Archive for February, 2011

My Father is an Irrational Consumer

Posted: February 28, 2011 in Rants

My dad is sort of car guy.  Sort of.  He always had unique and interesting cars.  For example, growing up he had a Bug Eye Sprite which he says made him feel like James Bond.  When he got older, he eschewed a Porsche 912 in favor of a Volvo P1800 (like The Saint drove) – can’t fault him much for that either.  As he came into his own and became a professional he picked up an Oldsmobile Toronado, which had enough torque to climb up walls, according to him.

I clearly remember to this day when my father got rid of the Toronado.  It had a CB radio in it – it was a coupe.  That thing was SO COOL!  He was getting rid of it for some lame ass German car I, at three years old, had never heard of and never cared for.  He was picking up a 1984 BMW 5-series.  Little did I know what an amazing machine this was.

I soon figured it out though.  By the time I was 4 I was banging through the gears from the passenger seat, correctly placing the shift knob as my father called out each gear while driving.  I have a great home video of this (although no VCR to actually play it).  This car serves our family with slavish devotion until it was replaced in 1994 by another German machine, a 1994 Passat VR6 with BBS wheels, a buttery smooth VR motor developing torque all over the place, and a slick 5 speed shifter.  This would be the car I would learn to drive on.  This would be the car I would kill two deer with, and this would be the car my sister would attempt to kill but fail every single time.  It was the god damned Bismarck.

In fact, my father insisted that I was not allowed to take my driver’s test unless it was on a manual transmission car.  I thank him for that to this day.  Not because knowing how to drive a manual is anything special (despite the fact that less than 10% of America can actually drive manual) – but because of the adversity I overcame in learning and the feeling of accomplishment I experienced when I performed my first hill hold, balancing the car with the fine interplay of throttle and clutch.

He proceeded to replace his Passat with his third German sports sedan, a 1998 B5 Audi A4 Quattro (2.8L – not the anemic 150 hp 1.8t they were hawking back then) – manual transmission, naturally.  Again, this car served us well . . . and then things went wrong.

I don’t know what triggered it, but he proceeded to purchase a series of cars that were just horrible.  A Lexus RX300 bimbo box?  A Saab 9-3 with the detuned turbo motor and an autobox?  His latest purchase came after finding that the 2008 A4 was too boring  heavy (this coming from a former Lexus CUV driver?), the 2008 BMW 3-series was too expensive (funny, he bought my mom one a year later), and that the G37 was an unrefined vibration machine.  He went with the Cadillac CTS – 3.6L V6, automatic.  What a disappointment – I had hoped upon hopes that he would get a manual transmission vehicle or at least something with a soul.  Not to fault the Caddy – it was a fine cruiser and had a nice torque band, but it was an automatic, weighed a billion pounds, came in fun-killing AWD and had some of the most isolated and numb steering I’ve ever experienced.  He had dropped the ball and continues to drop it.

I’ve tried to steer him away and give him a taste of fun.  I convinced him to go in on a Boxster together, placing it in our Family Limited Partnership, but he rarely if ever wants to drive the car, and I usually wind up only taking it for race days (which is why it has under 60,000 miles on it despite being 11 years old).  Its too low, too hard for his arthritic body to get into.  My mom hates riding in it too.  It doesn’t have room for his golf clubs.  I sometimes have to FORCE him to take it for a weekend just to remind him what driving is like.  It feels like a losing battle.

His latest fuckup came very recently.  A little background on this – he recently leased a Volkswagen Jetta 2.0t Wolfsburg Edition for the other attorney in our office as a little perk to working with us.  This is a fine car – wonderful transmission (not a manual, but the DSG is a marvel), wonderful engine, great sporty chassis.  When my Civic’s lease was up I got a GTI as a company car.  All he needed to do was get another VW to complete the trifecta.  And I almost had him sold . . .

When we started test driving, he was enamored with the Cadillac CTS Wagon – don’t ask me why – its one of the most hideous eyeball burning vehicles I’ve ever seen.  How they sell any of those ugly things is a mystery to me, especially at that outrageous price.  He was looking at a 3.0 liter (remember, he had a 3.6) which had similar horsepower output, but more weight and less torque so it felt like it was neutered.  The 3.6 had its price raised significantly over his generation so he ruled that one out.  I did manage to convince him that he would hate the 3.0 liter simply because it had no power.

Once he drove the VW CC he agreed wholeheartedly.  I hadn’t seen him so excited to drive a car since he got his Audi back in ’98.  He loved the responsiveness of the chassis and that direct injected 2.0 / DSG combination.  He was genuinely excited about this car . . . . but for some reason it started dropping off his radar because he had himself convinced he needed a wagon.  For what, I don’t know.  He only has one set of golf clubs.  Anyways, he wound up test driving the Jetta wagon in both diesel and 2.5L trim.  He liked it (didn’t love it) but was happy – good fuel economy, sunroof, wagon.

And then, out of nowhere, the idiot goes and buys an Acura TSX Sport Wagon . . . what-the-fuck?  Not ANOTHER bimbo box.  Where the hell did this car come from?  Its got no power, weighs a ton, and worst of all is ugly as sin.

Now I actually like the old TSX – it was sporty, despite its complete lack of usable power.   Honda knows how to make a chassis and this car danced, despite its front-wheel drive handicap.  Credit a multi link suspension design as opposed to the typical cost savings McStrut setups.  But this new car?  I don’t know.  I’m just beside myself.  How could I have failed my father?

But more importantly – how could he have failed as a rational consumer?  How do people make decisions like this?  The original laws of economics that I’m familiar with all assume the consumer is rational – I never worked with a model where the consumer was insane like this.  The consumer would maximize utility and purchase the best product.  Instead, what we have here is a consumer purchasing a vastly inferior product.  It is an inferior car compared to the competition, and doesn’t even compete on price (in fact its sometimes more expensive).  How does one make the decision to purchase this vehicle?

In fact, how does one make the decision to purchase an STI over an EVO (which is clearly superior in every measurable way).  Or a Chrysler Sebring over ANYTHING on the market today?  I just don’t know and it drives me crazy.  I can’t explain this behavior.  It vexes me.

