Avoidable Contact

Tesla Autonomously Rams Deputy's SUV

A Tesla autonomously rammed a Snohomish County, Washington sheriff’s deputy’s Ford Explorer SUV. As reported by Nexstar Media Wire, the incident occurred over the weekend.

The parked SUV sustained heavy damage. There were no injuries to the driver or the deputy. There was no word on the extent of the damages to the Tesla.

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2013-15 Honda Accords Heading in the Wrong Direction

2013-15 Honda Accords are under investigation by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a steering issue. Allegations of Accords suddenly losing control without warning have led to 107 complaints. According to a Motor1 report, there are as many as 1,120,470 Accords in the US that could be affected.

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Domino's Delivers Pizzas Autonomously in Houston

Domino’s has launched autonomous pizza delivery in Houston, Texas this week. Customers can choose to have their meal delivered by Nuro’s R2 robot. Nuro has the first completely autonomous on-road delivery vehicle approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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Tesla Full-Self Driving Option Comes Up Empty

Elon Musk said in a tweet, “All Tesla cars delivered in the final three days of the year will get three months of the Full Self-Driving option for free. Delivery & docs must be fully complete by midnight Dec 31st.”

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Thank You And Goodbye (Sort Of)

Tomorrow will be my last day as the Editor-In-Chief pro tem of The Truth About Cars. This was always meant to be a temporary situation, despite what some of the B&B thought. Given some of the differences in opinion I have recently had with TTAC’s owners, this is a good time for us to call it quits. I will not be replaced; the site will be managed by the leadership team at VerticalScope in Toronto and Derek will continue in his capacity as Managing Editor. There will be other changes, detailed below.

I made some promises to you, the readers, and I’d like to discuss whether or not those promises have been kept. But the tl;dr crowd can best understand the situation like this: TTAC is basically Fleetwood Mac.

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Avoidable Contact: Cayenne Won't Help Ya, Cayenne Won't Do You No Good.

“When,” I asked her, “did you realize that you, were, well, you know, an actual prostitute?”

“Well,” she said, rubbing her cigarette out in the waffle-patterned wrought-iron table, shielding her eyes against the sun as it set in the distance, “I’d been dancing for a while, and there was kind of a grey area there, you’d date a guy and he’d toss you some money to stay home from the club some nights, and then I started being less picky about the guys I’d let cash me out, if a guy was decent-looking he didn’t have to necessarily be my boyfriend. And then I had a friend who did a few parties from time to time, bachelor parties and stuff, and I went with her, and it was good money. And you get used to the idea that you can make five hundred or a thousand bucks really easy. So I stopped dancing because that was getting in the way of my ability to do parties.”


And, I started taking calls to hotels in Beverly Hills. And one night I was on my way back from one of those and a guy in a nice car pulled up and offered me three hundred bucks for a quick date. It was bonus money, so I took it. Well, I went back to that street on a night when I wasn’t going to a hotel.” She frowns and looks down at the table for a moment before continuing. “So I’m out on the street, and I’m talking to a guy, and all of a sudden there’s a cop car there and they’re cuffing me, and I’m asking what’s going on, and they say I was soliciting, and I asked what they meant, and they said streetwalking, and I’m all, like, you have me confused with somebody else, I’m not a whore, I’m not a hooker, you know?”

Her hands flutter and she takes a sip of her soda, then she looks me square in the eye, level, expressionless. “Except, it turns out that I was.”

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Avoidable Contact: Who's Afraid of a Little Integration?

Saturday morning, I’m at Ki’s with the fellow who hired me at my day job a couple of years ago. He’s in his early fifties, considerably taller and wider than I am, cheerful in his aggressive tan and studiously thrown-together beach-bum ensemble, yet menacing enough that when he veers in the direction of a particular table on the sunporch the other two groups of people who are also heading for the table magically decide to just stand and wait for the next one instead. We don’t work together any more; he hired me to turn an idea of his into aluminum-and-silicon reality then he departed for the next idea. The future is as real to him as the present; perhaps more so. He earns between three and four hundred dollars an hour as a consultant, imagining what technology might be able to do for medicine in the future.

“You do this car thing,” he barks. “Something I’ve wondered. Bought that Rubicon outside. They wanted two thousand dollars for navigation. Now that’s a (bleep)ing waste of money. Utterly insane. Why not offer full Bluetooth integration into what my phone already does, extend the screen and the touch facility to a dash display. Cost two hundred bucks if you talk to —” And he rattles off the names of a couple of Taiwanese OEMs who could, no doubt, handle it. “Why isn’t that happening?”

“Yeah,” I agree, “that’s crazy alright.”

