The Truth About Cars » jack baruth The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +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 » jack baruth To Our Editor In Chief Pro Tempore: Get Well Soon Sun, 05 Jan 2014 16:21:23 +0000 baruthjacketjorts

Our Editor in Chief pro tempore, Jack Baruth, was injured an automobile collision near Columbus Saturday. His injuries were serious but he is expected to make a full recovery. Last night, Jack posted the following to his Facebook page:

This is Rumor Control. Involved in 40mph offset today on rural road. Wasn’t speeding, the other car wasn’t speeding, we just hit some ice. My son’s fine. My partner is in the proverbial dire straits. I had spleen surgery and I’ve broken the stuff I broke in 1988 — minus the neck. 


In the meantime, all of his colleagues are keeping him in our thoughts and prayers, wishing for him to have a recovery as speedy as he is on the track.

Once again, Jack, all of us wish you a return to full health as soon as possible.

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QOTD: What Should We Rent Next? Mon, 22 Jul 2013 15:52:22 +0000 photo-45-450x337

It’s no secret that over here at TTAC, we like to pay for it – at least when it comes to test cars. Sure, we do go to the press fleet frequently, but when time and budget allow, abusing our Hertz #1 Club Gold membership is a great way to get behind the wheel of select automobiles.

For starters, press fleet vehicles tend to be heavily optioned variants of popular models, the kind that most shoppers would never drive off the lot. Rental cars, on the other hand, are typically “fleet specials”, with base powertrains and few options. If you’re lucky, you might wind up with an Impala LT instead of an LS, or a Camry Sport rather than the stripped-out LE model. They also live much harsher lives than press vehicles and tend to come with more miles on the clock, giving us a better idea of how the cars will hold up under harsh conditions.

Let us know what rental cars you’d like to see reviewed. While Jack is known for his reviews of straight up rental cars, I am not afraid of going to Zipcar to get impressions of vehicles that aren’t available in the fleet (or are off-limits to TTAC).

Let us know what you’d like to see in the comments.

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Review: 2013 Toyota Camry LE 2.5 At Nelson Ledges Fri, 05 Jul 2013 13:00:21 +0000 Picture courtesy Jerusha Pfannenschmidt

Seven hundred and twenty bucks. Not much money by today’s standards. Won’t buy you an American-made Fender Strat or a Hickey-Freeman suit. Won’t quite buy you a 32GB iPad with a cellular connection. Maybe ten days’ worth of rent in one of those new Manhattan micro-units. In the America of 2013, $720 is chump change.

But if you’re in the market for a new family sedan, and you can come up with $720, you’ll be glad you did. Because that’s the difference in the price between the Camry SE, which is one of my favorite cars at the moment, and the Camry LE, which isn’t, not quite.

Picture courtesy Jerusha Pfannenschmidt

When I drove the Camry SE at Summit Point Shenandoah, I was impressed by the sedan’s suspension composure, on-track behavior, and outright speed. It was only a few seconds behind a Scion FR-S that was running at the same time in some capable hands. When I realized that I had another trackday scheduled and no super-awesome press car for said trackday, I asked the nice people at the rental counter for another Camry just like the one they’d given me before. Unfortunately for me, in the rental world a Camry is a Camry is a Camry. The Camry SE I had for Shenandoah and the Camry LE they gave me to take to Nelson Ledges occupy the same category in their systems.

Let’s start with the plain numbers. Car and Driver‘s staff managed to get a 1:22 out of an E36 M3 at Ledges a few years ago, and a 1:22.7 out of the Mercedes C43AMG. The Camry LE weighs about The C43 does, and about a hundred pounds more than the M3, but brings considerably less power to the table: 178 horsepower against the Bimmer’s 240 and Benzo’s 302. It stands to reason, therefore, that the Camry won’t be able to run with the Germans around Nelson Ledges. The Camry’s 205/65-16 all-season tires (your brand may vary; there’s no guarantee of a particular tire when you get your Camry. If you want a car where the tire is guaranteed, buy a Veyron) aren’t super-grippy, even by comparison to the 215/55-17 skins on the SE.

Last but not least, we loaded the Camry down with some extra people. One of the B&B suggested that the Camry had been burdened with 550lbs of passengers. Alas, the true number was closer to 725 pounds. Maybe a little more. I had a pretty big breakfast. So here’s a (not very quick) lap in the Camry around Ledges. Other than the groundhog we had to swerve around, this is about all I think you’re going to get out of a car like this around that track.

You could get a little bit of that nine-second gap to the M3 by emptying the passenger compartment of everyone but your humble author, or even swapping said humble author for someone lighter and possibly better-looking. You could get a little more by keeping the groundhogs off the track, an extra second or two by concentrating on the task at hand, and a final squeeze by spending the aforementioned $720 to upgrade to the Camry SE’s running gear. Which leads us to a comment from another member of the B&B:

It’s still bad advice to tell people that it’s worth buying this thing over massively better cars like the Accord, Mazda6, or Fusion.

The question becomes: why is the Camry worse? Well, not everybody is going to like the way it looks, although the Toyota’s square-shouldered new look inside and out reminds me of the late-Seventies GM A-body sedans, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. The Mazda6 and Fusion certainly have more distinct and interesting styling.

What about the measurable aspects? The Camry isn’t any more expensive than the competition, it’s extremely roomy, and in four-cylinder form it returns outstanding mileage, even on a racetrack. There’s a marked lack of surprise-and-delight compared to the Fusion in particular, but the Toyota’s resale value is almost certain to be outstanding no matter how long you keep it. You can’t make the case for the competition being massively better if you stick to the numbers.

The Camry falls down, if it does fall down, on the intangibles. It falls down because there’s a pervasive sense of cost-cutting throughout the vehicle. The final $720 that Toyota cuts out of the car to create an LE from an SE — or, if you choose to look at it the other way, the $720 that is added to the LE to make the SE — is particularly obvious. The steering wheel on the SE is outstanding; the LE’s wheel is dismal. The alloy wheels on the SE look vaguely upscale, but the LE features steel wheels with generic-looking plastic covers. The LE’s interior fabric is nothing special; based on what I saw when I picked up the rental, it doesn’t even resist spills and stains terribly well.

This is “thin product” in the modern style, but even if it doesn’t match up to the standards of that old mini-Lexus ’92 Camry it still beats the pants off its immediate predecessors. The stereo’s good and unlike the competition you get a full-color screen in the center stack even at the LE price point. It’s quiet, it rides well, and with the exception of the turn-it-off-with-your-knee cruise control, every potential road-tripping annoyance has been carefully engineered out of the driving experience.

I didn’t mention the old A-body GM car by accident. This Camry is just what that ’79 Malibu or Cutlass used to be. It’s steady, unspectacular, well-equipped, affordably priced. It looks decent on the road and your neighbors won’t laugh at you. Toyota understands the customers in this segment in the same way that Ford and GM no longer do, and the sales numbers reflect that. It’s a nearly perfect middle-class conveyance. It’s built in Kentucky so the buy-American crowd can rest easy.

The real difference between a ’79 Malibu and this Camry is the same difference that exists, in a much smaller degree, between the rest of the competition and the Camry: people trust this car to last a very long time and cost very little to operate. The autoblogosphere knows all about recent Toyota quality shortfalls and bushing-less CTS pedals and that sort of thing, but the average consumer is always operating a decade or more in the past when it comes to product perception. He thinks the Malibu is garbage and the Ford will fall apart and the Accord doesn’t really offer anything more and the Mazda6 doesn’t really exist. He has eyes and he can see that decade-old Camrys are all over the road, rust-free and looking decent.

The man on the street knows the Camry, likes the Camry, trusts the Camry. His Generation Y son-in-law thinks the Camry is a soulless piece of junk that deliberately refutes everything the enthusiast believes — but as you can see, the blocky-looking Toyota gets around a racetrack just fine. You could buy one as a track rat, really, enjoying 30mpg commutes to and from the weekends, filling the trunk with extra tires, relying on the car to last 200k and sell for about a third of what you paid for it.

You could do that, and I wouldn’t disagree with your choice. But if you do, you should do yourself a favor. Look under the bed, in the couch cushions, in your old savings account from high school — anywhere you need to, as long as you can find that extra seven hundred and twenty bucks. Because the SE is worth the extra money, every penny of it. It’s that rarest of things in modern America: a true bargain.

Photo courtesy Jerusha Pfannenschmidt.

Images courtesy Pfanntastic Photography

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Baruth On Reckless Driving, Part 3.8 Mon, 01 Jul 2013 16:36:41 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Jack Baruth is no stranger to driving fast on public roads, and he’s not afraid to go public with his exploits. Over at Road & Track, our man JB reflects on some of his own mis-adventures while pondering the death of Giorgi Tvezadze, the Georgian fellow who became YouTube famous for his own dangerous driving stunts behind the wheel of a BMW E34 M5. As far as I’m concerned, a guy like this is better off dead. But Jack has a much more eloquent take on things, while managing to weave in references to Hume and DeNiro.

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I Flew Twelve Thousand Miles To Accidentally Meet My Biggest Fan Tue, 04 Jun 2013 18:25:53 +0000 Picture courtesy the author.

Devoted readers of my personal site, if any such individuals actually exist, know that I’m currently in Malaysia for the purpose of compromising the international dignity of the United States by acting like a member of the “Duck Dynasty” in a time-trial series. The past week’s been fairly intense, to put it mildly. (And if I put it anything other than mildly, I couldn’t discuss it in a family-oriented publication like TTAC.) Today, however, I was visiting a few shops in Shah Alam, Selangor, to discuss a seat in the Sepang 1000KM Endurance Race and things got weird.

The car in the photo above is a lime green Audi A5 2.0T. I happened upon it by pure blind chance.

