Great Cars, Great Scenery, Great Time

Picture this: some of the most gorgeous scenery in the world viewed from the driver's seat of one of the greatest cars the world has ever known. That will be the difficult assignment for approximately 125 automotive enthusiasts from around the world who will participate in the 2003 Chrysler California Mille, a North American version of the famed Italian Mille Miglia. The four-day, one thousand-mile tour, which takes place from April 27 through May 1, 2003, will weave a special route through historic far-northern California.

Created in 1991, the Chrysler California Mille is a sister event to the revived Mille Miglia, which is held each year in the spring. While the original Mille Miglia, which was contested each year from 1927 to 1957 with the exception of the war years, was a grueling long-distance race, the revived Mille Miglia and its American cousin are now touring events with an emphasis on racing pedigree and performance. In Italy, the route starts in Brescia, continues south through Rome and returns to Brescia. In California, the tour starts in San Francisco, continues through Mendocino and Redding before concluding in Sausalito. The route includes stops in a variety of small, time-capsule northern California towns including Willows, Ferndale, Hayfork, and Honeydew.

Among a host of historic competition cars, this year's tour will feature distinctive Chrysler models including the first Chrysler, a 1924 Chrysler Roadster, similar to the car that won the Mount Wilson (California) Hill Climb in 1924 and finished seventh at Le Mans in 1925. In addition, a 1931 Chrysler CD-8 Le Mans, Chrysler's first eight-cylinder car that ran at Le Mans and finished third at the 24 Hours of Spa, Belgium, in 1931 (behind a Mercedes-Benz SSK and an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300) will be on the tour. Finally, the program features a 1951 Chrysler Saratoga club coupe, the first Hemi powered V-8, which won the 1951 NASCAR race in Detroit and is similar to the car that John Fitch drove in the 1951 La Carrera Panamericana, the legendary Mexican endurance road race. In that race, another Chrysler Saratoga finished third, hot on the heels of the two winning Ferraris. The event will also feature a wide variety of non-Chrysler vintage autos including Mercedes-Benz, Alfa-Romeo, and Jaguar models.

The Chrysler California Mille begins Sunday, April 27 when the streets of Nob Hill in San Francisco become an outdoor auto show. More than 125 vehicles will be on display including about a dozen pre-1914 cars that will conduct an early morning Hill Climb up Nob Hill. To qualify for the Chrysler California Mille, participants must have a pre-1958 vehicle appropriate to the spirit of the Mille Miglia. The event attracts participants from throughout the world. Participants typically come from South America, Australia, Japan, and Europe. The entry fee is $4,200 for five days of mouth-watering food, fine wine, and elegant hotels, not to mention some of the best driving this side of Italy.

Driving Today contributor Tom Ripley is a longtime fan of the Mille Miglia after witnessing his first event during an extended stint in Italy in the mid-Fifties. He now writes about the auto world and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.

King of the Kustomizers

The King of the Kalifornia Kar Kustomizers was born in Chicago (or should we say Khicago), Illinois, but it wasn't until he and his brother Sam arrived in Roseville, California, after the death of their mother that George Barris's love of cars made itself evident. The man who would win everlasting fame for conceiving special cars for the movies and TV started by hanging out in automotive bodyshops when he was barely a teenager, and, though he excelled in drama, music and drawing, it was his avocation that eventually became his vocation.

While still a pre-teen George showed a knack for constructing scratch-built aircraft models, and that hobby led to building model cars. With an obvious talent for the craft, he won numerous model competitions before taking on a bigger task. In the mid-Thirties his aunt and uncle, who raised the Barris boys as their own, gave the brothers a dilapidated 1925 Buick in return for the work they did in their restaurant. The old Buick needed so much attention that there was not much point in trying to return it to "stock" condition, and that's not what the brothers had in mind anyway. Instead they straightened the body and added bolt-on accessories before George hand-painted the car in orange with blue stripes. From the beginning, Barris was the master of subtlety. The Buick was an immediate hit in the suburban Sacramento neighborhood, and, as the first Barris Brothers custom car, it was promptly sold to finance the purchase a 1929 Model A.

