By on March 4, 2012


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A rare pro-Porsche article from the S:S:L days — JB

They call it “Trauma Bonding”, and although the exact definition is highly debatable, it’s generally understood to mean a situation in which victims come to identify or sympathize with their victimizers. It occurs in cults, domestic violence situations, and even hijacked airliners, but most importantly for the purpose of today’s discussion, it’s running rampant in the automotive enthusiast community. The most recent manifestation of the illness appears to be a fondness for outrageous fuel prices; it’s characterized by statements like, “I can’t wait until ten-dollar gasoline forces us all to drive small, economical cars,” or “The best thing for everybody would be if we were taxed into using (insert naive reference to diesel, soybeans, unicorn sweat, or whatever other smelly, sticky, low-power, improbably available fuel tickles one’s fancy). Then all the SUVs will be gone from the road and we’ll all drive the cars we need, instead of the cars we want.

It’s not enough for these pump-price Pollyannas that miserable suckboxes like the Prius are available for them to purchase; they’d prefer that you be forced to purchase them as well. They’ve taken the American Dream – the idea that everyone should be free to achieve as much as their ability permits – and perverted it into a socialist fantasy where everyone will be issued the car they need. Who will determine the need of the American motorist? Well, you can bet that our quasi-Communist “betters” won’t let the American motorist actually make his or her own choice, because they might choose something outrageous, like a Mercedes CLK63 Black Series – perhaps even a Ford Expedition Funkmaster Flex Edition! Instead, we will be limited to “sensible” choices along the lines of the aforementioned suppository-shaped Toyopet or, if we’re lucky, one of those rocketship Nissan Versas, preferably in a nice shade of beige to discourage unnecessary feelings of aggression or enjoyment.

Decades ago, Kurt Vonnegut anticipated these pathetic people and their hateful outlook on life with his story “Harrison Bergeron”. It’s worth a read, because Vonnegut makes a pretty decent argument that enforced equality at the level of the lowest common denominator is not something to which we should aspire. Still, I can see the merits of the mandatory-one-point-two-liter-crapbox argument. If we really are facing an era of unprecedented resource scarcity – and there is considerable evidence to that effect – then perhaps we’ll need to burn the automotive village in order to save it, so to speak. Better to have some cars than none at all. No, I’m not quite ready to condemn the “responsible usage” people to the absolute lowest level of Car Guy Hell, although I will continue to apply random throttle on the freeway to frustrate the ambitions of any would-be hypermilers in my vicinity. No, I think I’ll save the worst of my venom for the most evil so-called enthusiasts in existence, the scum of the motoring earth, the Trauma-Bonders par excellence, the basest filth imaginable. That’s right, I’m referring to those sick bastards who complain about the prices in the Porsche option catalog.

And now we can finally come to the mystery of why this column features a picture of a pair of two-toned shoes placed atop the decklid of a Porsche Boxster S 50 Jahre Edition. Those shoes are unique. I designed them, you see. They are Allen-Edmonds “MacNeil” long-wing spectators, constructed in Wisconsin to my specifications based on an idea I had after seeing a picture of a set of brown-and-tan Edward Green brogues. Confused by all this shoe talk? Most people are nowadays, in this era of cheap Chinese “oxfords” and endless casual Fridays, but take my word for it: these are one of a kind. The nice people at Allen-Edmonds were kind enough to make them just for me, and although I had to wait four months for them, I’m patient when it comes to this sort of thing. I’ve waited a long time for various custom shoes, suits, and shirts. I once had former Peugeot designer Craig Taylor hand-sew a multi-toned pink custom shirt, using a rather exotic fabric known as “Superfly”, just so I’d have something outrageous to wear during the 2005 One Lap of America. So-called “bespoke” clothing is a passion of mine.

Why? There isn’t really a point to it, not in the conventional sense. Custom shoes won’t end world hunger or take two seconds off your lap time around Laguna Seca. A perfectly stripe-matched Borrelli shirt won’t keep you any warmer in the winter than a Chinese Ralph Lauren buttondown, and I can tell you from experience that linen Kiton jackets require a disturbing amount of maintenance. They’re like sartorial Alfa Romeo Giulias in that respect. There’s no practical benefit to this stuff.

Yet… Dear reader, if only I could put your soul into my skull for a brief moment and let you experience the sheer unadulterated extravagant pleasure of slipping on a pair of utterly unique shoes! To know that there are more than six billion men and women in this world, all scrambling for the same land, the same air, the same food, the same barrel of oil, sweating together in a giant undifferentiated pulsing mass… and I, I alone, have a pair of two-tone MacNeil longwings! I’m not the wealthiest man in the world, not the most successful, certainly not the luckiest, and yet these shoes are plainly, indisputably mine! Would you take that happiness away from me, particularly when you are perfectly free to walk into the shoe store and buy a pair of plain black regular MacNeils whenever you like? I don’t think you would. It harms you not a whit and it does me a world of good. You may live your life from cradle to grave wearing whatever the department store has in stock, never wanting anything better or even anything different, and yet surely you have no wish to prevent me from waiting those four delicious anticipatory months just to open a box with my name engraved upon it, with my own shoes within, in their velvet wrap?

Most people are perfectly happy to ignore my eccentricities in this respect, but when it comes to cars, it isn’t so simple. Why not? Perhaps it’s that Trauma-Bonding. Let’s consider the history for a moment, fire up our time machine, and invisibly follow the car buyer of 1955 into his local Ford or Chevrolet store. The first thing we notice is that there aren’t any cars at the dealership! Oh, sure, there are a few demonstrators, perhaps one or two examples of each model, but the entire stock of one’s local dealer might be contained in the parking lot of a modern 7-Eleven, and that suits our buyer just fine, because he has no intention to take a car home today. That isn’t his plan.

Rather, he will pore over the order book with his salesman. He’ll navigate the labyrinth of options, the thousands of boxes to check, the endless choices. Nearly everything is optional, you see, from the trim on the tailfins to the color of the seatbelts. Standard equipment? It hardly exists. There are uncountable combinations of engine, transmission, differential, wheel, tire, dashboard, radio, trim, cloth, headliner. Our buyer expects that he will order a car which will be uniquely his. He may be purchasing a Biscayne, and his neighbor may be a Biscayne man, but the cars will not be identical. Indeed, there’s a better chance of both their houses being struck by lightning. How could it be otherwise, when there are hundreds of options on his build sheet? His Biscayne will roll down the assembly line at a dignified speed, and at each station the sheet will be read, the equipment will be retrieved, and the car will take as long to build as it must take, and there is no just in time, no kaizen, no monstrous robots delivering the exact part to the hand of the man on the assembly line. The car is built in unique fashion, for a unique buyer, millions of times a year. How many are exactly the same? Very few.

So our buyer waits for his special car to arrive. He doesn’t wait terribly long, because the car is built in Detroit quickly. In just weeks it’s gracing his driveway, his neighbor envious at the Positraction or the Wonderbar radio or perhaps just the color-matched seatbelts, while simulataneously congratulating himself for purchasing the Turbo-Fire engine or Turbo-Hydramatic transmission so sadly missing in the new arrival. Each car unique. Each car special. Each car ordered, by its owner.

The importers, those early mavericks who brought us the Beetle, the Porsche 356, the Austin-Healey, and the dozens of other foreign makes which would sink or swim across the nearly three thousand transverse miles of the American continent… they could offer no such experience to their purchasers. The man in the street expected to wait four weeks for a Biscayne, but he wouldn’t wait six or eight months for a unique MG or Speedster. No, there would be no bespoke Beetle on these shores. The importers would choose the options and the buyers would take them or leave them.

When Honda’s brilliant Accord arrived in the United States, its importer came up with an even more reductive idea. In Japan, the order process for an Accord closely followed the original American model, as is Honda’s practice in Japan even to this day, but the newborn Honda of America knew that it wouldn’t make sense to let each customer design a unique Accord which might not even be delivered in that same year. Instead of a list of options, there would simply be two or three “trim levels”, each consisting of an importer-chosen equipment blend. Any other options, should they be desired, would be installed, at mercenary expense, by the dealer. The endless possibilities of, say, the 1955 Ford would be mercilessly pared down to just two possibilities: DX or LX. Do you wish to have intermittent wipers, Mr. Accord Customer? It’s the LX for you, then, even if you find the accompanying velour seats a bit too frou-frou. The Accord sits on the lot and the choice is this – DX or LX. You may purchase the DX, or you may open your wallet a little further and have an LX. They sit on the lot before you, ordered a year ago, delivered to the port eight months later, and finally trucked across the country to this very spot, and it comes down to DX or LX.