“I,” he growls in response, leaning back in his chair and fixing me with his eye, “was asking you a question, actually.”

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Avoidable Contact: Return Of The Mack.

Yes, that’s right: it’s now easily possible to blow seventy thousand dollars or more on a two-liter, four-cylinder BMW sedan. The image you see above is not an attempt to make the most expensive 528i possible; it’s simply a car with most of the options. The ones you’d want, like the best sound system and the heated/cooled seats.

Of course, most of the cheapo Funfers you’ll see on the street won’t be loaded like this; they’ll be $53,000 Premium-Packaged specials designed to lease for $600 a month including tax. In other words, they’re base Delta 88s, and the one above is a Delta 88 Royale Brougham. BMW has become Oldsmobile circa 1973, the same way Mercedes-Benz has become Cadillac circa 1973. Were you alive for the Seventies? Did you enjoy the era? I hope you did, because it’s returning. Brougham is back, baby. With a vengeance.

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Avoidable Contact: An Immodest Proposal to Solve the German Nomenclatural Nincompoopery.

Why, why, why the hell is the new BMW 328d called the 328d? It’s a 3-Series, so that part’s legitimate, even if today’s 3er dwarfs the old Bavaria. It’s also a diesel, so the “d” seems appropriate, even if the absence of a “t” rankles a bit among those of us who remember the 524td. Not that “t” always meant “turbo” in BMW-land; sometimes it meant “touring” like fast, sometimes it meant “touring” like station wagon.

The problem is this: the “28” in 328d suggests a 2.8-liter engine. Just like the 528e had. Well, actually, that was a 2.7-liter engine. The same engine appeared in the 325e, where it was also 2.7 liters. Still, those are relatively white decklid lies compared to the effrontery of putting a two-liter engine in a car and badging it as a 2.8, right? There has to be a rhyme and reason here somewhere, surely. And it there isn’t, then surely there’s a way to put some sense and sensibility back into the German-car game, right?

Good news: I, your humble author, have a solution.

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Avoidable Contact: Torture, Forgiveness, Meaning.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the General Motors XP-75 Eagle and the idea that GM might have engaged in a relatively small bit of realpolitik during said plane’s conception and gestation. I’ve been writing for TTAC long enough to have a fairly accurate sense of how the B&B as a whole will regard whatever I write, but in the case of this article my guesses about what I’d find in the comments section were completely and thoroughly mistaken. I’d like to address them as part of larger concerns I have about the future of writing and criticism on the Internet, and I will do so in what you’re about to read.

But first, let’s talk about the way the Japanese treated prisoners during World War II, shall we?

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Avoidable Contact: This Geneva Convention Was Torture For Enthusiasts

Full disclosure: While my business-class compatriots were living it up in Geneva, I was sitting at home in Ohio, waiting anxiously for the Fed-Ex-mishap-delayed arrival of something called a “Modern Eagle NOS Brazilian” and letting my three-year-old son watch The Lost World in HD. I’d forgotten that there was a part where the T. Rex bites a hapless civilian in half. “There’s meat inside people, if you’re a hungry dinosaur and you can’t find a ‘ceratops to eat,” the boy opined upon seeing the scene. Oh, well. Nature, red in tooth and claw, and all that.

It’s reasonable, therefore, that I might be personally bitter about the latest auto show and my failure to snag a seat on a charter flight to same. No surprise there. What is surprising is this: the people who went weren’t excited about the product either. Sure, they took Facebook pictures of their triple-seven sleeping pods and eighty-euro mystery dinners, but when it came to the actual rolling stock, the lack of enthusiasm among the professional enthusiasts could be viewed from space. Assuming, of course, you have an Internet connection in space and are willing to use it to read auto blogs. The closest thing to a universally acclaimed car at the show was a diesel version of a sporty hatchback. That’s like getting worked up over Diet Dr. Pepper.

The responsibility for this dismal state of affairs can be clearly laid at the feet of three companies. Porsche, Ferrari, and Lamborghini were given a chance to render automotive equivalents of Miss Alex Morgan in steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber. Instead, they chose to give us Honey Boo-Boo’s mother, Snooki, and Janet Reno in a Predator mask, respectively.

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Avoidable Contact: LED, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way.

According to the nice entertainers at Top Gear the “Sub-Zero Fridge Coolest Car” at the moment is an Aston DB9. That makes perfect sense because the display on my Sub-Zero at home keeps going out and I anticipate the same fate is likely to strike every display screen on the DB9 much more quickly than the nine years it took my Sub-Z to start showing the freezer temperature as “88” all the time. When the speedometer on the DB9 gets to 88, you’re going to see some serious shit, man. Like a $3000 repair bill.