And, as a result, my father, who was so instrumental in turning me into a “car guy” has simply failed in his role as a consumer in the marketplace.  He is rewarding an inferior product which is a sin of commerce in my eyes.  Who would want a slow, ugly, automatic transmission, fuel efficient and highly functional bimbo box such as this?

Maybe he’s just getting old.

Why the Lexus F-Line is Stupid

Posted: February 23, 2011 in Rants
Tags: ,

The Lexus F-Line is absolutely stupid.  It flies in the face of what the brand Lexus stands for.

Lexus started in 1983 with Toyota’s attempt to create a pinnacle of luxury.  The end result was the 1989 LS400 – a car that, at the time, was an amazing accomplishment for the automaker.  Rear wheel drive, V8 powered, and some would argue over-engineered (evidenced by the fact that there are still a ton of these cars on the road today, in good shape) – the LS400 was a statement to the world – We can build cars as good as the Germans or Americans.  We can put performance, luxury, and technology into a package and deliver it in a cost-effective manner.  I mean, the logo was “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” – what more do you need to know than that?

Look how smooth that V8 runs.

The brand developed through the 90s and onwards with a couple of cars.  The ES was essentially a badge-engineered V6 Camry with leather, more chrome, and some upmarket options.  The SC was a grand tourer which leaned heavily towards luxury and comfort over performance.  Of course, the LS soldiered on as the flagship luxury car competing with the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes S-Class.  All of these cars embodied luxury over performance.  They embodied precision engineering and manufacturing processes that resulted in nearly bulletproof cars and the public loved it.  The brand was branded – people knew what a Lexus was.

When you went into a Lexus dealership you were treated like a king, not a number.  Loaner cars, refreshments, indoor putting greens – luxury, luxury, luxury.  So what the hell is Lexus trying to do pawning off sports cars and a sports line?

You’ve heard me rant about it before and I’ll rant about it again – I hate it when a brand loses its focus and tries to be something its not.  A Lexus is a quiet, reliable, smooth riding value proposition – its essentially a car for people who hate cars.  Its a car that people purchase based on statistics and Consumer Reports – it is not a car that people purchase based on emotion or a desire for high performance.

Now, I will say as an aside that I have driven and truly enjoyed the original Lexus IS300 – a car developed as a BMW 3-series competitor.  The car had wonderful steering feel and feedback, great handling, and phenomenal brakes – but it failed miserably – why?  Because it wasn’t what the Lexus buyer wanted.  Someone who wants a car like that just buys the BMW.

My good friend described his father’s Lexus IS350 – their attempt at a 3-series sporty competitor – as a disappointing dry hump.  Essentially, it is not a car that encourages spirited driving – it may be fast, but its like driving a video game – that’s what the buyer wants – isolation.

Yet, high performance and emotion is exactly what Lexus is trying to hype today.  Its resulted in a schizophrenic brand message.  On one hand, you have cars that are the embodiment of luxury, at a reasonable and affordable price – especially compared with ze Germans.  On the other, we have the entire F debacle – cars that have no reason to exist – cars that a Lexus purchaser has no interest in, and cars that are grossly expensive.

Lets take a look at the Lexus F-Sport accessories first.  This is a customization program of “go-fast” parts that allows a customer to add brutally overpriced bits to their cars.  Essentially, these are parts that could be had for half the price on the aftermarket, marked up and sold through Lexus to unsuspecting rubes so they can customize their vehicles.  Essentially, its Scion but it costs more money.

Think about this – when was the last time you met a Lexus owner who was interested in hopping up their car with the hottest parts to tear up the streets?  Exactly.  The typical Lexus buyer doesn’t care if the parts are shipped overnight from Japan.  In short, they’re not Scion buyers (who actually are not the people Scion initially targeted – but I’ve ranted about that before).  They’re old people.  They want to turn off their brains and arrive at their destination.  They don’t want to feel the road.  They don’t need big brakes, cold air intakes and exhaust systems.  They need Viagra.

So, aside from transforming your badge-engineered Toyota transportation appliance with overpriced, repackaged aftermarket garbage, Lexus also offers to option to purchase a “pre-riced” car.  The F-line.   Right now, thankfully, just the Lexus IS-F.  Big body, big wheels, big brakes, lots of power . . . . and an automatic transmission?  Really?  Lexus pretends to commit to the enthusiast buyer, yet won’t even offer their performance car with a manual transmission?  This is what happens when a car is designed by committee and based on focus group responses.  Of course there’s no demand for a manual – 95% of Americans can’t even drive a manual transmission – but if you’re going to offer something even masquerading as a performance vehicle a manual needs to be an option – just look what happened when BMW offered the M5 without a manual – a few months later it was an option.

Now, I will do a discussion down the line on manuals versus automatics, and I will concede that modern automatics and particularly DSGs are very good, but for a performance car there has to at least be an option of a manual.  They have to at least put the pretense of sporting intention behind the car.  To Lexus, forget it – we’re just going to make this car and you’re going to like it because, lets face it – someone who really wants a driver’s car will get the M3 – the IS-F is just for poseurs.  Its for the typical Lexus buyer who through some crazy urge of capriciousness decides they want to try a performance car just this once.  And these people are few and far between – as I said before, the Lexus buyer doesn’t make their purchase based on emotion – they make rational decisions – as a result, the IS-F has been a miserable sales failure as well as a poster-child for brand betrayal.

And finally, the LF-A . . . . where to start with this car.  Not only is it hideously ugly, it makes no sense whatsoever.  The car was originally conceived in an era when F1 cars ran a V10 engine, hence, it has a 9000+ rpm high revving V10 engine.  However, there’s a few problems with this – first off, by the time the car was actually released F1 had moved on from V10s to V8s – and now F1 is considering going to 1.6L turbo 4s!  Furthermore, no Lexus buyer or luxury car buyer, for that matter, wants an engine without peak torque until eleventybillion RPMs – they don’t want to rev, they want to waft.  They want a car powered by something like a twin-turbo V12 – torque everywhere – instantly, all the time.  BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Bentley – twin-turbo V12s are on offer from all of them.  These companies know luxury.

