The Truth About Cars » Future Writers The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:00:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Future Writers Highway Star: Road Tripping In The Ford Freestar Fri, 05 Jul 2013 16:14:18 +0000 1978 Ford Freestar

2005 Ford Freestar

Sometime in the predawn hours of a day in early August 1974, my father loaded his wife and five children into his recently purchased Chevrolet ¾ ton pickup truck, the adults isolated safely in the cab while we kids were locked like monkeys in a cage under a canopy in the back, and left Snohomish, WA for Horton, KS. It was a trip we made several times during my childhood and I have vivid memories of waking up in the predawn hours when the air was still cold and first rays of the sun were just beginning to paint the sky in the East. In the decades since, my road trips have always begun that same way and so now, having just completed their first big road trip from Buffalo, NY to Washington D.C. my children will share those memories as well.

With my glorious, mile-eating 300M now in another man’s garage and my daily driven Pontiac Torrent far too small for three car seats in the second row, there remained only one choice of vehicle for our trip: the “Gray Lady,” the 2005 Ford Freestar van that I have previously written about because of its transmission issues. Despite my previous assertions that I was entirely happy with the repairs my local Ford dealer had made, I must confess that the discussion that accompanied that article, and the long list of problems many of TTAC’s best and brightest recounted about this particular model made me a little concerned about making the 8 hour jump to DC. The good news is that the Ford made the trip without incident, on days when the temperature hovered solidly in the mid 90s, air conditioner blasting the whole way.


I have always thought the inside of the Freestar is a comfortable place to be for driver and passengers. With my daughters in car seats in the second row captain’s chairs and my son atop a booster in the back row our ability to cram in the necessities of a life with young children was somewhat limited. Still, the well at the back of the van, an area large enough to swallow the third row seat to create a flat floor for loading larger cargo, had enough room for a large cooler, a folding stroller and three medium sized suitcases. In addition to the booster, the back seat held my son’s electronic-filled rucksack, presents for the people we were visiting and our Jack Russell Terrier in her medium sized travel carrier. On the floor between first and second row seats, a space made possible only by the fact my girls are still too small to have their feet reach the floor, were bags with still more personal electronics, DVDs, toys and other things and between my wife and I was small cooler with drinks and snacks. Even loaded to the gunnels, I was able to have the driver’s seat in its rearmost position and the seat back tilted the way I liked it. My wife, too, had her entire foot well to herself.

Out on the New York State throughway we wicked up to speed and ran on cruise control right at the posted limit all the way to Erie,PA where we peeled off south across the rolling hill country towards Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania turnpike. The van handled well, our new transmission transitioning on its own between overdrive and the lower gears without so much as a judder in order to perfectly maintain the speed I had set on the cruise control. The steering wheel was steady and firm, and the van’s soft suspension soaked up the road’s imperfections without transmitting them to my velour ensconced back side. As I have said before, the view out the front of the van is unobstructed and I soaked in the sights as they rushed towards me.


The Pennsylvania turnpike is a miserable road to drive. Road crews are working hard to make it better, but using it to cross the state remains arduous. Steep grades slow the big trucks down below the limit and force most of the cars to the left where those of us who are not interested in doing 20mph over the speed limit end up obstructing those who are. To passengers it feels like you are on the ocean, the vehicle pitching and heaving on the grades and rolling ponderously to one side and then the other as you continually change lanes. Eventually you hit the turn-off to DC, a maelstrom of traffic known as Breezewood, that puts you on city streets and subjects you to stoplights and a left turn across oncoming traffic before putting you back on another freeway, which leads to another that soon fills with ever increasing traffic as you bore in on our nation’s crowded capital.

Thanks to a couple of big accidents on the highway and backups that stretched into the dozens of miles I also had a chance to test my van in stop and go traffic. The brakes worked great and the van accelerated smoothly six or seven feet at a time everytime I pressed the pedal. We were, at the end of our long wait, rewarded for our patience by the sight of a broken car in the middle of the highway, both ends smashed as it contacted the cement barriers fore and aft while it spun. That sobering sight passed, we headed on into DC and arrived in time for a late dinner.

Enola Gay

If you have never visited Washington D.C. it is a trip worth making. The Smithsonian is free, but the parking is not so don’t forget your wallet. We visited the National Air and Space Museum annex at Dulles airport one day, played in the pool the next and went to the National Mall the third. It was not the kind of mall my kids were expecting, but they persevered. The fourth day we loaded the Freestar back up with our luggage, electronics, dog, still more presents and souvenirs and placed our now sunburned bodies back in our seats and made the trip back across Pennsylvania home to Western New York.

We ran through some vicious thunderstorms and the Freestar responded well. The wiper blades I had changed out prior to our trip did a good job of clearing the water off the van’s massive windshield and the tires I bought new when we got the van two years ago had more than enough tread to channel away the water on the roadway. We dropped our speed according to the conditions and despite the incredible downpours I never felt anywhere near the limits of control. We rolled into Buffalo just after suppertime, still running on the tank of gas I put in before we left our hotel in Arlington, VA, put the van into the garage and our trip was completed without incident and totally trouble free.

Once again my Ford Freestar has impressed me with its comfort, cargo capacity and its solidity. I have never been a Ford guy, in fact this is the first FoMoCo product I have ever owned, but other than the vehicle’s somewhat dowdy styling I haven’t a single complaint about my experience. I see these rigs selling on Craigslist for just a couple of thousand dollars these days and, if one is prepared to deal with the possible mechanical issues, they are an appealing alternative to their much more expensive competitors. Although I would rather have kept the rather large amount of money I had to pay to replace my van’s transmission in my pocket, I am glad that I did not dump it at a loss and purchase something else when it ran into trouble. She truly is a Gray Lady and although she is aging she remains graceful and competent in all that she does. I am proud she is a part of my family.

2003 Ford Freestar

2005 Ford Freestar

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Traffic Tickets On A Sliding Scale? Maybe It’s Time Thu, 20 Jun 2013 18:21:54 +0000 ferrari_458_italia_supercar_4-wide

In January 2010 a Swiss court handed down a $290,000 fine on a traffic violation. To be sure , the violation in question was a big one and involved speeds approaching 180mph. Police say that, once they rolled in behind the speeding car, it took it nearly a half mile to come to a complete stop. Apparently the driver had avoided earlier detection by radar controlled cameras because his speed was so high that it exceeded the cameras’ ability to measure the car’s velocity. Despite the severity of the offense, it was not the car’s speed that caused the severity of the fine, it was the driver’s income. That’s an idea I think I could get behind.

Think about it. As the gap between the rich and the poor in our society continues to widen, we are setting ourselves up for a situation where the elite can do virtually anything they damn well please. Drive like an ass and that’s a $1000 fine. For you and I that’s quite a bite but to a hedge fund manager making well into the six figures it’s chump change. He can pay that with a smile and go right back to putting the rest of us in danger.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Of course our hypothetical investment banker will eventually score enough points to lose his license, but before that happens he may have other options that will keep him on the road longer than you or I. Higher insurance rates are no bother. The cost of driver retraining and other methods used by state to reform habitual traffic offenders is minor. In some states they even let you choose your own driver’s school, and if the option exists he may end up hooning around on a racetrack as part of an advanced driver safety course rather than spending our Saturday in an overheated classroom with the rest of us budget conscious rejects.

Thank God the rich have enough political influence to stamp out this idea before it can even take root, but let’s ponder an egalitarian society where people are actually expected to redress their wrongs. As my old man used to inform me before he had to do what hurt him more than it hurt me, you aint gonna learn if you don’t feel the burn. Call it “class warfare” if you like, but if I have to feel the heat, why shouldn’t everyone?

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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In Celebration of Fathers: Cars in the Blood Thu, 13 Jun 2013 13:12:35 +0000 My son Harley, raised with a love for everything on wheels.

My son Harley, raised with a love for everything on wheels.

As I paused in the driveway and waited for the garage door to open, I felt an unexpected presence by my side. Unbeknownst to me, my six year old son had slipped the confines of his booster seat in the rearmost row and made his way forward past his sisters with surprising stealth. Now he stood between my wife and I as we prepared to travel the last few feet of our journey.

My first thought was annoyance. Little kids are supposed to remain in their seats with their hands and arms in the vehicle at all times. Yet for some reason here he was walking around inside our van in bold defiance of everything that he had been taught since we first strapped him into a car seat as a squalling, red faced infant. Didn’t he know most car accidents happen close to home?

Caught off guard I opened my mouth to say something harsh, but before I could an old memory clawed its way to the surface. Reaching around behind my son, I swept him onto my lap, “Take us in.” I told him. My wife gave me a surprised look but said nothing as my son gripped the wheel with eager anticipation. While I handled the pedal work and gave the wheel an occasional assisting nudge, my little guy brought us into the garage with amazing skill. He was absolutely delighted with himself, and in that moment my life came full circle.

The clan Kreutzer circa 1972.  I'm the youngest, my father, Harley, is on the right.

The clan Kreutzer circa 1972. I’m the youngest, my father, Harley, is on the right.

Almost 40 years earlier, at around the same age, I too had been between my mother and father in the front seat when I also tested the bounds of good sense in the last few feet of a family journey when I innocently asked if I could drive. My own father, not one to brook any back-talk from any of his 5 kids looked at me hard, but instead of a quick rebuke responded with the unexpected. Setting me in his lap, he let me guide the our car, an Oldsmobile Dynamic 88, into our garage.

It was a moment for the ages. I can still feel the Oldsmobile’s thin plastic wheel in my hands, the back side scalloped to fit my fingers and the vibration from the mighty V8 under the hood, as we slipped smoothly into the garage. The experience changed my life and from that day forward, no matter how far we traveled, those last few feet were always spent on my father’s lap the two of us bonding over the joy of driving.

As car enthusiasts, we’ve all heard talk about how the new generation of kids lack a real interest in our hobby. We’ve all read about hot the cell phone and social networks have usurped the role of the car in the transition to adulthood, too, but I see other reasons for this generation’s attitude towards cars. Belted in the back seat with a DVD player to occupy their time, most little kids view the car as a sort of mobile living room. Prohibited by law from the front seat until they become “tweens,” kids don’t get the opportunity to see what is happening up front and, as a result, they never fantasize about what it must be like to slide over one spot and actually sit behind the wheel. Without the fantasy, the seed doesn’t take root.

My daughter Maiko in the big seat.

My daughter Maiko in the big seat.

Not on my watch. I love everything about cars and, much to my wife’s dismay, I have been programming all three of my children to be motor heads from the day they were born. Due to my efforts, my son Harley wants to be a race car driver and my oldest daughter, Maiko, wants to be a doctor-princess.

I won’t give up on her though. I want all my kids to feel same the joy I get from driving and, as much as I hate little footprints all over my nice leather seats, I let my children play in my car whenever I am cleaning it. I let them crawl behind the wheel, roll down the windows, open the sunroof and crank up the tunes. I let them sit in the big chair with the wheel in their hands and the gearshift under their right hand and I let them imagine what it must be like to be in control. Then I tell them that it isn’t a fantasy, it’s a preview. It’s only a matter of time until the seed takes root.

The circle complete, my son Harley and I pose for a picture with the last Oldsmobile my father, also Harley, ever bought.  A 1984 Cutlass Supreme.

The circle complete, my son Harley and I pose for a picture with the last Oldsmobile my father, also Harley, ever bought. A 1984 Cutlass Supreme.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Balls Of Fire, Then And Now Fri, 07 Jun 2013 14:12:10 +0000 Burned-Jeep-jpg

Chrysler’s recent decision to snub a recent NHTSA recall request is big news. I need not restate the facts of the story, if you are a “car guy” and haven’t heard the sordid details, or noticed the dramatic photos of burned out Jeep Grand Cherokees and Liberties posted all over the internet in the past few days, you must live under a rock. With 2.7 million vehicles involved the costs of conducting such a recall would be staggering but, ultimately, inaction may cost the company even more money if consumers lose confidence in the brand.