I’m willing to accept TG‘s verdict on car coolness because I have no idea what makes a car truly “cool”. I do, however, have some opinions about what the most uncool car on the market might be. I’m thinking the Toyota Venza is certainly among the podium finishers there and possibly worthy of the top (bottom?) spot. Why is it uncool? Well, it’s a Toyota, and Toyotas are the vehicles of choice for uncool people around the world. Along with the Avalon, it’s one of the Toyotas most obviously aimed at old people, and old people are rarely cool unless they are murderers turned blues musicians. It’s a jacked-up fake-SUV station wagon that replaced the very cool Camry real station wagon. It’s the most forgettable-looking vehicle on the road, which makes it less cool than the rolling freakshow competitor known as the Honda Crosstour. It has a standard four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive. I can’t think of any way in which the Venza could suck it harder than it does right now. It’s the most cynical, depressing, worthless entry on the market.

Uncool, brother. But the DB9 and the Venza, eternal opposites on the cool scale, have one fairly uncool thing in common, don’t they?

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Avoidable Contact: Infinity Jest.

I want to tell you this, although I know many of you will not believe. I want you to close your eyes and give me the gift of your trust for a few minutes, to travel through memory and dream and ambition with me. I want you to experience the “theater dim” of the interior lights. To open the throttle on the Bose-by-Nissan stereo. To feel the perfect response from the small sedan’s leather-wrapped steering wheel, to catch a slide as the four-wheel-steering kicks in at the most bizarre time during an irresponsible freeway maneuver. To pose Yakuza-style in the baddest sedan on the block, B-pillars swimming barely seen beneath the glass. To feel the 276-horsepower, quad-cam V-8 punch you back into the impeccably tasteful interior.

Then, and only then, if you can dream with me, if you can believe what I believe, then you might be able to look through the stupid Q-names and the dumb-assed rocks-and-trees marketing and the aftermarket Skyline badges and the unfocused-looking Pathfinder rebadge and the Jersey shore types crowding each owner’s meet and just hold this idea in your head:

Infiniti didn’t always suck.

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My Greatest Hits (And Biggest Misses) of 2012

When Joni Mitchell finally agreed to release a Hits album, she did so with the stipulation that the label also release a Misses album full of music that she was happy to have made even if the critics and buyers didn’t dig it.

So. What follows is five bona-fide, hit-counter-spinning hits, and five how-dare-you-turn-your-nose-up-at-my-talent misses. Let the second-guessing begin!

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Avoidable Contact: Won't Someone Please Put Land Rover Out of My Misery?

Halfway across the stream, there was a crunch and a GRRRRRRIND and my little Freelander came to a halt, steering wheel frozen in place by a log or a rut or the Kraken or something. Immediately I heard advice from both sides of the water. “Go forward! Harder!”

“No, wait! Backwards!”

“We’ll strap you up, hold on!”

“No time for that! You’ll stall the motor! Just DO SOMETHING!” The water in the passenger compartment was three inches high and rising. I was more than ten miles from the nearest trailhead in any direction and more than two hundred miles from home. The recovery would be long, difficult, and expensive. I chose to briefly slam the transmission into reverse and give the miniature V-6 a brief moment of full-throttle before selecting low gear and driving forward into whatever had stopped me before with twice the momentum I’d had previously. Thankfully, this time the obstacle gave way and moments later I was four-wheel-scrabbling for grip up the streambank. A narrow escape. Who’s stupid enough to take a unibody CUV hardcore off-roading? This guy.

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Avoidable Contact: the Watery Big Bang, the 32-step Power Steering Fluid Check, Disposable Faux-ury.

In a former life as an occasional participant on the fringes of the ol’ illegal street racing, I was a member of an “underground message board” where matches were set up, smack was talked, grammar was tortured, you know the deal, right? The board was well-known for being completely cop/narc-free, largely because the cops didn’t care about two community-college dropouts racing 15-second Hondas behind a grocery store in the sticks at two in the morning and then creating twenty-eight-page forum threads detailing their particular excuses for losing. In fact, until some GTO-driving halfwit managed to kill himself and cripple an innocent woman traveling the other way on the freeway, it was pretty much open season for 40-rolls on the freeways of Columbus, Ohio.

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Avoidable Contact: Hey Hey, Ho Ho, The Donkinental's Got To Go

I don’t think anybody else in automotive journalism can make this claim: I’ve put in nearly 37,000 miles behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental GT, in places as disparate as New York City’s West 48th Street (home of Rudy’s Music), the rural roads of northern Kentucky, and the Climbing Esses at Virginia International Raceway. Forget a lead-follow press event or the rich-for-a-week-wannabe experience of a loaner car: every mile I spent behind the Bentley’s wheel was at my own expense.

