Posts By: Stephan Wilkinson

By on March 1, 2008

520594_83703259-748499.jpg Futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil is smart enough to have predicted the ascendancy of the Internet, the common availability of wireless (at a time when the great Bill Gates was busy hard-wiring his $40m mansion so that it could be "run by a computer") and the fall of the Soviet Union. Livescience.com reports that the inventor and futurist now predicts that solar power will be a viable crude oil alternative within the next five years. And then… "[Use] is doubling now every two years. Doubling every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we'll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years." Kurzweil  says you can thank nanotechnology, which will make solar panels light, inexpensive and more efficient. This could be a big deal. The sunlight falling on earth contains 10k times more energy than we use annually. If Kurzweil is right, we'll soon be energy-rich. (Rich, I tell you, rich!) Automotively speaking, a large source of cheap energy would immediately put zero emissions hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars back on the front burner. 

By on February 29, 2008

school_bus_exhaust.jpg I live in a town of around 8,000 people. Yesterday afternoon, I happened to be driving to the gym at the same time as middle school let out. Some shop teacher stopped traffic while four dozen hulking Bluebirds (company owned by Cerberus BTW) poured out of the school's driveway, each of them carrying perhaps FIVE KIDS. The noise and pollution and tsuris was the equivalent of a thousand-plane raid on Hamburg. Meanwhile, the same thing was happening at the high school and elementary school. Our town must put 150 dieseling buses out onto the road every afternoon, assuring that no tyke will have to spend more than 15 minutes en route. To say nothing of the traffic backup behind each yellow monster while they disgorge their cute little backpackers. I'm the treasurer of our local volunteer ambulance corps. I'm always amused by how municipal-supplier vendors work everything out to round numbers. "You want some EMS unifoms? How's $10k sound?" "You want a fleet of school buses to pick up your kids? That'll be $10m a year." (If you want to get rich quick, contract with municipalities: nobody gives a shit what you charge.) I'm going to take this up with the school board, but the spectacle of this Eighth Air Force-size fleet of big yellow smoke-spewers thundering north, south, east and west just stunned me.

By on February 28, 2008

2009_gt-r049.jpgIn early April, Nissan is blessing me with a GT-R for five days for my Conde Nast Traveler “Great Drive” articles, and a review on this website. My hotshoe daughter (also a Traveler editor) and I will be departing Lake Tahoe after the car's press introduction, bound for Lost Wages and, if possible, some empty desert roads. The press event will include some serious track time. In their initial e-mail invitation, Nissan said– politely enough– that they realized writers like me weren’t buff-book semipros. Yet they're so confident that the GT-R is the world's safest and most controllable supercar that they're letting us loose on a closed ciruit. (I immediately got on my high horse and told them Brook and I run a well-modified 911SC track car, so there.) I asked the Nissan press rep if we should bring our helmets. She said no, not needed. Porsche is the only other automaker I know that allows the press to tackle a track sans helmet. The German automaker believe that helmets bring on "the red haze;" that drivers are safer without them. Anyway, it'll be interesting to see if the GT-R's electronics make travel-magazine editors, beauty-and-fashion writers, movie reviewers and other can’t-drive-a-stick scribes from the non-automotive press into track demons…

By on February 12, 2008

w043.jpgJust opened the February 18 issue of Fortune and came across a full-page ad for— I’m guessing here— the new Lincoln MXZ. (That’s the sedan, for those of us who don’t memorize alphanumeric codes for a living.) It’s a lazy photo. The f-stop parked the car on the first clean grass he came to, in front of an ugly, anonymous suspension bridge. A young blonde in a sports bra and shorts stands in front of the car. She’s plain-faced and athletic. The shorts make it obvious that her left leg is gone, replaced by a prosthesis and one of those boomerang-shaped carbon-fiber “feet” recently outlawed by the Olympics. Huh? The copy’s no help. “Don’t ever give up on what you believe in,” it reads. “Not once. Not ever. My dream is to do extraordinary things every day. Life’s calling. Where to next?” I’m supposed to buy a Lincoln because she’s tough? I admire Sarah Reinertsen's guts and beauty. But at the risk of being labeled a unreconstructed bipedalist (literally), I'm afraid it's not an image I’m tough enough to look at for a long period of time. And anyway, the car is half-obscured. You have to wonder who conceived this ad, what kind of websites they frequent and which Ford exec approved it. Message to same: it's about the car, stupid.   

