Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Inspiring Confidence

Every time I close the door on the C70, I am impressed with the quality Swedish engineering that went into the design.  The door is very stout, formidable, remarkably well conceived and realized.  More than 20 years ago, a nice engineering manager named Robert Tyler, the man who hired me right out of college, told me when I designed a large steel rack to hold two 5 ton spools of tire tread rubber "make sure it inspires confidence".  You see, I had done the calculations, and determined that a 2.5 inch square steel tube with a 3/16ths inch thick wall would securely hold the two spools some 10 feet in the air, with a factor of safety of about 4, and I figured that would be enough.  Robert looked over my design, nodded in approval at the weld call-outs, solid steel plate footers, gussets, and cross bracing, dimensioning & tolerances, and then said to me in a sage voice "make it out of 4 x 4 x 1/4, and it will inspire confidence."  This both elated me (my first design, glowingly approved!) but dragged me down, since the entire design was done in 2D Autocad without associative dimensioning (it was the 80's after all, and associative dimensioning was not yet invented).  It took all weekend to re-draw it from 2.5 inch square tube to 4 inch square tube (a good designer could do that in about 5 minutes today with associative dimensioning), but when the final design was finally built and installed, it DID inspire confidence, and it survived multiple hits by lackadaisical fork lift drivers for the remaining 6 years I worked there.

I've never forgotten the "inspire confidence" lesson, and appreciate when a quality product that COULD HAVE BEEN "optimized" and weight reduced and 'dumbed down' is left large enough and strong enough to not just "survive" a catastrophic event, but to do very well in and perform admirably.  The Volvo C70 comes from the same company who designed the XC90 back in 1999 to survive a roll over and used to show a sales video in their show rooms that had a XC90 roll over and only the mirror broke (a quick Google search could only find orange colored factory roll over tests).  Considering that there is no shortage of uninsured, under-insured, poorly maintained, distracted, under-the-influence, and unsafe drivers and vehicles on the I-10 during Dr Desert Flower's daily work commute, getting a car that could survive a violent & unexpected encounter with any of a myriad of those drivers made the C70 a logical choice. 

The doors are thicker than my thigh - and I can leg press the whole weight machine (if there are not additional free weights) in most gyms - and are full of high strength steel.  They each weigh more than I would be comfortable holding for any extended period of time, but they pivot smoothly on well designed, robust hinges. Most dumbed down / cost reduced / average-Joe-driven domestic cars (Chevy, Ford, Dodge, Hyundai, Kia, etc) have a door that is no thicker than your hand is wide, some as narrow as just 3 or 4 fingers are wide.  Try to stop an out-of-control Mexican semi truck careening without brakes with such a door.  Think of a text messaging teenage driver distracted going 85 mph plowing into the side of the car, T-boning it at an intersection.  Yes, I am comforted that my wife's life is protected by such a thick door for side impact, fastidiously designed front and rear crush zones for crashing and being crashed into, and pop-up roll bars in case her car is flipped over, with a cadre of air bags and air curtains, all around. 

But the beauty of the door is not only in its strength, but in its elegance as well.  The windows roll down then immediately back up, a 1/2 inch, each time the door is opened or closed, to clear the door seals along the roof line.  The capacitance sensors near the hinges tell the car's computer when the door is About To Close, and when it has Just Been Opened, so the windows can be smoothly actuated.  Then, to locate the door, there's a subtle little centering cone on the lower corner of each door.  This is no weeny little rubber cone - no, it's structural, and serves to both locate and support the door, in opposition to shear and bending forces.  Very well thought out.  Beautifully executed.  Inspiring Ample Confidence.

All in all, the C70 is a quality vehicle.  There is a lack of a coin holder, which is sort of annoying (I don't have a purse to tuck in, behind the center console), and occasionally there is an atmospheric battle between the left and right side vents where one tries to heat and the other tries to vigorously cool with the separate left and right temperature controls in "Auto" mode.  The under-side of the engine compartment is completely covered in plastic wind deflectors, but I took a hour to figure out how to disassemble & reassemble them with a small hex bit several weeks ago, so I can access and inspect beneath the car.  The oil filter is not easy to change (I've seen videos on similar inline 5 cylinder Volvo engines where one must remove the air intake manifold to access the filter), and the cabin filter is a royal pain to change, but I don't have to worry about that for another 4 years since full maintenance is included with the purchase. 

If anyone has any suggestions on an easy way to change the oil filter, cabin filter, and to simply jack up the vehicle with a normal floor jack that doesn't require using the awkward trunk supplied scissor jack, please do let me know.

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