But the Accord buyer cares little for choice. Choice is a luxury. He wants an Accord desperately, because it’s a low-cowled, fire-breathing, 40-mile-per-gallon masterpiece of tidy engineering. DX or LX? Either will do, and he’ll pay the additional dealer markup as well. Just give him the car!

The American manufacturers were eager to beat the Japanese. Perhaps they should have emphasized the fact that their products were so much more than DX or LX. The buyer of the 1977 Cutlass could choose “S”, Supreme, Salon, Brougham, not to mention the several engines, the many interior choices, and a variety of Landau tops. So many choices – but instead of reveling in those choices, the buyer ran to the Accord shop and picked between DX and LX, because the Accord was the better car.

Panic ran through the domestic automakers, and they learned the wrong lessons. They could have built a better Accord – could have used more durable materials, made the car more spacious, sold it at a friendlier price – but instead they purged their majestic labyrinth of options, ruthlessly compressed the multitude of possibilities into Popular Equipment Packages and miserably reductive trim levels. Instead of beating Honda’s finest qualities, they would imitate their worst. The dealers were encouraged to order for stock, the lots around the showrooms began to swell, and the sick emphasis on “buying today”, the demand to take that expensively “floorplanned” car off the dealer’s lot immediately, poisoned the domestic industry as thoroughly as it had corrupted the Japanese importers. Legendary names such as Impala acquired little trailing groups of meaningless letters, even as the Germans arrived with their completely nameless alphabet soup cars, and the magic went out of those names, perhaps for good.

It’s been nearly thirty years since any mainstream American, Japanese, or European manufacturer offered a true, meaningful selection of individual options. There is one exception to this rule, and that exception is Porsche. They will let you choose whatever you like. Each option may be selected individually. There are very few of those damned “dependencies”, the heartless arithmetic of the kaizen producers which says that one must purchase cruise control in order to have a remote trunk release. It is possible to purchase a miserable grey-and-black Porsche with a featureless cliff of a dashboard, marked like the biblical Cain by a sad poverty of multiple blank plastic plugs, or one may have all the buttons, each covered in leather and dyed a separate color. One may create a thrillingly equipped superstar, a drab daily driver, or anything in between. The advertisements state the price of the Porsche vehicles as “From (the base price) to the limits you set.” What a wonderful phrase! To the limits you set! Do you want a five-tone interior replicating the flag of your home country? It’s possible! Do you want your Carrera to hunker sport-suspensioned and angrily on the ground, its X51 Powerkit breathing flame at the price of nearly one thousand outrageous dollars per additional horsepower, slathered in a color to match your wife’s lipstick? There’s no problem! To the limits you set!

Who would have the miserable, skulking gall to actually criticize Porsche for making these dreams possible? You know the answer. The Trauma-Bonded survivors of the other carmakers. They’ve taken the poverty of choice offered by the Big However-Many and turned it into a deliberate discipline. Like a millionaire heiress brainwashed by revolutionaries who voluntarily robs banks for pocket change, these people have convinced themselves that lack of choice is a virtue. You’ve all read their rants on the web forum of your choice. “How can Porsche charge fifteen thousand dollars for a color-matched interior! It’s disgusting! Sick! A waste of money! Chevrolet would never do that on a Corvette!” True enough; a custom-colored interior cannot be had on a Corvette for any price. Corvettes are built in near-identical fashion, a fleet of red and yellow automatic base coupes and the occasional black Z06. The new Nissan GT-R is even worse, available in very few colors and just two barely distinguishable alphabet trim levels; if you want so much as a set of red seats you’re out of luck. Our automotive industry has traveled through a literal miracle of computing power, design success, and engineering accomplishments only to return to Henry Ford’s Depression-era philosophy. You can have any color interior you like in the stunning six-hundred-horsepower Dodge Viper, as long as it’s one of about four combinations. You can have anything you want in the impressive new Accord, as long as it’s a DX, LX, or – new! – EX.

We should rebel against this manufactured conformity, but our enthusiast community instead embraces it. We sit there in the overstocked how-can-I-earn-your-business-today dealership and mindlessly accept that our new Mazdaspeed3 is available in probably no more than ten combinations of equipment. How often have you been on the road and seen two absolutely identical Honda Odysseys, Jeep Grand Cherokees, or (whisper it) BMW 3 Series sedans in a row coming the other way? We may all be undifferentiated cogs in the miserable machine of the world, but does it have to be so damned obvious? Why be a Trauma-Bonder? How does the existence of a six-thousand-dollar carbon-fiber center console harm you in any way? Buy it if you like, and if you can – or don’t, and shut up about it!

Pause in the midst of your online rant about Porsche’s option prices, and celebrate the fact that the options even exist! Why not take a moment to consider the fact that there still exists an automaker which will move heaven and earth to give you exactly the car you want, even if there is considerable expense for both of you in doing so? Instead of complaining about the price of color-matched seatbelts, why not consider the fact that color-matched belts are nearly as dead as the dodo everywhere else but Stuttgart?

My Boxster is a “Special Edition”, which means that Porsche bundled together $25,000 of options for $15,000, in return for my acceptance of that exact bundle. It’s a heck of a deal, but I wouldn’t want that to be the only way the men from Zuffenhausen do business. There’s just a slight taste of “DX or LX” about it, and the more I think about, the more I think I won’t do it again. If I were to fall prey to some sort of medically-induced insanity and buy another Porsche, it wouldn’t be a so-called Special Edition; it will be truly special, as custom, as personal as the two-tone shoes which sit on its decklid or operate its pedals. You will know me, and my car, when you see us. Instead of conforming, we will stand out a bit, and the consequences be hanged.

I’m pleased to note that the Trauma-Bonders are losing this fight. The pendulum is swinging in the other direction. The future holds more personalization, more special choices, more relationship with one’s car. Several upscale manufacturers have taken small steps to emulate Porsche and offer a bit of an individual choice. BMW and Audi are offering some paint-to-sample services to ugly Americans now. Thus my decision to buy that crazy green Audi S5 a few years ago. Call me Harrison Bergeron, or perhaps just an adherent of 50 Cent’s statement, “Hate it or love it the underdog’s on top/ and I’m gonna shine, homie, till my heart stop.” As long as I can afford to, I’ll take the unique, the special, the individual route. What will you do?

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103 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: When it comes to the options, some people have no standards....”


  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Great story Jack.

    With such über-personalization possible, why doesn’t Porsche, far as I know, offer a “personal-branded” option, wherein the original buyer’s name, or a customer-selected nickname (like Little Bastard of James Dean fame, appears on the vehicle somewhere, such that that also becomes the name of the car? Pan-am used to do this with its legendary “clipper” naming convention for its planes (some other airlines do similar things).

    Btw, thanks for the explanation for the shoes. looking at the banner picture, I was briefly concerned I would Finish the story and be left wondering what Al Sharpton had in common with the trunk of a Porsche.

    • 0 avatar

      Another convert to good shoes. Buy well once and it lasts.

      Car Options = screwing device.
      Want a lumbar support ? Bluetooth ? Better radio ? It is lumped in with a bunch of junk you may not want.

      I special ordered and waited for my last car….while the lots are full of Automatic/premium package/awd models…..ordered by the sales manager.

      Think cable tv pricing tiers. I’ve paid for ESPN, and hate sports on TV. Likewise, if I want lumbar in my BMW, I have to take a garage door opener…and I don’t even HAVE a garage.

      Yes, the concept of special order….lost in most cases….

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Quoting Kurt Vonnegut!
    thank you!

  • avatar
    elimgarak

    Alden > Allen Edmonds.

    Agree with most of the rest of the story though. However with the amount of independent tuning shops out there, ‘customization’ of any car is not out of reach. It is only a question of how bad do you want it and can you afford it. I don’t think it is really necessary for Honda and Toyota to play the same game as Porsche.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m an Alden partisan too. But there’s nothing wrong with Allen Edmonds’ upper-end offerings. Maybe we need a “The Truth About Shoes” blog…

      • 0 avatar
        talkstoanimals

        I dig the shoes – they look like something Tom Wolfe could dedicate an entire descriptive paragraph to.

        There used to be an Alden store on the first floor of the office building I work in. In eight years I saw maybe three customers in the place. I suspect the prices put most people off, but there’s no question the shoes were works of art.

      • 0 avatar

        The thing people don’t understand about Aldens, particularly the cordovan Aldens, is that all that money buys you a shoe that will last 20 years or more with care — and that will look *great* the whole time. Looked at that way, they’re not expensive at all… but most people don’t look at things that way.

