Q. Now that hot summer weather
here, I wonder if a car gets better fuel economy when driven with the
windows up with the air conditioning on or down, with the air
conditioning off? -- E.N. (via Internet)
A. Many feel that keeping the windows up and using the air conditioning reduces fuel-robbing aerodynamic drag. But others argue that lowering the windows and keeping the air conditioning off reduces the fuel-robbing "drag" on an engine caused by air conditioning.
Q. What happened to the Saturn car division of General Motors? It was introduced with great fanfare and had many buyers. I still have a 1990s Saturn sedan I bought new and it runs fine, with more than 100,000 miles on it. -- D.M. (via Internet)
A. The Saturn was a decent car, but many models resembled a shrunken Oldsmobile. Heavily promoted when introduced in late 1990, it was billed as an "import fighter" with a "down-home" American image, built in Tennessee. It also was sold in a "one-price" environment. But its design was conventional, except for its plastic body panels. GM sorely neglected it for years, while Saturn's Asian rivals became more competitive. Saturn's best national sales volume was hit in 1994, when 286,003 vehicles were sold. But then many Americans switched to large cars, big SUVs and pickup trucks, and Saturn had none.
Q. What do you think of Nissan's electric Leaf car? -- E.S. (via Internet)
A. It has badly fallen short of expectations so far, despite sale spurred by tax credits. Morever, many Leafs soon will be coming off lease with diminished resale value. One bright note is that the 2016 model is supposed to have a 105-mile battery range after a full charge, up from 84 miles--all things being equal. One electric car problem, though, is that things are seldom "equal." For instance, accelerating briskly, using accessories and cold weather are among things that diminish driving range. Then, of course, charging the car should be reasonably convenient.
Q. I drove some of the first
front-wheel-drive Subarus sold in America, and they resembled tin cans.
Since then, they've been greatly improved and are in hot demand. What
happened? -- K.C. (via Internet)
A. The addition of standard all-wheel drive for all models, when it wasn't common, and Subaru's practical crossover models have greatly turned around the fortunes of this automaker, which can hardly meet demand in America--especially for its Outback and Forester crossovers. Subarus became refined as the years passed, and it even built a slinky SVX sports car along the way. (It's relatively new BRZ sports car, developed with Toyota, is its only model with rear-drive.)
Q. How come Hollywood movie stars no longer are heavily identified with their cars? For instance, film icons such as Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, were heavily associated by the media with their 1930s Duesenbergs. That was when a Duesenberg cost as much as a nice house. -- A.E. (via Internet)
A. I asked that question of Jay Leno, a classic car enthusiast and massive auto collector during a Chevrolet-sponsored media day at the Indianapolis 500 track, where Leno was practicing driving the Indy 500 pace car for the upcoming big race. Leno paused a bit after hearing the question, and then said, "I really don't know." I think there were fewer major movie stars then who were car buffs and a smaller number of great cars, such as the Duesenberg. In fact, Leno is the best-known show biz celebrity heavily associated with his classic cars. Funny, some people think the Duesenberg is a German car, because of its name, but some auto experts feel it's the best American car ever made.
Q. I guess most people think that muscle cars, such as the Pontiac GTO, didn't arrive until the 1960s. But I maintain there were a fair number of 1950s muscle cars. Am I correct? Why are 1950s muscle cars largely ignored? And which one was one of the best? -- W.A. (via Internet)
A. One of the best was the 1957 (and virtually identical 1958) Chrysler 300. They had fabulous styling and a Hemi V-8 that generated a conservatively rated 375-390 horsepower. The 1960s saw a new generation of young drivers who could afford muscle cars. In the 1950s, they were just kids. Also, a smaller number of 1950s muscle cars were built, and not many have survived.