By on February 8, 2008

amd_empiremap.JPGMy pal Brock Yates single-handedly introduced CB radios to non-truckers by using one in a big Mercedes 300S for a precedent-setting Car and Driver article. So I installed a CB in my Saab 99. Whenever I’d put my ears on and key the mike to good-buddy, the Swede’s unshielded electronic fuel injection would die. (Good thing the ugly little hatchback could coast.) Today, something similar is supposedly happening in Manhattan. Rumors abound of an electronic Bermuda Triangle surrounding the Empire State Building. According to that bastion of reportorial excellence, The New York Daily News, "something" keeps certain vehicles' engines from re-starting. Wild-ass theories range from electronic emissions from the huge antennas atop the skyscrapers, to the increasing profusion of cell phone jammers, to juju from anti-terrorist devices protecting the building from attack. My favorite from one blog commenter: “Megaliths [such as a skyscraper] are electrical coils. Imagine a coil so powerful it can suck the magnetic force out of a car’s power system.”  (You’re right: Manhattanites don’t know how a car works.) The hysterics point out that 10 to 15 cars a day die near the Empire State Building. Considering the fact that 10 to 15 cars a day probably die near the Fulton Fish Market, once again, Occam's razor slices a crazy ass conspiracy theory to pieces. 

By on February 6, 2008

cadillacctsv01.jpg When I was at Car and Driver and for a long time thereafter, the label 'Preview' was applied solely to quasi-road tests that involved driving a preproduction car, driving a car that we weren't allowed to instrument and test, sneaking into a mule, or some other actual experience in an existing vehicle. (The "You can drive it but you can't instrument it" situation was probably the most common one. The last Preview I ever wrote described the original Maybach; I put 400 miles on the beast.) And now, only a few paragraphs into C/D's current cover story on the new Cadillac CTS-V ("Cadillac's 550-hp M5 Beater") we learn that the buff book's "months away from a first drive" of the supposed Bimmer beater. It's a blatant admission that the piece is a rewritten press release. The CTS-V, they say, "should be worth the price of admission." How on earth does Tony Swan know that? And then there's Steve Smith's column on Carroll Shelby's legal hysteria. Who owns a computer, even a TRS-80, and didn't already know all that shit two months ago? I'm stunned by how far C/D has sunk.

By on January 25, 2008

winterseat.jpgWhen I spied an ad for a Nocord heated seat cover in The Atlantic magazine, I remembered my wife's complaints about her bare bones Boxsters' chilling effect on her buns and signed up. The $60 seat cover arrived covered with K-Mart Hallowe'en costume-quality fabric, and, need I say, a cord. The device was [vaguely] held in place by shoddy straps; sitting on the rig was like trying to perch on a loose beach towel. Ergonomics aside, it worked. But I doubt for long, since it is truly dreadful made-in-China dreck. It's amusing that Nocord sells both full-price new products and "reconditioned" half-price versions of the exact same wares. Since nobody would bother to actually remanufacture any of this junk, they're obviously flogging the flood of returned-for-refund stuff that Nocord doubtless gets hourly. Chinese-made aftermarket parts. You have been warned.

[TTAC now does product reviews. Check 'em out.] 

By on November 27, 2007

china.jpgAs a Conde Nast Traveler writer, I drive all over the world. After reading Peter Hessler’s article in the November 26 issue of The New Yorker, I think I’ll give China a miss. Hessler’s adventure began at a Chinese driving school, where instructors teach drivers to start in second gear (first is too easy). The preferred clutch technique? Set the parking brake hard, shift into first, and let out the clutch whilst gunning the engine. “By the end of the day, you could have fried an egg on the hood,” Hessler reports. The writer passed his Chinese driving test by slowly driving 50 yards down a deserted street. Later, a Chinese friend banged-up Hessler's Jetta because he didn’t realize that the vehicle extended beyond the windshield. A Chinese passenger usurped the rear view mirror. “I’ll tell you what’s behind you,” he assured. On the road, headlights, windshield wipers and turn signals are almost never used; they’re considered a “distraction.” There’s lots more, but we now know why China accounts for three percent of the world’s cars– yet racks-up 21 percent of its traffic fatalities. They can’t drive.

