The Truth About Cars » W Christian Mental Ward The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +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 » W Christian Mental Ward Latest Harebrained LeMons Scheme: It’s A K Car, Pass It On Tue, 30 Apr 2013 10:45:16 +0000

As with most harebrained schemes, this one started on innocently enough. But like a  Sorority President’s profanity laced email, the greatest K Car ever raced is making its way across America. Like the video reading by Michael Shannon, it is bringing all who experience it the same joy and probably more profanity.

But unlike those “awkward and boring” folks at the U of Maryland, it’s a known fact LeMons racers hold their liquor better than any college Greek could aspire to, but that ability spawns troubling ideas.

It all started here when 24 Hours of LeMons veteran Bob Mitchell had an idea:

We have this silly K car.  Ron is rebuilding the engine.  We are racing it at CMP for the season opener -an all girl team.  I have a vision of the K car getting passed around for the season.  It’s free.  Come get it.

 Race it and give it to someone for the next race.   It must be passed on to another team after you race it.   

 It has a title if you’re into that sort of thing.. 

 First come, first screwed.”

That brainstorm produced a worse more awesome follow on from Neal, a left coaster:

How cool would it be if the K Car showed up at every race or nearly every race across the country. Passed from one team to the next, one race to the next…”

It turns out, it is very cool indeed.

After competing in three of the 24 Hours of LeMons races this season, the K is still running strong.

Well, it’s running; very rich apparently. This past weekend Justin “psychoboy” Howe and his inexplicably patient fiancé loaded his Dodge Sprinter and drove from OKC to Rolla, Missouri, for the next leg in the wagon’s journey.

“I only get one day a week off work, and I spent it picking up a free race car…”

“…I’ve signed titles, I’ve handwritten bills of sale on a receipt in the rain, but I’ve never bought a car merely by accepting a single key living on a black zip tie…”

Read that story here.

This weekend, my good friend Justin and Team OK-Speed will deliver the K to Eagle’s Canyon Raceway. At the wheel will be team pit-mates; the bacon-loving, snake-oil-brewing Team Tetanus. If you have an iPhone or Droid you can follow the action live with this app.

There is still a chance to get in on this rolling piece of Crapcan history. Pay for a seat, or better yet, grab some friends, a trailer, and get some race gear. Or simply follow the saga here.

Again, Neal from the original bad idea thread:

“…I would say it seems impossible but, c’mon, this is Lemons. When it comes to bad ideas…NEVER GIVE UP!”

And they haven’t. Additions include signatures from all the teams on the hood and a piggy bank for donations. After the season, the K will be sold, donated or scrapped and all the proceeds from the whole endeavor will go to Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

Rock on K wagon.

Picture courtesy of Alex Rashev Picture courtesy of Justin Howe Picture courtesy of Justin Howe 1 Picture courtesy of Justin Howe 2 Picture courtesy of Justin Howe 3 Picture coutesy of Bob Mitchell Picture coutesy of Ron Vickers Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 9
Sunday At The Drive-In Sun, 28 Apr 2013 15:04:03 +0000

The best movie so far this summer is not really a film. Jaguar just revealed its new platform to promote the new Jaguar F Type. A 13-minute short film called Desire. It’s not original but it’s still better than GI Joe: Retaliation.

Should you see this new film? Hell yeah you should; it’s awesome. As if you were do something important today. HD version here. If you REALLY don’t know what to do today, here are a few more car movies worth watching.

I know right? Better than Oblivion at least, and it was free. Admit it, you want a Jag now don’t you. No? Let’s try the stunning and seductive music video from Lena Del Ray.

But Jaguar isn’t the first to do this. Back in the early part of this century, BMW released a series of brilliant films starring a then unknown Clive Owens as the ubiquitous “Driver”. The films were simply amazing. Yes, they were shameless promotion devices to sell their products but they featured big name stars, most notably Madonna.

As directed by her then husband Guy Ritchie, and it showed all three of them had a sense of humor. At least two of them still do.

Which brings me to the second brilliance behind the BMW “The Hire” films were high powered directors. My favorite of the series being this masterpiece from Kar Wai Wong, not because it’s a great car chase but because it is visually stunning and the story is sensual.

As you have no doubt guessed I am huge fan of the series. Originally it was released on the internet only. After the hype, the BMW Owners circle would send you a free DVD simply by typing in the VIN of your BMW.

Mine was en route the first week it was available and I subjected many a house-guest to the finer points of Clive’s chase scene in “Chosen’ via Dolby 5.1 surround.

The second “season” was centered exclusively on the newly released BMW Z4. I loved this one directed by Joe Carnahan called “Ticker” with Don Cheadle.

Later, Joe would bring us “The A-Team” and “Smokin Aces.”

This second series was produced by Ridley Scott, and he even directed a few. Which wraps this bit into a nice package, because this new short film, Desire, is also a Ridley Scott Associates Film. So original idea? Not at all. Entertaining? Certainly.

“There is always something waiting at the end of the road, if you’re not willing to see what it is, you probably shouldn’t be out there in the first place.”

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Abu Dhabi Dispatches: Porsche Track Nights Mon, 08 Apr 2013 07:41:46 +0000 Ever since the TTAC Corporate jet dropped me off in Abu Dhabi, a reoccurring criticism has been “Who cares about Abu Dhabi?” Is Abu Dhabi a center of automotive design? Renowned for its automotive innovation? A world class automotive manufacturer? A breeding ground for world class drivers? Not yet, but it has a race track.

