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BRAKING NEWS: Montana Grandma slows speeders down with hair dryer

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird: Montana grandmother takes law into her own hands Patti Baumgartner, of Finley Point in northwest Montana, is the state’s newest honorary Highway Trooper.
This machine dries hair and slows vehicles down, one woman in Montana discovered. photo Aaron Yoo/Flickr

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:

Montana grandmother takes law into her own hands

Patti Baumgartner, of Finley Point in northwest Montana, is the state’s newest honorary Highway Trooper. Fed up by people speeding through her neighbourhood, the no-nonsense grandmother got herself a chair, a cold beverage, and a hair dryer. Then she sat down and pointed the hair dryer at passing cars.

It is difficult to say whether speeders were fooled into thinking that hair dryer was a radar gun, or simply cowed into better behaviour by Ms. Baumgartner’s steely gaze. She must have the best behaved grandchildren east of the Rockies.

Whatever the case, her vigilante chair-sitting worked. People started slowing down. The neighbourhood was a little safer. When state troopers caught word of the story, they hurried over to present Baumgartner with a
patrol hat.

With the first month of school pretty much past, I’ve noticed that people have started to let their speeds creep up again, especially during the morning rush, when kids are trying to get to school. Maybe tone it down a little there, folks. We don’t want to have to get the hair dryers out.

Toyota 86 to get new Subaru engine

A modestly powered sport coupe that’s ideal for zipping up the Duffey Lake Road, the Toyota 86 (or nearly identical Subaru BRZ) is the kind of car that proves you don’t need a ton of power to have a ton of fun. However, its 2.0-litre boxer-four engine does require a bunch of revs to get going, which can be a little tiring in stop and go traffic.

Now, there’s going to be a new one. Maybe. As with all potential new sports cars, there are a lot of rumours to sift through.

Odds are, however, that we’re going to see some kind of new concept from Toyota at next month’s Tokyo Motor Show. And, according to Japanese magazine Best Car, that new concept might well be powered by the 2.4-litre flat-four out of the Subaru Ascent.

In the Ascent, a seven seater crossover, the 2.4-litre makes 260 horsepower, which would be a stout figure for a little two seater. It’s expected that some variant of this new engine will power the new WRX and STI, with as much as 300 h.p.

But let me offer up the contrarian wish that Toyota doesn’t go that route, and instead gives the new 86 a naturally aspirated version of the 2.4. It’s effectively what they did with the 2.0-litre engine that now powers the car.

With a bump in displacement to provide more torque, yet power still hovering in the 220 h.p. area, a new 86 would have to be light to stay fun, and that’s a challenge engineers need to take on. Lower power also means cheaper insurance for younger drivers, and maybe a car that you can use more of, more of the time.

For sale: Miata with Hellcat engine

As a counterpoint, here’s what happens when you give a car too much engine. Like, really too much engine. Bound for the Barrett-Jackson auctions next month, this 1999 Mazda MX-5 has had a 6.2-litre supercharged Dodge V-8 swapped into it.

Well, I say “into it.” In point of fact, the huge V-8 is hanging partially out of the hood because it’s so large. It’s a little like a Hot Wheels fever dream come to life, and looks more than a little dangerous. How fun.

I certainly would love to have a go in something like that, but only for a short time. As the medical commercials say, if things persist for more than a few hours, better consult a physician. Certainly a 700 h.p. Miata would result in a trip to the doctor.

GM strike affecting Canadian factories

Vehicle manufacturing is one of the most logistically complex things humankind does. Parts arrive from all over the globe, just in time to be assembled into a car that’s headed out the door. You can’t stockpile stuff, as that’s just money sitting around.

Thus, the United Auto Workers (UAW) action against GM is starting to have global repercussions, including in Canada. Workers at GM’s Oshawa factory were sent home, owing to a shortage of parts available. The engine and transmission plant in St. Catharines is also likely to be affected.

Negotiators are still at the table, though there seems to be no clear end in sight to the strike. Happily, Canadian employees are still getting paid, even when sent home, but if the situation doesn’t improve, layoffs can’t be far behind.

Fatal speed run up for World Record

A daredevil driver who was beloved for her bravery and warmth, Jessi Combs died this August at the wheel of a landspeed record jet car. She was already a trailblazer for women in motorsports, having raced at the gruelling King of the Hammers and the Baja 1000.

In her last run, Combs managed to hit a staggering 548 miles per hour (881 km/h). Top speed records are a combined average, so split with her previous run, that would give her a timed average of 531.889 mph. The current record for fastest woman, set in 1976, stands at 512.7 mph.

Whether or not the record is accepted by officials, Combs’ legacy will live on in the form of a foundation just-announced to help other female pioneers in motorsports and automotive fabrication. The Petersen Automotive Museum, a world-class facility in Los Angeles, will also host a special display honoring her achievements.

It’s both a sad tale of a life lost too soon, yet also a story of a person who literally lived life to the limits. And beyond them, if her record-setting attempt stands. I hope it does.

Watch this space for all the best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to