Reconsidering the 1972 NHTSA Report on the Corvair

If you’re at all familiar with the Corvair, Chevrolet’s air-cooled, rear-engined six-cylinder compact, you’re almost certainly aware that consumer advocate Ralph Nader famously lambasted it as a “‘one-car’ accident” in his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed: The designed-in dangers of the American automobile, whose first chapter is devoted to the Corvair. You may also have heard that an investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the early 1970s refuted Nader’s charges, declaring that the early Corvair’s handling was perfectly safe. However, the facts aren’t so clear cut — and neither is the ostensible exoneration of the Corvair.

Continue Reading Reconsidering the 1972 NHTSA Report on the Corvair

Patronism, Part 4

In addition to the piece I published on the Patreon page the other day about Reconsidering the NHTSA Evaluation of the Early Corvair, I published a follow-up, Reconsidering the Optional Corvair Suspension, discussing the RPO 696 heavy-duty suspension. This also is a Patreon exclusive for the time being; the NHTSA piece will run here for free in June, but I haven’t decided yet about the newer item. My goal is not to move Ate Up With Motor to the Patreon platform (which has some limitations I find frustrating when it comes to posting longer articles), but to try to build some interest in the Patreon page. As I’ve mentioned, my current financial situation is very dire, to the point that my friends have started a GoFundMe campaign for me, so trying to monetize Ate Up With Motor more than I have been able to in recent years is an important step. (ETA: As of May 16, 2024, the campaign has reached its goal — thank you all so much!)

Patronism, Part 3

In a fairly shameless bid to drive interest in the new Ate Up With Motor Patreon page, I’ve posted a new 4,000-word piece there about the 1972 NHTSA report that supposedly exonerated the early (1960–1963) Chevrolet Corvair of charges of evil handling. Because I think the subject is ultimately of (some) public interest, my plan is to eventually make that post publicly available here, but it will only be available to paid Patreon members until at least June 1, 2024.

Patronism, Part 2

I have decided to start an Ate Up With Motor Patreon page. I set up an Ate Up With Motor shop, which currently offers author’s notes for the electronic fuel injection, “Turbos for the Turnpike”, and rope-drive Tempest articles. The logic is that the articles themselves remain freely available, but people can buy the bonus content separately, which is also a way to support my work. I also set up an option for recurring payments (which Patreon calls “membership”), at $5 USD a month; at present, I’m not sure about multiple tiers or anything like that, but given the severity of my financial predicament, it seemed a reasonable place to start.

Patronism?

I’ve once again been contemplating options for monetizing the site to keep it (and me) alive, which brings me back to the Patreon idea. This is something that people have suggested for years, and I’ve always been wary of it, but I wonder if it might be a better idea than I had thought. One big advantage of Patreon is that it’s opt-in, and is not (insofar as I understand it) dependent on harvesting unwitting visitors’ personal data for ad profiling purposes — I aggressively block most online advertising myself, and such advertising can now have complicated legal implications. Patreon also appears to offer much greater flexibility and platform support for options such as recurring payments (something that’s theoretically possible but legally and administratively stressful with PayPal).

However, there are a lot of questions to wrestle with:

  1. I’m very reluctant to put articles behind a paywall. It wouldn’t be in my commercial or professional interests — with content whose appeal is already somewhat rarefied, I might as well just bury it in the desert at that point — and if my goal is to expand the general understanding or address misconceptions about a topic, making the content harder to access seems counterproductive.
  2. I don’t know if readers would have any interest in “bonus content” for Patreon subscribers, or what kind. I took a stab at creating “author’s notes” for the two most recent articles, which ended up amounting to rather verbose section-by-section footnotes; whether anyone would want those on top of the already-lengthy existing articles, I dunno. (They seem like they would be of most interest to someone researching their own book or paper.)
  3. I’m not sure what kind of content schedule I could reasonably commit to. Patreon, like most Internet content models, presumably works best with regularly scheduled, frequent updates, which I’m not sure is realistic for Ate Up With Motor. The fuel injection and Jetfire/Corvair turbo articles proceeded at a relatively brisk pace given their length and complexity, but the former involved three or four weeks of more or less full-time work (which isn’t always feasible), while the latter took around 10 weeks at a slightly less feverish pitch. There is of course the possibility of aiming for shorter chunks of content that aren’t as time-consuming to research and write, but this raises the question of whether it should be specifically for Patreon (which gets back to the paywall issue) or whether it would be better to treat Patreon as a supplement/alternative to the existing PayPal button rather than as a separate content outlet.
  4. I don’t know to what extent there’s still actually an audience. I feel like the most substantive thing I have to contribute in the realm of automotive writing is actually doing my homework, or trying to; for instance, a lot of my research for the fuel injection article involved poring through sources while muttering, “That seems wrong,” or “That doesn’t make chronological sense,” and then trying to distill those pieces into a coherent, factually consistent narrative. This isn’t something that lends itself to short and punchy 800-word essays with clickbait headlines, which is what the Internet most rewards; that’s fine, but when it comes to Ate Up With Motor, my assumption is that if people wanted a quick summation, they’d just read the Wikipedia article. However, this is an admittedly esoteric approach to already-esoteric topics, which at times leaves me feeling like Bertie Wooster’s newt-fancier friend Gussie Fink-Nottle. Is there still a place for that? Again, I dunno.

I welcome any thoughts or suggestions, particularly from people who’ve used Patreon (either as a patron or as a creator).

Electronic Fuel Injection Article Thesis Statement

Because it grew more elaborate than I had initially envisioned, I realize the original object of the recent article on the Bendix Electrojector and Bosch D-Jetronic systems may have suffered a bit of forest-for-the-trees syndrome, so it might be worthwhile for me to clearly restate the thesis.

The principal object of the article was to investigate the commonly held assumption that Bendix simply sold the rights to the Electrojector system to Bosch, which then tidied it up and put it back into production as D-Jetronic. After delving into this contention at some length, my conclusion is that this isn’t really accurate. Rather, the appearance of the Bendix system in the fifties (of which Bosch was definitely aware) inspired Bosch to launch its own electronically controlled gasoline injection (ECGI) development program, which followed along some similar lines. This project probably would have ended up on the shelf due to lack of automaker interest had developments in California tailpipe emissions standards not forced the issue in 1964. By that time, Bendix, which had mostly shelved its fuel injection program after the failure of the Electrojector in 1957–1958, had secured worldwide patent protection covering many fundamental aspects of electronic fuel injection with timed speed-density metering. So, in order to put D-Jetronic in production for Volkswagen, Bosch was obliged to obtain a license from Bendix to use technology covered by those patents. Bendix retained control of the underlying IP, and subsequently also negotiated a reciprocal agreement for access to Bosch ECGI patents for use in the Bendix electronic fuel injection system subsequently offered by Cadillac and Chevrolet in the mid-seventies.

Neither Bendix nor Bosch invented the basic concept of timed low-pressure/common-rail electronic fuel injection with solenoid-controlled injection valves, which had been tried (albeit without commercial success) in the thirties. However, applying that concept with a metering system capable of handling all the aspects of passenger car operation was a challenging prospect, which wasn’t really completely addressed until the advent of the later Bosch L-Jetronic system (with mass airflow metering) and the addition of oxygen sensor feedback controls.

Electrojector and D-Jetronic: Early Electronic Fuel Injection

Once considered exotic technology, electronic fuel injection has been around a surprisingly long time. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we review the origins of EFI and examine the relationship between the pioneering Bendix Electrojector, Bosch D-Jetronic, and the second-generation Bendix system that introduced GM to electronic injection in the 1970s — a complicated web of technology, business, and politics.

Seville and "Fuel Injection" badges on the right front fender of a Naples Yellow 1977 Cadillac Seville sedan (Aaron Severson)

Continue Reading Electrojector and D-Jetronic: Early Electronic Fuel Injection

Electronic Fuel Injection Article

If you know anything about early automotive fuel injection systems, or if you’ve seen the Jay Leno’s Garage video about Per Blixt’s 1958 Chrysler 300D, you’re probably at least dimly aware of the short-lived Bendix Electrojector electronic fuel injection system. You might even have heard that it had something to do with the much better known Bosch D-Jetronic system, introduced about a decade later. However, there’s still much confusion about the relationship between these systems, and about what they have to do with the the electronic fuel injection system that Cadillac (and Chevrolet) used in the late seventies (in the Cadillac Seville and Chevrolet Cosworth Vega).

