Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on January 18, 2017

Hyundai Sonata Rental with broken rear window, Image: © 2017 Jack Baruth

I closed the driver’s door and the back window of the 2017 Hyundai Sonata simply fell into the passenger compartment, a thousand little pieces sprinkled over my luggage, my spare pair of shoes, my son’s child seat. It was about 10:45 on a Saturday night. Danger Girl, my son, and I were nearly 400 miles away from home. It was 26 degrees outside. And we were about 40 miles from the nearest town with more than one stoplight.

Did I mention that the car in question was a rental?

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By on January 17, 2017

2016 Nissan Frontier

Some people have one mid-life crisis; I’ve had a series of them, rearing their ugly heads in widely disparate manners, off and on over the past 20 years. In fact, I’m now having midlife crises that are repeats of previous crises.

Example: After a fairly successful knee surgery last month, I decided to buy some new BMX bikes and go riding again, the same way I did back in 2001 or thereabouts. Last time, my partners in this ill-advised venture were a bunch of Bolivian pro BMX racers whose constant orbits around my house combined with the glossy presence of a CL55 AMG and an Audi S8 in my driveway to convince my neighbors that I was involved with the cartels. This time, my main homeboy is my seven-year-old son, newly mounted-up on a watermelon-green Sunday Primer 16 skatepark bike.

The last time I got this serious about riding, I bought a Nissan Frontier. This time I’ve thought long and hard about doing something similar. True, I have a very nice Tahoe Z71 as part of the dowry from my recent marriage, but driving anything as profoundly elephantine as a Tahoe depresses the hell out of me. What to do?

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By on January 13, 2017

gibraltar_g1_tesla_motors_model_s

Earlier today, one of the commenters on Bark’s article reiterated the oft-discredited claim that the Tesla P-whatever-D in “Ludicrous Mode” is the quickest production vehicle. Listen — I think the Tesla is a great car, and I accept that there is probably some highly-specific situation in which it’s the quickest production sedan.

But quickest production vehicle? No fuggin’ way. It would be the fifth-quickest vehicle in my garage, if I owned one…. and I don’t have a particularly quick set of vehicles.

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By on January 13, 2017

Danger Girl's Ford Fiesta ST with white Sparco wheels, Image: © 2016 Bark M./The Truth About Cars

Forget what T.S. Eliot once wrote: January is the cruel month. At least in Ohio, and at least this year. One day it will be eight degrees Fahrenheit and snowing; the next day it will be sixty degrees and raining. And the moment the salt washes off the roads and makes me think it would be a good idea to take my CB1100 out for a spin, the temperature drops and the existing water on the roads freezes solid. Wednesday morning, walking out to the Accord, I ended up falling on my ass and then sliding all the way down to the end of the driveway. It would have been great fun if I hadn’t ruined a set of pants in the process.

I wonder if this is part of the oft-discussed “climate change”. Believe me, I’m no science denier. I mean, of course I deny all of the scientific research about IQ and heritable characteristics. Recently, my son asked me why one of the kids on his football team was “so stupid.” I was tempted to explain to John that while he is the descendant of multiple WAIS-pegging generations, his teammate’s father is a 300-pound mouth-breather whom I occasionally see just starting at the wall with his lower lip quivering slightly. Instead, I said that all human beings were of equal intellectual potential, regardless of their genetic history. My son snorted at me in response. I worry about him. How will he get into Yale if he can’t learn crimestop now?

Any way, climate change is totally real. What I’m confused about is this: Is there such a thing as “good CO2” and “bad CO2”, like there’s “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol”? And if so, is that why the Chinese are building two coal plants a week while the average London businessman is forced to drive a 1.2-liter diesel due to CO2 regulations? Like the Chinese CO2 is the good stuff, maybe? But I digress.

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By on January 11, 2017

Child with mother in 2018 Honda Odyssey, Image: American Honda

Here’s a free lesson in life that you can use everywhere you go: corporate “morality” is almost always both flexible and highly subject to local gravitational influences. How else to explain the red-white-and-blue-painted previous-generation Camry, festooned with traditionally American imagery, that greeted visitors to the Detroit show on Monday? Maybe Toyota had two of them ready to go after the election, the way that T-shirt manufacturers prepare for both Super Bowl winners. Presumably the other Camry was a triple livery; the first third would have been a rainbow flag that called to mind both #LoveWins and #JeffGordonDivorce, the middle third would have been totally Islammed-out with the star and crescent just like my old Pakistan Express race car, and the trunk area would have paid tribute to the #ShoutYourAbortion movement while also tipping its fedora to written consent in triplicate for all sexual encounters.

