Jon de Vos: Bail ’em out: They said they are sorry.
I love cars so much that it pains me to hear automakers getting spanked. Congress is shrieking, “Bad, Bad Dinosaurs!” at the Big Three. Government bigwigs can’t understand how Ford bigwigs did nothing for decades while their cars got the same mileage as the QE2. The car companies got bloated and complacent while still selling just enough cars to pay decision-makers handsomely. Over decades, they made worse and worse cars and rewarded themselves with bigger bonuses and better private jets.
I hope the bailout’s a given. The car industry’s wages impact 10 percent of the nation in one way or another. All AIG makes is paper; Chrysler makes cars and jobs.
There is no sound like a 1974 Dodge Challenger starting up. It still turns heads today. The 426 Hemi engine that powered it came with a warning from the factory that said, “Designed for supervised acceleration trials. Not recommended for general everyday driving.” Some of you are asking, “What’s a Hemi engine?” Glad you asked.
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By the end of the 1930s, it was growing apparent that America would be sucked into the war in Europe. Automakers were desperate to improve the gasoline engine. Carbon build-up from fuel combustion was a huge problem, compromising performance and shortening engine life to 20,000 miles. The war was coming; it truly was a matter of life-or-death to get it right. And Chrysler did by bringing the hemispherical combustion chamber into the main stream. The Hemi concept had been around since 1903. The 1914 Peugeot Gran Prix had one and the Stutz Bearcat used it until 1934.
Cut an orange in half, set it on the counter and you’re looking at roughly the size and shape of the Hemi combustion chamber. It allowed the spark plug to be placed in the center of the action, a tremendous advance, one the military immediately latched onto. An important weapon in the Air Force’s inventory was the P-47, the largest and heaviest single-seat fighter plane. It was powered by a huge 2,800 cubic-inch radial engine that topped the plane out at 439 miles per hour. A hastily slapped together Chrysler Hemi V-16, at one-third the size, powered the P-47 to 504 miles per hour on it’s first run. The Hemi gave America dominance in the European skies.
After the war, people lined up to buy new cars. So much so that in 1953, Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, the former GM president, Charles Erwin Wilson, said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”
Actually, he never said that. What he did say was much less arrogant but not nearly so newsworthy and the misquote lives on. Even as a misstatement, it was true. In 1955, GM was the first American corporation to pay a billion dollars in taxes.
OK, so what’s funny? Just this ” by the end of the 1970s the Hemi engine was discarded and hasn’t been made since. Huh? So what are all these Chrysler products doing today sporting Hemi badges? It’s a nostalgia thing, a copyrighted word without much meaning. The hemispherical combustion chamber itself was vastly improved upon. Look back at that orange. Now cut an apple in half and lean it against the orange. That’s more what the modern chamber resembles: two joined compartments allow the fuel to swirl, mix, burn and exhaust better.
Turns out there hasn’t been a true Hemi engine made in over 20 years.
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