And why did it take so long to release?  Well, the rumor (and one I tend to believe) is that Lexus was planning to release the V10 powered LF-A in the era of V10 powered F1 cars once Toyota won their first Formula 1 race.  We all know how that went (hint – they quit after 8 years without a single victory).  And finally – the price!  Lexus is supposed to be a value proposition.  How in the hell is a $400,000 supercar (that’s not even faster than a $70,000 Nissan GT-R) supposed to be a value proposition?  I just don’t get it.

And now, there’s rumors of a GS-F in the works.   This car makes even less sense.  The GS is the Lexus Mid-sized luxury car – it doesn’t play pretend sports sedan like the IS series of cars do – it knows its a luxury car and has played that role well.  Yet someone at Lexus thinks its a good idea to turn this mundane, if not rather decent, luxury car into another fire breathing sports car.  Who gave them the idea that there was any demand for this vehicle whatsoever?  Again – people who want a car like that aren’t going to look at Lexus in the first place.  They’re going to go to the BMW dealership and plunk down on a new M5.

So what are we left with?  We get to watch Lexus slowly commit brand suicide.  Keep in mind, I’m only taking Lexus to task for their attempts at creating a sporting car.  I haven’t even gotten started with regards to the opposite end of the spectrum – rebadging eco-Toyotas in an attempt to follow the hottest trend of 2010 – being green.

Fuck that noise, I say.


Posted: February 21, 2011 in Rants

NASCAR is awesome.  I don’t really care how much people want to hate on it.  The thing I’ve found is that those who hate on it have no idea what is actually going on during a race.  But more on that later.

First off, I’m not your typical NASCAR fan.  Well, maybe I am.  I am white but I’m neither poor nor stupid.  I’m not a racist and I don’t believe that the Confederate flag celebrates heritage – I believe it celebrates a time when whitey could whip darkie and get away with it – so if you’re down with that and want to celebrate it, go ahead, its America – but its not representative of my values and its certainly not celebrating anything that I feel is worth celebrating.

Now, NASCAR would have you believe that their fans are not ignorant, racist rednecks and they insist that their fan base is reflective of the American population.  That really couldn’t be anything further than the truth.  I’ve been to a few NASCAR races in my day and its a 100% pure white-trash parade.  I love it!  Nothing makes me feel better about myself than walking through the impromptu trailer park that sprouts up around a NASCAR event – although stopping at a New York State Thruway rest area comes in a close second.

It gets even better when you get to your seat.  Everyone is drunk.  Nobody talks to one another (not actually possible given the noise of the event, plus you’ve either got headphones and a scanner or earplugs).  You essentially sit there, smelling the uncatalyzed, unleaded race fuel, getting your buzz on (whether from fumes or tall boys), watching the boys go ’round and ’round and ’round in some sort of trance state.  And yes, boys.  There are no women in the Sprint cup – plus you’ve got men racing who are 31 yet look 50 and you’ve got literal children who can’t vote or buy alcohol.  If you want, you can wander around and mingle with the animals, but the real action is on the track.

And it is action.  The amount of car control required to keep the car from spinning out is remarkable – these drivers are literally at the limits of traction, barely keeping the rear end from breaking loose at 200 mph – sometimes fractions of inches from other drivers, in traffic – with 42 other narcissistic sociopaths on track simultaneously.  And unlike F1, where a pass is a momentous event in an otherwise organized parade lap, lead changes and passes are standard fare for an exciting NASCAR event.

As if that weren’t intense enough, there is actually strategy involved.  Fuel strategy, tire strategy, airflow management.  One of the most interesting elements is drafting during restrictor plate races.  Because power is limited, the cars need to take advantage of drafting in order to raise their speed and reduce the impact of aerodynamic drag.  This is even more interesting with the design of the new cars, because one can only draft for a certain period of time before the lack of airflow over the radiator causes the car to experience higher than acceptable temperatures – necessitating a choreographed swap between two drivers that decide to work together.

Plus how crazy is it that a driver needs to work with another driver to be competitive, even if those two drivers are competing themselves!  Its a sort of forced team-work that relies on the drivers being able to trust each other in the rush of competition in order to maximize their draft.

Finally, the greatest thing about NASCAR is that literally anyone can win.  Now, some events do have dominant cars and drivers who can lead most of the race and are pretty much set to win, but especially on restrictor plate races a driver can start dead last yet still win the entire race simply by manipulating airflow, getting a good draft, dipping out and getting a run on the driver in front.  This makes the race exciting – people pass, people can come back – theres a lot of action – and that’s not even including everyone’s favorite, the crash!

The fact that anyone can win was characterized best by yesterday’s Daytona 500 – a veritable unknown 20 year old, Trevor Bayne, who had previously competed only once in the Sprint Cup (a 17th place finish at Texas Motor Speedway).  This kid came out of absolutely nowhere to win the entire race – coming around turn 4 nobody was even able to come out of the draft and pass him – he simply took it like he owned the thing.  That element of chaos is what entertains Americans, its why NASCAR is as popular as it is.

Sure, it caters to the lowest common denominator – but that again is what makes it fun.  Not everything has to be high brow and sophisticated for me to enjoy myself.  Sure, my dinner last Saturday night involved a discussion of whether Napoleon was a hero or villian, what makes The Great American Novel, and the German creation of a Russian Communist Menace as justification for their invasion during World War II – I had more fun watching NASCAR the next day.

First – I am writing this blog under the assumption that you, my dear reader, understand the basic concepts of weight and how it impacts vehicle dynamics such as top speed, acceleration, and handling.  If this is something you don’t understand then I would research it to have a general level of familiarity – I’m not going into rocket science here – probably because I’m not a rocket scientist.  Actually, I can’t even do calculus.  Don’t hate.  Procreate.

This article has been inspired by the recent announcement from Porsche that they have created the Boxster E.

If we drink the Kool-Aid, we will be led to believe that

“The Boxster E is powered by a 29kWh battery pack and a pair of electric motors with a combined power output of 241bhp.  Porsche says performance is comparable to a Boxster S. That car is good for 0-62mph in 5.3sec and a top speed of 170mph.”