Because the root cause of the recall is said to involve rear-end collisions, ruptured fuel tanks, and the possibility of a death so gruesome that most of us shudder to even think about it, people are drawing a natural comparison between the current case and the Ford Pinto debacle of the 1970s. They appear the same on the surface but that’s only because, as much as I am loathe to admit it, the ‘70s were a long time ago and public awareness of the details of that earlier case has wasted away. In their rush to assert that history is repeating itself, people leap over a critical piece of the story that makes what happened almost 40 years ago much, much worse. Namely that Ford knew about the tendency of the Pinto to explode before the cars even left the factory, and, because it would cost an extra $11 per car to fix, they elected not to act.

The case against Ford was laid out in great detail by Mother Jones News in their October 1977 issue – view the original article – and it makes chilling reading. In a nutshell, that article states that the problems with the Pinto’s fuel tank became apparent during pre-production crash tests, but that Ford elected to go ahead with the car as designed because the tooling for the cars was already in place and because the overall cost to upgrade the car was deemed to be higher than the cost potential settlements to the families of those people unfortunate enough to be burned alive in an accident. Mother Jones backed up this assertion with a leaked Ford memo that revealed that an internal cost-benefit analysis had determined that the company’s average estimated payout in the event of a death caused by the defect would be $200,000. Crunching the numbers, then, was simple: $11 times X million cars over the car’s product cycle vs $200,000 times a projected 180 burn deaths per year. Chillingly logical, isn’t it?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Once Mother Jones blew the lid off this story, people got enraged and Pinto sales dropped precipitously. In 1977, seven full years after the car’s introduction, Ford finally made the required modifications and the car continued to appear on Ford lots where it sold in much smaller numbers until it finally went away in 1980. Today, the Ford Pinto has virtually vanished from the streets and, when they do appear, they seem more an oddity than a rolling death trap released upon the world through corporate duplicity.

I suppose that those whose lives have been effected by current “alleged” defect in Chrysler’s Jeeps will care little about the distinction I make between a vehicle that is determined after the fact to have a possibly deadly defect and one that left the factory with a similar defect with the full knowledge of the people running the program, but to me the difference is an important one. One is a mistake, the other is murder. One deserves to be prosecuted and the other made right. Both, however, need to be remembered in their correct context.

Even so, Chrysler should not ignore the lesson that Ford learned in the ensuing debacle. People don’t like to be burned alive in their cars. We don’t even like the thought of it. Over time we may forget the specific details, but we will remember the part about the burning. Don’t forget that. Make this right before its too late.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Raging Hormones Pull TTAC Author in Odd Directions – Assistance Needed! Mon, 03 Jun 2013 16:02:51 +0000 Photo couretsy of

Photo couretsy of

The empty space in my driveway mocks me. The 300 is gone and I know it is not coming back. I have accepted that and I really believe in my heart-of-hearts that the car has gone to someone who will give it the use it actually deserves. But the sun still shines and the money in my pocket burns like fire against my thigh. I dare not ask my wife to allow me to buy another toy, she’s small but feisty, but never the less I still find myself on Craigslist considering all the possibilities. Help me, oh best and brightest, help me to exorcise this demon before I do something rash.


This weekend one of the cars I wrote about a few weeks ago in my article, Psycho Love, suddenly appeared for sale right in my own neighborhood. The 1993 Grand Prix is on my short list of cars I wish I had bought back in the day, and this one appears to be in pretty amazing shape; especially when you consider the evil that road salt works on cars of this age in this part of the country. I managed to stop myself from calling this young man up and rushing right over, but I did, in the name of putting my youngest child to sleep in her car seat, drive up and down dozens of streets in my neighborhood hoping to “stumble across” it. I never did find it, but I note that as of this morning the ad is still up so perhaps…

The ad says this car has just 90K miles on it, is still inspected and is on the road as of this writing. It also comes with a cold air intake, an aftermarket Magnaflow exhaust, a sunroof that doesn’t leak the speedometer projection and aftermarket rims. The owner claims that there is not a scratch or spot of rust on it and that it even comes with its own cover. All this for just $2900.


Compounding my crisis of the soul I just happened to be perusing the classified section of my favorite Turbo Dodge website on Saturday when I came across a 1987 Dodge Daytona Pacifica. Truth be told, back in the day I thought Daytonas were girls’ cars and of them all the Pacifica, with its puffy padded seats and snooty sounding name, was especially evocative of overweight women in their 40s who thought themselves just too cool to buy into the LeBaron. Before you get angry, just bear in mind that I can back up my assertion with the fact that the vast majority of Daytonas I see today, yes even the turbo Daytonas, have automatic transmissions.


The Daytona Pacifica I found just a few hundred miles away in North Eastern Ohio however shatters my preconceptions. Just read the ad and judge for yourself:

91,000 miles, 5 speed manual, 2.2 Turbocharged Block. Car has been converted from a Turbo I to a Turbo II. Car is in great condition and has many extras. Some extras are: 2 piece intake. mildly ported head, ported exhaust manifold, custom built turbo a little larger than stock,+40 injectors, heavy duty motor mounts, Koni adjustable shocks and struts, strut tower brace and custom rear shock tower brace, 255 ltr/hr high pressure high volume in tank fuel pump, Accufab adjustable fuel pressure regulator, rising rate regulator, Hella E Beam headlight lenses, custom front mount intercooler, talon blow off valve (modified for high boost), 3 stage manual boost control, switches at console ( can be adjusted to any settings), kumho 205X55ZR16 tires, braided steel turbo lines, 2 1/2″ mandrel bent exhaust, alarm with aftermarket power door locks, Alpine CD player. $3200.00.

To make my crisis even worse, when I asked a simple question about where exactly in Ohio he was, I got this response:

I’m North East Ohio, about 4 hours from Buffalo. Owned the car for the last 16 yrs. Been running the tuneup for the past 10 yrs without a problem. Passes E-check just fine with the existing tuneup. This car is more Shelby Daytona than a Shelby Daytona. I built this car to be dependable, fast and handle. This car is nothing like the Pacificas that people write about. No digital dash, no power windows, no factory power locks, no automatic.

Crisis acute. I’m a sucker for the days of my youth and this car looks like it was hand built by Doc Brown with the should intention of returning me to the 1980s. A turbo Dodge with all the right mods and a 5 speed. Of course, recent medical tests have revealed that I am producing less testosterone than I should be so that might be part of this crazy attraction I am feeling, but that Gel was supposed to fix that! It might just be puppy love, I know, but then again it might also be that I happen to know a really cool car when I see one. I’m so conflicted!

OK, so what the hell do I do? Do I face that tiny but extremely vociferous typhoon of a woman that I brought home from the far East ten years ago with the full knowledge that we will be going overseas in another year and that the money I drop on one of these cars may not entirely return to the account from which it came? Or do I keep my money safely in my pocket, and my head attached to my neck, and know that this sudden bout of infatuation will pass in due time? Help a brother out, your advice is much appreciated.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

DT3 DT2 dt4 GP2 GP1 GP3 Photo couretsy of ]]> 105
Dark Days: Broken Hearts and Blown Gaskets Fri, 31 May 2013 14:41:50 +0000 1988 Dodge Shadow

She done me wrong. I was beside myself with grief, anger and stress. Things had been going so well when, suddenly, a former lover waltzed back into her life and caused her to leave me in the lurch. Part of me wanted to win her back, to show her I was better than him. The other, darker part of me wanted to find that guy and kick his ass. It was a terrible time, and to make matters even worse, by faithful Dodge Shadow wasn’t running right.

By 1993 my little Turbo Shadow, purchased new in 1988, had almost 100.000 miles on the clock. It had traveled the length and breadth of the United States, making nonstop drives from Seattle to Los Angeles twice and a trip from Seattle to Washington DC, the return leg of which was done in just three days, without a single hiccup. It still looked great, not a single scratch marred its brilliant graphic red paint, but under the hood my heavy foot and childish antics had taken their toll and the car was losing water.

If it had been a leaking radiator or a shot hose, I could have easily understood what was happening. The problem was that the water was simply vanishing from the reservoir, I thought about the options and didn’t like where the logic lead me. I checked the tail pipe of course, but found no feather of steam in the exhaust. The radiator showed no sheen of oil and the dipstick showed no sudden increase in level, nor any emulsification either. Still, I reasoned, it must be a head gasket, bad but not yet critical.

Photo courtesy of

It was a bad feeling. Everything in my young life was in turmoil, women troubles compounded by car troubles. My heart was empty and my outlook black, but like so many men in similar situations I struggled on and worked with I knew I could repair. Life would not get better on its own, I knew, and so I must make it better.

I went to the auto parts store and purchased a rebuild manual and a gasket set and rolled the little Dodge into the garage at my parents’ house. With a nonstop soundtrack of the heaviest of heavy metal soothing my wounded soul, I worked like a mad scientist, carefully plotting every movement while evil lurked in my heart. The valve cover came off, then the timing belt, the intake, turbo and finally the head itself.

I looked into the heart of the beast. Four pistons, three scored black but in generally good condition and one that was too clean and fresh. Next to that piston I found the trouble, a small breach in the all important head gasket, just enough to let the tiniest amount of water wick out with every piston stroke and into the chamber where it was burned with the gas and sent out the back.

My outlook brightened as I replaced the gasket and slowly began reassembly process. The head went back on, carefully torque to the specs listed in my rebuild manual. I matched the marks on the crank and camshafts and secured the timing belt. Bit by bit the engine went together and little by little I regained control over my life. At the end of the project I reattached the hoses and topped up the fluids and I was done. The dark clouds in my mind lifted as I swung the garage door open, and the sun shined brightly into my soul as I slipped into the driver’s seat and fired the engine. One crank, then two and suddenly, blessed music as the engine fired and ran.

The little car sat there at idle and spoke to me of all the things we had been through together. We were a team, this little car and I, with good times behind us and the promise of even more ahead. Women would come and go, I realized, but good friends look out for one another. When the car required my help I put aside my own problems and I had saved it. In doing so, I had saved myself. Together we would endure.

Photo Courtesy of

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Snow Drifting Fri, 24 May 2013 17:31:32 +0000 Photo courtesy of

The black Nissan 200SX Turbo was only a few years old but it had been solidly thrashed over the years. It had obviously been an expensive, well optioned little car when it was new, but the people into which its well being had been entrusted had obviously not respected that fact. Now it slumped on its sagging suspension, any number of small dents defacing its once gracefully straight bodylines and its once beautiful aluminum wheels, now torn by contact innumerable curbs, were shod with cheap, mismatched tires. This car was supposed to be fast?

The little Nissan’s owner was almost as scruffy as the car. Tall with long flowing hair that fell down over his collar and got in his eyes, Kazu, a Japanese exchange student from the far Northern Island of Hokkaido, looked like a real life anime hero. The son of an Olympic ski jumping champion, Kazu was a handsome guy and women swooned whenever he appeared. He seemed to care little for his natural good looks, however, and dressed in shabby, worn clothes that stunk from the many cheap cigarettes he liked to smoke. Like so many young Japanese men I have met, he was congenial and since we had a common interest in cars we had things to talk about whenever our girlfriends decided we should do things together, but there was no genuine friendship between us.

Over the few weeks we had known one another, Kazu had educated me about the Japanese car scene. He had any number of Japanese car magazines and because I couldn’t read the language he often had to explain the content of the various articles. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the future when it is staring you in the face and, truth be told, I was a little incredulous at some of the things written in those magazines. Four or five hundred horsepower out of a four cylinder seemed extreme to me, even if it was turbo charged and, what’s more, much of this power was coming through adjustments made on a computer! How could that be? real power required V8 engines, lumpy camshafts and big carbs. I was dubious.

