Saturday, November 7, 2009

It was a green car!

It's November and it's cold in Canada. Oh, it will get colder but let's not quibble; it's cold.

I don't drive my Morgan too often in the winter but I do drive it. I'm not very mechanical. Pulling plugs and filling cylinders with oil seems harder than just driving the old car for 45 minutes every four weeks.

If you don't run an engine regularly, the cylinders can rust. I know this is true but we don't want to go there . . . well, maybe we do. That incident, as embarrassing as it was, is at the core of this post.

You see, my Morgan was vandalized years ago. And to make a long story short, I was forced to store the car for years. Finally, I found someone to fix the car. I loaded it on a flat bed and had it trucked to Bolton, Ontario.

When the mechanic pulled the head, he discovered the pistons were rusted to the cylinders. "Didn't you put oil in the cylinders," he asked. "Of course," I replied. "I did that before putting it into storage."

"That was years ago! Heavens, man! Haven't you heard of gravity? Over time the oil seeps down to the bottom of the engine leaving the cylinder metal exposed." He then took a power chisel and broke up the pistons and chipped the cylinder sleeves from the engine.

Lot's of other stuff was equally damaged from doing nothing. I began to think my old car was a lot like a person. If you want rusty arteries, just sit and do nothing. Do nothing and it will come, meaning deterioration.

It took my mechanic three years of off-again-on-again work to put my Morgan back on the road. When I had some cash, the work was on. When I didn't, the work was off. There were a lot of offs.

But, in the end, it was fixed. My wife and I drove it to San Francisco in 2005 for the Morgans Over America tour. We saw the Grand Canyon. We spent a night in Hannibal, Missouri, made famous by Mark Twain. We took the Chi-Cheemaun car ferry from the largest, freshwater island in the world to Tobermory at the tip of the scenic Bruce in Ontario. And when we got to Toronto the car died. It needed a new cam shaft.

You know what's coming: I loaded it on a flat bed and had it trucked to Bolton.

Fixed again, my wife and I drove it to Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Niagara Falls, Detroit — they loved it in Detroit — hey, it is Motown. 

And then the other day, out for a late fall run, gotta keep that rust at bay, I felt my heel slip. I thought there was a lose piece of paper, or maybe a leaf, under my foot. I reached down and felt something warm, like blood, but slippery. I looked at my fingers. Oil! My engine's life blood! A quick glance at the oil gauge confirmed that I had no pressure. Zero. I immediately shut the engine off.

I just got off the phone to the mechanic. He says that I have horseshoes where the sun don't shine, or something to that effect. The engine is fine. A hose carrying oil to the one-shot lubrication system (don't ask) broke. I shut the engine down in time. No damage.

So, what's the point of all of this? Why is this blog titled "It was a green car?" If you're thinking it's because of all the money, the green, that the little car has devoured, you're wrong.

Here's the scoop — the Environmental Rating for Vehicles (ERV) has been calculated for the Morgan roadster by Cardiff University and a new Morgan 4/4 rates almost 7 per cent higher than a Toyota Prius Hybrid!

If I asked you to name a car that was designed and built around the principle of weight reduction, you might not think of a sports car but you should have. My Morgan doesn't tip the scales at even 2000 lbs., and yet it can mosey down highway 401 and hold its own against the turbulence caused by even the largest trucks. Size does matter and small is better. And what you do with that small size is important, too.

According to the Cardiff University report, "despite the traditional styling of Morgan cars, they can out-compete most . . . modern competitors in terms of environmental performance." And, as I said, they're no slouches on the highway either. (Ah, but twisty, narrow, back country roads, like those snaking up and down the Niagara escarpment, on those roads from hell Morgans find heaven.)

So, how does a car earn a good ERV rating?

- low weight
- good use of materials
- low emissions
- durability
- a green manufacturing system
- a forward looking approach

Many new Morgans tip the scales at only 50 kg more than The Smart Car. Morgans use lots of steel, sometimes aluminum, and even wood in their construction — think recyclables. New Morgans use state-of-the-art engines from manufacturers like BMW.

Now, your might think that durability was the weak spot in the Morgan green armour. If you did, you're wrong. Morgans are durable. I bought mine in December of 1968 and yet among Morgan owners, I'm a bit of a newbie. One fellow, I know, bought his Morgan in 1956! The factory encourages this by supplying parts  for up to 50 years after a car was produced. And don't discount the emotional attachment owners have for their Morgans; Morgan owners are as durable as their cars — although I, personally,  have never needed a flatbed. I have needed an ambulance, though.

Around 60 -70 million cars are produced every year with the numbers climbing constantly. This is clearly unsustainable. If car making is to survive, all manufacturers will have to move towards to a business model closer to that of Morgan and other low volume producers than that of General Motors. (Hey, Morgan has been in business for a hundred years and, unlike GM, is still standing on its own two feet — uh, four, four wheels.)

Lastly, if you believe a car company famous for deviating little from a 1930s design is hardly a forward thinking company then you're wrong again. Morgan has announced the LIFECar, designed to prove a car can be lean, green and still fun, is going into production. And then there is the all electric Morgan based on the original three-wheel Morgan design with roots going back to the early years of the last century.

Finally, why do I say my Morgan "was" green in the past tense? Internal combustion engines have come a long way since 1968. By today's standards my 4-cylinder was a polluter. I'm afraid its days of making claims to being green have passed.

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