By on October 30, 2007

pursangside.jpgThe VW/Audi Group, owners of both the Lamborghini and Bugatti boutique brands, have invented a lucrative niche market that could awkwardly but accurately be called, “I’m Rich but Not Stupid… Come to Think of It, I Am Stupid.” Exhibit A: the Lamborghini Reventón, a limited edition, moderately rebodied Murcielago LP640 that stickers for $1,440,000 (exactly 4.5 times a Mercy’s $320k Monroney). Exhibit B: the Bugatti Veyron Pur Sang. For $560k more than the $1,440,000 "base" Bug, you can get an unpainted body. I asked the best high-end bodyshop guy I know how much he’d charge if a Veyron owner on a budget asked him to strip their ride right down to the aluminum and carbon-fiber skin, polish the metal and shoot it with a layer of clearcoat.  "Fifty grand," Mickey Bigg of Vails Gate, New York, estimated.  “But I don’t wanna do it. Too much trouble.”

By on September 18, 2007

1-reventon-live.jpgAbout 20 years ago, my wife and I visited Japan on behalf of a travel magazine. We explored the area around rural Kyushu, Japan’s Polish joke. Back then, Japanese travel was still a little adventuresome. And it was hard to scope out Japanese customs in these hinterlands. After a couple of mornings at Japanese inns, we realized that we were the only guests who didn’t breakfast in our bathrobes (kimonos). The next day we came down naked as Britney under our bathrobes. For reasons I never discerned, everybody else was dressed in suits. Lamborghini must have felt the same way at the Frankfurt Auto Show. 

By on August 22, 2006

darpa_challenge_sandstorm222.jpg Driving talent is as rare as the ability to play a sitar. Driver training is a joke. Driver testing is the punch line. In fact, there’s only one thing keeping the highway fatality rate from ascending epidemically: the car. Electronic braking aids, traction control, stability control, handling improvements, crumple zones, airbags, seatbelt systems, stadium-bright lighting, pavement shredding brakes, tires so good they make ‘70’s rubber look like wagon wheels— these are our saviors. And it’s time to take the next step: automation.

By on August 2, 2006

whiterace22.jpgA recent TTAC post asked for nominations for the car most likely to get you “a date” (as mywife puts it).  Our well-informed readers made all the obvious suggestions: studly Italian V12’s, check-out-my-package Teutons, midlife-crisis American roadsters, horny-royal Astons and phallic-as-you-wanna-be XKE’s. Yet nobody mentioned the absolute sure thing getluckymobile: the Amphicar. Yes, we’re talking about that 1960’s-era wackiness that answered the question nobody asked:  “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a car that floats?” Schwing!

By on July 26, 2006

Prius2222.jpgWhen the Toyota Prius first came out, I drove one around West Virginia.  When I pulled into a gas station, the owner sauntered out, all curious-like.  “What’s that?” he demanded.  “I never seen one of them before.”  It’s a hybrid, I explained.  You can run it on either the electric motor or the gas engine, or both of them together.  “They ought to have a switch,” he said. “So you can run it only on electricity.”  So much for my Harvard degree.  The guy was way ahead of me.

By on June 29, 2006

radar2.jpgI write driving articles for an international travel magazine.  Despite my editorial obligation to report on landscapes, history, culture and food; much of what I see passes in a blur.  I’ve driven obscenely fast through Europe, South Africa, Australia, Japan, Norway, Brazil and everywhere else they send me.  The only place I ever worry about speeding tickets is the United States.  Oh sure, I’ve had run-ins with local law enforcement all over the world. But I deserved to be pulled over, and the experience was more like a cultural exchange than a legal colonoscopy.

By on June 27, 2006

Wilkinsonporker.jpgI drive an iconic, high-performance European luxury car.  Well, let me modify that a bit.  I drive an iconic, high-performance European luxury car made in 1983.  And so could you, for the cost of a new Kia.  It’s a Porsche 911SC coupe— a car that’s no longer rare, collectible, fast, luxurious or particularly desirable.  But it is revealing.  A hundred and eighty horsepower!  A  pair of 225/50-16 tires in the rear!  A top speed of 135 mph!  Look out Kia, here I come!  My 25-year-old Porker highlights just how far automobiles have advanced since the time when Koreans were best known for their canine cuisine.       

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