Of course, I’m speaking literally here: I’d actually purchased the piano-black-wood-rimmed steering wheel from a Continental GT and installed it, along with a set of Bentley paddle shifters, into my 2006 VW Phaeton V8. When I finally got around to driving the real thing, I couldn’t believe how close the driving experience of the $190,000-plus Bentley was to that of the $68,000 Volkswagen. “This car,” I thought at the time, “is a Phaeton for idiots, which is really saying something.”

Five years later, the Continental GT is still a Phaeton for idiots, except now it’s an old Phaeton for idiots. Old, tired, and showing no signs of life despite a twin-turbo-V-8 heart transplant. It’s time to pull the plug on a car that never even deserved to be called a Bentley in the first place.

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Avoidable Contact: Two Chevrolets Enter, One Leaves.

Two Chevrolets in a rental lot
And sorry I could not thrash ’em both
And be one reviewer, but I got
The Cruze first, figuring I could not
Fail, given Impala fleet sale growth

To find one at another time and
Compare them, though GM liked it not,
Face to face and back to back and then
Perhaps a fleshly, fantastic end
To turn the stomach or stir the pot,

The Cruze I rented for four fab days,
The Impala I stretched out to five.
I raced in LeMons north of L.A.,
And stayed with my friend Melisa Mae,
Then to Quebec for a B-Spec drive.

That was getting a bit painful, but you get the idea, right?

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Avoidable Contact: Cocaine and Content, Gold Lamborghinis Compete With Faux Reviews and Straight Ballet-ers.

“It’s just sooooo much better on coke, you just wouldn’t believe it, that’s how I prefer it, really, it’s so much better it almost isn’t worth doing it sober.” Though I remained professionally impassive behind my Prodesign 4360 eyeglasses, I was simply amazed at the story that my old high-school classmate was telling me over a few drinks. Back in 1986, she’d been just another quiet, reasonably pretty girl, and in the present day she’s a suburban housewife with the requisite $70,000 Toyota and the mandatory country club memberships. In between, however, she’d apparently done some pretty crazy stuff, including a couple of cocaine-laced three-way weekend throwdowns in Las Vegas. “You go to Vegas for your car thingies, don’t you?” she inquired, her nostrils flaring in Proustian sympathy.

“Er, not any more I don’t,” I hastily replied. Twenty minutes later I was quite deliberately out the door, heading home on my little Honda motorcycle, and feeling quite square. Not my kind, dear. I’ve never done cocaine. Never plan to. But it seems like every woman I meet nowadays has climbed a veritable Everest of the stuff. Was I missing something? To find out, I decided to ask my resident expert on kink, drugs, department-store clothes-shopping, and all other things vaguely disreputable.

“I suppose sex might be better on cocaine the first few times,” the infamous Vodka McBigbra told me as I knelt in my driveway, scrubbing bugs off my Boxster’s smudged 3M nose shield, “but every guy I ever saw who used coke to enhance sex ended up giving up the sex in order to focus more intently on the coke, you know? There’s just never enough of it, you understand? There are these great hits, but then there just isn’t enough. I don’t think you understand.”

Oh, sweetheart, but I do understand. After all, I’m an automotive journalist.

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Avoidable Contact: The Love Song Of W. Chevrolet Impala.

I come to not to bury the W-body Impala, but to praise it.

With the NYIAS introduction of its replacement, we can now legitimately call Chevrolet’s pocket battleship of a full-sizer the “old model”, although if we are speaking truthfully, it virtually qualified as the “old Impala” when it was introduced thirteen years ago. At the time, it seemed like more woeful evidence of General Motors’ ineptitude, a quick mash-up of a Lumina with powerplants so ancient there are probably cave paintings somewhere in Altamira documenting an early TSB campaign for them, complete with pictograms of how to use a wooly mammoth to power an engine hoist.

A funny thing happened along the way, though: the Impala started to find things. First it found a place. Next, it found character. Finally, and not everyone will agree, it found redemption.

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Avoidable Contact: Do Cops Really Have the Need for Speed?

Since I posted this article in 2009, the city of Milford has settled for $2.5M with the family of David Servin, one of the victims of the incident discussed below. The police officer driving the vehicle is facing manslaughter charges. Note that manslaughter cases don’t normally drag for three years before going to trial; that’s a little courtesy that the local “justice” system is doing for Officer Anderson. Go run someone down in the street in most American cities and you will be facing a jury within six months, tops — JB

The nice folks at Jalopnik link to us so often, it’s the least I can do to begin this column by suggesting you watch this video over there. For those of you who don’t like watching videos, this particular one shows a police car operating at a velocity of ninety-four miles per hour in a marked 40 zone. At around the one-minute mark, we see the police car strike a Mazda containing two teenagers. Both are killed. The police car is not running its lights, was not operating the siren, and was not even responding to an emergency.