From that promising start, Barris spent most of his spare time haunting area bodyshops, and by the time he graduated from high school he had constructed his first full custom car, based on a '36 Ford convertible. Shortly thereafter he formed the Kustoms Car Club as another outlet for his hobby.

Soon that hobby would become Barris's life's work. After his brother Sam left home to serve in the war effort, George moved south to the Los Angeles area, opening his first shop in Bell in late 1944. After his discharge in 1945, Sam joined his brother in LA, and soon the two had formed a potent team that began to become a force in the fledgling world of car customizers. Sam was the talented craftsman while George was the designer, painter and promoter.

As the post-World War II hot rod movement began to explode, the Barrises were right at the forefront, helped by exposure in the new Hot Rod magazine. In addition to modifying cars, George began photographing and writing about cars for many of the hobby's magazines, intelligently using the opportunity to promote his business by demonstrating his techniques in how-to articles. It wasn't long before a 1951 Mercury he customized brought his work to the attention of the nearby movie studios.

One of the first movies Barris made cars for was the low-budget classic High School Confidential, which starred Russ Tamblyn and Mamie Van Doren, featured music by Jerry Lee Lewis and introduced a young actor named Michael Landon. The immediate success of that project made Barris the "go-to" guy when it came to movie cars. From there it was but a short jump to cars for television, starting with the fabled Munster's Koach, which he fashioned out of three Model T's. That spooky creation was soon joined by another, sportier vehicle, the Drag-u-la, a hot rod with a genuine coffin as its bodywork.

While Barris has done countless other cars for the movies and TV, including a fleet of more than 50 for the recent hit film The Fast and the Furious, his most famous credit is the legendary Batmobile, created for the camp late-Sixties TV series of the same name. Interestingly, his best-known creation was completed in a very short period of time, just three weeks from getting the call to delivering the former Lincoln Futura show car to the studio and star Adam West.

A list of Barris creations is like a Hollywood nostalgia tour: the Beverly Hillbillies' jalopy; the Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee; KITT, David Hasselhoff's Knightrider companion; the Monkee Mobile; Greased Lightnin' from Grease, and the time machine-cum-DeLorean from Back to the Future. Through it all Barris has remained an accessible legend, a guy you'd like to share a Coke with while hanging around the backroom of a bodyshop. For all his royalty, the King of the Kustomizers is a klassy kar guy.

Now observing the international automotive scene from his home in Villeperce, France, Tom Ripley fell in love with George Barris's creations while living in New York in the Fifties.

The Bad News on Traffic

It's 95 degrees, you're stranded in a mile-long phalanx of cars that is inching along at two miles an hour and suddenly you are struck by a truism that resonates through the new millennium: traffic sucks.

In fact, traffic more than sucks; it costs each and every one of us loyal Americans in many ways, including the old standbys, time and money. Traffic congestion also has negative effects on air quality, fuel usage, productivity, and that convenient catchall, "quality of life."

It's not too hard to figure out why gridlock is on the minds of so many consumers these days. The statistics make it painfully clear why it seems as if our daily commute is taking us longer and our around-town driving is more stress-filled than ever.

According to Federal Highway Administrator Mary E. Peters, who recently testified on the issue before a Congressional subcommittee, from 1980 to 2000 highway travel increased 80 percent and the number of drivers increased by 30 percent while highway mileage increased only two percent. More drivers and more driving on a highway system that has stayed relatively the same means more traffic; it's as simple as that.

While that might seem like enough, there's another complicating factor. The number of drivers is increasing slightly faster than overall population, and each driver on average is traveling more miles each year. Travel by motor vehicle is, by a huge margin, the most popular form of transportation in the United States. While you might have guessed that, it's doubtful you would guess just how dominant it is versus trains, planes and buses. At present, a full 91 percent of all person-miles traveled in the United States occur in private vehicles on highways. Although passenger travel growth is expected to slow somewhat in the coming years, it nonetheless will grow more than 40 percent over the next two decades, so the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

When it comes to moving stuff instead of people, highway travel is almost equally dominant. While many goods are transported by train, ship or barge, 84 percent of the nation's $7 trillion in freight traffic travels on highways, with truck travel expected to grow by more than three percent annually over the next 20 years.

