Posts By: Jonny Lieberman

By on November 10, 2008

The year was 1948 and well, Tucker happened. There are many sides to Preston Tucker’s story. One is essentially what Francis Ford Coppola portrayed in his biopic, Tucker: The Man and his Dream, where a man with a better idea is prevented from fairly competing by the two-headed serpent of Washington and big business. The flip side is that Mr. Tucker was a scam artist that conned would-be stock holders out of $15m by selling them accessories for a product that didn’t exist. He was indicted for fraud, you know. But what really sank Tucker? Ironically, it was the “Tuckermatic” transmission. Most likely because of his racing background, Preston Tucker stuck a helicopter engine in the back of the Tucker Torpedo. Initially air-cooled, the flat-six produced a whopping 372 lb-ft of torque. Enough torque to rip the guts out of most transmissions in 1948. Tucker decided to address the problem with his Tuckermatic, a slushbox that sported only 27 moving parts– 90 less than conventional cog swappers. Only he never bothered to put a reverse gear in the prototype tranny. The press not only had a field day writing about “the car that couldn’t backup.” The Tucker brand lost much of its luster. Sure, he eventually threw a Cord automatic into his Torpedo. But the damage was done. Despite building 51 prototypes, many alleged that P. Tucker either never intended to mass produce the cars or that he was in so deep with on the development end of things he never got around to buying the necessary machines and tools to fire-up an assembly line. Any of this sound, well, shockingly similar to what’s going on at Tesla? While the details are obviously different (Washington and Detroit getting anything accomplished? Ha ha ha ha ha) the large strokes are, well… Promise one transmission, deliver another that prevents the car from achieving its advertised performance potential. Claim that development mules are actually production cars. Collect large amounts of money from investors only to play fast and loose with the books. Tucker and his six co-defendants were eventually cleared of any and all wrong doing, but the damage (and Tucker) was done. How far behind is Tesla?

By on October 31, 2008

I know Farago’s answer, but hear me out. As I mentioned when I reviewed the Bullitt, I’ve driven many Mustangs. And do you want to know the truth? The fact they all have live axles… really doesn’t make any difference. Like, let’s get real here. None. As far as I can tell, the only time you can tell from the driver’s seat the new Mustang is without IRS is when you hit a bump going around a corner. “Dude!” I hear you yelling, “You’re admitting that bumps upset the live axle!” No, not really. I’m simply saying that live axles feel different from IRS. The car doesn’t explode. But what about dangerous? Naw. I mean do you see Mustang FR500Cs killing their drivers any faster than the BMW Z4s, Lotus Exiges, Aston martin V8s or Porsche Caymans it competes with in GT4? Right, you don’t. “But, but, but!” I hear you stammering. “Those ‘Stangs are highly tuned. Regular Mustangs aren’t.” Says who? Here’s what I’m saying after driving an awful lot of Mustangs. Knocking on live axles is just another anti-American car Jeremy Clarksonism. What’s next, knocking the Z06 because it sports traverse leaf springs? Oh wait– he did that, didn’t he? What say you?

By on October 31, 2008

Oh noes! According to an unnamed source referred to by Valleywag as “the Tesla insider,” the Silicon Valley electric car maker only has $9m in the bank. And that’s it. Well OK– there’s a bit more. This “insider” (Gawker just loves insiders) is a friend of blogger Owen Thomas and a “longtime employee” (define “longtime” for Tesla.) Problem? They’ve taken “multiple tens of millions” from depositors. And (apparently) spent it. And the “insider” is saying Tesla may just keep the remaining cash and not deliver any more Roadsters. I’ve been standing on the sidelines of this particular Death Watch series (strangely and flatteringly, Valleywag tagged their story “Deathwatch”) because a dear friend of mine works at Tesla. Did I say “works?” I meant worked, as in he got “broomed” the other week when Tesla made with the massive layoffs. Bad move on my part, as it looks like Tesla and friendship just don’t mix. Don’t trust me? Trust the insider, “I actually talked a close friend of mine into putting down $60k for a Tesla Roadster. I cannot conscientiously be a bystander anymore and allow my company to deceive the public and defraud our dear customers. Our customers and the general public are the reason Tesla is so loved. The fact that they are being lied to is just wrong.” Oops! And agreed. Lying is wrong.