One of the things Kazu was into was called “Dorifuto” and many of the magazines showed pictures of small Japanese cars sliding violently through corners on wet or icy pavement. Being from Hokkaido, an island that spends much if its time under a great deal of snow, Kazu knew all about this and was eager to demonstrate his skills. So, on one rare Seattle snow day, he invited me along for a ride and we headed out into the hills in search of slippery roads.

Highway 2 led us out of Everett and up into the hills where the previous day’s snowfall still lingered on the back roads in the shadows of the tall trees. Despite the recent snowfall, warming weather was having its effect and much of what had only hours before been dangerous compact snow and ice had turned to sloppy slush. Kazu smiled when he saw it though and we charged into the first corner way too hot.

Photo courtesy of

In one swift, smooth motion, Kazu whipped the wheel and with a quick heel to toe movement of his feet pitched the Nissan into the curve. The back end slipped out and the nose of the car pivoted towards the inside ditch. Kazu mashed the gas, found the groove and held the car there on the edge of control as we slipped through the corner. Upon our exit, he straightened the car and raced towards the next curve here he completed the process in the opposite direction. The curves came faster and Kazu continued to navigate them with remarkable skill, the car always on edge but never out of control in his capable hands. The overall feeling from the passenger seat was not one of jerky, violent motion like I had imagined when I had first seen the photos in Kazu’s magazines but was instead smooth, the car pivoting and slipping in a gentle rhythm controlled by the constant steering and pedal inputs the of driver. I was surprised.

The next corner was a blind left hand sweeper cut into a steep hillside, the inside of the curve up against the mountain and the outside of the corner falling steeply away into a deep, brush filled ditch. As we approached, Kazu made his usual motions and the car pivoted again. We dove headlong into the corner, the little Nissan stretched sideways across both lanes as it slid sublimely into the curve.

The car in the opposite lane came as a total surprise. Kazu reacted instantly, grabbed the emergency brake and whipped the wheel. The car responded to the inputs and the front end pivoted back onto the right side of the road a moment before impact and the oncoming car passed by us on the left with just inches to spare. Still sliding, Kazu released the e-brake, whipped the wheel the other direction and punched the gas. The car pivoted back into the corner and resumed its full slide. The whole process took only an instant and the effect was like opening and then closing a door around the other car.

The road straightened and Kazu got back on the gas and set us up for the next corner, but after a couple of more slides it was clear the fun had gone out of the moment. Caution returned and he slowed the car’s speed. At the first turn off, we headed back down towards the valley below and down out of the snow. Later, as usual, we would speak little about the ride but from that point on, whenever I had the opportunity to look at Kazu’s strange magazines, I had a new appreciation for this strange new world I saw reflected in those pictures. It looked like fun. Maybe one day, I thought, car guys in America would do something similar. Maybe one day…

Photo by Thomas Kreutzer

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Close Encounters of the Japanese Kind Wed, 22 May 2013 14:10:53 +0000 GSXR1100

At just 10:30 AM the sun was already near its full zenith and it beat down upon the city of Osaka with an intense, angry glare. Waves of heat shimmered up from the pavement and superheated the air which blew around in tepid, weak breezes that offered little respite. Perhaps later, the column of heat created by the great city’s many square miles of pavement would spark a sudden thunderstorm as it rose high into the stratosphere and the resultant rain would bring relief as it cascaded down and turned the streets into raging torrents. For now, however, there was only the glare of the sun, the stifling heat and, for me, the thought that riding an 1100 cc air cooled sport bike in a full set of leathers was a choice I should have avoided making.

The morning had begun as all summer mornings do in Japan, with the incessant shrieking of cicadas and the knowledge that sweltering heat and insufferable humidity were to follow. Regardless, my bike had sat unused for far too many days and I knew that if I failed to get the it out on the road I would regret my inaction later. To mitigate that future guilt, I decided I would make the trip across town to get a hot dog at Costco. My silly, trumped up excuse for action firmly fixed in my mind, I rolled my mighty GSXR from its hiding place under the stairwell of our apartment house, slipped into my familiar riding gear and set out.

It was still early enough that traffic was light and despite the big bike’s size, I weaved through traffic with relative ease, splitting lanes as needed but never really putting bike‘s full power to the ground. When it had been built back in 1991, my GSXR was as close to a street-going race bike as you could get. Regardless of that fact, its first owner had modified it to be even faster, adding larger carbs and a full stainless steel race exhaust that raised the bike’s horsepower well into the triple digits. It was loud, temperamental and, compared to the newer, fuel injected sport bikes made today, crude and it hated to be constricted by real world concerns like traffic laws and my own will to live. By the time I got close to my destination, the bike too was having trouble with the heat and was beginning to show signs of a fouled spark plug.

Photo Courtesy of

I rolled onto the wide boulevard that led the last half mile to my destination and pulled up at a stoplight. Ahead of me, the road stretched out wide and straight, three lanes wide in each direction and on its surface only the shimmering waves of heat rising from the pavement gave any indication of motion. The light turned green and I revved the bike, using the open road as an opportunity to raise the revs a bit higher into their range to tray and blast loose that bit of carbon that I knew was clinging to the electrode of at least one of my plugs. It was the city, however, and I stayed in the lower gears, letting off the gas and killing my acceleration just under of the speed limit. Ahead, the last two lights between me and my destination turned green in tandem and I held my speed.

Just then, out of the entrance to a blind alleyway, a bicyclist shot out into the main street. How he failed to hear me, I have no idea, but the distance between us negligible and a collision looked imminent. I laid on the horn and just as quickly clamped on the brakes. I squeezed down hard and the big Suzuki’s brakes bit deeply, unsettling the bike’s suspension and shifting the bike’s weight forward onto the front end, almost bottoming out the forks. With me baring down upon him, the bicyclist stopped dead in the road and right in my path – a deer in the headlights.

You learn to make choices fast on when you are on the back of a sport bike and years of experience had taught me my options were limited. There was no time to swerve, and a sudden pivot in any direction would leave me dumped on my side in the street. There was no swerving then, my best option, I decided, was straight ahead, right up and over that stoplight running SOB. It was going to be ugly.

I bore down on him like a freight train, my big bike’s dual headlights boring into his soul as I closed the gap, my horn blaring steadily. The distance closed to inches and then, a split second before impact, in an act of sheer desperation the bicyclist kicked forward with is foot and rolled just one foot forward. That movement saved us both and I slid past behind him with a bare inch to spare stopping about 5 feet beyond what would have been our point of impact. I turned my head, glared back at him over my shoulder and extended my arm palm up, giving him my best sign language version of “WTF?” With a downward motion of his hands and a slight bow, he placated me and, with the cars behind beginning to bare down upon us, we separated, him to his destination and me to mine.

The manual operation of the bike occupied my attention while I covered the remaining distance to Costco and parked, but once inside the store the entire experience hit me hard. It took some time to compose myself, it isn’t every day you almost kill someone, after all. After a brief period of adrenaline related butterflies in my stomach, I headed into the store and my mind was filling with the other possible courses of action I might have taken. Lost in deep thought, I approached the food court.

For whatever reason the line at the hotdog stand was huge. Hundreds of small dark haired women, many with children scuttling around their feet, waited patiently in long lines, each one taking a few extra moments to verify the complicated menu that listed so many odd, Western food options prior to making their order. The process took far too long, but it was OK, after the events of the morning waiting mindlessly in a long, slow moving line was rather cathartic. After many long minutes I found myself before the counter, made my order and scurried away to condiment table where I dressed my hotdogs and filled my cup with cold soda.

Photo Couresty of

I turned towards the tables and found myself shocked at the site of a sea of sullen faced men, none with food in their hands, occupying virtually all of the tables as they waited for their wives who were lost somewhere in the mass of humanity lined up before the counter. There I stood, two dogs gripped in my right hand as it stuck through the chin bar of my full faced helmet, my leather riding jacket in the crook of my arm and my tank bag and a soda tenuously sharing the grip of my left. There was nowhere to sit, and I found myself flushed with sudden anger. This was typical.

Like a well practiced team, these men had rushed to the tables and staked out their places while their wives ordered and prepared their food, Meanwhile, no one else would be allowed to sit. I stalked into their midst staring them down and forcing them to turn and look away whenever they dared to glance in my direction. At last in the middle of this group I found a single table, a carefully folded jacket draped across one side of it. Frankly, I didn’t care anymore, chances are I would finish before the jacket‘s owner returned anyhow so I sat down and unloaded my food.

I unwrapped a dog and had only taken my first bite when they arrived. An elderly man, perhaps in his 70s, his small, silver haired wife, their daughter and grandson approached the table furtively and made to take the coat away. In their hands they each had a plate of food, a drink and I could tell when I made eye contact that, like me, they knew there was nowhere else to sit. I began to wrap my hotdog back up and rise, but the man bade me to sit and after a word with his wife the family sat down with me, the little man across from me, his wife to my right and the daughter across from her with their grandson on her lap. It was only mildly uncomfortable for us all and soon they were chatting away with one another about the most ordinary of subjects, carefully and politely avoiding the subject of the giant gorilla of a man who had stolen their spot. I finished quickly, gathered my trash and made to leave when the old man spoke to me for the first time.

“Are you an American?” He asked in English.

I paused. It could be something of a loaded question, I knew, but I am what I am and I looked him in the eye and said, “Yes.”

He bade me sit again and leaned in close. “I speak English,” He told me in a quiet, almost furtive voice. “I worked for the American Navy in Yokosuka at the end of the war.” And then he told his story:

I was 12 years old and my father had been killed in the war. Times were very bad and I needed to work to buy food for my mother and sisters. I went to the Navy base to look for work. I was scared. I had been told the Americans hated us and I thought they might kill me. But I knew that without food, we would die anyway, it was that bad.

They didn’t kill me, instead, they gave me a job shining boots. Every morning, I would go to the base and meet with the other workers in a small hut. Someone from the base would come to take them men to their work sites and bring us boys boots to shine. It was hard work and we got little money but whatever I earned, I gave to my mother and with it she bought food. It was never enough, though, and we were always hungry.

One day just before it was time to go home, an American sailor came into the hut where we gathered. He had a big shoulder of beef in his arms and he put it on the table in front of us. He told us, “Don’t anyone touch this! This base has a rat problem and we need to see if this shack has rats in it. I will leave this beef here and if it is gone in the morning I will know there are rats here and can call an exterminator.” Then he left.

We thought he was crazy! We were starving and he was going to leave the meat for rats! When he left, we cut up the beef leg and took it home. We knew it was wrong, but our families were starving. We thought we would be punished.

Fraternization was strictly forbidden in all theatres after the war.

Fraternization was strictly forbidden in all theatres after the war.

The next day, the man came back as we were going home and instead of punishing us, he put another large piece of meat on the table. He told us, “There must be many rats in this building because in the morning I didn’t even find a single of the meat left yesterday. I need to know how many rats are here, so I will leave this meat here as well and come back again tomorrow.” Naturally, we cut that meat up and took it home as well.

The man came every day for several months and we always laughed about how foolish he was. Today I am older and I understand what he was doing. That man had been told it was against the rules to give food to the Japanese, but he saw us starving and found a way to help us. He might have been arrested and punished for disobeying orders, but he put himself in grave peril in order to give us food. We laughed at him and I am sorry about that today.

The old man looked at me with tears in his eyes and, to the shock of his wife and daughter took me by the hand. “The Imperial military abused the Japanese people and they would have let us die for their glory. Our enemy came and saved us. I love America. I know it is the greatest country in the world. Thank you.”

I can see that sailor in my mind’s eye now. He is typical of those we call the greatest generation, tall, hollow eyed and raw boned. He might be a farmer from the Kansas plains, his brown hair bleached blonde from long hours of hard work in the sun. He might be shorter, heavier, and a survivor of the hard streets of New York or some other crowded North Eastern city. He might be an American Indian from the Southwest plains whose family had been consigned to a life of poverty on an isolated reservation, or an African American who had gone into the service despite his own country’s lack of respect or concern for him and his family’s well being.