With all this as the background, Peters testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit that increased traffic congestion isn't just a nuisance, it's a growing threat to the nation's economy and to our quality of life, which, by most measures, is pretty good.

"As [U.S. Transportation] Secretary [Norman Y.] Mineta has said, mobility is one of our greatest freedoms," Peters said. "Unless we manage highway congestion, our nation will continue to incur economic costs in forgone productivity, wasted fuel, and a reduced quality of life. Strategic expansion of our transportation system capacity is necessary in certain instances to address our existing and growing mobility needs."

While many call for improved public transportation systems, there is overwhelming evidence that Americans prefer private automobiles to public trains or buses. To prevent us from a case of terminal gridlock, we must increase highway capacity, make the roadways more efficient and improve the nation's system of roads and bridges. If we don't, the lost productivity may well outweigh the cost of new and improved highways and bridges.

A recent Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study estimates the cost of congestion in just 68 urban areas has grown from $21 billion in 1982 to $78 billion in 1999 (36 hours per driver a year and 6.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel). The TTI study also estimated that congestion results in 4.4 billion person hours of delay annually in the 68 urban areas it studied. One presumes representative figures for the entire nation would be substantially higher.

Peters also testified that highway improvements can help save lives and reduce traffic crashes. Removing obstacles, installing barriers and rumble strips, adding passing lanes and widening shoulders will both improve safety and relieve congestion. That seems like something we can all agree on.

Over the course of his career, Driving Today Managing Editor Jack R. Nerad has wasted thousands of hours in traffic jams, time that could have been better spent discovering a cure for cancer or learning to play the kazoo.

Beating Motion Sickness

It's hard to have fun while you're nauseated. That's a truism that has endured from Admiral Horatio Nelson's days as commander of the British fleet in the Napoleanic Wars to these days of travel into space. Whether you want to be an astronaut, compete in a round-the-world yacht race, or pilot a Grand Prix racecar, susceptibility to motion sickness can be a limiting factor. Each year millions will experience the debilitating effects of carsickness, seasickness and airsickness, and while the phenomenon might help the paper bag industry, it sure isn't good for the rest of us.

A couple of important questions about motion sickness are: who gets it and what causes it? One of the world's leading experts in motion sickness, Dr. John Golding, senior lecturer of London's University of Westminster, says that almost all humans are susceptible to motion sickness, but some people are more prone to the condition. Motion sickness is caused by sensory conflict between the inner ear and eyes. For example, when one reads in a car the eyes are fixed on the page and sense stability, but the body feels the motion of the car, motion sickness can result. The mixed signals cause the unpleasant side effects of motion sickness that may include sweating, drowsiness, queasiness, nausea, and vomiting. None of those symptoms will make your day better.

"There are many professions and activities where susceptibility to motion sickness is a risk factor," said Golding, who has studied the effects of motion sickness on the Royal Air Force and the British Navy. "In fact, Lord Horatio Nelson, one of the British Navy's most legendary commanders of the nineteenth century, who suffered terribly from seasickness all his life, was purported to have told many a sailor, 'If you want to avoid motion sickness, go sit under a tree.'"

Since going to sit under a tree when you're driving isn't an option, it is fortunate that if you're susceptible to motion sickness, you can prevent it. At the very least, using simple techniques and proven medications, you can appreciably limit motion sickness's effects.

"One proven way to prevent motion sickness is with scopolamine, the active ingredient in a medicated patch called Transderm Scop," said Dr. Kenneth Dardick, a Connecticut-based national travel health expert. "It's a prescription medication, so if you are prone to motion sickness on land, sea, or air, talk to your doctor."

