Ask Jack

Ask Jack: Bundled to Death?

Serious question: What kind of experience do you need in order to write credibly about the automobile? If you were to ask some of the autojourno Boomers, they might tell you that the minimum requirement would be the career path followed by my time-and-again boss, Larry Webster: engineering degree, followed immediately by a magazine employment history that starts at “road warrior” and ends at “E-I-C of the most solvent color rag in the business”.

Some people would say that my boon companion Sam Smith did it right: college degree, time as a professional BMW mechanic, many years as a self-funded club racer in concert with his experienced and mechanically knowledgeable father. I’d like to argue for my own path: mildly successful car salesman, F&I experience with multiple captive finance firms, ground-floor experience with automotive tech and production, eighteen years of motorsports with a sack full of wins and lap records.

Ah, but these are means and not ends. They are how and not why. They detail the pathway by which expertise is acquired but they are not expertise themselves. If you read everything that Larry and Sam and I have written, you would know a major percentage of the things we know, and then you would be free to go forth and apply that knowledge to future situations. All you would need at that point would be an ability to write.

You could get by with less. LJK Setright was frequently dead wrong but I’d rather read his mistakes than labor through Csaba Csere’s researched conclusions. Gordon Baxter was not a great pilot and he was a worse driver. As a teenager, I read the work of gunwriter Jeff Cooper until I knew much of it by heart; years later, a mutual friend confessed to me that Cooper was only just competent with a .45 caliber pistol.

This is what you cannot be and still succeed, not if there is any justice in this world or the next: ignorant and proud of it, stupid yet blase about it, stilted in prose but unwilling to fix it. Which brings us to this week’s question.

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Ask Jack: Lex Loofa?

“We buy year… then we buy mileage… then we buy condition.” That was a favorite axiom of the used-car appraiser at my old Ford dealership. What he meant was this: In the first few years of a car’s life, people will pay more money if it’s a bit newer than a similar model sitting right next to it. Once it’s about five years old, the conversation switches to mileage: you’d rather have a 2012 ECTO-300def with 75,000 miles than a 2014 model with 105,000.

Usually by the time a car reaches the decade mark, and certainly by the fifteenth anniversary, it’s all about condition, condition, condition. Are you in the market for an Eighties Porsche? Condition is king. Are you limited by fate and circumstance to something like a 2005 Ford Focus? Then it’s doubly true.

Which leads us to today’s episode of Ask Jack, in which the person doing the asking is… uh… me.

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Ask Jack: A Van for No Reasons?

It’s best to just admit it: I have van envy. The educated among you will know that van envy, like many other communicable diseases, comes in a few forms. There’s Van Envy A, which is the traditional desire to have a boxy vehicle of some sort in the immediate vicinity for carrying children and accomplishing household tasks; this virus is typically found in the water supply of single-family homes. Van Envy B is indicated by repeated involuntary exclamations of “dajiban!” You catch that from accidental subculture immersion.

Van Envy MTB is when you can’t stop thinking about fitting out a fresh new Transit with a toolbox and internal bicycle mounts so you can take a quick trip to Ray’s Bike Park in Cleveland — or maybe Moab. The most virulent and damaging strain of the disease is Van Envy IG, which manifests in a gnawing sense of envy regarding attractive twenty-something couples who rootlessly travel the West holding drum circles and making love in converted high-roof Sprinters, subsisting on nothing but their income from selling woven bracelets at street fairs and an eight-figure trust fund.

Today’s question comes from someone who is suffering from precisely none of that. Instead, he has another condition. One marked by eroding telomere chains, drying skin, and a growing desire to watch Matlock. Chances are you have it too, although it might not be as severe.

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Ask Jack: The Name's Bland… James Bland

Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

It’s a question that comes up a lot more often than one would think, particularly in the lifelong molasses-sludge known as “middle-class American existence”: When purchasing a new (insert name of new thing here), should you get a fully-equipped or high-end item from an “everyday” brand, or should you stretch to the stripped-out base model of the prestige brand? I have a lot of admiration for the fellow who buys a Grand Seiko Spring Drive for the price of a plain-Jane Panerai or Rolex Submariner — but on the other hand, I think a plain wool suit from a Savile Row tailor is probably more desirable than the pimped Zegna Trofeo coats that have accompanied me around the world for the past 15 years.

The fashion comparisons are fun (for me, at least) but the majority of buyers are most likely to face this problem when car shopping. Loaded Camry or base Lexus ES? Yukon Denali or no-options Range Rover Sport? Nismo 350Z or Corvette Z51 1LT? Then, of course you have my pal Chuck, who after years of trawling Porsche’s bargain basement wants to try… something that isn’t much better, IMO.

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Ask Jack: The Lightest Element?

A few weeks ago, I took the checkered flag at Mid-Ohio as the winner of the Honda Challenge class and was promptly directed to the scales for a post-race weigh-in. The tech crew pushed my Accord up onto the scales and the young lady at the computer shot me an inquiring look.

“Okay… looks like you’re at 3,176. What’s your listed race weight?”

“Three thousand even,” I replied, since that’s the minimum weight for V6 cars in Honda Challenge. She poked a few buttons on her laptop.

“Are you usually… this much overweight?”

“You,” I replied, “sound like every woman I ever met on an OKCupid date.”

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Ask Jack: A Truck Without Consequences?

Sixteen thousand, five hundred miles. In ten months. It would be fair to say that I’m getting a lot of use out of my Silverado “Max Tow”. What that number doesn’t make plain, however, is how much effort I put into not driving the truck. Unless the hitch is in use or there is some kind of load in the bed, I don’t take it out of the driveway.

This is not sitting well with my wife, the infamous Danger Girl. She point outs that we should be able to get a quarter-million miles on the truck and it makes very little sense to use something that is plainly more expensive to run, such as my ZX-14R, rather than the Silverado. All I can say in response is that I feel guilty using a three-ton-plus vehicle for the drive to work or dinner. It’s a mild form of mental illness, I suppose.

Not everybody is crazy like me. Which brings me to today’s “Ask Jack” questioner, who is in a rather unique position to go truckin’ like the Doo-dah man.

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Ask Jack: How Seriously Are We Going To Take This Whole Accord Thing?

Just in case you’re new to TTAC, let me bring you up to speed on a few things.

0. My name is Jack and I write the “Ask Jack” column.
1. I take Honda Accord coupes very seriously.

How seriously? Well, I’ve been driving one for the last fifty-one months, giving TTAC readers periodic updates along the way. Some time ago, I caused a bunch of Baby Boomers to have mild heart attacks by claiming that the Accord V6 was the last American muscle car. I like Accord V6 Coupes so much that I now own two of them, having recently bought the car that was run in Pirelli World Challenge for two seasons by Rains Racing out of Alabama. So far we’ve had a great season, beating the S2000s for a first place in the Honda Challenge class at NCM last month and taking second place in a Super Unlimited race ahead of everything from an IMSA Cayman to a variety of prototype racers.

You get the idea. I take the Honda Accord Coupe pretty seriously. Do I think it’s a better car than a rare V8-powered BMW M3 ZCP? That’s where today’s episode of “Ask Jack” begins.

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Ask Jack: We All Need Somebody to Saleen On

Chalk one up for the Widow Douglas — or maybe for Aunt Sally. Both of them tried to “sivilize” Huck Finn. His response was to “light out for the Territory,” which was the wildest and least “sivilized” place he figured he could reasonably reach.

How many boys read that book and nodded in sympathy at Huck’s desire to get away from the coddling and constraining arms of civilization? How many of them used it as a model and pattern for their lives, whether they ended up breaking the sound barrier or starving to death in an abandoned schoolbus? And for how long has our primary impulse as young men been to get out and experience life face to face, on our own terms?

