Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on July 26, 2016

Just slightly over twenty-nine months since taking delivery of my 2014 Accord V6 Coupe 6MT and I’m already out of warranty. That’s not strictly true; there’s still powertrain coverage until the 50,000-mile mark. Certain items, like seatbelts and airbags and catalytic converters, will be replaced on Honda’s time for the rest of this decade, if […]

By on July 21, 2016

Accord-2

Everything old is new again: for the first time since the demise of the LX-i hatch some 28 years ago, there is going to be a fastback-profiled Accord in American Honda showrooms. The remarkably unhelpful spy shots show a wide, low rear window that wouldn’t be out of place on a first-generation Toyota Camry but which in the public imagination is currently more closely associated with the Audi A7 “four-door koo-pay”.

There’s no solid information yet on what powertrains will motivate this new Civic-derived Accord, but the general consensus is that we have seen the last of the J35 SOHC V6 engine in this application. Future upscale Accords will likely hew to the modern 2.0-liter turbo four-banger line as seen everywhere from Kia to, er, Hyundai. It’s more than a little depressing to see Honda’s traditional leadership philosophy fall apart like this. The company that once shocked the world with the Accord hatchback now waits to see what the Koreans do and then falls in line behind them.

We do, however, have one last model year of the current Accord left to run. Which means that there’s still time for Honda to assert its traditional values and send a love letter to the hooligans, street racers, and adjunct professors who have supported the brand over the past forty years — and they can do it without so much as a letter to the EPA.

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By on July 19, 2016

'95-'97 Ford Windstar, Oak Vacation Resort Hotel, Image: By Bull-Doser (Own work.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Long-time TTAC readers will recall that I had a reputation for selling the un-sellable when I worked as a Ford salesman in the halcyon days of the First Clinton Administration. This was particularly true when it came to cars that were considered showroom poison simply because of their color. I delighted in selling pink Aspires to recovering alcoholics and Tauruses with pink interiors to color-blind customers.

In the spring of 1995, the new-car manager at my dealer decided to order 25 identical Windstars to take advantage of a particularly felicitous upcoming combination of Red Carpet Lease residuals and rates.

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By on July 14, 2016

MY16_Accord_Sedan_sensing_4

One of the first things any child learns in the modern technological era is that there are tools for which the true purpose is explicitly stated and tools for which the true purpose is hidden behind some obfuscating official language, legal fiction, or disingenuous disclaimer. Examples of the former: shovels, over-and-under trapshooting shotguns, noise-canceling headphones. Examples of the latter: BitTorrent, “professional” lock-picking kits on Massdrop, the Hitachi Magic Wand.

With the simultaneous democratization of tech and increased frequency of tech-related legislation, more and more things are falling into the category of “used for purposes other than intended, or in a manner other than suggested.” Nobody ever lets the FAA know that they’re going to be flying a Phantom drone over a motocross track, nobody ever deletes their MP3s when they sell their CDs back to Half Price Books, and nobody ever takes the Yoshimura pipe off their GSX-R1000 when they leave Willow Springs and ride back home.

From the moment that the Tesla “Autopilot” feature was introduced, with its copious disclaimers and strident request that the owner keep his hands on the wheel and continue to act just like he was driving the thing himself, the whole world has treated Autopilot like it was Napster. Oh, sure, I’m just going to keep looking ahead with my hands on the wheel, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. The near-universal assumption, one I’ve seen echoed by dozens of Tesla owners, is that Autopilot is, in fact, a functioning autopilot system and all the disclaimers are just there to keep the lawyers happy.

What if that’s not the case at all?

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By on July 12, 2016

Jack Baruth in his Neon duels with a Scion FR-S

Moneymoneymoneymoney … Money!

“GO RACING ON A BUDGET!” It’s the go-to headline of a thousand magazine covers. When you see that headline, you can be assured of several things: the cost of labor will never be mentioned; nobody’s time is worth anything; nothing ever breaks, fails, or requires early replacement; and certain costs, like transportation and storage, will simply disappear without comment from the final accounting.

Today, I’d like to change all that. I’d like to tell you what this past weekend cost me, and what I got for my money. I’m doing this because I think some of you are interested in going racing, and the rest of you are simply amused when I suffer, whether physically or fiscally.

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By on July 8, 2016

symbols

This is the story. Brother Bark and I knew a fellow. At one point, he’d been kind of a big deal in the Columbus, Ohio music scene; he called himself, and the others like him, Franklin County Municipal Rock Stars. At the age of 30, he quit that scene and he quit drinking while he was at it. Got a job in Washington, D.C. as a cubicle drone. Bought himself a new Thunderbird. Paid it off in four years. Then he lost his job in the post-September-11th fallout. Ran out of money in a hurry. Moved into a tiny apartment with his girlfriend. Couldn’t afford to leave the house much. He was starting to recognize the signs of incipient agoraphobia in the way he trembled when it was time to go outside and get the mail.

He still had the ‘Bird. It was in good shape. Just six years old. His girlfriend’s car broke down. She started driving his car to work; he wasn’t using it anyway. Some days he didn’t even leave his bedroom. One day the phone at home rang. It was his girlfriend. The ‘Bird was dead. She’d been driving it down the freeway and BANG smoke GRIND silence rolling to a stop.

“I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “I should have changed the oil when it told me to.”

“The Thunderbird told you to change the oil?” our friend asked. He didn’t know it could do that.

“Yes, three weeks ago it started showing the red light that means change the oil.” It was then, according to our friend, that he hung up the phone and started sobbing. He sold The Bird for scrap. The girlfriend left him. He took a Greyhound back to Ohio and moved into a rural basement outside Kenyon College, living on old friends’ charity and doing whatever work he could accomplish without walking outside. The next time he left the house for any substantial length of time, it was to volunteer for the campaign of Barack Obama, five long years later.