It also makes 69 more horsepower and weighs a mere 2,978 pounds. And therein lies the interesting bit.  How heavy is a Boxster E going to be?  Since the car isn’t confirmed for production, so its nothing more than a test mule fantasy at the moment, lets do some wild speculation of our own and figure that out!

The best place we can start is with the Tesla Roadster – a machine built entirely on hype from a company that perpetually loses money by the fistful.  The Tesla Roadster originally started life out as Lotus Elise.  This is a car that tips the scales at a mere 1,896 lbs and adheres to the founder’s principle “Simplify, then add lightness” – which essentially strives to increase a car’s performance through light weight as opposed to more power and electrowizardry (of course, Lotus has all but abandoned that philosophy, officially).

So, after starting with probably one of the most pure sports cars of all time, Tesla adds a battery pack that weighs 900 pounds and ends up with a car weighing in at 2723 lbs – a weight increase of 827 lbs – credit that less than 900 lbs gain to the fact that the car no longer has to lug around all that stuff normally associated with an internal combustion engine.

The result, as one could imagine, is not a sports car.  Yes, the Tesla will accelerate remarkably, due to the fact that it produces peak torque at any given RPM (even 0) – but its hamstrung by the fact that it has a pathetic gearbox and a boatload of weight – so its top speed and handling are less than stellar.  The Elise, on the other hand, has amazing handling and a far higher top speed simply due to the fact that it has a traditional 6-speed Toyota gearbox.

Here’s the final kicker – the Tesla costs twice as much.  It has half the travelling range, a good 40 mph lower top speed and an extra 827 lbs to toss around.

Now lets see what would happen if we were to do this to the Boxster. For this, I would assume that Porsche would get its shit together and attempt to keep the weight down – but how could they?  This isn’t a hybrid we’re building here, that merely needs a battery pack for start-stop, accelerating from a stop light or low speed all-electric cruising.  This is a full electric car that will never be able to rely on a gas engine at high speed on the highway or for assistance accelerating to top speed – so, the car will still have to lug around a huge, heavy battery pack.  Keep in mind as well, the Tesla battery pack is high tech lithium stuff.  Imagine how much it would weigh if it were traditional nickel?

We would thus assume that Porsche would only add about 500 lbs of weight to the car, bringing the Porker up to a rough 3500 lbs.  That’s with 241 horsepower.  I’m sorry folks, but its going to kill the car.  Our power to weight ratio just hit the shitter, so kiss rapid acceleration goodbye.  Our top speed is down because we’re most likely going to be using primitive one or two gear ratio gearboxes like the majority of all electric cars are using.  Our handling will suffer due to all that extra mass.  And, on top of that, the price will most likely double.

Who the hell is going to buy this car?

Hippies  – that’s who.  People who think they’re going to change the game, man.  Save the earth, man.  Well, I have a newsflash for you hippies. THIS is where your batteries come from:

Charming, isn’t it?  Nickel mining is both an ecologically and socially devastating process of commodity extraction.  But wait, it gets better – you say, no way, man, like, I’m totally going off the gasoline, man, gonna get my power like, from the grid.  This is where the power for your electric car comes from:

And this is how the coal for your power plant is extracted:

So, I guess your zero-emissions vehicles aren’t very emissions friendly after all, are they?  The majority of the power generated in the United States comes from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas.  Therein lies the dirty little secret behind plug-in electric vehicles.  People think they’re driving a guilt-free, zero emissions vehicle, but the reality is that they’ve just shifted the fossil fuel from gasoline to another filthy, dirty power source.  Until the U.S. pulls up its pants and makes the full switch to Nuclear, supplemented by hydro and wind, electric cars are going to be as bad, if not worse, as a gasoline car – not to mention the drain on the infrastructure from everyone charging their cars overnight – and as a result of increased demand the price of electricity will probably rise to match that of traditional gasoline anyways – so there will be no cost savings.

With that said, the reality is that nobody will buy this car or any electric sports car.  Just like with the Honda CR-Z or Accord V6 Hybrid (dismal sales figures), which are expensive and underperforming – or the Tesla, which is just prohibitively expensive.  People who want a sporty car don’t want to make the compromises to performance that come with a hybrid or electric vehicle (weight, wimpy fuel sipping gasoline engine).  People who want a fuel efficient car don’t want the sacrifice to fuel economy that comes with a sporty car – they want MPG bragging rights (for some, sick reason that I haven’t figured out).

And so, hopefully, this new Electric Boxster will be stillborn, or at least aborted before it can unleash itself upon the world.

Why Everyone Else on the Road is an Idiot

Posted: February 17, 2011 in Rants

Why is everyone else on the road, other than myself, a complete fucking idiot?

This is a question I often ask myself.  I’m sure you, gentle reader, often ask this question as well.  If you do not, I suggest you stop reading my blog, because you’re probably one of the mouthbreather’s I’m about to describe below.

First off, I really can’t stand the people that just sit there behind a non-moving car when another lane right next to them is completely empty.  This is terrible.  Ok, that car in front of you is turning left, we get it – since we have two lanes of road I’m going to go around you while you sit there with your jaw open breathing up all my air.  Seriously, how dumb are these people?  Do they honestly have nowhere to go?

The one that really kills me is when I pull out of my driveway.  I live on a relatively busy 4-lane road.  I generally back out of my driveway and onto the road.  Since I live about 400 feet from a busy intersection, often times people will be turning down onto my street.  When I pull out, I then have to engage the car to go the other direction – people will frequently just drive right up onto my bumper and wait there.  I have experimented before with just sitting there, doing nothing, while there’s no oncoming traffic from any direction and a clear open lane next to us and people will STILL just sit there doing nothing instead of going around.

Now, this isn’t a really bad offense because its not hurting me – I’m either going to go around the slowthinker standing still or I’m the person blocking traffic and they’re the idiot behind me doing nothing – but it makes me wonder – these people are out on the road with me!  Someone out there gave these people of no-more-than-average intelligence a driver’s license, and I have to share the road with them.  What are they thinking while they’re at a dead stop instead of engaging in active locomotion?  A terrifying thought.

Another person out there that kill me without actually impacting my drive too much is the non-signaller.  These people are completely oblivious to everyone around them.  Scary isn’t it – they truly think they’re the only person on the road, or at the very least they know there are other people but they are completely oblivious to those around them.

