Do I read you correctly, I need you directly
Now, help me with this part
Do I love you? Do I hate you?
I got a dyslexic heart
-- Paul Westerberg, "Dyslexic Heart"
Yeah, that pretty much sums up my feelings regarding the Subaru Outback. Do I love it for being a practical, non-offensive-looking, Everyman's sport utility wagon? Or do I hate it for being soulless and and styleless and intimately associated with the Birkenstocks-and-socks-wearing set? Who will get irritated most depending on which side I come down on?
Sometimes it's tough being a Car Lust contributor.
I'll readily concede that I'm occasionally influenced in my taste for a lot of things by the (real or imagined) kinds of people associated with certain items. I admitted as much in my gentle diatribe against the BMW 3-Series and that same sentiment extends to other things. Ferinstance, I was reluctant to get a Mac for a long time because, well, I didn't want to be seen as a Mac PersonTM ("OOOoo, let's wait in line 36 hours for the new iPhone. The headphone jack is on the bottom this time!"). There's even a chance I might have bought a Grateful Dead album at one point but I'd never have gotten past the thought that someone, somewhere might associate me with Deadheads (What do Deadheads say when they're not high? "Hey, this band really sucks."). Not that there's anything wrong with that.
I also admit that I have a proclivity, on occasion, to try for the Ironically HipTM look. You know, like driving around in a hopped-up old pickup truck with fuzzy dice dangling from the rear view and Spandau Ballet cranked up really loud. But I digress.
So I have some trouble with the Outback. I want to hate it, but I just can't; I want to love it, but I just can't. It's functional and practical and efficient and reliable and . . . .bland. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But. . . .
I 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.
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.
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.")
And here we come to the end of our Mustang retrospective with my very first contribution to Car Lust: My very own Mustang II. I've also included a link to something of a followup post on the old Mustang at the bottom. It's recently retired and is moving off into new adventures which will be recounted in a future post.
Submitted by Anthony J. Cagle
I acquired this car back in 1990 while on my way from Seattle to northern California for some archaeological fieldwork. My month-and-a-half old 1984 Bronco II's engine seized up in central Oregon and, not being able to afford an on-the-spot engine rebuild, I swapped the dealer for something off their lot.
Up until that point I'd not paid much attention to Mustang II's--like many others, I thought of them as "glorified Pintos" and "that thing that Farrah-Fawcett drove"--but this one was in mint condition with only 43k miles on it. It really was owned by the proverbial little old lady who drove it to church on Sundays. And it had a V8! So the deal went down and I drove off with a 1978 Mustang II.
After all of the trouble I had had with both the Bronco and my previous 1975 Buick, the Mustang was a god-send. It drove well, was mechanically sound, but most importantly it just worked. I drove all over northern California for several weeks without problem. And it was fun to drive to boot. The beach photo above was taken shortly after purchase.
We end our Mustang retrospective week with a true classic Car Lust: The Mustang II. This post generate moderate interest when it was first put up, but after I linked to it on a Mustang II enthusiast site the partisans came out to defend their car. As much as I love the II's -- I own one, after all -- I had to admit that Chris was mostly correct: It wasn't the greatest car of its time. My view is that the II tried to be too many different things at once -- pony car, personal luxury car, small sporty import, etc. -- and ended up not being very good at any of them. I still think it was a far better car in a lot of ways than the preceding generations, but there you have it.
For this week's installment, we have a panorama of the parking lots at Los Angeles International Airport which surround its iconic Theme Building.
--Cookie the Dog's Owner
(Photo obtained from the Station Wagon Forum collection, contributed by member "OrthmannJ.")
This post was part of our All-America Week back in 2011 where we celebrated many classic American cars. The original Mustang could not conceivably be excluded from that list.
Ya know, I can't believe we haven't done this car yet. After all, this may be the most lusted-after affordable and available car in American history. "Mustang Fever" overtook the USA in 1964, and it hasn't gone away yet.
I guess this post is a little late to the party to be included in our recent "Old Fords Week," but as timeless as these cars are, maybe they don't belong there anyway. I'll stay away from just a boring history of the car (We all pretty well know it anyway) and just try to explain why I think we admire these so much.
I think the main reason people first liked these Mustangs is because anybody could make a Mustang their Mustang, and on a reasonable budget. Each Mustang could be carefully built from Ford's options list, and would be truly unique to the customer.
Rather than today's mundane trim packages that let you constantly meet yourself on the highway, personalization was what these first Mustangs were all about. And I don't think that philosophy has ever changed.
At one time, there were over 500 dealer spon- sored Mustang Clubs across the country and around the world. 1970 was the peak year with over 200,000 Mustang club members worldwide. In addition to swapping information and stories about them, they are also a great source for parts, or maybe even to find the Mustang of your dreams.
So, do you want to keep it all original? Maybe make it look stock, but replace the suspension, brakes, and drivetrain with modern stuff? You can do anything you want to a Mustang to make it your car.
Today's Mustang Classic deals with one of the "Special Edition" Mustangs from the first generation.
I was cashing a check at the bank recently, and the friendly teller lady had a picture of her '66 Mustang right there. I knew we had cars in common and that car obviously meant a lot to her, so I asked her about it. She proudly told me it was a "High Country" Mustang; a car that I had never heard of.
There were people in line behind me, so I got all of the information from her that I could as quickly as I could. She motioned to the extra fender badge, and I smiled and acted like I knew what she was talking about.
But later I talked with a bud of mine who has owned several Mustangs and taken them down to their last lock washer. He hadn't heard of them either... so then I didn't feel so bad.
Sales were slow in late 1966, so to boost them locally, a special promotion vehicle for Colorado-area Ford dealers was made. The 1966 High Country Mustangs were special in that they had an extra badge on each front fender, a choice of three unique colors: Aspen Gold, Columbine Blue, or Timberline Green, and, well, that's about it. But all 1966 Mustang body styles, powertrain combinations, and all other options were available with the package.