      • 0 avatar

        And they get better/more comfortable with age. People who complain about “dress shoes” being uncomfortable and hurting their feet just have it wrong – if you buy crappy sneakers, they won’t be comfortable too, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I am tempted to link to an article I wrote where I took a few dozen photos of various parts of an Alden and AE and discussed the quality of fit, finish, et al, but I don’t want to expose my fetishes to the entire world. :)

      I have a few sets of Aldens but in general I don’t find them to be worth the extra $50 or so.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      First thing is they have to fit. For me, Aldens don’t, at least the ones I’ve tried. Allen Edmonds do, but only those built on certain lasts. Wish I had a standard foot, or was an off the rack fit for suits…… Enjoy your sartorial quirks now, Jack – wait until you see the cost of higher education for the scion.

      I bought a used Porsche and took what they gave me, but I’m tempted to replace the dour and increasingly scuffed-up black center console with a zippy one painted Guards Red from a third party supplier….

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    There is an after market industry that will provide you whatever your heart desires to customize your car. While the manufacturers find it unprofitable to provide unlimited choice to auto buyers there exists the independent shops that will provide you any option you want.

    Choice creates a certain amount of anxiety in humans. The manufacturers reduced that anxiety to a degree with their package marketing of options in their cars while at the same time reducing the costs of manufacturing and thus providing a product that was more price competitive. Honda’s tagline of keeping it simple was very successful in marketing their product. It took some of the anxiety out of the car purchase decision.

    While Porsche may offer more flexibility today in the options available it is mainly because they have to for their customer who are buying a car that is not sold as being practical but rather as fun.

    I guess I missed the point of your article.

    • 0 avatar
      Caboose

      Interesting. I wonder if the choice-boom in American cars has its cause in the peak of post-war American self-confidence, when American’s, moreso than most folks, were not made anxious about choice.

      If so, is it also fair to say that increasing choice-aversion is a symptom of America’s waning self-confidence, an ongoing diminution of our sense of our place in the world?

    • 0 avatar
      Caboose

      Interesting. I wonder if the choice-boom in American cars has its cause in the peak of post-war American self-confidence, when Americans, moreso than most folks, were not made anxious by choice.

      If so, is it also fair to say that increasing choice-aversion is a symptom of America’s waning self-confidence, an ongoing diminution of our sense of our place in the world?

    • 0 avatar
      noxioux

      God save us from the burden of choice.

      +1 on the Harrison Bergeron reference. Great little story.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        A plethora of choice is excellent if you are an informed and savvy consumer well-versed in the skills you need to properly evaluate the cost-benefit of each choice and come away with what suits you best.

        When you’re not and you’re more or less shooting in the dark the more choices you have mean the more chances you have of ending-up with something that leaves you unhappy.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    The best thing about Jack is not his choices in either clothing or Porsches (though I salute his desire to escape the deadening conformity to ever-limiting choices), but rather his desire to think for himself without fear of contradicting the received wisdom. I suspect that Jack wants those two-tone shoes to announce that he thinks for himself. I don’t blame him a bit.

  • avatar
    Les

    So… we’re no longer allowed to make fun of Porsche for charging you extra to NOT give you air-conditioning?

    …or carpets?

    …or door-handles?

    ;)

  • avatar
    JoelW

    Jack – interesting piece… I always enjoy reading your stuff.

    One comment I want to make about your characterization of kaizen/lean/JIT/TPS production methods. Do keep in mind that taken to its logical conclusion all production in a lean-based system is triggered by the “pull” of the consumer, not the “push” of a production schedule or sales forecast. In other words, you don’t create acres and acres of inventory — you build to order. I don’t see any reason why this could not incorporate specific equipment and or customization on a per-order basis. It’s been a few years since I read “The Machine that Changed the World” and “Lean Thinking” but if I recall correctly, there’s nothing there that states you have to leave customer preferences out of the equation. It would just create additional lead time, as long as this is acceptable to the end customer.

    • 0 avatar
      Les

      One of the problems with that is the general problem of assembly-line mass-production.

      Mass-production, particularly assembly-line mass production, allows for much lower per-unit costs but results in such significant overhead that you have to sell a LOT of whatever it is you make to be profitable in big-picture numbers.

      Going back to a ‘per-order’ business model for volume-based cars sounds neat, but it’s unlikely that any large OEM will embrace it again since the Big 3 got whupped by ‘Kaizen’.

      Me, I’m eagerly anticipating post-mass-production industry like that embraced by the open-source industrial movement. :D

      http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/Global_Village_Construction_Set

    • 0 avatar
      Ben

      I’m glad someone picked up on Jack’s misunderstanding of Kaizen. Kaizen actually aims to eliminate waste, and one of the best ways to eliminate waste in manufacturing is to implement a Kanban (Pull) system, in other words build to order.

      The Toyota Production System aims to eliminate seven types of waste (muda), two of which are inventory and overproduction (manufacturing ahead of demand).

      There is a heap of information on this approach on the web (wiki is your friend), and for those who are a real interest in automobile manufacturing I’d recommend that you read the book “The Toyota Way” by Jeffery Liker. An excellent read.

  • avatar
    shaker

    The irony of this argument is that the mainstream automakers are offering what is essentially “John Galt” editions of their “automotive architecture”, you buy what they give you, take it or leave it.
    “But I want Greek Columns to grace my center console!” you might say, to which the majority of automakers would say: “You’ll not bastardize my work with such derivative trash!”

    Whereas, Porsche will be happy to sully their art, their uniqueness, their VERY SOUL with crass embellishments, meaningless baubles and plebeian visions of status, and will do so with a sufficient amount of bribery.

    Me, I just want heated seats, and I don’t want to buy leather and a sunroof to get them.

    Sometimes a tight wallet is a good thing, come to think of it, as it can keep the road relatively free of “Homer-Moblies” ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      SuperACG

      Porsche has “counselors” to help influence or dissuade your preferences. Also, they insist on you paying up front and in full for your individual purchase. If you want a lime green exterior with purple interior, well fine. But pay for it up front.

      Porsche has admitted to a few “oddities” being sold. Mostly to the Middle East.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark_MB750M

      I think you meant ‘Howard Roark’

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    At first I thought this was going to be another political trolling story, what with the SUV and resource thing starting the story. I was disappointed in Jack for doing so and almost dropped out. I stuck with it and was glad I did as it was a good read. One thing to remember when it comes to making each vehicle with thousands of combinations is that it makes manufacturing more expensive. I remember reading years ago that one of the reasons that Detroit abandoned the individual option system is that it was costly and it made assembly errors more likely. But it was also driven by the LX DX thing too. For those who recall the early eighties, many people who did go for the Japanese makes would state that everything they wanted could be had by a package instead of being “nickle and dimed” by Detroit. So in a way, the loss of the individual options benefited the manufactures and the “car as an appliance” CR reading crowd.

    Start with basic option levels, but the ability to add onto that without having to pay for high dollar unrelated options being bundled together. I understand nav being bundled with the audio system as they may share the same crowded dash space. But a sunroof should always stand alone unless part of a “every option” package. Just because I want leather does not mean I want the sunroof. And for cars that have manuals available, please make them available on all trim and engine levels.

    I have to add that I just don’t understand the shoe thing. To me, shoes just house your feet. But to each his own. I could never own a home with vinyl siding and plastic trim, so everybody has there own thing…

    • 0 avatar
      banker43

      I get the shoe thing. It is miserable to think about putting on the same chinese made shoes millions of other people are thoughtlessly strapping to their feet. About once a month I wear my 1969 Accutron wristwatch with the tuning fork movement, and I wonder to myself if there are even a dozen other people in the world wearing something that looks and works like my watch. It’s fun, interesting, and also liberating in its own way.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        I’m an Accutron fan. You ever want to sell it, contact us using the links on the right side of the page :)

      • 0 avatar
        stuntmonkey

        >1969 Accutron wristwatch with the tuning fork movement, and I wonder to myself if there are even a dozen other people in the world wearing something that looks and works like my watch

        I’ve seen a couple over the past few years sitting in the odd second hand/antiques shop. The humm from the movement is just so… different.

      • 0 avatar
        talkstoanimals

        My grandfather had an Accutron – that watch they took to the moon. I used to love to hold it up to my ear to hear the tuning fork at work when I was a little tot. Sadly, the crystal cracked late in his life and let some water in that rusted the internals. He never could find anyone to fix it before he died. I wish I still had that watch…

      • 0 avatar
        SuperACG

        Just looked up Accutron watches on eBay. I think this little mention may have slightly increased demand.

