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Let's talk performance

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By Bruce Nelson

Anyone who is interested in cars or the car hobby knows what is important in a car. Performance! How does your new car perform? How do cars compare? Why buy one new car over another? How much performance do you need? I say that any car I enjoy driving must perform, but in many ways. I have a friend who I share an interest in cars with. Not only do we share an interest in cars, but also we share an interest in old Pontiacs. We seldom talk, but when we do it is always about cars. Our conversation almost always ends up in discussing the performance of cars. His only concern when it comes to performance is acceleration. It always comes down to the ďquarter mileĒ time. It seems that that is the only kind of performance that is important to him. For years, this was this was a main concern when testing cars, but is that really what defines performance? A couple of years back, I had a Porsche 914 2-liter. Now this car was no slug, but it would have been no competition to the big V-8 cars of the 60s and early 70s in the ď1320Ē. The Porsche, however, had handling that is seldom surpassed by any car, even today. Now, isnít handling just as important to performance as acceleration? Especially, with the road racing crowd.

So maybe we should back up and take a look at what performance really means. There has been a lot of discussion about Motor Trendís choice of the Toyota Prius as 2004 car of the year. This car doesnít fit the mold as the car of the year as we know it. Usually, the car of the year is a performance car in the sense of power, handling or styling. The Toyota Prius, in my opinion does not excel in any of these categories. What it does do well, is it performs as a very good car for the general public to commute to work in. it gets great fuel economy, has better power than what would be expected from a motor of the size that it has. It is also roomy, for a car of its size. And is very possibly the future of design for fuel efficient and low emission vehicles. The combination of a small gas engine and an electric motor to supplement power, is the least costly way to a future with cleaner air and less need for dependence on foreign oil.

I own eight vehicles. Yes, that may seem a bit odd for a family with only two licensed drivers, but let me try my best to rationalize why anyone would own that many cars. Letís start with my wifeís 1994 Pontiac Sunbird convertible. About four years ago we decided we needed a small economical car. This car made sense to me because it cost no more than any other small car, but had the fun option of the convertible top. My wife loves the car, and it has been a very economical and reliable car. I believe that this car performs well. It isnít terribly fast. It doesnít handle terribly well. But it gets great mileage, and if fun is a type of performance, then it has been a more than satisfactory car. I also have a 1990 Ford F-150 pick-up. It performs as good as needed as an inexpensive pick-up for the occasional hauling duties. The next one is my 1995 Chevy ĺ ton van. Since I do electronics repair and satellite service a van is the requirement. On our local ferry system, it costs double fare if your vehicle is over 7 Ĺ feet tall. Since I need to carry ladders on my roof, only the older vans will fit these criteria. So this van performs well for me, although that may not be important to anyone else. Okay, we are done with the boring vehicles. I also have a 1966 Pontiac Catalina convertible. The performance is lousy, but if styling and fun is important to you, this has been possibly the best car Iíve ever owned. I also own a 1971 Pontiac Lemans Sport with a warmed up 400, 400 turbo, headers, flowmaster exhaust, T/As and a twelve bolt posi. Okay, itís performance is much more mainstream. It has excellent acceleration and handling for a daily driver. So I suppose itís about as normal a performance car as I have. I also have a 1950 Ford sedan. Now for itís day it was a very good car. It is the one car I own that doesnít really do anything well. But it is an important piece of automotive history. Next is my 1982 Citroen Visa. It is actually a good handling, very economical, very comfortable car. Although it is a bit weird looking, it is a car you donít often see, possible because it is one of the only ones in the western hemisphere. Good car, a little tough to get parts for locally. Next is my 1980 Datsun 280ZX tenth anniversary edition. Now, Iíve had a 240Z and Iíve always thought of these later Zs as being rather worthless. After the 240Z these cars got larger and turned into more of a luxury car than a sports car. I picked up this car recently with less than 1000 original miles on it. This sounds better than it is since it was never garaged and when it was driven, it was altogether to often into something. But as they say, ďyou can put on new paint, you can put in new upholstery, but you canít put on low milesĒ. So it looks like any old 280ZX but drives like a brand new car. It has good acceleration, great handling, and good fuel economy and is a very comfortable car to drive. All those things considered, it performs very well as far as Iím concerned.

Now, it may seem weird to some people, but when I walk out the door in the morning I can drive the vehicle that fits my needs and mood for that day. Whether I need to build something at my bowling alley, install electronics, drive to Seattle, take the winding road to Roche Harbor or whatever the day brings. When we go to car shows, we also need to decide what to take. Do we drive the old car, the classic convertible, the muscle car, the sports car or the one that no matter where you go, itís the only one there. Itís always a decision. I guess my point is that many cars perform well. All they need to do is be as good as their competitors at what they advertise they do. Accelerate fast, handle well, stop well, carry a load, stop well, get good fuel mileage, or any combination of those. Now thatís performance. Bruce.

By Bruce Nelson

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