Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on April 21, 2017

exp

I had an interesting conversation with a old friend of mine over the weekend. When I met this fellow, he was past 30 years old, unemployed, living with his mother, lacking both a goal and a direction. He stayed that way into his early 40, when another friend of mine and I pulled some strings to get him a tech job. I exhaustively back-filled his resume with imaginary work and ensured that at least some of it would check out if necessary. For about six months, I surreptitiously trained him on-the-job and picked up his slack while he learned the trade. I figured he would thrive from there …

… and I was right, In fact, he wound up as a Very Important Executive Type for a major tech firm. He’s so important now, and so well-compensated, that he has become bored. Much of our Sunday brunch consisted of him lecturing me about all the opportunities I was missing out in California, both financial and, er, gynecological. The only response I had to this was that the most important opportunity in my life is the opportunity to be a present-and-accounted-for father to my son, so I was gonna stay in Hicksville, Ohio, until that particular job is finished.

Having agreed to disagree on the future desired course of our lives, we made small talk about various tech-industry trends and buzzwords. “As a platform architect,” he noted, causing me to choke a little bit because my allergen-buzzword-receptors became permanently overloaded around the time people started adding the phrase “as a service” to everything, “I’ve come to realize that my job is actually to limit choice. You can’t give people a bunch of choices, even if there are several very good options available. You narrow it down. My job is to narrow it down into a decision that any idiot can safely make, because most executives are idiots who were promoted solely on the basis of their height.”

It was then that I experienced what the Buddhists call satori, or enlightenment, in the matter of the Ford EXP and Mercury LN7.

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By on April 20, 2017

By Siyuwj Geely_assembly_line

Long-time TTAC readers may recall that your humble author has worked a variety of unglamorous jobs in the retail end of the auto business — salesman, title department for one major finance company, skip tracer and junior approval officer for another — but I’ve also worked two stints in vehicle production itself. I never worked on the line directly, but I worked with various plants and production facilities on a fairly regular basis. Once I managed to figure out a pretty major problem and save the automaker in question about 45 minutes’ worth of downtime for their whole North American operation. That’s a savings measured in millions of dollars. I was so pleased with myself, I ran out, hopped in my old Porsche 911, and went to Donatos for a celebratory pizza with double cheese.

They wrote me up for taking a long lunch.

I bet that never happened to Bob Lutz.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of building cars — and everything else — in the United States. (You can find out more about American-made products and services at my hobby blog.) When we build real, tangible products here in the USA, we change hundreds of thousands of lives for the better. We preserve families and give young people a chance at a life beyond the social-welfare system. We also make it possible for minorities and disadvantaged people to enter the middle class and live the American dream.

Unfortunately, as a reader recently reminded me, these benefits don’t come without an associated cost, and that cost can be measured in blood.

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By on April 17, 2017

Toyota Test Drive Track at NYIAS, Image: Twitter by New York International Auto Show

Walking through Brooklyn, your humble author was confronted by a sign on a building that said, “We stay awesome 24/7, but we are only available in person,” followed by the company’s business hours. There are two ways to view that sort of arrant idiocy. The first is to shrug one’s shoulders and just chalk it up to the sort of cutesy, infantile, Millennial-focused marketing that has turned Brooklyn from a place where my mother was actually shot at in 1970 merely for wearing her Women’s Army Corps — but Mommy’s neither one of those, I’ve known her all these years! — Class A officer’s uniform to a sort of supervised playground for losers whose sheltered ineptitude has combined with the realities of a flaccid job market to suspend them in kindergarten gaffa until the parents run out of home equity with which to sustain them.

(That’s quite a sentence there, ain’t it? You won’t get combinations of Cheap Trick and Kate Bush jokes in Motor Trend, trust me.)

Alternately, you can be a bit more perceptive and/or distrustful about the whole matter. You might take it as a sign of a corporate culture where employees are, in fact, expected to “stay awesome 24/7,” where everybody is judged on how infrequently they have an incorrect thought, even when they are off work. We’re rapidly approaching a day where we are never truly away from our jobs. You can be fired from your job for simply saying something that people don’t like during your private time; several years ago I had a public Facebook argument with two car-magazine writers that resulted in one of them calling my day job and making a “special request” to have me fired. (He was told to get stuffed, by the way.)