I want to repeat that, just for the record.

I flew a total of 12,700 air miles over the course of twenty-five hours, then drove four hours from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, then drove another hour to a cluster of obscure race shops in a corner of Selangor, Malaysia, and happened to drive right by this car. Occurrences like this make me strongly question my belief that the entire universe is ordered along logical principles.

Why is it so ZOMGAMAZING that I happened to find this car? Well… Long-time TTACers know that nearly three years ago, I sold my Audi Exclusive S5 in 1973 Porsche Lime Green. If you’ve forgotten the car, or never heard about it, here it is:

The Internet fame accorded to that particular car, the ease with which I sold it, and Audi’s passive-aggressive reluctance to even discuss doing another one for me all led me to believe that nobody had ever done anything quite like it before or since. It’s quite possible I’m wrong about that.

When I saw the A5, I immediately stopped my car, jumped out, and started photographing it. This led to an extremely unpleasant conversation with the proprietor of the garage, who told me I didn’t have the right to take pictures in a public street. My American sense of photographic freedom did not at any point intersect with his Malaysian sense of privacy. He wouldn’t tell me anything about the owner and he wouldn’t put me in touch with said owner. After a brief standoff, I agreed to leave but did not agree to delete the photograph.

What does the photograph tell us? Well, it’s a pre-facelift A5, and I’m guessing it’s a 2010 model. The interior is black, not brown. My quick impression was that the black roof was a vinyl decal. “Wraps” are a big deal in Malaysia — a few hours later, I had the chance to talk to the proprietor of a shop that wraps GT-Rs in brushed-metal foil — but I don’t believe this was a wrap. The car had the shine and depth of real paint.

Whether it’s factory paint is another matter, but I’m inclined to think it is, for this reason: it’s not Porsche Lime Green. Instead, it’s the “Viper Metallic Green” that was popular on the Euro-market Scirocco. When I started the order process for my Audi, this was the first color that was suggested to me, because it was already in the VAG paint bin. I insisted on the proper Lime Green and got it, but I can see how Audi might have steered subsequent punters to the metallic green. I don’t think it looks as good, but then again, I wouldn’t, would I?

Naturally, I am more or less dead certain that this car was inspired by mine. Perhaps the owner will see this and contact me to let me know. What are the chances, really, that I would just happen to fly and drive to the precise spot where the only other lime green Audi coupe in the world was sitting? It boggles the mind, it really does, and it piques the curiosity. If you’re the owner, holler at your boy here. I’d like to talk to you about the car — and I have a set of snow tires to sell you.

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Trackday Diaries: Couped up in the palace of the Snow Queen. Tue, 16 Apr 2013 17:10:46 +0000

I sing the coupe eccentric;
The doors of those I love engirth me, and I endure them;
They will not let me park till I deal with them, wrestle with them;
And do not ding them, and close them with solid sound unknown by Kia Soul.

It wasn’t that long ago that I recorded my generally favorable opinion of the outgoing Nissan Altima during an impromptu trip to Nashville and parts south. That car was obsolete even as I was reviewing it, supplanted by a zoomy and flame-surfacey new sedan. As of yet, however, the corresponding new Altima coupe has only appeared in renderings and rumors. Therefore Nissan has returned the old two-door for a very limited 2013-model-year engagement. It’s available in one trim level (S), with one drivetrain (2.5 four-cylinder/CVT) and at a relatively steep price ($25,230).

As a child of the Seventies, I have a not inconsiderable attachment to the idee fixe of the mid-sized coupe. The Altima Coupe is the natural successor to the Cutlass Supremes and Monte Carlos that prowled the neighborhoods of my youth. For some time I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to rent a new one; that quest came to a successful conclusion when I stepped off the plane in Houston Friday night and found a 2013 Altima Coupe with just 1,400 miles in my assigned stall.

My purpose in making the trip was to compete in the third round of the Texas Rally Sport championship and to cover said event for a certain print magazine which can be readily found at your local airport bookstore. I know it can be found there because I’ve been there, surreptitiously signing copies of the April issue while pretending to leaf through them. “Don’t Stop Believin’! Your homeboy, JB II” is what I usually write, although sometimes due to the angle at which I have to hold the magazine to do this unobserved it looks like “Don’t Start Bleedin’! Your Homo Boy, JB ill”. Those will be the Billy Ripken Fleer cards of the year 2089, trust me.

My rental Altima was black inside and out and it still smelled new. As I backed it out, I noticed that rear visibility was not very good at all and that the mirrors seemed a little small. Over the course of the next few days, I would repeatedly reconfirm those findings, particularly while doing lane changes. The Altima’s mirrors simply don’t cover enough ground to make up for the C-pillar blind spot. Be careful. I kid you not. I haven’t “not seen” a car in the next lane since I was an indifferent teenager but on the Texas freeways with their wide disparities in closing speeds I nearly caused an accident two separate and distinct times, after which I learned to swivel my head in all directions before moving laterally as I used to with my similarly sail-paneled 1980 Marquis Brougham Coupe.

My personal motto regarding out-of-state travel was mostly stolen from Tony Montana and runs like so: “First you get the luggage, then you get the rental, then you get the women.” My luggage consisted of nothing besides my Impact! Carbon Air Draft, a toothbrush, three sets of underwear, and a pair of Angry Birds pajama pants identical in design to a pair owned and enjoyed by my son, so that was easy. The Altima firmly under my command, it was time to complete the third task, so I fired up the “Neverlost” GPS and entered in the address of the Snow Queen.

When I first met the Snow Queen, during some random race-related Texas trip, I was very much under the spell of another woman and she was very much under the spell of… nothing in particular, really. She doesn’t get emotional about men. She has what the psychologists call a flat affect and she has a truly improbable body, lean and muscular with a nice rack, hot to the touch. I quite like her and I flatter myself that she quite likes me and best of all I don’t foresee anybody getting terribly emotional about anything.

The Snow Queen was amused by the Altima, correctly guessing that it wasn’t a very expensive car. At the time I didn’t know much they were asking for the thing but now that I do I have to wonder if it isn’t overpriced by a few thousand bucks. The 2013 Accord EX has more equipment and a more upscale look both inside and out. It costs the same and you can have it with a manual transmission, if you’re so inclined. I’m of the opinion, however, that the Altima has the edge on looks, even with the dopey standard-equipment wheels and the lack of brightwork that’s part of the “S” trim level. I hate to say it, but I think it’s better-looking than the current Infiniti G Coupe, if not the original one, and the rear trunk detailing and Kamm tail are just plain nice. Inside, of course, it’s the same equipment as the sedan but the lower roof and repositioned seating make it far more intimate.

After a supremely indulgent two-hour dinner at the Pappas Bros Steakhouse I piloted the Altima back to the Snow Queen’s place. The Hertz nav is almost deliberately stupid, taking a solid three minutes to boot and refusing to automatically select the previous destination. If you start the car moving at any point before it’s fully awake, you can’t do anything with it until the next time you come to a halt. “This is, without a doubt, the worst fucking nav system ever,” I fumed.

“Why’d you buy it then, if you hate it so much?” my companion queried.

“I didn’t buy it. It’s part of the rental.”

“Are you sure?”


“That’s odd.”

“No it isn’t, because it comes from Hertz.”

“Oh… Are you going to tell your readers I said what I just said?”

She’s been a TTAC reader for a long time so she had some concerns about that. She was also unhappy about her proposed nickname, “Snow Queen”.

“Why do I have to be the Snow Queen?”

“I don’t know… you’re a little distant and very pale and well, you bought me a bottle of Snow Queen vodka.”

“It makes me sound frigid.”

“Aren’t you a little bit frigid? I mean, we’re in bed and we aren’t doing anything right now.”

“That’s because you’re wearing Angry Birds pajamas.”

“My son likes them! He has the same pair! We wear them together!”

“Is he here?” She had a solid point. In the end, she proved to be a good sport about everything, adjusting her schedule to meet my rallycrossing demands and even posing for a slightly risque photo at the “Twin Peaks” restaurant we went to the following night. I’ve included it in the gallery below if you’re interested. It’s almost work-safe most places.

Where were we? Oh, yes. The Altima Coupe. There’s something really upsetting about the ease with which the Japanese manufacturers have driven our domestic players off their home ground. This is a reasonably priced, lightly equipped, stylish-looking two-door version of an established sedan, made in Tennessee and available in a rental fleet near you. Back when the Snow Queen was a little flaxen-haired snow princess, the Americans owned that segment. Defined it. Created it. Sold a million units a year into it. And now the best “American” mid-sized sedan is built in Mexico and the prospect of a coupe version is slightly more distant than Alpha Centauri and this Nissan is more American than the American cars, it’s a 1974 Colonnade for modern times.

I swear to God it’s like the effing Descolada, you know? Ford and Chrysler and particularly feckless General Motors sit on the sideline, afraid to do a product like this, and Nissan cheerfully keeps the old car around just for hell of it because they have that kind of power, people will still buy the old coupe with the new sedan sitting next to it in dealerships. Honda Accord coupes prowl the freeways of the Midwest like angry doorstops, driven by secretaries and angry middle-aged dads and friendly old people, and GM’s answer is to suggest that somebody buy a Camaro that weighs five hundred pounds more and looks like a cartoon. Since when did Americans retreat from the Japanese? The answer is: 1941, then not for a long time, and then continuously.

