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About Cookie the Dog's Owner

When not walking his namesake, helping out with the Boy Scouts, or attending to his day job, Cookie the Dog's Owner can be found hurtling down the twisty back roads of Ohio in a Volkswagen GTI Mk. V with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers blasting out of the stereo. He learned to drive on a succession of pathetic mid-70s domestic cars, and his first true automotive love was a 1985 Honda Civic CRX. He is married and has two sons, and is philosophically opposed to automatic transmissions.

Posts by Cookie the Dog's Owner

Carspotters' Challenge #115--That's All Volks!

We close out the week with a dealer postcard from Willis VW in Burlington, New Jersey.

The Muzak system is playing Volks music.--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photos obtained from the Station Wagon Forum collection, contributed by member "GTW.")

Carspotters' Challenge #114--Down in the Mall

A mall parking lot in 1982, filled with Car Lust favorites. See anything you'd like to put on your credit card?

Mall 1982 (SWF GTW)

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the Station Wagon Forum collection, contributed by member "GTW.")

The Forgotten Mustang

As of this year, the Ford Mustang, the prototype, archetype, and trope maker of the "pony car," has been in production for half a century. In all the discussion of the Mustang's golden anniversary, and its unquestionably important place in the history of the American automobile, I've seeen very little about the other Mustang, the Mustang that came before the Mustangs that we all know and love.

Ford publicity photo, 1962The "Mustang I" concept car of 1962.

Continue reading "The Forgotten Mustang" »

July 28 Weekly Open Thread--It's a(n Urban) Jungle Out There

"Welcome to the jungle, it gets worse here everyday/Learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play...."That driverless car revolution we were talking about at last week's picnic might not come as fast as some people have been predicting. MIT Technology Review reports that Google has its hands full getting its new-model autonomous cars to safely navigate the "urban jungle":

Academic experts at the conference say Google is taking on some of the hardest problems in artificial intelligence and robotics, essentially trying to replicate the ability of humans to effortlessly make sense of their environment. That’s because driving safely relies on much more than just knowing to avoid big objects, such as people or other cars, or being able to recognize symbols such as a stop sign. Humans make use of myriad “social cues” while on the road, such as establishing eye contact or making inferences about how a driver will behave based on the car’s make and model . . . . Even if a computer system can recognize something, understanding the context that gives it meaning is much more difficult . . . .

John Leonard, an MIT expert in autonomous driving who attended the conference, says that he and other academics find themselves constantly battling the assumption that all of the technology challenges associated with robotic cars have been solved, with only regulatory and legal issues remaining. “It’s hard to convey to the public how hard this is,” he says. Leonard stands by a comment that earned him some online criticism in an MIT Technology Review story last year, when he predicted that he wouldn’t see a self-driving Manhattan taxi in his lifetime , , , ,

It may take decades to "teach" computers all the things you need to know to drive safely in a complex environment. What I expect we will see more of in the short term is automated driver-assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane-change warning and collision avoidance, and maybe even semi-automatic "platooning" for highway driving.  When we do get fully-robotic road vehicles in general service, I would expect the first to be long-haul robo-trucks that operate on the Interstates only.

This is the place to talk about robot cars, or any other car topic.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(The illustration is a Google Cars project promotional image.)

July 21 Weekly Open Thread--Who's Driving?

It's too nice a day to stay inside, so we're going on a picnic. Come tag along and join the conversation.

Looks yummy!Saw an article last week that I wanted to pass along to you: "17 Ways Driverless Cars Could Change America" by Dan McLaughlin in The Federalist. He writes:

Projections of the future are always uncertain, and small variations in what is technologically possible can have large impacts on what happens socially. But we know this much: in a world of driverless cars, a lot will change with the disappearance of drivers, for good and for ill. The possibilities and the risks are only beginning to dawn on us.

 The author's list of possible changes is:

1. Fewer Car Accidents
2. Revolutionizing Car Design
3. Changing The Layout of Roads and Traffic Patterns
4. Changing Who Can Drive
5: Altering the Legal and Insurance Landscape
6. Lowering The Drinking Age
7. Destroying Car Culture
8. Degrading Military Preparedness
9. Extending Telecommuting
10. Eviscerating Drive-Time Radio Ratings
11. Destroying Taxi and Driving Jobs
12. Eroding Privacy
13. Revolutionizing Law Enforcement
14. Reducing Car Theft
15. Fewer Used Cars, More Inequality
16. Increasing Vulnerability to Terrorism and Natural Disasters
17. Flying Cars?