I have been delving into these questions (if only to distract myself from the still-calamitous financial situation), and I’ve come up with what I think is about the most definitive answer possible at this late date. I’m still fine-tuning some details and embarking on the search for appropriate illustrations, some of which I might need to make myself, but you’ll hopefully see it here in the not-too-distant future. (ETA:: The article is now done and will go live February 24.)

Ate Up With Motor Highlights: The De Luxe Edition

Two more past Ate Up With Motor articles of which I’m particularly proud:

  • High-Tech High Roller: 1981–2001 Toyota Soarer Z10, Z20, and Z30: I get the feeling that sometimes the things that fascinate me may leave some of you rather cold, which I fear is the case with the Toyota Soarer. Not sold in the U.S. until its third generation, the Soarer was a darling of Japanese yuppies of the ’80s, a sporty coupe related to the Toyota Supra, but with a personal luxury flavor, festooned with advanced technology (much of it laughably primitive today, but very flashy back then) that made it the kind of car you’d see in a cyberpunk anime OVA set in some distant future age like, say, 2013. I only wish I’d had more pictures to illustrate its retro-future ambiance.
  • The Perilous Success of the 1976 Cadillac Seville: Still a controversial piece, although I stand by my conclusion: that the 1976–1979 Seville worked out well for what it actually was (an easier-to-park Cadillac with a stylish new approach to the traditional Cadillac look), but was not successful as what it set out to be (a Mercedes-fighter that would lure in younger import luxury buyers). I’m currently trying to put together a tangentially related article, which I’ll hold off on revealing until it’s a little further along. (ETA: It’s now live!)

Ate Up With Motor Highlights: The End of the Fiesta

Another Ate Up With Motor article of which I’m especially proud:

  • Party Downsize: The Ford Fiesta Mk1 and Mk2: When I chronicled the early history of Ford’s B-segment hatchback back in 2013, I wouldn’t have guessed that the party would be over within a decade — Ford ceased production in July 2023 to allot more factory capacity for the SUVs and crossovers the auto industry has decided we must all drive now. The Fiesta was never the phenomenon in the U.S. that it was in Europe, but it was a landmark product for Ford, one of the defining models of its segment and consistently one of the most entertaining to drive. It will be missed.

Ate Up With Motor Highlights: Continental Edition

It occurs to me that it might be worthwhile to highlight some of the existing Ate Up With Motor articles of which I’m especially proud, of which there’ve been quite a few over the years. Here are two:

  1. Before the Continental: Edsel Ford’s Speedster: Back in 2011, I had the opportunity to attend an event at the Petersen Automotive Museum commemorating the restoration of one of the custom cars designed for Edsel Ford by E.T. (Bob) Gregorie, the 1934 Ford Model 40 Special Speedster. These one-offs were the predecessors of the better-known Lincoln Continental, a capital-C Classic which also originated as a customized car for Edsel, and examining their history also provided a pretext for discussing Edsel Ford — a very interesting fellow, light years apart from his more famous father — and his relationship with Bob Gregorie.
  2. Like the Wind: The Lincoln Zephyr and Continental: I had always intended the Edsel Speedster article to be a prelude to a history of the Lincoln-Zephyr and the first Continental. In 2013, I got the opportunity to see and ride in a gorgeous (and astonishingly original) 1939 Zephyr, which helped to provide additional perspective on these attractive and historically important cars.

Status Update

Since my previous post, a number of people have made financial contributions to the site, which I very much appreciate, and which I have used to:

  1. Renew the ateupwithmotor.com domain registration
  2. Pre-pay the renewal of the site’s SSL certificate (the current one is valid through the end of March)
  3. Pay the web hosting charges through the beginning of April. [ETA: As of February 1, I’ve pre-paid the web hosting through June.]

So, thank you all for that!