Whoever he was, that sailor knew what suffering was when he saw it, because he had lived it. He had felt the bite of hunger, seen the swollen bellies of his brothers and sisters and he knew, despite the fact that the people in whose faces he saw it reflected had recently been our sworn enemies, that he could not let human suffering go unanswered. Instead, he chose to make a difference, and that choice echoes down through time to this very day.

On Monday, our country pauses to honor the men and women, our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers and grandparents who swore their lives to our nation’s service. We will remember their great deeds, the battles they fought and the obstacles they overcame. It is all too easy, however, to let slip away those other important things that they do in all our names, those times when they act out of compassion and simple human concern. We should seek to remember those things as well, because it is through them that we win the peace.

To all of you who have served, thank you for your service, and your sacrifice. More than that, however, thank you all for your humanity and your kindness. We honor you, because you have honored us all. Thank you.

"The American Way"  Painting by Norman Rockwell

“The American Way” Painting by Norman Rockwell

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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The Tipping Point Fri, 17 May 2013 15:34:44 +0000 300m1

Years ago, I was paid to help a neighbor clean out his garage. It was an old, ramshackle building with a dirt floor and over the years it had been filled with an amazing amount of crap. At the very back, under a canvas tarp, I found a long neglected late 60s Honda CB750 in fairly rough condition. When I asked about it, my neighbor told me how, as a younger man, he had purchased the bike new and travelled the highways and byways of the American West for many years before finally coming home a settling down to start a family. To him, it was an icon of his youth and a time of freedom. To my young eyes, however, it was just a neglected old bike covered in dirt and cobwebs, found forgotten, alone and unloved and condemned to spend its remaining years as a lifeless touchstone of another time. It struck me as a particularly sad end to a life of service and I decided then that no vehicle of mine would ever languish its remaining life away in a barn or under a cover.

It was the arrival of my third child that sparked my family’s need for a bigger vehicle. Up to that point we had been fine with my Chrysler and the Pontiac Torrent I had purchased for my wife after our return from Japan. Both cars had a pair of car seats in the back for our two older kids, but neither proved to be wide enough to add a the necessary third seat. It was obvious we needed a minivan and I soon began a long search that netted us the Ford Freestar that I have written about on these pages before. With my wife firmly ensconced in her new mommy mobile, the low mileage Torrent that had previously been hers became my daily driver and the Chrysler slipped to the side of the drive where it sat snug and secure under its cover as the Buffalo winter swept towards us.


The following year, whenever the weather looked nice, I rolled the Chrysler out of its spot from time to time for various work-related jaunts around Western New York. I took it to work on the nicest days and at other time used it for those few, infrequent errands that didn’t involve carting a kid around. It was nice to have and I used it a few times while our van went to the shop but for the most part, it simply sat and waited. That autumn, as inspection time rolled around, I found that I had put a grand total of four thousand miles on the clock. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a long unused synapse fired and a memory of a rusty, sad-looking motorcycle flashed into my consciousness. I pushed the vision back into its place and, with another winter on the horizon, slipped the Chrysler back into its place at the side of the drive way and secured its cover.

The memory continued to work at me, however, and the site of the car hunkered down under its cover and covered in autumn leaves, then snow and finally the yellow pollen of a new spring, gnawed at me. A few weeks ago, I took the car out, prepped it for the summer and doted on it as usual but the seed that had been planted last fall had grown large enough that events had crossed the tipping point. I made a last work related road trip three weeks ago and upon my return posted an ad to Craigslist.

I asked too much money but, regardless, someone responded quickly. Our first conversation went well and the interested party, a man named John, seemed like a good guy, Even better he had spent much of his life in Arizona, where I had purchased the car after my return from Japan in 2010, and he knew the dealership in question. What sealed the deal was when he and his wife arrived to check out my car and I saw he was driving his own less-than-Special Chrysler 300M.

There was tire kicking, a look under the hood, a test drive and a conversation but surprisingly little haggling. John and I are men of a similar type, I learned, and he knew exactly what he was buying. Maybe it was more expensive than every other 300M in Western New York, but it was truly unique and, like me, John was smitten as soon as he slipped behind the wheel. He thought about it overnight and, after working out the finances, came back on Wednesday evening with his cashier’s check. We swapped another story or two as we wrapped up the paperwork and then he opened the door, sunk down into the seat and started the engine. The car burbled at idle as he adjusted the seat, the mirrors and took a moment to survey his purchase. He slipped the car into gear, pulled the parking brake and then, slowly, majestically, the 300M slipped slowly down the drive, onto the street and out of my life forever.

The logical side of me knows that machines are things to be used up and discarded. If a person is especially devoted to regular service and maintenance they can stretch the lifespan of a given vehicle well beyond the norm. If they have the necessary mechanical skill, or the money to access those who do, they can keep a machine running indefinitely. But if a person lacks the time or interest to do the maintenance, make the repairs or even drive a vehicle then there can be only one, ultimate result. If, as I have often posited in my articles, cars really do have souls, the deserve better than to be held prisoner of a man’s past. They deserve a chance to live out their lives in the sun, with the wind streaming over them, the road rushing towards them and the miles falling away behind. Godspeed.


Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Mustang by Mazda? When Ford Probed The Possibility Fri, 10 May 2013 16:17:52 +0000 Photo courtesy of

In the early 1980s, as the economy continued to slump and gas prices soared, American car makers were desperate for a way forward. The good old days were gone forever. Under pressure from the Japanese, whose small cars had gone from rolling jokes to serious, high quality competition in little more than a decade, the big three knew they needed to make a radical departure from their traditional approach before it was too late. Although some of the more stodgy cars would soldier on and continue to sell to members of the Greatest Generation well past their expiration dates, for the rest of us the future was a smaller, lighter and more efficient. The winds of change were blowing and even the Ford Mustang felt the chill.

In 1982 Ford began to take a good, hard look at their strong selling V8 powered, rear wheel drive pony car. Introduced in 1979, the Fox body mustang was a radical departure from the Ford Pinto based Mustang II that had carried the name forward through the disco era and it was a good car, but all indications were that the front engine rear wheel drive platform appeared to be on the way out. Most domestic manufacturers were headed towards front wheel drive platforms, Chrysler was already heavily invested in its K car and rumor had it that even GM was considering moving its Camaro and Firebird to FWD. Fortunately, Ford’s 25% stake in Mazda offered them quick and relatively inexpensive access to a FWD platform already under development, the Mazda 626, and they chose to examine that option.

Toshi Saito of Ford’s North American Design Center prepared the initial concepts, one of which was chosen and the project moved forward into a full sized clay mock up and eventually a fiberglass model was constructed and sent to Japan where Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima. Mazda’s management approved of the design, but after some thought Ford decided that it wasn’t quite what they were looking for and came back with a longer, leaner and more rakish design that required some re-engineering from Mazda. The car was to be produced in the United States and Mazda purchased a Ford property in Flat Rock, Michigan to produce the car alongside their own 626 and Mx-6 models.

Photo courtesy of

Much like the now oft-derided Mustang II, the new Mustang was set to be a radical departure from the Fox car. First, no V8s were to be offered. Instead, the front wheel drive Mustang would mount a Mazda sourced transversely mounted 4 cylinder good for about 110 horsepower. For the first year, GT Mustangs would feature the same 4 cylinder with turbo good for about 145 horsepower – comparable to what the Mustang V8 was making at the time – and the next year move to the Mazda V6 which was good for about 175 horsepower. The design was sleek, slippery and generally well liked by those who saw production models and images.

The public backlash against the car came as a real shock. Mustang enthusiasts and red blooded ‘Murricans everywhere were appalled at the thought of a Mustang based on anything other than good old American design and sent up a howl of indignation that resonated all the way back to Ford’s executive offices. Firmly in the Reagan era, a resurgent America would simply not tolerate the venerable Mustang name attached to a Japanese design. As thousands upon thousands of angry letters poured into the corporate offices, buyers rushed into dealerships and sales of the Fox body Mustang, which had been slipping as the design aged, suddenly increased.

Photo courtesy of

People, it seemed, were anxious to own what was sure to be the last “real” Mustang rushed into the dealership before it was too late and, in a moment of “Classic Coke” vs “New Coke” brilliance, Ford capitalized on the controversy. The classic Mustang would remain on sale, but the new car would live too, and so Ford reached into the bag of names and pulled out one that had been attached to an especially well received aerodynamic concept car just a few years earlier and, with a knowing wink to proctologists everywhere, dubbed it the “Probe.”

Photo courtesy of

The rest is well known history. Introduced in 1988, The Probe was a success and it went on to win the hearts and minds of many of those who cross shopped it with its primary competition, the Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge Turbo K variants, the small FWD GM cars, the Cavalier and the Beretta and Japanese turbo cars of all makes and models. Sales were brisk and the Detroit News reported in 1989 that Ford was selling around 600 of them a month. The design was refreshed in 1993 and almost 120,000 were sold that year. By 1997, however, the design had run its course and only 16,777 were sold. Meanwhile, the “Classic” Mustang soldiered on, was continually refreshed and, although it has been updated and redesigned over the years, it is still with us as the front engine, rear wheel drive pony car that God and Lee Iacocca originally intended.

Looking back, the 80s was a time or real, small-car innovation. Car companies, both domestic and foreign, put forth an amazing number of designs across all price ranges as they fought for market share. In that regard, I suppose, Ford really didn’t hurt themselves by keeping the ‘Stang and adding the Probe to their showrooms. I’m guessing the Probe really didn’t steal buyers from the Mustang as they each appealed to different market segments. I wonder, however, what would have happened if Ford had made the decision to stick with New Coke? Would GM have followed suit and put the Camaro and Firebird on a smaller FWD platform? Would the Chrysler K Turbos have eaten all their lunches? I wonder…

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Something Fun: The 30K Millionaire Challenge Wed, 08 May 2013 14:34:58 +0000 Photo courtesy of

Yesterday, the astute Derek Kreindler added to his already excellent body of work on TTAC another installment of his “Generation Why” series in which he explored Land Rover’s resistance to the current trend of marketing lower cost vehicles to young people. In the body of the article a couple of sentences in particular jumped out at me –

While the parents of today’s college-age consumers still associate Mercedes-Benz and BMW with stratospheric price tags and unique dynamic qualities, the next generation seems them as cars that can be leased by any $30k millionaire because they’re too proud to drive a Honda Accord. If you drive a BMW 320i, girls won’t think you’re rich; they’ll think you’re a try-hard.

Naturally, that got me to thinking and I was hoping that we might discuss it a little further. Tell me oh best-and-brightest of TTAC, what car (new or used) can we 30K millionaires buy on a budget that will convey the sense of wealth and success that we so earnestly seek?

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A Celebration of My Mom, Woman Driver Fri, 03 May 2013 18:20:48 +0000 My mom around 1955

My mom around 1955

As mother’s day approaches I think now about my own mother on the other side of the continent and about the journey her life has been. Born in the mid 1930s and raised in poverty, she was dumped into an orphanage by her father after her mother’s sudden death from breast cancer in the late ’40s. It has never been discussed in detail, but I know that she and her younger sister were rescued by their older sister, my aunt Evelyn, herself just a recently married teenager, and raised as one of her own. At barely 18 years of age, my mother married my father, had the first of her five children and worked hard to build a home for herself and her family. The amazing part of this is that she was able to do it all without ever driving.

Being a mom has never been, and probably never will be, easy. Modern moms work hard to ensure that their kids use every moment of their free time in the most productive ways possible. Gone are the days when a child came home from school, jumped on their bike and headed to the park or a neighbor’s house to play. To be a child today is to be constantly running from one activity, lesson or play date to the next and modern moms spend a lot of time behind the wheel. It’s hard to imagine that my mother raised five complete, productive people eight miles outside of town without ever loading us into the car and taking us anywhere. I wonder if it could be done today.

