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May 16 Weekly Open Thread: "I'm Mad As #*!! And I'm Not Going To Take It Any More!"

...at least not without saying something about it.

I thought this pet peeve belonged just to me, but apparently there are quite a bunch of folks that hate this. And it's not often that one sees a disguised "colorful" metaphor in the title of a Car Lust post. But if there's one method of bad driving that gets my blood boiling... it's people that think they have no need to hold onto the steering wheel in their cars or trucks.

Wheel wrist

Continue reading "May 16 Weekly Open Thread: "I'm Mad As #*!! And I'm Not Going To Take It Any More!"" »

April 11 Weekly Open Thread--Stuck on Stickers

It's a Presidential election year, and you've seen this car, or another one like it, or maybe it was a pickup truck, probably hundreds of times on the road in the past few months: the rear vertical surfaces and windows covered with self-adhesive messages of support for multiple causes and candidates, often from election cycles past. These share space "As an added bonus, all those stickers keep the paint from fading.with other stickers forcefully proclaiming unfavorable evaluations of the intelligence and decency of those people--fellow citizens who do not share the driver's political preferences. The most strident of these may go so far as to wish death and worse fates on those people--and they score double bonus irony points if they're right next to a "Coexist" sticker.

The owner of that car, or truck, is engaged in "virtue signaling," the practice of loudly proclaiming just how kind, decent, and enlightened you are. Though virtue signalling is as old as human nature, the phrase is a recent coinage. Its inventor, British writer James Bartholomew, observed:

It’s noticeable how often virtue signaling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious . . . . Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.

Now, it's a free country and it's your back bumper and if you want to use it to promote your cause or your candidate, you're free to do so--but here's something to think about before you all but cover your turn signals with virtue signals. When I see the rear fascia of your car completely stickered-over in this fashion, I have two reactions:

You've signaled your political leanings so clearly that I can probably deduce your position on any of the day's great issues to within a couple of decimal places before I've even met you.

I'm less inclined to want to meet you, even if I agree with you, because you've also signaled that you're one of those dreary "the personal is political" sorts who can't talk about anything but politics.

Please, don't be that guy (or gal). The personal is not always political, political differences need not be personal ones, and we could all use a break from the election-year debate. Let's turn down the volume on the virtue signals and have more non-political spaces in society where we can all interact over something besides our party affiliations.

We can start right here. Hit the comments below and talk about your favorite nonpartisan automotive topic. 

--Cookie the Dog's Owner (who keeps the back of his GTI sticker-free, just so everyone knows that he's not one of those people.)

RIP, Scion

8208167c0a0d028a0039b99d0ac37390While waiting for an e-mail about a part for a Cadillac CTS (still waiting), CarLust contributor That Car Guy (Chuck) let us know the news: Scion will be no more. Just a couple of days earlier we were making fun of Scion’s “lowrider” SEMA car, an eyesore that pretty much encapsulates what’s wrong with the brand. There have been rumors of its demise since I wrote my Scion post and even before that, with Toyota helping out dealers phase out the brand to those that wanted out. There are far more variables responsible for Scion’s fate (Toyota, Millennials’ buying habits, currently cheap gas prices, The Great Recession, global warming, Dinkleberg, etc.), but I won’t go into them.

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August 24 Weekly Open Thread

It was a beautiful day in Northeast Ohio last Saturday, perfect for walking around the Studebaker Drivers Club Ohio Chapter meet in Talmadge.

Studebakers!I'll have a full report for you, starting tomorrow, on the many delightful and interesting cars I saw.

Today's discussion will deal with an automobile I saw there that is anything but delightful. In fact, one might go so far as to call it disturbing. We're talking about a vehicle that flirts with Ssangyong Rodius and Fiat Multipla levels of wrongness. Before you scroll down or click the "continue reading" link, just remember: once you see something, you can't un-see it.

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Road Music #1: Twistin' Through the Twisties

The summer season of long car trips and top-down joyrides is upon us--and we are again confronted with the critical question of what mood music to have playing in the stereo as we drive.

"Now there was a time when you loved me so/I could have been wrong, but now you needed to know/See, I've been a bad, bad, bad, bad man and I'm in deep, yes I am/I found a brand new love for this man and I can't wait till you see/I can't wait/So how you like me now?...."Today, we'll discuss appropriate soundtrack selections for a mad dash down one of the squiggly lines on the map.

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The NEXT Top 10 Worst Cars Of All Time

Thank You so much, dear readers! Your contributions and input when this post was suggested a while back were well received and appreciated. But we had a couple more blanks to fill, so I've injected my own supplemental nominees for this dubious honor. There aren't really any winners here, except for maybe some great deals on a used car lot if you can find one of these veehickles in superb condition. If.