Dardick reminds patients that Transderm Scop should not be used by children or by those with glaucoma, difficulty in urinating, or an allergy to scopolamine or other belladonna alkaloids. In clinical studies of the drug, some side effects were noted, including dryness of the mouth (in two-thirds of users), drowsiness (reported incidence: less than one in six), and blurred vision.

If you're prone to carsickness even while driving, though, Transderm Scop is not for you. While using it, you should not drive a vehicle, operate dangerous machinery (like bulldozers or drill presses), or do other things that require alertness, and users should avoid using alcohol.

In addition the use of scopolamine, Dardick recommends other ways to prevent carsickness. Among his suggestions: sit in the front seat, look out the window, and avoid reading. (This is especially important if you are driving.) Fresh air also seems to help, so roll down that window and stop every once in a while to help your body reacclimatize. If all else fails, wrestle the steering wheel away from the driver and drive the car yourself.

No matter how you look at it (and we try not to look at it at all) vomiting is not fun, but by following these tips you might be able to avoid becoming nauseous on your next trip. Now if we could just do something about road food.

A world traveler who is prone to occasional bouts of nausea, Tom Ripley writes about automotive issues and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.

Wavering about Rental Car Waivers?

Okay, it's not a life-changing, existential decision. It's not going to change the color of your hair or your outlook for future happiness. But deciding whether or not to accept the rental car "waivers" when they're offered is a question most of us will be asked many times in our lives and the way we respond to it can be the difference between, well, the difference between a cheese sandwich and a filet mignon. And I don't know about you, but, as for me, I'll take the steak.

Like the oft-asked question, paper or plastic, those of us who rent vehicles for business or pleasure are frequently confronted with the question, "Do you want to accept the damage waivers?" While we then try to respond as if we know what we're talking about, many of us react to that query as if we are being asked the physical description of a quark. We generally duck our head, shrug our shoulders and pick either "yes" or "no" based on, essentially, no knowledge whatsoever.

While rental car company waivers aren't to be feared, you can bet not too many people are writing masters' theses on them this term. But they don't really require an advanced degree to be understood, if not cherished. Waivers sold by a rental car company waive the company's right to collect for damages from the renter. These waivers may cover liability (damage you cause to other people or property), collision (damage you cause to the vehicle you rented) and comprehensive claims (stolen vehicle, weather-related damage like that caused by hail and flooding and collisions with animals). They don't, however, pay the poor, suffering animal.

While we like the idea of a company waiving the right to collect money from us, you have to remember they don't waive that right for free. Instead, the cost is substantial given the rental company's real risk of loss. Very frequently rental car damage waivers can nearly double the cost of the vehicle rental, because they can cost between $7 and $25 per day, depending upon the company, vehicle, and type of waiver purchased.

Despite the cost, a substantial number of people opt to buy the various rental car waivers, which brings joy to the hearts of rental car company executives. According to a recent survey of consumers who have rented a car in the past three years, 19 percent said they always buy the rental company-offered waivers at the rental car counter and another 19 percent said they sometimes buy them. The survey was sponsored by Progressive Insurance.

The reasons consumers offered for purchasing the waivers were lame. They ranged from not knowing if their personal auto policies provide appropriate coverage (24 percent) to feeling pressured by the rental car counter agent (eight percent).

So what to do when offered the waivers? The big secret is that most "full coverage" auto insurance policies, like the one you probably have, and many credit cards, like the ones you might be holding, offer coverage that eliminates the need to buy the waivers.

"If you have 'full coverage' on your personal automobile and liability coverages, you should check with your agent or your company to see if that coverage extends to a rental vehicle," said John Barbagallo, director of product development, Progressive. "Chances are, it does and if you're involved in an accident with a rental car, in most cases you would be liable only for your deductible on comprehensive and collision coverages, just as you would be in your personal vehicle."

They key item to attend to before you get to the rental counter is to check with your insurance agent, your credit card companies and eyeball your insurance policy. After all, there's no point paying $25 a day for something you don't need and probably will never use.

Jack R. Nerad, editor of Driving Today, tries to save money when he can so his wife can spend it.