By on October 28, 2008

One of the best hands in No Limit Texas Hold-em: pocket kings. Cowboys. It’s a real monster. However, it’s quite vulnerable to middling hands such as Ace-Six offsuit. So the thing to do is to raise– and raise big. That way, you charge your opponents to see a flop. However, if you raise big every time you have a good starting hand, your tactic will become quite obvious to everyone seated at your table. They’ll just fold because a large raise from you means aces or kings. Not a very profitable habit, long term. How to combat this? Variance. While two kings are vulnerable, they aren’t that vulnerable. Maybe 20 percent of the time you want to just check your monster and limp in. Here’s the problem: how do you know when 20 percent of the time is? Solution: a watch with a sweeping second hand. Huh? Jump.

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By on October 27, 2008

As you may (maybe) know, SEMA is right around the corner. As in next week (whoever scheduled it for November 4 needs their head examined). And what is SEMA you may be asking? Well, no one even remembers what “SEMA” stands for, but the show has come to represent all that’s wonderful and/or dreadful in the simply humongous after market, er, market. More than too many four-door cars with scissor doors, too. And SEMA is big. No, bigger than big. It’s quite gigantic and most of the major OEMs (from Dodge to Hyundai to Daimler) will have radically customized cars on display next to radically customized bikini models. And this fact got me thinking — who is doing all this customizing? Admittedly, my last WRX may have had a mod or two (or ten). But I was a much younger man back then. And not getting press cars all the time. My new WRX? Bone stock save for some fancy pants tires. Might I mod it? Dunno. As I age, I worry about reliability. And more boost sounds… expensive, in the long run. But dear readers, what about you?

Crazy gallery of modded Russian cars!

By on October 24, 2008

Earlier, Farago was repeating on the report that GM may (maybe) delay or cancel the new Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac CTS Coupe. Never mind the fact that “LaCrosse” means to masturbate in French Canada. Dear Leader ends the post with, “and who the Hell would buy a CTS coupe anyway?” When i read the query, it seemed odd. I like the CTS, as it possesses the best face of any American car since Cord went out of business. How to make it better? Well, you can either drop in a 556 hp supercharged V8, or cut off some of the doors. Oh, you can add another door, too (Caddywagon!). Yeah, so, an insanely good looking Caddy with two doors– who the hell wouldn’t buy it? And then I checked the comments and everyone agreed with me. To quote gamper, “CTS coupe = flippin beautiful.” Hear hear (here)! Right?

By on October 23, 2008

This question is for all the manny-tranny folks out there, so if you prefer the slush (or DSG toggles) move along. Ahem. This week Volvo has lent me a C30 T5 to review for TTAC (and Honda dropped a new Fit in my lap, but that’s another story). Anyhow, I requested that the C30 have a standard transmission because the last “premium” small car I tested was a Mini Cooper Clubman S and the autobox just killed it. Not going to let that happen this time. The C30 does in fact have a 6-speed, and it’s great because on the highway the engine spins at less than 3,000 rpm. Volvo claims 28 mpg, which might be a bit low. However, 6th gear is at the same position (back and to the right) as reverse. I’ve driven with shifters laid out like this and no matter what, I simply cannot shift into top gear without the lingering fear that I’m going to pop into reverse at 70 mph. It vexes me. With a 5-speed manual, I just don’t have this phobia. And if I do accidentally tell the transmission to go backwards at the wrong time, well, that’s my idiot fault.  But what if reverse is near first gear? That irks me, too. Why? because when parking in a tight spot I’ve mistakenly gone into 1st instead of reverse and banged into an innocent car. So, miles per gallon aside, I prefer 5-speeds.The great irony is, I actually prefer 4-speeds. I just love those long gears. And I’m weird. You?

By on October 21, 2008

As good of a driver as I like to think I am, I’m not very good. Especially when compared to race car drivers. In fact, by comparison, I’m a deaf, dumb and blind speed bump. As you may have heard, I got a ride in the Ferrari Enzo that Eddie Griffin munched up. Sadly, it was on the same track (MSR) that had just hosted the 24 Hours of LeMons in Texas. Meaning that conditions were sub-optimal. That’s putting it kindly. As such, we were going sideways in a $1.2 million Enzo. Thank the maker that an actual competent and talented hot foot (Michael Mills) was behind the wheel and I was left to just giggle and hoot (I do lead the league in giggling/hooting). Still, on the straights Mr. Mills was able to open the taps of the 6.2-liter V12 and holy Toledo! The noise is thrilling, soothing and intoxicating all at once. Better still, the Enzo is fast in ways that other cars simply aren’t. There was never a hint of that motor running out of steam as we crested 150 mph on the back straight. And the brakes, well, what do you think. Long story short, I’m a very lucky man. But it wasn’t the ride of my life. No, that was in a NASCAR around the big oval at Pomona. Serenity at 180 mph? You bet your Junior Johnson Pork Cracklins. You?

