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Old 04-02-2004, 07:49 PM   #1
ChrisV
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The myth of the exploding Pinto, and others...

You may not have time to read all of this in one sitting. This is compiled from numerous reputable sources over the last decade or so (some of it pre-internet), like Automotive News, Wall Street Journal, Rutger's Law review, etc. I'm just condensing it here to be more compact (yes, this is compact...)

Remarkably, the affair of the "exploding" Ford Pinto--universally hailed as the acme of product liability success--is starting to look like hype. In a summer 1991 Rutgers Law Review article Gary Schwartz demolishes "the myth of the Pinto case." Actual deaths in Pinto fires have come in at a known 27, not the expected thousand or more.

More startling, Schwartz shows that everyone's received ideas about the fabled "smoking gun" memo are false (the one supposedly dealing with how it was cheaper to save money on a small part and pay off later lawsuits... and immortalized in the movie "Fight Club"). The actual memo did not pertain to Pintos, or even Ford products, but to American cars in general; it dealt with rollovers, not rear-end collisions; it did not contemplate the matter of tort liability at all, let alone accept it as cheaper than a design change; it assigned a value to human life because federal regulators, for whose eyes it was meant, themselves employed that concept in their deliberations; and the value it used was one that they, the regulators, had set forth in documents.

In retrospect, Schwartz writes, the Pinto's safety record appears to have been very typical of its time and class. In over 10 years of production, and 20 years that followed, with over 2 million Pintos produced, no more people died in fires from Pintos as died in fires from Maximas...

The supposed design flaw of the Pinto, according to Byron Bloch, was that in a heavy enough rear end accident, the front of the gas tank could come in contact with a bolt on the differential, rupturing it, and allowing fuel to spill out, with the potential for a fire. it is, however, extremely hard for the gas tank to come in contact with any bolts that might be abole to accomplish this, unless the car is hit from behind at over 50 mph. And as was shown in the autopsy for the intital accident in '78 that started this controversy, teh occupants died from teh impact, not from teh fire (caused by an inattentive driver in a chevy van driving onto the shoulder and hitting their parked, but running Pinto from behind at over 50 mph).

In June 1978, at the height of the Ford Pinto outcry, ABC's 20/20 reported "startling new developments": evidence that full-size Fords, not just the subcompact Pinto, could explode when hit from behind. The show's visual highlight was dramatic. Newly aired film from tests done at UCLA in 1967 by researchers under contract with the automaker showed a Ford sedan being rear-ended at 55 mph and bursting into a fireball.

"ABC News has analyzed a great many of Ford's secret rear-end crash tests," confided correspondent Sylvia Chase. And they showed that if you owned a Ford--not just a Pinto, but many other models--what happened to the car in the film could happen to you. The tone was unrelentingly damning, and by the show's end popular anchorman Hugh Downs felt constrained to add his own personal confession. "You know, I've advertised Ford products a few years back, Sylvia, and at the time, of course, I didn't know and I don't think that anybody else did that this kind of ruckus was going to unfold." You got the idea that he would certainly think twice before repeating a mistake like that.

If ABC really analyzed those UCLA test reports, it had every reason to know why the Ford in the crash film burst into flame: there was an incendiary device under it. The UCLA testers explained their methods in a 1968 report published by the Society of Automotive Engineers, fully ten years before the 20/20 episode. As they explained, one of their goals was to study how a crash fire affected the passenger compartment of a car, and to do that they needed a crash fire. But crash fires occur very seldom; in fact, the testers had tried to produce a fire in an earlier test run without an igniter but had failed. Hence their use of the incendiary device (which they clearly and fully described in their write-up) in the only test run that produced a fire.

The "Beyond the Pinto" coverage gives plenty of credit to the show's on-and off-screen expert, who "worked as a consultant with ABC News on this story, and provided us with many of the Ford crash-test records." His name was Byron Bloch, and his role as an ABC News consultant was to prove a longstanding one; over the years he brought the network seven different exposes on auto safety, two of which won Emmys.

