooding holds the best auction of the week. Going to their auction is like going to a high society event.

Gordon McCall's Motorworks Revival
Gordon McCall's Motorworks Revival at the Monterey Jet Center (airport) is one of the must attend events of the week. Cars, airplanes, food, drink, and the rich and famous - what else do you want?

Mecum Auctions
Mecum was the new kid on the block, now they are the mega kid on the block. Mecum usually has something for everyone it seems. Predominantly American cars you will find some extraordinary cars spread out on the Hyatt's golf course.

Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance
Pebble poster by AFAS member  Barry Rowe
Pebble is not just the fantastic and not to be missed Concours d'Elegance but an almost week long celebration of great cars. If you can't afford the ticket to the Concours find a spot on the Tour d'Elegance to watch some of the most historic vehicles on this planet drive by.

Rick Cole Auctions
Rick Cole is the new kid/old guy on the block. Rick Cole started the first auction during Monterey Week and now he's back. Expect to see some great cars.

RM Auctions Monterey
RM Auctions has been putting on a first class auction in Monterey for years. Great cars and a lot of action. If you can't afford the price to get in just stand out frot of the Portola Hotel & Spa.

Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is the premier event for historic race cars. This year for the first time in a long time the CanAm cars are back. If you've never heard a CanAm race engine echoing off the hills of this spectacular racetrack you have something extraordinary to look forward to. But make sure you watch as many of the other races as possible.

Russo & Steele
Russo and Steele moved to the Monterey Wharf parking lot a few years ago and have never looked back. They were primarily known for their muscle cars but recently they've had some pretty high end foreign cars too.

The Quail - A Motorsports Gathering
The Quail is more than just a car show; it is an event. Cars, fine food, excellent drinks all laid out at Quail Lodge. 

Remember that even though some of these events are pricey you can still see many of the most important, most gorgeous cars being driven around the Monterey Peninsula. And some of the auctions either allow the public to come and see or have public viewing areas. Sports Car Market has a great digital list of every event, see it at

So get yourself down to Monterey next week and enjoy yourself. After all you are worth it.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

2014 Nissan 370Z NISMO

Every now and then I am lucky enough to get into a press car. It happened recently and the car was a 2014 Nissan 370Z NISMO. I wish I was about 30 years younger.

NISMO stands for NIssan MOtorsports and when applied to a street car it means bring some of the track to the street. The changes are big and they drastically change the character of the 370Z.

Starting with the engine, one of the greatest V6 engines out there, Nissan ups the power from 332 @ 7,000 rpm and 270 lb-ft @ 5,200 to 350 @ 7,400 and 276 @ 5,200. The 6-speed manual transmission is the same in either version but it is the only trans available in the NISMO.

The brakes see a huge jump in disc size. On the standard 370Z the discs are 12.6" diameter front and rear. The NISMO has 14.0" front and 13.8" rear. The bigger rotors are optionally available on the standard 370Z.

The NISMO is outfitted with 19X9.5" front wheels and 19X10.5" rears fitted with P245/40R19 tires front and P285/35R19 rear. They are Bridgestone Potenza S001s.

Nissan says the NISMO has a more aggressive look to if with the body modifications. Personally I like the looks of the standard 370Z better. But to each his/her own.

I didn't go canyon carving with 370Z NISMO; I was in the San Francisco Area looking for an apartment. And I didn't do any actual stopwatch testing. The V6 is a great engine and 350 hp is adequate for acceleration (0-60 has been reported in around 5 seconds). Fuel economy is not bad for such a car - 18 city/26 highway.

For a 3,300 lb car the 370Z NISMO is pretty nimble and quick. What it isn't is comfortable. And that's where my wish to be younger enters. I have no quibble with the shape of the sport seat even though I don't have a sport butt. But it was a bit hard, so hard that I took to removing my wallet from my rear pocket. Now don't get the wrong idea about my wallet; I'm not one of those guys who's wallet is about 4" thick. There was just no give to it.