By on October 16, 2008

As many of you know I manage . Our unofficial motto (can’t get the tech guys to change the site…) is “No Boring Cars.” Which means as the news of the day rolls in (grist to the mill) I need to parse it to determine what is and what isn’t “boring.” For instance there’s those pics of the new Prius that Jalopnik has whipped itself into its daily frenzy over (PRIUSGASM!!!!). And through the magic of search engine optimization Autofiends could probably get some decent traffic out of the post. More traffic makes the boss happy and (maybe) gets me more money! Only problem: the Prius is dull. Like, rock in sand dull. And not fancy Japanese rocks in Zen sand, but regular Texas Hill Country rocks in Great Plains dust. There’s a lady I know and I think she’s massively boring. She falls asleep at parties, says perhaps one sentence over the course of a night out and at restaurants has the tastes of a six-year-old. I mean really, what adult says, “I hate tomatoes?” To further solidify my view I saw her driving away in a white 1998 Toyota Camry. Which makes perfect sense, as I can’t think of a more boring car. Before you accuse me of Toyota bashing, let me state up front that I think the AE86 Corolla is one the most exciting cars ever built. Especially certain nitrous powered Formula D AE86s that pull away from Vipers on the track. Some of them 1,000 hp Supras are pretty damn thrilling, too. So I ask you: what makes boring?

By on October 16, 2008

Listen up you sucks: The 24 Hours of LeMons hits the Sugar Land Road Course in Angleton Texas this Saturday and Sunday, October 18-19. That’s right, dozens of teams will be hauling their $500 hoopties from all over the Southwest to compete for several hundred pounds of nickels. Confused? To quote founder Jay Lamm, “LeMons race cars display gangrenous rust scabs, rattle-can paint jobs, flatulent engines, and other aesthetically unpleasant features. We thus advise all Texans of a sensitive nature to avoid MSR Houston, a racetrack just south of Houston in Angleton TX, between Friday, 17 October and Monday, 20 October.” You got it: he used “thus” in a sentence. More on point me and Murilee Martin will be making our triumphant return as Supreme Court LeMons Judges. In other words, if you cheat (and neglect to bribe us) we’re going to hit you with a lot more than our rubber Mallets spray-painted to look like gavels. Just what exactly? Jump and find out!

(Read More…)

By on October 15, 2008

I just experienced one of the pivotal moments in the life of an auto journalist. That’s right, a PR peep decided that it would be beneficial for Lamborghini to let yours truly spend a few days with a $222k Gallardo LP560-4.You get up every day, you write with your best straight face about latest blurred teaser image, creatively regurgitate press releases and think of something compelling to say about a unibody crossover. All in the hopes that someday, somehow the light at the end of the tunnel will have more than 500 hp and an overdose of Italian leather. Then you learn the wonderful truth that the light is actually in the tunnel (seriously — you need to hear the V10 at full wail in a confined space). But then you climb back into your car (in this case a 2006 WRX Wagon) and you realize, “This is pretty good.” Sure, you had to remove half the intake system to change a headlight and your throw-out bearing is 500 miles from dead. But the car has given me 60,000+ miles of driving satisfaction and only set me back $25K (ignore financing, insurance, gas, body repairs, tires, anal-retentive synthetic oil changes, detailing, clutches, etc). Is that Lambo worth nine times as much as my Subaru? Will it give me nine times the driving satisfaction? “Of course not,” you reassure yourself. “No way, no how.” Then you remember our capacity for self-deception which is not only inherent to all men, but very well be what makes us human. Hell yes I would take the Lamborghini. Hell yes. You?

By on October 14, 2008

Dig to the bottom of our current fiscal nightmare and you’ll discover an oddball type of derivative that Warren Buffet famously termed, “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Also known as Credit Default Swaps (CDS). Essentially, it’s a bet that a bad investment will fail. A strange type of insurance to be sure, where the purchaser of said CDS isn’t required to have anything to do with what’s being insured. Oh, and it’s a $55 trillion market. Er, was. And because of Gordon Gekko-huffing-PCP style greed, all of our 401ks have been halved. If not worse. Maybe the Adderall-addicted pukes that tanked our economy were trying to accumulate enough cash to buy a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4? While I can’t forgive ’em, I do understand.