If the name is familiar, it's because the very same Byron Bloch starred as NBC's on-screen expert in the ill-fated Dateline episode about teh GM sidesaddle gastanks, that landed the network in serious trouble. More on that in a bit. Bloch was present at the Indiana crash scene, and defended the tests afterward. ("There was nothing wrong with what happened in Indianapolis," he told Reuters. "The so-called devices underneath the pickup truck are really a lot of smoke that GM is blowing to divert you away from the punitive damages in the Moseley case.") And he played a key role in assuring NBC the truck fire had been set off by a headlight filament, providing a crucial excuse for not mentioning the igniters. (A later analysis for GM found the fire had started near the igniters, not the headlights.)

In 1978, as in 1992, Bloch wore two hats. One was as paid or unpaid network consultant, advisor, and onscreen explainer. The other was as the single best-known expert witness hired by trial lawyers in high-stakes injury lawsuits against automakers. To many, NBC's Dateline fiasco seemed a freak, a bizarre departure from accepted network standards. Would any half-awake news organization have helped stage a crash test that was rigged to get a particular outcome? Or concealed from the public key elements--the hidden rockets, the over-filled tank, the loose gas cap? Or entrusted its judgment to axe-grinding "experts" who were deeply involved in litigating against the expose's target? Or, after questions came up, refused to apologize no matter how strong the evidence grew?

CBS, for one, may want to revisit its 1986 "60 Minutes" segment on supposed "sudden acceleration" in Audi 5000s. That show featured real-life footage almost as riveting as that on "Dateline": An Audi was shown taking off like a bolt without a foot on the accelerator -- seeming proof that the vehicle could display a malignant will of its own. Ed Bradley told viewers that, according to a safety expert named William Rosenbluth, "unusually high transmission pressure could build up on certain model Audis causing the throttle to open up . . . . Again, watch the pedal go down by itself."

Frightening stuff, eh? "What the viewers couldn't watch," wrote Peter Huber in 1992's "Galileo's Revenge," "was where the 'unusually high transmission pressure' had come from. It had come from a bottle. Rosenbluth had drilled a hole in the Audi transmission," through which he'd pumped in air or fluid at high pressure. (CBS still defends its segment.)

Clearly, NBC isn't the first network to run a dubious safety expose'. It's just the first to get nailed. For years the networks have relied on a small circle of outside experts to shape their coverage of safety issues. Most of these experts turn out to be deeply involved in the business of suing the companies and institutions targeted by the adversary coverage. And the result is likely to be a widening circle of embarrassment for the media.

NBC had to eat two separate helpings of crow: first for producing the rigged video, then for holding out far too long in its defense. In doing so, it was led astray by its outside experts, especially Bruce Enz of The Institute for Safety Analysis, hired by NBC to conduct the crash tests, and Byron Bloch, interviewed as an expert on the "Dateline" segment and active at the crash-test scene:

Enz's group rigged the truck with hidden incendiary devices, detonated by remote-control radio. Later, Bloch and others defended the idea. This was "among accepted test procedures," noted Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety, raising the eyebrows of many safety researchers.

Enz and Bloch assured NBC that the fire was actually set off by the filament of a broken headlamp, which conveniently meant there was no need to tell viewers about the Mother's-Little-Helper rockets. (According to Automotive News, GM scientists found in a super-slow-motion video analysis that the fire started near the rockets, not the headlamps.) The network also cited the experts as its source for having told viewers that a "small hole" had been poked in the GM gas tank at impact. Later tests showed the recovered tank fully intact.

And so forth. The use of a wrong-model, ill-fitting gas cap (it apparently popped out on impact) would have been noticed beforehand, if at all, presumably by those who groomed the truck for its big moment on film. NBC reporters would probably not have relied on their own direct observation to come up with what were later shown to be serious underestimates of the actual crash speeds. One bad decision was presumably wholly NBC's to make: showing only a brief snippet of the fire, which in fact burned out in about 15 seconds, after it exhausted the fuel ejected from the truck's filler tube. NBC's camera angle also made it hard for viewers to see that flames were not coming from inside the truck itself, as might have been expected had its gas tank really burst.

