Posts By: Jack Baruth

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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By on October 28, 2016

flatout

“Corvette in the tire wall outside Turn 2.” Maybe over the tire wall was more like it; the front tires were six feet in the air, the back bumper had dragged the muddy ground behind it smooth of grass like a knife across cake frosting, and the driver looked like he was going to have a very hard time getting out of the thing. In under thirty seconds, there were black flags out all the way around the course. Two minutes later, most of the other cars in the group, including the 2004 Boxster S driven by Danger Girl with yours truly sitting in the right seat, were filing back into the paddock.

One man continued alone, still out there on the track, still driving flat out. He blew by the thirty cars lined up for pit entrance, oblivious or uncaring as to why they were all pulling off at the same time. Ignored every black flag that waved at him, first nonchalantly and then with increasing urgency, as he flew past the long corner into the back straight. And his Cayman GTS was at the eleventh tenth of grip as he came screaming around Turn One and found himself faced with two emergency vehicles, a forklift, and several people standing on or near the track surface. He panic-braked. Realized there had been a major incident on-track, perhaps three minutes after it had happened, and nearly two minutes since he’d passed Turn 2 in his previous lap, somehow without seeing the Corvette up in the air some thirty feet from the track’s exit curb. Came to a sheepish halt. Made the drive of shame, two miles to pit out, with dozens of people pointing at him and wondering what his major malfunction was.

Naturally, none of this was his fault.

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By on October 26, 2016

helicopter (Ted Velas/Facebook]

Remember the good old days? When men were men, women were grateful for that, and drunk drivers weren’t running into aircraft? Well, it’s #THE CURRENT YEAR, as noted pint-sized pansy ass John Oliver reminds America’s idle rich every Sunday night, and those innocent times of yore are long gone, replaced by a world in which even fire ants need a safe space.

But there’s no space in Gallup, New Mexico that is safe from drunk drivers, as 26-year-old Glenn Livingston recently proved.

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By on October 24, 2016

fusion-hybrid-window-sticker

It was called The Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958 and it was sponsored by Almer Stillwell Monroney, the Senator from Oklahoma who preferred the colloquial nickname “Mike” and whose other legislative priority in 1958 was to create the FAA.

We owe Mike Monroney a lot. He was from that long-discredited and long-forgotten breed of old privileged men who believed there was such a thing as the public interest and that they had a genuine duty to act in that public interest. As with Rudolf Diesel, history has paid him the supreme compliment of omitting capitalization — it’s common for “monroney” to be used in correspondence or business as a mere noun denoting the window sticker in a new car.

We take the monroney for granted nowadays. There are few of us left alive who can remember the days when a car did not have its price and equipment fully and forthrightly glued to the inside of its rear passenger window. In fact, very few of us take the window sticker at all seriously. Everybody knows that in the modern car market the dealer invoice is the “real” sticker, unless you’re talking about a Ferrari or something where the MSRP is just a starting point for further discussions based on one’s history with the marque, the dealership, and/or Goldman Sachs. But the protection and information offered by that label in the window is real, it is meaningful, and it is absolutely critical to any remotely ethical business transaction between the dealer and the consumer. (Read More…)

By on October 18, 2016

Ethanol Plant In South Dakota.

Arthur C. Clarke is perhaps best-known as the fellow who wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but he is notorious among science-and-engineering types for having once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This statement is, of course, entirely relative. The vast majority of human beings in this or any other era can be easily confused by everything from a torque wrench to the weight difference between a pound of bricks and a pound of feathers.

The news that came out of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory last week, however, is going to blur the science/magic boundary for most of us. A group of scientists there discovered a way to turn water that has been saturated with CO2 into ethanol using nano-spike catalysts. At room temperature. It’s (not quite) as simple as this: You apply a lot of electricity to the water in the presence of this material, and it turns into ethanol.

This is going to cause a lot of problems.

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By on October 17, 2016

Chrysler 300 SRT-8

Friends and roamin’ countrymen, lend me your ears! The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is on the way. It might not be in dealer order books quite yet, but it’s been spotted all over the place. As a business proposition, you can’t beat it; the first Grand Cherokee SRT-8 was a very satisfying automobile, and the current one is even better. Sure, every SRT Grand Cherokee ever built is a kind of ironic statement on the idiocy of the modern consumer, who is willing to pay extra money to get less room and worse handling as long as he can sit six inches higher than his neighbor, but adding the Hellcat engine to it makes it perfectly ironic. It’s the combination of added-then-removed off-road capability and an engine that is simply too powerful to use fully unless you are willing to go full-sociopath on your fellow motorists. Nothing could be more American, nothing could be more THE_CURRENT_YEAR. I accept the existence of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and urge you to do the same.

But as long as we’re expanding the availability of what is probably the Greatest American V8 in History, shouldn’t we also take a moment to give it a home that is both appropriate and respectful of Chrysler tradition? That’s right: I’m talkin’ ’bout a 300C Hellcat.

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By on October 12, 2016

Ally Contract Marketing Website

I’ve always been suspicious of the word “ally.”

As a child, reading John Toland and William Shirer when most of my classmates were still sounding out words one syllable at a time, I didn’t much care for the Allies. Instead, I rather approved of the Axis powers — minus that treacherous Stalin, mind you. Save your disapproval. The rest of America must have secretly felt the same way or else we wouldn’t have surrendered our vehicle-manufacturing capabilities to Germany and Japan. Indeed, I think that President Bush made a mistake talking about the “Axis Of Evil.” First off, that sounds like a really bad-ass metal band. Second, it implies that the countries involved might eventually create reissues of the Messerschmitt Me262 Sturmvogel, which would be enough to sway any man with functioning testicles to their cause.

But “Ally” is also a euphemism for GMAC, the company that sucked up $17 billion worth of taxpayer money so it could offer 0-percent financing on Chinese-made Buick Envision SUVs. And since the nice people at Ally learned precisely nothing from that bailout, the same way your neighbor’s kid Chadwick learned precisely the wrong lesson from his parents’ decision to replace his 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 with a 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL 550 after Chadwick tripped out on Ecstasy and barrel-rolled said SLK into a kindergarten schoolyard, Ally busies itself offering all sorts of additional financial “products” via direct mail to all sorts of people.

I’m one of those people.

Ally wants to cover my 2014 Accord V6 (did you know I had one?) with a special service contract. Who’s the bigger fool here: Ally, for offering me a contract, or me, for considering it?

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By on October 7, 2016

Why Drive Honda When You Could Drive BMW?, Image: BMW of Sarasota

How ’bout that new Civic sedan? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s the boldest mainstream design I’ve seen from a Japanese manufacturer since Honda got rid of the hidden headlamps on the Accord back in ’92. It’s got a ton of surface texture, a vicious fastback profile with a tiny trunk opening, and big wheel arches like a show car.

There’s only one problem; it’s a clear and present riff on the Audi A7. But as we’ll see, this is a game Honda has played before.

(Read More…)

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