But you aren’t thinking about that, and you aren’t thinking about the Snow Queen, stretched across her Stearns and Foster like a teenage boy’s dream rendered in hot flesh, awake and annoyed while I drunkenly snore away in my Angry Birds pants. You’re thinking about that Pinto. Alright, you win. It’s owned by a fellow named Drew, who is six foot nine and who bolted an aluminum race seat flat to the floor so he would fit in it. Cologne V-6. Factory three-speed auto. Diamond Racing wheels in a massive offset. Sounds like thunder on the move, goes sideways constantly, throws the front wheels into the air on a bumpy rally course. He offered me a chance to stick around after the event and drive it but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to reach the pedals and I wanted to get back to a second evening back in Houston without the interference of alcohol or Angry Birds, so there you go. Let’s meet the man and the car:

My connecting flight home was delayed, and I was tempted to be bitchy about it, but it’s hard to be unhappy sometimes, I tell you, no matter how hard I try. Great people, fascinating cars, beautiful women, turboprop commuters that sound like a B-25 to take me hither and thither and yon! What a life I lead in the summer! What a life I lead in the spring! And there’s more to come if I can stay upright and above ground. I’ll share all of it with you. Most of it, anyway. See you next time.

There's a better one than this, but it showed nipple. Picture courtesy the author. The man, the Pinto. Picture courtesy the author. I'd hit it. Like a PInto. Picture courtesy the author. Face to face, and back to back... Picture courtesy the author. Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 75
Meanwhile In Quebec Fri, 12 Apr 2013 12:00:54 +0000

In the weeks to come, you will be treated to a set of racing tales to make the most ardent consumer of Schadenfreude blush.

During the summer of 2012, I competed in the Canadian Touring Car Championship and the Grand-Am Total Performance Challenge, racing a B-Spec Mazda2 on both sides of the continent against some of the most talented sedan-class drivers in North America. By turns, I experienced mechanical failure, ineptitude, bad luck, narrow avoidance of high-speed collisions, despair, defeat, fear, hope, joy, and finally mechanical failure again.

I won nothing and finished all three of my races either dead last by a margin best described as “considerable” or at the end of a tow chain. At one point in the process I actively considered quitting the sport entirely. At another point I was cheered by hundreds of people as I successfully made an almost impossibly bold move to catapult from worst to (nearly) first. I paid nine dollars for a Quarter Pounder in Mont-Tremblant, QC and nothing at all for a first-rate hotel room on the bay in Monterey, CA.

In short, it was the worst of times, it was the even more worst of times. But I learned quite a bit from the process and I’ll be sharing all of it with you. While I re-familiarize myself with my on-track data and sob heavy teardrops onto my well-worn laptop keyboard for a while, here’s something to keep you occupied and give you some insight into what you’ll read next: a practice lap of the Mont-Tremblant road course behind the wheel of the CTCC B-Spec Mazda2 Media Car. Note the speeds at which the Civics and BMWs close on me; it will become relevant later…

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Review: Toyota Sienna LE 2.7 Thu, 04 Apr 2013 12:00:51 +0000

Your humble author’s affection for the Pentastar-powered Chrysler minivans is relatively well-known within these electronic pages. In the interest of examining the so-called “alternatives”, however, I’ve been attempting to rent non-Chrysler minivans during my travels. A 36-hour unscheduled trip to San Francisco gave me a chance to do just that, deliberately walking past the six Corvette droptops in the Hertz #1 Gold Choice spaces and picking up a Toyota Sienna. The things I do for you, dear readers! My appointment was a couple of hours inland, in Lodi, CA; the thought that I was pedaling a minivan away from the ocean when I could be driving a topless ‘Vette along it had me sobbing lightly behind my Prodesigns.

I was eventually able to screw my courage to the sticking-place, as it were, and get on with business. What follows is a 388-mile review of the Toyota Sienna LE, but there’s one little catch: if you want one just like my test vehicle, you’re out of luck.

For 2013, Toyota has discontinued availability of the 2.7-liter paint-shaker four-cylinder in the Sienna. As we’ll soon see, it won’t be missed by most potential buyers. All Siennas are now powered by the appears-in-just-about-everything Toyota 3.5-liter V-6. The equivalent 2013-model V-6 Sienna to the one I drove would cost you a whopping $30.980 plus the usual reprehensible Toyota-dealer stripe/tape/paint protection/frottage charges. That’s a full eight thousand bucks more than the Caravans I normally rent would cost before incentives. It also represents a considerable price increase over last year. The 2012-model-year four-banger Sienna I rented would only cost you $26,990, assuming you could find a time machine or a dealer with some overstock, and that about splits the difference between a Caravan SE and the current Sienna LE.

This generation Sienna acquired what John Updike would call “minor fame” as the chosen ride of a swaggering MILF, but the gap in desirability between the fully-loaded SE and this poverty-spec LE is apparent from two hundred feet away and becomes more so as you draw closer to the thing. Opening the door reveals an unpleasant sea of elephant-testicle polysomethinglene in a color best described as “dirty ivory”. The odd texture molded into the door panels can’t hide a series of waves and ripples seemingly baked into the plastic during manufacture. I was initially willing to attribute the warping to 31,600 miles in the California sun, but even where the tinted windows protected the plastic, there were visible finish imperfections. If Toyota was trying to channel the spirit of the original K-car-based minivans, they’ve done it; I remember similar defects all over the place in those ancient Voyagers. Of course, the current Caravan is well beyond that standard, and comparing it back to back with the Sienna the much cheaper Dodge comes off as the upscale contender.

While the Chrysler minivan’s dashboard has always been intended to mimic that of a traditional sedan as closely as possible, the Sienna goes the other way, splaying an array of oddly oversized controls over an asymmetrical plastic wave between driver and passenger. The climate controls are frankly ridiculous, particularly the fan control which uses two buttons and multiple LEDs to unsatisfactorily accomplish what’s done with a single knob in better cars. Blank panels are everywhere. This van doesn’t appear to have any features except cruise control. The steering wheel has no secondary buttons whatsoever. Perhaps the kindest thing one could say about the Sienna’s controls is that they would all be easy to operate using gloves. They’re also perhaps deliberately optimized for Toyota’s aging customer base. The Avalon’s like that, too; every button and knob in the thing appears to be designed for people suffering a combination of Alzheimer’s and loss of motor control. The 12-volt outlet is too close to the floor — this is one detail that the Sienna has in common with the Caravan. One bright spot: the stereo is actually pretty decent. My two current test tracks (“English House” by Fleet Foxes and “My Activator” by 100s) were easily capable of annoying pedestrians in the vicinity and, in the case of the latter song, earned me a knowing nod from a stunning chica working the Jack-in-the-Box drive-through.

While the Sienna has about the same mouse-fur bucket seat for the driver you get in the cheaper Chrysler minivans, the story is completely different for rear-seat passengers. Chrysler offers their outstanding Stow N Go seats as standard pretty much everywhere in the lineup. They work just like you’d expect, folding quickly into the floor without fuss and turning the Caravan into a very capable work van in the space of five minutes. The Sienna, on the other hand, has two very conventional and very large bench seats in back. They’re well-bolstered and, for this writer at least, are usefully more comfortable than the Stow N Go. If you never expect to do anything with your minivan besides drag people around in it, the Sienna scores a big win here. If you need flexibility, the Chryslers are untouchable in that regard.

On the move, it’s quickly apparent that the Sienna and Caravan are from two entirely different schools of vehicular-dynamic thought. Simply put, the Sienna sucks as a driving proposition in every way that matters. The engine is completely gutless and feels thoroughly overmatched in this application, lugging against too much gear before giving up, changing down with an audible clunk, and hellishly moaning at its retro six-grand redline. The brakes feel completely worthless in hard usage, although that can probably be at least partially attributed to the miseries of rental life. Fast lane changes in the Sienna are positively nautical; my Town Car is noticeably better at controlling its body motion in the same situation. In the evening cut-and-thrust around the SFO airport, I gave up early and resigned myself to being dive-bombed for lane position again and again. My knee repeatedly turned off the low-mounted cruise control, exacerbating the situation somewhat and no doubt further alienating my fellow motorists.

I had hoped that the Sienna’s futuristic shape might pay off in wind noise reduction, but it was louder inside than the Caravans by some margin. There’s an extra A-pillar window as a consequence of that sleek silhouette, but as far as I can tell it’s completely worthless in actual use and I’d rather have a lower sticker price with a GM-style modesty panel shoved in the gap.

After a pair of 115-mile jaunts in the Sienna, I was more or less sick of the thing and I looked forward to returning it as soon as possible. From the wavy interior plastic to the gutless engine to the total lack of surprise-and-delight features, my tester van felt like an extremely cynical effort to cash in on the brand loyalty earned by other, far superior Toyota products. It’s worth noting that Toyota has never really had a killer app for the minivan market, unless your idea of the perfect family wagon is a supercharged suppository shape with the engine somewhere under the driver’s ass. It’s hard to imagine any reason for purchasing this current offering other than naked fear that the competition won’t be as reliable. I would suggest that these fears should be partially mitigated by the fact that one could buy three Caravans for every two Siennas one might hope to own.

It is true, however, that I have seen many an utterly miserable-looking old Sienna continuing to plow away with a quarter-million miles on the clock. Perhaps this Sienna is meant to anticipate a similar future by already looking crappy at 31,600 miles. Perhaps it would never get any worse. It’s hard to tell. If it still looks like this years from now, that wouldn’t be so bad. I also wonder if Toyota’s decision to drop the four-cylinder was such a great idea. Yes, it’s very slow, and yes, it’s very coarse, but I trust it more than I trust any Toyota V-6. If I had to drive a Sienna for the next decade and cover all the expenses myself, I might be tempted to choose the four, even though it barely clocked 22mpg in my unenthusiastic stewardship. There’s no possible reason to own a Sienna other than the explicit expectation of Land-Cruiser-in-Africa-style long-term durability, and the 2.7L would be an asset on that particular balance sheet.

