Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on May 23, 2017

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I don’t Netflix and I don’t chill. I live my life in the first person and I take my stories through my own eyeballs so I can turn around and tell them to you. So here is a little story for you, about a girl I happen to know. You can call her a woman, if you like and if it suits your politics. She calls herself a girl.

Once upon a time, this girl was a pilot. She was still a teenager when she soared off into the New Mexico sky on her own for the first time. When she landed, her instructor cut off the tail of her dress shirt. This is a thing, if you did not know. She was tall and blonde and very serious. She grew up to own a few businesses and she became very much her own girl. She was independent. And if she did not always have things her own way, at least she always had the sky waiting for her.

This girl met a very bad man. He was bad in the way that men in the movies are bad, that violent, intemperate, dramatic way. And he was also bad in the tiresome little ways that men in real life are bad, the forgetting and the wandering and the way he was too slippery to pin down, like oyster meat under your fork or tongue. And one day she woke up to find herself fuzzy-headed in the hospital, bolted together inside and out, very far from home, stuck with this bad man like Belle in the castle of the Beast.

She wanted to fly home, but there was no way to fly home. There was no more way to fly at all. She was broken in ways that might always keep her from flying. I am sure she thought about giving up. But she put her head down and she worked on unbreaking herself. They say you cannot unbreak yourself, the same way you cannot un-ring a bell. But she unbroke herself.

“If I cannot fly,” she said, “I will race.”

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By on May 18, 2017

2018 Subaru WRX STI, Image: Subaru

Earlier this week, I fielded a question regarding German hot hatches. A few commenters suggested that I had made a mistake by not recommending the Subaru WRX or STi as an alternative to the Golf R and Focus RS. After all, I’d been perfectly content to recommend a Subaru as an alternative to a Volkswagen just a week before. So why not suggest an STI in place of an RS? Was it the long-dormant Euro-snob in me surfacing unexpectedly, like a Kraken slouching up from dark water to terrify the innocents on shore with its repugnant and vicious countenance? Or had I simply forgotten about the mere existence of the twin turbo compacts?

With regards to the first of these two scenarios, I can only assure the readership I’ve repented of my youthful Euro-snobbery to a degree that would make a post-Room-101 Winston Smith weep over his Victory Gin. With regards to the second scenario, I will only say this: somebody has forgotten about the WRX and STi, and that somebody is the corporate person known as Subaru of America.

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By on May 18, 2017

Stop multi-tasking and listen to me for a minute, because I’m going to tell you the most important thing you’ll read this week. Many years ago, when I was still in the pharmaceuticals game, I had a business mentor of sorts. He was a thick-set, bald, African-American fellow in his early 60s who dressed exclusively in […]

By on May 16, 2017

Volkswagen Golf R vs Ford Focus RS

You know what I miss? Besides the second season of Miami Vice, the Atari 800, and a country where grown men didn’t agree to appear in simpering photography sessions commemorating their emasculating engagements to former late-night legends of the Sig Ep house at Ohio State? I miss the days when automakers didn’t field an entry into every single possible automotive segment. I miss that halcyon period where Mercedes-Benz made sedans and Porsche made sports cars and never the twain needed to meet except in the destination garages of their superbly tasteful owners. Back when everybody stuck to their individual knitting, the products were better (for their time, of course) and the brand identities made more sense. I’m reminded of something that my musical idol and harshest critic, Victor Wooten, once said: “Instead of learning other instruments … I take the time that I would spend learning those instruments … and I put that time into learning my instrument, you dig?”

As my future third-wife Este once sang, however, those days are gone. In $THE_CURRENT_YEAR, nearly every manufacturer competes in nearly every segment. Which brings me to this week’s question, submitted by an extremely verbose fellow who needs to choose a German hatchback.

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By on May 12, 2017

Lada Niva Russia 2009. Picture courtesy of AvtoVAZ (aka Lada)

The relationship between the United States and Russia over the past hundred years or so would put any soap-opera romance to shame. Russia was the enemy in the 1930s, then it was an ally, then it was the enemy. When I was a kid in the ’70s, the Soviet Union was absolutely the enemy and we all expected that someday there would be war between the countries. Despite a concerned media effort to paint McCarthy, Nixon, et al as panicked morons swinging at shadows, most of us figured the Soviet Union did, in fact, regularly attempt to interfere in American affairs. (Turns out McCarthy was as right as he was wrong, maybe more so.) Sure, you had the committed leftists who were willing to take a “honeymoon” there, but they were few and far between.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia-US relations enjoyed a thaw. It didn’t last. Now the same political left that excused Stalin’s purges is clutching its pearls over Crimea, while the right-wingers who used to seriously discuss a nuclear-equipped preemptive strike against Moscow see Mr. Putin as a sort of fun-loving, horse-riding fellow who has the guts to drive an F1 car in wet conditions.