A variation on this one is the perpetual signaller – you all know the kind.  Driving a Buick, doing 55 mph in the left hand lane.  Left turn signal endlessly blinking.

But, we also get the non-signaller driving aggressively.  These people are dangerous.  And they’re almost always driving god’s gift to the automotive kingdom, a BMW (more likely than not a used 3-series).  This knuckledragger of a driver will weave in and out of traffic, varying their speed to whatever is faster than everyone around them.  They’re obviously too cool to signal because in their mind they’re not just on the autobahn (where strict lane discipline and signal use is actually very common and appreciated), they’re on the racetrack!  Since they’re on the race track they have to be faster than everyone else because they need to get to the tanning salon so they can get the good bed.

Now, speed variance is a big problem and one of the major causes of accidents – so driving significantly faster than traffic is a big problem and dangerous.  However, driving slower than traffic is pretty much just as bad.

This driver really kills me – going significantly slower than everyone around them.  Now, this bedwetter usually is just minding their own business, but they don’t realize that they’re essentially a moving obstacle to the other drivers blending with the flow of traffic.  However, sometimes they DO know what they’re doing.  I call these people Enforcers.  They actively go the speed limit or below it and seek ways to prevent others from going around them, by any means necessary.  This is an easy task on rural roads with limited passing opportunities, but I have actually seen these people speed up and slow down, varying their speeds on multi-lane roads and using other motorists to block anyone from passing them, lets the rule of law be sullied or their honor be insulted by another motorist effectuating a pass.

Also – keep in mind that these morons not only cause accidents, they also cause traffic.  Traffic is caused in large amount by variances in speed.  Its the enforcer in the left lane preventing everyone else behind them from proceeding smoothly at a decent pace which causes traffic for everyone else.  Lets find these people and burn them alive.

And finally, my personal favorite buffoon on the road – the street racer.  The stoplight racer is bad enough.  No, I don’t want to drag race your 1993 Geo Prism on my way to work – leave me alone.  Yes, you will force me to recognize that by virtue of the fact that you purchased a small-penis-substitute, your automatic, all wheel drive car can out-accelerate me from point to point.  That makes you very cool.

Even worse though, the highway roll racer.  I love these morons – they’ll pace your car to the exact speed, honk three times, take off and let their flashers go.  After being ignored two or three times they will usually go away (at drastically extra-legal speeds).  I’m still waiting for the day when one takes off, only to pass them moments later pulled over by the police.  Hasn’t happened yet, but when it does I will be happy.

So, in summary – I think the age of driving should be the same age as that of consuming alcohol.  Take that for what you will.  I think that a mandatory 6-month learning period should be enforced, requiring professional instruction.  I think that all driver’s tests should be taken in a manual transmission (I believe manuals encourage paying attention, though I did brag at one point in college of being able to talk on the cell phone, smoke a cigarette, shift and steer simultaneously).  I think that drivers should be required to re-test for their license every 5 years or so.  And I think anyone who makes a turn without using their signal should be pulled over, dragged out of their car, made to kneel on the side of the road and summarily executed with a bullet to the back of their head.

Automotively Polyamorous

Posted: February 15, 2011 in Rants

Love is an interesting emotion.  I’m not sure why we, as humans experience it, I’m only sure that we do.  I don’t spend much time thinking about why we go through the ups and downs of love but I do spend an awful lot of time (awake and dreaming) dealing with the consequences of this emotion.

One of the more interesting elements of love is the ability to love more than one person at once.  Its very easy to explain this as it applies to children, for example.  At least, my parents led me to believe that they loved both me and my sister equally.  I can’t verify this as I only have one child – but I can say that the love of a parent for their child far exceeds any level of romantic love that I have ever experienced.

Some, however, will argue that it is impossible to experience romantic love for more than one person.  I would say this is rubbish – I have experienced this before.  The issue is that societal norms force us to make a choice and limit our love to one socially acceptable individual.  When placed in that difficult decision, we must choose.  And therein lies the great thing about cars.  You can fall in love with more than one car.

And you don’t have to choose.

You can love as many cars as you want.  They’re not going to get mad at you for spending too much time with another car.  They’re not going to force you to decide on one and only one.  They’re inanimate objects!  Those sorts of scenarios are reserved for your spouse when they get mad at you for ignoring them over your car.

Of course, cars can’t love you back either – but that’s the nature of the car enthusiast’s relationship – we impose anthropomorphic characteristics onto our cars in a weird sort of psychological projection.  But I’m not psychotherapeutanalyst, so I won’t pursue this thought path more than I just have.

But what is great is that we do love our cars.  We take care of them, spend time and money on them, and talk about them endlessly, even to people who don’t give a shit about cars.  One of the things I was taught to look for when I was selling cars was whether or not the potential up would touch the car – it was supposed to mean the car was stirring them emotionally and they were creating a connection.  This is the power that these inanimate objects have over us.

There is something about driving them, but even more – there is something about daydreaming about owning and driving them.  This is what the marketing scumbags and salesloths target – they want to create the fantasy, and we let them because we want to indulge ourselves in that fantasy.  Rarely is the reality anything like that dream scenario, but we don’t care – the sheer joy of that mental masturbation is a wonderful thing to experience.

So, nonetheless, we can experience this feeling with more than one car at a time.  We can dream about a whole different set of cars, as we please.  Those of us with the means to do so can actually own more than one car at once.  We can love more than one car at once.  And we can date.

I like to think of my automotive schizophrenia less as a sickness and more as a period of sowing my wild oats, with cars, in a completely non-sexual manner.  You see, gentle reader, I’m just looking for that one girl I mean car of my dreams.  The one I want to settle down with and keep forever.  Every single car I date, I always seem to fall out of love with.  There’s always some little flaw that I Jerry Seinfeld away which causes me to sell the car rather than accept the imperfections and commit to the vehicle.

And even worse, just like I remember the majority of my ex-girlfriends in a positive light and tend to only remember the enjoyable times of our relationship (they have always told me the opposite – apparently I’m not the greatest person to date), I tend to remember my past cars for mainly the good elements, and frequently regret getting rid of them – despite the fact that ditching the car seemed like a perfectly reasonable and rational course of action at the time.