I’m a car guy, you know? I like cars and I can usually find a reason to get enthusiastic about almost anything I drive. The Sienna LE 2.7L was a rare exception. I disliked it from the moment I backed it out of its stall at Hertz and realized it didn’t have parking sensors, and our relationship never got better. I’m not saying you should buy a Caravan over this thing — some people have been too badly burned by Chrysler minivans to ever give them a second chance. I am, however, saying you should choose something else. Even the most die-hard Toyota fan deserves better than this.

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Avoidable Contact: An immodest proposal to solve the German nomenclatural nincompoopery. Wed, 03 Apr 2013 14:03:02 +0000

Why, why, why the hell is the new BMW 328d called the 328d? It’s a 3-Series, so that part’s legitimate, even if today’s 3er dwarfs the old Bavaria. It’s also a diesel, so the “d” seems appropriate, even if the absence of a “t” rankles a bit among those of us who remember the 524td. Not that “t” always meant “turbo” in BMW-land; sometimes it meant “touring” like fast, sometimes it meant “touring” like station wagon.

The problem is this: the “28″ in 328d suggests a 2.8-liter engine. Just like the 528e had. Well, actually, that was a 2.7-liter engine. The same engine appeared in the 325e, where it was also 2.7 liters. Still, those are relatively white decklid lies compared to the effrontery of putting a two-liter engine in a car and badging it as a 2.8, right? There has to be a rhyme and reason here somewhere, surely. And it there isn’t, then surely there’s a way to put some sense and sensibility back into the German-car game, right?

Good news: I, your humble author, have a solution.

Before I detail my easy-as-pie and completely reasonable idea, however, let’s consider just how BMW and Mercedes in particular got themselves into this mess. The idea of naming a car after its engine displacement isn’t a new one — in fact, it dates from very nearly the first automobiles — but since cars in Europe were often taxed on their displacement the importance of knowing said displacement right up front took on a rather outsized importance in that market. It never happened here, otherwise the fellow chasing the “hot rod Lincoln” would have bragged that “nothin’ will outrun my three-point-six-liter Ford.” Here in the United States, we named our cars after animals, cities, natural phenomena, and other fun stuff. Who would want a “Ford 4.7S” when you could have a Ford Mustang?

In the dour environment of postwar Germany, however, Mercedes-Benz chose to name their cars after their displacement, with only the addition of an “S” for “Super” executive sedans spoiling the purity of the naming scheme. Later on, more letters appeared after the numbers, but those numbers tended to be trustworthy. A “180″ probably was 1.8 liters. The “300SLR” really was a three-liter engine. It mostly made sense.

The first real cracks in the scheme appeared when Mercedes-Benz decided to boost the available power in the S-Class sedans. When the 6.3-liter V-8 was dropped into the 300SEL, somebody realized that calling it the 630SEL might give it more decklid authority on the Autobahn than the “600″ limo. (That should have been the “630″, come to think of it.) Something had to be done, and that something was to create a car called the “300SEL 6.3″. Other 300SELs arrived after that, including the 300SEL 3.5 and the 300SEL 4.5. The last one always amused me because presumably it was done to prevent the crass horror of calling a car the “450SEL”. Naturally, the next big Benz to appear was, in fact, called the 450SEL.

BMW had been struggling with a rather confusing displacement-based scheme of its own, where the 2002 was a two-door 2000 rather than a 2000 with two additional milliliters of bore. The sensible decision was made to create a universal naming scheme. To prevent the silliness of a 300SEL 4.5, the displacement was given second billing behind an arbitrary number meant to denote the size of sausage being sold. A 320i, therefore, was a 3-Series with a two-liter engine.

This scheme lasted all of ten minutes before BMW decided to fit a 1.8-liter engine into the US-market 320i without changing the badge. Presumably this was done because customers, who had already caught on to the general idea that a higher number was better, would balk at paying more for this year’s 318i then they had paid for the previous year’s 320i. The “318i” moniker didn’t appear until the E30 did. Note how quickly the number really started to matter. Fewer than five years after adopting a logical model designation system, BMW was already having to fudge it. Let’s not forget the 745i, of course, which was a turbocharged 730i. The “4.5″ was meant to represent the, ah, equivalent power potential or something like that.

By 1990 or thereabouts, the German model schemes were being honored more in the breach than the observance. The small Mercedes was called the 190E 2.3, or the 190E 2.5, or the 190E 2.6. You could buy a 190E 2.6 or a 260E. They were very different cars. BMW was selling the same engine in the 325 and 528. Mercedes blinked and created the ridiculous notion of C, E, and S-Class cars. This should have made it possible to honestly state the displacement, since the letter was there to denote prestige. Naturally, the minute the C230K went from a 2.3-liter to a 1.8-liter supercharged four-cylinder, the scheme was broken and we then had a C230 1.8. BMW, meanwhile, was selling a 3.0-liter six-cylinder in a car and calling it the 328i. In the 3-Series, the turbocharged 3.0-liter was called a 335i, but that same engine in a 7-Series made it a 740Li. This was odd, because once upon a time a 740Li was a 4.4-liter V-8.

This brings us to the present day, which looks like so:

320i — 2.0L
328i — 2.0L (four-doors)
328i — 3.0L (two-doors)
328d — 2.0L
335i — 3.0L

This won’t do, will it? Only one of the five configurations is even close to being named after its actual displacement. You can’t even rely on the engines being smaller than their listed displacement; the old carry-over coupe has a larger engine than the decklid suggests.

I find the whole situation thrilling because it’s yet another case of people “misusing” a technology or a language or a tool. Engineers and designers and marketroids love to sit around and determine exactly how somebody will use or buy or regard a product, but those plans never survive the first contact with the enemy. In Africa, smartphones are bank accounts. The World Wide Web mostly transmits content types that weren’t even suggested when the first HTML pages were written. Somebody goes through the trouble of making a nice pre-surgery drug like Rohypnol and the next thing you know, ugly guys in New York with the ability to lift and carry 150 pounds are getting lucky like you wouldn’t believe.

Whatever ideas BMW might have had for its naming system in 1974, the market has its own ideas, and those ideas run something like this: a bigger number is better. Well, duh. The 328d has to be a 2.8 “marketing displacement” engine because the 328i is a 2.8, and that is a 2.8 because it’s meant to have equivalent power to the old 2.8, which was really a 3.0 but which was downgraded to create more marketing space between it and the significantly more expensive 335i. BMW could just reset everything to actual displacement but customers would expect the price to drop. How could a 320ti cost as much as the old 328i? How could a 320d cost more than a 328i?

Let’s not even get into the 7-Series, where the fine old name 735i can’t be used because it sounds cheap compared to 740i, and 730ti absolutely positively cannot be used under any circumstances. How about those Mercedes-Benz E63 AMGs which don’t displace 6.3 liters any more and in fact never actually did?

The pressure is on the manufacturers to offer more number for the buck. Pretty soon, the 328i will have to be a 330i, perhaps. It’s easy to imagine a situation where a high-efficiency 1.5-liter “330i” exists. Two marketing liters for every real one! Not to mention the fact that a two-liter turbo will eventually power US-market 7-Series sedans and no way in hell are they going to be called “720Li”. Meanwhile, Mercedes is selling a 1.8-liter C250 and a 3.5-liter C300. It’s all getting cray-cray up in here.

The proper solution to all of this is blinding in its simplicity. For the majority of consumers, the number on a BMW or Mercedes is only relevant insofar as it provides an approximate estimate of price. The numbers are also judged against the competition, a fact which caused Audi to rename its new “300″ sedan to “Audi V-8″ at the last minute lo these many years ago, since the Audi “300″ would have cost a fair bit more than a Mercedes 300E and a hell of a lot more than a BMW 325. So why mess around with all this stupidity about equivalent turbocharged marketing displacement and whatnot?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the newest BMW: the BMW 32,250. Formerly known as the 320i, it’s now named directly after its price. If you put options on it, the number will go higher. Or, you could choose a full-sized sedan like the BMW 73,550, formerly the “740i”. All the mystery is gone. The price is on the trunk. Show it to your neighbors, who just took delivery of a Mercedes-Benz 51,500 instead of the E350 they’d had their eyes on a year or so ago. From now on, you’ll know what everybody around you paid for their car. No more obscurity. Sure, we won’t know what size the engines are, but we don’t know that now. You can find that boring crap out right here on TTAC, while your girlfriend looks at your mid-engined Audi 114,200 and calculates what her engagement ring should cost.

In a single unilateral move, I’ve destroyed all nomenclatural confusion for all time. Until, that is, BMW starts offering rebates. Pretty soon, the BMW 89,400 will go out the door for $60k or less. Leased examples won’t say BMW 339/month, but maybe they should? What about used cars? Will they have their logos jumbled the way second-rate bodyshops often create S450 Benzos with heavy orange peel? It’s all too much to think about. Maybe some legislation should be introduced to give every car a name — but what if that name is Cutlass Calais Brougham?

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Review: Morgan 3 Wheeler Mon, 01 Apr 2013 13:00:51 +0000

“YOUR CAR!!!! I LOVE YOUR CAR!!!!” She was a Slavic-faced woman in her mid-twenties, not bad for New York and positively model-grade by Midwestern standards, and she was literally hopping up and down on the streetcorner.

“It’s not a car,” I said, wedged into the Morgan’s extremely tight drivers’ compartment, feeling self-conscious in a half-face helmet that I wasn’t strictly sure was necessary or even required by law. “It’s a trike.”

“I WANT A RIDE!” she yelled. A crowd was starting to gather. The stoplight seemed to be taking an unusually long time to change.

“There isn’t room.” Wedged next to me, the Morgan’s owner, professional bon vivant and recreational speeder Alex Roy, was making a “no room” motion with his hands in her direction as he explained the situation.

“Oh,” I smirked, “I think there’s room.” But then the green light flashed and with an incongruous but very forceful Harley-blat we departed the intersection, leaving Miss Hopping Estonia 2007 in our blue-smoking wake.