In other words, we now live in a world where corporations expect to have the kind of control over reality that was once just the nightmare imagination of George Orwell. Everything is now “curated,” which is a nice way of saying controlled. And that, in a nutshell, is why most of the “New York auto show” did not actually happen at the New York Auto Show.

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By on April 17, 2017

Fate of the Furious

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. The Fate Of The Furious is the eighth installment in what has become a surprisingly important cultural touchstone for an entire generation. With its lack of reliance on old comic books and/or Nicholas Sparks novels, the Fast/Furious saga probably ranks as the closest thing to original, innovative storytelling on the modern silver screen. That’s depressing, because you don’t exactly have to be Joseph Campbell to spot the multiple debts these films owe to everything from Henry James to James Bond.

In my previous reviews of installments five and six, I suggested the odd-numbered movies tend to be better than you’d expect, and the even-numbered ones tend to be worse. The Fate Of The Furious is in no danger of breaking this pattern; it’s a by-the-numbers action flick, half-hearted both in the sense that it’s missing Paul Walker and that it often feels like everybody involved is simply grinding out a paycheck. It’s very far from the worst episode in the series; that would be either the cartoonish 2Fast2Furious or the confusing, needlessly dark fourth film.

The irony, if you can use “irony” within shouting distance of a flick where a Russian nuclear submarine engages in battle with an all-wheel drive, Chevrolet powered, bulletproof Seventies Charger, is that Fate Of The Furious owes both its best and worst moments to the strength of a particular idea, one that has been at the heart of these movies since the very beginning.

(Mild spoilers ahead)

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By on April 11, 2017

Audi 5000 towing

There are quite a few differences between Europe and the United States. Which, if you think about it, was kind of the point of having a United States in the first place. A hundred years from now, when Europe and America are both part of the Caliphate, these differences might not be as pronounced as they are today. In the meantime, however, we are still two continents separated by a common, fast-vanishing heritage. Which leads us, quite naturally, to the subject of towing.

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By on April 10, 2017

ROLLS-ROYCE WRAITH AT THE GOODWOOD FESTIVAL OF SPEED 2015, Image: Rolls-Royce

Three and a half years ago, I found myself blitzing down Wilshire Boulevard behind the wheel of what was then the only Rolls-Royce Wraith in the country. There was much to admire about the car: the saturnine (as in Saturn V, not the dour deity) thrust of the blown V-12, the transcendent sound system, the Starlight Headliner that makes every late-night date a romantic one. Truth be told, I expected all of that. What I did not expect was to be utterly smitten by the Wraith’s two-tone paintjob.

What was the last mass-market passenger car to be sold in the United States with an optional two-color finish? Don’t tell me that it was the ’90s Explorer Eddie Bauer, because I don’t want to think about that despicable slug of a trucklet. Perhaps it was the ’80s Town Car? The bustleback Seville? And could two-tone paint jobs ever make a comeback? I think they might, and I’ll tell you why.

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By on April 6, 2017

2016 Subaru WRX at an autocross event, Image: © 2016 Bozi Tatarevic/The Truth About Cars

Talk about being careful what you wish for. I now have about 40 questions in my inbox for “Ask Jack,” with more steadily trickling in. I’m going to answer all of them, either here or via e-mail, and in a semi-timely manner to boot. So don’t be afraid to send your questions to [email protected]. I’m ready, and waiting, to give you the kind of bad advice you can only get from somebody who’s crashed more marriages than he has crashed race cars!

Robert writes:

Hi Jack. In keeping with the mantra, “Want to be a better driver? Get a worse tire,” I do indeed want to be a better driver. Specifically, a better autocross driver. I’ve run the original equipment, 600-treadwear tires on my ’14 Honda Civic Si for my first four events. I suck, but I’m steadily improving with every event. I can get one, maybe two more events out of these tires before they’re down past the tread-wear markers. All the instructors I’ve driven with say the same thing: get Potenza RE71s because the tires I have are costing me 2 to 5 seconds. That gap would have gotten me on the podium at the last two events. But I know I’m still leaving seconds out there due to my inexperience. Should I go Potenza when I replace the tires?

This is the sort of question I love to get — thoughtful, easy to understand, and right in the proverbial wheel house. Even better, the answer to the question will be useful to many of you, even if you have no idea what an “autocross” might be.

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By on April 5, 2017

Eaglerider Las Vegas

“How do you like the Camry SE?” I asked.

“Oh,” the fellow replied, in a thick South Asian accident, “it is very nice, I do prefer it to the LE that I had before, you are much more connected to the road. I am driving at least four thousand miles a month with Uber, and it is very reliable.”