But lately, however, just like I’ve found the woman of my dreams, and married her, and impregnated her with my genetically perfect spawn, I seem to be settling down with cars as I get older.  What used to be ownership periods of months has turned into years.  And, I think, I must admit, that I have found one I want to settle down with.

Yes, I feel like I have found the one car that I would want for the rest of my life.  When driving her, I never fault the craftsmanship as cheap, or the metal as thin or rust prone – she’s built solid and strong.   I never moan about the handling – whether it be weight distribution, response, balance, or lack of linearity – she is responsive, lightweight, progressive, and grippy.  In fact, despite the fact that haters gonna hate, (and hate they do) I have never actually wanted for more power than she generates.  Yes, my little blue Porsche Boxster Inga has stolen my heart.  We’ve bonded through the blood of competition and the intense fatigue (and sometimes terror) of the HPDE.

For the time being, she is the one.  That doesn’t mean that there won’t be others.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted: February 14, 2011 in Rants

In honor of today’s wonderful marketing holiday, I am posting a story about people who love their car.





BMW is dead to me.

Posted: February 13, 2011 in Rants

BMW used to make this.

Now it makes this.

Am I the only one who sees anything wrong here?

Let me explain.
The first car is the legendary E30 M3 – a car weighing in at roughly 2,800 lbs, pushing around 200 hp from a high revving 2.3L inline 4.  Nothing amazing, but the formula and the result was a car bred for motorsports that was easy to place, easy to rotate, communicated with the driver, and most importantly – embodied the ideals of the brand.

The X6 M, a supposed “sports activity coupe” (are you fucking serious?), on the other hand, is what I like to call the answer to a question nobody ever asked.  It is a 5,247 lb abomination that churns out a gut ripping 555 horsepower.  It doesn’t handle as well as a sports car.  It doesn’t accelerate as fast as a muscle car.  It doesn’t go off road as well as an SUV.  It doesn’t carry as much stuff as a wagon.  Basically, its a car for posing sold exclusively to douchebags who don’t know a roundel from rottkraut.

Now, I wouldn’t normally take a car company to task for making such a car as this.  Mercedes-Benz, for example – I’d let them get away with this kind of atrocity against nature simply because Mercedes-Benz does not claim to produce the Ultimate Driving Machine.  In fact, the last M-B I drove was like a dry hump with the high school prom queen’s best friend.

You see, BMW, and especially the M division have long stood for cars developed from BMW’s lessons in racing, designed for high performance on-track excursions.  They have typically been light weight, rear wheel drive, and high revving, naturally aspirated vehicles.  The X6 M betrays every single one of these ideals.

Porsche, for example, gets away with an SUV. Why?  Because their SUV is excellent at what it does – it actually has racing history and heritage, and is a true off-road performer with the chops to back the claim.  Thus, it stands to make sense within the Porsche brand as being truly excellent at its intended purpose.

The X6 M, on the other hand, bears the M badge yet has NO racing heritage.  It has NO pedigree.  It does not excel at ANYTHING.  It does nothing other than make the owner look like a clueless knuckledragger who drank too much marketing kool-aid.  It has a turbo.  It has AWD.  It weighs over two and a half tons for christ’s sake!

This kind of product is what will make me write off an entire brand.  I don’t care what BMW does anymore.  I don’t care that I still absolutely LOVE the 3-series.  In fact, I was at a bar last night drinking and shooting the shit with car people (one of my favorite things to do) and we all did come to an agreement that BMW still does deliver one of the best blends of affordability, performance, and luxury all in one package.  That basically sums up why I love the 3-series.  It is a car like those I talked about yesterday –  endlessly refined over the years and still staying true to the original ideals – perfect balance, lots of driver feedback, a relatively affordable price, and decent fuel economy.

But enough of the praises of the new 3, or anything else BMW has ever built or will ever come out with ever again.  I officially renounce them.  They are dead to me.  To betray me like this (yes, it is a personal betrayal) is the final straw.  You see, the first car I ever saw up close in person that truly made my no-no bits tingle was a white 1995 BMW M3 refilling at the gas station I worked at in during senior year of high school.  I can still see that car, pulling up to the pump – nice and low and sleek – the sound of the straight six, the rake of the windshield.  My god.  What a car.

(a representative picture designed to require a pants change after viewing)

It makes me sad.  Why did BMW do this?  Did they listen to the focus groups?  Did someone really think this car would be a good idea?  Does this car even sell at all?  Well, they sold 3,082 of them last year – worldwide – and that was supposed to be a good year.    By comparison, Toyota, even with the Camry “unintended acceleration” debacle, managed to sell 327,804 cars – in America alone!  The Camry, I would like to point out, is a car that has stayed true to its brand values of affordability, reliability, and somniferous driving dynamics.

So where does that leave us, gentle reader, in our relationship with this storied and celebrated brand?  Am I simply fighting the future?  BMW’s higher ups have decided to produce yet ANOTHER turbocharged M-car – the BMW 1M Coupe.  At least they had the foresight not to refer to it as another BMW M1, but still – we’re talking about an overweight, overpriced turd of a car with an inferior suspension design (compared to its big brother 3-series) that’s simply had a turbocharged engine crammed in there and the BMW hype machine’s full force behind its roll out.

I am becoming an anachronism (more on this in another rant).  I am a cranky old man.  I’m 29 years old – god help us all when I’m actually over 65.

Yesterday I decried that the 911 was quite possibly the worst car that Porsche makes.  I will not back down from this stance.  However, I do want to highlight what the 911 represents – an endless refinement of an ideal that very few car manufacturers adhere to.

In fact, only a handful of cars embody what the 911 is – a slavish devotion to the original concept that has been relentlessly honed over a variety of generations.  I’m talking about cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Mustang,  Jeep Wrangler, Mazda Miata, and of course, the Porsche 911.