The routine around the Kreutzer house in the early ’70s was simple. On weekdays, Dad got up before dawn and worked all day long. With a lot of mouths to feed, if he had the opportunity to work overtime he took it and he was generally gone from sunup to past sundown. We kids got up just as he was leaving, ate our breakfasts and were at the school bus stop early because if you missed the bus there was no one to drive you. For us there were no afterschool activities, no sports and, of course, no play dates you couldn’t get to under your own pedal power. On the weekends, if dad wasn’t working, the younger kids would load into our station wagon and go to the supermarket while the older kids stayed home. On Sundays we would all go to church. In the summers we stayed out in the hills, rode our bicycles as far as they would carry us, fought endless mock wars with the neighbor kids and swam in the lakes. If we were injured during any of the aforementioned activities, we either suffered until dad came home or, if the situation was deemed serious enough, called a neighbor to take us to the hospital.

My mom and dad around 1983

My mom and dad around 1983

It seems odd today, but the reason for our plight was not because we couldn’t afford another car. Truth be told, the reason is that it was because my mom simply didn’t want to drive. She had, she told me, tried to learn once back-in-the-day but the pressure was just too great and she had suffered a panic attack at the wheel. The terror she felt left such a strong impression that she had decided it was better to leave the responsibility of driving to others. The family soldiered on and, as we kids matured and eventually got our own licenses and cars, the situation improved. As she moved towards the golden years of her life, it seemed that my mother’s status as a non driver would be forever secured. And so it was until my father passed away.

Tough times call for tough measures and it is amazing how my mother and all of our neighbors rallied in the face of adversity. With an empty nest at home my mother found herself stuck at the old homestead far outside town. At first the neighbor ladies were quite generous with their time and included my mom in all sorts of senior activities but one morning she was a few minutes late to the end of the driveway and they left without her. That day my mother swore she would never be dependent upon anyone ever again.

That evening after I came home from work, I rolled my father’s perfectly preserved Cutlass out of the garage and we headed to the local school parking lot to practice the basics of driving. The next day, another neighbor who was a driving instructor at a local high school came to our house with a driver’s guide and began working with her as well. Between the two of us, we covered all the basics and two weeks later my mother, then in her fifties, passed her road test and got her first driver’s license. To this day, almost 20 years later, she remains a licensed driver.

Think for a second about the kind of guts that takes. As car enthusiasts we are immersed in the culture of cars. Those of us who truly love cars have, for the most part, been enamored with them from the time we were little kids and we jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel. We admire the beauty of their lines, thrill at the power and enjoy the actual act of driving. It’s hard for us to imagine how anyone would choose to forgo what is to us, one of life’s great pleasures.

No matter who you are, however, cars are really all about freedom and if you really want to be free you can’t live your life in fear. I’m proud that I had a small part in sharing that freedom with my mother and prouder still that she had the courage to face her fears. But given where she comes from, I guess I should have expected it. Happy Mothers’ Day to all of you and yours.

My mom and her husband Guy a few years after they married.

My mom and her husband Guy around 2001, a few years after they married.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Swimming In The Pond Of The Japanese Garden Thu, 02 May 2013 13:00:17 +0000

In some ways my initial move across the Pacific was a lot easier than my return. I was at the end of my personal rope when I went to Japan in 1999 and, even though I was stepping into a dead end job, there was nowhere to go but up. Coming home was quite the reverse. Of course I had a job offer, but I had learned the hard way about birds in the hand versus the two in the bush and, truth is, I was scared. I had carved out a nice little life for myself in Japan. I had friends, a decent place to live and, for a change, money in my pocket. I had even purchased a car and a motorcycle, but now it was time to sell out and move on.

The car in question was my 1986 Twin Turbo Supra and it was in great shape. In the two years I had owned it I had taken good care of it, corrected a few minor paint issues with rubbing compound and special wax that turned the paint back to its original brilliant white, added new tires, a kick ass stereo and even completed the shakken. Back home in the States a similar car would have sold for several thousand dollars and there was no way I could have lost money, but in Japan, as usual, it was a different story.

Someone once told me long ago that Japan is like the pond in the center of a Zen rock garden. From the outside it looks tranquil, placid and is a perfect reflection of the sky above. Underneath, however, everything that happens in every other pond is taking place. Bugs are laying their eggs, frogs are eating the bugs and the fish are eating the frogs. The entire circle of life is going on under that water and it isn’t until you decide to plunge in that you really understand how deep and how murky the pond really is.

The Japanese, as I had learned during my initial purchase of the Supra, don’t generally do person-to-person sales of used cars. Sure, you might sell a vehicle to a family member or a good friend, as I discovered when I sold my Mazda MPV to my “Japanese family” when I left Okinawa in 2010, but selling a used car to a stranger is practically unheard of. I’m not sure if anthropologists have ever conducted a study as to why this is the case, but rumors about the Japanese belief in evil spirits attaching themselves to things that others have used in a personal way aside, I think it is because public transportation is nearly universal, parking is limited and cars are expensive to own. The result is that young people don’t need to own a car to get around and, thanks to all the fixed costs of car ownership, are effectively priced out of the market. Therefore, most cars are purchased by adults who can and usually do buy new because of status issues, increased reliability and other benefits given to new cars under the shaken inspection system.

The average Japanese person trades in their old car when they buy a new one. The money they receive in trade is ludicrously low, but given that most people don’t have the need, desire or even the extra space to keep an older car it works out well. Sure, like anyone who trades in a car they lose out on some money, but they are essentially paying for the convenience of disposing their old car. I had learned, however, that a little elbow grease and an unconventional approach could often circumvent the natural way of things in Japan and so I determined to turn to the “international community” for a solution.

There are quite a few foreigners in Japan. The vast majority of them are tourists, then in decreasing frequency come the international students on exchange trips, the Mormon missionaries, the JET teachers, company-men on temporary assignments and finally the dregs of Western society that end up as ESL teachers at for-profit English conversation schools, spouses of Japanese citizens and all the other flotsam and jetsam of the world that get swept into the relatively sheltered waters of Japan and end up staying there for years at a time. As with many communities that fail to fully integrate into their host countries, Westerners in Japan have built for themselves a vibrant and fun sub culture all their own and all it takes to access it is the time and willingness to sit down in an Irish pub and listen to people who have no intention of ever returning to their home countries bellyache about how much they hate Japan.

About a month before I returned home I put an ad in the local Gaijin (foreigner) classified ad paper, known as the Kansai Flea Market and waited for the calls to roll in. I got some quick bites on my bike and sold it after just a week at a small profit, but the car languished in the paper and generated just one call from an Australian bloke who was hoping I knew about any laws that might prevent him from taking it home. As my departure neared I checked with my girlfriend’s friends to see if any of them wanted it and was given a resounding “no” by everyone we asked. Finally I decided to take it to a place called “Gulliver” that ran frequent ads on TV about buying used cars.

In retrospect I should have probably guessed that any company that has the money to run almost constant ads on TV wouldn’t pay much for the cars they bought, but when the guy told me my car was so old that they would only take it for free I wasn’t very happy. Still, as the time for my departure was drawing ever nearer, I went ahead and struck the deal and told him I would bring the car back the next day. Of course one thing led to another and I didn’t bring the car back until the following week but since I was giving it to them who would have thought it would be an issue? Well it was, and imagine my surprise when the guy told me that because I had failed to honor my word and bring the car the next day the terms of the deal had changed. Now, instead of simply giving them my car, they wanted me to pay them $50 to take it. I wasn’t happy, but with my tickets to go home in hand, I went ahead and paid the money and bade my Supra farewell.

Had I known that I would eventually get the job of my dreams, marry my Japanese girlfriend and end up living in the same region of Japan just three years later, I would have paid up my parking fees in advance and let the car sit until my return. But at that point in time, with the future still uncertain, I know that it was better that I let the car go. Still, whenever I visit Japan and return to my “hometown,” I feel a sudden flash of shame and anger every time I drive by that shop. I know I was cheated and, frankly, it grates on me. Of course, outside of a snarky article on a car blog, I will never exact revenge. Still, it’s nice to think that someday, maybe someday, I will.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Opel Kadett: The One That Got Away Mon, 22 Apr 2013 18:18:25 +0000

At around 2:00 PM on the afternoon of October 6, 1973, more than 200 Soviet built Egyptian aircraft began to assault Israeli air bases and missile emplacements north of the Suez canal and the established line of defense, known as the Bar Lev Line. During the night that followed, Egyptian combat engineers crossed the canal in small boats and used gasoline powered pumps to throw streams of high pressure water against the massive sand wall the Israeli forces had erected at the water’s edge following their 1967 conquest of the Sinai. The water eroded the wall with amazing efficiency and by the next day more than 50,000 Egyptian troops and 400 tanks had made their way across the Suez, through the remains of the Bar Lev line and out onto the Sinai desert where they forced the Israeli military back in disarray. The offensive, known as Operation Badr was the opening of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and it makes interesting reading. The conflict had lasting effects in region and some say that it helped to set the stage for the Camp David Accords and eventually led to the peace treaty that President Carter helped negotiate between Egypt and Israel. The war also had effects closer to home and, thanks in part to the Arab Oil Embargo that was a direct result of America’s support of Israel during the conflict, it led to a new, fuel efficient car appearing in my family’s driveway.

The Opel Kadett wasn’t running right. My father’s coworker had purchased the little car, 1.1 liter Coupe, new back in 1969 and it had always been a spry little car. It was never a power machine, but with its light weight and manual transmission it could scoot when you wanted to go and it looked good doing it. For some reason, however, the car’s performance had begun to degrade and now, just four years old, it was proving to be a disappointment to its owner. Naturally, my dad bought it for next to nothing.

Once the car was safe at home, my dad, who could fix anything, took a closer look at it. The car ran smoothly and shifted fine, but it was definitely down on acceleration. Under the hood, and with my older brother Bruce in the driver’s seat working the accelerator pedal, my dad watched the carburetor linkage as it moved through its full range of motion. It wasn’t binding, but the butterfly valves didn’t seem to be fully opening, either. An hour of troubleshooting located the problem, two screws under the accelerator pedal had worked their way out over the years and, thanks to their interference, the pedal simply wouldn’t go all the way down any more. Two minutes with a screw driver completed the repair and the little car’s power was restored.

My dad used the car as his daily driver for three years and as the older of my two brothers, Bruce, approached his 16th birthday it became a given that the little Opel would go to him. Bruce drove the car for a year or two without incident and then passed it on to our brother Tracy. Between the two of them, I am sure that the car went on any number of mid ‘70s high school adventures most of which I, who am about 7 years younger than them, never actually heard about. I did hear about the big wreck, however.

There may or may not have been alcohol involved. According to Tracy, he came speeding around a corner to find several kids in the middle of road pushing a go-kart. He swerved to avoid them, put the car into the ditch where it dug into the soft earth and flipped onto its top. Tracy and his friends righted the car, popped out the dented roof and refilled the engine with oil. Unfortunately, they forgot to refill the transmission oil as well and by the time he got the car home the transmission was fully destroyed.

The Opel ended up in our garage as it awaited my father’s attention and, for some reason or other, he never quite got around to getting the parts to repair the little car. Tracy graduated high school, got his first full time job and sunk a part of his monthly salary into a slightly used 1978 Nova coupe. The Opel languished in the garage where it became my own personal play car. I read the entire owner’s manual cover to cover, learned the purpose of every switch and warning light and even taught myself how to recharge the battery to keep the radio working so I would have music as I played. I logged a lot of hours behind the wheel, fantasizing about being out on the road. Although I was only 13 at the time, I naturally assumed that like my brothers the car would eventually become mine. Despite the fact that over the years I endured a whole host of hand-me-downs, clothes, toys, and bicycles, I never did inherit the car. Somewhere around 1981 the little car left our garage and was never heard from again.