Ah, but if wishes were fishes they would have served cruelty-free salmon at the meeting of the Electoral College. So the various pampered-but-oh-so-woke “journalists” attending the NAIAS were forced to taste the salt of their own bitter tears streaming down their cheeks as every manufacturer with even a token presence in the United States waved the red (imperialist), white (racist), and blue (sexist) flag in their press conferences.

Naturally, Honda sent one of the strongest messages; it’s arguably the most American automaker on the God Emperor’s green earth and the bulk of the cars it sells here were designed, engineered, and built in the USA.

The new Odyssey doesn’t buck this trend; to the contrary, it embraces it, right down to the new U.S.-sourced 10-speed transmission. But it’s also at the very vanguard (pardon the pun) of another, equally important, aspect of the zeitgeist. Let’s call it The Era Of The Imperial Child.

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By on January 6, 2017

FF 91 Reveal

Faraday Future, the Chinese-answer-to-Tesla car company whose travails have been worthy of three concurrently running soap operas even though they have yet to put a single car anywhere near a showroom, debuted a sorta-concepty-production thing this week. And boy oh boy did the knives come out. But why?

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By on January 6, 2017

2015-2017 Toyota Camry SE silver

Blame the Rebels.

Nissan’s Rogue was the best-selling vehicle without a pickup bed in December of 2016, largely thanks to a massive advertising campaign that tied into one of the two recent Star Wars movies where only teenaged girls can be trusted to save the universe. Behind it, you had the usual suspects: CR-V, RAV4, Camry, Accord, Civic, Corolla. But even that state of affairs is a major change from business-as-usual a decade or two ago.

You can learn a lot about American society by looking at the best-selling car in any given year. So if we discount the Rogue’s Yavin IV-style moonshot performance, what’s changed about us since, say, 1967 — and what’s stayed the same? More importantly, who killed the Camry?

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By on January 4, 2017

Ohio State Highway Patrol Charger, Image: OSHP

I remember the day I committed the minor misdemeanor offense of reckless operation as if it was yesterday, although it was actually one day longer ago than the statute of limitations regarding minor misdemeanors in Ohio. I was surrounded by my accomplices — my “gang” if you will — and we were hell-bent on committing some serious traffic offenses.

The situation was this: We were all driving through Cincinnati, Ohio, at approximately 65 miles per hour. This is the speed limit for Route 71 on the north side of Cincinnati. Approximately five miles south of I-275, the speed limit on 71 drops from 65 to 45. There’s no visible logic or reasoning behind this; I-71 is still a five-or-six-lane road at this point. There are certainly times when the road is brought to a standstill by traffic, but the same is true of I-71 between Columbus and Delaware, Ohio, which has a marked limit of 70 mph.

As I passed the speed limit sign together with my gang of approximately 20 visible vehicles — most of which were doing about 70-75 mph but a few of which were going slower or faster than that — not a single driver touched his or her brakes. In the space of a few moments, we had gone from being legal or semi-legal road users to serious violators of the Ohio Revised Code. Had there been a sufficient police presence in the area, every one of us could have been sentenced to 60 days in jail and been subject to impounding of our vehicles.

This is clearly ridiculous, so it’s time to ask the question that is always relevant in situations like this: Cui bono?

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By on December 30, 2016

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You’ve heard a lot in the media about how 2016 has been Literally Hitler Terrible. Princess Leia died. Donald Trump was elected. The McRib only returned in selected markets.

I can’t sympathize with those people. 2016 worked out fine for me, and it was the first year since 2012 that I wasn’t hospitalized for some injury. That doesn’t mean that I’m not resolved to make 2017 even better. Have you made your resolutions yet? If not, I have a few suggestions:

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By on December 29, 2016

chief

The secret is out: my intrepid and long(ish)-suffering wife, Danger Girl, is the new owner of Matt Farah’s Corvette. This was my idea, for better or worse. She was all set on ordering a new Grand Sport for the 2017 autocross/trackday season, but I thought that it would be a better idea for her to experience all of the new-Vette-owner rituals (nose scraping, rocker panel ripping, mirror scratching, lurid 130mph backwards-facing exits into Mid-Ohio’s “China Beach”) with a used car. So now she has a “learner” Vette, albeit one with 421RWHP, Pfadt coilovers, a half-cage, and fixed Sparcos.

With just 32,200 miles at the time of sale, DG’s Corvette is still well out of warranty thanks to an in-service date from the (Bill) Clinton administration. (I guess I don’t have to put that qualifier in there any more, do I?) As my wife found out last week, however, having a car that’s under warranty isn’t always a blessing. In fact, sometimes it’s an outright curse.