Its very easy to get lost along the way.  Take Toyota, for example – Toyota used to make some of the most exciting cars known to man.  In fact, during one brief period of time, Toyota built three wonderful cars simultaneously – the MR-2 Turbo, the Supra Turbo, and the All-Trac.  These were not cars designed by committee, decontented by beancounters and presented to focus groups.  These were cars that Toyota decided to build to showcase their technology and please enthusiasts.

Since then, however, Toyota has thrown the enthusiast to the wayside.  There wasn’t any money there.  Instead, Toyota pumps out two of the best cars known to man – the Corolla and the Camry.  Yes, they’re great at being cars.  They’re not very good at entertaining the driver – but Americans simply want fuel efficient, reliable transportation appliances so that they can shut their brains off and arrive at their destination.

Toyota in fact repeated this process with Scion.  The original Scion cars were quirky, light, fun to drive, and as a result created a loyal following.  Since Toyota decided to pork up their cars and mainstream the Scions, the sales have plummeted.

So what is Toyota doing now?  They’re tarting up their cars in an attempt to appease the enthusiast.  Take the Lexus hybrid bimbo box that they’re peddling these days.

Tarting up a lackluster model is not the way to move the metal – just ask Chrysler.

I want to take this opportunity to call out some other companies that have betrayed their brand ideals.  Honda – you used to make wonderful, fun to drive little cars.  Your new Civic SI is coming out with an arguably worse engine (more displacement, lower performance head) and will probably weigh more.  Your supposed CRX replacement makes absolutely no sense – hybrid people don’t want a performance car.  Performance people don’t want a hybrid.  It didn’t work with your hopped up Accord hybrid, and it won’t work now.  Finally, you killed the NSX AND the S2000!

BMW – where do I even start.  I’m drafting a very special article for you in the back of my mind, but lets just say that your cars keep getting heavier, more complex, and you’re inventing market segments for questions that nobody asked, and problems that nobody had.  You can ask someone today “What is a BMW?” and nobody knows the damned answer, because they’re all over the board.

But this post is supposed to be positive – its supposed to be about the people who do it right.  So who has done it right?

Well, I’m going to say the Corvette has been done right.

Now, we all know I’m not really a Corvette fan.  The driving position doesn’t work for me and the image just isn’t what I want to project (I don’t own any gold medallions and I have all of my hair).  HOWEVER – the Corvette represents the same kind of development model that GM should have used for all of their cars – lets take a car, and lets make it better with each successive generation.  No matter what, each new Corvette must outperform the last car.  Each new Corvette must also outperform the competition while costing less money to purchase, maintain, and repair.  Every single Corvette has stayed faithful to this goal – I don’t even want to hear about how the REAL Corvette only had a straight 6 – nobody cares once those pushrods get a pushin.

Next up, the Ford Mustang.  Affordable pony car power for the masses.  What is a Mustang?  Easy – its a fun, sporty coupe that’s affordable, has some practicality, and can burn rubber.  Ford has done a great job with refining the Mustang over the years, even during the dark Fox body days.  What’s even better is that even after they went all retro on us, the new car has come and modernized itself somewhat.  And who can fault their drivetrain selections, at those prices?  You can get a 500+ hp Mustang for less than a Corvette today – that really is something and its staying with the value driven pony car performance that the original car delivered, which made it such a hit.  In fact, I have a friend who told me that when her father arrived in America from Iran, the first thing he wanted to do was buy a Ford Mustang – and he went out and got himself one once he made enough money.

Your Author is clearly a douchebag.

Jeep.  What does Jeep say to you?  It says, I’m going off road.  The brand lately has lost this concept as its churned out soft roader after soft roader intended to chauffeur the kiddies to soccer practice, replete with those little stick figure stickers on the back showing that yes, the driver did indeed find someone to tolerate her, and does indeed have a fertile womb.  How special.  In fact, Jeep even sells a car now that isn’t even trail rated!  Nonetheless, despite all of this, Jeep does still sell the Wrangler – and this car is serious.  I have no off road experience whatsoever, but even I was able to take the Wrangler off road and get to where I wanted to go.  On the highway, its miserable, but off road, its one of the best you can buy straight off the showroom floor and go wherever you want to go.  It has stayed faithful to its brand – one of an affordable, functional, versatile off roader that does not make concessions to on-road manners or sacrifice its offroad utility in order to more comfortably get its fat assed suburban owner to P.F. Chang’s at the mall.

Almost done, but we can’t forget the darling Mazda Miata.  I don’to care what the stigma is – this car is so true to its original intention that it must be discussed.  Originally designed to be like a British roadster, but reliable.  Its cheap too!  Not only that, but it really delivers a ton of performance at a small cost, and shows that you can have fun without big power.  From the original car to the current one, weight has been kept down, reliability has been impeccable, and fun has been the number one factor driving its development – the car just keeps getting better with each successive generation.

Which leads us to our final car, the basis behind this article- the Porsche 911.  As much shit as I give Porsche for their dedication to this car, and their refusal to give their “lesser” cars the big boy engines and proper gear ratios to let them run with this car, it represents the ultimate evolution of the ideal.  Admittedly, the ideal is pretty stupid – rear engine and what not – but the results speak for themselves.  All Porsche 911s exudes style.  They deliver performance.  They engage the driver.

They have been engineered again and again so that each successive car carries the styling, drivetrain layout and ideals of the original (ok, maybe not the turbo cars or the AWD sissy cars) while getting successively better with each generation – they’re more efficient, they’re faster, they handle better.  When someone gets into  911, they know where they are and they know what’s about to happen.

They’re not cheap either – and this is part of the brand in fact.  Almost anyone who works hard can one day afford a brand new Corvette, not so with the 911 – in fact, the Corvette has more power and costs significantly less, so in order to make the rational purchase to get a new 911 over a new Corvette, something has to draw the purchaser – and that is the fact that the car really is a total package with nearly 50 years of history and heritage.   These cars command such a premium because they get that ideal right, and the ideal – the fantasy – that’s what causes someone to lust after these cars and ultimately purchase them . . .

. . .  even if the Cayman is simply better all around.

Those four elements – that’s what makes a REAL Porsche, right?  I mean, ask any Porschephile and those are blatantly the elements that are required of the car – essentially, its got to have the same technology as a Volkswagen Beetle designed for Hitler himself (did you know that Ferdinand Porsche not only built the Beetle, but some insanely dominant cars such as the Mercedes-Benz SSK, along with a variety of German war machines, some used, some not).

