No Fixed Abode: A Very Special Feature

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
no fixed abode a very special feature

Supposedly, there’s a Powerball ticket somewhere in this house. It’s Wednesday night as I write this, a few hours before the drawing. By the time you read this, you will know that I did not win the Powerball, and neither did you. I feel mathematically justified in believing that not a single TTAC reader is in any danger of actually winning the Powerball. Statistically speaking, about sixty of our readers this month are probably going to die behind the wheel at some point in their lives, but none of them are going to win the Powerball. Depressing, huh? Not that any of us are prepared for the life-destroying effect of being suddenly and publicly minted as a billionaire. Just imagine all of your friends disappearing and being replaced by a million times as many people who all despise you to the core of their souls.

It’s a shame that I’m not going to win the Powerball, because I’d probably spend a million dollars or so on buying, and restoring, a fleet of Volkswagen Phaetons. Instead of being known as “the idiot who had two new Phaetons,” I would be known as “the idiot who has twenty Phaetons in tip-top shape.” I’d be most interested in W12-powered examples with the four-seater package, but I’d have at least one of every major configuration. I’d lend them out, the way Matt Farah lent me his Million Mile Lexus this past January. I’d drive them myself. And I would once again be able to enjoy that singular feature of the VW Phaeton, the one thing that it did better than any other car in the world, even ones that cost much more.

Like most cars built in the past 60 years or so, the VW Phaeton has a movable driver’s seat. Like the vast majority of the cars built in the past 30 years or so, the VW Phaeton has a center console. Now pay attention, because this is the important part. In pretty much every car I’ve driven since the day I got my license, ranging from raggedy old Escorts to brand-new Rolls-Royces, there is a small gap between the driver’s seat and the center console. If you are sitting in any of those cars and you are holding your phone, or your keys, or your wallet, or anything else that is less than an inch and a half wide, and you drop that item, it will fall between the seat and the center console. At that point, you will discover that, although the gap between the driver’s seat and the center console easily accommodates a smartphone or, say, an ex-West-Berlin-Police Walther PP pistol in caliber .32 ACP, it does not accommodate the hand of an adult male. Not without scratching and/or cutting it into ribbons.

In the VW Phaeton, however, there is a thing. It’s a velour-covered molded piece and it fills in the gap between the driver’s seat and the center console. It’s made to flex a bit so even though the relationship of the seat to the console changes a bit throughout its range of travel, that piece still prevents anything from falling between the seat and the console. If you drop your phone or your keys or your Walther, it will land on that piece and there it will stay in easy reach of your hand.

A few months ago, I spent an afternoon driving the new Bentley Continental GT3, surely the most expensive and exclusive development of the VW Phaeton to ever leave Crewe or Dresden. Surely you can imagine my complete and total fucking astonishment when I dropped my phone — and it fell between the seat and the console. It was then that I realized just how special the Phaeton had been. That little trim piece was surely expensive to make and fit and keep from wearing out immediately or squeaking or whatever; so much so that it was cut out of a $300,000 Continental.

I don’t know what to call that trim piece, but let’s call it a “phone-blocker.” My sincere opinion is that every car on the market should have it. At least every car priced above the Chevy Sonic should have it. But they don’t, and I’ll tell you why: it’s the kind of thing that you only come to appreciate after a few months or years of ownership. If a salesman pointed it out to you during a walkaround, you’d laugh; if someone told you that they bought a car because of that feature, you’d laugh at them. Yet it makes a genuine difference to the ownership experience.

The phone-blocker wouldn’t sell any cars, so it doesn’t get installed on any cars. Simple as that. What killed the Phaeton was that the car was chock-full of things that make ownership hugely satisfying but which don’t sell a single car. Genuinely effective four-zone climate control. Draft-free ventilation with hidden vents. Forged Campagnolo trunk hinges. The ability, when your car is high-centered thanks to a winter-road mistake or forced passage across difficulty terrain, to reach an individual wheel down with the air shock until it can find grip and get you out of there, sort of like LA-gangster “three-wheel-motion” in reverse. You don’t really think about this stuff until you take delivery of a new Audi A8 and find that some or all of these thoughtfully-crafted features are missing.

In that regard, the Phaeton is like an under-appreciated wife who runs around behind you fixing all your mistakes. You don’t really appreciate her until years later you’re living with a Vegas stripper and the furnace stops working in the dead of winter and you realize that someone has been fixing the house for the past decade without you really having to think about it. That’s a made-up example, of course.

Honda LaneWatch is another one of those great features that you can’t truly appreciate until you’ve had it for a while. At first it seems like a gimmick for people too lazy to use their necks while driving. And that’s all it is — until you’re in nightmare 80 mph Chicago bumper-to-bumper commuting traffic and you realize that you have the power to sneak into gaps that previously would have been wing-and-a-prayer territory. Then you realize that you can activate it without using the turn signal, which means that you can make the most outrageous of last-minute ducks into your desired freeway exit lane before the Yukon driver who inadvertently opened the gap can stop you.

After a while, LaneWatch becomes such second nature that it’s startling to drive a brand-new, fully-loaded Acura TLX and realize that the TLX has a traditional set of blind-spot monitors which are much less useful than the combination of LaneWatch to the right and the expanded-view mirror on the left. Presumably, this is because LaneWatch is part of the “Honda feature set” and the Audi-alike blind-spot monitoring is part of the “Acura feature set.” This is also why you can’t have a six-speed manual in the TLX, I suppose.

The good news is that the future of automotive manufacturing is likely to include many more possibilities for customization than it currently does. We can’t be too far away from the day when you can have much of your new car 3D-printed just for you at the time of purchase. When that happens, you’ll see all sorts of things like phone-blockers and LaneWatch popping up all over the place, the same way that the Linux operating system used to offer the ability to switch between about a dozen desktop environments (for the record, I used WindowMaker for a solid decade) and to customize those environments to the point of exhaustion.

Truth be told, there’s nothing stopping me from 3-D-printing my very own phone-blocker and offering the CAD file free of charge to other Accord Coupe owners. Nothing, that is, except being far too busy to do any such thing. I’d probably be willing to pay someone else to design and print one. How much? Well, let’s put it this way: more than I’m willing to spend on Powerball tickets.

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2 of 102 comments
  • DrGastro997 DrGastro997 on Jan 20, 2016

    If you don't have a Phaeton or a Lexus handy you can opt for the As Seen On TV! option...

  • VolandoBajo VolandoBajo on Jan 20, 2016

    My long ago-owned 1961 Mk II 3.8L Jaguar (British Racing Green, natural burled wood trim, spoke wheels with knockoff hubs AND the mallet for them, etc.), also had a Borg-Warner-Studebaker auto transmission. When you stopped at a light, the brake locked, eliminating the need to keep your foot on the brake or shift into neutral to prevent creep. When you started off, touching the accelerator released the brake automatically. Years later I test drove a later Jag, though one that was still pre-Performance Auto Group, and was surprised and disappointed to find that that feature had disappeared. Sometimes it is those little things that make a car stand out as not just great, but truly unique. And FWIW, my Panther (97 Grand Marquis) has both seats that are wide enough for anyone's rear end (OK, maybe not a Weight Watchers before pic type), AND there is room for my hand to fish out my key fob should it fall in the crack. Still, I would like having that phone-catcher feature, especially in my wife's Camry, where I often have to resort to either forceps or a pair of needlenose pliers to fish out her keys, lipstick, etc.

  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.