Those days are mostly gone. Today’s young men are “sivilized” by default. If they have any desire to leave their mothers, it is just so they can move to a big city and experience life as part of a communal organism. Whatever desire they might have had for some sort of frontier has been ground out of them bit by painful bit until their default approach to the empty and unknown is a fearful one. A few weeks ago, I read a screed by a young man who was planning to quit his job because his employer was forcing him to ride in an unsafe vehicle. Remembering the thrice-wrecked, permanently dogtracking Plymouth Arrow stakebed conversion I drove for David Hobbs BMW in 1989, I eagerly scrolled down until I could get the details of the deathtrap in question: a 2017 Ford Fusion, which apparently did not receive top marks in some part of the Euro NCAP test.

This is not to say that every young man is afraid of his own shadow. There are still a few dudes out there who imagine themselves rolling towards the unknown in the coolest or hottest car they can (not quite) afford. Which brings us to this week’s episode of Ask Jack.

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Ask Jack: Theories of Evolution

My longtime readers know I suffer from a particular fascination with New Orleans, although it’s been six years since I rolled through the city’s streets in a Nissan Cube. You can’t have a NOLA obsession without having a NOLA-music obsession, and you can’t have that without being aware of John Boutte. His rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come” isn’t better than Mr. Cooke’s — it’s just different, and heartfelt.

Change comes to all of us. When I wrote that Cube review, I was the absentee parent of a toddler, living with a stripper, and consuming a bottle of Ketel One pretty much every week. I had a lot of, ah, short-term romantic partners. It was not sustainable. There had to be a change.

That idea — of making changes because we need to, or just want to — is central to this week’s episode of Ask Jack.

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Ask Jack: Thirty-four With an "L"?

About 20 years ago, I was working on the technical staff of a small hospital under the theoretical supervision of a nice old woman whose name escapes me. When I say “old” I mean about the same age I am now, by the way. She had a 1991 Buick LeSabre and she was having some sort of problem with it that required a long stay in the indifferent care of our local Buick dealership. Around day eight she lost her patience and called the dealership for a good old-fashioned screaming fit.

At some point in said fit, she yelled, “I EXPECT MORE FROM A BUICK THAN THIS!” Then she turned around and froze me with a furious glare, because I was laughing my proverbial ass off. What kind of idiot expected anything special from a Buick in 1999?

Yet there was a time when the tri-shield badge conveyed some real prestige and excellence. My friend Thomas Klockau just wrote something neat about the Electra 225 that has me itching to buy one of those old boats. And while Buick’s current lineup is a mish-mash of Asian hatchbacks and anonymous sedans, there have been a few decent cars in the lineup from time to time. Which happens to be topic of today’s “Ask Jack.”

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Ask Jack: To Insure or Not to Insure?

I’ve never met filmmaker Spike Lee, and somehow I doubt the two of us would be friends if we did meet. Yet I’ve admired his work since seeing “She’s Gotta Have It” almost 30 years ago. More specifically, I’ve always admired the way Lee holds all of his characters to account for their actions, regardless of their color. In a business that treated African-Americans as alternately evil or magical, Lee gave them the freedom to be real people: flawed, damaged, inspirational.

His fifth film, Jungle Fever, has been politely ignored for the last couple of decades, largely because it asks questions that are no longer permissible to ask in our single-opinion modern media culture. At the time, however, it was intended to be a bold statement both of Lee’s status as a greenlight director and his willingness to use that status to put the audience in some deliberately uncomfortable situations. Part of that statement included having Stevie Wonder write an entire album’s worth of original music to serve as the soundtrack.

That album, too, has vanished into the Orwellian ether, partially because of the cringe-inducing title track, but mostly because the music didn’t meet the standards set by Stevie in the Seventies. There’s one exception: the ballad “Make Sure You’re Sure.” Joshua Redman was the first jazz musician to hop on the train, but he wasn’t the last.

Which brings us to today’s question: When it comes to a trackday, how sure do you want to be?

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Ask Jack: Trading in Your (Chance at a) Chevy for a Cadillac-ack-ack?

Way before the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad existed, I had my own financial angel and devil on my shoulders in the form of my grandfather and mother, respectively. Granddad retired at 54 and lived more than four decades in perfect comfort based on the investment decisions he’d made prior to retirement. My mom is… well, let’s just say she didn’t retire at 54.

Mom always had champagne taste and a debutante’s contempt for anybody who did not. When my grandfather decided to buy himself a Cadillac shortly after retiring, my mother told me, in quite snippy fashion, that it was “a used Cadillac, like what a loan shark would drive.” I don’t know what I thought I was going to find in Granddad’s garage when I got there, but the six-month-old ice-blue Eldorado Biarritz that he’d actually bought wasn’t it. He took me to the grocery store in it. When we went to the register, he took out a coupon book.

“Granddad,” I asked, “why do you use coupons if you have a Eldorado with a stainless steel roof?”

“Johnny,” he winked at me, “that’s why I have one.

Shortly afterwards, my father bought a Town Car. It was brand new, which pleased my mother. But in my heart of hearts I always liked Granddad’s Eldorado better, all the more so because I knew he got it cheap. Every time I manage to buy something outrageous at a steep discount, I think of my sharp-dealing grandfather and his delight at never paying retail for anything. Which brings us to today’s questioner, who is considering following in the old man’s footsteps, after a fashion.

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Ask Jack: Tryin' to Love Two

John Le Carre’s superb A Perfect Spy opens with a curious quote, attributed to “Proverb”:

A man who has two women loses his soul. But a man who has two houses loses his head.

I’m not so sure about the first part of that. The virtue of dating two (or more) women is that you don’t expect that any one of them will fulfill all your requirements, which prevents you from becoming overly demanding or difficult with them. As to the second part, all I can tell you is that when I’ve owned rental property I’ve found it to be more hassle than it was worth. I suspect the original author of the proverb was not talking about that situation. Nor was he referring to our blessed above-one-percent crowd who frequently own domiciles on both coasts, or vacation homes in sunny spots. Rather, he probably meant that a man who operates two separate families will lose his mind. This sort of thing was more common in the days before Equifax and cell phones, mind you.

The question becomes: Is owning two cars like loving two women, which is often a good thing, or is it like maintaining two households, which is almost always a bad thing? Before we fall back on the truthful but unsatisfying “it depends,” let’s consider today’s questioner and see if we can’t keep him in sound possession of both soul and head.

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Ask Jack: A Real Pain In the RS?

Did you watch HBO’s new David Simon show, The Deuce? It takes a while to get started, kind of like Season 2 of The Wire, also a Simon creation, but it eventually acquires some real momentum. Anyway, if you ever get around to seeing it, you will hear that the opening theme is a carefully edited version of Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go.”

One of the best sections of that song goes something like this:

Everybody praying
And everybody saying
But when come time to do
Everybody’s laying
Just talking ’bout, “Don’t worry”

As you’ll see below, however, when it comes to using performance automobiles for improbable-bordering-on-impossible family tasks, sometimes people do more than just lay around…

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Ask Jack: Does New Beat Big?

The word “disruptive” is thrown around quite a bit in the auto industry, usually to mean “some wacky idea that won’t succeed without a multi-billion-dollar investment, an outrageous set of coincidences, and an overnight change of heart affecting two-thirds of humanity.”

Allow me to offer an example of something that has truly disrupted the auto business without so much as a single fawning piece in Fast Company or WIRED: the massive and significant extension of reliable service life among cars and trucks built after, say, 2001 or thereabouts. In 1957, there was no reason to have a sixth digit on an odometer; in 1987, owning a car with 100,000 miles on it meant that you were either dirt poor or a seriously skilled shadetree mechanic.

In 2017, 100,000 miles is the new 30,000 miles. People are paying real money for cars with six-figure odometer readings. Hell, people are taking out five-year used-car loans on vehicles with six-figure odometer readings. More importantly, the social stigma associated with owning a used car has more or less disappeared in many circles.

As a consequence, today’s buyers operate in a sliding-scale market where mileage affects price but doesn’t always have much effect on utility. It can be a good idea to get “more car” or “more truck” even if it means accepting an older vehicle with a longer history. Which is where today’s episode of Ask Jack begins.