So, if we carry along those lines with the die hard traditionalists, the first question you’ll have to ask them is “So then, any Porsche with fuel injection isn’t authentic, correct?”.  This should make their heads explode, because they’ll have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of accepting the fact that many of their beloved rear engine, narrow body, air cooled, rear wheel drive Porsches were in fact the recipients of mechanical and electronic fuel injection.  So, truly, is a fuel injected 911 a real Porsche, or just for poseurs?

(yes, that’s mine)

How about impact bumper cars.  These are actually my personal favorites, being that I grew up during the 1980s and nothing screamed performance to me like a Slantnose or something with a big fat whale tale.  I have in fact talked to many people who refuse to consider a 911 after 1974 (the year of the impact bumper) to be a real 911, or even a real Porsche.

Next up, lets challenge the idea of a narrow body car as a pure 911.  Is this like saying such wonderful (and dangerously insane) vehicles like the Porsche 930 aren’t real Porsches?  Big fat rear fenders and a laggy turbo that’s not going to come on until after 4000+ rpm, combined with  a suspension designed for cave men and the engine behind the rear axle?  What could possibly be NOT to love?

And speaking of suspensions – what about 964s and later – these cars eschewed the traditional Flintstone torsion beam and instead went to fully independent suspensions with coil springs all around.  Heaven forbid!  Power steering?  AWD (forthcoming AWD rant, as promised)?  BLASPHEMY!

And lets not forget the death of air cooling with the Porsche 996 – such things are unspeakable amongst the purest (despite the fact that power and efficiency were improved with water cooling, while emissions and noise were reduced).

But then we get to my FAVORITE part of the debate – “If it is not a 911, it is not a Porsche!” – oh really?

This is the argument that gets me the most riled up, because I will go on the record and say it now

The Porsche 911 is inferior.

That’s right, the Porsche 911 is in no way, shape, or form the best Porsche car made in the past, or made today.  Yes, I get the heritage – I just don’t really care about it.

Lets go step by step.

The Porsche 914?  Ok – I’ll give you that one.  I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to put a Volkswagen weedwhacker motor into a mid-engine car and call it a Porsche.  But I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen these cars autocross and at DEs and they haul some major ass, despite their shortcomings.  Sure, they’re just waiting to rust and fall apart, but what is a Porsche?  What really defines the brand?  Is it simply rear engines and air cooling or is it sporting intent and overall performance?  If we look at it from that perspective, the 914 did perform well then and does perform well today, despite its shortcomings in the power department and its terribly cheap construction.

And how about the 912?  The purists should LOVE this car, rather than deride it.  Why, its like a throwback to the original 356 – instead of the flat-6 that Porschephiles seem to have a case of priapism for, this car has a flat four like the original 356 (but don’t you dare mention the Beetle) – meaning despite the fact that its down on power, it weighs less and should be viewed as a dilution of purity to the original formula – if you’re going to be a purist, be consistent and shower love on the 912.

(used to be mine)

Lets start to really terrorize the old folk by talking about the 924.  Yes, this car was a heap of shit with a terrible engine, but it did have perfect balance – something that can’t be said for the 911 (lift your foot off the gas completely, mid turn in a torsion beam 911, I dare you!).   Once Porsche finally got around to giving it a true Porsche engine (half of a 928 engine in the form of a slanted inline 4) the car truly delivered the performance commensurate with a REAL Porsche – I’ll go on the record and say it, the 944 drives better than any 911 I’ve ever been in – it is a delightful balance that transitions so gently and easily between understeer and oversteer that it truly flatters the driver, as well as informs the driver as to what’s going on – the linearity of it all is wonderful.  And how about the 951 (that’s a 944 turbo) – this thing outperformed the 911 of the day!

The 928 – where do I start with this wonderful beast?  The product of a modernization program within Porsche, all I need to say about this car is that the Porsche family did not drive 911s.  They drove these cars.  Gone was that primitive torsion beam suspension – in was a perfect 50/50 weight distribution with a big, powerful V8 and the Weissach Axle!  Again, this car outperformed and was far more comfortable than the 911 of its day.

Ferry Porsche with his 928

Which leaves us with the modern cars.  We have two types of modern cars to deal with – the mid-engine sports cars, and the wtf were they thinking family cars.

With regards to the mid-engine cars – my god – why haven’t all Porsches been designed this way?  What a dramatically superior drive – this is what a Porsche is all about.  I would argue that the mid-engine Porsche truly represents the essence of the brand – distilled purity of driving.  Its a shame they won’t give them the stones to demolish their rear engine bretheren – these cars are the recipients of crippleware in an attempt to deliberately make them inferior to the 911.  When the Cayman S first came out, it was, in fact, faster than the 911 in many circumstances – and this is with a neutered first and second gear plus a smaller displacement engine!

(also mine)

Now, I also have to admit – I’m a bit biased as I own a Boxster – but I’ve driven plenty of 911s, and I do own a 911 myself.  I simply have to say that the mid-engined cars are better cars – bar none.  If Porsche wants to continue to dominate, they need to make the switch.  Looks like they’re already thinking about it.

Lastly, we’ve got the bimbo box Cayenne and the Panamera.  What can I say – I haven’t driven either one.  The Cayenne supposedly is a beast of an off-roader, which, in my mind, at least complies with Porsche’s brand identity and mission – it excels at what it was meant to do.  There’s hope with this car too, apparently Porsche LOST 400 lbs off the car, which is refreshing these days as manufacturers continue to add more and more pork to their cars (I’m looking at YOU, BMW – rant forthcoming).

(my EYES!  The goggles, they do NOTHING!)

As for the Panamera – what can I say other than it makes babies cry when they see it.  My god, what an ugly, tasteless car.

But, the argument goes at least they make money with these cars (which outsell all other Porsches in America) so that they can keep making totally bonkers cars like the Boxster Spyder and GT2 RS.

And there we have it – I hope this generates some discussion as to what really is a Porsche.  As for me, I’m curious to see how they do under their new corporate overlords – Volkswagen.