9 Jan 2014

No easy rider

In my car and SUV driving life by a combination of luck and design I have avoided driving too many dogs.Most of the dogs I have driven have been rental cars and one rental car dog stands out above all others-an  Oldsmobile Cutlass Coupe which I rented from Avis at LA airport on a business trip in 1984 and which I and a colleague drove up highway 1 from LA to San Franciso in a day.
Whilst we had no choice in the car we were given and whilst it was perfectly adequate on the freeways and around town in LA-as long as we did not want to make sudden changes of direction-it was totally unsuitable for driving what is a superb driving road at a brisk pace.It rolled and pitched like a ship in a heavy sea.The seats had absolutely no lateral support so when it rolled you slid sideways.The steering was low geared - it seemed as if you turned and turned and turned and eventually the front wheels moved.The brakes were adequate but totally lacked "feel" but worst of all it had appalling understeer.You see it was front wheel drive.At that time GM had no idea how to make an FWD car steer and handle.My recent experience with a 2012 Chevrolet Impala suggests that they still have some learning to do on chassis dynamics.
There are almost continuous bends on highway 1 -some fast - some slow and in a Porsche 911 they would be heaven.In the Cutlass they were very hard work.The car just ploughed straight on if you steered at a normal pace into a corner.The only technique for cornering was - very slow in and very slow out.
It was a very long day-it's over 1000kms- and we arrived in San Francisco totally exhausted not helped by the fact that it was a sunday and the last 100 or so kms were in bumper to bumper walking pace traffic returning to the city.What a shocker.And I understand that the Cutlass was a very big seller in its day.

This whole episode had faded into the rear most recess of my memory-it was after all 30 years ago and a lot has happened in the intervening years- but it all came back when I found this colour negative of that infamous Avis rental Cutlass a few days ago.It was taken by me somewhere along that beautiful road on my Olympus OM2 with I think a 28mm lens.The photo flatters that tank of a car.
Sadly the negative is badly deteoriated so I have converted it into B&W to hide the discolouration.I used a lot of colour negative film over a 20 year period because I wanted prints and because it was much cheaper than slide film .However the minilabs where it was processed probably did not wash it thoroughly or perhaps the dyes are just breaking down and after 30 years it is all discolouring badly which is a real pity because I have a lot of interesting colour negatives which I would like to use.

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