Actually, there are two racetracks in the United Arab Emirates; the Autodrome in Dubai and Yas Island just outside of Abu Dhabi. The Porsche Club of the UAE let me to tag along at their Yas Island track event.

These are serious gearheads and this event was more than I expected. If you were hoping for a snarky piece bashin’ them there ferren’ people, just skip to the comments and call me a sellout.

My contact was Adel Arslan, the club secretary. Originally from Lebanon, he has lived in the UAE for some time and is a very proud ambassador for Porsche Club UAE. He joined the club in 2005 when he first bought a Boxster, moved up to a 996 and now operates a GT3. We met at the front gate as cars lined up. Any idea about an expose’ of hack safety, rich people bashing machinery and wannabes acting out “No Man’s Land” fantasies disappeared. This club operated with stunning efficiency, ruthless inspections and a minimum of Panameras.

The newest Formula 1 circuit, Yas Island is a 21-turn course that adds a chicane along the back straight for club events. The gates open precisely at 6 PM (night rental is cheaper). Adel stands guard; cars process in two rows and beautiful hostesses affix class stickers to each vehicle.

Adel enthusiastically recounts the club history, his progress and he introduces committee members. As he speaks he checks every armband, personally welcomes each participant and warmly greets his friends. A Brembo team handles tech, and a Pirelli team handles tire pressures. 76 cars are classed, inspected and staged in less than 50 minutes.

The largest car club in the Middle East, PC UAE has 12,000+ members since being established in 1998. When the Autodrome in Dubai was completed, they were the first club to rent it. Five members are now club racing.

Alongside Brembo and Pirelli, the Abu Dhabi Porsche dealer brought 14 cars and potential clients. They have special stickers, and each one will have an instructor with them in the car.

Actually, all of the novice groups have an instructor in the car and are following an instructor. The intermediate group is a lead follow format. No group has more than 4 cars. The advanced have been to at least three events, signed off by an instructor and are running a normal track day arrangement. Each session is an hour.

The drivers meeting is upstairs, there is catered food for purchase and the Porsche dealer has a table with a 25 percent discount on polos, pullovers and spill proof coffee mugs.

My friend and driving instructor Judy Faas once told me she gets novices on the track early. They aren’t listening, they are dreaming of the track. Then bring them back and show them how to go faster. The new folks are sent out. The old hands have a nice discussion about braking thresholds. 50 minutes later, the flag is waved, the novices come in and the intermediates are out. I am insanely jealous of the efficiency. US track days tend toward a migrating delay as it wears on. Not here.

Every instructor drives a GT3 except for 1 GT2 and a lone Cayman R. Adel is a blur of activity. He is instructing and jumping out during the advanced group with various passengers. During the final session, I hop in.

The Ambassador becomes The Driver. His front tires are pushing, but he knows how to handle his car. A GT2 passes us; The Driver becomes The Racer. Red mist is international and a grin comes through his helmet.

“Thees guy, he has turbo, but I have Brembos, they are tha sheet.”  The upgrade stops like an anchor. We close, out braking at the end of the back straight. Unable to put down all its power, the GT2 is stuck with us along the marina turns. It pulls slightly on exits, but Adel is able to out brake and reel it in. This continues until the main straight when the turbo pulls away.

After a cool down lap, back in the pits, Adel leaps from the car;

“Did jou see? I stuck with heem, all through the back!”

Racers are the same everywhere.

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Abu Dhabi Dispatches: How to get your 2013 Hummer (wait..what?) Sun, 03 Mar 2013 15:55:32 +0000

Yes, the death of the Hummer brand is old news and was long overdue. But in the vein of Tom Cruise, when your public image goes bust, go back to what you do best: GI Joe. I kit you not.

At the International Defense Expo here in Abu Dhabi, the folks at AM General had their booth, and with it sat a perfectly recognizable 4 door Hummer pickup. The info pamphlet proclaimed the 2013 HUMVEE C-Series is available for the first time to the general public. “Just add your own powertrain and you are ready to roll.” So when Arnold gets tired of his Unimog, he can order a new Hummer. I would suggest a Duramax, but we all know he’ll go for the LSX option.

Like the shadowy “Max” from The Losers, the actual origins of the civilian Hummer are murky, hard to pinpoint and full of folklore. See, the original Hummer was a demilitarized version of the M998 Series High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle, aka the HUMVEE, built and marketed by AM General. But the image associated with the Hummer in Gulf War I back in the early nineties prompted production of a version for the masses. AM General is a former arm of American Motors, and previous to that, Renault. In 1999 the GM Hummer, aka the H1, still designed and built by AM General, hit the market. There was also the H2 that was built under license by GM. The H3? Well AM General had nothing to do with that.

But those were the (hopefully) forgotten days of the sissy truck! Leather? SATNAV? OnStar? These have no place in an “…aircraft quality aluminum riveted body, exceptionally durable chassis, and a basic soft top structure that screams ‘Off Road Ready.’” The C (for Civilian) series, is still available for those who need the “…next Off-Road legend,” in order to safely arrive at JoS A. Bank in time for their next sale. The civilian market is actually still the only place left for the veritable M998. Because like it’s paternal grandfather, the General Purpose or “Jeep,” the world it was built for is no more.

The nature of modern urban warfare needs light, mobile, armored and (somewhat) mine resistant vehicles. Currently with US forces, this is being met by armored HUMVEES as they are phased out and the new MRAP variant Oshkosh M-ATV.