This is the sort of stark dichotomy that tends to cause trouble if left untended. Luckily, there’s something that can be done about it.

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By on May 11, 2017

2016 Porsche 911 Targa 4 GTS

My father had a lot of career advice for me growing up, all of which I cheerfully ignored as I planned a future as a bike-shop owner or folk guitarist. He thought I should go to work for Proctor&Gamble. Sell soap to the masses. Climb the corporate hierarchy to the C-suite. Own a tasteful but extravagant home in Cincinnati’s most exclusive neighborhood. This was bad advice. I learned a long time ago that I don’t have the bow-and-scrape mentality required for success in a corporation.

You know what Dad should have told me instead? He should have told me to be a doctor. I have all the required characteristics: arrogance, blind confidence, a lack of empathy, and a willingness to forget about people as soon as I walk out of a room. By and large, doctors are terrible people. I should know. I’ve spent more time in the hospital than your average late-stage cancer patient.

Robert Ringer once called medical school “a place where people are trained to think they are infallible” — or something like that. He was right. Doctors are notorious for being poor stewards of their money due to simple overconfidence in their own instincts and innate superiority. Thirty years ago, when long-term open-ended leasing was a veritable art form of forcible financial sodomy, the most sadistic practitioner of that art in my area was a storefront that called itself “Physicians Leasing.” They put our local doctors in loaded W126 Benzes for $400/month. Every two years they’d swap the docs out into new Benzes. Further and further underwater our local physicians went, until the final mid-five-figure bill came due. Luckily, it was an era of skyrocketing home equity.

Doctors love their fancy cars, that’s for sure. But I recently found a website that argues an extreme but interesting case: the most money a physician should spend on a car is five grand, period, point blank.

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By on May 9, 2017

[Image: Rudolf Stricker/Wikimedia Commons]

Long-time readers of this site know that your humble author was once a salesman at an Infiniti dealership. At the time, I’d have much rather been a salesman at a Lexus dealership. Perhaps it’s better that I didn’t get my wish, because being a Lexus salesman is an actual career that enables people to buy luxury homes and save for retirement and hold their heads up in their community. If I’d started working for a Lexus dealer back in 1994, I’d still be working at a Lexus dealer today, which means I would’ve missed out on a career that took me everywhere from the Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg to the podium at Sepang to the county jail.

You know, I’d be okay with that. Being a Lexus salesman would have been great. There would, however, have been one continual annoyance: explaining to people who bought the original 1990 LS400 for $35,000 that their replacement 1998 LS400 was going to cost a minimum of $53,999. That’s a hefty bump for what was basically the same car. I suspect that a lot of first-gen LS400 buyers ended up buying an ES300 for their second Lexus; by 1998, the well-equipped sticker on that car was $35,000 or slightly over.

There’s nothing quite as disappointing as finding out that your budget doesn’t allow you to purchase the modern equivalent of the car you already have. But that’s the situation facing today’s “Ask Jack” participant.

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By on May 5, 2017

Uber (freestocks.org/Flickr)

Don’t look now, but the ride-sharing company everybody loves to hate is in trouble yet again. The Justice Department is reportedly opening an investigation into Uber’s not-so-secret “Greyball” tools, which can be used to circumvent law enforcement attempts to interfere with Uber’s business operations.

According to sources inside Uber, “Greyball” was originally developed to help protect Uber drivers from potential threats to their safety, such as unionized taxi drivers and other people who expressed their displeasure with Uber’s service in violent terms. The company soon realized Greyball could also be enhanced to help prevent “sting” operations in areas where ride-sharing services are illegal and/or heavily regulated.

I have no idea whether or not Uber will survive this unwanted federal attention; I’m reminded of the phrase used in the book Dune regarding “fools who put themselves in the way of the Harkonnen fist.” More interesting to me than that is the comment in the NYT article that some Uber employees had concerns about whether “Greyball” was “ethical.” That, I think, is the fascinating question.

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By on May 4, 2017

BMW 3 Series (E90), Image: BMW

If you’re in Manhattan on a Wednesday night, you need to head to Arthur’s in the village and catch the 10 p.m. set by soul singer Allyson Williams. She has one of the all-time great voices, expressive and touching, and she has a rotating group of crack musicians backing her up.

A few years ago, I sprawled out in Arthur’s in the middle of a post-auto-show drinking binge when Allyson decided to cover Chaka Khan’s “Through The Fire.” For a chance to be with you, the song says, I’d gladly risk it all. At the time, I took it as a personal rebuke from the Fates for having abandoned the woman I loved. Although I’ve returned to the scene many times since then, I’ve never heard her sing the tune again. Maybe I imagined it. Hard to say.

If you really love someone, you’ll endure a lot to be with them. And that’s the problem facing Eddie, although in his case it’s not a matter of going “through the fire.” Rather, it’s a question of shipping across the pond.