He makes a plausible case for all of them--well, the first sixteen, anyway. I don't know about you, but I'm not really liking #7.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

Illustration obtained from Desktop Nexus.

Great Commercials--Mel Tormé for Oldsmobile

General Motors got a lot of mileage out of "In My Merry Oldsmobile," the first popular song with an automotive theme, to advertise Oldsmobiles.  For a period of time in the early 1950s, the Olds ad campaign featured "Johnny" and "Lucille," the characters from the song, singing the virtues of the "Rocket" V-8, "Hydramatic" transmission, and "Futuramic" sheetmetal.

Here they are in a 1953 installment, in which Johnny is rather abruptly upstaged by jazz singer Mel Tormé.

Though clearly flummoxed that his gal Lucille has dumped him for the velvet-voiced interloper--What's he got that I ain't got? Besides the great singing voice and the mansion and the multimillion-dollar recording contract, I mean.--but he's enough of a professional to finish the sales pitch.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

Willys Jeep Wagon

Submitted for your consideration, a charming example of a Willys Jeep Station Wagon, the first all-steel wagon and the mother of all SUVs.

Willys Jeep Wagon 4

This particular Willys was spotted and photographed on the streets of Rocky Ford, Colorado, this past Fourth of July, by my friend Norman Kincaide.

Willys Jeep Wagon 6

Continue reading "Willys Jeep Wagon" »

July 7 Weekly Open Thread

It's the height of summertime, so we've closed the Car Lust Garage early and loaded up the lemonade and sandwiches and gone on a picnic.

A perfect day to open the sunroof....Come join us at the park for potato salad and friendly conversation.

(Photo from the SDC Forum, contributed by user "62champ.")

June 30 Weekly Open Thread

It's that top-down time of year.

Night Convertible (SWF Jim 68cuda)

Here's the place to discuss your favorite summer driving topic.

(Photo from the Station Wagon Forum, contributed by forum member "Jim68Cuda.")

Carspotters' Challenge #113--Rack 'em Up!

For your carspotting pleasure this week, a set of three photos of new cars on railroad cars from the days before fully-enclosed auto-racks.

The St. Louis-San Francisco ran from St. Louis or so to Texas and Arkansas, never getting less than 1,000 miles from San Francisco.

Railroad and location unknown.

Before there were auto rack cars....--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(All three photos come from the Station Wagon Forum, contributed by forum member "Jim68Cuda.")

Carspotters' Challenge #112--Port Chester, NY

Where were you in '82? Whoever took this photo was in Port Chester, New York.

Speed Limit 30See anything you might like to drive home with through the time portal?

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the Station Wagon Forum collection, contributed by member "GTW.")

"Cruise-In" at the Templar Motors Factory

David Buehler, who showed me around the old Templar Motors factory in Lakewood for the post I wrote last winter, was interviewed for last Sunday's episode of Cruise-In, a locally-produced car show. Here's the episode on YouTube; David and the Templars take up the first twelve minutes or so.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

Carspotters' Challenge #111--Pre-Flight

For this week's installment, we have the fine mid-century modernist architecture of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, and a generous selection of mid-century wheels.

"Come fly with me, let's fly awayyyyy!"--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo from the Station Wagon Forum, contributed by member "OrthmannJ.")

Carspotters' Challenge #110--Lots and Lots

A scene in Los Angeles, roughly 1960 or so.

"It was midnight in Topanga/I heard the DJ say/There's a full moon rising/Join me in L.A." -- Warren Zevon

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the SDC Forum, contributed by member Bob Andrews.)

June 2 Weekly Open Thread--Driverless Cars Update

Join us out here on the front porch for some lemonade and car talk. You can steer the conversation in any direction you would like.

This past week, there seemed to be a sudden burst of news activity concerning self-driving cars. Google unveiled its newest self-driving car project, a purpose-built electric "city car" with a 25 MPH top speed and a 100-mile range.

Prior versions of the Google Car were built for semiautomatic freeway cruising and required the driver to stay engaged and function as a co-pilot. According to MIT Technology Review,

That approach had to be scrapped after tests showed that human drivers weren’t trustworthy enough to be co-pilots to Google’s software. When people began riding in one of the vehicles, they paid close attention to what the car was doing and to activity on the road around them, which meant the hand-off between person and machine was smooth. But that interest faded to indifference over weeks and months as people became too trusting of the car’s abilities. . . . 