Given a fuller look, viewers might have concluded that you can get a fire from just about any vehicle if you bash it in a way that forces gas out of its filler tube and then provide a handy source of ignition.
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Old 04-02-2004, 07:49 PM   #2
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What kind of experts did NBC use, anyway? Byron Bloch, for one, has an interesting set of professional specialties. On the one hand, he's a frequent network consultant on auto safety -- "a combination of source, field producer and technical adviser for ABC-TV in its auto safety coverage," reports Autoweek, which notes that he's assisted seven ABC segments on auto safety hazards, three of them since 1990.

When not doing paid media consulting, Bloch is perhaps the single best-known hired expert witness in injury lawsuits against automakers. He doesn't challenge reports that he lacks formal training in auto safety or engineering, and he acknowledged in a 1980 case that his resume' listed a degree he didn't have. Still, he's appeared in court to testify about alleged defects not just in cars but in products ranging from coffee pots to railroad cars. He also offers $ 400-per-person seminars for trial lawyers, promising the scoop on such topics as "Key Graphic Exhibits for Trial."

Enz, of The Institute for Safety Analysis, turns out to be another frequent expert testifier against GM -- and indeed against every major car maker in the U.S. market. He's not an engineer either, nor, he says, are any of the 25 staff members of his institute, which is a for-profit organization.

Then there's Ben Kelley, another frequent witness, who has boasted that NBC used Enz's group "at our suggestion." Kelley himself has enjoyed success providing crash-test footage to TV producers. When CBS's "Street Stories" questioned the reliability of safety belts last fall, it relied heavily on Kelley's Maryland-based Institute for Injury Reduction, which the show blandly described as an "auto safety consumer group." Marion Blakey, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, flayed the resulting coverage as "factually inaccurate."

The network's description of Kelley's group was incomplete, too. As Kelley acknowledges, his group was founded by a small group of trial attorneys, and it continues to be largely supported by them. In a recent fundraising letter, Kelley proposed carrying out a new series of GM-truck crash tests, the results of which, unlike NBC's proprietary tests, could be distributed to the public and used in litigation. The tests would follow "a modified design further enhancing the likelihood of a real-world impact resulting in fire." Note the word "further."

This post wouldn't be complete without an account of 60 Minutes's 1986 attack on the Audi 5000--perhaps the best-known and best-refuted auto-safety scare of recent years. The Audi, it seemed, was a car possessed by demons. It would back into garages, dart into swimming pools, plow into bank teller lines, everything but fly on broomsticks, all while its hapless drivers were standing on the brake -- or at least so they said.

"Sudden acceleration" had been alleged in many makes of car other than the Audi, and from the start many automotive observers were inclined to view it skeptically. A working set of brakes, they pointed out, can easily overpower any car's accelerator, even one stuck at full throttle. After accidents of this sort, the brakes were always found to be working fine. Such mishaps happened most often when the car was taking off from rest, and they happened disproportionately to short or elderly drivers who were novices to the Audi.

The Audi's pedals were placed farther to the left, and closer together, than those in many American cars. This may well offer a net safety advantage, by making it easier to switch to the brake in high-speed emergencies. (The Audi had, and has, one of the best safety records on the road.) But it might also allow inattentive drivers to hit the wrong pedal.

60 Minutes was having none of the theory that drivers were hitting the wrong pedal. It found, and interviewed on camera, some experienced drivers who reported the problem. And it showed a filmed demonstration of how an Audi, as fixed up by, yes, an expert witness testifying against the carmaker, could take off from rest at mounting speed. The expert, William Rosenbluth, was quoted as saying that "unusually high transmission pressure" could build up and cause problems. "Again, watch the pedal go down by itself," said Ed Bradley.

Bradley did not, however, tell viewers why that remarkable thing was happening. As Audi lawyers finally managed to establish, Rosenbluth had drilled a hole in the poor car's transmission and attached a hose leading to a tank of compressed air or fluid.

The tank with its attached hose was apparently sitting right on the front passenger seat of the doctored Audi, but the 60 Minutes cameras managed not to pick it up. It might have been for the same reason the Jeep weights were tucked away in the wheel wells, rather than being placed visibly on top. Or why the Dateline rockets were strapped out of sight underneath the truck rather than conspicuously on its side, and were detonated by remote control rather than by a visible wire. Doing it otherwise would only have gotten viewers confused.