The Opel looms larger in my brothers’ transition into adulthood than it does my own but, like so many machines I have bonded with over the years, the little car was more than just the sum of its mechanical parts. Maybe she was a little too old for me, and maybe she had been around the block a few too many times, but the Opel’s clean, utilitarian design helped to shape my view of what great cars should be. The little car took everything my brothers could throw at it and still brought them home safely every time. Its toughness and reliability are legend and, to this day, that Opel holds a special place in every Kreutzer’s heart. It was the one that got away.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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The Old Man and the Camaro: Part 1 Fri, 19 Apr 2013 19:08:11 +0000

Author’s note: In order to protect the identity of the victims in this case, some names and details have been omitted or changed.

There are a million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.

It wasn’t my case. Chris had asked me to accompany him one morning as he performed some case follow- ups. In a department with over 500 sworn officers, Chris is the only detective assigned to the full- time investigation of elder exploitation for a city of 300,000 souls. Whenever he needs help, he grabs whoever isn’t busy and we tag along.

The story was familiar. The Old Man was in failing health, his mental faculties beginning the long fade into night. His wife had passed a few months before. Estranged from his son, who lived out West, he was home bound and dependant on a rotation of home health caregivers to take care of him.

With home health workers, as with everything else in life, you get what you pay for. The Old Man could afford a better than average service. He’d been an oilman and was comfortably, if not extravagantly, retired. The problem is that even if you pay an above average price, the services sometimes still employ below average people. It’s low- skilled, thankless work. Turnover is high and people with better prospects take better jobs.

It was a situation that was perfect for the Nurse, a petite blonde with all of her teeth and the pre- anorexic build that quickly appears when a girl spends her paycheck on Oxys instead of food. No direct supervision, with the patient confined to one bedroom of a rambling house full of small, pretty things that could slowly disappear. Bottles of heavy duty pain killers to be borrowed from. The Old Man didn’t miss them. He couldn’t remember having them in the first place.

Of course if the patient is male and alone, and you are a female fifty or more years his junior, it doesn’t take much to wrap him around your finger. Nothing so crass as actual sexual favors. Just a gentle hand allowed to linger on a shoulder. A low cut blouse every once in awhile. Maybe bring your kid to work one evening.  Lord knows he hasn’t seen his own grandkids in years.

The requests for favors began. A cash advance towards next week’s pay. The kid really needed some new school clothes. The rent was due. She really hated to ask, but could he spot her a couple hundred to tide her over? Little by little, ten, twenty, fifty dollars at a time, it began to float away.

Eventually somebody reported it. The Nurse let herself be seen with some jewelry that the caregiver on the other shift knew had once belonged to the Old Man’s wife. And so Chris and I went there to try to get a statement from the Old Man. Chris had already been dealing with the situation for a couple of weeks and had been to the house once before.

“You’ll like him, Dave. He’s got an old Camaro.”

We were let in and led to the Old Man’s room by the caregiver who made the initial report. Chris hoped to get a statement from the Old Man that would support charging the Nurse with elder exploitation. Nothing doing. Again, the familiar routine: The Nurse wouldn’t do that. I lent it to her but forgot. Everything is fine. The Old Man’s mind was in the Senior zone. He wasn’t obviously suffering from dementia, but all of the cylinders weren’t firing either, at least not all of the time.

He knew the jewelry we were talking about and told us the story of how he bought it at Tiffany’s on a trip to New York. He remembered details about his Camaro too, when Chris mentioned that I also had one in an effort to keep the Old Man engaged.

“It’s a 1992 model. Bought it when I retired. Thought it would be more fun than a Caddy or a Lincoln. Has a custom exhaust on it. Yes, sir.  Fun little car.”

An entertaining forty- five minutes, but it was clear we weren’t going to get what Chris needed to make a charge. We drove back to the office and Chris made contact with the man’s son, advising him to seek legal guardianship of his father sooner rather than later. The son said he’d look into it in a way that meant he probably wouldn’t.

A month or so passed and another report hit Chris’s desk. This time the Old Man was the complainant. The Nurse had been let go by the home health company in the interim, but she still had her claws in the Old Man. There had been more borrowed money, but the demands for it were less kind. In the report the Old Man alleged that the Nurse called him after his caregiver left for the night and asked for more. She was to call him on her cellphone when she was outside the house. Since the Old man was confined to his room, he would use the garage door opener to let visitors in and out of the house when he was alone. The Nurse made the call but when he opened the garage door to let her in, a rather large black male walked in instead, went straight to the bedroom, grabbed his wallet off the dresser, and ran away.

We went back to the house. This time the garage door was open when we arrived and I caught sight of the Old Man’s pride and joy. The white RS coupe was tucked away, covered with a thin layer of dust, but the tires glowed with a thick coating of Armor- All. The interior was spotless. Except for a tasteful gray pinstripe running down each flank and a couple of fat exhaust tips poking out of the back, it was in stock condition. While there’s nothing particularly special about an early ‘90s Camaro, the Old Man obviously loved it anyway.

Chris was hopeful that the Old Man would throw the Nurse under the bus this time. Unfortunately he had time to reflect and was now absolutely certain that the Nurse couldn’t have anything to do with it. The delay from the day the report was taken by a patrol officer to the time Chris got it two days later was a killer. Once again, we left without the crucial statements Chris needed.

He called the son again. This time he was ready to reconcile with his father. A few weeks later the Old Man moved back West with his family. The son called Chris the day after they got back home. The trip had gone fine and the Old Man seemed to his new retirement home well enough. There was just one problem:

The Camaro was missing.

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Selling Snake Oil: Great Automotve Ads Of The Past Fri, 19 Apr 2013 16:26:19 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Sweet, sweet publicity. Although I am loathe to admit it, I am a sucker for a slick ad campaign. Those catchy jingles, perfectly posed photos, and quick camera cuts work their way into my psyche and demand that I throw down my hard earned cash for something I may not need, but God how I want it! Done right, an ad campaign can have a lasting effect on me – I’m not sure if Bertel is to blame, but does anyone else remember when Volkswagen used Elvis Presley’s “Devil In Disguise” to promote their GTI? I sure do- too bad I can’t find it on you tube! So let’s talk car ads – here are some of the greatest car ads of all time:

Nissan 300ZX

Click here to view the embedded video.

Nissan had a real string of clever commercials in the early 1990s. I think the company really understood that people weren’t buying some of their cars on cost or features, they were buying them because they were some of the coolest cars going. The above ads spring right from the mind of every boy who ever owned a classic GI Joe.

Isuzu Impulse

Click here to view the embedded video.

Joe Isuzu was the pitchman in one of the most popular TV commercial series of the 1980s. You may or may not know it, but not everything he says is the truth…

Dodge Shadow

Click here to view the embedded video.

Today computerized graphics and morphing from one shape into another is old hat, but way back in 1987 that technology didn’t exist. This commercial was incredible and it drew a direct line between the legendary Dodge Dart of the past and the new, modern K car based Shadow. It got my attention for sure, this commercial is the reason I got my ass down to the local Dodge dealership when I went looking for my first brand new car.

Mercury Cougar

Click here to view the embedded video.

This is one of the earliest car commercials I can remember from my childhood. Back then I was more interested in the cat than I was the car (or the woman.) I guess it’s a sign of my age that today I am more interested in the car than I am the cat (or the woman.)

Bonus: American Home Direct

This is actually a Japanese advertisement for life insurance but it is a touching story about a man, his cars and how his life’s priorities change as he moves through life. Keep your handkerchief handy for this, it’s a beautiful, touching ad featuring some cool classic Japanese cars. (Big thanks to Japanese Nostalgic Car for turning me onto this a couple of months ago.)

Click here to view the embedded video.

There you have it, food for thought. As always, your own contributions and suggestions are more than welcome. Also, if you have better internet sleuthing skils than I, feel free to find that Golf GTI Elvis ad I mentioned!

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Psycho Love: Sticking Your Key In Crazy Mon, 15 Apr 2013 17:19:00 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

I saw it this morning. Slipping along the in the dim, pre-dawn light and shrouded in the thin early morning fog that wicked up in wispy tendrils from the damp pavement, it was an apparition, a beast from another age. Like poor Yorick, alas I knew it well and although, in time, it has become the subject of infinite jest, it was in its day the most excellent fancy of many young men and it bore my youthful dreams upon its back a thousand times. It had, I thought, no right to be among the living when so many other, better, vehicles of its era were consigned to their graves, rotting away in fields, pulled apart for their components or crushed, shredded and melted wholesale back into their base elements. Why then, knowing through the clarifying lens of history the terrible truth about the trouble that lurked beneath its slick sheet metal, did its unexpected appearance stir a long-forgotten longing in my heart?

“May you live,” So goes the Chinese curse, “in interesting times.” Now well into my 40s, I can tell you that the times, especially from an automotive standpoint, have indeed been interesting. Waxing less rhapsodic, there has been a whole lot of suck built in the last four decades but the awful truth is that some of those cars still set my heart aflutter. I’m not sure what the attraction is, honestly. Is it the curve of a fender, the sweep of a windshield, or is it the fact that just seeing one sends me back to a more innocent time in my life when many of these cars were aspirational? I don’t know.

20/20 hindsight tells me many of these cars lack power and have an unacceptably high level of fuel consumption. They lack most real, modern safety equipment. They lack build quality, hell most of them came off the assembly line with issues, but I still fantasize about them. Crazy as it may seem, the following are “bad cars” that I would like to own –

Pontiac Grand Prix GTP

It’s hard to tell people today what a breath of fresh air the 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix was. It looked clean and its plastic body cladding accentuated just the right spots, making the car look wide and muscular. Door handles up on the door frame seemed like a real innovation as well and the interior, complete with buttons on the steering wheel and various switches mounted on the gauge cowl made feel like you were sitting in a rocketship. In GTP trim, the V6 produced more than 200 horsepower and could be had with an automatic or a stick. Frankly, I thought these cars looked great back in the day, and I think they look pretty darn good today, too.

Chrysler LeBaron Turbo, Coupe

When Kitty changed her name to Karen and traded her MG for a white Chrylser LeBaron, this is the one the she got. With their long hood line and short rear deck lids, the mid to late 80s Chrysler LeBarons are still, in my opinion, one of the best looking cars ever. By 1990 a V6 had been added to the mix, but I am a Chrysler Turbo guy and that would be my first choice. I understand that the 148 horsepower turbo could also be ordered with a 5 speed manual, but I have never seen one in person. Inside they are “budget plush” and they don’t come anywhere equaling the interior design and build quality of a modern sub compact like the new Dart, but they were functional and comfortable enough for long trips. Many convertible LeBarons have survived into the present day and I even see them offered occasionally on the Buffalo area Craigslist at reasonable prices, but my preference is for the coupe.

Jaguar XJS- V12

When I was a kid I used to stay up past my bed time and watch a British TV show called “The New Avengers.” I don’t remember much about it, but one thing that has stuck in my mind was the car used in the show, a pre-production Jaguar XJS-V12. They have terrible reputations, I know, but that classic shape, the hand built interiors and the idea of 12 cylinders under the hood stills sets my heart aflutter. I would love to own one of these, providing I could find one in good condition and then not have to rely upon it. As usual, my inclination is to avoid the convertible and stick with the coupe.