Like 24 Hour news, the military light truck market has gotten pretty crowded. Just a few of the available offerings on display at IDEX alone included; the previously mentioned Oshkosh, the Chinese Norinco CS/VA 1, the African made Paramount Marauder, the Spanish Vamtac Mi-3, even the crew at International makes a Special Operation Tactical Vehicle in conjunction with Navistar Defense. AM General itself has moved out of the military HUMVEE business with the construction of 22 prototypes of its Blast Resistant Vehicle – Off road (BRV-O) for the lucrative new DoD Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) contract.

They are clearly hoping there will be enough fragile egos and the insatiable need for “bro trucks” to provide AM General a market for the original Hummer. But if you need a Hummer and find even the C Series to be too little for your manly needs, also on display at IDEX is the MEV HUMMER HX™ T Limo, which according to their website is “…a vehicle, that the majority believe would have saved...” the GM Hummer brand. I will let you be the judge.

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Abu Dhabi Dispatches: How I Nearly Met Jack Baruth At The International Defense Expo Wed, 27 Feb 2013 16:00:14 +0000


A few days ago, I was at the International Defense Expo here in Abu Dhabi. It prides itself as “the most strategically important tri-service defence exhibition in the world.” Many tanks were on display, among them an armored Audi A8. I wanted to inspect that car a bit closer, when a man approached the white-haired product specialist of Audi. The man had a gold lame jacket, and he needed a haircut. They gave away free parabolic mikes at the AVIC booth, but being Chinese, it would only pick up the voice of the salesman. Here is the transcript.

Product specialist: “Mr.Baruth! Welcome to Abu Dhabi! If you are tired of lightweight cars, you have come to the right place!”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “Angry husbands and ex-girlfriends…I see. Really? An entire PR department? Interesting. I understand how that could be a problem. An Audi A8 Security could certainly address your safety issues. Please, this way.

This is the 2013 Audi A8 Security; it is equipped with our famous W12 engine with just under 500 horsepower. We offer a V8 as well, that engine is rated at 414. The V8 gets 21 miles per gallon, but the W12 consumes slightly more at 17. We feel the W12 engine is perfectly matched to the armament.”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “As a Phaeton owner, you certainly are very familiar with the W12, excellent. If I may show you some of the security features.”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “Of course the A8 Security offers protection to BR7. In the luxury “hard car,” or non-tactical armored vehicle market, no one has exceeded this rating. As you can see from the demo, the windows are multi-layered, polycarbonate, ballistic resistance class 10. The door utilized hardened steel and ceramics to achieve bullet resistance 9; so any pistol-wielding PR intern can be casually dismissed as you comfortably listen to your ironic Burt Bacharach. The entry and exit areas have layered features, so there are no seams for a jealous ex-lover to penetrate with a nail file, ice pick or even the standard NATO 7.62 round.”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “Additionally, the underside of the A8 Security is blast resistant, and is built with anti-magnetic plating. You can rest assured a frustrated former track day student will be unable to pull an Alexander Haig on you en route to Summit Point.”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “Other items of note include armor plating for the vehicle’s electronics and an optional emergency air system. This would be particularly helpful on your next drive to Los Angeles or even Cleveland. You may also enjoy a smoke extractor system should one of your future threats lady guests insist on smoking in your cabin.”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “Of course each of our A8 Security vehicles is manufactured in a separate location, guarded and secure. So should you encounter a Carrie Fisher-esque threat, she will be unable to research the weak points on your car, of which, as you can see there are none.”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “With your experience behind the wheel of many luxury vehicles, I can imagine that on occasion you might enjoy being chauffeured. If I may call your attention to the interior of the A8 Security; the exterior dimensions make it the longest vehicle in the high-security segment and this translates to more interior room. The seats have available heat and massage options, as well as a footrest made available by moving the front passenger seat forward and folding it from the back. Should you reconfigure the seat for more …um-hem, shall we say…’rambunctious’ activities with one of your lady friends, there is a memory function. Very popular in the Saudi Arabian market … who has time to remember all the positions, right?”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “Did you say flash bang? Very funny! Speaking of which, the price is …”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “… of course, of course, how gauche of me. I you had to ask and all that. We will settle with your assistant. Excellent! A perfect choice! If I may escort you to our reception area we can set about the process of customizing your new A8 Security to your specifications…”

Baruth: [Unintelligible.]

Product specialist: “…I am sorry, this is quite embarrassing, but I do need to take this phone call…

…Hello…mmmhmmm…I see…Yes, he is right here…but he…it’s just… Wie bitte? Natürlich, ich verstehe. Alles klar. Kein Problem. Machen wir. Tschau mit au. Tschö mit ö. Wiedersehn mit iedersehn.”

Product specialist: “…Mr. Baruth, this is a bit embarrassing, but I was unaware it was the Porsche PR department. I am sure you know about our tangled management roots, I am afraid I will be unable to sell you a secure vehicle today. Perhaps the folks at Lincoln can help you out.”

Baruth: [Redacted.]

Product specialist: “Now, now, Mr. Baruth. How do they say? Panther love, ja! Have a safe trip home, a very safe trip.”

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Abu Dhabi Dispatches: How Cadillac Markets To The Truly Affluent Sat, 02 Feb 2013 12:59:32 +0000


I got to attend the 2013 Abu Dhabi Golf Championship two weeks ago. Let me be blunt, I hate Golf. I don’t know if I hate because I am no good or I am no good because I hate it, but I do know it is slow, so I don’t play, and I certainly don’t watch it on TV. I would rather watch fishing. I watched McIlroy and Tiger not make the cut for a few holes and then headed to the vendors village to watch Cadillac sell cars to the Arabs.