  • avatar
    Cavalier Type 10

    More recently, the opportunity to order a bespoke car has existed with the MINI Cooper line of cars. In early 2003, when they first came out, you practically had to order your own and wait, as there were usually only 2 available on the lot. It was a nice change from the modern car buying process to decide of you want a black roof, white roof or body color roof. Do you want allow patina, or silver interior inserts. How about a pair of checkered mirrors. That year, I went to the MINI’s on the Dragon even with over 300 MINI’s, none were identical. Today, I notice that more MINI’s at the dealers lot. It looks like they are trying to do things like the BMW dealer adjacient to them. Fun times ordering a bespoke car.

    • 0 avatar
      vww12

      Around 2004-2005 my wife and I spent a few weekends and discussing the exact MINI we wanted to buy and we configured it online.

      Took the printout to the two Miami dealers at the time.

      They looked at us like we had a third eye or something and said we were welcome to pick any car from the lot, period.

      This idea of ordering was… very strange to them. One of the sales manager said he had never heard of it.

      We never bought a MINI and now drive other German cars.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Odd. Late in 2002, my then-gf and I went Mini shopping. The first dealer we visited in San Diego was worthless, but we ordered the car using the website from a dealer in Richmond Virginia for list price at a time when gouging was the norm. We even got regular updates over the net as to its progress. The buying process was fine, but looking back we’d have been better off if the dealers were all tools and we’d bought something else. Unfortunately, the Mazda Protege 5 that was also on our shopping list was only handled by dealers that stunk on ice. It probably would have held up better.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    The argument can be seen to go both ways. If you want a “base” car with only a scant few features to make your life less miserable, like an AUX jack on the stereo or cruise control, you find that those niceties are bundled with useless crap like power seats, upgraded stereo with NAV, “convenience package”–whatever that is and raise the price 1-2k over what you were planning to pay, and the way the features are bundled an upgraded stereo, keyless entry, cruise, and power seats together cost not much more than to install one of those features by yourself through an aftermarket supplier.

    And if you’re lucky enough to be able to build your perfect optioned out car, you find that the dealer is less likely to move on the price than the POS he has had sitting on the lot for 3 months and you may wind up paying MORE for LESS car.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    LET YOUR FREAK FLAG FLY!

    awesome…simply a great story.

    Now I try to explain this to my kids every day.

    When we see wild tattooed or hair in bright colors on people, my kids …or the wife…might say something derogatory that bothers me.
    I say WHOA! Stop …it is all EXPRESSION. It is people shouting out they are individuals.

    Ditto when they see punked out cars or low riders or pimped out 300s or even Rolls Royce!
    PLEASE! I try to explain what is going on…that these are expressions of individuality and freedom.

    What a boring society we have become. From the way politicians speak down to us to how the evening news is all boiled down to the dumb one message for all, it is depressing. Do all the news outlets get their story reads/leads from one source writer!!!????

    Thank you, Jack….

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      My niece got a tat and I asked her “Tilt-A-Whirl” or “Loop-O-Plane”? She looked at me blankly. I asked again, which ride are you going to operate? She looked at me blankly.

      In her world, college girls, kindergarten teachers, florists, and secretaries all have tats (and multiple piercings) It’s no longer associated with carnies and biker gangs. It’s not an expression of individualism, it’s a sad sad plaintive cry for individualism that is actually an act of conformity.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        wow…didn’t mean to bring out the anti…

        My examples sort of covered many years.
        Ya, today a whole lotta this stuff is a kind of coming together rather than standing apart.
        But it wasn’t always so.
        And point in fact, even Baruth understands that even with the options available in those days with cars, still eventually many came out with samo samo stuff.

        But let me be clear…
        I see an attempt by individuals every day to express themselves. Be it in their clothes, dress cars or what the hell ever.
        So just go with it, OK?

        Cars are the most common way for us individualist to express ourselves.
        I even did some such work on my 2010 MKS.
        Its what the whole aftermarket is all about.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      How’re they being unique by doing the same stuff?

  • avatar
    Lemmy-powered

    Thank you for this, Mr. Baruth. Current practicalities limit me to a low-spec, one-of-thousands Legacy wagon, but I do think I’ll be giving my tailor a call this week. He has just added a shoemaker to his staff.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Where to start?

    First agreement. It’s mean spirited to complain about the choices available with a Porsche. If people can afford a Porsche let them enjoy optioning it the way the like. Second, I’ve learned that your stories aren’t always to be taken with extreme literalness, yet I’m one of the plodding literal types, which must be PITA for writers.

    Next, having seen old photos of dealerships you are correct that the entire inventory could fit in a 7-11 parking lot, but I’m not sure it’s for the reason you suggest. The ’55 Ford could be had in Mainline, Customline, or Fairlane trim levels, and the trims were standardized with the models. You had two v8s and six banger to choose from. 3 on the tree or slushbox. PS,PB maybe on the upper trim levels. The biggest individual choice you could make -after selecting trim level- was color. The color palate would put modern (non-Porshe) manufacturers to shame. 2 tones and maybe even 3 tones were possible. But the total number of optioned combos wasn’t really that great, and I’m thinking the real reason for low inventory numbers was that there were a far greater number of dealers, most of them much smaller than today’s dealers. There were in fact more auto dealers in 1949 than there are today. Not just more per capita, but more total. More dealers serving half as many people. I’m thinking floor planning large inventories simply didn’t make much sense in the mid nineteen fifties.

    Also consider the various permutations that were possible but not really optional, outside of choosing a trim level. The number of different fabrics used for upholstery for example, might boggle the mind of a modern day car buff. Different trim levels had different fabrics, 2 door and 4 door cars in the same trim level might have different fabrics, Wagons might have fabrics unique to the wagon models, but none of this was “optional” as in ordering ala carte. The fabrics differences were chosen by the manufacturer to “sync” with the trim lines. The manufacturers put themselves to huge expense w/o actually letting the buyer have an option.

    But yes, I think what you say rings generally true. There are fewer choices. Everything is bundled. It appears that most of the “market” is ok with this.

    In recent years I’ve noticed it’s harder to find Green cars. I can’t even get a Jeep Patriot in Forest Green. (Rescue Green won’t do) If you can’t buy a Jeep that makes it appear as if you work for the forest service what is the world coming to?

    I would also consider the “customizing” scene in the mid 50s to mid 60s, in relation to individuality. Guys like the Alexander brothers were doing show cars, but the bulk of their work was mild customizing for ordinary people. People you and I have never heard of because they were school teachers and firemen and linotype operators. The desire for individuality has always been there, and for the most part it has always require going “elsewhere” – not to the manufacturer or the dealer.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    Hence the sucess of Mini, a very individualised car, its all about the options, plus it is well engineered. But why then does porche charge an arm and a leg for certain basic things in its cars, in this sense its all a little cynical.

    On the other hand, I hate the tyrany of the mandatory sunroof, auto wipers, apparenbtly we will soon add lane asiist to the mandatory tyrany.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    I will provide a brief summary of this article:

    I hate the people that complain about the price of individual Porsche options.

    I bought my Porsche at a time when Porsche was offering an options package, because I didn’t want to pay the cost of the individual options.

    To give myself any credibility I am claiming will not happen next time, with the caveat that there will not be a next time.

    The end.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Now that I have provided a summary, I will provide a counterpoint:

      Americans pay less money for better cars than anyone else in the world.

      Europeans are the true “Trauma Bonding” victims, paying twice what Americans do for cars, and being placated by more color choices and options packages.

      The truth is that sellers want complexity, not buyers. Buyers want commoditization, because it allows more true value at less money. Marketers and sales people read stuff like “Beating the Commodity Trap: How to Maximize Your Competitive Position and Increase Your Pricing Power.” Porsche must own many of these books. Buyers want simplicity and value. In the American automobile market (unlike the American market for many goods and services – e.g. finance), they are winning.

      I can get a 305 HP Ford Mustang with a 6-speed manual for $20,000. Someone in Europe can get a Ford Fiesta for the same money, with more color selection and options granularity. Who is winning? Don’t like the Mustang? Fine, replace that with a VW GTI for the price of a European’s bespoke base engine Fiesta.

      There is less commoditization pressure at the top of the market. A business owner still wants commoditization in his or her business inputs, to get the most value possible. But he or she wants the fruits of his or her success in HIS or HER color.

      Someone that is complaining about the cost of options on a Porsche should really think about whether he or she should be buying a Porsche, or whether that V6 Mustang I just mentioned might be a better option.