So there you have it, three “bad cars” that I would still love to own. Don’t try to talk me out of it, love is a funny thing. Fortunately, I am in a committed relationship so I won’t be sticking my key in crazy anytime soon. Tell me though, validate my unexpected rush of emotion and tell us about the cars that bring out your own psycho love.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Better Brighter Future Delayed: Commercial Airliners Vulnerable To Hacks Via Android Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:22:09 +0000

As the technology that will one day network cars together and reorganize the roads in the name of safety and efficiency continues to rush towards us, word comes that the computerized systems used to control commercial aircraft in flight are now vulnerable to hackers via android devices. is reporting on an April 10th presentation at the “Hack in the Box Conference” by German security consultant Hugo Teso during which he demonstrates how a wireless device can be used to transmit malicious code into an aircraft’s computer through at least two different systems currently used to exchange information between aircraft and ground stations. Those of you who are already afraid to fly will want to read all of the excruciating details here:

Like many people, I believe that the highways of the future will be heavily automated. The possibilities of computerized roads are enormous and the technology could change the way our society functions by combining the benefits of cheap, efficient public transportation with the convenience enjoyed by car owners today. Imagine a world where a car will arrive at your doorstep moments before you leave for work, carry you in comfort and privacy on a trip that will meet with no traffic jams, stop at no lights, and during which you will be free to watch TV, browse the internet, catch a nap or just look out the window. Upon dropping you off, the car will then head off to its next customer or, if you are one of the Neanderthals who insist on owning your own vehicle, head off to a designated parking facility until you summon it again.

That future is heavily dependent upon the seamless integration of a number of networks and like modern aircraft, cars of the future will need to exchange a great deal of data to coordinate even the simplest of trips. Within that coordination lies the opportunity for mayhem and our lives will hang in the balance. While I look forward to that better, brighter future, for the time being I will keep my feet firmly on the ground and my hands wrapped around the steering wheel.

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Guns and Ferraris: Joe Biden Would Pry Them Both From Your Cold Dead Hands Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:20:37 +0000

Yes, I know that’s not a real Ferrari. The guns aren’t firing real bullets either.

So on Thursday, the crazy drunk uncle career politician who currently sits a mere heartbeat from the big desk in the oddly- shaped office without any corners went on MSNBC and said this:

It’s used to be, Joe, we were dealing almost exclusively with hunters. … There’s a whole new sort of group of individuals who, I don’t what the numbers are, that never hunt at all, but they own guns for one of two reasons: Self-protection, or, they just like the feel of that AR-15 at the range. They like the way it feels. They just, you know, it’s like driving a Ferrari, you know. So, my impression is, there’s not the same sort of cultural norm about gun ownership with a lot of people who are buying guns now.

Now we could (and probably will) get deep into the weeds in the comments section going back and forth about the nature of the 2nd Amendment in the 21st century and just how frightening it is that a man like Joe Biden could one day have his fingers on “The Button,” but I’d rather focus on the sheer brass of the VPOTUS and the underlying elitist mentality that shapes his world view.

Let’s take Mr. Biden’s statement and flip it around, making it about cars instead of firearms.

It’s used to be, Joe, we were dealing almost exclusively with hunters commuters. … There’s a whole new sort of group of individuals who, I don’t what the numbers are, that never hunt  drive to work at all because they telecommute from home, but they still own guns multiple cars for one of two reasons: Self-protection the bus lines don’t go directly to the places they want to go when they’re not working, or, they just like the feel of that AR-15 at the range Ferrari on the track. They like the way it feels. They just, you know, it’s like driving a Ferrari firing a $15,000 Barrett M107A1 .50 caliber sniper rifle into a 6″ target 1,500 yards downrange, you know. So, my impression is, there’s not the same sort of cultural norm about gun car ownership with a lot of people who are buying guns cars now.

Think it sounds preposterous? With the advent of the driverless car, over blown concerns about distracted driving, and the desire of many of our social betters to sacrifice 150 years of human progress on the altar of environmental purity, it’s not impossible to picture an elected official twenty years (or less)  from now repeating something similar to the drivel I typed above.

Consider how Mr. Biden characterized those who he views as his main opponents on the gun issue: The manner in which they choose to pursue happiness is as wasteful and frivilous as driving a Ferrari. It’s okay to own a gun if you’re going to participate in an activity, hunting, that meets with Mr. Biden’s approval and, presumably, it’s okay with the VP for you to own a car, so long as it’s nothing pointless and wasteful. Minivans are okay. A Prius would probably be better.

It’s all part and parcel of the totalitarian proclivities of our elites. “Because I want to and it’s none of your damn business,” is not a justification for owning a gun or owning a “wasteful” vehicle.  A whiff of this elitist point of view came out in the comments thread of my recent tribute to pickup trucks.  Some people simply demand that their fellow citizens justify their actions in every corner of their lives. Perhaps it’s because we’ve all voluntarily given up so much of our privacy through Facebook and other social media. People think that they have a right to be in our business because we let them into so much of our business.

Nevermind that of all the reasons to own a firearm, hunting makes the least sense in a country with a grocery store on every corner. The same focus on the trivial will be used to drive the future debate on the ownership of private automobiles, particularly classic cars and sporting models. You’ll be able to take them to car shows and drive in the Fourth of July parade, but forget about emulating Chuck Berry and “riding along… with no particular place to go.”

Hopefully we haven’t reached the point where membership in AAA in order to protect your rights and privileges when it comes to the private use of automobiles is as important as membership in the NRA is to protect your rights and privileges to private gun ownership.

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Casey Shain: Turning Pure Fantasy Into Virtual Reality Tue, 09 Apr 2013 10:40:55 +0000

Dodge Charger

They say that you don’t regret the things you do as much as you regret the things don’t do. I hope the auto manufacturers are listening, because when I look at so many of the fantastic looking four door sedans on the market today, I feel a sense of regret for what they aren’t doing, namely making two door coupes. I know there are financial considerations, probably tens of millions of dollars worth, at work behind the scenes. I understand, too, that there are likely to be engineering challenges and any number of other issues that a simple layman like myself can never really understand, but the fact that there are no really cool coupe versions of today’s hot sedans gnaws at me.

Thank God for artists like Casey Shain, a man of considerable talent who, like many of us, believes that today’s cars can be better. Unlike most of us, however, he has the talent and the ability to turn his thoughts into artistic reality. His website showcases his digitally altered “fake” cars and his love of all things automotive. It is filled with images that rival those of any professional design studio and I highly recommend checking it out. If you are anything like me, you will spend hours there.

Like so many of us, from the time he was a child Casey dreamed about designing cars. Instead, he earned a bachelor of arts from Vassar College and worked as a designer in the publishing industry for more than thirty years. These days he is a freelance book designer and a professional “starving artist,” but he spends much of his free time working with Photoshop and pretending to live that childhood dream. He says, “I’m the same doodler as when I was a child, only now my crayons are digital.”

Casey’s cars may not be real in the sense that they are made out of rubber, plastic and steel, but the detailed images he creates certainly have a life of their own. As a kid who grew up spending hours in front of the fire looking at the Sears Christmas catalog, I know there is a great deal of joy to be had simply looking at pictures and dreaming about the possibilities. Still, I hope that one day someone turns these ideas into reality. Come on car companies, don’t wonder “what if” – take a chance!

View more of Casey Shain’s work here: Casey Shain Car Photochops at Pintrest

Buick Verano “Skylark Hot Hatch”

Dodge Charger Ford Flex Country Squire Chevrolt Impala 2 door fastback 1981 Coupe Seville Buick Verano "Skylark Hot Hatch" Toyota Supra Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Historic Police Car Spotted Responding to call on the Not-So-Mean Streets of Seattle Thu, 04 Apr 2013 19:51:59 +0000

An alert REDDIT reader (manuelv 19) spotted the Seattle Police Museum’s 1970 Plymouth Satellite patrol car responding to calls on the coffee scented streets of dowtown Seattle earlier this week. According to the Seattle Police Museum website, only 53 Special Order Police Satellites were produced in 1970 and 21 of those were purchased by the Seattle Police Department. The cars were mid-size police vehicles and featured the 383 Super Commando engine package complete with 4 bbl carburetors. They were reputed top be quite fast at the time.

This particular vehicle, known as Unit #521, was wrecked with only 9000 miles on the clock and sold at public auction eventually ending up in Los Angeles. The Seattle Police Museum located and purchased the vehicle in 2006 and spent a year returning the car to its former glory. More information on this vehicle is available at the Seattle Police Museum website of by calling (206) 748-9991.

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Lake Michigan Car Ferry, SS Badger, and EPA Reach Agreement Mon, 25 Mar 2013 05:04:03 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

The Lake Michigan Car Ferry website is reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency and the operators of the Lake Michigan car ferry, the SS Badger, which runs between Ludington MI and Manitowoc, WI, have reached and agreement that will allow the historic steamship to continue operating. The Badger is one of the last coal fired vessels operating commercially on the great lakes and its continued operation means millions of trade and tourist dollars for the region it serves. During the summer months, the 6650 ton vessel makes two round trip crossings per day and can carry 600 passengers and up to 180 automobiles.

The SS Badger’s future was cast into uncertainty when the ship’s permit to dump coal ash into the waters of Lake Michigan, something that was common when the ship was constructed in the early 1950s, expired in December of last year. The current agreement allows the company to continue dumping ash into the lake with a 15% reduction for the next two years while constructing a containment system that must be in place by January 1, 2015. After that date, no more ash can be dumped overboard.

Yours truly made the Ludington to Manitowoc crossing in the summer of 2004 and had a wonderful time. Having spent around 5 years as an engineer on large, oil fired steamships in the Pacific, I was excited when, planning a cross country trip, I discovered the ferry service. Instead of driving south through the maelstrom that is Chicago area traffic, I cut across bucolic upstate Michigan and made a leisurely passage in fine weather. Like many other fans of the SS Badger, I am thrilled that this historic old vessel will continue sailing into the foreseeable future.


Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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My Fantasy Life Laid Bare Part II: International Edition Fri, 22 Mar 2013 16:19:12 +0000

Somebody Say I look like an old woman?

Yesterday I shared with you dear, reader, one of my favorite games, the $5000 Craigslist Fantasy Challenge and you responded with a lot of great cars. Today I thought I would step it up just one more notch and introduce you to that game’s Japanese cousin – the “Goo Game.” Won’t you come and pray with me?

On an internet filled with NSFW Japanese websites, it seems odd that one called “” would be dedicated exclusively to cars, but trust me on this it really is. I have used Goo-net for years to peruse the JDM market and to wrap my head around the prices and the kinds of cars for sale there. Once upon a time you needed to have some ability with the language to be able to navigate the site, something that prevented most non-Japanese speakers from doing anything more than looking at photos, but now, thanks to the advent of the Google translate button, your need for years of study has been erased. Simply follow the link, translate the site and start exploring.

A few things you will need to know to better understand the site. First, the Japanese dating system is a little different from our own. Each Emperor selects the name of his era at the beginning of his reign. The current “Heisei” era began in 1989 and cars marked as H1=1989, H2=1990, H3=1991, etc. The prior era, “Showa” ran from 1926 to Emperor Hirohito’s passing in 1989. Therefore, “S” dated cars have higher numbers. For simplicity’s sake I usually think abut them backwards, so S63=1988, S62=1987, S3=1986, etc.

Exchange rates are complicated so let’s forego any price limits. Just find something cool for us to look at! However, anyone looking to do a serious calculation of a car’s price may want to note whether or not a car has a current “shaken” inspection. Some cars list “with inspection” meaning that the shaken is not current and that the dealer will include it in the price. Some listings show “without inspection” meaning that will be on your own dime, and some only show a number H25.8 meaning that the inspection expires in August of H25 (2013). Whether or not a car has a shaken will affect the price and on older cars the cost of repairs may be significant. You will note that there is a “price on car” and then a “total price.” This total price includes the inspection and any service the car actually needs. Pay close attention to this, fellow bargain shoppers!

That’s it. There are no rules this time, let’s have some fun and find some cool cars to look at.

Here are three to begin:

1969 Nissan Datsun Fairlady SRL311
68K Kilometers
Price – 287.8 million yen or about $30,000 USD
Located in Saitama Prefecture

The state of the body is in very good condition with no corrosion. I do not think what you are after more than 40 years. Development status as well, is easy to ride hand car is contained meticulously. For information on the development of future, please contact us.