Most modern gearheads know who Alex Roy is; he’s even managed to get on the Letterman show in order to brag about making it across the country in thirty-one hours and change in one of his “POLIZEI” BMW M5s. Like fellow journalist and daredevil Matt Farah, Mr. Roy is notorious for all sorts of high-dollar hijinks in various Bullruns, Gumballs, and other velvet-rope driving events. Also like Matt Farah, the real-life Alex Roy is a thoughtful intellectual with a genuine, childlike passion for cars. It’s hard not to like them both once you have any in-person exposure to them.

A few years ago, I had a couple of caustic words for the bald-by-choice Roy. In response, he sent me a copy of his book and invited me to stop by his place in New York to discuss it. I arrived ready for a good solid scrap but ended up laughing all evening at Alex’s ability to turn a phrase in the service of a story. At the heart of it, he’s one of “us”. He’s a car guy through and through. Whatever my opinion of the Gumball Rally might be, (hint: it rhymes with chucks rocks) my opinion of Alex Roy is high.

When he offered me an opportunity to spin his Morgan Trike around Lower Manhattan in the dead of night, therefore, I accepted before he could finish the sentence. I arrived at his Greenwich Village loft last Tuesday evening and found Alex screening films with his cross-country co-driver, the impeccably handsome David Maher. With Mr. Maher’s departure to do whatever millionaire playboys do in New York, Alex and I headed to the parking garage beneath his building. The trike was parked on a very steep blind exit, so my first task was to fire it up and drive away without rolling backwards and hitting my own rental car.

I hadn’t been exactly sure what to expect when I squeezed myself into the leather-lined open cockpit, but the reality of operating the 3 Wheeler is very pleasant. Three pedals, no hand clutch or anything deliberately odd like that. It starts up like a car, although there’s a master switch to flip on before hitting the starter button. My size 10.5D New Balance 993s fit the pedalbox with no difficulty, although there’s no dead pedal to speak of. This would not be a great vehicle in which to cross the country, even if one suspected it could be done in thirty-one hours. Which it could not, for reasons I’ll discuss shortly. Although final drive is by means of an unconventional and fairly delicate toothed belt, I had no trouble balancing it on the clutch and then rolling it up and out of the garage.

The last trike I drove was the the rather imperfect CanAm Spyder, which was basically a snowmobile with wheels. This, on the other hand, feels like a somewhat attenuated version of a Caterham Seven. Control efforts are very low, from the wrist-action shifter to the quick-to-engage brakes. I found it easy to place my left palm flat on the ground without altering my seating position. I don’t recommend doing this on the move, even for a moment, even just to see if you can do it. The Morgan offers a doorhandle’s-eye view of New York City traffic.

The power from the S&S-built Harley twin is more than adequate, even short-shifting to save the already-battered drive belt. It’s possible to dive for gaps between taxis, but this is no Crown Victoria and it has to be understood that in any metal-mashing encounter with anything more substantial than a Vespa the Morgan will likely come off the loser. Best to use the power to get out of trouble, rather than into it.

With 1,996 miles of hard downtown use showing on the odometer at the start of our journey, Mr. Roy’s trike has already suffered a variety of mechanical issues including the departure of both exhaust hangers, a failure of the accelerator pedal bushing, and a gradual collapse of the headlight brackets. After a few minutes in Chelsea it’s easy to see why. You, the urban Morgan driver, must continually steer between manhole covers and potholes. Striking any of them will result in a crash and rattle from the front kingpins violent enough to reposition one’s spectacles. Thankfully, the front end steers with perfect clarity and precision. It’s the back wheel that causes a spot of difficulty, really. At fifty miles per hour, any sudden manhole-cover-avoidance maneuver results in a rather startling oscillation from the rear wheel as it meanders up and down the road crown looking for a place to settle. I can easily imagine it breaking free entirely under less than considerable provocation. The way it interacts with the various steel plates and whatnot making up a large part of city streets has to be experienced to be understood but if you’ve driven an old motorcycle in New York and you’ve felt a narrow bike tire scoot on steel sideways you’ll have an idea.

The Morgan is far from autobahn-ready, and Roy describes the few racetrack laps he’s taken in it as “slower than the safety car,” but in this downtown environment it’s absolutely perfect. Not because it’s safe, spacious, easy to see, or terribly competent to drive, but because it pulls female attention like Mark Purefoy’s bathing scene in the second season of HBO’s Rome. At every one of Manhattan’s crowded crosswalks, the trike creates an absolutely hilarious phenomenon that goes something like this: children stare open-mouthed, men pretend to ignore it, and women of all types start twitching from the knees up. I experienced this phenomenon when I used to drive a Seven clone around central Ohio, but let’s face it: Columbus is a hick town and every time somebody in the city buys a Mustang GT the local paper runs a front page story entitled NEW SPORTING VELOCIPEDE PURCHASED FROM LOCAL PURVEYOR OF NON-TRACTOR MOTORIZED VEHICLES.

New York, on the other hand, is the capital of the world and the women here have seen it all. I’ve personally observed an F430 snarl its way down 7th Avenue without anybody looking in its direction whatsoever. And when the ladies of the city do deign to notice your Reventon or what have you, it’s usually with some comment regarding lack of endowment. The common-and-garden-variety 911 Turbo S is more of a hindrance to getting your groove on the Village than a BUSH/CHENEY FARM AND RANCH TEAM T-shirt would be.

Not so the Morgan. After a solid twenty minutes of seeing beautiful women run into the street for a mere chance to more closely examine the vehicle and its pilots, I asked Alex if this was par for the course. “Oh, yes,” he laughed, “I can get in trouble with this thing if I drive it around. Better to stay at home.” At perhaps sixty grand all in — the price of a Boxster 2.7 PDK with vinyl seatbacks, 13″ steel wheels, and a molded-plastic blank plate labeled “POVERTY” where the radio’s supposed to be — the Trike is an absurd value, assuming you have no concerns about the future of your marriage or the present state of your prostate gland.

Before I knew it, we’d arrived at Roy’s chosen restaurant, where we just parked the thing out front as if it were legal or advisable to do so. While I dined on some top-notch roasted chicken and chucked back the Ketel One, he laughingly observed women climbing into the Morgan for photographs again and again. “I don’t mind,” he allowed, “as long as they aren’t hurting anything.” When we walked out, a young couple was attempting to photograph themselves in front of the Morgan.

“I’m the owner,” I announced, and simply put my arm around the lady’s waist, dragging her away. “Take a picture,” I commanded, which the boyfriend dutifully did. Then, amazingly enough, he turned to Alex to ask him about the car. “Perhaps you’d like to take a spin with me,” I whispered in my impromptu companion’s ear. She nodded eagerly; it didn’t appear that she spoke English. I caught Roy’s eye; he was clearly prepared to wingman for me. This was a man who had bluffed his way out of a hundred dicey situations. It occurred to me that the key to his rather impressive loft was probably also on the trike’s keychain. I could absolutely rely on Roy to keep this fellow occupied for hours while I alternately serenaded and violated his significant other. How could I not do it? In a moment, I attained what the Buddhists call satori. I understood why Fate had decreed that I would never be handsome, successful, or lucky: I’m simply not prepared to handle any of those things with grace. I released the lady’s waist with a final and thoroughly inappropriate caress and slumped back into the Morgan, helmet askew, prepared for the next destination.

Perhaps thirty people crowded around us as Alex hopped in and I selected first gear. I’ve seen other trikes decorated with the Flying Tigers gaping-maw graphic; I’d be tempted to select that for mine. It makes sense. In the city, the Morgan makes fighter pilots out of ordinary men and adventure out of a trip to dinner. It’s best left to people whose sense of self is just as larger than life. It was a relief to exchange it for my Caravan and once again become an observer of, rather than a participant in, the city’s nightlife. Still, I can’t say that I haven’t looked at the Morgan website since then. Celebrity’s a hell of a drug, isn’t it?

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What Do The Pope And Jack Baruth Have In Common? Thu, 21 Mar 2013 17:13:54 +0000

A vow of celibacy? Threatening to cut someone’s throat at a race track? Flowing locks? No, silly. They both love the Volkswagen Phaeton.

Our raven haired race car driver famously owned not one but two Phaetons, thereby earning himself the title of “masochist of the century” and a complimentary membership to Opus Dei – Jack’s self-mortification was only financial, rather than physical, but I’m sure the order will admit him anyways.

Meanwhile, our Pontiff is a Jesuit, and is more concerned about things like social justice and acts of humility. No wonder he’s shunned the Mercedes SUVs of the past in favor of the discrete Volkswagen Phaeton with a TDI powerplant. I wonder if Herr Schmitt, our other resident lapsed Catholic (now practicing Shinto) ever envisioned this coming to pass during his days at VW.

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Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better! Tue, 26 Feb 2013 15:31:54 +0000

I haven’t seen it yet — my only current magazine subscriptions are The Economist, Vintage Guitar, and Juggs — but I am reliably told that your humble author has two, count ‘em, two articles in the newest issue of that well-beloved and august publication, Road&Track. TTAC readers are already comparing me to the Emperor Napoleon as I triumphantly return to color magazines the way Napoleon returned from Elba.

Yes, I said return.

Twenty-two years ago, I began writing for Bicycles Today magazine. In a monthly column entitled “One Racer’s Perspective”, I railed against the excesses of the industry, provided advice for new racers, and exposed the too-cozy relationship between the manufacturers and the color mags. I even wrote a little fiction. Sounds thoroughly familiar, right? Most of all, I campaigned for riders to be given a voice in the sport of bicycle motocross, which at that point was run by an unholy coalition of parents and sunshine-state scam artists.