      Or, if he or she is cost sensitive, he or she could just wait until Porsche gets desperate to move volume and offers an options package.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Yep. Customization doesn’t build margin, so much as it increases costs. Those costs have to be passed on to all consumers, including those who not care about customization.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I bought my Porsche for the purpose of running an SCCA National Solo season. I had 20 days before the beginning of the season. That’s all.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Looks like I’m the contrarian.

    Far from being dismayed when the foreign automakers consolidated usually optional equipment into two or three defined trim levels, my recollection is buyers welcomed and embraced it. Standardized equipment made for a nicer, better equipped car at a superior price point. No more nickel and diming buyers to death for basic equipment and trim. What did one steer with if he didn’t spring for the deluxe steering wheel, a crescent wrench?

    The best thing about the good ol’ days is, they’re gone. Does anybody really want to return to the optional clock, deluxe horn, self-canceling turn signals, three-speed heater days? Worse, if you didn’t buy ‘em the manufacturer plugged the hole in the dash with a 2-cent piece of Mattel-quality black plastic.

    No thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Spot on. The auto companies would LOVE to bend buyers over on individual options. But they can’t, because of competition.

      “They call it ‘Trauma Bonding’, and although the exact definition is highly debatable, it’s generally understood to mean a situation in which victims come to identify or sympathize with their victimizers.”

      The above sounds much more like a Porsche buyer than a Hyundai buyer. I belive that Jack got it completely backward.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Individualism in in the mind, not what you wear, nor what you drive.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    I couldn’t give two shits about what other people drive. I do care about my tax dollars being spent on subsidies to oil companies and services that accrue almost exclusively to their benefit, and would rather see those costs be priced into the cost of imported oil one way or another (tariffs, gas taxes). Let the users of a thing pay for that thing.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Instead of conforming, we will stand out a bit, and the consequences be hanged.”

    This sort of sentiment reminds me of those punk rockers back in high school, who expressed their disdain for conformity and social norms by wearing a highly identifiable pop culture uniform that made them all look very much alike. Very edgy…or not.

    The need to define oneself with an oddball paint color or spoiler or walrus skin interior or extra air conditioning vent suggests that our society doesn’t have important things to worry about.

    It’s one thing to choose a unique option because you like how it looks or feels for yourself. But if you’re getting it because you want to prove something about yourself to me, then you’re just being an ass, frankly.

    And of course, “unique option” is an oxymoron. If it was truly so unique, then it wouldn’t be an option.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      That seems a bit harsh. Americans live in a culture that makes a cult of individuality, so it isn’t surprising that many end up bemoaning the lack of individual choice. Of course, whether or not they’d actually pay $ to be different is another matter. I suspect few would actually pony up the cash.

      I’d like an oddball color – Turquoise. Not to define myself as being “special” or to tell anyone anything about myself. I just happen to like turquoise for a car color. I also happen to hate silver and beige. It wasn’t asking too much in the ’50s and ’60s to have a turquoise option. It doesn’t really seem like it’s asking too much now – except that a very ordinary color choice is now seen as “oddball”. I wouldn’t even ask for a turquoise vinyl interior option -I’ll live with the gray cloth.

      I also have to object to the notion that individual choices have any correlation to society having important things to worry about. I don’t see why having more options for car colors, or ordering features ala carte negates concern for the environment, or tax fairness, or women’s rights, or disenfranchising voters, or ………..

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        If you want to buy a turquoise car because you like the color, or because it reminds you of your dearly departed grandmother, or because your family has some sort of tradition of buying them, or because it was on sale, or because it matches the color of a vat of touch-up paint that you keep in your garage, then I could understand that.

        But if you buy one because you want to make some sort of Grand Statement to a stranger, which you believe tells the world that you are a Unique Individual who dares to be different and boldly non-conformist by taunting society with his turquoise wheels, then I’d think that you’re a buffoon. It’s a shade of paint, FFS.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        If turquoise were offered to me, it would be offered to everyone, so there is no possibility that it would mark me as boldly non-conformist. A certain percentage of buyers would check off the turquoise box – or more likely buy turquoise off the lot.

        Having a little more choice allows some individuality w/o necessarily trying to tell the world your “special”.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “If turquoise were offered to me, it would be offered to everyone, so there is no possibility that it would mark me as boldly non-conformist.”

        The point of the article is to argue that one can (and should) demonstrate his non-conformist nature to the world by having a car with some uncommon options.

        Well, for one, as you rightly point out, you aren’t proving that you’re different by choosing something that is already on the menu. Someone has already dreamed up this idea for you and figured out how to mass produce it, which precludes it from being unique.

        But for another, this illustrates the irony of most of what passes for non-conformism in this culture. If you are a genuine non-conformist, then you form your preferences based upon what you pleases you, without regard for the popularity or unpopularity of your choice.

        In contrast, Mr. Baruth is advocating the punk rock approach to consumerism, which is about choosing from Column B on the menu simply because most of the grown-ups prefer Column A. That isn’t so much about uniqueness, as it is about being a party-line contrarian for the sake of it. A fashion slave is still a fashion slave.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        I guess I had a different take on the article. I didn’t think the point was that one should demonstrate “non-conformism” by ticking off option boxes, but rather that others shouldn’t get incensed when people do demonstrate some individuality.

        If Jack can afford a Porsche and have it upholstered in the Baruth clan’s distinctive tartan it doesn’t hurt me at all, and if it makes Jack happy, then what the hell?

        I realize I can’t have the same option on my Impala because I need my Impala to be very considerably less expensive than a Porsche.

        Another impression I had from the article is that Porsche allows not only options that the factory dreamed up, but options (such as paint/upholstery) that the customer dreams up – if he has the scratch to pay for it. This wouldn’t be the punk rock version of non-conformity (everyone in the uniform of the non-conformist), it would be genuine uniqueness.

        At my necessarily pedestrian level (pun intended) I’d just like a turquoise option. It wouldn’t really drive the cost of an Impala or a Civic to insane levels, and it wouldn’t really hurt anyone who prefers silver or beige. Yet, we live in a society that sees such a modest request as some kind of egotistical display. Isn’t that also part of Jack’s point?

        In reality it has nothing to do with government conspiracies – ala Mr. Bergeron. It’s just relentless cost cutting. Most manufacturers have made green unavailable or much less available. I suspect blue will be next to go. Soon we’ll live in a world where people actually come to believe white and white-pearl or two completely different colors.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        “Another impression I had from the article is that Porsche allows not only options that the factory dreamed up, but options (such as paint/upholstery) that the customer dreams up – if he has the scratch to pay for it.”

        Paint to sample – about $9000 IIRC. It will push your car build practically into next year and they still may not be able to do it and meet paint booth VOC standards. You may want to be a trust fund punk to afford this option. They will also cover just about everything in the interior in leather, including the directional vanes on the air outlets – I’ve seen the pix of someone’s custom baby. Can you imagine the fun of keeping that leather clean and supple? At the price paid, I suppose you have people for that.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “I didn’t think the point was that one should demonstrate “non-conformism” by ticking off option boxes, but rather that others shouldn’t get incensed when people do demonstrate some individuality.”

        Is anyone incensed?

        Perhaps I should put this another way: My desire to own a car is based upon whether it provides me with the benefits and features that what I want. What you have or don’t have has no impact on my preferences.

        In contrast, Mr. Baruth seems to make this decision based upon whether his car is different from yours and mine. He wants his car to be different, for the sake of it being different. Your choices and mine impact his decisions.

        In the good old days, practically everything was an option. Power accessories, air conditioning and even a radio were a big deal.

        Today, vehicle features have been democratized. Practically everyone with a late model car gets a working heater, nice cold AC, power everything, a load of creature comforts, and at least fair reliability (plus it’s less likely to kill you if you crash.) I would say that this is a good thing.

        My life is not better if you don’t have air conditioning. My life does not improve one whit if your car evaporates like dust if it’s involved in a crash. I don’t high five my buddies if you don’t have a sunroof.

        I don’t need my car to be unique, I just want it to give me what I want. If quality, some element of luxury and crashworthiness are available to everyone, then I feel blessed to have so many good choices, not vexed by the possibility that your choices might be similar to mine.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        “Is anyone incensed?”

        According to Jack –

        “No, I think I’ll save the worst of my venom for the most evil so-called enthusiasts in existence, the scum of the motoring earth, the Trauma-Bonders par excellence, the basest filth imaginable. That’s right, I’m referring to those sick bastards who complain about the prices in the Porsche option catalog.”

        This is probably more rhetoric than reality.

        “In contrast, Mr. Baruth seems to make this decision based upon whether his car is different from yours and mine. He wants his car to be different, for the sake of it being different. Your choices and mine impact his decisions.”

        Yes, but that does not harm me, or you, in any way.