Tiger on 18. Camera by Apple

If you want to benchmark whether you truly are the Standard of the World, there is no better venue than the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. Actually, there is. Venues like the Waste Management Phoenix Open, or the Farmers Insurance Open, pay more than $6 million. Not that Tiger Woods did care. Abu Dhabi had to pay him $2.8 million just to show up. Tiger stumbled over a local rule that had something to do with balls stuck in sand, and could repair to his suite.

Club house, not by Chrysler

Standard-setting Cadillac is not the title sponsor of the event. To be able to afford this expensive honor, you must be a big bank like HSBC. Their sponsorship fee for Abu Dhabi dwarfs in relationship to the $1.9 billion in alleged money laundering fines for which HSBC was shaken down by a nearly insolvent U.S. government that needs a lot of cash after bailing out GM. Cadillac was a simple sponsor in Abu Dhabi, a distinction it had to share with a local real estate developer, a hotel, and a struggling Swiss watchmaker called Rolex. Cadillac made the best of it, even if the effort looked somewhat disconnected. The entrance to the village featured a display of their sedan offerings, including a blacked out V Spec.

New country, same swag

GM is pushing hard to increase its Middle East market share, which is teensy by world standards. I have seen more Dodge 1500 crew cabs here than Escalades. You would think that Arabs are attracted by Cadillac’s baroque offerings, but most of the higher end cars come from Mercedes and BMW, and the big vehicles are Land Cruisers and Nissan Patrols.


Cadillac is pushing a luxury car lineup, and a golf championship would appear to be the right demographic. But the effort, like their marketing, was half-hearted across the field, and confusing. A hole in one from the 7th tee would have netted the pro a free XTS. The very car was parked right there, along with a huge poster, barking “SCORE A HOLE IN ONE. WIN A CADILLAC XTS.” In case someone did not get the memo. Cadillac could take the car back home.

2013, in Abu Dhabi …

Instead of marketing to sheikhs, Cadillac attracted kids and expat low-lifes like me: Inside the vendors village was a tent featuring a full motion race simulator with three screens and speakers. (Planning session in Detroit: “Can them Ay-rabs drive at all?” “Don’t worry, we’ll teach ‘em!”) The young attractive crew offered test drives around a simulated Yaz Marina Formula 1 Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The motto over the simulator proclaimed the “Achieve Perfect Control” and “Enjoy the Ride.” Oddly enough, the simulator was not a CTS-V, it wasn’t even a Caddy. It was a Corvette.

Two years earlier, in China ….

There was a warm up lap, followed by three hot laps. Any time under 1:10 got you’re a prize pack of a backpack, Calloway Golf Shirt, pullover sweater and hat all emblazoned with the Cadillac logo. With the reputation of TTAC on my shoulders I pulled two 1:06s and a 1:05. I could take to my Abu Dhabi home a pile of swag that would have received sneers in the poorer parts of Brooklyn. Later I would try again for a sub minute time and fail miserably. I was on track for a 1:03, but I let the rear step out on the final slow left bank and took a minor Off Track Excursion. I failed to achieve perfect control, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the ride.

Standard of the affluent world? Ford used a racing simulator two years ago to market its Focus to the Chinese masses at the Shanghai Motor Show. It was made by a TTAC commenter, Perisoft. Bertel drove it, a guy who rarely drives. Two years later, what looks like the same sim is used to sell Cadillacs to Sheiks?  Too bad GM isn’t building ships for the Navy:

“Sub Standard of The World” would have a nice ring to it.

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TTAC Has A Correspondent In Abu Dhabi, And He’s Mental Tue, 29 Jan 2013 13:47:21 +0000

Abandon all hope: Mental Ward is now TTAC’s man in Abu Dhabi and surrounding sheikdoms  For the next year, or until they kick him out, Mental will deliver a sandstorm of desert dispatches. Here is the first.

There are more than a few web sites dedicated to abandoned exotics in the Middle East.

They – cars and websites – are everywhere. What you don’t expect here is an abandoned hoopty. Last week I was getting my race bib for the Dubai marathon and I saw this beauty. When I returned on the day of the race, I got pictures. You have to hand it to the Sheikhs: Even their hoopties are classy – in a way.

No amount of internet research can tell me how many of these Gazelle kits cars were made, but the design is still available. Originally made by famed kit car maker Fiberfab, they were one of the many groups that entered into the business offering rebodies for Beetles, this one being a tribute to the 1929 Mercedes SSK.

This particular beauty has forgone or lost the exhaust manifolds under the front fender. The under dash speaker has fallen, as well as some of the insulation. The tires are still good, but by now flat spotted. The car is parked slightly out of the space and at an angle that would indicate it no longer operational. Normally, an air cooled VW can be fixed, but in the time I have been here, I haven’t seen a single one. Sand and air cooled, probably not a winning combination.

I cannot imagine this car belonging to a person of privilege. Would get caught in anything less than the real 1929 SSK, parked on a yacht in Saint Tropez. The UAE is nation of immigrants, however. They import everything here, including people. There are currently 3,212,000 immigrants here, and that translates to over 71% of their population that originated in another place.

I can picture a young hardworking man, who set off from Bangladesh. He arrived and found grueling work in construction, but developed skills and slowly moved up the ladder. Eventually he saved enough money between his rent, food and sending his check home to purchase his own transportation, and leave the cattle cars of the busses behind. Instead of a reverse engineered Honda motorcycle from China, his eyes settle on the lovely lines of a swoopy convertible promising old world luxury and German reliability.