When BMX Action! became GO! magazine and a fellow pro racer named Chris Moeller took control as editor, he invited me to contribute and I did so… only to see the rag fold before my first column could be printed. Oh well. The first experiment in letting the inmates run the asylum was a failure.

A decade after that unhappy ending, I wrote an angry letter to Car and Driver objecting to their praise of a certain South African kit-car manufacturer. C/D printed the letter and a major online car forum of the era made said letter a subject of discussion. My decision to join that discussion started a chain of events that landed me right here nine years later.

Road&Track is not the first major car magazine to ask me to contribute. I declined for a variety of reasons in the past and when Sam Smith contacted me in August my first impulse was to decline again. Over the course of a couple discussions, however, I became convinced by the three-inch-thick stack of Benjamins Hearst Publications offered me clarity and integrity of Sam’s vision for the mag.

To bring me on as an occasional contributor, Sam not only had to convince me, he had to deal with a firestorm of objections, criticism, and negative reactions from automakers and fellow journalists who have been on the receiving end of my cordovan MacNeils since 2007 or thereabouts. To his credit, he did that and his boss, Larry Webster, stood behind him. They’re still hearing that they’ve made the wrong decision — from people in the business, from the yes-men in the PR cliques, from the whispering cowards at the press events.

If you pick up the April issue of Road&Track, you’ll see that my editorial voice and personal commitment to truth were allowed to shine through without modification or mollification. The comparison test I wrote, which pits the 911 Carrera S PDK against the Lotus Evora S IPS on the back roads of South Carolina, may shock the mag’s regular readers but it won’t shock you.

I will continue to do the majority of my writing right here at TTAC, but I am pleased to note that for the foreseeable future, you’ll also be able to read me at Road&Track. I’m also asking you, the reader, to hold me accountable for what I write here and there. I’m not doing this for the money or the perks; I’ve owned the kind of cars most autojournos have to sign two waivers just to touch and when I want to fly somewhere nice I just take out my wallet. I’m in this business because I believe in truth and I remain deeply passionate about cars. That won’t change.

This experiment that Hearst is trying — that of stacking a color magazine with actual club racers and letting them run wild — may fare no better than Wizard Publications’ decision to let Chris Moeller run BMX Action! I’m hoping that’s not the case. This time, the good guys deserve a win, and I expect to be standing right next to them when it goes up on the scoreboard.

Be seeing you.

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My Greatest Hits (And Biggest Misses) of 2012 Mon, 07 Jan 2013 14:00:49 +0000

When Joni Mitchell finally agreed to release a Hits album, she did so with the stipulation that the label also release a Misses album full of music that she was happy to have made even if the critics and buyers didn’t dig it.

So. What follows is five bona-fide, hit-counter-spinning hits, and five how-dare-you-turn-your-nose-up-at-my-talent misses. Let the second-guessing begin!

The Hits

Avoidable Contact: How Fake Luxury Conquered The World I’d written this for Speed:Sport:Life a few years previous, but I dusted it off and brought it to TTAC in order to test our august founder Robert Farago’s theory that “content longer than 800 words dies on the web.” We got a lot of inbound links and traffic on this one. Some people thought I was trying to dump on GM again but my real purpose was to examine consumer behavior and indulge in some authentic nostalgia for Seventies B-Bodies.

Avoidable Contact: Color my world, the case for front wheel drive. Everybody knows that the best Autobahn machines are steel-grey machines with black trim and exclusive drive to the rear axles, right? I made the case for automotive peacocking and high-speed stability with a push, not a pull. A lot of 17-year-olds with extensive experience borrowing their parents’ 328i automatic sedans told the Internet I was a n00b and a loser based on this column, which warmed my heart.

Avoidable Contact: The end, and the beginning, of great Japanese cars. This was a nostalgia piece mixed with criticism, much like the “Fake Luxury” piece, only discussing the way Japanese cars had become reflections of their customers’ worst qualities. An extended 1200-word digression into Orson Scott Card’s Speaker For The Dead and the “Descolada” was snipped in a half-hearted nod towards brevity.

How GM Could Save The Cadillac ATS From Its Otherwise Inevitable Fate of Complete Marketplace Failure This one was so globally popular that it was translated into German. It turns out that the Cadillac ATS is actually doing okay, in the sense that it has cannibalized CTS sales. Any chance at greatness, however, was engineered out during the product-planning phase.

Two Minutes Hate: David Sirota Is Ashamed Of His Inauthentic Masculinity My master plan to do a series of “Two Minutes Hate” articles, in which various autojournos and enemies of motoring would be eviscerated sans mercy, ground to a halt when Jalopnik appropriated the idea and ran it into the ground with a vengeance. Week after week, Hardigree and company went after various journalistic misdemeanors often enough to make the dish stale. After ten or so Gawker features about THIS IS THE AUTOMOTOTOTIVE JOURNOMALIST WHO BLAH WHILE BLAHING I felt like Peter Green being forced to watch a Nickelback stadium concert. Perhaps we’ll revive the feature in 2013, but I doubt it.

Now, for the Misses!

Hype and Hypertrophy: How Lamborghini Lost Its Man Card. Strictly speaking, this wasn’t a “miss”. It set a TTAC record for Facebook shares and was recommended and linked everywhere from “The Car Lounge” to a webforum for currently-serving Navy Seals. I wrote it at the end of a long work day, in about 75 minutes, and published it without even checking for typos. It was definitely my favorite article of the year, however. Sometimes the music comes to one’s fingertips, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Fiction: The little death. Written to memorialize a drunken three days in Destin and ignored by the readers with the same disdain they typically show for last week’s news. The readers who did comment thought that the protagonist was a horrifying person. I finally understood how Updike must have felt when the reviews for “Rabbit, Run” came through.

Fiction: The Dangling (Sponsored) Conversation Based on a date-that-wasn’t I had about six years ago with a girl from a VW owners forum, stirred together with the concerns I have about “sponsored conversations” in car (and other) web forums. For the record, the actual “TDIRiotGrrl” was quite fit and a solid twelve years younger than me, and we parted company after drinks.

Trackday Diaries: Consider Phlebas Meeting the mighty Panamera Turbo as a driving instructor, and trying to address the question everybody asks us on Mondays: why do you risk your car on a racetrack?

Never Mind The Shuffle Steering: Let’s Take The Falcon To Hyperspace This should have been hugely popular, right? I flew all the way to Los Angeles to help Hooniverse editor “Mad Science” kick some ass around a racetrack in a 1964 Ford Falcon — and he did kick ass, and we all learned a few things about trackdays that are applicable no matter what you drive — and it just landed with a thud. I’m still bitter about that.

All of these hits and misses, plus many more besides, are available at my author page at TTAC. I’d like to thank all off you for making 2012 a truly great year for me at TTAC. I’ve scaled my contributions to the site back a bit for the new year, and I’ve been involved in some new and different automotive adventures elsewhere about which I can’t wait to tell you, but I continue to believe that there is no group of “car people” out there as consistently knowledgeable, interesting, and worthwhile as The Best and Brightest. See you all again soon!

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If You Want To Make A Thousand-Horsepower Nissan, You’re Going To Have To Break A Few Transmissions Wed, 15 Aug 2012 16:15:34 +0000

A few years ago, we drove the Switzer P800, a Nissan GT-R that put slightly over seven hundred horsepower to the wheels. Switzer has since gone on to sell dozens of P800 kits; in fact, your humble author worked with Switzer for the summer of 2010 in an advisory capacity to help sell even more of them. If you’re going to drive a GT-R, you might as well drive a really fast one, right?

Switzer’s customers weren’t satisfied with 800 horses at the crank, though; they wanted a thousand at the crank. And once that was done, they wanted a thousand. At the wheels. Getting to that level wasn’t easy.

A long blog post by Switzer’s Jo Borras describes the process. It wasn’t exactly painless:

But before my adventures for the day were over, the transmission went into limp mode… They discovered a broken 4th gear in the box. A broken 4th PPG gear, as my car had the full gearset.

…The car immediately stalled when started up. I tried it a few more times to no avail, and finally decided to feather the throttle for a few revs to see if that would help. Bad idea, the car noticeably rocked when I did this, and it quite frankly scared the shit out of me. We spoke to Switzer, reviewed the install and refill procedure, then reinspected…and found a cracked transmission case. A hairline fracture in the case with some fluid dripping out.

On the 3rd big pull 2nd through 5th gear, with my cousin frantically telling me to slow down because there was a bend in the road, I let off. I pressed the brake and looked behind us for any sign of the Escalades headlights, but could only see a cloud of white smoke.

…Unusually, the drivers side bank was unscathed, but the passengers side bank had catastrophic damage including a hole through the head which drained all the coolant through the exhaust system.

You get the idea. This is big-boy territory, so if you’re the kind of otaku who starts crying through your Goth mascara and “cutting” again in your Mom’s bathroom because one of the taillights in your FR-S has condensation in it, owning a thousand-wheel-horsepower supercar ain’t for you.

Just how fast is a Switzer R1K? Let’s see:

Click here to view the embedded video.

9.38 seconds at 155mph, on a track that looks awfully slick.

Here at TTAC, however, we’re more interested in how a car performs on a track with a few turns between the start and finish line, so we’ll put in a request and see if any R1K owners want to let us beat the piss out of their car perform some professional testing. Something tells me this car could be even faster around a road course than a Mustang V6!

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TTAC Track Days Episode 2: Scion FR-S vs. Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T vs. Mazda MX-5 Tue, 07 Aug 2012 15:15:14 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

In our second installment, we take the Scion FR-S to the track, along with the heavier, but more powerful Hyundai Genesis 2.0T and its spiritual antecedent, the Mazda MX-5. Oh, and there are special guests from Japan and America.