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Ask Jack: Walking With a Panther?

Tomorrow will mark the fourth anniversary of the crash in which I totaled my 2009 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited and severely injured my bride-to-be, the financial artist currently known as Danger Girl. If I could change any day in my life, it would be that one. I could quibble all day about the physics behind the crash and the reasons why it turned out to be so painful, but the baseline truth is this: I didn’t need to be out there. Not on that road, not in that weather, not with my son and my girlfriend in the car. It was an entirely avoidable decision. The crash changed the whole way I approach travel choices, particularly with regards to my family.

Watching the Town Car utterly disintegrate under the impact of a Hyundai Sonata to the passenger door has more or less cured me of the romantic affliction known around these parts as “Panther Love.” It’s also ruined any plans I had of restoring a large body-on-frame General Motors sedan from the Seventies or Eighties. I’d be fine to drive something like that all by myself but I already own several unsafe vehicles for solo operation; they’re called “motorcycles.” Any dreams I had of stylin’ in a 1975 Gran Ville or 1991 Cadillac Brougham will have to wait until the next life.

With all of that said, I still wouldn’t expect anybody else to give up on their affection for big Fords, which leads us to this week’s question.

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Ask Jack: Get The Truck Outta Here?

“You are too much the artiste, Herr Case.” Ratz grunted; the sound served him as laughter. He scratched his overhang of white-shirted belly with the pink claw. “You are the artiste of the slightly funny deal.”

— William Gibson, Neuromancer

If you hang around the Detroit auto market long enough, you will hear about the slightly funny deals out there. Some GM store is trying to clear out some inventory so they’ll stack a bunch of incentives, play a little fast n’ loose with some eligibility, and shuck out a bunch of vehicles to friends and family at… how does $129 a month strike you? $79? What about $49 a month?

The deals are out there. I used to roll with a group of Pakistanis who would stuff their driveways with oddballs like $132/month Durangos, all leased to quick-bake LLCs for one-off passports generated by friends in the government back home. When I expressed a desire to borrow a vehicle for a weekend’s worth of towing, I was sent home with a new Jeep Commander Limited and strict instructions to bring it back in six months or so.

If you’re able to move fast and you’re not too picky, you can get some amazing stuff. The question is: should you bother?

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Ask Jack: Isn't The Civic Just… Smashing?

We all have our perversions, and here’s mine: I will always have a soft spot for ugly-duckling products that were eclipsed by the competition or cannibalized by their own relatives. First example: the Apple 3 (properly yclept Apple ///). We don’t have time here to discuss how and why the “business-focused” 8-bit Apple failed, but I will forever cherish the fact that Apple put out a service bulletin for improperly seated microchips where the fix was to pick it up and drop it like it was hot — because it was, in fact, too hot.

I could go on… and I will! The Fender Jazzmaster, the Omega Seamaster, the Members Only jacket that cost slightly more because it had a zipper breast pocket instead of the elastic-clinch one, the F-111. Show me something that didn’t quite catch the imagination of the public, and you will have my complete attention. If the reason for that lack of public attention has to do with the product involved being just a little bit too complex, demanding, fussy, or eccentric — well then, my friend, we are really cooking.

One such example of that in the automotive world was the fifth-generation Maxima, sold here from 2000-2003, with particular emphasis on the 3.5-liter, six-speed, limited-slip bad boys produced in the second half of the run. Those were slick-looking, powerful, deeply satisfying automobiles… that had absolutely zero appeal for the credit criminals and shifty-eyed fast-food night managers who, by my scientific calculations, make up ninety-six-point-three percent of Nissan’s customer base. Those people didn’t see the reason to buy a Maxima when they could get an Altima for less.

As a consequence, the sixth-generation Maxima became a giant Altima, the seventh-generation Maxima became a rarity, and the eighth-generation Maxima became a rental car.

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Ask Jack: There's No Business Like Snow Business

I have a profound allergy to corporate-speak, which is one of the reasons I’ll always be poor. With that said, there is one thing I’ve heard out of various room-temperature-IQ managers that seems both reasonable and useful: Some things are important, some things are urgent, some are both, and some are neither. Many of the mistakes we make in both business and personal matters occur because we fail to appreciate the distinction.

Here’s an unpleasant and unfortunate example. Between 2008 and 2013, I had all of my tire mounting done by a friend of the family. In October of 2013 he told me that one of the snow tires for my Town Car shouldn’t be used another year and that he would order a replacement for me. On December 11, 2013, I got tired of not getting replies to my texts, so I texted his wife instead. She told me that he had been injured at work and that he would return in a few weeks. She also informed me that if I went in and asked to have my snow tires mounted by someone else, it would cause him some problems with the shop’s owner (as he’d made some sort of mistake while ordering the replacement tire). He would need a day or two back in the office to fix that mistake so he wouldn’t lose his job. I told her that I understood and that I’d wait until he returned to get my snow tires mounted.

Well, I was still waiting, and he was still sitting at home milking his workers’ comp, while I had my very favorite spleen removed on January 5, 2014, after an icy-road crash.

At the time, I judged that the importance of supporting my friend outweighed the urgency of getting my snow tires fitted. That was a mistake, to put it mildly, one that wandered into the realm of mild irony/tragedy when he ended up quitting the tire business, abandoning his wife, and departing for parts unknown just about eight months after the incident in question.

Needless to say, ever since then I’ve been a bit of an evangelist when it comes to having snow tires fitted. I think it is both important and urgent to get your tires put on before the first big storm of each winter. Except, of course, when it isn’t— which brings me to today’s “Ask Jack.”

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Ask Jack: R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. Some of you will immediately recognize that as Acts 10:34-35. The rest of you are heathens who have no business in a civilized society. I’m just kidding, of course; in the future, do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

The phrase “respecter of persons” won’t be immediately obvious to people without a classical education so allow me to elaborate. To pay respect to someone’s person was to give them the courtesy due their rank. It’s odd to think that once upon a time children were exhaustively drilled in proper titles and modes of address and whatnot, but that’s just the way it was. Woe betide the poor prole who referred to someone as “Your Grace” instead of “Your Highness” or something like that.

We’re now seeing a bit of that old stratified society return nowadays, in the endless permutations of luxury services and in Manhattanite children who tell their parents, “Next time we fly private like everyone else.” It will only get worse from here. And the more it becomes blatantly obvious that there are different classes of people in this world, the stronger the appeal will be of a politician, or a God, who is immune to the blandishments and caresses of rank but instead judges people for their righteous works.

The American freeway, of course, has a ranking system of its own, and that’s where today’s question comes in.

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Ask Jack: Push Me, or Pull You?

It’s called cryptic biodiversity and it’s the process by which genetically diverse species end up looking very similar. This is a big thing with salamanders; apparently the perfect design for amphibian quadrapeds is so obvious that it can be reached via several different pathways. It’s also the reason why I have successfully convinced several convenience store employees that I was, in fact, former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl.

As the automotive market not-so-gently pushes manufacturers towards producing identical-looking products on vastly different mechanical platforms, there’s a bit of amusement to be had in wondering which one of those platforms really serves a certain market segment best. It’s also a source of considerable purchaser angst, which brings us to this week’s question regarding cryptically-biodiverse mommy wagons.

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Ask Jack: Ten Grand to Go Fast?

Speed costs money; how fast do you want to go? It’s the kind of thing you see on the back of T-shirts worn by grey-haired men at “Cars and Coffee,” but that don’t make it not true.

With that said, there are a million different ways to spend your speed-seeking dollar, some of them better than others. Which brings us to this week’s $10,000 question…

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Ask Jack: What About That American Exceptionalism?