So now, without any further fuss and in no particular order, here are your (And our) suggestions for

The NEXT Top 10 Worst Cars Of All Time:

Windstar

Ford Windstar. Ya know 'em, Ya love 'em, Ya can't live without 'em. Well, OK, we can. And we do. Plagued with corrosion and durability issues throughout its production life, the resale value on these is, well... ▼.

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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.

August 5 Weekly Open Thread--Dashboard Videogames 2: Revenge of the Stickshift

Consider this your Car Lust virtual chat room, where you can talk about anything that comes to mind.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on visual displays designed to encourage fuel-efficient driving under the unique (until now) title "Dashboard Videogames." According to Wired's "Autopia" blog, Zach Nelson, a junior engineer at Ford, has taken the driving-as-a-game concept a step further.

Mr. Nelson built a shifter knob (using a 3D printer) which contains an Ardurino microcontroller and the "haptic feedback motor" (vibrator) from an XBox controller, and connected it up to an Android tablet, which in turn was synced to the OBD computer in a Mustang with a manual transmission. The knob can be programmed to vibrate as a cue to the driver that it's time to upshift--and since it's programmable, you can set it to vibrate at different engine speeds for different purposes. As the Autopia blog notes, it can be made to vibrate and cue a shift at the most efficient point for fuel economy--think of it as the tactile version of the old Honda CRX HF's upshift light--or, if you're more interested in acceleration, when approaching redline.

This isn't a completely new idea. Airplanes have been equipped with "stick shakers" that give a tactile warning of an imminent stall for decades. GM is already selling Buicks and Cadillacs with a "Safety Alert Seat"--a vibrator in the driver's seat that goes off when one of the active safety systems detects something amiss, like a vehicle in your blind spot.

Can you think of any other potential automotive applications for "haptic feedback motors"?

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

July 22 Weekly Open Thread: Electric Whines, Revisited

Miss Minnie"How...DEEE!!!" (Audience: "How...DEEE!!!") "I'm just so proud to be here."

So announced Miss Minnie Pearl (aka Mrs. Sarah Cannon) every time she addressed an audience. Nobody had trouble hearing her trademark greeting or seeing the price tag still attached to that new store-bought hat. The lady from Grinder's Switch, Tennessee, was a staple on the Grand Ole Opry for many years, and is sorely missed to this day.

Speaking of recognizeable audio tones, people today are still debating whether hybrid and electric cars are noteworthy. Some folks say they are silent and a menace to the non-motoring community. Others believe they are about as audible as any other car on the road, once they get up to speed. The Independant, a UK publication, reported a couple of years ago that there will not be required audible signals on non-petrol-burning vehicles.

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"If this is the 21st Century, where's my flying car?"

We are living in the future, I'll tell you how I know
I read it in the paper fifteen years ago
We're all driving rocket ships and talking with our minds
And wearing turquoise jewelry, and standing in soup lines

--John Prine, "Living in the Future"

We live in an age of wonders. The tablets and cellphones carried by today's middle school students, used primarily for Instagram and Angry Birds, boast more computing power than the baddest IBM mainframe of 1970. There are an average of two computers of equal or greater power in every American household--and that statistic doesn't include "embedded systems" like your Honda's ECM or Sorry, kids, you can't live here.your microwave oven's programmable timer. All of these millions of computing machines are linked by a global digital network of once-unimaginable bandwidth which is used for sharing cat videos. I mean, we've even got consumer grade robot lawnmowers f'cryin'outloud!

At the same time, there are some disappointments. We have no cities on the moon or Earth-orbit vacation hotels like we'd once been promised--the best you can do in the way of "space tourism" is a half-day suborbital jaunt with a ticket price only affordable by one-percenters. There's also a distinct shortage of those high-speed atomic-powered monorails I was so looking forward to riding.

You can say similar things about the cars of the twenty-first century as well. On the one hand, it's an age of automotive wonders. The humblest suburban housewife's base-model minivan is ritzier than a Cadillac used to be, out-accelerates and out-corners an E-type Jaguar, and is orders of magnitude safer and more fuel efficient than anything built a generation ago. My daily driver is a relatively cheap "hot hatch" that flirts with 30 MPG in normal driving, but would smoke the GTOs at the dragstrip and dominate the 2.0 liter class at Le Mans were I to drive it through a time portal back to 1964.

And yet, there is one crushing disappointment, one hopeful prediction of the automotive future from my formative years that stubbornly refuses to come true.

Where's my flying car?

Continue reading ""If this is the 21st Century, where's my flying car?"" »

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

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