Here’s the best (or worst) part: the officer who killed the kids, Jason Anderson, was apparently “racing” the officer whose car recorded the video, one Richard Pisani. Pisani is traveling at about 74 mph during one part of the video. In a marked 40. I cannot find any evidence that Officer Pisani was in any way disciplined for his conduct. Think about that for a moment.

Perhaps most worryingly, the video shows absolutely no awareness, driving ability, or evidence of the vaunted “high-speed police training” on the part of Officer Anderson. It’s fairly obvious that the Mazda is going to cross Anderson’s path. We’re regularly told that by police departments that their officers have “special training”, but this is an accident that most solid NASA HPDE drivers could easily avoid. A modest amount of steering to the left would have saved two lives. Instead, Anderson simply drives right into the Mazda, with his car’s “black box” recording 100% accelerator pressure up to the crash. He was flat-out to the very end.

The good news is that the technology exists to prevent a tragic event such as this from ever happening again. In fact, the technology has existed for a very, very long time, and it could be easily installed on every police vehicle in the country. Let’s discuss.

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Avoidable Contact: Airbags Killed the AM Radio Star.

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“All I need is a nice basic car. Something like, maybe, a Saturn or something.” This unassuming, if perhaps ungrammatical, combination of sentences has come to be a long-running joke in my family. You see, one of my relatives married a woman back in the Eighties and subsequently provided her with a string of relatively upscale whips ranging from an Infiniti J30 to a Siebener BMW. Every time it was time to go looking for a replacement, however, she would ardently protest to anyone who would listen that “All I need is a nice basic car. Something like, maybe, a Saturn or something.” My relative ignored her and kept shoveling the Audis, Bimmers, and Infinitis her way, and each time she would accept the new ride reluctantly, reminding us about her preference for “a basic car”.

Some fifteen years after their marriage, this woman told me at dinner, “You know what I did today?”

“No. What did you do?”

“I rode in a friend’s Saturn to lunch. You know, I’ve talked about how that’s all I really want.”


“It was horrible! It smelled weird, the windows rolled up by hand, it was cramped inside, and it was really noisy, like something was wrong with it.”

“So, what’s your opinion now?”

“Well, I still want a basic car. But now I think I’d be happy with just a basic BMW or Lexus.” I thought this was well-said, because it allowed her to continue to champion the usual liberal virtues of “simplicity” and “consuming less” without actually being forced to drive anything worse than a 328i. As it so happens, her current car is just that – a “nice, basic” two-hundred-and-thirty-horsepower, leather-seated, alloy-wheeled Bimmer sedan.

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Avoidable Contact: When It Comes to the Options, Some People Have No Standards.

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A rare pro-Porsche article from the S:S:L days — JB

They call it “Trauma Bonding”, and although the exact definition is highly debatable, it’s generally understood to mean a situation in which victims come to identify or sympathize with their victimizers. It occurs in cults, domestic violence situations, and even hijacked airliners, but most importantly for the purpose of today’s discussion, it’s running rampant in the automotive enthusiast community. The most recent manifestation of the illness appears to be a fondness for outrageous fuel prices; it’s characterized by statements like, “I can’t wait until ten-dollar gasoline forces us all to drive small, economical cars,” or “The best thing for everybody would be if we were taxed into using (insert naive reference to diesel, soybeans, unicorn sweat, or whatever other smelly, sticky, low-power, improbably available fuel tickles one’s fancy). Then all the SUVs will be gone from the road and we’ll all drive the cars we need, instead of the cars we want.

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Avoidable Contact: Lexus Killed Saab, but GM Let Saab Die.

Published in Speed:Sport:Life 26 months ago, but still true today, I believe — JB

This past Friday, I was seated in a long-lead briefing for another auto manufacturer when the whispered word was passed down the line of seated journalists: “There’s an emergency conference call regarding Saab in ten minutes.” Not too long after that: “Saab is dead. There’s no deal.” All around me, I saw men with their heads cradled in their hands, though I could not tell whether it was from sympathy, misery, or simple world-weariness. From the seat next to me, a sorrowful, poignant comment: “I don’t want to live in a world where the ES350 is a best-seller and Saab is dead.”

What a perceptive statement! For there were more than fifteen long years where people willingly deluded themselves into believing that this world was one where the Camry-by-Lexus could rule the sales roost and, yet, Saab could live. With evidence to the contrary literally surrounding them, Saab’s incompetent, careless stewards at General Motors continued to push the lie: Saab is premium, Saab is luxury, Saab can compete with the Japanese and Germans on equal ground. By the time Saab’s lifeless body finally thumped against the ground, the story had assumed the mantle of tragedy. And like most tragedies, it began with a misunderstanding.