CBS continues to brazen out even its egregious Audi segment. Ed Bradley was a guest on Larry King recently when a caller praised 60 Minutes in general but politely suggested it might want to apologize for faulty or mistaken stories like those on the Audi and on Alar, the apple spray. "First of all, they're not mistaken. Secondly, they are true," Bradley replied with some heat and more redundancy. He reminded listeners that among the Audi victims the show had spoken to were a policeman and a state auto inspector, supposedly unfoolable about such matters. "It's not a figment of our imagination. It actually happened, whether you believe it or not."

Hewitt, on Crossfire, defended the Audi show in a different and, if truth be known, contradictory way. If there was really nothing wrong with the cars, he asked, then why had Audi recalled them after the 60 Minutes episode? But the point of the main recall was to add an "idiot-proof" device that kept drivers from shifting into gear unless their foot was on the brake. If you accept Ed Bradley's theory that their feet were on the brake all along, that fix should have been useless.

If you want to catch a vehicle doing something thrilling on camera, you face a problem: statistics. Most cars, most of the time, perform as intended. At a first approximation, then, any crash test where something interesting or unusual happens will probably turn out to involve what have been called strange inputs.

In itself, there's nothing wrong with simulating extreme adverse conditions, so long as you make it clear that that's what you're doing. (Automakers themselves frequently "test to failure," as it's called, to find out how far a system can be abused before giving out.) When news broadcasts air such videos, though, they tend not to bother listing the artificial conditions. Disclaimers, as we know, make for dull journalism: it's not very grabby to say, "This could happen to you on a rutted shoulder with sleet on the ground, bald tires, and a fair bit of driver error." Network execs want their safety exposes to match the emotional tone of a murder trial, not a drivers' ed class. And so do trial lawyers.
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Old 04-02-2004, 07:50 PM   #3
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In December 1980, 60 Minutes reported that the small army-style "CJ" Jeep was dangerously apt to roll over--not only in emergencies but "even in routine road circumstances at relatively low speeds." A Jeep is shown crashing. "We'll get to precisely what the conditions were that made that single-car accident happen in a moment," promises Morley Safer.

The footage, it seems, is of tests run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and was produced in collaboration with a CBS film crew. It shows Jeeps going through what appear from a distance to be standard maneuvers. Safer describes the first. "It is something called a J-turn: a fairly gentle right-hand turn that a driver might make if he was going into a parking lot." The Jeep flips over. Safer concedes that "it does not happen every time," and a good thing too, since if it did the nation's parking lots would be cluttered with overturned Jeeps spinning their wheels helplessly like so many ladybugs.

The camera then shows a second test run, "an evasive maneuver, as if the driver is trying to avoid something on the road." An unwanted object is shown obstructing a roadway, lending a you-are-there touch. "The driver would pull out of his lane to the left, go around the obstacle, then pull back to the right into his lane," explains Safer. The Jeep flips over again. Dummy occupants, outfitted in plaid shirts and farmer caps, tumble out to their doom.

Now by this point even trusting viewers might have felt a gnawing canker of doubt. Jeeps may be awkward, hard-to-control vehicles, but do they really do that? After all, skillful stunt drivers can tip over many sorts of vehicles on purpose. Chrysler/AMC, which makes the Jeep, sends out a tape in which this trick is performed on various stock cars and trucks, including a Toyota Corolla, a Ford Bronco, and a Datsun 4 x 4 pickup.

Tantalizingly, Safer seems to share or at least foresee these same doubts. He chats with two guests from the Insurance Institute. "I'm trying to think of some of the things that AMC would accuse you of doing if they were here watching these tests along with us. For example, putting the vehicle through the sort of turns and the sort of stresses that it just would never be put through in normal real-world driving on the road." The guests are reassuring, if that is the right word: yes, the test conditions "do occur in the real world," at least "in panic situations." AMC, for its part, is quoted as saying it suspects the tests of being "contrived to make the Jeep turn over." But the detail stops there.

Too bad. Viewers might have profited by knowing, for example, that testers had to put the Jeeps through 435 runs to get 8 rollovers. A single vehicle was put through 201 runs and accounted for 4 of the rollovers. Make a car skid repeatedly, Chrysler says, and you predictably degrade tire tread and other key safety margins.