        “Today, vehicle features have been democratized. Practically everyone with a late model car gets a working heater, nice cold AC, power everything, a load of creature comforts, and at least fair reliability (plus it’s less likely to kill you if you crash.) I would say that this is a good thing.”

        I agree. For a guy like me, these options bundled make them affordable. It gives me a nicer car than I could afford ordering ala carte.

        “I don’t need my car to be unique, I just want it to give me what I want. If quality, some element of luxury and crashworthiness are available to everyone, then I feel blessed to have so many good choices, not vexed by the possibility that your choices might be similar to mine.”

        I agree again. But it doesn’t bother me that Jack wants to have a unique pair of shoes, or a unique car. If he wants a special brand of wristwatch, we’ll it’s his money. I’ll continue to buy Timex analog watches. If Jack wants a fancy pants fountain pen, fine. I’ll buy a lifetime supply of cheap ballpoints for less than the cost of his gold nib.

        Jack’s attempts to be different don’t bother me -at all.

        I bet you need to differentiate yourself from me, to some extent. You probably have a higher status job than me, and people may notice what you drive. No one gives a rat’s ass what I drive. If my surmise is correct – that you do need to drive a better car than me to keep up appearances with clients/colleagues – that doesn’t bother me at all.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Yes, but that does not harm me, or you, in any way.”

        Again, who said that it did?

        I’m just pointing that it’s just as silly to feel that an options package makes a person unique or interesting as it was for the punkers to think that clothes pins and hair dye made them unique or interesting. That isn’t individualism, that’s just another form of fashion.

        And it’s really silly for someone to choose that options package simply because his peers didn’t make the same choices. I’m not upset, I’m just mocking it.

      • 0 avatar
        Paul Niedermeyer

        Dynamic 88: And how much would it cost to take your car to a body shop and have it painted turquoise? What’s stopping you?

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        @Paul

        I don’t know what it would cost. On the one hand you can say -rightly- I won’t put my money where my mouth is. But to be fair, it’s a lot more expensive for me to have a body shop paint my car than for the manufacturer to offer a few more color choices from the factory.

        Some paint colors do cost more from the factory. The Malibu, for example, offers red on upper trim cars, but it’s $325 more. I don’t think I can get my wife’s ’04 CR-V painted turquoise for $325.

        (No, I’m not going to Earl Sheib)

        Just as optional equipment is cheaper if bundled, color is cheaper from the factory.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      My thoughts exactly. If someone wants to look silly as a means of showing their supposed individualism thats fine, just don’t expect random strangers to really care.

  • avatar
    Gullwinger

    Great read…and really dapper puddle hoppers…but I question the “color-matched seat belts”(or any for that matter) in a 1955 set of wheels. None in my ’55 Gullwing.

    “In 1946, Dr. C. Hunter Shelden had opened a neurological practice at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California. In the early 1950s, Dr. Shelden had made a major contribution to the automotive industry with his idea of retractable seat belts. This came about greatly in part from the high number of head injuries coming through the emergency rooms.

    He investigated the early seat belts whose primitive designs were implicated in these injuries and deaths. His findings were published in the November 5, 1955 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in which he proposed not only the retractable seat belt, but also recessed steering wheels, reinforced roofs, roll bars, door locks and passive restraints such as the now-and-ever-popular air bag.

    Subsequently in 1959, Congress passed legislation requiring all automobiles to comply with certain standards.

    American car manufacturers Nash (in 1949) and Ford (in 1955) offered seat belts as options, while Swedish Saab first introduced seat belts as standard in 1958. After the Saab GT 750 was introduced at the New York Motor Show in 1958 with safety belts fitted as standard, the practice became commonplace.

    Glenn Sheren of Mason, Michigan submitted a patent application on March 31, 1955 for an automotive seat belt and was awarded US Patent 2,855,215 in 1958. This was a continuation of an earlier patent application that Mr. Sheren had filed on September 22, 1952.

    However, the first modern three point seat belt (the so-called CIR-Griswold restraint) used in most consumer vehicles today was patented in 1955 (US Patent 2,710,649) by the Americans Roger W. Griswold and Hugh DeHaven, and developed to its modern form by Nils Bohlin for Swedish manufacturer Volvo—who introduced it in 1959 as standard equipment. Bohlin was granted U.S. Patent 3,043,625 for the device.

    The world’s first seat belt law was put in place in 1970, in the state of Victoria, Australia, making the wearing of a seat belt compulsory for drivers and front-seat passengers.” —–Wikipedia

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Hey Jack theres this little thing called the aftermarket and another cool doo dad called the internet. Most people just want a means to get from point A to point B and dealers have rightfully catered to that. But for the rest of us there’s a wealth of options to pursue outside the dealership. I don’t see the problem.

    If anything the aftermarket is better. A Porsche dealer won’t put a turbocharger on your Cayman. A Honda dealer wouldn’t put a Prelude engine in a Civic. The “sport suspension” packages are a terrible value compared to the same offerings in price by the aftermarket. So I am pretty sure we are better off now.

    I do agree that the packaging of options is a bit goofy but these are prob the best times ever for anyone who wants to customize.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    Mr. Baruth, I recall seeing these pictures of your shoes on that Ask Andy About Clothes forum. I understand your shame about that site.

    I would benefit greatly from being able to order a car to spec. I want a stick shift, LSD, ABS and just about nothing else, although a heated steering wheel would be nice.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Fiat allows you to ACTUALLY build your 500, though here in the US, it’s limited to some degree but in Europe, the choices are almost unlimited, up to 500,000 ways and they STILL say there here, but if you want that red interior, can’t get it but in the base Pop, and only in certain colors, such as yellow though being just one example.

    Even in Europe, there ARE difference between base trims/options but you DO have the option to add or perhaps subtract/swap out if you are willing to pay for it.

    I’ve heard someone got the Pop seats installed into a Sport so it could have the red seats. But through third party providers such as Katzskin, you can order your Pop with optional leather, but it’s done through the Mopar parts department though, but you CAN get leather if you want – and in red in just about any color paint available, but at a price.

    I would love it if you had more choices in engine/transmission combos though in cars, even if just one motor, but with a choice of manual or automatic and a way to get a base stripper with the bare essentials needed cor comfort and safety if that’s your cup of tea.

    Something you got to do at Mazda up until more recent years is you used to be able to get a head unit that was modular, in that you could get it with an indash single CD player, or changer, a cassette deck or a Mini disc player and both were installed in the lower blank area along with the CD head unit but the later variants did get a 12V outlet and an Aux, but no USB and I’d love it if the USB, even if not standard could be added as an option, just like the $140 iPod controller now available for the current 3 for instance. At least they now have Bluetooth standard with the steering wheel controls, even the Mazda2 gets the controls on the wheel too.

  • avatar
    Gullwinger

    Great read…and really dapper puddle hoppers…but I question the “color-matched seat belts”(or any for that matter) in a 1955 set of wheels. None in my ’55 Gullwing.

    “In 1946, Dr. C. Hunter Shelden had opened a neurological practice at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California. In the early 1950s, Dr. Shelden had made a major contribution to the automotive industry with his idea of retractable seat belts. This came about greatly in part from the high number of head injuries coming through the emergency rooms.
    He investigated the early seat belts whose primitive designs were implicated in these injuries and deaths. His findings were published in the November 5, 1955 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in which he proposed not only the retractable seat belt, but also recessed steering wheels, reinforced roofs, roll bars, door locks and passive restraints such as the now-and-ever-popular air bag.
    Subsequently in 1959, Congress passed legislation requiring all automobiles to comply with certain standards.
    American car manufacturers Nash (in 1949) and Ford (in 1955) offered seat belts as options, while Swedish Saab first introduced seat belts as standard in 1958. After the Saab GT 750 was introduced at the New York Motor Show in 1958 with safety belts fitted as standard, the practice became commonplace.
    Glenn Sheren of Mason, Michigan submitted a patent application on March 31, 1955 for an automotive seat belt and was awarded US Patent 2,855,215 in 1958. This was a continuation of an earlier patent application that Mr. Sheren had filed on September 22, 1952.
    However, the first modern three point seat belt (the so-called CIR-Griswold restraint) used in most consumer vehicles today was patented in 1955 (US Patent 2,710,649) by the Americans Roger W. Griswold and Hugh DeHaven, and developed to its modern form by Nils Bohlin for Swedish manufacturer Volvo—who introduced it in 1959 as standard equipment. Bohlin was granted U.S. Patent 3,043,625 for the device.
    The world’s first seat belt law was put in place in 1970, in the state of Victoria, Australia, making the wearing of a seat belt compulsory for drivers and front-seat passengers.” —–Wikipedia

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    As much as I love, and agree completely, about how Hondas DX LX system ended up killing the uniqeness of american car building (and ultimately the whole american car market). it is wrong. More or less. The germans may not offer many options in the US, but over here in Europe there are an abundance of options and packages available. So much that VW think that they could statistically never build more than 4 or 5 identical Golfs each year. In Norway the story is a bit different, because new cars are insanely expensive, everyone more or less ‘builds’ or buys nearly identical silver or black diesel wagons with leather setas and nav. And they all choose the second or third least powerful diesel. (you can have some VAG cars with a selection of 20 ‘different engines)
    A lot of these options are available more cheaply in ‘package’ deals, mostly to keep production cheaper I guess.
    For the very few of us that want to be ‘really’ unique there are luckily old used cars and tools available :)

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    After the massive societal backlash to young people customizing their own cars circa 2000, including frequent and blatant harassment at the hands of police who don’t seem to mind what Harley owners do, yeah, some of us are bitter enough to wish for gas prices that hurt safety-first-mobiles.