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Avoidable Contact: Who Wants to Last Forever?

It was a sunny day in 1994 when I fired up my 1990 Volkswagen Fox and took my newly acquired “Swedish Mauser” 6.5×55 rifle to the local range. At that point in time, the rifle was around eighty-two years old, having been manufactured at some point in 1912. It worked fine and was accurate to slightly under one inch at one hundred yards — the so-called “minute of angle” which is a basic standard of accuracy for long guns. Having satisfied myself that this time-worn gun was up to snuff, I went home and played some guitar. In this case, the guitar was my 1982 Electra Phoenix X130, already twelve years old but showing very little wear despite a harrowing four years following me around a college campus.

My mail had been delivered that day by a mailman driving a Grumman LLV, very similar to the one pictured at the top of this column. And although I didn’t know it, Porsche was less than three months away from building a certain white 1995 993 Carrera with factory-matched white wheels.

Approximately eighteen years later, my Mauser is doing fine service for another shooter, who reports that it has required no repair or maintenance beyond the basics. It will celebrate its hundredth birthday some time this year. My Electra rarely comes out of its case any more, but when I do play it there’s no evidence that it’s now a thirty-one-year-old guitar. My mail was delivered today by a mail lady in a Grumman LLV which could not have been manufactured any fewer than fourteen years ago. And my 1995 Porsche 993 Carrera slumbers in the cold garage dreaming of spring, shiny and corrosion-free.

The 1990 Fox I drove to the range that long-ago day? Gone, junked, rusted out, driven into the ground. In a story full of what they call “durable goods”, the Fox wasn’t truly durable at all. It was used and discarded, probably utterly worthless by the time the odometer reached the 150,000 mark. Surely VW understood how to make a consumer product as durable as a wooden Japanese guitar or a ninety-year-old rifle. The industry as a whole understood how to make durable items. My little white 993 still runs. The local mail truck still runs, although we’ll discuss later why Grumman’s understanding of “durable” differs from Porsche’s. The Fox’s lack of durability was almost certainly due to a particular decision or series of decisions made somewhere at Volkswagen. Why? What is the advantage of deliberately creating less-than-durable products? Put another way — why aren’t all vehicles “long life vehicles”?

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Avoidable Contact: Dealer Vs. Manufacturer

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I’ve linked to this before from TTAC, but what the heck. It’s Friday, and we gotta get down on Friday — JB

She’d entered our dealer principal’s office as a coltish, blinking young woman, stepping awkwardly in new high heels. Almost six feet tall, impossibly thin, painfully beautiful, wearing a purposely dowdy pantsuit. It was always fun to see the new dealer reps arrive from Ford; without exception they were tall, good-looking young men and women with impeccable degrees from Michigan universities, earnest Midwestern faces, and a charmingly naive sense of the world. They’d meet the dealer, a hard-assed former B-17 pilot who had built the dealership with his own hands, and they’d meet the general manager, a hulking man with a Mafioso’s hair and the easy yet malicious attitude of a professional assassin, and those two old bastards would grind ‘em into the ground. We enjoyed the show. Sure, these kids were on their way to six-figure salaries, a home in Bloomfield Hills, and the outrageously hedonistic life of a Detroit executive – but before they could make the big money, they’d have to take a beating from our guys. Of course, things were slightly different this time. Our dealer principal had recently handed over the daily operations to his phlegmatic, fortysomething son, whose demeanor and physique had long ago earned him the nickname “Droopy The Dog”. Droopy had insisted on seeing the Ford rep alone, probably hoping that he could earn some respect among the sales staff by beating up a twenty-three-year-old girl. Rumor said this meeting was to discuss an extra “allocation” – the amount of stock sent to each dealer on an annual basis. We all knew what we wanted from this girl – we wanted extra allocation of PowerStroke diesels, we wanted more three-quarter-ton trucks, and we wanted to become an SVT dealer. With any luck, Droopy would get the job done.

When she walked out of his door, the awkward young volleyball player had become a triumphant Valkyrie. She grinned at the assembled sales staff and strutted to her cream-colored Town Car Cartier. From colt to racehorse, in one meeting flat. Our general manager frowned, went into Droopy’s office, and slammed the door. Hushed voices turned loud, and before long the two men were screaming at each other. The rest of the salesmen had melted away by the time the door banged back open, leaving me to face the general manager alone. He looked at me and said,

“Aerostars. Aerostars! The bitch made him take four AEROSTARS!.”

