Q. What do you think about
advertising overstated fuel economy estimates? — T.W.,
A. Without getting into the controversial subject of advertised fuel economy, let me say that you have really answered your own question: the Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy numbers are, as it clearly states, just estimates. Actual economy depends on a variety of factors. They include driving habits, vehicle condition (including tire pressures), traffic conditions, type of driving (mostly city? mainly highway?), number of automatic transmission speeds—and even the weather. That said, it should be understood that there must be standardized tests to determine, however approximately, the fuel economy of various vehicles.
Q. What are the main things I should do to get better gas mileage? Gasoline in my area has topped $4 per gallon, and I drive a fairly large SUV that costs a fortune to fill with fuel. — M. H., Hinsdale, Ill.
A. Use driving techniques of 1950s auto fuel-economy-contest winners. That is, accelerate as casually as possible, drive smoothly, don’t top 60 m.p.h. on highways, shift to higher gears as soon as possible with a manual transmission without “lugging” the engine and inflate tires a few pounds above recommended pressures for less rolling resistance. Also, don’t carry excess weight in your vehicle. Of course, some of those driving tips often can’t be used much on today’s overcrowded higher-speed roads, filled with many impatient drivers. On the flip side, today’s automatic transmissions have far more speeds than they once did for better fuel economy, and most modern cars are generally far more efficient and more aerodynamic, with sophisticated computer-controlled engines. Still, the basic old economy driving rules are valid.
Q. Is it true that young people no longer have the same interest in cars that young folks once did? — A.M., Phoenix
A. Nobody seems to know for sure. However, teens are driving less and getting their licenses later, besides waiting longer to buy their first new car. Vehicles—even used ones—are more costly, and the weak economy and lackluster job situation leave young people with less money for cars—especially the more desirable ones. Young folks also have far more entertainment distractions than they once did. And they can use cellphones to privately communicate with friends, whereas they once had to drive somewhere to meet them. Also, more young adults are moving to the central city, where parking often is quite expensive. And they have more transportation options, from bikes to ride shares to public transportation. Some can even walk to work without need for a car or light truck, which must be insured and maintained. Gasoline also costs much more in many places than it once did. New and late-model cars are far more mechanically advanced than old ones, but many look alike and lack the pizzaz and romance of 1950s and 1960s autos—fondly recalled by older baby boomers. Many vehicles are bought by families just starting out or those living outside central city areas because they need them to get to work, go shopping, etc. But the love affair with cars is far from over. Many sporty Chevy Camaros and Ford Mustangs, for example, still are sold. And just look at the annual Woodward Dream Cruise week each summer in metro Detroit and its Woodward Avenue, which was famous in the 1960s for street racing. Started in 1995, this year’s Dream Cruise drew an estimated 30,000 muscle cars, street rods and classics, with a crowd estimated at more than one million folks that witnessed this event.
Q. I have finished
restoring my 1974 Pontiac GTO and am enclosing pictures of it. Would
you like to print them?—J. G., New York City
A. We don’t print reader auto pictures, but your car is interesting. The 1964 GTO kicked off the muscle car boom of the 1960s, but many feel there really are no collectible GTOs after the 1970 model. However, your car, which looks sharp, is the last GTO—if in name only. It actually was a compact Pontiac Ventura coupe, with a $195 GTO option package that consisted of a 350-cubic-inch V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor from the Pontiac Le Mans, the “Shaker” hood scoop from the Pontiac Trans Am, nifty Rally II wheels, trick decal striping and the famous GTO nameplate. A total of 7,058 were sold. GTO guru Jim Wangers wrote in his superb book, “Glory Days, When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit,” that the 1974 GTO was “actually a nice little car” and that “few know that it was a 1974 GTO that captured the Pure Stock title at the NHRA 1974 summer Nationals at Indianapolis.”
Q. I’d like to buy a slinky looking 1953 Jaguar XK-120 coupe, but am six feet tall and am told I won’t fit in it. What say? I think the car looks like a piece of art. — P.S., Seattle
A. That was a gorgeous 1951-54 car, inside and out, and costs less than the early, pricey 1950s Jaguar XK120 roadster. But the tight interior won’t let you drive it comfortably if you’re taller than about “5-10.’’ The XK120 coupe is slow by today’s standards and its steering, brakes, handling, electrical system, cooling system and gearbox leave much to be desired. Improvements such as a 12-volt alternator upgrade, five-speed manual transmission (instead of the ancient, noisy four-speed manual) and radial tires are recommended.