Add in the extremely low profile tires and stiff suspension and you have a car for young people. The tires were also very noisy. The problem with this being a kid's car is the price - $43,020. Maybe Nissan needs to make a version for us old fogies - All the power with the base 370Z tires and suspension.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cars And Coffee San Francisco & Cars and Coffee Online

Many years ago in LA a bunch of car nuts would gather every Saturday morning at a local donut shop. They'd grab a cup of Joe and maybe a donut and do some bench racing. The same sort of thing happened in many cities and towns all over the USA. In car crazy LA though the gathering soon became too big for the original location. It moved around from one place to another and eventually ended up at the Ford offices in Irvine thanks to John Clinard and Freeman Thomas. The gathering has moved again and the LA version has grown to epic proportions.

Brent Ferguson, an enthusiast, started Cars and Coffee Online ( in 2007 to provide a social network for all the Cars and Coffee gatherings across the nation a place to communicate with each other. Cars and Coffee Online is pleased to welcome the San Francisco Cars and Coffee event to the network.

“San Francisco is the greatest city in the world and is long overdue for a world-class meet up of collector and exotic cars,” said organizer and car collector Geoffrey Palermo. The Saturday events launched June 28 at Pier 32 off Embarcadero along the San Francisco waterfront, attracting 250 Ferraris and other incredible vehicles from around the Bay Area. San Francisco Cars and Coffee will be held the first Saturday of the month. “We chose Pier 32 for our events because it can comfortably accommodate 400-450 display vehicles, and is easy to get to for both car enthusiasts and the millions of tourists who annually visit San Francisco. We have literally become the newest tourist attraction overnight,” shares Palermo. “Owners of Exotics and Vintage cars, pre-1972 American Muscle Cars, electric Sports Cars, and pre-1972 motorcycles are invited to display at our events. A $5 fee will help us offset the hefty cost of securing the grounds for the long-term, and we plan to be very picky about the cars we allow to display compared to similar events held across the country.”

Spectators get in free but there is a charge of $3.00 to park (very reasonable for San Francisco). Pier 32 is just south of the Bay Bridge at the eastern end of Bryant St. There is parking in the area (is there ever enough parking in SF?) so if you can take public transportation do so (there's a Muni Metro Station right out front of Pier 32.

Cars and Coffee Online gives the many gatherings across the country a social network in which to communicate with car owners and enthusiasts who wish to learn about events in their area and beyond. The site represents independent groups across the United States and globally. The term “Cars and Coffee” has been used by car clubs and enthusiasts for decades to represent friendly gatherings, typically held during coffee hours on weekends, where people both display and admire collector cars and exotics. The San Francisco group is sponsored by The Hilton Financial District. Other sponsors include: Ferrari of San Francisco, goldRush Rally,, British Motor Cars Exotics, Academy of Arts University, San Francisco Department of Public Works, SSCustoms, and GT Concepts. The event aims to support and draw awareness to Gum Moon Women’s Residence. Visit the Cars and Coffee San Francisco Facebook page here: or their website at

There are Cars and Coffee groups in so many places. Some are structured, some are very informal. You know, just a bunch of guys grabbing some coffee after a morning's drive. Don't ever let anyone tell you that our love affair with cars is gone. The great thing about these gatherings is you don't have to have a neat car to participate. Just get out there and walk around. I am always amazed at the quality of cars that seem to be hiding in garages all over the Bay Area. Most people who show their car at events like this are more than willing to chat with anyone.

Bring your kids and turn them on to the world of cars. Is there a better way to start a weekend than looking at interesting cars (and people) with a hot cup of coffee, maybe some good pastries, with San Francisco on one side and the beautiful San Francisco Bay on the other side?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I'm already thinking about another car

I told you all that I sold the Falcon because we're moving. No set date yet but hopefully as soon as possible. The house here in Vegas will go on the market in about a week. We need to find a place to live back in the San Francisco Bay Area. It looks like we'll end up in an apartment, most likely in the East Bay, somewhere around San Ramon/Dublin/Pleasanton.