He is cruising proudly in his convertible feeling similar to the $375K Rolls Cabriolet next to him. I can sense his hopelessness as the sand eats his retro-roadster – for desert, so to speak. The car sputters, stops on the secondary road. His limited mechanical knowledge is exhausted. He doesn’t have the resources to retrieve the car, so his pride and joy now sits abandoned like Fry’s dog, awaiting his return, as it slowly is filled with sand.

Abu Dhabi Dispatches Abandoned Gazelle. Picture courtesy Mental Ward Abandoned Gazelle. Picture courtesy Mental Ward Abandoned Gazelle. Picture courtesy Mental Ward Abandoned Gazelle. Picture courtesy Mental Ward Abandoned Gazelle. Picture courtesy Mental Ward Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 16
Capsule Review – 1999 Land Rover Discovery Series II, AKA – The Great Southwest Escape. Take Two Sun, 20 Jan 2013 16:09:16 +0000

Yesterday, we witnessed Sandy being picked up by Mental Ward. Today, we follow both on the roadtrip through America. Will they make it?

Just east of Philly, it had started snowing pretty well. During the first (of many) fuel stops, I pulled the light covers. At speed, the lights off the snowflakes resembled the cockpit view of the Millennium Falcon making the jump to light speed. It was simply awesome. Snow? HA! Disco Sandy positively yawned at the attempt and sped through the Pennsylvania night.

Comfortably perched in the high leather seat, I began to grasp the concept of “command seating” outside of marketing buzzwords. Sorry, you don’t have it. In fact nothing else outside of the starship Enterprise has command seating. The window frame is just above my hipbone with miles of headroom. The dash is low and the gauges succinct but informative. The seat is as comfortable as you expect British leather to be. There is an armrest, cup holders, dual sunroofs, suspension adjustments, and my favorite; a curry hook. 4,500 pounds of steel and three locking differentials certainly ads to your swagger. Exit the vehicle and hear air pumping the suspension level. You drive a sedan, you pilot a race car, but you command a Land Rover.

Am I hearing banjos?

By this point, my friends on Facebook and message board were starting to question my sanity.  Going through a bit of  West Virginia, even my iPhone questioned my sanity and violently shook its head. I could easily answer all of the questions, texts and posts during the frequent fuel stops, instead of while driving. With a buried foot climbing the Smokey Mountains, I was averaging a dismal 11 MPG. I didn’t realize unless the climate control in “econ” the AC is always on. I remedied that and road flattened, yielding a more respectable 13 MPG. Even with a 25 gallon tank, the stops came often. Thank god for the Truckmaster Fuel Finder!

John Mellencamp did not meet me, I was disappointed

By Indiana, the Red Bulls weren’t cutting it. I found a well-lit truck stop, crawled into the back seat and grabbed a few hours’ sleep. The next morning I employed the Hurley Haywood trick of fresh under wear and socks, grabbed a coffee and setoff racing the sun to Sooner state.

Blagojevich offered me a senate seat if I gave him the Disco, I declined

For an off-road vehicle, Disco Sandy is just absurdly competent for this kind of trip. The mileage never got any better, but it swallowed tarmac with alarming ease. The cabin is quiet, the stereo good and the whole affair is not physically taxing at all. Just outside of Indianapolis, a clear blue sky greeted me for the remainder of the trip. The radio was abuzz of  a seriously troubled Jersey shore and lower Manhattan. At each fill-up I answered updates, and felt a bit guilty compared to some of my east coast friends.

Louie Louie

I made Missouri before lunch. Sandy’s sweet spot was 75, but I wanted to get home, so I pushed it. Oklahoma by midafternoon and my last food/fuel stop was the McDonalds that arches over I-44 in Vinta OK. 20 miles from home the sun was setting. I parked my new acquisition in the drive as the trick-or-treaters came in droves,  three hours before my flight would have landed.

You want fries with that?

A week later, Sandy carried the wife, our dogs and me to Colorado. The vast cargo space immediately earned the canine seal of approval.  I have pulled my big dog out of the driver’s seat twice because she thinks she is coming with us. After that trip, my wife laid claim to Sandy, selling her G35. The next trip was to Atlanta and the Carolinas for Thanksgiving. A month later, the missus and the dogs headed to Omaha for Christmas. Sandy ferried 2 pregnant sisters shopping and made food runs for the whole family.

Her new home

She’s one of us now and I love the silly girl more than I should. During our 11 year marriage, my wife has always feared any car out of warranty. The confidence Sandy inspires in her is strange. Chris joked that this Disco was built on a Wednesday under BMW’s very strict German supervision before Land Rover lost their character; “No! Unacceptahble! Beeldt it cohrrectly! Du blöde Kuh!”

The ups? Huge cargo capacity, great long range travel and it can tow. It seats seven with and each row is stadium style seating. Our two big dogs and a precocious Dachshund fit easily; along with luggage and anything else.

The downs? I better get a Valentine’s Day card from BP after all that money. Even without the safari rack there is no room for a Disco in our garage. The dash is too close and too low. On the passenger side I hit it with my knees quite constantly, and that is at just 6’0. In contrast, my 5’4 wife literally has to climb into the seat using the window frame and interior door pull to pull herself up. It is a rolling brick and the slightest crosswind knocks it around, and  in Oklahoma, yeah, you notice. This particular Disco is not without issues. The trans mission overheat sensor is bad,  the passenger O2 sensor is bad, the sunroofs don’t work, one rear lock is wonky and the brake pads were meant to tow. They need some heat before they grab, so that first stop sign in my neighborhood is always an eye opener. Finally, if I make reference to the curry hook one more time, my wife may impale me on it.

