Q: Greg, I just read your article in the October 7 Weekender at Montrose. I would not miss and enjoy reading your articles every week.
I’m particularly interested in your article on diesel, as I owned an Oldsmobile diesel station wagon at the time. My wife particularly liked the fact that no matter what, once the engine is running, it never stalls! However, the car was likely to hit large puddles of water causing the fan belts to get wet and the generator light to turn on for a moment or two. She described them as “generating puddles!”
I currently do not own a diesel vehicle as I am retired and do not drive enough to justify the extra cost of a diesel engine. I’m a fan of the electric car concept, but I think they’re too expensive and the battery mileage needs to be improved for most needs. The ability to charge them when you’re away from home can also be an issue.
My choice for the future of the electric car is first to develop a hundred new safe and efficient nuclear power plants. All those who are not “technicians” think that electric cars do not pollute, which is far from true. Electric cars run on grid electricity mostly produced from fossil fuels (as you have noted several times). One of the main things that makes all power plants less efficient is the amount of energy lost in the transformers and distribution wiring they need to supply us, the users, with their electricity. This loss can be more than 20% if you are far from the power station.
There are some applications where fossil fuels make sense, such as airplanes and large trucks. Nuclear power plants should, in my view, be located near populated cities, as far as possible. This would allow their waste heat to be channeled to heat the city in the winter and used in absorption chillers in the summer to provide space cooling to the same buildings, through the same piping distribution systems. Otherwise, this waste heat (up to 45% of the fuel input BTUs) is dumped into the cooling towers. Some, but not all, of these losses can be mitigated by locating nuclear power plants close to consumption.
One of the main advantages of the nuclear power plant is that it does not produce any pollution. The only emissions from a nuclear power plant are in the form of water vapor from the cooling towers. Spent nuclear fuel is stored safely away from the public. I don’t have statistics, but I think the United States is currently one of, if not the lowest polluter in the world per capita. Nuclear energy can only improve the quality of our lives and the air we all breathe.
I trained as a graduate of the Maine Maritime Academy in 1966, when I became a marine engineer on a US-flagged merchant ship. We had to pass a four-day US Coast Guard written exam to become a USCG-certified Third Assistant Engineer. During our four years at the Academy, we learned everything from the boilers that provided the steam to the turbines that propelled the ship and generated the electricity that kept it going. Plus, we were responsible for keeping everything else on the ship, from the gyro to the water systems, and the sewage system to everything else, from the dishwashers to the washers and dryers!
It was an awesome experience. I spent seven years as a ship’s engineer, sailing mostly to the Caribbean and the west coast of South America. Along the way, I upgraded my license three times to second engineer, first engineer, and finally chief engineer. I had to spend at least one year (365 days) on a US ship in each class before I was eligible to take the four-day USCG written exam for the next level. By the time I received my chief engineer’s license, I had a wife and son and it was time to step up and be a full-time father and husband.
This is my journey and my thoughts on where this world should go for the energy to make this happen! If we switch to electric cars and light trucks charged by nuclear power plants, we will massively reduce pollution on this planet and benefit from lower energy costs. In my humble opinion, our biggest obstacle to achieving this goal is our politicians. These people are experts at getting elected, but most aren’t as good at doing the job they were elected to do.
Anyway, these are the thoughts of an old power engineer, who enjoys reading your article every week in the Susquehanna County Weekender!
John R. Demaree, Brackney
A: John, thank you very much for your informative letter. Clearly you understand that our power grid in its current state is unable to handle the demands for electric cars without nuclear power in the future. If fossil fuels and gasoline/diesel internal combustion are somehow eliminated by political mandates, the resulting wind turbines, dams, and solar panel farms will not be able to meet car charging demands. electricity in addition to current electrical needs. I completely agree with you that nuclear is the way to go and your feelings about politicians. Thank you for your kind words and for being a regular reader of my columns. We need more of your type of thinking in Washington, DC right now!
First compact car missed?
Q: Hello Greg. I saw your column in the Towanda Daily Review last weekend about early compact cars. I have a few comments because Volkswagen wasn’t the first foreign compact to appear here.
There was a dealer on South Main St. in Elmira, New York that sold the Hillman and MG brands in 1948. His name was Steve Velie and he was a friend of my dad’s. The two would take the bus from Elmira to New York and pick up two cars and drive them home.
Dad bought a Hillman 4-door sedan and we took it to the first race at Watkins Glen in 1948. The distributor in New York tried to convince Steve Velie to sell the VWs when they first arrived, but Steve felt they were too different and wouldn’t sell. So he stayed with the Hillman. There was another dealer on the south side of Elmira, Buzzy Buzel, who also sold Renault 4 CVs from his used car lot in 1948.
Other cars I remember include my father’s Fiat 500cc Topolino (Little Mouse) circa 1944 in Athens. Also, the American Austin, later Bantam, was made in Butler, Pennsylvania in the 1930s and early 1940s. Dad owned a roadster from each brand as well as an Austin 2-door coupe. I couldn’t find a picture of my SAAB powered race car, but I’ll keep looking. While on the 2-stroke I thought I owned DKW, Auto Union and Wartburg 3-cylinders as well as a Berkeley 2-cylinder. Keep up the great articles.
A: Glen, thank you for your nostalgic letter about the many great cars your father owned and about yourself. However, even though there were Hillman cars in the United States in 1948, the first official Hillman dealerships in the United States didn’t appear until 1951. I think we stuck with the “first to appear” while I was zooming in on new car dealerships, of which VW was an official new car dealership offering in 1949.
Yet your memories of the Hillman are remarkable as it was a British vehicle which began production in 1907. I also received an email from a “Mike” noting that the 1939 Crosley had a wheelbase 80 inches, which I did not include. on my first list of subcompact cars mainly because I think the Crosley was a micro car or mini car similar to the King Midget. Berkeley cars were also of the micro car variety.
Whether it was the first compact or not, your pleasant letter surely brought back memories of the many foreign cars that appeared on our country’s highways in the 1940s. Thanks again Glen.
Greg Zyla is a syndicated automotive columnist who welcomes readers’ comments on collector cars, automotive nostalgia or anything automotive related to firstname.lastname@example.org.