Was the J-turn, or for that matter the evasive maneuver, "fairly gentle"? The Jeep was occupied by robot drivers that were twisting the steering wheel through more than 580 degrees of arc, well over one and a half full turns of the steering wheel. (Do not, repeat _not_, try this cruising in your own vehicle.) More striking yet was how fast and hard they jerked the steering wheel: in one case, at a rate in excess of five full turns a second. A study for GM, apparently unrelated to the Jeep affair, found that average drivers' maximum steer rate in emergencies reaches 520 degrees/second, while expert drivers can reach 800; rates above 1,000 degrees/second seem to happen mostly when drivers lose control. The robots used rates of from 1,100 to 1,805 degrees/second in the obstacle-avoidance maneuver. They were also gunning the accelerator-- not what you or I might do if a crate of hens suddenly fell in front of us on the highway. (An Insurance Institute internal memo had proposed arranging variables "to ensure rollover.")

An investigative engineer at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration later wrote that the tests' validity was "questionable" given their apparently "abnormal test conditions and unrealistic maneuvers," and also found signs that the vehicles' loading had been "manipulated in combination with other vehicle conditions to generate worst-case conditions" for stability. The "vehicle loading" issue was clarified by the testers' own internal report, which was not disclosed at the time but emerged later in litigation. In their report, the testers say that at the request of Insurance Institute personnel, they had taken the step of _hanging weights in the vehicle's corners_ -- inside the body, where they were not apparent to the camera.
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Old 04-02-2004, 09:11 PM   #4
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ChrisV, I hope you don't take this the wrong way(which I'm sure you will) This is not the book of the month club. I honestly tried to read your last three post of some forty- some paragraghs. You seem to have a lot of knowledge of vehicles. Write an Ebook, offer it up for free(or charge a nominal fee) and I'm sure you will have a following. I just don't think a lot of people on this forum are prepared to read all of your thoughts on one subject, in one setting. I swear to God, this is not a flame.
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Old 04-02-2004, 09:48 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lectroid
ChrisV, I hope you don't take this the wrong way(which I'm sure you will) This is not the book of the month club. I honestly tried to read your last three post of some forty- some paragraghs. You seem to have a lot of knowledge of vehicles. Write an Ebook, offer it up for free(or charge a nominal fee) and I'm sure you will have a following. I just don't think a lot of people on this forum are prepared to read all of your thoughts on one subject, in one setting. I swear to God, this is not a flame.


This was in response to a post about exploding Pintos in another thread here.

You don't have to read it. It'd only take a couple moments, and it's only one thread in a thousand anyhow. And as I said, it's cut down from a much larger collection of resources. I wasn't born into the soundbite generation.

I fully realize that most kids here won't take the time to read it, or anything of this length. It's why vwhobo is constantly going after people for not having their facts: no one spends the time it takes to read about even the things they are interested in. They use soundbites and photo captions to get all their "facts" and form opinions from. And as he's noted, most of them end up being wrong, because they don't want to be bothered by reading.

Again, I know you're not flaming me. I also know that few people will read it in it's entirety. But there is information in there that I'm sure a number of people here will find interesting. The kinds of things that real discussions can come out of.
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Old 04-02-2004, 09:50 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisV
This was in response to a post about exploding Pintos in another thread here.

You don't have to read it. It'd only take a couple moments, and it's only one thread in a thousand anyhow. And as I said, it's cut down from a much larger collection of resources. I wasn't born into the soundbite generation.

I fully realize that most kids here won't take the time to read it, or anything of this length. It's why vwhobo is constantly going after people for not having their facts: no one spends the time it takes to read about even the things they are interested in. They use soundbites and photo captions to get all their "facts" and form opinions from. And as he's noted, most of them end up being wrong, because they don't want to be bothered by reading.

Again, I know you're not flaming me. I also know that few people will read it in it's entirety. But there is information in there that I'm sure a number of people here will find interesting. The kinds of things that real discussions can come out of.
You see, this is proof positive. I knew we agreed on the truly important things in life.
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Old 04-02-2004, 10:32 PM   #7
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All I can say is, WOW. Although I will admit I skimmed through the last posts(I'm an impatient teenager) the information in that was eye opening. The propaganda spread about the so-called "Exploding Pinto" probably put a huge dent in Ford motor companys sales. I always believe that, you get rear-ended in a pinto you're going to shoot 10 feet in the air in a fireball, while rotationg 720 degrees onto another pinto, which would then explode and flip you another 360. Very good piece of information right there, you have a knack for writing.

