Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on December 2, 2016

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Avalon badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

“Well, I bought that car last night.” Craig has this unnerving habit of simply appearing at my cubicle while I’m trying to do something productive, like texting people or reading random articles from the Last Psychiatrist archive on my phone. He’s a soft-spoken fellow, entering late middle age the same way that I am but not showing nearly as much evidence of blunt trauma, well-compensated in his engineering job but modest in appearance and disinclined to spend money.

Regarding my life and temperament, I like to follow the example of Robert Bly in quoting Cesar Vallejo: “Well, / On the day that I was born / God was sick / gravely.” I suspect that on the day that Craig was born, by contrast, God was in perfect health and settling down with the newest issue of Consumer Reports. About a month ago, Craig started seriously thinking about replacing his 150,000-mile Honda CR-V. It’s been a faithful companion for a freeway commute that takes about an hour in each direction, but even the most prosaic of Hondas eventually reaches a point where the cost of maintenance starts to become a factor. Not in money, necessarily, but in time.

Knowing that I dabble a bit in things automotive, Craig had asked what I thought about the new CR-V. This was a subject on which I was glad to speak, because I absolutely despise the “cute-utes” and will take every opportunity to rooster-block the purchase of one.

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By on November 29, 2016

UberSELECT

There are some absolutely terrible people in this world who are fools for prestige, suckers for any shiny bauble or deplorable frippery that might permit them the despicable foppery of believing themselves to be somehow better than their fellow men for the least justifiable of reasons.

I am one of those terrible people. I wear Kiton suits even though I am so breathtakingly ugly that no manner of haute couture can make any possible difference. I have a “Black Series” toothbrush. When I saw a fellow racer who happened to be a hugely wealthy fellow from Hong Kong pull out an “Infinite” series Visa card to lay down next to my “Signature” series Visa, I did not rest until I was also in possession of an “Infinite” Visa that was stamped from actual metal instead of merely molded out of plastic. When my plans to acquire a European noble title from some down-and-out distant relatives around the turn of the century foundered, I actually purchased a barony from a (very small, not quite legitimate) country.

There is no activity or purchase too ridiculous for me to undertake in the name of perceived prestige. Or so I thought … until the day I paid $78 dollars to ride in an Uber Select.

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By on November 23, 2016

2013 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Image: General Motors

Alright … here’s the deal. It’s the year 2007. You can buy one of the highest-performing automobiles ever sold to the general public for a relative bargain — let’s say $70,000. It’s possible that you will pay less, particularly if you have access to an employee pricing plan. Then you can put 30,000 to 40,000 miles on said car over the course of nine years. Maybe a bit more.

When it’s time to sell that car, how much would you expect to get?

Let’s put this in perspective. Last year, Acura won the Edmunds resale-value crowd with a projected retention of 47.6 percent after five years. So if you could match that, you’d be at $33,320. After five years. After nine years? Well, that’s anybody’s guess. But it would certain be less than $33,320. With that in mind, what would be a realistic number to get if you just tossed the thing on eBay? Fifteen grand? Twenty? Would you believe… between $38,000 and $45,000?

If you’re currently the owner of a sixth-generation Corvette Z06, the above scenario is no dream.

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By on November 22, 2016

2015 Kawasaki ZX-14R, Image: © 2016 Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars

For the time being, we can still call it “Indian Summer.” Maybe not for much longer — my alma mater, Miami University, bent the knee to social-justice pressure on this issue a few years ago. We had been the Miami Redskins, but after a prolonged siege by the forces of manufactured outrage the university agreed to change us to the Miami Redhawks. It is worth noting that the Chief of the Miami Tribe in no way objected to the old logo or name; he thought it was used in a reasonable and dignified manner. But when faced between the choice of respecting the opinion of an actual Native American or listening to the incoherent babble of their own privileged white-girl hearts, Miami’s students of course chose the latter.

I kind of like the bird they chose — it looks angry, although to my mind it is not distinct enough from the Bowling Green Falcon, and that’s a shame because BG is an emphatically third-rate university and Miami is only second-rate. Angry is good. It’s easy to picture such a red hawk flying above the muted palette of the Ohio late fall forest, two-lane roads with orange and red leaves disconnected from stems by a killing morning frost then resurrected in impromptu whirling whorls set to spinning above the tarmac by the Vettes and ‘vertibles of all sorts, the lumbering Harleys and white-trash sportbikes and adventure-cuck bikes taking brief but permitted nonsense trips to nowhere. We can get these magical weekends every once in awhile, right at the end of the season, and this past Saturday was the perfect example — 76 degrees and a panoply parade of pleasure vehicles out for the last sorties of the year.