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Avoidable Contact: Color My World, the Case for Front-wheel Drive.

Based on a Speed:Sport:Life article. Several TTAC readers have pointed out in the past that the “dollar theory” of tire traction fails to account for dynamic weight loads, so consider that pointed out up front — JB

It seems like yesterday, as the man sang, but it was long ago. In April of 2008 I ordered a new Audi S5 in a rather unique color — the “Lime Green” used by Porsche in 1973 and referred to as “Lime Green” and “Viper Green”. Not “Signal Green”, mind you: that’s a different color, with more blue, and less cheer, in the mix. The car arrived in September of 2008. I drove it for two years and 38,000 miles before selling it for approximately five grand more than “regular” S5s were fetching.

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Avoidable Contact: The End, and the Beginning, of Great Japanese Cars.

This article appeared in S:S:L in April of 2009, so adjust comments regarding the “current” Honda and Acura lineup appropriately, thanks! — JB

I remember the event as if it were yesterday, although in fact it was twenty-six years ago. My relentless, Rommel-esque campaign to get my mother into a 1983 Honda Civic 1500S had very nearly reached a successful conclusion. For months I had worked tirelessly to steer Mom towards a Honda dealership for our new “family car”, always with the ostensible and sensible goal of purchasing the $6,995 1500GL wagon. Once we were inside the doors of the dealership — doors I had personally darkened many a time before then, since it was only a four-mile walk each way from my house — it would be a simple matter of bait-and-switching her away from the wagon and into a bright red 1500S hatchback. I’d walked to the showroom the day before and verified the presence of one, priced at a compelling $6,495.

As fate would have it, however, the red 1500S had sold, leaving just a black one available. (The 1983 Civic 1500S, the only Civic of that generation to carry the “S” tag, was available in just two colors: black and red.) No matter: we’d take it. In just a few nearly tearful moments, I convinced her that the 141-inch long, two-door hatchback was an ideal car for a single mother and two growing boys. The sales manager, displaying the utterly despicable greed that is still a hallmark of Honda dealers today, allowed us to buy the car at sticker. Providing, that is, we would pay an additional $349 for a two-speaker cassette player and $99 for a useless tape stripe.

That Civic was a truly great car. Economical, quick enough, sporty-looking, bulletproof, fun. It certainly would have lasted my mother a decade or more, had she not been struck just two years after the purchase by a drunk driver in a Cadillac deVille. The impact put parts of the back seat into the front seats. Hondas were not terribly crash-safe in those days.

Still, the ’83 Civic was the best Civic in history up to that point. The ’84 “breadvan” Civic was better. Much better. The Civic that followed was even better, and so on, until we reached the point of the 1999 Civic Si coupe, widely acclaimed as nearly everyone’s favorite Civic. And then a funny thing happened.

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Avoidable Contact: The Grand National Problem.

Originally published in Speed:Sport:Life April, 2010 — JB

Imagine that you’re an alien. Not an undocumented immigrant, mind you, but a genuine, green-tentacle-and-glass-helmet monstrosity of a visitor from beyond the stars. While your fellow aliens examine the defense systems of Earth (not so hot) and the intelligence of the population (somewhat simian), you attempt to reconcile all the written history you can find with the evidence before your massive, bloodshot, singular eye. You are particularly interested in the history and psychology behind the local transportation devices, known as “cars”, “whips”, “hogs”, or “causes for divorce”.

Most of what you’ve learned is pretty common-sense stuff, even for an alien. There’s a problem, however, and you have, after some months of study, come to call it “The Grand National Problem”. You’ve used your indistinguishable-from-magic science to read everything in the vast record-keeping halls of General Motors. You know from the documentation that the vast majority of Buick Regals produced during the Eighties were chrome-laden, velour-lined “Custom” and “Limited” models. It’s as plain as the order codes on all the old Selectric-typed order forms.

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Avoidable Contact: The Man Who Saved BMW.

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Inspired by an impromptu meeting and discussion I had with Chris Bangle and Jack Telnack at the 2008 Detroit Show, originally published in Speed:Sport:Life three years ago, but I think it is equally true today —- JB

“…so we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A Dark Knight.”

It feels more than a little trite and melodramatic to begin this column with a quote from a Batman movie, but if the auto business has any profession which lends itself to celebrity culture, it is that of the stylist. Harley Earl set the template: physically enormous and personally outrageous, he created our modern notion of the automobile as aesthetic object. And while there have been many flamboyant “superstar” designers who followed in his footsteps, from Tjaarda to Stephenson, history will surely acknowledge that a few men managed to accomplish more than merely sketching a pretty shape. Bill Mitchell brought us the 1961 Chevrolet, which set a visual template for modern sedans that persists to this day. William Lyons fathered the XJ6, perhaps the greatest sporting sedan design in history, even if he didn’t actually draw it. Alex Issigonis invented the “small car” as we know it today, and Giorgetto Giugiaro rationalized it into the unmatchable first-generation Golf. Marcello Gandini created the supercar; Jack Telnack revitalized the Mustang and with it an entire generation of automotive enthusiasm.

