By on December 3, 2015


The appeal of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle was once as much of a mystery to me as was the appeal of country music. As a teenager, I’d walk five miles in each direction just to sit briefly on a yellow RZ350 before the salesman shooed me out of the showroom. I was captivated by the names and the numbers of Japanese sportbikes: Ninja. GSX-R750. Interceptor. FZR1000. I bought my first sportbike (a 600 Ninja) in 1993 and what probably will not be my last sportbike (a VFR800 in the anniversary colors, which I insist on calling an “Interceptor” in conversation) in 2015.

I always had contempt for the Motor Company and its products. Next to these warp-speed machines, with their aerodynamic fairings and outrageous power and lamentable graphics, the V-Twins from Milwaukee seemed old. Stodgy. Slow. Demographically undesirable, the choice of white trash with factory jobs and Boomers with transparent orange bottles full of blue pills. The company itself was on welfare; it survived thanks to a tariff. Pathetic. It never occurred to me that I’d ever do so much as swing a leg over one.

Time, of course, has a way of reducing the most fervent youthful convictions to dimly remembered aversion, and then to nothing at all.

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By on December 2, 2015

Two weeks ago, the B&B took the time to educate me about license plate readers and their various extra-legal uses. As someone who has worked at least part-time in the tech industry since the mid-90s, I started thinking about what the cost would be of a distributed plate-tracking business. Eventually the readers will be smaller and less obvious, at which point you throw a couple of bucks to Uber drivers and the like to toss them on all four corners and send you the data.

Given enough sources, eventually you’d be able to have a pretty good database of personal movement in your chosen area. That data is certainly worth money to someone, whether that “someone” is a real-estate developer, a fast-food franchisor or a private detective. Short of writing legislation specifically to stop such activity, I don’t see how anybody’s going to stop that business model from eventually becoming a reality.

In the meantime, however, there’s already one entity that has access to a nontrivial database of ANPR information. Good news! At least one government official has proposed that this information be used to save you from yourself.

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By on November 26, 2015


Editor’s note: This article originally ran February 4th, 2015 and will likely be one of the all-time most read TTAC editorials for years to come.

If you’re a fan of automotive personality Matt Farah and/or his show, “The Smoking Tire”, you probably know that Matt recently bought a 1996 Lexus LS400 with 897,000 documented miles on the clock. That’s right. Do not adjust your television. That’s nearly a million.

You might also know that “The Driver”, Alex Roy, and I took the Lexus from Long Beach to Texas and beyond, finally coming to a halt in my hometown of Powell, Ohio. If you’re really up to speed on the adventures of the Million Mile Lexus, you know that it’s currently in the hands of Jalopnik contributor “Tavarish”, who drove it from Upper Arlington, Ohio to New York.

Take a minute and read the above paragraph again. I drove it to Powell; Tavarish drove it from Upper Arlington. And thereby hangs a tale.

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By on October 29, 2015


This is Part Two; Part One is found here —JB

The Best & Brightest didn’t contest my point too strongly earlier this week when I suggested that the American family vehicle of choice has long possessed familiar dimensions despite sporting a diverse variety of exterior styles, from “tri-five” to high-hip CUV. Some of you thought it was a point too trite to make — what’s next, some assertion on my point that family cars always have four wheels? — but I think most Americans believe there’s a genuine difference between a Ford Fairmont wagon and a Ford Edge CUV.

If, on the other hand, there is not a genuine difference, it raises the question: What external force constrains it thus? What’s so special about those “A-body” dimensions? What makes us return again and again to the scene of crime, across generations, both human and mechanical?

Or at least that is the question I thought I should be asking, prior to truly thinking about it.

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By on October 8, 2015

Volkswagen Beetle 1.8 TSI

This will likely come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who get your news through glass bottles tossed into the ocean and carried by persistent currents to the remote island on which you’ve been stranded by the crash of your FedEx plane, but Volkswagen is in a little bit of trouble due to some questions about diesel emissions. I think it’s a safe bet that the fellow I saw on Route 71 the other day with “TDI LOVE” as the license plate on his Jetta isn’t feelin’ it.