Now it’s 28 and I’m the only bike on the road to work this morning, flash-frozen on the freeway, every joint hurting and the tires chilled to a sort of bitter truce with the road surface, chittering at the hint of a lean.

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By on November 18, 2016

2017 Honda Civic Coupe Si – Image: Honda

Imagine a world without war. More specifically, imagine a world without the horsepower war that has dominated the automotive landscape over the past fifteen years.

It’s easy if you try. The Corvette would still have 350 horsepower; mid-engined Ferraris would have about 400. The Mustang? 260 raging ponies. Most pickup trucks would have under three hundred horses, and some would have fewer than two hundred. The V12-powered Mercedes sedans would have just a bit more than half the puissance they currently possess. The Subaru STi would have 300 hp to humiliate the VW GTI’s 200 hp, while the top-spec Nissan Sentra would send 180 hp through a six-speed manual, about which a big deal would be made.

Perhaps you experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance while reading that last sentence. After all, the current Subaru STi has 305 horsepower now, facing the 210 horsepower of the GTI, and the just-announced Sentra Nismo is expected to put out 188 ponies. Compared to their turn-of-the-century ancestors, both of those cars actually have a worse power-to-weight ratio today. And while the new Civic Si is expected to put up a slightly better number than the 2006 Civic Si, it’s going to come from a 1.5-liter turbo engine that will likely be stressed to the gills, not a tuned-down variant of the Type-R’s two-liter.

So, while the wealthy car buyers among us are enjoying an era of unprecedented power in their sports cars, SUVs, and big sedans, the entry-level buyers are being asked to do more with less. Sounds familiar, right?

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By on November 15, 2016

2016 BMW M3

My friend “Edward” is a conservative fellow. He’s smart, and he’s successful, but he’s also not going to be the first person in a group to, say, jump into a lake of unknown temperature. He’d rather let some other idiot take the risk.

In at least two cases, I’ve been that idiot.

When he met my voluptuous Italian housekeeper at my 40th birthday party, he thought she was pretty neat — but he waited to ask her out until I’d confirmed that said housekeeper was both fantastic in bed and unlikely to send him a boiled rabbit in the mail. And once he saw that owning an Audi S5 didn’t mean that I’d be spending every weekend drinking coffee at the service department, he picked up an Audi S4 for a daily driver. In contrast to my lime green six-speed V8 coupe, however, his Audi was a dual-clutch, supercharged-V6, metallic black four-door. Conservative. Just like him.

Edward would like to replace his S4 before winter comes. My advice to him was to take a safer version of my current path: get himself an Accord V6 sedan for the commuting grind and a brand-new Z51 Corvette for the weekends. He can certainly afford to do it, but instead, he’s thinking about upping the ante to a loaded-up M3 with a dual-clutch transmission. However, I had a slightly different idea, as you will see.

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By on November 11, 2016

volkswagen 1938

They say that Donald Trump is Literally Hitler. That he is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. That he believes all the things that Hitler believed. That his plan to restrict illegal immigration is literally equivalent to killing six million people. He says he can build a peaceful relationship with Russia instead of having an awesome progressive war over Syria. Guess what? HITLER ALSO BUILT A PEACEFUL RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA. Before attacking Russia. It’s true. Look in an old racist history book and you can see that Hitler made peace with Russia in nineteen-something, right before he sent Messerschmitt Bf109s to attack peaceful villagers in Mexico, or Spain, or whatever.

Alright, so all of that might be a bit exaggerated, although if you’re one of the participation-trophy Millennials who is currently milling about a Starbucks in an attempt to overturn a democratic election, you probably don’t believe in that.

But what if it had been true? What if Donald J. Trump wasn’t just a businessman, hustler, and television personality who managed to elevate himself to the Presidency mostly on his own dime despite being stabbed in the back by everybody from CNN to Paul Ryan, but instead he was literally Hitler?

Well, if you’re a student of pre-war German history like I was as a child, you know that he would immediately insist on a few things: a revival of traditional culture, full employment, and … wait for it … a People’s Car.

