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The Man Who Destroyed Muscle Cars

by Stephen Cox
Monday, June 17, 2013

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“In our midst are people who think that if only they had government power on their side, they could pick tomorrow’s winners and losers in the marketplace, set prices or rents where they ought to be, decide which forms of energy should power our homes and cars, and choose which industries should survive and which should die. They make grandiose promises they can’t possibly keep without bankrupting all of us. They should stop for a few moments and learn a little humility.” - Lawrence Reed

If there is one person who is most responsible for the coming destruction of the modern American muscle car, it is Ray LaHood.

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood

Since 2009 LaHood has headed the federal government's Department of Transportation, a massive bureaucracy that includes such agencies as the “Surface Transportation Board” (yes, that is an actual agency), the “Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration,” and the “Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.”

One of LaHood's shortest tenures came as the Secretary of Transportation, yet those four brief years will derail 30 years of automotive progress.

It was LaHood who shoehorned his way into your car and informed you that you were too stupid to talk and drive at the same time, pressuring state governments into adopting laws prohibiting the use of cell phones while motoring. Despite the new laws, highway fatalities surged by nearly 10% in the first half of 2012, the largest increase since record keeping began in 1975.

But LaHood's real legacy will be the destruction of the American performance car. He presided over the government's recent ultimatum that every new car in America average 54.5 miles per gallon within the next 11 model years. It’s no secret that the current generation of American supercars will soon be extinct due primarily to regulations stemming from LaHood's agency.

Every now and then someone will opine, “Yes, but that’s what people said in the 70’s and look at the great cars we have now!”

Sure, we have great cars now. But it took the automotive industry 30 years to begin producing cars with the same performance that our grandparents enjoyed in 1969. In the meantime, two generations of Americans grew up driving forgettable clunkers such as the K-car and Tempo.

So yes, the first round of government mandates were indeed a knockout blow to the performance auto industry.

And, yes, the people who predicted back in 1970 that government regulations would cause the collapse of the American performance car were absolutely correct. If it weren't for the high sales volume of the light truck industry, it is entirely possible that no US auto company would have survived through the 1980's at all.

And it is about to happen again. That is an inescapable fact. It is impossible to increase fuel mileage and car weight and still maintain the same performance level as before.

Let us briefly discuss the automotive triangle – weight, performance and fuel mileage. You can pick two. You can't have all three.

You can sacrifice weight (which increases yearly with each new mandated safety gadget) and gain performance and mileage. Or you can sacrifice mileage and gain performance. Or you can sacrifice performance to gain weight and fuel mileage. But the laws of physics say you can't have all three.

Ray LaHood has demanded that cars gain weight and fuel mileage. There remains only one alternative. Performance will of necessity be reduced in order to comply with LaHood's threats.

Now don't get me wrong... if LaHood had used peaceful persuasion rather than the force of law to implement his ideas, I would have supported him completely. We would still have had a difference of opinion, but at least I could respect a man who allows his ideas to rise or fall on their own merit instead of using the threat of fines or jail to coerce others into accepting them.

If a Department of Transportation is to be maintained at all, it should be headed by people whose sole mission is to protect your freedom to build and sell any type of car you and your customers agree upon. But LaHood led the agency in the opposite direction.

When LaHood left office earlier this year, he commented, “I'm one of those people who believe they should go out while everyone's applauding.”

Wow. What a staggering statement. It is impossible to measure just how utterly out of touch Washington DC is with the real world.

I hate to break it to you, Ray, but no one is applauding. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Stephen Cox

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