While the New New Beetle — now called just Beetle — was available as a TDI prior to the current kerfuffle, the version that I rented on Monday is powered by the same turbocharged gasoline engine that I liked in the Jetta TSI earlier this year. As tested, it’s $22,615.

So, should you buy one?

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By on October 2, 2015


In 1996, Ford sold about 28,000 Broncos. This was the same year the Explorer finally cracked 400,000 units, the vast majority of them XLT trim or above, and each one carrying a healthy markup over the Rangers from which they were unashamedly derived.

The Ford dealership where Rodney and I worked sixty-five hours a week to earn thirty grand a year stocked at least four Medium Willow Green Explorers with the XLT 945A Popular Equipment Package (PEP 945A) at all times and sometimes even a Medium Willow Green Explorer XLT with the lowbrow, cloth-seat PEP 941A, but we did not, I repeat, we did not stock the Bronco. In fact, during my year at the dealership, I only saw two brand-new Broncos come on the lot.

There was a reason for that.

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By on September 29, 2015


This past Sunday night, I wandered over to my local movie theater to catch Black Mass. Although I’m suffering from a bit of Joel-Edgerton-related-ennui lately and I never really got over the idea of Hey, that’s Johnny Depp in makeup, I had to admit that overall, it was a tightly plotted and thoroughly entertaining film. More importantly, it had an absolutely killer lineup of Malaise-era automobiles, including an utterly stunning ’78 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight with a white leather interior. In fact, until the moment that a 1980 Citation makes an unexpected and rather violent appearance on the scene, it’s nothing but wall-to-wall Seventies sedans. Just the way I like it.

I remember that as a child my grandparents complained about the squared-off, generic appearance of pretty much everything for sale in the post-Nixon era. I can sympathize a bit because although every car sold in the Fifties also looked just like every other car for sale, the general template of the Bel Air/Fairlane/et al was appealing and colorful and optimistic. But even if you don’t care for the ’74 Malibu Classic or the ’79 Granada, at least they had proportions that emphasized width over height. The worst of them had a certain dignity.

Not so with today’s rolling toaster ovens. We’re rapidly approaching the era where every single car for sale will be some variant on the almighty CR-V. The latest sales data from Porsche and MINI simply hammer that home, with a uniquely depressing twist.

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By on August 14, 2015

Might as well admit it: I have an unhealthy fascination with the service known as car2go. It’s just so… improbable. I’m pretty sure it began as a way to dump some Smart “ForTwo” inventory into service so the Daimler-Benz lines could keep operating at something like capacity. Since its inception, the service has been in near-constant flux: adding and removing services, changing the fees in predictable and unpredictable ways, suffering service outages, and generally perplexing its customer base, of which I am a devoted and unusually enthusiastic member.

car2go‘s newest change, communicated to me via email yesterday, concerns a significant reduction in their service area. After confirming that my usual lunch runs remain possible, I thought no more about it.

For a while, anyway.

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By on August 4, 2015


Last week, our own Doug DeMuro asked the B&B for their opinion on the stupidest automotive feature. He then gave his personal opinion as to what that feature might be. I’m here to tell you why he’s completely wrong, and why he’s probably also completely right.

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By on June 30, 2015


I grew up in the back of two-door family cars ranging from a ’67 Camaro to an ’83 Civic 1500 “S”. It never seemed like a hardship to me. Nor does it seem like a hardship to have my six-year-old son in the back of my Accord Coupe. He knows how to let himself in and out of the back seat. It’s no different from having a four-door sedan and letting him out of the back door. Ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t even think about it.

The other one percent of the time is when I clean the interior of the car. It takes the strength of Hercules and the flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil headliner to get the explosion of fast food, Legos, school paperwork, and miscellaneous unidentifiable items out of the cave behind the front seats. And then I have to condition the leather, you see, which would work better if my arms were between six and eighteen inches longer. So having done all that this past Sunday, I figured I’d do my other least favorite job: brake dust removal. I was already in a bit of a bad mood, crouching next to my Griot’s Garage bucket and shaking out my favorite horse-hair wheel brush, when I saw it.

Oh, hell no.

(Read More…)

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