    I suppose factory customization options would make me happier. The biggest obstacle is probably the dealership system, since they’re always trying to sell you the cars on the lot. If you custom-order the car, what is the dealership lot for? Hmm… you could then put small dealership stores in malls and small stores on busy urban streets. That’d be pretty cool, actually.

  • avatar
    TW4

    First, American freedom is predicated on the idea that the exercise of individual liberty does not unduly infringe upon the rights of others. We consume roughly 250B gallons of oil each year, 70% for transportation (50% for passenger cars), and approximately half of that oil is imported. At $100 per barrel, our trade deficit for transportation is somewhere in the neighborhood of $150B per annum. A trade imbalance of that magnitude infringes on the sovereignty of our shared currency and government monetary policy. The imbalance also diminishes our leverage in the WTO. The oil deficit is driven mainly by passenger cars.

    The Economic-Luddites, who see $10 oil or high gasoline prices as a panacea, might as well be classified as enemies of the state, but they do have a constitutional claim against oil wasters. A majority of the people see the actual trade/currency problem, or they have been swayed by the mindless false morality of politics. Either way, the result is CAFE 2025, a program with industry and consumers support, despite its obvious flaws.

    Your assessment of automobile optioning is similar to your assessment of eco-fanatics. You understand the gist of consumer trauma bonding, but not the source. The 1950s model was wonderful, if you perceive utility as bespoke customization, but modern manufacturing techniques allow manufacturers to build cars with many options at the roughly the same price as the base model in a bespoke system. The arrangement is great for consumers, but the manufacturers sacrifice price-discrimination to make it happen. Naturally, the car industry has evolved into a sort of hybrid system of options bundling (packaging, in car speak) in which the high-demand options are separated into different packages. As far as the buyers are concerned, they are merely choosing between manual and auto, sunroof or none, 15″ wheels or 17″ alloys, cloth or leather, nav or no nav. Most of them are blind to the scores of additional features that are bundled with the package they select. When confronted with true bespoke manufacturing, most consumers blanch.

    Consumers are trauma bound b/c they are blind to the economic reality of price discrimination, options bundling, and the somewhat underhanded pricing models manufacturers employ. Consumers must choose between two identical cars, with different prices, built according to two different pricing models. In the automobile industry, this situation is almost impossible for consumers to decode b/c one of those cars actually exists (options bundling), while the other car is just a business concept (fully-loaded one-size-fits-all). They are never confronted with the existence of the one-size-fits-all model, until they see its complementary opposite–bespoke manufacturing. Consumer reality is shattered. The realization that they can go any direction they want merely makes them long for the structure of the options-packaging-maze. Consumers are not trauma bound b/c the reject bespoke manufacturing for one-size-fits-all. In fact, one-size-fits-all doesn’t even exist. Consumers are trauma bound b/c they choose to haggle their way through an industry designed to impoverish them. They don’t realize that one-size-fits-all manufacturing would likely be the efficiency gain our economy needs to re-fire the automobile industry, thus jobs, and aggregate demand. The manufacturers will never step sideways for the good of the nation b/c sideways movement is risky. Consumers are bound in more ways than one by their inattention to detail.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    The harsh reality is that no matter what you’re driving, Porsche or modded Miata, the only thing I see is the car, not you. If you’re walking down Lexington in heels, auburn hair, and Chanel, then it’s you I’m looking at.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Thank you, nietzsche.
    Sounds like a fantastic world, this world of $60,000 custom corollas.

  • avatar
    amca

    I’m in the throes of love with a lightly used 997 in GT Silver with Terra Cotta red upholstery. I happened on it at a BMW dealer while there on other business. If it had been silver with boring black, I’d have walked right past. Now I’m considering buying the darned thing. And only because I fell in love.

    BTW: big fan of MacNeils. I’ve got two pair, black and tobacco. I call ‘em my executive shitkickers.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I frankly don’t care how unique or conforming some stranger is, there are much bigger issues that we should tackle outside of expressing our egos. Plus, to reflect individualism on the outside defies the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.

    I’ve considered sticking my bumper stickers on vertically, why?
    So I can tell when people read them when they tilt their heads.

    Is it to be unique? No, thats a side-effect.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Can’t argue with any of it, except the part about scarce resources – they aren’t.

    Excellent story; I’ll never drive an Accord, either.

  • avatar
    Bruno Balestra

    If you think that´s depressing, take a look at my world:
    Here in Brazil, most every car is silvr or black. In some cars, white is abundant for it´s low price. Hyundai though is charging premiums for white paint as it´s a fashionable color nowadays. In may cars, color isn´t even an option! It´s white, silver or blacks and that´s it. Again, Hyundai is such an example. Interior colors? Only in rally very expensive cars, like 150.000 plus BMWs and such. And even though mny cars are getting autobox options, many are losing the manuals. The irony is that people buy cars like the Fiat Palio Adventure to stand out, but it´s now 80% of the mix. And it´s very ugly. Why the lack of choice? Thay say it´s because it´s easier to sell a silver car. And it holds value better. That last part i could never understand. Am I the only one who likes color? And isn´t price dictated by demand? A car which is painted in color may be slower to sell, but it shouldn´t be any cheaper. I think that the truth is that people like standardization. They like to be told how act and think and what to like. Takes out all the guesswork, ya know?

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    American auto customization seems to be doing fine in the aftermarket world. Off road vehicles come to mind – although separating function and style is tough there.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    This might be a load of marketingesque nonsense to justify an economic decision, but I remember Car and Driver’s initial review of the second generation Neon talking about how Chrysler cut back on the number of options as a quality control decision. Essentially, the fewer variances, the less chance there was for mistakes. If there’s any truth to that (and hey, it seems to make sense), it suggests that the Big 3 learned something from the Japanese, even if they did a poor job of execution initially.

    And I suppose if I can’t have something unique, reliable, and affordable all in the same vehicle, I’ll get by with something good and cheap that everyone else has – as long as I like using it, it doesn’t matter if it says nothing about me. If someone else can afford all three, it doesn’t affect me (although I have just as much right to question someone’s bad taste as they have to follow through on it).

  • avatar
    jimbobjoe

    Interesting to note that there is all of this customization available for a car which is notorious for not changing. (I know all Porsche products from with lots of customization, but I think most of the 911.) Also funny is that the other easily customized car mentioned in the thread is the Mini Cooper–another car which is iconic and doesn’t change much.

    I think this is an issue of economics. I have heard that Porsche is the most profitable automaker per vehicle, partially because of the crazy profits off of the customization. However, I don’t know if the economics works on other cars. (There is a lot of profit to be made from the extra customization but there is a lot of costs involved in making that possible, and I suspect that those costs don’t make much sense on top of a mainstream vehicle’s price.)

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Jesus, Jack

    look what insanity your feature brought on!
    Seems like this group over thinks everything a bit much.
    From just longing for the days when you could get more, even if it meant paying more, we end up with headache, brain numbing over thinking.
    Puleeze, folks! Lighten up.

    And to Dynamic88…damn straight! I wish there was a turquoise or any of those cool colors never seen again! I remember when you could get Ford pick up with awesome turquoise or similar greens.
    Even today at car shows these trucks stand out.

    Bless the aftermarket!

  • avatar
    DeeTee

    Nice brogues Jack.