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I’m passionate about obtaining products, goods, and services that are Made In The USA. Which is not to say that I never buy anything from low-cost countries where workplace safety and environmental regulations aren’t up to snuff — to my eternal sorrow, both of my laptops are Chinese, and as many of you have reminded me, the new Silverado LTZ in my driveway was Hecho en Mexico — but in general I will pay a considerable cost in both time and money for an American or at least Western product.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m just doing it to be a total snob. Nowadays, Made In America tends to imply prestige and cost, whether we’re talking SK Tools, Alden boots, or any number of high-end, hand-made bicycles. If you’re walking down the street and everything on or about your person is USA-made, chances are you’ve spent some real money. That’s also true for many industrial goods, certain building supplies, and nearly anything with wings. There’s just one complex product where the American flag logo is attached to a mandatory discount in the minds of most consumers.

No prize for figuring out what that is…

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Ask Jack: A Six-wheeled Solution to a Four-wheeled Problem?

Everybody knows motorcycles are faster than cars, right? Except, of course, when they aren’t. On a dragstrip, under perfect conditions, with an immensely skilled rider and all the planets aligned, most of the modern literbikes can easily dispatch a Dodge Demon, McLaren P1, or Tesla P-whatever-Ludicrous-mode. If you can raise seven or eight thousand dollars in ready cash, you can walk into a motorcycle dealership and walk out with a new bike easily capable of breaking into the tens. On the roll, something like my Kawasaki ZX-14R can accelerate to a degree impossible with something like a LaFerrari — I know, because I’ve driven a LaFerrari and ridden my ZX-14R on the same roads.

So why isn’t the whole world, or at least the male half of it, on a sportbike every morning? You know why. They’re dangerous, even if you take pains to ride safely and sanely. They are sensitive to weather, road condition, and high winds. They are remarkably maintenance-intensive. They get stolen. You can’t carry much on them and you can’t travel spontaneously on one. Comfort is an issue. If you’re a track rat, then you know that mistakes on two wheels are far more likely to put you on the LifeFlight than their four-wheeled equivalents.

TANSTAAFL — There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, particularly when it comes to using a motorcycle to do a car’s job. Yet the rush of riding a truly fast bike with all cares thrown to the wind can be a needle to the main vein for adrenaline junkies. Which brings us to this week’s question, in which a complimentary pairing of the Most Sensible Vehicle On Earth with something considerably crazier is considered.

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Ask Jack: Buying a Bruiser for the Autobahn?
I spent a fair amount of time on the Autobahn this summer, including several hundred miles on the unrestricted sections. I can’t say that I went all that fast — I think I saw 260 km/h once, trying to get to a Pizza Hut near the border with Belgium that was about to close. Other than that I rarely went above 200 km/h. The only excuse I have for this is that I’m old and tired and I had a bunch of broken ribs at the time.There’s also the inconvenient fact that the freeways are just as crowded over there as they are here, and the lane discipline hasn’t been so good in recent years due to demographic and educational changes in Germany. Still, once in awhile you can find yourself in those oh-so-stereotypically Deutsch situations of which you dreamed as a child. There was a particularly memorable afternoon where I relaxed in the passenger seat of an E43 wagon and watched my co-driver chase a Swiss-plated Phantom for over an hour at sustained triple-digit speeds. I was working my way through a bag of those Babybel cheese things. Good times.My long-time correspondent and pal Luigi knows all about those kind of good times. He’s been around the world working different gigs. Now he’s considering settling down for a while in der Vaterland and buying a big, thirsty car for big, fast cross-Continental commutes.
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Ask Jack: A Thumb on the (Economies of) Scale?

The narrowing of possibilities, the hardness of the automaker heart, the motions of grace. Or something like that. Imagine you’re a prospective Chevrolet buyer in 1955 or thereabouts. You can order your new car in at least the following styles: club coupe (two doors, B-pillar), utility sedan (two doors, wood platform in place of back seat, rear windows do not roll down), four-door sedan (four doors, B-pillar), sport coupe (two doors, hardtop without B-pillar), sport sedan (four doors, hardtop without B-pillar), station wagon (four door wagon), Handyman wagon (two door wagon with straight C-pillar), Nomad wagon (two door wagon with slanted C-pillar and unique roof), and sedan delivery (two door wagon with no glass in back).

Today’s logical, if depressing, successor to that ’55 Chevy is the Equinox. It comes in one flavor: bland box. Period. Something happened. Just what was that something?

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Ask Jack: You've Got to Know When to Fold 'Em

Years from now — perhaps even now, for the younger generation — I think people will have trouble understanding that a significant percentage of humanity used to derive a good living from arbitrage of one form or another. We live in a world now that has been effectively flattened by the standardized shipping container and the Internet. It was not always so. Think of Max Hoffman towing one Beetle behind another one all the way from an East Coast port to a Midwest town then taking the train home.

Even more interesting is that people used to be accustomed to paying money for information and/or access to knowledge. For instance, my old pal Alex Roy grew up in his father’s business, Europe By Car, which was (and still is) a service that arranged overseas rentals for American customers. Can you imagine that there was once a time when people couldn’t just click a couple of buttons and have a rental car waiting for them in London or Stuttgart? Crazy, I know.

The imperial ease with which we command the delivery of things from China or arrange hotel rooms in Zurich from the comfort of our living room in Milwaukee sometimes blinds us to the fact that sometimes you just have to deal with the impacts of distance and displacement. Our friend Brent is experiencing one of those times, at least by proxy.

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Ask Jack: A Hyundai and a Moral Dilemma

After 45 years on this earth, I have come to a conclusion that is neither unique nor universal but which has considerable truth to it, regardless: The kind of stuff that alarms regular people rarely alarms experts on the subject — and vice versa. It’s true in scientific disciplines from materials science to artificial intelligence, it’s true when it comes to medical and health issues, and it’s true in matters of the law and governance. We can also add a corollary to this: Even when the experts and the regular people are both alarmed, it’s usually not for the same reason.

The idea of corporate personhood is an example of the latter. It’s common for lightly-educated political activists to screech, “CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE!” — as if corporations had managed to start operating autonomous bipedal robots that walk among us as men and women. What they fail to realize is that corporate “personhood” actually protects both individual humans and society as a whole. As a ridiculous example to the contrary, Prince Charles and I both have the same “cutter” at Turnbull & Asser, a certain Mr. Steven Quin. He is the Royal Warrant Holder as an individual. In an earlier age, an English king could presumably have had him physically punished if his shirts didn’t measure up, as the Warrant is a transaction of sorts between a member of royalty and a subject of royalty.

While it’s very satisfying to extend this to the modern era and to imagine the CEO of BP being keelhauled for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the fact is that without corporate personhood the responsibility for something like that would be placed on a “fall guy” or corporate sacrificial lamb — leaving companies free to break the law at will so long as they had access to people who were willing to go to jail on their behalf.

With that said, there is plenty of justified concern about some consequences of corporate personhood, most specifically as it applies to First Amendment issues and political contributions. Today’s question addresses yet another aspect of the corporation-as-individual. More precisely: Do we have a moral duty to a corporation? If so, to which one is that duty owed?

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Ask Jack: These… Are… the Brakes!

True story: I once dated a woman who liked to kinda-semi-roleplay that I was Hannibal Lecter and she was Clarice Starling. I don’t mean that I served her anybody’s frontal lobe with a nice Chianti and some fava beans, but more that we would try to work phrases from the book into our conversations. Just in case you are wondering, this is a distant second place in the awkward-makeout-talk category of my sordid personal history, well behind the woman who wanted me to call her Bella while she called me Edward.

In Silence Of The Lambs, Dr. Lecter tells Clarice, “We begin by coveting what we see every day.” This is one of those statements that is almost too true for us to understand. We learn to want things by looking at them. It’s why very few people have whatever mental quality is required to order, and enjoy, truly bespoke items — cars, clothing, bikes, guns, watches, whatever. We like to see things and choose from them. It’s a combined limitation of the software (ability to imagine) and the hardware (the way we “see” is fairly hard-wired into our actual, physical eyes in all sorts of ways that we are just finding out about now) that comes standard with the human body.

The mere act of seeing something can be persuasive, even if we know in our heart that it’s not right for us — which was certainly the case with the Bella-and-Edward woman, I tell you. And that is how we come to this story of a fellow who wants a very specific kind of brake for his car… even if it’s not nearly enough to do the job.