What can I say? This is a classic that I would love to own.

2008 Mazda MPV 23T 4WD FSB monitor P backdoor AFS side SRS
48K Kilometers
Price 226 Million yen – about $24,000 USD
Located in Nagoya

Please let me inherit a new car warranty (5 years from the time of new car registration). Subject to the warranty at dealers across the country by the new car warranty can be inherited. In addition, we have our own guarantees with a maximum of two years from the time of car delivery.

I love this new generation of Mazda MPV mini-vans. This one has it all and if I was going back to Japan to stay this, or something very close to it, would be in my driveway. I think it is an absolute pity that Mazda USA doesn’t sell these in the USA.

1988 Toyota Soarer 2.0GT-L twin turbo
129K Kilometers
Price 28 Million yen – about $3200 US Dollars
Location, Osaka

No ad text.

This is another one of “those cars” that should have got sold in the USA. It is a real personal luxury coupe that I would love to drive. The power train in the same one I had in my Supra so I know it isn’t really going to be a race car, but it would be a good cruiser and have enough poop to run on the highway.

So there you have it, there are a lot of nooks and crannies on this huge website. Check it out and show us what you are able to come up with. Dot’s forget that over there in Bizarro World, their domestics are our imports and vice versa.

I hope you have a great time and find something interesting for us!

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My Rich Fantasy Life Laid Bare: Can You Do Better? Thu, 21 Mar 2013 11:00:18 +0000

Hard to believe someone like me would need a rich fantasy life, isn’t it?

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I love cars and like a lot of people I spend a lot of time thinking about the ones I might like to own. My daydreams live in an odd place, they don’t run towards the higher plane of pure fantasy where the Ferrari and Lamborghini live, and, despite the fact I expect to be buying a new minivan or SUV in the next couple of years, they don’t run to the purely practical, either. No, my fantasies live in that middle place. A place where the cars are interesting and, as unlikely as a purchase may be, still attainable.

I am forever perusing Craigslist and the other on-line classifieds for likely subjects and it has become something of a game with me. Naturally, I wondered if you might like to play along.

The rules of the game are simple. You have a total budget of $5000. You must purchase the car, get it to home and roadworthy for under that amount. Expenses include basic repairs and rebuilds, but just the essentials to get the car roadworthy no new paint jobs or total restorations necessary. If the car is further away than 250 miles (500 miles round trip) then the cost of an overnight motel stay and/or truck transport must be covered in your budget. Because they vary from state to state and would give some players an unfair advantage, don’t worry about fixed costs like tax, licensing or basic inspection fees unless the ad specifically states that the car will need special repairs in order to pass an inspection.

You can find your car from any public source, and links will be appreciated by everyone, I am sure. In the interest of fair play don’t tell us about cars that only you can buy. So if your grandma isn’t willing to make everyone a killer deal on her 1986 Grand National, then you can’t use it here. Also, just to keep things fresh and attainable, let’s not consider ads older than 30 days.

Finally, please also give us some insight into your thoughts. We would all like to understand your logic so we can better make fun of your odd predilections.

I’ll go first. Here are three that I have chosen to start the conversation. They appear in no special order.

1994 Subaru SVX Coupe – $2,850 OBO (Hamburg, NY)

AWD Coupe LSI model. Boxer 3.3 6 cyl 230 horsepower Approx 120,900miles

Automatic, Moon-roof, Dual exhaust, Power windows/locks/mirrors/power driver seat, Leather seats good condition. Also has new battery, breaks, power steering, timing belt, axel shafts, motor is phenomenal/very reliable vehicle all the way around! Some rust on doors as can be expected with its age. Starts right up.

This Subaru sits less than 30 miles from my house. It is well under my budget and it is a model I have been interested in since I saw one on the street in Japan back when they were new. They look cool and the performance numbers seem decent. The downside is that I don’t know much about them and I am not really all that excited about a sporty car with an automatic transmission.

I understand that Subarus have a tendency to be complex and fragile. This car is an odd ball and I am sure parts would be tough to get. Still, the price seems right and I have never been inside of one. I would, at least, go look at it.

1987 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z – $4500 (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clean Daytona Shelby Z. Turbo, 4 cyl, 5 speed, AC, 71k miles, perfect seats, good tires, fires right up, etc. NO rust! Just needs a battery and inspection.

It’s no secret that I am a sucker for Turbo Dodges, but the truth is that the Daytona rarely makes it onto my short list. To be honest, I have always thought they were a little overwrought and tried too hard to look like the Chevrolet Camaro of that era. This little car, however, jumped right out at me as a killer deal. If it is as clean as it looks in the pictures, I am confident that I could travel the 180 miles to Pittsburgh, drop in a battery and drive it right home.

Bonus points that this is a real live turbo Dodge with the manual transmission. There are more pics on the ad, including several interior shots, of which I have added just one, below. The inside looks just as pretty as the outside, don’t you think? I always wonder about cars like this, it’s 26 years old, why wasn’t it used? If it was here in town, I would be over there like a shot.

The only downside to this car that I can see is that it was right about 75K miles that the head gasket in my Turbo Shadow let loose. I would be worried that I could be stuck doing one on this car before too long as well. That said, I have a lot of experience working on these cars and I know that I could do the work by myself. Still, at $4500 this is close enough to my ceiling that I would be a little worried about my budget. Also, I would almost be ashamed to bring it up to Buffalo and expose it to the elements.

1981 DATSUN 280ZX 5 SPEED – $4300 (Ogden, NY)

1981 DATSUN 280ZX. 5 SPEED, 6 CYL, One Owner, 98,300 Original Miles, No Winters, Great Condition ~ $4300.00 ~ OFFERS WELCOME ~

Wow! No, seriously, Wow! This is a drop dead gorgeous little Datsun. It looks pretty nice in the photos and other than a cracked arm rest I don’t see a single problem here. Sure, it’s not a 240Z and it isn’t a turbo or a Special Anniversary Edition, but it is a head turner in a stunning color I haven’t seen in a long, long time. I love the fact it’s a stick.

This little girl sits less than 60 miles from me right now. If it was closer, I’d go over to take photos and maybe finagle a test drive. Man, my wife would be mad at me if that came home. It would be hard to tell the seller “no” though.

OK, you’ve seen my three choices. I could sit here a lot longer looking for obscure deals but if I did that I would never get to see what you come up with. Let’s have some fun!

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Youthful Exuberance: Big Cat Hunting Tue, 19 Mar 2013 12:15:34 +0000

The Seattle area traffic was light. A few hours earlier, at the peak of the Friday night rush hour, Interstate 405 had been bumper to bumper. Now, just after 7 PM, the road was crowded but moving freely. I had a killer commute, 40 miles each way, and I was thankful I had missed the worst of it. I spent a lot of time on the road and I understood how traffic ebbed and flowed in that same intuitive way that way someone who works on a river understands how a ripple on the otherwise smooth surface betrays the roiling currents in the depths below. On a Friday night like this, for example, I knew I was behind the great outward rush from the urban centers and into suburbs and just ahead of the second, smaller rush of people from the suburbs heading back into the city for an evening of food, fun and friends. To the west, the sun was sinking slowly into the Pacific while on the Earth, in the growing drakness, the hunt was on…

It was a good time to be out and about, the night was young and full of untapped excitement. I knew anything could happen as I headed south out of Kirkland, through the city of Bellevue and made the gentle ascent through the tunnel and up towards the I-90 interchange just south of the city. Once past the interchange, I had a good view of Lake Washington and the exclusive properties on Mercer Island on my right, and I began to slowly work my way down the hill towards Renton, still some miles to the south.

With Bellevue and the last big freeway interchange behind me, traffic was moving faster and spreading out. I was in the fast lane and my little red Dodge Shadow was running effortlessly along in 5th gear at just above the posted limit when a motion in my rearview mirror caught my eye. I read the scene with a practiced eye: A big Jaguar sedan weaving quickly through the already fast-moving traffic, overtaking car after car, its dark shape slipping stealthily up behind me. The driver was obviously having fun among the other, lesser cars and as he pulled alongside I glanced over to size him up.

He was a handsome man in his early thirties, clear-eyed, perfect hair and with jaw carved out of pure granite set with, I was certain, perfect, white teeth. Beside him sat a woman of equal beauty perhaps a year or two younger while another equally handsome couple occupied the back seats. They were all well dressed, both men in expensive looking suits and the women in fancy dresses with carefully coiffed hair. The car itself was a black XJ sedan and it showed a 6 liter emblem on its back. It was a big, powerful and classy car, the perfect choice for the perfect man with the perfect life.

I pulled the Shadow out of 5th gear, stuffed the shifter straight into 3rd and zapped the throttle. The little engine roared in instant anger and the boost gauge swung hard right burying itself against the pin. The Shadow leaped forward, slamming me into the seat, and in a split second I was back alongside the big sedan. Surprised, the handsome, perfect man behind the wheel of the Jag glanced over at me and then tossed back his head and smiled as he said something to the others in the car. The lovely woman in the passenger seat tittered airily as she brought her hand up to her lips. I had seen enough, I mashed the gas.

The Shadow jumped forward and opened a lead of about two car lengths as its 2.2 liter 4 cylinder raced towards the red line. I quick shifted into fourth and pegged the throttle again as the Jag shot forward and made up the gap while my boost momentarily dropped with my RPMs. The road wound out in front of us, the two lanes of the interstate twisting as they made their way past the Coal Creek Parkway and down towards the May Creek exit at the bottom of the hill. We stayed there, stuck to one another, door handle to door handle as our speed climbed quickly into triple digits. Onward we went, the little 2.2 liter engine in my Shadow revving hard as I pushed the car for all it was worth. Red line came, then passed as I held it in 4th gear knowing that 5th was a big jump that would drop my revs too much and mean my defeat.

The big Jaguar and my little Shadow were still neck and neck as we hit the bottom of the hill, ran across a brief flat and then began to work our way up the long, steep slope of the Kennydale hill. Beyond the hill lay the city of Renton and its infamous S curves and already I could see traffic slowing as the typical back up on the approach to the city was beginning to build. There was still time to make my competitor stand down, I thought, but with the little car firmly in the red zone I knew it was past time to shift up or blow up. There was no choice and as I made the switch the Jaguar slipped smoothly away from me and up the hill.

I let off the gas and, thanks to the steep slope, my little car began to slow quickly. Traffic was still open enough for me to weave and dodge my way through at a decent clip as I continued to burn off speed without using my brakes while the big Jag had an easier time coasting back down to legal speeds in the car pool lane. We crested the hill and, as we made our way down towards the S curves, I could see a river of ruby-red brake lights growing ever nearer. Traffic slowed to a crawl and then ground to a halt. At the Renton city limits the carpool lane ended and the Jaguar was forced back into the crowded lanes. As luck would have it, we found ourselves stopped next to one another.

The handsome man’s perfect composure was wrecked and he sat there glaring out the windshield, both hands gripping the big car’s wheel so tightly the knuckles were white. A vein on his temple pounded, and the muscles of his magnificent, granite jaw bulged and pulsed as his perfect white teeth ground away at one another. The vision of loveliness in the passenger seat sat stiffly beside the man, arms crossed and her face turned away from him as she stared out the passenger window. The couple in the back seat were a different story altogether. They woman was smiling and laughing with real knee-slapping gusto while her man sat looking at me and my little turbo, the awe plain on his face as he tried to understand just what the hell happened.

Technically, I knew, I had lost the race when I the big Jag had finally used its superior muscle to pull away on the Kennydale hill, but he didn’t know that. To the perfect man, with the perfect girl and the perfect friends in the big, beautiful Jaguar I was the winner. Perfect or not, sometimes thats just how it goes.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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