Are we going for a ride?

All of those quirks just add to her character, which she has in droves. I suspect all of the Discos have some character, they certainly have the British sensibility and feel, you know, stiff upper lip and all that.

Now I might not be doing mother earth any favors by driving such a pig, but I do consider it recycling in a sense. Besides, she started it.

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Capsule Review – 1999 Land Rover Discovery Series II, AKA – The Great Southwest Escape. Take One Sat, 19 Jan 2013 17:39:21 +0000

It’s Sandy

Murilee Martin and his merry band of adventurers have already weaved a fascinating tale of a harrowing escape from the vile Super storm Sandy after the Lemons Halloween Hooptiefest in New Hampshire. I have a much less exciting tale, but along the same ilk.

I’m on a boat!

Between deployments, I jumped at the chance to take the helm of the Three Pedal Mafia’s infamous 72 Sea Sprite. After an exceptional weekend, we had the trailer pointed south to Philadelphia. Halfway back, Southwest Air (the one with the on-board comedians) lets me know my flight to OKC has been cancelled. No problem, I was staying the night with team hotshoe Chris and gorgeous girlfriend/team/mate Chrissy. My hosts agreed to put me up an additional night. Monday was lackadaisical and included a trip to the Liberty Taproom for dinner.

Obligatory Facebook photo, taken blurry by the bartender

Over a few beers, Chris casually mentioned he was selling his 1999 Land Rover Discovery. This was his race support/tow pig since his team invited me to co-drive the mighty Wartburg in 2009.

Mad scientists all of them


He had owned the Disco(very) for years, after a long search for exactly the right Disco. Loved and meticulously maintained by the original owner, all the most common problems of these vehicles, including the nasty head gasket and front axle, had already been addressed. He was letting it go to make room for the upgraded tow pig, a Yukon 3500 Denali.

With no other words from SW, I presumed my flight was as scheduled. After a proper Philly cheesesteak lunch I was deposited 2 hours early at Philadelphia International. The Southwest counter was unlit and unoccupied. I called and was told all flights from that airport were cancelled. I was offered another delayed flight home late on Halloween the next day.  No thank you, I can rent a car and be home 2 hours before that one would land.

I called every freaking rental agency that had a kiosk.  All of them silently praised the clowns at Southwest, and openly wanted in excess of $600 for a tiny wheezing crapcan one way to Oklahoma. I then made what should have been my dumbest decision since refusing to go to the ER when a pneumatic cutoff wheel launched a chunk into my neck.

Plan B

“Hello? Chris? Yeah, you just sold a Land Rover.”

I sincerely figured at the price I was offered, I could drive the truck home, sell it and maybe makeup the gas money. My wife was less than confident;

“Just take the flight tomorrow.”

“What?!? Dangit Woman! I know how to get home. It’s a 13 year old British SUV with slightly less than 200,000 miles. What could possibly go wrong? “

By 6 PM EST I was rolling east in my new (to me) Land Rover, signed title and a freshly printed insurance card in the glove box.

I have to confess I knew almost nothing about Land Rovers , but having raced with Chris, I knew he was a stickler for maintenance and always very researched in his purchases. I have experience with British cars, so 187,000 miles scared me a bit. My teammate assured me he would never send me off across this great land of ours in a vehicle he didn’t trust.

The way home

In addition to being strict with maintenance, Chris also is particular about his modifications. My little Birmingham hottie was equipped with a 110 power inverter under the passenger seat which allowed me to keep my iPhone charged. The iPhone (the map was still by Google) informed me I had slightly less than 1,400 miles spread over 7 states to cover.

My parents had a vague inkling of where I was, so they were a tad worried. They called to check up on me. My plan induced laughter.

“You bought a car to drive home?”

“Um, no Dad, I bought a Land Rover. Cars are for peasants; this is quite simply the finest off road vehicle ever made.”

More laughter.  Apparently the over under from my family after the first flight cancellation was on me trying something like this. My Dad knew better.

Yeah, I was quickly smitten with my new purchase. I texted Chris; not only would I not be selling her, but she now had a name. In a nod to her golden color and the circumstances, she was now “Sandy.”

Sweeter than Pedro’s bike were Sandy’s official Land Rover bush grill guard and safari rack. Attached to both was a pair of Hella 700FF aux lights along with a pair of 550s mounted in the place of the original fogs. I could actually illuminate my home in Oklahoma from PA with all of these powered up.

Will Sandy destroy Mental’s marriage? Will it make good on a Land Rover’s reputation and die at the most inopportune moment? Will it duly serve Mental, even in the boring stretches between Columbus and Indianoplace? Tune in tomorrow for part two of the great Southwest Escape.

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Porsche Owners Are Jerks. Ask Me Why I know Fri, 24 Feb 2012 14:38:02 +0000

Unless you hate cars and live under a rock, you have undoubtedly seen the recent pictures of the Porsche 911 whose driver tried to take a shortcut through freshly poured concrete. It has been emailed, Facebook’d and even posted on my own message board with snarky comments about the arrogance and ignorance of Porsche owners.

With good reason, Porsche owners are jerks.

I should know, I am one. But, rather than use my car as an excuse to act like a Jersey Shore cast member, I try to be the exception. As a self-appointed representative of Porsche owners, you would think I find the behavior of these clowns annoying and a setback to my cause. I actually appreciate it.

