Category: Ask Jack

By on January 2, 2018

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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By on December 27, 2017

2016 Chevrolet Colorado Z71, Image: General Motors

“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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By on December 12, 2017

2016 Honda Civic Sedan - Image: Honda

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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By on November 7, 2017

winter driving snowy road (public domain)

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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By on October 31, 2017

road rage

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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By on October 25, 2017

Tahoe and Traverse, Image: GM

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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By on October 12, 2017

2015 Ford Mustang GT dirt road

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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By on September 21, 2017

1980 Cadillac Coupe deVille, Image: Wikimedia

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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By on September 14, 2017

2018 Ford Mustang, Image: Ford

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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By on September 7, 2017

Autobahn, Image: Wikimedia

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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By on August 29, 2017

2017 Honda CR-V - Image: Honda

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? Read More >

By on August 24, 2017

20-2014-jeep-cherokee-chrome-grille

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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By on August 17, 2017

2011 Hyundai Sonata

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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By on August 9, 2017

EcoBoost Mustang Burnout

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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By on August 2, 2017

2015 Dodge Charger V6 AWD Rallye (8 of 13)

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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Recent Comments

  • ToolGuy: My guess at the thought process (speculation based on historical reality and age/experience of key OEM...
  • DC Bruce: The one Corey linked to is a convertible. Unfortunately, no photos with the top down.
  • ToolGuy: They should never answer the first one, but Jim Farley has been in ‘no filter’ mode lately...
  • wolfwagen: Hyundai also had the Elantra GT N line (small wagon) 201 HP with a manual. Supposedly was a great little...
  • teddyc73: Back when this car was new there were (and still are) only two genders and one’s sex and gender where...

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  • Adam Tonge
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