“Grounded to the ground,” I suggested.

“Yes, that is exactly right. Well, here we are. Thank you!”

“No, thank you!” I replied, and I meant it, because this particular driver was not only nice, he was quick. The drive from my hotel to the Las Vegas Eaglerider had taken about half as long as it normally does. I stumbled out into the daylight and walked through the smoked-glass front door into the showroom. It was empty save for a few ladders and one construction-type dude doing precisely nothing in a corner.

You idiot, I realized, you gave him the wrong Eaglerider. The old one. About this time last year, my friends at the Las Vegas Depot moved four miles down the street. Furious with myself, I checked my phone to see what I’d requested. Damn it. The mistake wasn’t mine. I’d asked for the correct Eaglerider. He’d taken me to the wrong one, presumably out of habit. I turned around and ran back out the door. The white Camry SE was a quarter-mile down the road. Gone, man.

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By on March 31, 2017

Project Cars on Craigslist

I was still in my 20s, browsing my local library’s jazz catalog with what I hoped was an open mind, when I found Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron’s “Winter In America” tucked between Wynton Marsalis and Chick Corea. I had a vague idea of who Scott-Heron was from my years in school, so I snagged it, put the CD in my Fox on the way home, and I was … struck dumb. This was something new for me, both musically and politically. In the years since, I’ve often thought that if God truly loved me he would have given me Gil Scott-Heron’s steady baritone instead of my over-modulated tenor.

In the years that followed, I persevered as a fan of Scott-Heron through the man’s ups and downs. Shortly before his death, he stunned me and everybody else again with I’m New Here, a heartfelt but judiciously studied effort that was aimed with laser precision at rap fans and the regular-at-Yoshi’s crowd alike. In that album’s title track, Scott-Heron gathers up what is left of his voice and growls, “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone / you can always turn around.” It was a knowingly ironic statement from a man who could clearly foresee his imminent death from AIDS-related complications, but it was also a final benediction, a last bit of weary advice from a man who had long viewed himself as a prophet without honor in his own community.

That phrase — “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone / you can always turn around” — has weighed heavily on me lately, for any number of reasons. I have a few friends, some more dear to me than others, who would benefit mightily from a serious application of that advice. But since this is at least nominally a blog about cars, let’s talk about what it means to our four-wheeled decisions, instead of how it might apply to relationships that should have been dropped in the Marianas Trench years ago.

Yes, let’s do that.

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By on March 31, 2017

Fictional Autonomous Ford in Super Bowl Commercial

Don’t look now, but it would appear that SkyNet has finally arrived — in an expert system designed to make certain judgments during autonomous vehicle operation. NetworkWorld’s breathless report states, “Basically the patented IBM system employs onboard sensors and artificial intelligence to determine potential safety concerns and control whether self-driving vehicles are operated autonomously or by surrendering control to a human driver.” We don’t need to worry about preserving John Connor’s life, or even conceiving that life (with your friend’s mom!) quite yet, however.

The definition of “artificial intelligence” that NetworkWorld is using could just as easily apply to your “smart”phone’s various character-recognition systems. But the problem that this so-called AI purports to solve is one that has far-reaching implications for the timeline, and methods, by which autonomous vehicle operation enters the mainstream.

And it leads to a very simple question.

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By on March 28, 2017

2008 Maxima, Image: Nissan

This week’s episode of Ask Jack is all about the magic boxes that separate today’s cars from their predecessors — and the unintended consequences of when it all goes wrong.

Reader Eiriksmal writes:

I hope I’ve startled you with this bold introduction. There’s a question I have that only you can answer … probably. It takes a sophisticated man with all sorts of worldly experience that I lack.

You see, I drive a car without antilock brakes, traction control, or stability control. I’m a whipper snapper who’s only been driving 14 years, so I never knew an era without ABS, at the very least. My beloved sixth-generation Maxima, what with the six-speed manual, has a malfunctioning ABS module, so the ABS and TC (no yaw sensor was installed on the 6MT cars — ESC was autotragic only) are kaput. I’ve driven it sans braking assistance for 2.5 years, but today was my first heart-clenching episode caused by a lack of experience with driving an ABS-less car.