    My ’02 Boxster was a dealer loaner car. I bought it at 9 o’clock on a weeknight, in the winter rain, after driving two hours to the yard to test a used green 3.2 S manual with a black interior and 18″ wheels (the perfect combination, IMHO). My car was the base model 2.7, blue with a grey interior and 17′s. And an automatic transmission. I had no idea what options it had in it at the time. Except I remember it had a radio ’cause that stopped working on the drive home. I had just driven the car “for reference purposes only” and it was love at first apex. I had to have it. The car was so unbelievably good that I just couldn’t give it back.

    I drove it home that night and spent the next few years leaping from one 5,000rpm howl to the next. Every single drive in that car, whether it was a crawl to the local shops to get ice cream or a 3 hour balls-to-the-wall blast at dawn on a Sunday morning, was an adventure. I had so much fun in that car. I slid backwards to a stop a few feet away from a furniture truck on a back road in Kentucky (to the great amusement of the few-toothed truck crew). I warped the front discs at VIR (no fault of the car). I learned how to balance the thing in a seemingly never-ending slide using only throttle all the way through Turn 1 at Watkins Glen. I spun it at the keyhole at Mid Ohio with an instructor in the passenger seat, right after he said “Now you are on the right line!” (we took a little break after that lap).

    Then I had kids and it had to go.

    My Porsche experience had no custom bits to it at all. But – I have a mate who ordered a 97 Boxster with a ton of custom options. He waited 18 months for his car with its leather this, painted that, and carbon the other thing. The options added 60% on top of the already high base price. I can report that the options (painstakingly and aesthetically chosen) did make for a much more interesting car than the standard offering (the first model Boxster interiors are pretty down-rent). But it didn’t make it drive any better, and it didn’t drive as well as my ’02. And therein lies the rub.

    I agree that a world with “configure it how you want it” cars is a good thing. And well within the capabilities of the manufacturers if they so choose. And if ever I’m lucky enough to own another Porsche I’ll consider customizing it – if I can afford the time and the opportunity cost of waiting. But, more important than customizing – what I’d really like to do for my next special sled is take delivery at the factory. Years ago I did the factory tour in Zuffenhausen and in our group was some lucky Wally (he was English, so he was probably called Wally) who watched *his car* come off the production line. Now that was a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.

    Cheers

  • avatar
    kevnsd

    I’ve three pair of A – E shoes. Didn’t know they did custom work… you’ve got me thinking! Special ordered my ’07 E350 Sport. Not infinitely customizable but I did get the car I really wanted. BTW the recent addition of Michelin Pilot Super Sports have really improved this rather conservative sedan.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Ah, yes the handicapper general. I completely agree with the assesment of how one could essentially have a car built to your own specifications. I don’t think you can simply say ‘if you want car tailored to your preferences, look to an aftermarket supplier.” Building a car to a customer’s specifications is the way you sell more cars. Modern automakers seem to be following Henry Ford’s motto of any color so long as it’s black, more than anything else. I for one am sick having any color of interior so long as its IBM putty, grey or black, out of plastics that look like they were purchased in Walmart.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Great article, Jack… have you read “Renoir, My Father”? You should, cos Renoir shared much of your philosophy: that we should express our individualism through our art, and that folks identify with the hand-made, the artisan created, the objects which show the soul of the creator… in this way, your fetish for hand made shoes is very much a creative, very humanized, connection to the objects in your world. As far a Japanese cars: because of the standardization of Hondas et al, there has grown a huge tuner/ customizer market. When my son bought his Acura Integra, the first thing he did was remove the front fenders and replace them with Z3-Style body parts… and on and on… until he had transformed the car into his personal vehicle. My daughter did the same with her Suburban: she hated the interior, so she had it re-done in leather. You are not alone in your desire for distinction… but most people are too lazy to pursue their passions.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    We’re all sheep. Some of us have different color coats, that’s all.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    So in the end Jack Baruth still went with an options package, despite extolling the virtues of how we could all express our individuality by checking on Porsches’ options checklist.

    The truth is bundling really does save money. And Jack Baruth voted with his wallet.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Not that I expect everyone to read the comments, but from about 30 above yours:

      “I bought my Porsche for the purpose of running an SCCA National Solo season. I had 20 days before the beginning of the season. That’s all.” — me

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    We’re all for bespoke suits, customized cars and all that.

    That said, your assumptions about the “golden era” are a little off. AFAIK, every new car purchased by my father, from 1952 ownward, were off the lot and were pretty much strippers: 1952 Ford Mainliner, 1957 Chevy 210 4-door, 1963 Chevy Biscayne, 1966 Chevy Biscayne. Beginning in 1970, he started buying Volvos, to which the only options were automatic or manual, a/c or not.

    AFAIK, the reason Detroit sold cars this way were two: one, you could advertise a very low price car and get someone in the dealership, to then have then load on the profit, by loading on the options. No one but a determined soul (like my Dad) could resist buying a car with plugs and blanks where the radio should be, where the clock should be, etc.
    The second reason is that by de-commodifying cars, it made comparison shopping more difficult for the buyer, even within the same brand.

    It’s true that the Japanese put an end to this practice — even before Hondas started coming in DX, LX, etc. flavors. They sold you a “fully loaded” car, where the only choice (initially) was a manual or automatic transmission. Just as most people can’t afford custom-made shoes, they also can’t afford custom-built cars.

    Whether that reflects diminished individuality or whatever, it’s kind of ironic that you harken back to the 1950s as a time of individualism. Most people’s take on the 1950s is the opposite.

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    It’s possible the inclusion of the phrase “If I were to fall prey to some sort of medically-induced insanity and buy another Porsche” tilts this out of unqualified “pro-Porsche article” territory.

  • avatar
    rhip

    Thanks God I wear Allen Edmonds – it helped me find this site. This may be the best writing on cars since David E. was at C&D – and the most lucid and amusing comments anywhere on the net.

    As for the article – I was a kid back in those halcyon days when Jack claims that you could build your customized American car. The truth is, the reason for the options was sto allow Detroit to advertise that Biscayne/Galaxie 500 at $1,995 – but that was for a six with a three on the tree. If you wanted a V8 or an automatic, that was extra. Hell, a heater, radio and hubcaps were extra – as was power steering and brakes. By the time you had a car you would actually want to own, you could add another $1,000 on to the sticker. The motive was the ability to advertise a low price, not a desire to meet an individual’s tastes.

    Then Detroit discovered the economies of bundling, appearing first on the “upmarket” Impalas and LTD’s. We all can’t afford $15,000 for ceramic brakes, so the world is overall a better place, with cars that are safer, more economical, and faster than ever (a six cylinder Accord is about as quick in the quarter as the original GTO). And for the $40K that can easily be dropped to begin customizing a Porsche, I can buy three motorcycles, each of which will eat it alive and be more fun.

    But we really should all buy A-E shoes…and they can be customized!

  • avatar
    RubiconMike

    At one time, all cars were custom ordered to the buyer’s taste. Unfortunately, at that time, only the very wealthy could afford to have a car made for them.

    Then Henry Ford had a unique idea: he thought the workers making his cars should be able to actually buy one of them. In order to drive the price down to where a person with a “good income” could afford one, he leveraged the economies of scale offered by mass production – even going so far as to say “you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black”. The Ford Model T put Americans on the road. In Germany it was the Beetle, in France, the 2CV, and in England, the Mini. What did all of these have in common? They were all basic transportation, affordable to the average working man, because they were made on an assembly line with little to no customization.

    Right away, aftermarket companies sprung up to provide parts and services that allowed those that could afford it, the ability to customize their vehicle and make it “the only one like it, in the world”.

    The American carmakers followed the Japanese model of offering “packages” of options, not because they were trying to *copy* the Japanese, but because like them, they found there was a large cost savings to be had by reducing the number of individual options and getting closer to the mass production ideal of making one item in quantity.

    The author of this column, it seems, wants both the cost savings of mass production with the individuality of a custom coachbuilder. In his article he claims “It’s not enough for these pump-price Pollyannas that miserable suckboxes like the Prius are available for them to purchase; they’d prefer that you be forced to purchase them as well.” Let me turn that around and state “It’s not enough for the author to spend extravagant amounts for gaudy footwear, he wants to force all of us to pay premium shoe prices to subsidize custom shoemakers so he can continue to buy from them”.

    Not all people care to have “the only shoe like it in the world”, and are perfectly happy to have a nice looking, durable, and comfortable shoe. When I need shoes, I don’t custom order them, pay a higher price, and wait months for them. I just go to a shoe store and find something that looks good, fits well, and is reasonably priced. I buy them and get on with my life.

    If you want a custom car that is unique to you, there are endless shops that will sculpt, paint, or build up your vehicle to any level you can imagine (and pay for). There is no need to ask the automakers to offer that service; that is not what their business model is, and will only drive up the cost of the average auto.


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