By on October 7, 2008

Easy answer for me: Porsche 914. Justin and I talked about this (kinda) on today’s Podcast. He still hates it. But not me. I really, really admire the diminutive sports car. That’s right, I said sports car. Before I explain why, let me explain why I used to be a hater. There’s an entire class of cars I dislike because they were driven by the biggest assholes at my high school. Specifically, ’55 Chevys, all Chevelles, Toyota 4-Runners and Porsche 914s. VW Bugs were a mixed bag. The most date rapingest quarterback had one (I played center — I have issues) but so did a close friend. So, we’ll call it a wash. Anyhow, jerks drove the 914 and I had always heard that in Europe they sold it as “just” a Volkswagen. But a dear friend of mine — Davey G Johnson — showed me the error of my ways. By using facts! And while it is true that both companies sold the car, the bulk of the development was handled by Porsche. Any guesses as to who specifically was in charge of the 914 project? If you guessed Ferdinand Piech, pat yourself on the back. You may recall that Piech is the man responsible for the Volkswagen Phaeton. But, he also willed the Bugatti Veyron into existence. More importantly he brought about the all-crushing, all-dominating Porsche 917. Seriously, they canceled Can-Am because nothing could compete with the 917. Not one race, but the whole series. So, the 914 has some pedigree. Lots of success on the track, too. Don’t believe me? How does a 6th overall finish at Le Mans grab you? And yes, I know I said 7th on the Podcast. Again, not 6th in its class, but 6th overall. Why, that’s amazing! Especially when you consider the cars it beat, which include a bevy of 911s and Corvettes, Alfa Romeo T33/3s, several Ferraris, several Porsche 908s and even a 917. Hell yes I now love the 914. You?

By on October 6, 2008

If you like cars, it’s happened to you. There you are, minding your own business when suddenly a car rolls up and you start gasping. You’re suddenly 8-years-old and screaming, “DADDY! FERRARI!” Now, living in Los Angeles like I do, this happens to me fairly frequently. I mean, make an errant left hand turn and you’re next to a fully restored Jaguar Series I E-Type. In fact my girl and I were cruising through Malibu in the 1981 Corvette when at a single red light there was a burgundy E-type, a BMW 850 and a Dodge Viper. Though, the E-type was orders of magnitude more breathtaking. But, this is by no means a Southern California occurrence. I remember years ago walking out of a meeting in Montreal and there was a glossy red Ferrari 360 parked on the street. It was stunning. Just… I couldn’t believe the curves. Then, on the way to dinner I came across an orange 1975 (or so) Lamborghini Countach. Probably an LP400 .You know, the OG design before the wings and strakes made it into a Miami coke dealer stereotype. It was just perfect, especially sitting on the cobblestones of Côte Saint-Luc. The other day I was driving through Beverly Hills (don’t ask) and facing me, trying to make a left turn, was a white Maserati GranTurismo. It was as if time slowed down and there were mutli-colored refrigerators zooming all around this piece of fine art. But, the last car to totally disarm me attacked this very morning. I was exchanging a 2009 WRX for my 2006 WRX and there was a 1970 Porsche 911S. Completely stock. Black with a black interior. I even got to open the door and smell the leather. Magnificent. And check this out — the 911S used to belong to none other than Freeman Thomas. And he went over it with a very fine toothed comb. You?

By on October 3, 2008

Those of you keeping up on your podcasts know that Justin and I are not fans of hard top convertibles. We feel they are too much of a compromise. And they make the donor car look funny (Mercedes SL being the exception). To me, hard top convertibles can best be summed up by the Simpsons (and really — what can’t?). Some of you may remember the infamous Poochie episode, where Itchy & Scratchy’s ratings were tanking and the producers decided it was time to add a new character in the form of the “original dog from hell,” Poochie. But before they came up with Poochie, they conducted a little focus group. “Okay, how many of you kids would like Itchy & Scratchy to deal with real-life problems, like the ones you face every day? (the kids all cheer and agree) And who would like to see them do just the opposite — getting into far-out situations involving robots and magic powers? (more cheering) So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show… that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots? (The kids agree).” This forces Roger Meyers to come out from behind the one way glass and chastise, “You kids don’t know what you want! That’s why you’re still kids: ’cause you’re stupid!” I basically feel that way about hard top convertibles — they’re stupid. Go with one or the other, as the middle of the road is the best place to get hit by a truck. You?

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