I noticed when bedding in some new brakes recently that the back end tries to come around the front in a panic stop after the wheels lock. Sometimes it just squirms a little, other times it would step the back end out a solid 6-8 inches. This confuses me. When I’m pointing in a straight line, holding the steering wheel tight, and jamming the pedal to the floor, why does the lighter back end try to rotate around the heavy nose?

Today, a jerk in an Escape lumbered out in front of me …

This sounds like trouble.

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By on March 24, 2017

2017 Dodge Durango R/T Blacktop, Image: FCA

Welcome back to Question Of The Day, where I will be answering the questions that YOU, the Google Search customer, use to find our humble website. Your first question, Is Dodge Durango FWD or AWD, was asked by two different people! It deserves an answer, and the answer is: Sometimes it is one of those things!

Let’s see what else you wanted to know but were too afraid to publicly ask …

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By on March 22, 2017

Cadillac XT5 and XTS Badges, Image: © 2017 Jack Baruth

Don’t listen to anybody who tries to tell you that all new cars are about the same nowadays, even if they’re referring to the inhabitants of a particular market segment. While I was at my local auto show last week, I took a few minutes to pretend that I was still my 2005-or-thereabouts self and that I was in the market for a new car. I was a different man back then: childless, fancy-free, still pushin’ those Schedule Twos, and personally addicted to flossin’ in the finest full-sized sedans that did not attract a Flying Spur’s worth of attention from the authorities.

Back then, I divided my street car, four-door wheel time between a Volkswagen PhaetonAudi A8, and Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG. I thought I’d look at a few bland big-ballers and pick a favorite using the same criteria that drove my decisions lo these many years ago. Started with the Genesis G90. Now this is a nice car. Lots of room, acceptable interior quality, and the blank-faced menacing mien that used to come standard with fuselage New Yorkers. And such a bargain, too. Make mine the V8 AWD. Hell, I thought about buying one right now but I can no longer justify spending more than $50,000 on a new car unless it has a snake badge on the nose.

Next up: Lincoln Continental. The G90 makes it feel tight inside but this is the one to have for interior ambiance. Bright, airy, and chock-full of unashamed, authentic design for design’s sake. I never thought the day would come when an American car would be able to compete heads-up with Audi in the cockpit, but the Continental absolutely makes the case.

Last on the list, the Cadillac CT6. Well, what can we say about that?

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By on March 21, 2017

2014 Lincoln MKT, Image: Ford Motor Company

Before we get down to the meat of this week’s question, a brief bit of housekeeping. If you have a question for “Ask Jack”, send it to askjack@jackbaruth.com. I will accept and privately answer questions on any topic, regardless of my qualifications to do so. Perhaps you would like to know how to catch the eye of that bored, fidgety, but remarkably attractive housewife down the street. Maybe you need to reshuffle Excel spreadsheets using Perl from a command line, or make a tattoo gun using only the items available in a Midwestern prison. I can help you with any of these queries and a million more. However, in keeping with the fundamental dignity of this website, only questions of an automotive nature will be answered here. No matter what the precise nature of your business might be, please title the email “Ask Jack”.

Now where we were? Oh yes: a fellow with the world’s best car is interested in trading it for the world’s ugliest crossover.

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By on March 17, 2017

20170316_131301

There’s something ironic about it, and I don’t mean in the way Alanis Morissette uses the term: The media days at the major auto shows offer unmatched access to the vast majority of vehicles on sale in the United States today. The stuff that gets locked up and put behind barriers once the shows open to the public is usually open and available for your inspection.

Want to try out the back seat in a Mulsanne, or rub your dirty fingers all over the steering wheel of your favorite supercar? It’s all possible — and usually without the lines, disruption, and drama that you’d expect once the average Joes get in the door. Not even the $500-a-head charity previews will get you the unfettered touch time with your favorite high-end automobile that comes as standard equipment with a zero-buck press pass.

Yet if you are “working” a show, that means spending nine hours a day literally running between press conferences, frantically uploading photos or writing summaries, and staying in motion until you’re dead on your feet. Then it’s time to go to a series of all-you-can-drink parties where you’ll be surrounded all night by the kind of people who whine about Republicans then wave nonchalantly for a Rolls-Royce to take them to a $699 per night hotel. Wake up the next morning, rinse and repeat.

In other words, even though the media days at the major shows are a car enthusiast’s dream, the circumstances of auto-journo employment tend to interfere with that dream. Yesterday, I tried taking an antidote to that poisonous mindset, in the form of a no-expenses-paid trip to the Columbus, Ohio auto show.

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