But I'm already scouting out Craigslist and Ebay for another car. Because I won't have a garage I need something that can be used as a daily driver until I find somewhere to work on it. I've narrowed my search to anything between 1960 and 1975 (the last year that doesn't require a smog inspection). I'm partial to Fords and for some unknown reason even to me I like Rancheros but any Ford works. I've had a variety of Fords including a '66 Galaxie 4-door with a four-barrel 352 that I bought from a tow yard.

I'm not choosy though. Anything that strikes my fancy. I'm not ready to buy yet, that has to wait until we get back. Cars I've thought about are things like a '74/'75 Mustang II but there seem to be few V8s available. I saw a V8 Chevy Monza and that might be fun. A Volvo 145 or 245 (wagon) offers something unique if unsual. I haven't ruled out a Mopar. A truck is not out of the question.

So if anyone has any leads, a lead that can wait a month or so, let me know. It should go without saying that I want something solid to build on - as little rust as possible.

After I get settled I'm going to need a place I can work on my car. Apartment complexes seem to frown on people doing repairs and/or modifications.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

One Door Closes, Another One Opens (hopefully)

Well the Falcon is gone. Yes I sold it. I was sad to see it go off but I made a choice. We have decided to move back to the Bay Area and the Falcon wasn't in that picture. There is no way I could have had it ready to drive the almost 600 miles back without dumping a ton of money into it all at once. And that was never my plan. So I sold it.

The upside is that for the first time in a long, long time I actually made money when selling a car. I don't know what it is with me but it seems that if I buy a car for $1,000, put another $1,000 into it I then end up selling it for $500. But not this time. I didn't make a ton of money but I had a little less than $2,000 into the Falcon and sold it for $3,000. I'm satisfied.

Once we get settled in the Bay Area and I have a place to work on a car I'll buy something else. I have a few ideas floating around in my brain.

I still haven't decided if I should keep my '87 Toyota pickup. It's got like 250,000 miles on it but it still runs well. I had trouble getting it to pass smog here this year and don't know if it will pass back in CA. There's also the problem of getting it there. It will make the trip, I'm sure of that, but that means two driving trips back; one in the Toyota and one in our 2002 Focus. Nadine will not drive that distance. So I'd have to drive to the Bay Area, fly back and drive there again. I haven't decided yet.

Some of my friends are wondering why we are moving back, the Bay Area being so expensive and all. Some think it's because of the heat. It isn't. It really is that we are just not happy here. Once you've lived in Eden it's hard to find happiness in Gomorrah. To be serious health care is the single biggest reason. The health care here in Las Vegas sucks. There aren't enough doctors and not one adheres to my insurer's fee schedule so no matter why I see a doctor there is always a fee over and above my co-pay and what the insurer pays. And I don't know what that amount will be for months after the visit. Add in that it takes forever to get an appointment (two years ago I came back from Monterey with an ear infection, the soonest I could see my doctor was a month out!).

So we're moving "home". We'll be close to family and friends. The weather is better. And the health care actually exists.

But I won't have my '65 Falcon Futura.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What cars are the most American (US) made? Too few.

Perhaps to prove that this really is a global economy, or to show the sad fact that we don't make it any more, compiled a list of the cars (and trucks) made here in the USA. It's a short list and getting shorter. Our once proud auto industry, although once more strong from a sales point of view, is shrinking.

Here's the list:

U.S. Assembly Location(s)
Rank in 2013
Ford F-150
Dearborn, Mich.; Claycomo, Mo.
Toyota Camry
Georgetown, Ky.; Lafayette, Ind.
Honda Odyssey
Lincoln, Ala.
Toyota Sienna
Princeton, Ind.
Toyota Tundra
San Antonio, Texas
Toyota Avalon
Georgetown, Ky.
Chevrolet Corvette
General Motors
Bowling Green, Ky.
Honda Ridgeline
Lincoln, Ala.
Honda Crosstour
East Liberty, Ohio
Dodge SRT Viper
Detroit, Mich.