“How,” he asked Bark plaintively, “could she have thought that the light meant change the oil?”

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By on July 6, 2016

statefarm

Ever wonder exactly how the various “quick-lube” places in your city made a profit?

The price of motor oil rises and falls — mostly rises — but the pricing stays at $19.95 or $24.95 or whatever your local market will bear. As fate would have it, most of my vehicles aren’t compatible with the quick-lube business model of having some sweaty dude waving your air filter in your face and telling you that it has the Zika virus while an actual rhesus monkey cross-threads your drain plug using an impact gun. My 993, as an example, has two oil filters, while my Boxster requires a 32-step process to get to the air filters. Nor would I trust my mighty Accord V6 to somebody whose path in life hasn’t qualified them to work above ground.

Not all of us have the luxury of doing our own oil changes at home, however. You might not have the space, the tools, the ability, or the time that’s required to do it correctly yourself. That last factor is perhaps the biggest. If you’re working two McJobs to make ends meet, the Valvoline Oil Change down the street might be your only practical choice. The good news: it’s cheap. The bad news: some of that cost savings comes from another way the shop makes money on you, without you even knowing.

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By on July 4, 2016

2017 Shelby GT350

Make America Great Again! It’s a dynamite slogan, simultaneously implying that America has fallen a little short of greatness lately and that a return to said greatness can absolutely be accomplished in short order. It’s a winner’s slogan, and it did wonders for that noted repeat winner, Ronald Reagan. By contrast, “I’m With Her,” the current slogan of choice for Mrs. Clinton, sounds like something a henpecked live-in boyfriend would tell a too-inquisitive salesperson at the Pottery Barn.

Whether or not Mr. Reagan truly made America great again is a discussion for another time. I will say, for the record, that I am on a particular side of that discussion, and the quasi-musician known as “Jello Biafra” is on the other.

What cannot be denied, however, is that the Reagan era saw the arrival of some truly great American cars. The C4 Corvette and its third-gen F-body cousin. The 225-horsepower Mustang GT. The Dodge Rampage 2.2. The list goes on and on, although you wouldn’t think that it does from the fact that I got to the Rampage 2.2 so quickly. I would also definitely include the Plymouth Turismo 2.2 in the list, although it would be after the Rampage because the Rampage had more cargo capacity.

Could a Trump presidency spur another era of great American cars? Or would Mrs. Clinton be the right choice to unleash a new generation of “superpredator” sports cars on the American public? While we wait for the American motor-voter to decide, let’s take a look at some of the current lows, and highs, in the domestic-brand arsenal of democracy.

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By on July 1, 2016

cheese

I was deep underwater this morning in the line at Jimmy John’s Subs, a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. Thinking about my son. Last night was his first time on a full-sized racetrack in his 50cc TopKart. I was terrified, but he was masterful, entering turns fearlessly at full throttle and nonchalantly catching slides on the way out. His feedback afterwards was detailed, exact; he remembered corner numbers and physical reference points. The best student I’ve ever had, by far, and to the manner born. No reason to not be ecstatic, although for me the happiest moment was when I told him to call it quits and he deliberately slid to a forty-five-degree-angled halt dime-square on the start/finish line, no longer in danger from light poles and concrete walls.

That was good, but there was this, too: I’d just seen a photo of a woman with whom I’d once had something. Smiling, holding a bouquet of flowers at her very recent wedding. Not sure what to think about that. Married to another handsome devil. Always the case. I’m always the most hideous, deformed creature any of my girlfriends ever dates. The minute I release them from my spell, they settle down with fresh-faced men fifteen years my junior, sensitive fellows with properly progressive leanings, tirelessly and cheerfully reaping from the furrows I’ve drukenly and dispiritedly sown. What this woman and I had wasn’t much. A few nights. A brief, furtive coupling at a racetrack before we both went out and drove press cars. Still. I could have loved her.

I mention all of this so you understand why I did not protest. The woman at the register said, “Do you want cheese?” I replied in the affirmative. She rang up “ADD Cheese $0.75.” Normally, I’d have protested this. The “Slim 5” sandwich comes with cheese. I shouldn’t have to pay for it. But I was lost in thought. I said nothing, and I paid, and I moved on.

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By on June 28, 2016

 

20160626_140719

“Hey!” Across the parking lot, my brother was yelling at somebody. “HEY! DO YOU HAVE A FLAG AT THAT CORNER? YES? YOU DO? YOU REALLY HAVE A FLAG? ARE YOU SURE? ABOUT HAVING THE FLAG? YES? THEN WAVE THE FUCKING THING NEXT TIME, YOU IDIOT, SO NOBODY GETS KILLED!”

It was ninety-four degrees at noon, with no shade available anywhere, and tempers were flaring. My son was sitting a hundred feet away in Bark’s Fiesta, making a waving motion at me that I interpreted as If you don’t leave your corner station and get me water, I’ll die in this hot car like a dog. But then he gave me a thumbs-up, which my paranoid mind interpreted as I just want to let you know you’re a great dad… before I die from the heat.

This was shaping up to be the worst autocross ever. For some of us, anyway. For my brother, who had already said that he wanted to go home at lunch. For my son, who was dying of heatstroke. For me, too; my leg hurt like hell wouldn’t have it and I felt sick to my stomach. Most of all, for the thirteen extremely annoyed men in their M3s and STIs and whatnot who were being taken to school by Danger Girl. For her, it was the best autocross ever. But it would get worse.

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