My Kudos, great job
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Old 04-02-2004, 10:51 PM   #8
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It was umm...long...
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Old 04-02-2004, 10:59 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vwhobo
You see, this is proof positive. I knew we agreed on the truly important things in life.

But of course. We both like air cooled VWs, so we pretty much HAVE to...
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Old 04-02-2004, 11:00 PM   #10
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It was umm...long...

And you umm... didn't read it, right?

BTW it was shorter than the average front page newspaper article...
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Old 04-02-2004, 11:24 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by vwhobo
You see, this is proof positive. I knew we agreed on the truly important things in life.
I just typed for five F%#%*ng minutes, and got dumped. Going to do the rest of long replies in Word This one is short.

VWHOBO, you are an asshole, such as I and I will always be. I was not born in the soundbite,cut,paste generation either. Everything that(almost) I have learned, I had to read and educate myself,typing and punctuating was not one of them,and that didn't have a lot of leverage in what my job was. I love to have fun,or try to make others have fun. ChrisV, what you need to do is get your point across, so it won't become boring. Come down a few notches, we don't care how smart you are, you could be alot of help to many. I am not a car buff / freak, or what ever you would call them.I have driven motorcars for over 44 years, 31 of those in my job (I started driving when I was a 9 yr old). I realize that I don't contribute a lot to this forum, but you could. OH, i think you and the VWHOBO will never get along////shit happens. AIN"T THAT RIGHT? Which is really entertaining, if you keep it short. Damn whwerewug amii whgereis my bearr, looook inthe fridgege
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Old 04-02-2004, 11:34 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by lectroid
I just typed for five F%#%*ng minutes, and got dumped. Going to do the rest of long replies in Word This one is short.

VWHOBO, you are an asshole, such as I and I will always be. I was not born in the soundbite,cut,paste generation either. Everything that(almost) I have learned, I had to read and educate myself,typing and punctuating was not one of them,and that didn't have a lot of leverage in what my job was. I love to have fun,or try to make others have fun. ChrisV, what you need to do is get your point across, so it won't become boring. Come down a few notches, we don't care how smart you are, you could be alot of help to many. I am not a car buff / freak, or what ever you would call them.I have driven motorcars for over 44 years, 31 of those in my job (I started driving when I was a 9 yr old). I realize that I don't contribute a lot to this forum, but you could. OH, i think you and the VWHOBO will never get along////shit happens. AIN"T THAT RIGHT? Which is really entertaining, if you keep it short. Damn whwerewug amii whgereis my bearr, looook inthe fridgege
Lectroid, calm down. I'm not sure what you're on about. The point that I agreed on was people not taking the time to get all the facts prior to making their statements. That's all dude. Maybe it's time for a beer, or better yet it's time to get rid of your dial-up.
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Old 04-02-2004, 11:43 PM   #13
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Lectroid, calm down. I'm not sure what you're on about. The point that I agreed on was people not taking the time to get all the facts prior to making their statements. That's all dude. Maybe it's time for a beer, or better yet it's time to get rid of your dial-up.

I really got tired of trying to read through 40 some paragraphs of ChrisV's last 3 post. and i Typed for what seemed like 30 f$#$#@ minutes in my reply, which wasn't rude My fault Can't we all just get along? Hell no, this is the USA.
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Old 04-02-2004, 11:46 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lectroid
I really got tired of trying to read through 40 some paragraphs of ChrisV's last 3 post. and i Typed for what seemed like 30 f$#$#@ minutes in my reply, which wasn't rude My fault Can't we all just get along? Hell no, this is the USA.
Hell yeah, I agree 100%. F*ck you, f*ck me, f*ck everybody, there is no favoritism here.
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Old 04-02-2004, 11:49 PM   #15
lectroid
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vwhobo
Hell yeah, I agree 100%. F*ck you, f*ck me, f*ck everybody, there is no favoritism here.

Get away from me you pervert
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