No offense to Honda or Toyota but the "Big 3" have only one vehicle each on the list. The Japanese auto makers put more models in the top 10 than the "domestic" auto makers. Detroit and environs, the very image of US auto making, only scores two vehicles on the list; first place and tenth. 

It is a sad commentary on our nation that we don't make it here anymore. Every time I see something about the shrinking manufacturing section in our nation I hear "We Can't Make It Here Anymore" by James McMurty (son of Larry "Lonesome Dove" McMurtry). The last verse says it all:
"In Dayton, Ohio
Or Portland, Maine
Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
That's done closed down along with the school
And the hospital and the swimming pool
Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
There's rats in the alley
And trash in the street
Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
We can't make it anymore"

I hope that next year the list is longer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rick Cole Auctions Return to Monterey

Way back, before I ever attended my first Monterey Historics, before I bought my first ticket to The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, before I ever attended an upscale auto auction, there was only one auction during what has become The Monterey Car Week – Rick Cole Auctions.

Rick Cole’s first Monterey Auction was in 1986. In 1997 he sold his auction to RM Auctions. Cole’s auction spawned many auctions during The Monterey Car Week. What began as a one day event – The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and then grew into a weekend affair with the Monterey Historics has now become a week-long (plus) extravaganza of historic cars, races, shows, auctions, galas and gatherings to rival anything on this planet.

Now Rick Cole is back in Monterey. Rick Cole Monterey Auction will be at the Monterey Marriott Hotel at 350 Calle Principal, Monterey.  The auction begins on Thursday, August 14, 2014 and ends at 12 p.m. Sunday, August 17, 2014.

A first for Monterey bidders participating in the Rick Cole Monterey Auction will have the option to place their bids in person or by Smartphone. With so many auctions going on at the same time a bidder who is interested in cars at more than one site will be able to not only follow the action at Rick Cole’s but to actively participate regardless of where they are located.

Center piece of the auction will be a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB Competitizone Clienti built as a special order for American Ferrari patron Alfred Ducato. This fantastic Ferrari has been in a private collection for 25-years and has been unseen by the public. It is in complete and original condition.

Rick Cole Monterey Auctions is a welcome addition to a busy, and wonderful week. For more information go to

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

No Monterey This Year?

I've gone to the Monterey Car Week every year for what seems like forever. This year I may not make it. I've just got too much going on right now.

We are planning on moving back to the San Francisco Bay Area soon, hopefully before October. Right now still trying to get my '65 Falcon out of the garage (a subject for another post). There are other more personal issues in my life right now that are eating up time too.

I work part-time for O'Reilly Auto Parts and I really don't want to take too much time off. Add in that I seem to get away by myself every year to Monterey while Nadine gets stuck home alone you can see why maybe I should skip Monterey.

Of course not having the Pacifica Tribune as an outlet anymore leaves a question mark about just who I'd be covering the event for as well. I am working on some other outlets but that's on the back burner until we're settled wherever we may end up.

Update! Can Mary Barra Change the Culture at General Motors?

This just in from Reuters via Automotive News. It appears that GM's Board knew of the safety issues as early as 2002. Read it all here

If you've been following the ignition switch debacle at General Motors you may wonder how it ever got so bad. For me that isn't the question; the question is can it be fixed.

A series of articles in Automotive News posed that question and also theorized that GM CEO Mary Barra has a unique opportunity to reshape General Motors. I am hopeful but at the same time doubtful.

The cartoon above echoes my sentiment. Although GM has fired what they say are the worst offenders - those who ignored all the warning signs - they have basically absolved the hierarchy of any blame.

I give General Motors and Barra credit for going outside for an investigator. The Valukas Report was very damning. But will the General really change course. I remember years ago reading that GM was like a huge ocean going tanker, almost impossible to change its course.