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Ask Jack: All (Wheel Drive) or Nothing at All?

Politics, the man once said, is downstream from culture. It applies to cars as well. Maybe cars are in fact downstream from both politics and culture. You never know.

Everybody who was alive in the 1950s tells me it was kind of a dicey time. Children kneeling beneath a combined 1.25 inches of plywood that was supposed to have some sort of palliative effect on a locally detonated hydrogen bomb with a thousand times the power of Little Boy. The Iron Curtain clamping down across Europe, hundreds of millions of people disappearing into a regime where twisted social science operated a political machine lubricated liberally by the blood of kulaks and a generation of Soviet O’Briens insisting they could float off the ground if they just wished it so. Meanwhile, the United States was grinding through the task of reintegrating a few million young men who had often gone directly from their shoeless rural existence to the meat grinders of Iwo Jima and Normandy Beach.

Yet I defy you to look at a ’57 Chevrolet and not tell me somebody was feeling optimistic. The roads were covered in pastels and chrome and the good times were surely just around the corner. It was as if the styling chiefs of the Big Four (or however many there were) looked at the world around them and said, “Oh, the hell with this, let’s PUT FINS ON CARS!”

Sixty years later we’ve got all the Netflix and chill we can handle but most people look at the future as something that will impoverish, assail, endanger, or boil them. The climate and the economy seem to have more malevolence than the old Soviet shoe-bangers could ever muster but, instead of responding with Bel Airs, we’ve all decided to lock ourselves into tall, tippy metal boxes that promise to isolate us from every possible contaminant or concern. Each box must be sufficient for all imagined tasks, whether it’s clearing the Rubicon or circling the Nurburgring.

Most of these things scale half a ton more than a ’76 Cutlass Supreme Brougham with the 403. They are chock full of features we neither need nor want, and the hunchback king of those assembled unnecessaries is called All. Wheel. Drive.

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Ask Jack: Not That Kind of SS

Last week, we discussed the fact that the gap between automotive perception and automotive reality can lead to some remarkable cognitive dissonance on the part of “car people.” That’s why the breadvan Civic Si was sold as a budget-priced Bimmer-beater and the breadvan Scion xB was sold as a Portland-friendly mobile Millennial drum circle. They knew very few Civic “intenders” would look at a Scion and vice versa.

This sort of stuff runs rampant in the business and, if you want any further confirmation of it, just take a look at the staggeringly different demographic profiles for the mechanically similar Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon Denali, and Chevrolet Tahoe Premier.

But wait, there’s more. Thanks to a wide variety of advances in materials, design methods, and computing power, the capability envelope of modern vehicles is expanding in all directions. My 2017 Silverado 6.2-liter just got an average of 22.1 mpg on a 680-mile drive from Ohio to South Carolina; my 2006 Phaeton got 17 mpg flat on the same trip despite being a thousand pounds lighter, 100 horsepower weaker, and considerably more aero-friendly. Next week, you’re going to hear a lot about how the Audi TT-RS is faster than (insert name of supercar here) from 0-60. Much of that will be regurgitated pablum from a staggeringly expensive press trip that includes a private helicopter ride from Manhattan to Lime Rock, and some of it is due to advances in tire tech, but there’s some real truth to the fact that the mighty Ferrari Enzo can be humbled in a short sprint by a car that is basically a VW Jetta in a party dress.

As cars become more capable, they are also going to engage in hitherto-unseen marketplace conflicts. Should you buy a 7 Series Bimmer or a Denali XL? A Corvette or a Macan Turbo S? Which brings us to today’s unusual matchup… but before we click that jump, here’s a reminder to send your most burning questions to askjack@calamarco.com.

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Ask Jack: Bigger Than a Breadbox?

If you’ve read enough of my writing, then you know that I am a fervent believer in what I call the power of the story. Human beings rarely interact directly with reality; instead, we use stories to interpret what we are seeing in a way that makes sense. It’s why we no longer fear thunder and why people will cheerfully take food prepared for them by strangers.

Few aspects of our existence are as relentlessly story-driven as our interactions with the automobile. Without the power of story, we would see automobiles as nothing but machines for accomplishing a particular task, be it a commute, a vacation, or an SCCA race — and we would judge them solely on their ability to accomplish that task. Trust me, if we all did that it would be absolutely ruinous for the automaker profit margins out there. Imagine picking a car the way you’d pick a dishwasher or, um, a power supply. You would quickly forget about intangibles and focus on fitness for purpose.

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve tried to shed my personal addiction to the automotive narrative and learn how to “understand the thing for itself,” as Marcus Aurelius wrote. This can lead to some surprising conclusions… and it looks like I’m not the only one who has acquired at least a little bit of this skill. Normally we wouldn’t do two Ask Jack columns in one week, but the fellow in this case says he’s going to make a choice this weekend, so let’s pull the trigger pronto and get right to the question.

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Ask Jack: Mustang Salty!

Quick now: Just how full is your refrigerator at this precise moment? I mean, it is kinda full, is it sorta full, is it totally full, is it almost empty, does it have the bachelor’s portion of beer and Cretaceous takeout? The reason I ask is because when I visit my more successful friends I’m simply bowled over by the amount of empty refrigerator space they have. Double and triple Northlands or Vikings with nothing in them. Deep stacks of empty shelves. Sometimes they have empty sections, doors behind which the air is chilled to 33 precise degrees but where nothing is stored.

My friends tell me that they need the space for the parties and gatherings they are going to have. I refrain from pointing out that in the modern suburban era nobody ever goes to anybody else’s house unless it is on pain of death/shunning/shaming. That gregarious age documented by Updike and Cheever is long gone. My friends won’t be hosts. Nobody’s coming to the parties that they won’t really have. All of that empty fridge space will always be empty. They spend most of their nights on “foodie adventures” anyway, spending massive amounts of money to avoid being trapped in their homes with only Netflix to fill the gaps in their meaningless conversations. And it’s only the two of them anyway, plus one designer baby after the wife turns 38 and panics.

I feel very virtuous, almost Spartan, because I only have a single-width Sub-Z from about 15 years ago. And my fridge is relatively full. But still there’s empty space. Sometimes Danger Girl goes through and tosses a half-ton of expired food. Still more fridge than we need. Compare that to the fridge at my grandmother’s house. She had four boys living in the house. Six people to my three. And her fridge was under six feet tall. With two cramped compartments. How did she do it, particularly given the fact that she cooked a real dinner, a real lunch, and a real breakfast every night? How did she survive on one-fifth the frosted space available to my DINK foodie friends?

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Ask Jack: I Need NOS (New Old Stock), and I Need It by Tonight!

It’s the kind of story dealership employees love to tell during slow afternoons: the decade-old car with an MSO (manufacturer’s statement of origin, which is what cars have before they have titles) in the glovebox, no air in the tires, and 3 miles on the clock, tucked in back with the service loaners or parked behind the body shop.

As with most car dealer fairy tales, there’s plenty of real-world inspiration for the (usually fabricated) story of the moment. In the days when dealerships tended to own their inventory rather than have it “floorplanned” with a bank, and before the manufacturers came up with the idea of revving up secret incentives to sell leftover cars from the previous model year, it wasn’t all that uncommon for a dealer to have an 18-month-old car somewhere on the lot. It wasn’t just the “megadealers” — truth be told, those were the guys who usually had a better handle on a computerized inventory system. I’ve seen everything from ancient (Mercury) Mariners to Old (smobile) Achievas sitting around way past their sell-by date.

Nowadays, the banks and the dealer groups keep a pretty tight rein on their inventory. Cars just don’t get “forgotten” like they used to. Still, there are times when something slips through the proverbial cracks. Should you take advantage of this “mistake”? In this case, I’m asking for a friend, and I’m also asking for myself…

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Ask Jack: Dropping Five Grand on a Game of Golf?