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By on December 28, 2016

ergo

If dying is easier than comedy, then surely driving a race car is easier than building one. Which is why I’m thrilled to have outsourced the management of my Neon and Danger Girl’s MX-5 Cup car; I might be able to win a race now and again, but my attempts to handle the vehicles myself amounted to one long and unmitigated disaster. Since 2014, the Plymouth has been in the capable hands of Jon Shevel at Albany Autoworks. He’s directly responsible for said Neon’s transition from a car that hadn’t started since 2009 and couldn’t pass tech to a podium finish in both SCCA and NASA for 2016.

DG’s MX-5 is now with The Boost Brothers. Check them out, watch their YouTube videos, learn all sorts of stuff about fixing crash repair, welding cracked tubes, swapping out hubs, that sort of thing. Bozi and Bojan have been pulling quite a few overnight shifts getting the car ready for the 2017 American Endurance Racing season. Even better, they’ve made pretty much all of the decisions as to what goes on the car and how everything goes together.

The only major choice that has been left in my hands should be simple enough: we need an FIA-legal race seat to replace the battered UltraShield that came with the car. But when it comes to racing seats, as with so many other things in this world, nothing’s quite as simple as it should be.

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By on December 22, 2016

Jack Baruth, Miami Valley Region, 2006 VW Phaeton

A couple of weeks ago, I told the tale of an extremely profitable Soul sale. Some of you criticized me for implying that the “doc fee” was negotiable. I don’t know what kind of mindset you would have to possess in this world to think that a doc fee is not negotiable. Even if you can’t get the actual line item off your deal, you should be able to obtain a similar savings elsewhere. It’s such a scam that lately a few state courts have gotten involved in the discussion. The actual costs of “documenting” a sale don’t come close to what dealerships are trying to charge. It’s pure, raw profit.

Still, I wouldn’t expect my readers to do something I’m personally unwilling to do. So I will tell you the story of how I walked out of a dealership over a $300 doc fee. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal — but, in this case, the dealership was six hundred miles from my house, and I had no way to get home.

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By on December 20, 2016

“Smooth, silent, and heavy.” That’s what I said when I drove a first-generation Cruze with 55,000 miles on the digital odometer. Another thing I said: “Ready for prime time.” Daewoo’s, excuse me, GM Korea‘s first take on a compact-class world car was, to misuse a phrase from an Eighties Updike novel, “a thick, sweet plaything” […]

By on December 16, 2016

2017-ford-police-interceptor-utility-1lb

Why merely explore when you can intercept?

A few readers of last week’s lookalike-Ford article mentioned that you can actually get the word “I N T E R C E P T O R” across the bonnet edge of a new Ford Explorer Police, er, Ford Police Interceptor Utility. This is good news for all those people who buy used cop cars and then try to restore them to approximate “on-duty” appearance in hopes of intimidating fellow motorists. (Within the tight-knit community of people who buy and restore ex-police Crown Vics, the guys who pretend to be cops are called “whackers.” The dividing line between mere enthusiast and whacker, as far as I can tell, appears to be the re-installation of lights.)

What about the rest of you? When Interceptors start hitting the auctions, will you bite? Or do you have some, shall we say, concerns?

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By on December 15, 2016

Volvo Cars and Uber join forces to develop autonomous driving cars

It’s neither on-message for this site nor terribly interesting to my readers, which is why I rarely mention it, but I have been almost feverishly interested in matters of artificial intelligence, machine consciousness, and advanced language parsing for a very long time.

Thirty-five years ago, I tried to write a very simple sentence parser and response generator for the Atari 800 for my school science fair. The effort failed miserably, in large part because AtariBASIC didn’t really have any usable tools for text handling — and because I was nine years old and had the attention span of a fruit fly.

The night before the science fair, I admitted defeat and decided to do something else: I wrote a quick program that would give pre-programmed responses to certain questions.

The next morning, I demonstrated my program to a couple of nuns. I asked them a couple of leading questions to get them to pick the discussion topic I wanted, then I had them type the questions in. The amazingly intelligent Atari responded in full sentences! Not even the utter pathos of my quickly sketched cardboard sign behind it could keep me from getting an A+. What amuses me, in retrospect, was that the nuns weren’t really all that shocked at the idea that an 8-bit computer could parse language and give reasonable answers. Had I demoed this program to anybody who understood technology, they’d have labeled me a genius or a fraud. But to the nuns, passing the Turing test was about as tough as making an artificial volcano. Blame the movies, I guess.

The problem with every “autonomous” car that has appeared so far is simple: they are all equal to my childhood Atari program. Real autonomous operation is a hugely difficult problem. I’d like to illustrate this for you by listing five rather astounding technical feats that will be easier to accomplish than true vehicular autonomy.

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