Over the years we have heard platitude after platitude heaped on the GM CEO du jour. I've met a few of them and although they were nice guys (and until Barra they were all guys) who had "gasoline in their veins" they all simply stayed the course. Even as they lost market share and shed divisions they professed that GM was the greatest. I remember one executive telling a group of auto writers that the only thing wrong with their cars was that buyers didn't truly understand how good they were.

Think of every single General Motors failure. The Chevette? It was going to turn back the tide of Japanese imports. The Cadillac Allante? The best combination of Italian design and American technology. Misstep after misstep that had many asking, "what were they thinking."

General Motors has a long, long history of arogance. I wish Barra all the best and hope she can change the culture but I'm not betting it will happen.

Monday, June 9, 2014

All Good Things Must Come to an End?

Last week I received news that the Pacifica Tribune was cancelling all special sections except Seniors including the Cars section where my column appears. I've been writing for the Trib for a long time, since 1997, and it's been a good ride. Much longer and better than I ever envisioned.

I wasn't overjoyed with the way I found out. A couple of months ago the Trib said that from now on they would like to receive my articles a week in advance instead of the past "as long as it's in before the end of business on the Friday before it's published." Not a big deal. Last month (May) the Trib requested I write a story about local businessman (and friend) Jeff Lee. I was happy to do so. This month (June) I, like usual, fell behind and sent them an article a couple of days late with my apologies. This is the response I got: "That's fine. We've eliminated all the special sections except Seniors. You are still welcome to contribute about topics of interest, but you don't have to have a piece ready every month. There's no more cars section. I loved what you did about Jeffrey and the motorcycle racing. Anything like that would be great." To be fair they did leave the door open to other articles, just not reviews. 

When I moved to the Las Vegas area and I found that I could not get press cars here I thought that was the end of the line for the Trib. In fact the Trib said they had someone local who was interested in writing; I tried to hook the guy up with my connections but he flaked. The Trib graciously said that whatever or whenever I could write an article would be fine. When we traveled and I was able to get a press car I wrote a review; when there were no cars available I wrote on car shows or whatever I could. Sometimes it was hard to come up with a subject but somehow I was usually able (with a few exceptions) to find something that I hope my readers found interesting. 

It's ironic that my column has come to an end as Nadine and I are planning to move back to the Bay Area. I had hoped to get back into some press cars. It is doubtful that we would have ended up in Pacifica; it's a little to expensive (yes) for us retirees. But we miss the Bay Area terribly and we are in a position where we can afford something in one of the less expensive areas.

I am not pleased that no auto company will send press cars to Las Vegas (either from L.A. or Phoenix). They say it's too expensive, which on the face of it it is for many of the companies. But there are car companies, mostly upscale companies, that provide cars to a writer in Boise, Idaho. But you can't argue with the folks that own the cars.

I don't intend this to be the end of the line. I like to write about cars. I think I'm good at it (I know I'm not one of the greats and I'll never win any awards). As soon as we get back to the Bay Area I'm going to be beating on the door of every paper out there, big or small. To all those in Pacifica who have put up with my columns all these years, thank you. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, "you haven't seen the last of Bruce Hotchkiss."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mustang 50th Anniversary at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Shelby American.

2015 Mustang
2015 Mustang
Ford Display

I just liked these emblems.
Mustang I - I, like so many kids, fell in love with this car. Who cares that it was powered by an underpowered 1.5-liter V4? Not me.
Just a nice, clean '67 Fastback
Nope not enough power yet.
But we're getting close.

Shelby Daytona Coupe
There may be nothing more beautiful than a small-block Ford done up ala Shelby.
Unless of course it's an aluminum 427 FE.

How'd these get in here? Oh yeah they're Shelbys.

My friend Steve trying on a Ford Flex
Slightly used but still exciting.
Very used '67 Shelby GT 500 428 with dual quads.
Unrestored and so rough. 
'69 or '70 with some monster Baer brakes.

Not my favorite year, too big, but still it is a Boss 351.

2015 Mustang 5.0