What would that look like? What would the American Folks-Wagon be?

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By on November 9, 2016

20161107_145554

What if… you could walk into a Honda dealership and buy a brand-new Honda from fifteen years ago or thereabouts? Would you buy a sixth-generation Accord, all 2,950 sensibly-sized pounds of it? What about one of those Year 2000 Civic Si coupes, the ones that are worth almost as much with 200,000 miles on them as they were when they sat on the showroom floor? How much would you pay to travel into the increasingly distant past of Japan’s most enthusiast-oriented, detail-driven automaker?

Well, here’s the good news: you can walk into a Honda dealership tomorrow and buy a fifteen-year-old design with just the barest minimum of minor cosmetic updates to separate the “new” model from the one you could have gotten back in ’01. Here’s the bad news: it’s a motorcycle. Here’s the worse news: it’s a Gold Wing. Here’s the worst news of all: if there has ever been a Honda that truly needed to be revamped into compliance with the state of the art elsewhere in the industry, it would be this one.

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By on November 3, 2016

Darksiding, Image: jojovols/Photobucket

Here’s the problem with writing for public consumption: you never know when you’re going to accidentally touch someone’s third rail, so to speak.

Two years ago, I wrote about the practice of “darksiding” for Road & Track. I doubt most of you have heard that term; it refers to the practice of putting a passenger-car tire on the back of a heavy touring motorcycle like a Honda GoldWing. When I wrote the piece, I had no particular opinion about the merits of “darksiding”; rather, I was focused on the idea that exhaustive, high-budget development often makes it possible for a bad product (or a bad idea) to triumph over better products/ideas that don’t get that same amount of development.

My failure to hysterically excoriate the “darksiders” led a couple of wannabe motorcycle writers to mount a spectacularly ineffective harassment campaign against me, trying to get me fired from my job and/or removed from various media outlets. The sum total of it was that I got kicked off Facebook, which in the long run has done me more good than harm. I haven’t given “darksiding” much thought since then; none of the seven motorcycles my son and I collectively own would benefit from a passenger-car tire. Furthermore, I only ride eight or nine thousand miles a year, not really enough to make an economic case for darksiding even if I had a proper touring bike.

If a recent thread on Reddit is any guide, however, darksiding hasn’t disappeared just because I forgot about it. To the contrary; it’s stronger than ever. And while there are sound scientific reasons why it’s a terrible idea, considering those reasons in depth exposes one of my favorite flaws in what I (sympathetically) think of as “the Asperger’s mindset.”

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By on November 2, 2016

vegas

“You’re in Vegas? Me too! Hey, I’m at the Hoover Dam, waiting for them to come get my broken McLaren!” My phone was “blowin’ up,” as they say, with texts from “Brayden,” the infamous owner of the Bitcoin Bimmer. And it was true: I was in Vegas, along with Brother Bark, to drive with EXR in their first-ever endurance event — the day-into-night, three-hour “United Fiber & Data 250.” The race was held at the same purpose-built, 1.4-mile road course that EXR’s parent company, Exotics Racing, uses for their rent-a-supercar experiences. Our practice and qualifying sessions were woven into the day there in such a manner that I also got to watch several hundred normal customers arrive-and-drive the cars of their dreams.

The Exotics Racing experience is very track-centric. They don’t do street rentals at all. They put you in a car with an instructor and you drive in a very controlled, very safe environment. During some of the downtime between practice sessions, Danger Girl and I held an impromptu time-attack challenge — me in a 458 Italia and her in a Huracan. (I won, but not by much: 1.3 seconds.) But if you’d rather drive a McLaren or Ferrari up and down the Vegas strip, there are more than a few companies that will oblige you. In fact, that was how Brayden had come to be in possession of a broken McLaren 570S; he’d rented one, promptly “railed” it out to Hoover Dam, and just-as-promptly popped off a coolant hose while idling in a line of traffic.

During my three days in Vegas, I saw so many people trundling around in rented exotics that I started to wonder: What kind of person drops a grand just to troll around the Strip? I know you probably have an immediate and negative response to that, not in part because you can just imagine my spoiled little pal Brayden hollering at Saran-Wrapped “Pimp and Ho Party” participants outside the Bellagio. But after doing the math, I’ve come up with a very different opinion.

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