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Big cars, little cars and other cars

I've been thinking about cars quite a bit lately.

For no particular reason. My Honda's running fine, but all around me I see exciting things happening in the world of automobiles.

Right after reading that several-part story in the paper last week about the Smart car, I heard some crash test results that concluded that - now, get ready for this - the really little mini-cars don't do very well in crashes.

Let me summarize the results for you. Crash tests conducted by the insurance industry showed that, basically, the smaller the car, the more they crumple up like tinfoil when rammed into concrete walls.

Now, remember, these are the teeny-tiny cars, with the really funny names, like the Aveo, the Fit, the Yaris and the Scion. That last one is the little square bread truck-looking rig that would likely be the only thing allowed in the side door of the Emerald City ('Open up - mini-pizza for the Wizard!').

One of my fellow editors, a guy named Kevin, used to own a car that we continue to talk about to this day. It was a 1971 Ford LTD. It was yellow and a two-door, meaning each door was about 15 feet long, the same size as the drawbridge on your standard castle, except it went sideways instead of up and down.

I've never seen crash test results on a 1971 Ford LTD, but I'm fairly confident that Kevin's legendary car could be dropped from outer space, re-enter the earth's atmosphere and land on its nose in the middle of Interstate 5 and not seriously damage anything on it, including the 405-cubic-inch motor that is only slightly smaller and less powerful than the individual turbines whirring deep inside Hoover Dam.

Now, I have mixed feelings about giant cars. Kevin's yellow LTD was cool. It had a hood big enough to play badminton on, and, besides, as a weekly newspaper reporter, he couldn't afford a smaller car. Remember, though, back then gas was about 1,000 percent cheaper than it is now.

And, of course, when I was a little kid, all cars were huge. My dad was a Chrysler Motors man, and I remember more than one car of ours so big in the back that my brothers and I could get up and walk around behind the front seat. One of them even had a fancy velvety rope you could hang on to while you paced.

On the other hand, these huge SUVs being driven around today by soccer moms, drug lords and professional athletes are extremely not cool. They use almost exactly the same amount of gas as a Sherman tank, their headlights shine directly into the back window of normal cars (blinding their drivers), and, in those occasional instances in which they are involved in crashes with other cars, they pretty much always smash the other car to smithereens - unless it's a two-SUV crash, or one involving at least an old Ford LTD.

Now, if I could be king for a few days, I'd require everyone who drives a large SUV to switch from now on to a Smart car. Why? Mostly, just for the heck of it. I'd also make them watch 'An Inconvenient Truth,' but that's another topic for another time.

OK, let's stop a second. You do know what a Smart car is, right? It's a little, snub-nosed car from Europe that looks like someone cut a regular car in half right behind the front seat. I think they're about 8 feet long, meaning you can park one almost anywhere.

(They are sold in Lake Oswego at Oswego Luxury on State Street. See story in last Thursday's Sustainable Life section in the Lake Oswego Review or on the Review's Web page at www.lakeoswegoreview.com.)

Like car dealer Ron Tonkin, who reportedly fell in love with the little cars on a trip to Italy, I too first noticed them on a trip to the boot-shaped country. I took a picture of one in Bellagio, but they were all over the place, and we even saw them in Paris a few years later, wedged into tiny little holes where you shouldn't be able to park anything bigger than a bicycle.

Considerably smaller than the now hugely popular Mini Cooper, the Smart Car really ought to come with a suitcase handle on top so you can just pick it up and take in the house or office with you. You could just plop it in the corner somewhere - and, once they become common enough that aunts and grandmas start making colorful cozies for them, you'd never even know they're there.

Heck, Kevin could have kept one in the trunk of his old LTD.

You know, kinda like a spare.

Mikel Kelly is a former managing editor of the Lake Oswego Review, Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood. He now handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.