That convinced Google it had to give up on switching between human and machine control, says Fairfield. That also ruled out building on top of conventional car designs, because they assume a human is on hand and ready to take over in the event of an emergency.

Google is building a fleet of 100 of the new electrics for testing this summer. Under current law, those that venture out on the public roads will have to be equipped with steering wheels and other controls.

Meanwhile, over in Europe, the development of driverless Bimmers and Benzes is bumping up against a rather restrictive legal environment.

Back on our side of the pond, a company called Peloton Technology is working on a system for large trucks that combines active cruise control with short-range wireless communication to allow two big trucks to travel in a "platoon" with only thirty feet of space between them. 

This cuts down drag on both trucks--the same aerodynamic boost that geese get from flying in formation, and NASCAR drivers get from "drafting" on an opponent's back bumper--and saves fuel, as much as 10% for the good buddy in the "back door" position.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

Carspotters' Challenge #109--Wagon Train

Wagon Train (SWF Jim 68cuda)

Appropriate music here.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the Station Wagon Forum collection, contributed by member "Jim68cuda.")

May 26 Weekly Open Thread--Wagons, Ho!

The school year is ending, and the summer is upon us. This is the season for the traditional family vacation, in the form of a long car trip in a station wagon.

According to folklore, the legendary Captain Obvious was born here.Any plans for a long car trip this summer?  Anything else automotive that you want to discuss?  This is the place to discuss it.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the Station Wagon Forum.)

Carspotters' Challenge #108--Strategic Lobster Reserve

For this week's edition, we bring you a series of photos taken in York Harbor, Maine, at the southeast end of the nation's vital Strategic Lobster Reserve, in the summer of 1981.

York Harbor ME 1981-1 (SWF GTW)York Harbor ME 1981-2 (SWF GTW)York Harbor ME 1981-3 (SWF GTW)

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photos obtained from the Station Wagon Forum collection, contributed by member "GTW.")

May 19 Weekly Open Thread--Cars as "Positional Goods"

Stutz D'ItaliaI was reading an op-ed article the other day which brought up the economic concept of "positional goods." As the author explained:

A positional good is a good that people acquire to signalise where they stand in a social hierarchy; it is acquired in order to set oneself apart from others. Positional goods therefore have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.

Positionality is not a property of the good itself, it is a matter of the consumer’s motivations. I may buy an exquisite variety of wine because I genuinely enjoy the taste, or acquire a degree from a reputable university because I genuinely appreciate what that university has to offer. But my motivation could also be to set myself apart from others, to present myself as more sophisticated or smarter....

If I value those goods for their intrinsic qualities, their increasing popularity will not trouble me at all....But if you see me moaning that the winemakers/the university have ‘sold out’, if you see me whinging about those ignoramuses who do not deserve the product because they (unlike me, of course) do not really appreciate it, you can safely conclude that for me, this good is a positional good. (Or was, before everybody else discovered it.)

So what has this got to do with cars? It's obvious that certain cars are pitched to the consumer as positional goods. One example is the 1970s "revival-era" Stutz: between 25 and 50 or so were sold in each year during the peak of its production. Like the seats at the cool kids' table in the junior high cafeteria, there were only so many to go around, so getting one put you in an exclusive club.

There's another phenomenon that seems to attach to particular cars: whether intended by their owners as "positional goods" or not, they become cultural markers for a particular (stereotyped) subculture. The 3-series BMW was a cultural marker for yuppies in the 1980s; the VW Type 2 Microbus was the same thing for hippies and assorted Bohemians in the 1960s and '70s; Subarus have been strongly associated with the "granola" lifestyle for several decades.

Please share your thoughts on this, or any other automotive topic, in the comments box below.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

The photo of several textbook examples of positional goods--polo ponies, a fur coat, and a Stutz D'Italia--came from Peter Madle's Stutz history website.

Carspotters' Challenge #107--Old Smithstonian

May is the peak month for 8th grade school trips to Washington, D.C.  With that in mind, we bring you a photo taken outside of the original Smithstonian Institute building sometime in the 1970s.

Washington DC 1970s (SWF Olds Weighty Eight)

Once you've identified the cars, take a crack at the missiles.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the Station Wagon Forum collection, contributed by member "Olds Weighty Eighty.")

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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