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TTAC Track Days Episode 2 Preview Sat, 23 Jun 2012 17:37:55 +0000

As Jack mentioned, we’ll be at Toronto Motorsports Park on Monday to film episode deux of TTAC Track Days with Jack Baruth. Any of the B&B who wish to spend a day with myself and Jack are welcome to join us. Now that everything is set in stone, I’m happy to announce the lineup for the next installment.

We’ll be conducting a 3 +1 car shootout, with the Scion FR-S, Hyundai Genesis 2.0T R-Spec, Mazda MX-5 and our benchmark “Brand P” roadster. I took a brief drive in a privately owned FR-S and felt it didn’t live up to the hype. I agree with Motor Trend’s Randy Pobst when he says that the MX-5 is still the best affordable drivers car – Jack’s opinion may vary. The Genesis Coupe R-Spec and Brand P are heavier but more powerful. Aside from the subjective evaluations, we’ll also have timing gear on hand, provided it makes it from VIR to TMP on time.

Anyone who wants to come can drop us a note, for more info

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TTAC Track Days With Jack Baruth Episode 1: Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track Tue, 05 Jun 2012 14:13:45 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Finally, our long-promised video series makes its debut, with our very own Jack Baruth at the helm, doing what he does best; bullying PR people into paying his obscene room service bill putting today’s sports cars to the test on a closed circuit.

For our first episode, we took a Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track model to Toronto Motorsports Park, as well as a certain vehicle from “Brand P” to use as a baseline. While we were there, we ran in to a few “exotic” machines that cost far more than our humble Hyundai, but didn’t exactly perform any better.

We’re hoping to do further installments of the series. For now, enjoy Jack and his questionable wardrobe choices.

Thanks to Hyundai Canada for providing the car (which is known as a 3.8GT in the Great White North), and Chris Blanchette for his amazing video production.

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Announcing Our New Video Series: TTAC Track Days With Jack Baruth Mon, 28 May 2012 13:00:25 +0000

Tomorrow will kick off the start of our new video series; TTAC Track Days with Jack Baruth. Our first vehicle will be a Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track model.

Now that TTAC has access to a top-notch video crew (thanks to our parent company, VerticalScope) we’ve decided to take advantage of our relationship with a local track day organizer, and Toronto Motorsports Park. TMP is used to accommodating video crews, and Jack’s proximity to Toronto, combined with his experience on track made it a no-brainer.

Myself, Jack and the video crew will be out today filming the car. You can check our Facebook page for live shots, but you may have to sit tight for the actual video. If everyone makes it out alive, we’ll be doing lots more.

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Jack Baruth’s Frog Colored Audi S5 Causes Backlash In China Tue, 13 Mar 2012 14:48:12 +0000 China has become famous for its golden and pink cars. Now, there is some kind of a backlash. Or maybe word of Jack Baruth’s lime green Audi S5 has reached China? Can’t possibly drive an Audi S5 in gold, pink, or lime green in China after Jack’s frog-colored Audi was flogged on eBay. Even China has some standards. Instead of Audis in garish colors, there now are black and white Audis. “So what?” you say. I said black and white Audis.

Carnewschina brings us the story of the black-and-white Audi S5 Coupe. Black (matte black) on one side. White on the other. The perfect car to perpetrate crimes with, and to confuse witnesses.

The canvass for that Jackson-Pollock-on-wheels does not come cheap. Carnewschina informs us that the S5 Coupe costs 728.000 yuan in China. That’s $115,000. And some still claim that the Chinese currency is undervalued …

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New or Used: Audi Syndrome? Thu, 08 Dec 2011 20:34:57 +0000


Kevin writes:

Sajeev and Steve:

I am currently cruising through all four Canadian seasons in my 2008 6MT Audi S5.  Could be worse, I know.  The car is owned by Audi Finance, and apparently they want it back at the end of November – something about the lease term coming to an end.  As of late, conversations about the S5 have gone something like this:

Q1. Do you like it?
A1. Unequivocally!  It’s amazing.

Q2. Are you going to buy it out or extend the lease?
A2. Absof@!%inglutely not.

Q3. Why not – you just said you loved it?!
A3. True, but it’s a constant reminder of the adages (i) never buy a first year vehicle (ii) never lease a car out of warranty and (iii) someone, somewhere, is tired of her sh!t.  Well, maybe just the first two.

The car itself is amazing to drive in any conditions on any road – almost too good.  It’s very, very fast, comfortable, handles beautifully (with the usual Quattro understeer), beautiful to look at, has rear view camera, parking sensors, iPod integration, heated seats, bluetooth, navigation, B&O sound system, etc.  I’ve had it at the track a number of times, drive it to work in traffic every day and have dedicated rims and brilliant snow tires for winter (making snow and ice something to smile about).  The trunk is massive; I have taken two other people and all our ski and snowboard gear to Blue Mountain, and often take a passenger and two full hockey bags two the rink once a week.  Hell, I have even managed to escape the concentric circle of hell that is IKEA with a twin mattress in the back and still been able to see out the back window.  For some inexplicable reason, I still hand wash it and park it far away from anything or anybody; it looks and drives like it’s brand new.

That said, it also has had at least $5000 worth of work done to it under warranty, including new front control arms, an entire new clutch assembly and master slave cylinder, new blower motor and fan and new window regulator.  On top of the repairs, the 4.2L V8 is a very thirsty beast and it costs a second king’s ransom to lease and insure every month.

So – the question isn’t whether or not to buy it out or extend the lease.  I won’t own this car one second out of warranty and I don’t see any point extending the lease on a 2008 when you can spend the same money leasing a newer model.

The question is – where do I go from here?  November isn’t exactly the best time to be putting a new car on the road in this part of the world.  Hell, I’m not even close to being convinced that I want a brand new car.  This was my first new, never driven by anyone else, vehicle.  Definitely the nicest car I’ve ever owned as well. I previously had a nice 2004 Infiniti G35 I picked up off of Leasebusters after some chump put $7000 down, didn’t drive it and then walked away.  Prior to that I had a well used Integra that simply wouldn’t die no matter how much it was abused. Previous rides are of varying levels of embarrassment and, for that matter alone, deemed irrelevant.

What else has the style, handling and versatility of the S5?  I’ve toyed with the idea of a GT-R, but those things are now almost $130K here (taxes in).  I am going to have a hard time justifying spending $100K on anything given the (i) state of the roads (i) lack of parking lot manners (iii) inadequacy of driver training and (iv) lack of traffic violation enforcement for anything other than speeding in a straight line on an empty road.

Do I insist on AWD?  I think it’s brilliant. especially after driving the G35 (not to mention having to dig it out of the driveway numerous times).  Do I suck it up, put on my big boy pants and get a 9114S?  Do I buy a winter AWD vehicle like a used FJ Cruiser and then look for a three season, perfectly balanced, gently used and good for the occasional track day, as yet to be determined, second car?  I find myself looking at 993 Turbos online fairly often.

This isn’t about money.  It is, however, about smart money.  I’m barely over 40, gainfully employed, have my own hair and am financially secure.  That said, I don’t need a bright orange lambo in the driveway in order to impress the neighbours, the ladies or both.

Steve Answers:

I see you are suffering from Audi syndrome. Symptoms include but not limited to…
  1. Bitching about the lack of reliability.
  2. Bitching about the cost of repair.
  3. Delusions of grandeur involving even more expensive vehicles… all of which have abysmal ownership costs.
  4. Inability to perform simple addition
  5. Bitching, bitching, moaning, whining, and even more bitching!
So let’s get to the point…do you like the car?
If so then keep it. The maintenance costs will likely cost less than the monthly payment. Plus if we’re talking about ‘smart money’ then leasing should be as far away from your vocabulary as Mercury is from Pluto.

I would look at lowering the overall costs by opting for a good independent shop that specializes in Audis. Subscribe to a few forums that are Audi-centric. Figure out what parts companies offer high quality replacements for the lackluster and under-engineered components… and have at it.

Sajeev Answers:

Wow, that’s a nice list of things to fix under warranty! You and Jack Baruth can trade war stories on your S5 mechanical woes, except he dumped the green monster pictured above.  He wisely moved onwards and upwards to Panther Love…via Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited, son! (HINT- HINT)

We all know that modern German cars are absolute crap relative to their Japanese and American counterparts.  Fine.  But I am still dumbfounded as to why modern German cars eat through control arms in the infancy of their lives. Two Benzes in the Mehta family, a friend’s BMW, another friend’s VW, and your Audi. And here I was bitching because the complex suspension in my Lincoln Mark VIII needed a full rebuild after 10 years and 130,000 miles on the road!

Short answer? Just lease another Audi. You need them, and I don’t know if a BMW will charm you enough to justify jumping ship. I suspect your gut is telling you the same thing, especially if you love AWD as much as I envision.

As to your reference of smart money?  Join me in the ranks of stupid cheap Ford Ranger/Toyota Tacoma ownership, but go ahead and spring for a 4×4. Keepin’ it too real?  Stick with the four ring brand, and buy according to your pocketbook and what has the sweetest lease deals at the time of your visit to the dealership.


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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Shanghai & New York Autoshow: Ask, And You Shall Receive Fri, 15 Apr 2011 20:02:52 +0000

This coming week is the week when all car manufacturers wish they would have a split personality.  The New York Auto Show and the Shanghai Auto Show will take place in the same week. Jack Baruth will take Manhattan. (Hey, Jack: The famous Headquarter’s “Steakhouse” is right next door to the Javit’s Center.  Scores is just a few blocks south.) I’ll take Shanghai and my camera. I’m sure Jack will come equipped. Maybe.

As a special service to the Best & Brightest,  YOU can put in requests for what we shall take pictures of – apart from the obvious.

We’ll try to fulfill all requests – to the best of our abilities.