When expectations are low, surprising people is easy. When you have manners, life becomes a seller’s market. When you have manners and a 911, life is like hocking free water at a Las Vegas 5K.

My friends delight in reporting every mis-driven 911. My El Camino and MG Midget stories don’t come close to generating the venom a stock Porsche comes with ex factory. Every karma-invoking Carrera story will be emailed, twittered and messaged with sneering joy.

I have met Porsche folks, they can be tools. Chances are the driver of the concrete-footed 911 was a S.O.B. and probably deserved it. Had this happened in a Camry, I would not have seen it, and neither would you.

It’s not the car’s fault. Chuck Norris drove one in Good Guys Wear Black. Like all well made things, 911s are a symbol of accomplishment, sought after by those who equate appearance with success. That is enough for self-entitled asshats to park a Porsche in handicapped space. When that happens, it will end up on the internet and emailed to me.

With a 911, you can tie young widows to railroad tracks, laughing maniacally while stroking your waxed mustache – people will nod knowingly, and say: “Yep, driving a Porsche.”

These stereotypes are OK, because they actually make me look better. Driving up to a business, intersection, or even an autocross; the immediate assumption is that I am a d-bag like the rest of them. The slow evolution of the 911 means few can tell that my car is 13 years old. An updated front disguises the rebuilt title and that I paid less for it than what a 3 year-old Honda Civic would have cost. The end result: I look like a choad, but I am really an enthusiast on a budget.

When I drive a 9011, and am respectful, I stand out.

An honest smile, firm handshake and deep southern manners make more of an impression when no one sees it coming. Coming from neutral, I can still make a good impression. But when I am pre-judged as a jerk, it works all the more. Let someone in front of you in traffic in a Subaru and it is appreciated (unless they are in a Porsche) but not shocking. But drive a Porsche, wave in the delivery box truck, and he is sincerely surprised. Give a genuine “thank-you” wave at the Buick who let you merge and get a real smile in return. It’s just not expected. See, I’m not a Porsche owner who learned manners; I am a well-mannered southern man who bought a Porsche. Aside from the fact that my Momma will still not hesitate to travel to Oklahoma and slap me for being rude, I discovered some time ago that it matters to be polite.

This past weekend on a trip, my tire went flat. Bright and early I was at a tire store seeking a rubber unicorn; a set of high performance tires in the middle of a Nebraska winter. The challenge compounded by the loathing on the manager’s face when I rolled up on the spare. Instead of demanding my car be ready within the hour, I actually acknowledged the task ahead of him and thanked him for the effort. Immediately, he was on the phone, found a set in his warehouse and had them on my car 4 hours later, for $100 less than the estimate. When he was done, I shook his hand, thanked him and left a good review online. Not extraordinary behavior, but miles away from what he expected when I pulled up.

I don’t feel bad about owning a Porsche. I certainly don’t get bothered by endless recounting of the endless idiotic exploits of the owners. So should you encounter one of these incidents, bust out your camera phone and drop me an email, text, or FB post; I probably owe that guy a thank you.

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My El Camino Is Cooler Than Your Hybrid Sat, 28 Jan 2012 14:44:21 +0000 Marketing hybrids is a challenge. You just can’t get past the one failing point of hybrids. Hybrid are simply not cool.

Deal with it. Do you know what is cool? An El Camino is.

Save your redneck jokes, my red El Camino was born cooler than your hybrid when it rolled off the Fremont California assembly line in 1966. Sure, all the Hollywood A-Listers have a Prius, or a Leaf, or an Insight. But I have rarely looked to those who occupy the gossip columns to cue my behavior. After all, I have been married for over 10 years, apparently 3 months is en vogue. The last time you saw an Elky with the Hollywood crowd was on “My Name is Earl,” incidentally, the story of moral virtues in pursuit of good karma.  I get it; it’s the mullet of cars, business in the front, party in the back and redneck all over. It doesn’t matter, my El Camino is cooler than your hybrid.

Hybrids are “in,” and owning anything less is considered unfashionable, irresponsible and it helps the terrorists win. This was the same line that was used to hawk giant SUV’s and the same celebrities drove them because they were safe. My El Camino was better than those as well. So while green hipsters glob onto this latest fad, I’ll keep my ‘neckmobile.

Making hybrids “cool” has degraded them into fashion accessories. An Elky was never the choice of the jet set, and you will never see Paris Hilton driving a pink one. No, an El Camino is a purpose made device. Utilitarian by nature, the El Camino was designed to reduce, reuse and recycle from the day it was sketched onto a sheet of draft paper. One device built to do the work of two, reducing the need for more. As any 1st grader can tell you, one is less than two. Any college activist will tell you, less is good and excess is bad. So the old Elky may not seem as cool on the surface, but by being less, it is good. Good is cool.

Hybrids are now built on existing platforms to have a driving feel like conventional vehicles, but at the expense of efficiency. A standard American pickup averages 15 MPG, the hybrid version yields a mere 5 MPG advantage. Perusing will show the folly of several hybrid options. After all these decades, my “personal pickup” still nets mileage in the high teens, almost par with the 20 MPG of a full size hybrid truck. Annually, a non-hybrid full size pickup or SUV will cost you around $3700 in fuel; a Hybrid will save $1300 a year. The small block Chevy in the Elky will consume $3200, less than the regular truck, but still a chunk over the $2400 you’ll feed a hybrid. But, my Elky cost 1/6th the price of a new hybrid. So in a hybrid you get 20/23 MPG, a cattle drive slaughtered for the interior and a roughly $13,000 premium. The return of investment on that vehicle is 15 years. By then something way more fashionable will have come along. Meanwhile, my 3600 lb beauty will continue being a simple honest transport. Honesty, like money, is also always cool.