It’s called “optimism bias”, and for a while it fell into the realm of what people like to call “settled science.” Supposedly, humans are “hard-wired” to be more optimistic in any given situation than a realistic appraisal of the circumstances would justify.

This is why people buy lottery tickets, which are statistically equivalent to toilet paper. It’s why I continue to ride a BMX bike at skateparks even though I’m far more likely to endure yet another painful injury than I am to perform anything like a respectable stunt. It’s why people respond to “casual encounters — w4m” ads on Craiglist even though forty-nine out of fifty ads are utterly fraudulent attempts to steal anything from your wallet to your personal data to your kidneys.

But wait, there’s more. A new study suggests that optimism bias is more an artifact of bad experiment design than a reflection of actual human predisposition. Who’s right and who is wrong? I’m optimistic that we will eventually know the truth. In the meantime, let’s consider a question that verges on the outrageously hopeful…

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Ask Jack: Are You Going to San Francisco?

I will forever remember San Francisco as the only city in America where a woman tried to pick me up. While I am sure that the average TTAC reader is a handsome, impeccably progressive feminist ally who is frequently the subject of overtures from empowered womyn, I’m a hideously ugly creature who walks with a pronounced limp and cannot help but maintain an expression of perpetual annoyance. Therefore, 99 percent of the time I have to actively, if not aggressively, sell myself to any potential paramours.

Except, that is, for that one night when I was drunkenly stumbling down some broad boulevard in downtown SF, feeling very sorry for myself, and an attractive woman in her early thirties, dressed for some sort of banking or C-suite work, walked right up to me and said, “Do you know where the nearest Bank of America is?” Even in my inebriated state I could see that it was three hundred feet behind her, and I said as much. “Gosh, thanks!” she chirped. “So… lovely night, huh? What are you doing this evening?”

“Madam,” I replied with all the 18th-century dignity I could muster, straightening my posture and inhaling deeply behind the lapels of my Brioni coat, “I am attempting to forget a woman from Tennessee.” And I trudged past her. Only the next morning did I realize that perhaps she had already known the whereabouts of the bank before asking. Oh well. Ever since then, however, I have assumed that the relatively low number of even remotely conventional men in that particular city drives women to make desperate choices.

Which brings me to today’s San Francisco treat of a question.

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Ask Jack: My Name Is Camry McLeod, and I Cannot Die?

“The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride f***ing with you. F*** pride. Pride only hurts. It never helps.” Recognize that quote? It’s from Pulp Fiction, of course. There’s only so much wisdom you can take out of any Quentin Tarantino movie, but if you’re looking for some, there it is.

Unfortunately for you earnest advice takers out there, the auto business runs on pride. From the websites to the styling studios, from the wash rack to the RenCen, you’ll find insecure, petty, miserable people who allow their perpetually wounded pride to make astoundingly indefensible business decisions on their behalf. Here’s an example: I once worked at a dealership that was pretty much run into the ground by a pair of incompetent, dishonest managers. The owner was despondent and he had pretty much decided to sell the franchise, but at the last moment he changed his mind, took some good advice, and brought in a fellow who was kind of a superstar but also kind of a loose cannon.

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Ask Jack: Can We Flip the FWD Script?

The late Janet Reno once described herself thusly: “The fact is I’m just an awkward old maid with a very great affection for men.” Similarly, I think of myself as a liberal-arts type with a very great affection for engineering. I’ve designed a few bicycles in my time, and I’ve earned most of my bread by programming in various languages, but I’m not qualified to draw a bridge, create a capacitor, or invent an engine. Those are special and particular disciplines that attract special and particular people. I ain’t one of them.

Nevertheless, even as an outsider it seems plain to me that there are two kinds of automotive engineering: the inventive kind, as practiced by Henry Ford and Colin Chapman, and the iterative kind as practiced by the vast majority of engineers currently working in the business. When Jim Hall put a wing on the Chaparral, he was doing inventive engineering; when the Mercedes F1 team runs through ten thousand CFD calculation sequences to remove crosswind drag by 0.5 percent, that’s iterative engineering.

Inventive engineering gets the headlines, but iterative engineering pays the bills. Which leads me to today’s question, which asks? Can’t we be inventive when it comes to front-wheel drive?

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Ask Jack: Opening An Account In the Caymans?

I sure have enjoyed my European adventure, although as usual when I’m overseas, much of what I see makes no sense to my adopted-Midwesterner eyes. Here’s an example: Why is it that I see more Porsches out and about in my home town of Powell, Ohio, than I do when I’m visiting Germany? If I am on an Ohio freeway for 20 minutes, I will see a Porsche; if I am on an Ohio freeway for an hour and it is not snowing, chances are that I will see a real Porsche, meaning something with just two doors and an engine behind the driver. There are a half-dozen 911s garaged within a mile of my house of which I am aware, which means that there are probably a lot more of which I am not aware, because general awareness is not my finest personal quality.

You would think the place where they actually build Porsches (some of them anyway) would have a lot more of them than Ohio does, the same way that Ohio has a lot more Honda Accords per capita than you’d find in, say, New Mexico. It is not so. Unless you are in the immediate vicinity of the Nurburgring, Porsches are virtually non-existent on the roads of the Fatherland. Maybe they know something we don’t, or maybe they’re just not buying Caymans and Cayennes at the moment because they are spending all their money on subsidizing all those nice young fellows arriving from parts unknown.

Speaking of Porsches, it’s time for Part Two (Electric Boogaloo!) of Ask Jack: Stuttgart Edition.

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Ask Jack: Pick a Perfect Porsche, Part One

Guten Tag, err’body! This week, I have forsaken the bucolic paradise of Powell, Ohio, for the pretty much identical town of Nurburg, Germany. I’m in possession of a very fast and very green British car (you can see more details on my Instagram, if you care) and I’m already breaking the hearts of many a Porsche owner through the long curves and blind hills of The Favorite Race Track Of Everybody Who Has Never Actually Raced Anything.

Although I’m far from the only heretic in attendance — Corvettes are more popular than you would expect, in particular — this place is absolutely rotten with late-model Porsches, most of which have been repulsively festooned with a variety of wings and stickers and doodads. So this seems like a good week for an Ask Jack Double Feature, in which we will consider a pair of Porsche-purchase dilemmata. We will get all of this Weissach-centric silliness out of the way this week, and that way when I’m back in the States a week from today I won’t have to think about Porsches for a nice long time.

Let’s start with Jay, who is wondering: To GTS or not to GTS?

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Ask Jack: Just Once, Can't We Figure Out What We Keep Doing Wrong?

It’s time to refill the hopper on the questions that keep you awake at night. Send them to askjack@calamarco.com. Help me help you. If you’ve sent me a question and you don’t yet have an answer, feel free to send it again or just remind me to look for your email. You would be amazed at the volume of correspondence I get every day, most of it from people who want to learn how to get press cars. Why would you ask me that? Ask a mommyblogger.

With that out of the way, let’s get to a question that, truthfully, should be asked a lot more often than it currently is being asked, both by customers and manufacturers.

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Ask Jack: Senator Ornery Hatch?

You know what I miss? Besides the second season of Miami Vice, the Atari 800, and a country where grown men didn’t agree to appear in simpering photography sessions commemorating their emasculating engagements to former late-night legends of the Sig Ep house at Ohio State? I miss the days when automakers didn’t field an entry into every single possible automotive segment. I miss that halcyon period where Mercedes-Benz made sedans and Porsche made sports cars and never the twain needed to meet except in the destination garages of their superbly tasteful owners. Back when everybody stuck to their individual knitting, the products were better (for their time, of course) and the brand identities made more sense. I’m reminded of something that my musical idol and harshest critic, Victor Wooten, once said: “Instead of learning other instruments … I take the time that I would spend learning those instruments … and I put that time into learning my instrument, you dig?”

As my future third-wife Este once sang, however, those days are gone. In $THE_CURRENT_YEAR, nearly every manufacturer competes in nearly every segment. Which brings me to this week’s question, submitted by an extremely verbose fellow who needs to choose a German hatchback.