Years from now, when the smoke of history clears, another name will be added to that list of designers who were capable of re-imagining the automobile. Born and raised in the American Midwest, Christopher Edward Bangle joined BMW with a rather singular goal in mind: to create what would be only the second major design direction in the company’s history. His complete and utter success in this task has permitted BMW to become a major player on the global stage; along the way, he rewrote the design language for the entire auto industry.

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Avoidable Contact: Who Really Runs The Dealership?

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Another one from the vaults: 2007 to be exact! — JB

I’d like to start this week with a bit of an apology – not for what I’ve done, mind you, but for what I am going to do. Fourteen years ago, I was a flat broke, know-nothing kid starting at the bottom of a small-town Ford dealership’s auto (and light truck!) sales department. The hours weren’t great, and most of the actual minutes were even worse, as Douglas Adams would say. On a monthly “draw” against commission of eight hundred dollars, I didn’t exactly live like a king. Heck, I couldn’t even afford to eat a real lunch. Instead, I’d buy two fifty-nine-cent McD’s cheeseburgers and wander over to the used car department, where “old Frank”, the finance manager for the “used side”, would be telling stories. After forty-plus years in the business, Frank knew all the tales of the car biz, and he wasn’t shy about telling them, no matter how disturbing, slanderous, or just plain obscene they might be. One lifeless Tuesday afternoon, I said to him,

“Hey Frank, you oughta write a book about this stuff.” Frank reacted to this mild suggestion with unconcealed disapproval and what was very possibly contempt, as if I’d suggested that he put a firecracker in the dealership toilet. His lit cigarette – yes, you could still smoke indoors at a car dealership back in 1994 – dangled dangerously out of his stained hand. He “fixed me with his eye”, as the Ancient Mariner did, and replied v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

“I could do that,” he said, “but I won’t. I would never write or say anything against this business. I wouldn’t share our secrets, our business, our life, with people on the outside,” and here his glare became quite focused and intense as I shrank back in one of the used car building’s rickety old wire-frame chairs, “and neither… should… you.

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Avoidable Contact: Rich Corinthian Swaybars
Click for Larger ImageSince this was published, I’ve had the chance to meet Alex Roy, read his book, and watch as he has made the move into traditional motorsports, including a grueling stint in the Baja 1000. I rather like the fellow now, but I’m leaving the original text of the article since I’m not a huge fan of revising the past — JB

Shall… we… play… a… game? How ’bout that old Sesame Street standard, “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other – One Of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong.” I’ll name four people, and you tell me which one “doesn’t belong”. Ready? Setta? GO!

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Avoidable Contact: How Fake Luxury Conquered The World

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To provide a little light weekend reading in the months to come, I will be syndicating some of the “Avoidable Contact” columns that I wrote for our friends at SpeedSportLife back in the day. At the same time, I will be restarting the “Avoidable Contact” series and publishing it here. Be aware that these are long posts, running from 2,000 words to twice that. You’ve been warned. Don’t forget to check out the nice folks at Speed:Sport:Life: their current lineup includes some great young writers and the well-known photographic excellence of founder Zerin Dube — JB

Gather ‘round, everybody. I have an epic tale to tell. It’s the story of how Fake Luxury Conquered The World. There are heroes, and villains, and sweeping vistas, and if we don’t exactly have a princess cooped up in a tower, we might have a few sexually liberated young women in airbrush-mural vans. Interested? Follow along with me as we return to the dark days of the early Seventies…

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  • Vulpine A sedan version of either car makes it no longer that car. We've already seen this with the Mustang Mach-E and almost nobody acknowledges it as a Mustang.
  • Vulpine Not just Chevy, but GM has been shooting itself in the foot for the last three decades. They've already had to be rescued once in that period, and if they keep going as they are, they will need another rescue... assuming the US govt. will willing to lose more money on them.
  • W Conrad Sedans have been fine for me, but I were getting a new car, it would be an SUV. Not only because less sedans available, but I can't see around them in my sedan!
  • Slavuta More hatchbacks
  • ED I don't know what GM is thinking.I have a 2020 one nice vehicle.Got rid of Camaro and was going to buy one.Probably won't buy another GM product.Get rid of all the head honchos at GM.This company is a bunch of cheapskates building junk that no one wants.