Finally, despite all the talk, unless you live in the great Land Down Under, you can’t purchase a new El Camino. By rights, any Elky you lay your hands to is (to a degree) a classic. More so, since they don’t make them anymore, they are also a finite resource. You read that correctly, resource. If you can use it (remember, an El Camino is a tool), then it is a resource. Regardless, you have a period object of limited availability, like a collectable wine. It may not age well, but it will appreciate. My Elky bottomed out the depreciation curve when Gerald Ford was still president. So just like an old pair of jeans that still fit, my Elky is only getting better. Not just financially, but fashion-wise because it is a vintage piece. Those same hipsters who swear Hybrids are “in” also wear distressed clothes and have thrift shops all over the country prospering. Because vintage is cool.

So go ahead. Talk all about your regenerative braking systems that recover kinetic energy. Prattle on about your in car DVD, 16-speaker surround and hybrid electric drivetrain. It doesn’t matter. The Elky will still get thumbs-ups from truckers, frantic waves from small children and approving nods from bikers, hot rod owners and anyone working at the auto parts store. A hybrid will never generate that reaction, because no matter what the “in crowd” says, a hybrid is not cool, but an El Camino is.

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My Life With A Midget Fri, 20 Jan 2012 13:36:43 +0000 The 72 MG Midget beckoned to me from Craigslist like an opened pack of Oreos grinning from the cupboard. I ignored the wisdom of all my gearhead buddies, insisting the little yellow car would be different; it would not leak, not rust, and be as reliable as a nail.

Of course, it isn’t, it’s British. It stranded me six times, the lights don’t work and it usually requires help to start. That is life with an MG Midget.

But I was right. It is different.

You learn things with an MG, and not just “Never have an MG for a daily.”

You learn that most pickups are just too big. Not just Excursions and Escalades. In the Midwest, there is a preponderance of quad cabs heavy-duty pickups. You stare right at their lugs in the little car. Sure, it’s amusing at stop lights, but unsettling on the highway. I have developed a newfound dislike of 20-inch wheels.

You learn that a frown is impossible while driving, unless it is raining. In that case, the top is up and no one can see you.  Even then, you are probably laughing like a mad hatter.  At least that is what I did during record rainfall, flash-flooding and road closures last spring. That morning, I took the only vehicle at my disposal on my 33-mile journey to work.

Two of the highways were under water and impassable, resulting in a commute in an ill suited vehicle for twice my normal drive.

You learn that old British cars are terrible in the rain. You knew this, but you cannot embrace it until you have lived it.

The top is merely a suggestion, electrics are useless and it hydroplanes on any body of water bigger than a sponge.

Approaching a road underneath 2 feet of flowing water, I remembered this. I may be crazy, but I ain’t quite that stupid. As I waited for the traffic in the opposing lane to pass before I would execute my U turn, the aforementioned oversized truck rolled up behind me, unable to grasp my reluctance to pilot 49 inch-tall car into newly formed urban rapids. So the laughing may actually be a result of a mental condition, brought upon by some form of Chinese water torture while driving, or a pre-existing condition that led to the purchase to begin with.

You learn that MGs require commitment, and a Midget requires dedication just to enter the car. As a 40 year-old, 6-foot male, it does require some warm-up stretching to enter the vehicle, especially if the top is up.

You learn not to leave the top up because the charging system sucks.  The top prevents you from bump starting it.  The best hope is to push, leap in it Jackie Chan-style and pop the clutch. Ideally, this fires the motor and you race into the sunset in a plume of oil smoke, almost overcoming the embarrassment of the ordeal. This procedure doesn’t apply if you have friends, but they will soon abandon you.

Not because the car is heavy at 1600 pounds, but because they will be known as the guys or gals, (yes, it happened) who always push that dorky little car. Unless it is an extreme case, you are better off just pushing the thing yourself.

You learn to talk to strangers. There will be plenty of them. You have to be nuts, but you cannot be an introvert. At barely longer than a Suburban’s wheelbase, the height of a computer desk, and the width of a college cheerleader, an MG gets attention. You cannot fill it, wash it, or leave a restaurant without a comment. Miata owners wave, strapped-in children point excitedly and retirees nod knowingly.  If I wasn’t happily married I could parlay this little devil into several dinner dates. Cheap dinners at that, because an MG at a drive-in s much more fun than a minivan. Except when you don’t have a room and need a Minivan.

You learn that while this car makes you young, explaining it can make you old. Two twenty something’s stopped to compliment the car as I folded into it. “Cool car, what is it?” I smiled, “It’s a Midget.” They stared as blankly as they would at a typewriter. “An MG Midget.” I furthered. Nothing. I ended with “It’s an old British car.” They smiled and drove off. It was disappointing. Both were of drinking age. Also, I really could have used the help pushing. So if you hate feeling old, don’t buy an obscure little car that was born when you started walking.

Finally, you learn that aside from getting a daily driving lesson, none of this changes your perspective; it’s just where you take it and how much extra to build into the itinerary. With a more reliable vehicle in the stable, it has seen reduced usage, and as the leaves turn and the sun sets earlier, it will be spending more time in the garage. But maybe by spring, I can chase down that short in the headlight circuit.

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