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Ask Jack: You Shall Not Passat?

Long-time readers of this site know that your humble author was once a salesman at an Infiniti dealership. At the time, I’d have much rather been a salesman at a Lexus dealership. Perhaps it’s better that I didn’t get my wish, because being a Lexus salesman is an actual career that enables people to buy luxury homes and save for retirement and hold their heads up in their community. If I’d started working for a Lexus dealer back in 1994, I’d still be working at a Lexus dealer today, which means I would’ve missed out on a career that took me everywhere from the Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg to the podium at Sepang to the county jail.

You know, I’d be okay with that. Being a Lexus salesman would have been great. There would, however, have been one continual annoyance: explaining to people who bought the original 1990 LS400 for $35,000 that their replacement 1998 LS400 was going to cost a minimum of $53,999. That’s a hefty bump for what was basically the same car. I suspect that a lot of first-gen LS400 buyers ended up buying an ES300 for their second Lexus; by 1998, the well-equipped sticker on that car was $35,000 or slightly over.

There’s nothing quite as disappointing as finding out that your budget doesn’t allow you to purchase the modern equivalent of the car you already have. But that’s the situation facing today’s “Ask Jack” participant.

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Ask Jack: Cross the Pond or Ditch the Ride?

If you’re in Manhattan on a Wednesday night, you need to head to Arthur’s in the village and catch the 10 p.m. set by soul singer Allyson Williams. She has one of the all-time great voices, expressive and touching, and she has a rotating group of crack musicians backing her up.

A few years ago, I sprawled out in Arthur’s in the middle of a post-auto-show drinking binge when Allyson decided to cover Chaka Khan’s “Through The Fire.” For a chance to be with you, the song says, I’d gladly risk it all. At the time, I took it as a personal rebuke from the Fates for having abandoned the woman I loved. Although I’ve returned to the scene many times since then, I’ve never heard her sing the tune again. Maybe I imagined it. Hard to say.

If you really love someone, you’ll endure a lot to be with them. And that’s the problem facing Eddie, although in his case it’s not a matter of going “through the fire.” Rather, it’s a question of shipping across the pond.

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Ask Jack: The Man Who Flexes From WRXes To Lexus?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: everything, and I mean everything, is utterly and absolutely context-dependent. It’s literally true on the atomic level, where we cannot accurately measure both position and velocity at the same time. It’s true at the quantum level, where “quantum entanglement” governs behavior that is currently beyond our ability to understand. It’s even applicable in your dating life; the same size-six girl who feels insubstantial to you in the long evenings at home will acquire new heft after you spend a drunken weekend away with a size two.

Since this is an automotive website and not The Journal Of Theoretical Physics And Deniable Adultery, let’s focus on what context means in the automotive sense. The definitions of fast car, big car, economical car, reliable car, and even full-sized pickup have all changed several times since the end of the First World War. Imagine you fell into a coma in 1975 and woke up today; you’d probably ask how and why cars got so tiny and trucks got so big. The first 911 Turbo was a “widowmaker” with 260 horsepower; today’s model delivers twice that much power and still isn’t the fastest car (around a track, at least) in its price range.

More importantly, our own personal context for an automobile often determines how much we enjoy and appreciate it. Think of all the people who spend their weekends restoring, cleaning and driving “classic cars” that other people threw away decades ago. Think of the over one million people who couldn’t wait to trade their Tri-Five Chevys in on something new, and of all the people who’ve spent major portions of their lives making those same cars better than they were when they left the assembly line. That’s the power of context.

Which brings me to today’s question for Ask Jack. It’s all about one man’s very unusual, but entirely understandable, definitions of “daily driver” and “weekend special”.

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Ask Jack: The Robot and the Damage Done

Long-time TTAC readers may recall that your humble author has worked a variety of unglamorous jobs in the retail end of the auto business — salesman, title department for one major finance company, skip tracer and junior approval officer for another — but I’ve also worked two stints in vehicle production itself. I never worked on the line directly, but I worked with various plants and production facilities on a fairly regular basis. Once I managed to figure out a pretty major problem and save the automaker in question about 45 minutes’ worth of downtime for their whole North American operation. That’s a savings measured in millions of dollars. I was so pleased with myself, I ran out, hopped in my old Porsche 911, and went to Donatos for a celebratory pizza with double cheese.

They wrote me up for taking a long lunch.

I bet that never happened to Bob Lutz.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of building cars — and everything else — in the United States. (You can find out more about American-made products and services at my hobby blog.) When we build real, tangible products here in the USA, we change hundreds of thousands of lives for the better. We preserve families and give young people a chance at a life beyond the social-welfare system. We also make it possible for minorities and disadvantaged people to enter the middle class and live the American dream.

Unfortunately, as a reader recently reminded me, these benefits don’t come without an associated cost, and that cost can be measured in blood.

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Ask Jack: Towing With a Trunk?

There are quite a few differences between Europe and the United States. Which, if you think about it, was kind of the point of having a United States in the first place. A hundred years from now, when Europe and America are both part of the Caliphate, these differences might not be as pronounced as they are today. In the meantime, however, we are still two continents separated by a common, fast-vanishing heritage. Which leads us, quite naturally, to the subject of towing.

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Ask Jack: A Man For All-Seasons?

Talk about being careful what you wish for. I now have about 40 questions in my inbox for “Ask Jack,” with more steadily trickling in. I’m going to answer all of them, either here or via e-mail, and in a semi-timely manner to boot. So don’t be afraid to send your questions to askjack@jackbaruth.com. I’m ready, and waiting, to give you the kind of bad advice you can only get from somebody who’s crashed more marriages than he has crashed race cars!

Robert writes:

Hi Jack. In keeping with the mantra, “Want to be a better driver? Get a worse tire,” I do indeed want to be a better driver. Specifically, a better autocross driver. I’ve run the original equipment, 600-treadwear tires on my ’14 Honda Civic Si for my first four events. I suck, but I’m steadily improving with every event. I can get one, maybe two more events out of these tires before they’re down past the tread-wear markers. All the instructors I’ve driven with say the same thing: get Potenza RE71s because the tires I have are costing me 2 to 5 seconds. That gap would have gotten me on the podium at the last two events. But I know I’m still leaving seconds out there due to my inexperience. Should I go Potenza when I replace the tires?

This is the sort of question I love to get — thoughtful, easy to understand, and right in the proverbial wheel house. Even better, the answer to the question will be useful to many of you, even if you have no idea what an “autocross” might be.

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Ask Jack: Got That Maxima On Lock?

This week’s episode of Ask Jack is all about the magic boxes that separate today’s cars from their predecessors — and the unintended consequences of when it all goes wrong.

Reader Eiriksmal writes:

I hope I’ve startled you with this bold introduction. There’s a question I have that only you can answer … probably. It takes a sophisticated man with all sorts of worldly experience that I lack.

You see, I drive a car without antilock brakes, traction control, or stability control. I’m a whipper snapper who’s only been driving 14 years, so I never knew an era without ABS, at the very least. My beloved sixth-generation Maxima, what with the six-speed manual, has a malfunctioning ABS module, so the ABS and TC (no yaw sensor was installed on the 6MT cars — ESC was autotragic only) are kaput. I’ve driven it sans braking assistance for 2.5 years, but today was my first heart-clenching episode caused by a lack of experience with driving an ABS-less car.

I noticed when bedding in some new brakes recently that the back end tries to come around the front in a panic stop after the wheels lock. Sometimes it just squirms a little, other times it would step the back end out a solid 6-8 inches. This confuses me. When I’m pointing in a straight line, holding the steering wheel tight, and jamming the pedal to the floor, why does the lighter back end try to rotate around the heavy nose?

Today, a jerk in an Escape lumbered out in front of me …

This sounds like trouble.

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Ask Jack: The MKT-Bone Shuffle?