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Born On The Cob: 680 Miles With E85 Mon, 01 Nov 2010 18:11:36 +0000

Last week, I reported on my decision to use E85 fuel in my 2009 Town Car for a week or so. How’d it go? Well, as it so happened, I accidentally veered off the road while texting and killed a

pretty solid “sexting” session with one of automotive journalism’s most prominent, and beautiful, distaff contributors. (I apologize for the placement of the “jump” there, but I’ve been told to “get my clicks up” or something to that effect.) Back to the math.

In the original article, I indicated that my “target mileage” to break even with E85 usage was 17.8mpg, based on my gasoline mileage of 21.4 average and the $2.29/$2.79 pricing of E85 and 87 octane fuel. The first tank was very promising; I averaged 18.1mpg with no difficulty.

The second tank was still $2.29, but gasoline was $2.63. This made my target mileage 18.6mpg, but from the moment I refilled the mileage began dropping precipitously, eventually settling at 16.4. Worse yet, twice during my morning commute I noticed a low-speed stumble. Was it because I had fuelled up at a different E85 station?

Over the course of the first 28.5 gallons, I averaged 16.4 mpg total. My third fillup, still priced at $2.29 but this time facing a gasoline price of $2.87, came just as temperatures in Ohio fell to the 45-degree Fahrenheit range. A Halloween weekend of serving as a designated-driver taxi for some female friends found me pulling into my driveway at 3:05AM, having burned thirteen more gallons and lowered my overall mileage to 15.7. There was a persistent smell of alcohol in the car, but this turned out to be due to the “to-go cup” of Abolut Apeach that somebody spilled down her costume. It turns out there was no cotton between her and the seat to absorb the drink, but I’m told that vodka can sterilize almost anything, including corrected-grain leather.

Today’s commute, done with the windows down just in case I got pulled over by the Ohio Highway Patrol, raised the average back to 15.9 and burned all but a gallon or so of fuel. I’m now sitting in a corporate cafeteria doing the math. A rough total of 42.5 gallons, purchased for $97, carried me approximately 675 miles. Assuming there would have been negative temperature effect for using standard gasoline, something of which I am not completely certain, I would have needed 31.5 gallons of gasoline to cover the same distance. Averaging out the cost of gasoline over the past eight days, I would be looking at about $87.

This is the kind of sample size and scientific methodology that probably makes Michael Karesh vomit directly into his pocket protector, but if you want some genuine, peer-reviewed literature, I suggest you read Social Text. The raw numbers indicate that it cost me ten bucks to run E85.

The intangibles aren’t as clear-cut. Using E85 decreases my range, shortens my refuel interval, and possibly causes the Townie to be a bit upset in the mornings. On the other hand, it raises the price of food, and I’m told that’s about all this country exports nowadays, so that’s a positive thing. right?

I’m semi-tempted to keep running the yellow-handle fuel for a week or so more. I will probably go through another 30 gallons or so before I leave for Toronto on Friday for another weekend catastrophe. If I can find an E85 station in Buffalo I might be able to run the Lincoln on corn for my entire trip and purchase no fuel at all in tax-rapacious Ontario.

I will leave the last word to one of my Halloween party pals. When informed that her short-wheelbase limo for the evening was running on alcohol, she frowned for a moment: “What are we going to drink, then, if the car drinks all the good stuff?”

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Adrian Sutil Is No Sergei Rachmaninoff… Music and Driving Sun, 31 Oct 2010 18:27:01 +0000

After this week’s article on Sergei Rachmaninoff and his connection to the world of automobiles, I thought it might make sense to look around to find other interesting music/auto combos. I ended up constructing a mental two-axis graph in my head, where X was musical ability and Y is driving talent. Some people, like Damon Hill, are close to the left side of X and pretty far up on Y; others, like noted collector and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, are the reverse. I think of myself as being more than halfway up Y but less than halfway along X; you can decide for yourself where the autojourno group Exhaust Tones would place.

Since this is a car blog and not MOJO magazine, however, we’ll focus on the best driver we can find with musical cred, and that is… Force India stalwart Adrian Sutil.

Sutil’s parents were professional musicians and he pursued the concert piano path until his fourteenth birthday or thereabouts. I have not been able to find any recordings of him playing “proper” music; in all the available YouTube and other vids, he’s goofing off in one manner or another. It’s clear, however, that he can operate a keyboard with reasonable facility.

As a driver, Adrian is perhaps a bit too cautious and methodical; just what you would expect from a child prodigy piano player. This season is his best yet and he’s made short work of his teammate, ol’ V. Liuzzi. Liuzzi personifies that old joke, “He’s the driver of the future… and he always will be.” He’s unlikely to ever sit atop the Formula One world, but make no mistake: just to get an F1 test drive requires talent, discipline, and development of almost unimaginable proportions, and Sutil’s well beyond test-driver status.

It’s reasonable that talented musicians would do well driving, and vice versa; they are both fine-motor activities which require a solid sense of timing and the ability to pick up subtle cues from the surrounding environment. There’s courage required for both, I suppose; I am far more nervous playing a small gig at a restaurant or bar than I am when racing. Unless you’re a recreational autocrosser or solo performer, chances are that you are part of a team in both activities, and your interactions with that team will determine how you fare. Imagine what the Beatles could have given the world if they’d been able to put up with each other for another decade; imagine what Fernando Alonso could have accomplished with McLaren had he not felt slighted in favor of the local boy.

It goes without saying that both musicians and drivers can be difficult, to put it mildly, and that both are prone to self-destructive behavior (Kurt Cobain, meet James Hunt). Still, there’s solid money to be made, and respect to be earned, if you show up every day and do your best for a long time (Pat Metheny, meet Mark Martin).

If I had the chance to have truly world-class talent in either activity, I think I’d pick driving. As wonderful as it is to stand in front of a crowd and play great music, there’s something majestic about winning a race that soars beyond any mere entertainment. Perhaps it’s competition, perhaps it’s mortality. Your mileage may vary.

The real question is this, however: What does it mean when you have three Godin Synth Access guitars (two LGX-SAs and an LGXT) but can’t afford to put new back tires on your Porsche? I’d better come up with a few more decent article ideas, pronto:

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Ask The Best & Brightest: How Fast Should A Cop Car Be? Tue, 26 Oct 2010 15:00:24 +0000

So there I was, minding my own business, driving down the road, enjoying the new Isobel Campbell record and relaxing in the right lane, when I saw two Crown Vics from the local sheriff’s department running up hard behind me, lights, sirens, the whole deal. I moved halfway onto the shoulder to let them by, and then, motivated by nothing more than a love of mayhem, decided to follow them for a while.

The two sheriffs were pushing up to as much as ninety miles per hour in-between clumps of stopped traffic. I loafed along behind them at a distance that allowed those drivers to get started again before I went by. I never went as fast as the cops did, but I never went as slow as they did, either. Over the course of about eight miles, I watched them repeatedly come to screeching brake-and-swerve stops before picking their way through the cars, almost always in a manner that indicated they weren’t looking any further ahead than a few car lengths. Twice the second cop nearly, er, buttslammed the first, usually while applying some pretty heavy-duty steering input in concert with full ABS.

By the time the twin Vics screamed off onto a side road, tossing dirt and rocks in their wake, I was of the opinion that these “trained” drivers would have been out of their depths in NASA’s HPDE 1 group. They repeatedly endangered their own lives and the lives of others… and when I say that, you know some serious idiocy is going down, right? They were unable to separate their turn-and-stop motions. They ran too closely, which adversely affected their ability to make intelligent choices in traffic and dramatically increased the likelihood that they would strike either an innocent bystander or each other.

Perhaps the most damning statement I can make about their ability was that I had no trouble keeping up with them, and I never found myself coming close to other cars or experiencing the sky-high closing speeds they were creating. By running without lights and just working steadily through traffic at 70 mph or so, they would have made better time than they did by gas-and-braking their way down the road. Given a day or two at BeaveRun’s Vehicle Dynamics Facility, I could have completely straightened those two cops out… but I’m no more likely to assist the police than my personal hero, Professor Griff, would be. I’m here to fight the power, yo.

I did find myself thinking that it was a good thing these cops didn’t have any more horsepower than they did. Equipped with HEMI Chargers or Caprice PPVs, these cops would have been hitting 110 or 120 between the gaps. Somebody could have been badly injured.

We already accept, as a society, the idea that it’s better to restrict the capability of machines than to properly train their operators. (See: speed limits, gun control, the OSHA.) What if we simply extended this idea to include law enforcement? In other words, what if we slowed down the cops to protect the innocent? What say you?

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Take A Chance On E(85) Mon, 25 Oct 2010 14:00:55 +0000

You’ve heard the old joke about ham and eggs, right? The chicken is involved, and the pig is committed? Well, I’m going to give ethanol a shot for a while and report the details to all of you. I’m involved, and my Town Car is committed.

There are three E85 stations within five miles of my house. Two of them are operated by the Kroger grocery chain. E85 pricing is perhaps the one thing in America more subject to political and economic meddling than gasoline pricing, but it’s currently at a point where it could make sense to run it.

To find out for myself, I’ve run my 2009 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited down to below “E” and refueled with E85. On October 24, 2010, E85 was priced at $2.29 locally for me, compared to $2.79 for 87 octane gas. My Town Car reports 21.4 miles per gallon in mixed-use driving, usually running between 75 and 85 on the freeway and with about five surface street miles for every fifteen ones on the Interstate.

I estimate that I need to average 17.8 mpg in order for E85 to “balance out” under these conditions. I’m scheduled to drive about 600 miles in the next seven days, so on Monday I will come back and tell you how I did.

No, this isn’t particularly scientific, and it ignores the other potential costs of E85 — wear on the engine, fuel system damage, food prices in Zimbabwe, and so on — but it’s a start.

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