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By on May 1, 2017

BART C1 Car Interior, Image: Wikipedia

Here’s the good news if you own a car in San Francisco or Oakland: property crime is down by a bit compared to last year. Furthermore, there’s a new “auto burglary task force” to increase the chances that your car isn’t going to disappear overnight.

Here’s the bad news: You might want to consider using that car instead of mass transit to commute to your job or to go out in the evenings.

On April 22, a “flash mob” of between 40 and 60 people identified by the media as “teens” performed a coordinated mass robbery and assault on the occupants of a BART train in Oakland, focusing their violent attention on a particular family. They blocked doors, assaulted passengers, took everything they wanted, and vacated the scene — in just a minute or two. A transit police unit in the parking lot responded about five minutes after the attack, but that was at least 180 seconds too late.

As the saying goes: “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.”

A review of camera footage in the area has resulted in one arrest, but would-be BART users all around the Bay Area have to be asking themselves: Is this likely to happen again? And will this sort of vulnerability prevent commuters from making the switch to mass transit in the future?

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By on April 28, 2017

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon

Earlier this week, I told you about the fellow who was convinced the Dodge Demon was unsafe at any speed. I did not agree, of course; the Demon has been carefully designed to present considerably less risk to its occupants than, say, a swing-axle Beetle in high-wind conditions.

Which leads to a question: if the Demon is not the deadliest car of recent times, what is?

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By on April 27, 2017

All four Lexus LS generations, Images: Toyota Canada

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: everything, and I mean everything, is utterly and absolutely context-dependent. It’s literally true on the atomic level, where we cannot accurately measure both position and velocity at the same time. It’s true at the quantum level, where “quantum entanglement” governs behavior that is currently beyond our ability to understand. It’s even applicable in your dating life; the same size-six girl who feels insubstantial to you in the long evenings at home will acquire new heft after you spend a drunken weekend away with a size two.

Since this is an automotive website and not The Journal Of Theoretical Physics And Deniable Adultery, let’s focus on what context means in the automotive sense. The definitions of fast car, big car, economical car, reliable car, and even full-sized pickup have all changed several times since the end of the First World War. Imagine you fell into a coma in 1975 and woke up today; you’d probably ask how and why cars got so tiny and trucks got so big. The first 911 Turbo was a “widowmaker” with 260 horsepower; today’s model delivers twice that much power and still isn’t the fastest car (around a track, at least) in its price range.

More importantly, our own personal context for an automobile often determines how much we enjoy and appreciate it. Think of all the people who spend their weekends restoring, cleaning and driving “classic cars” that other people threw away decades ago. Think of the over one million people who couldn’t wait to trade their Tri-Five Chevys in on something new, and of all the people who’ve spent major portions of their lives making those same cars better than they were when they left the assembly line. That’s the power of context.

Which brings me to today’s question for Ask Jack. It’s all about one man’s very unusual, but entirely understandable, definitions of “daily driver” and “weekend special”.

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By on April 26, 2017

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Yesterday, we discussed one automotive journalist’s rather hysterical reaction to the Dodge Demon. That writer contacted TTAC shortly after the article was published to request a particular sentence be removed.

In the interest of complete clarity, I’ve elected (and Mark has agreed) to publish this correction instead.

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By on April 25, 2017

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, Image: FCA

Update: We’ve redacted a sentence from this editorial. You can find an explanation here.

Jay-Z and Beyonce got nothing on the marketing people from Dodge. The last low-volume vehicle to get this kind of publicity and raise this kind of ruckus was probably the LaFerrari, which was definitely not based on a $29.99/day rental car. (Trust me, I’ve driven the LaFerrari.) It will also toss, by my back-of-envelope estimation, somewhere between $100m and $200m into the company coffers, even if you don’t take into account all the lower-spec Challengers — even Hellcats — the Demon will sell just by drawing traffic into dealers.

The media response to the Demon has been half predictable and half rather refreshing.

The predictable part is the Motor Trend-style cheerleading, which in this case has spread far beyond MT because — let’s face it — anybody can get excited over a nine-second street car. (By contrast, it takes a seasoned hack, erm, a real pro to get excited about the Bolt.) The refreshing half of the commentary has come from the half of the media that likes to style itself as an un-elected and un-appointed fiscal watchdog of the industry. These are the people who whine a certain car “won’t sell” or “doesn’t make money” as if they are major shareholders of GM instead of underwater-basketweaving-degree-holders sitting in rent-controlled apartments on a mountain of student debt.

Normally, these people would be up in arms that an automaker has taken time off from the critical business of building suppository-shaped RX300 clones to briefly indulge in a bout of misguided enthusiasm about automobiles. In this case, however, the Demon is so obviously going to be wildly profitable that they’ve been forced to shut up and/or join the chorus of approbation. Except, that is, for one crusty old relic of the legacy media who’s found a new tune to play.

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By on April 21, 2017

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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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