Before we get down to the meat of this week’s question, a brief bit of housekeeping. If you have a question for “Ask Jack”, send it to askjack@jackbaruth.com. I will accept and privately answer questions on any topic, regardless of my qualifications to do so. Perhaps you would like to know how to catch the eye of that bored, fidgety, but remarkably attractive housewife down the street. Maybe you need to reshuffle Excel spreadsheets using Perl from a command line, or make a tattoo gun using only the items available in a Midwestern prison. I can help you with any of these queries and a million more. However, in keeping with the fundamental dignity of this website, only questions of an automotive nature will be answered here. No matter what the precise nature of your business might be, please title the email “Ask Jack”.

Now where we were? Oh yes: a fellow with the world’s best car is interested in trading it for the world’s ugliest crossover.

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Ask Jack: The Waffen or the Pirate?

Today’s Ask Jack, just like the calls in those old teen horror movies, is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE.

Hey Jack,

I’m a woman in her 30s with four cars — Chevrolet Tahoe Z71, Ford Fiesta ST, Chevrolet C5 Corvette with 421 rwhp and coilovers, as well as an MX-5 Cup race car. The Fiesta was a great car to get started in this automotive hobby but I’m no longer very excited by its performance on or off the racetrack. So I’m looking for a faster, more interesting, more capable car for those off-the-cuff track days where it’s too much hassle to trailer the Cup car or deal with the Corvette’s voracious appetite for tires and brakes.

I’ve been thinking about one of the last six-speed Chevrolet SS sedans. I can get one pretty easily for $38,000 against a sticker of $48,900. But I’ve also been thinking about a Civic Type R. It looks like they will be priced around $35k. I’d get similar performance, although delivered in a very different fashion. But which one is really faster around a track? Which one is more fun to drive? Less hassle to own? A smarter financial proposition? Also, would you mind getting all your BMX bike stuff off the dining room table? Three weeks ago you said you’d have that done by Sunday. Sincerely … the anonymous reader who wishes to be known as, um, “Peril Chica”.

Well, Peril Chica, I’m glad you asked this question! The answer is … Buy a lightly-used Snakeskin Viper ACR. What? You’re not happy with that answer? Alright. Let’s take a serious look at this, and then let’s get the readers involved.

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Ask Jack: A Young Man Traveling Without Commitment?

“It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” —Wallace Stegner

Got an unusual question via email the other day. It comes from a young man who will be familiar to you but whom we will not explicitly identify. He was once a writer, once an editor, and now a financier, having achieved escape velocity from this ragged, scuttling business into the security and prestige of grown men’s endeavors. There was a time that he worked for me, and a time that I worked for him. It seems difficult to believe that we met eight full years ago.

Anyway, in the course of our various conversations, this Canadian fellow (we’ll call him “Bo”) happened to mention his upcoming travel plans and his need for some companionship along the way, preferably of the short-term, transaction-oriented variety.

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Ask Jack Epilogue: The Joy of S6

Three months ago, I introduced you to my friend Edward, who was agonizing over the potential lease of a new BMW M3. Or a 440i. Or a 430i. It was all up for grabs. I suggested an alternative: the iconic pairing of Accord and Corvette, familiar to TTAC readers from my own garage. Horses for courses, I always say. But Edward was of a different mind. He didn’t want to wait until the weekends or the sunset evenings after work to enjoy himself. A few days ago, he brought his new car by to show off — and what a car it is.

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Ask Jack: To M3 Or Not To M3?

My friend “Edward” is a conservative fellow. He’s smart, and he’s successful, but he’s also not going to be the first person in a group to, say, jump into a lake of unknown temperature. He’d rather let some other idiot take the risk.

In at least two cases, I’ve been that idiot.

When he met my voluptuous Italian housekeeper at my 40th birthday party, he thought she was pretty neat — but he waited to ask her out until I’d confirmed that said housekeeper was both fantastic in bed and unlikely to send him a boiled rabbit in the mail. And once he saw that owning an Audi S5 didn’t mean that I’d be spending every weekend drinking coffee at the service department, he picked up an Audi S4 for a daily driver. In contrast to my lime green six-speed V8 coupe, however, his Audi was a dual-clutch, supercharged-V6, metallic black four-door. Conservative. Just like him.

Edward would like to replace his S4 before winter comes. My advice to him was to take a safer version of my current path: get himself an Accord V6 sedan for the commuting grind and a brand-new Z51 Corvette for the weekends. He can certainly afford to do it, but instead, he’s thinking about upping the ante to a loaded-up M3 with a dual-clutch transmission. However, I had a slightly different idea, as you will see.

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Ask Jack: When To Rent?

It’s the triumphant return of Ask Jack, the question-and-answer series that has proven to be significantly less popular than Ask Bark. Today’s question comes from several commenters on the Malibu LTZ Review, and it can be summed up like this:

If you’re only driving 500 miles or so during the weekend, why would you rent a car instead of taking your Accord/911/Boxster/Neon/Tahoe/Fiesta/motorcycles/bicycles/Uber/Southwest/Car2G?

I’m glad you asked. Really, I am. ‘Cause otherwise, today’s column would have been a long snd slightly sorrowful re-telling of a time I accidentally let my S5 roll downhill into a concrete parking block because I had both of my hands between some young mother’s legs in the passenger seat and my foot slipped off the brake when I leaned all the way over towards her.

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Ask Jack: Should This Matrix Owner Take The Blue Pill Instead?

Welcome back for another installment of “Ask Jack”, the place for you, the man on the street, to ask me, the man on the Internet, any question you like on any topic that makes its way into your mind.

Today’s question seems like a simple one: do you stay in the Matrix or not? In this case, the Matrix is a Toyota Matrix, with the all-too-common manual-transmission failure. But to properly answer the question, we’ll need to consider everything from solo ocean journeys to bad seeds in a magic bus.

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Ask Jack: The Final Countdown

Judging from the comments on my Beetle review, some of you clearly think I’m using this whole “shattered leg” thing as an excuse to just phone it in until I can obtain a prescription for Dilaudid and start writing the authentic Hunter S. Thompson psychedelia once again. Do not worry, my little kittens. Papa has heard your cries and I will do right by you in every particular. I have plenty of time to do so, since my injuries will keep me from having sex for at least four days, possibly five. Which for me is a long time, because as you know I like to get down whenever I can.

Let us begin thus: Yesterday, I was relaxing in pre-op, waiting for a bunch of screws made from the same material as my IWC Ingenieur Titanium to be placed in my second-favorite tibia, listening to “Last Train Home” from Metheny’s first “Brazilian” record, 1987’s Still Life Talking, when the young lady next to me said “Your phone’s buzzing. Maybe it’s important.” I recognized the number: a dedicated TTAC reader and occasional contributor with a definite fondness for Mitsubishis.

“I’d better take this,” I said, waving off the surgery team.

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Ask Jack: CRX No Longer In Effect?

It’s the return of Ask Jack, one of my your favorite sections! You can now ask me questions about nearly anything, as long as there’s a kinda-sorta automotive aspect to it. Kinda-sorta. In the meantime, check out today’s question:

Hey Jack,

I’m in a bit of a dilemma. I’m a self-employed delivery driver (delivering restaurant meals, not pizza) and until recently I’ve been using a 1989 Honda CRX HF for that duty. I was averaging about 48mpg in 80% city driving and it was good for parking in downtown Portland, OR (as good as it can in a city where cars are practically banned). And the A/C actually worked!

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Ask Jack: Prius Inter Pares

It’s another underwater lease question! Never learned to swim! But I think this one will be even easier to answer.

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Ask Jack: And None Of The Miles Are Free

Welcome to our new feature, Ask Jack! I’ll be answering your questions on pretty much any topic that has a vague relationship to cars. Send me your questions and make sure you let us know if you want to be identified!

Our very first question comes from a fellow who wants to know what he should do about lease mileage on his Camry. As fate would have it, I was a Red Carpet Leasing Professional(tm) in another life and I am ready to help!

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  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.
  • ToolGuy New Hampshire