Noise Vibration and Harshness

The Triumph of Deregulation

Turning back the clock on CAFE is not the way forward

With the EPA in the process of being bound, gagged, and ice-picked from behind by the new Trump administration in Washington, now seems like a good time to consider regulation.

Remember how happy carmakers were in 2009 to accept stiffer CAFE standards? Thanks to industry lobbying, it had been almost 30 years since there’d been any adjustment to mileage targets set back when many cars had carburetors. But as Detroit was getting bailed out by taxpayers, suddenly their commitment to the environment and slowing global warming was the thing they said they cared about most, aside from protecting their own salaries and bonuses — I mean, the livelihoods of their rank and file workers.

Fat and happy again, now carmakers moan it’s all happening too fast. With the devil-may-care shoulders now there to cry on in the District of Columbia’s halls of power, it’s a case of too bad for species being made extinct by climate change and those who’ll miss the critters and clean air. (Yes, I know cars are only a part of the problem, but the other great polluters will surely enjoy similar reprieves from the anti-environmentalists in charge.)

As to the industry’s late-breaking claims of impossibility, I call fish carburetor on them — that is, complete and irredeemable bullshit. They are actually ahead of schedule to meet the 2023 CAFE standards and are perfectly capable of finishing the job by 2025. Their primary complaint is that people only want to buy big, heavy trucks and SUVs. Although if they chose to explain it accurately, they’d note they make more money selling trucks and SUVs, citing the 40 years they’ve spent persuading consumers to pay more for SUVs than cars, even though they cost no more to build — and sometimes less.

So boo-hoo. They have to make SUVs more fuel-efficient and still sell some cars, too. About which there is no unfairness. As many a manager told baseball slugger Dave Kingman, not every at-bat can be a home run. Although why they bothered, I can’t say, as Kingman regularly proved their point by striking out and popping up.

Barring a meteor strike, regulations will be weakened or eliminated. As an old-car aficionado, I have special insight into what an automotive world with the most minimal regulation might feel like, and while I appreciate the chance to experience it, I don’t think the general population would care (or ought to have) to.

Today my trip back to the Wild West is courtesy of a 1970 Triumph 13/60 estate, née Herald. Purchased nine years ago from a collector of oddball machinery, the two-door, right-hand drive wagon was shipped from England to West Virginia and then built up to Vitesse Mark 2 specs, a performance boost offered by the factory only on coupe and convertible models. A small outfit, Standard-Triumph was especially clever at making the most of its parts bin. Beneath the wagon’s sharp, airy, Michelotti-penned lines lies the essence of a GT6+ sports car. It has four seats and a 2.0-liter, twin-carb, straight-six engine delivering 120 horsepower, a four-speed gearbox with electric overdrive, rack-and-pinion steering with an impossibly compact 25-foot turning circle, all-independent suspension, and enough hazards to last a lifetime.

Big horsepower, light weight (roughly 2,000 pounds), rear-wheel drive, crazy camber swing axles, and a frame that shares more than a little with that of the Triumph Spitfire spell a quick, only incidentally rigid car that wants to get you there in a hurry.

That, along with fine looks and an intoxicating exhaust note, is the good part. Placed beside the mysteries of British electrics and a body bolted together from three sections for extra rattle potentiality, the bad part is that this machine is a near total death trap. If it doesn’t asphyxiate you while you’re standing next to it, its promise includes many alternate painful death scenarios.

There’s nothing deformable, no safety cell, and the steering column won’t collapse until after it’s taken your head off. Air bag? Think body bag. Side-intrusion beams? Let’s put it this way: Were you to get T-boned in this thing, it’d be more than an intrusion.

Not that this deters me. I drive it anyway, though I make a point of warning first-time occupants that if a cat jumps on us from a low branch, we’ll probably all be killed instantly, thanks to roof pillars slender enough to double as chopsticks.

No one knows better than me all the delicate pleasures and amusing idiosyncrasies lost to automotive regulation. Yet because I know where we’re coming from, I’m much more animated by where we’re going and what we’ve gained. I will hate to see it go.

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