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Thanksgiving 2012

Today is a day set aside in the United States to express thanks for one's material and spiritual possessions. This year, our family has much to be thankful for.

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Factory to Dealer--By Rail

Ever wonder how your car got from, oh, say, Marysville, Ohio or Wolfsburg, Germany to your friendly local dealership with only about 7 miles showing on the odometer? 

 

Following up on my recent post on the Vert-A-Pac railroad cars built to transport the Chevrolet Vega, I'd like to present here the first chapter in a series on how automobiles get from the end of the assembly line to the showroom. In this installment, we'll look at rail transport.

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November 5 Weekly Open Thread

As usual, this is your place for all conversations automotive.

Tomorrow is Election Day.  For close on two years, at least, we've been canvassed, caucused, focus-grouped, push-polled, robocalled, lawn-signed, and bumper-stickered by one candidate or the other to the point where most of us 1980 bumper stickers. Anderson had the best graphics, but got the fewest votes.are just wanting to get the damned election cycle over with already. As tired as you probably are of electoral politics (as I am), if you haven't already availed yourself of whatever early voting opportunities your state offers (as I did), I would respectfully urge you to go to the polls tomorrow.

The right to vote, which gives us the power to hold our government accountable to its citizens, and the right to speak freely on political matters, which allows us to use that vote, are a large part of what makes this country as great as it is. Yeah, that's kind of a rose-colored Schoolhouse Rock thing to say, but that doesn't make it any less true. As easy as it is to be cynical about our system of government and our political class--my father was an elected official, and after what I saw him having to deal with, I could out-cynic most of you with one hand tied behind my back--what we have is still the best that human beings have devised to date. (Not that there isn't always room for improvement.) Let me relate to you an experience that brought this point home to me.

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5th Birthday Week--Chris Hafner's Greatest Hits

As Car Lust's fifth birthday party continues--please celebrate responsibly!--it falls to me to talk about our founder Chris Hafner's contributions to the last five years.

Chris is, of course, the man who started Car Lust the blog (he told the blog's origin story in our 1,000th post), and he's written more of our content than the rest of us put together. He also deserves recognition as the codifier of "car lust" the idea: the notion that a car doesn't have to be an unattainable exotic or a 100% restoration to be desireable, interesting, or simply something we love.

Following, with apologies to David Letterman, are my picks for the Top Ten Chris Hafner Car Lust Posts:

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An Introduction to RV Week

Recreational vehicles have been around in one form or another since before the internal combustion engine, and not long after cars and trucks became widely available for retail sale, enterprising owners began putting homebuilt structures on them that we'd call camper bodies today.

We don't know who the first RV builder was, but we do know for a certainty who was the inventor of the modern travel trailer....

Wally Byam and his wife Stella, posing with an Airstream trailer in 1955

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Great (?) Moments in Badge Engineering

"Badge engineering" occurs when an automobile manufacturer sells what amounts to the same car under two different brand names.  It's not to be confused with "platform sharing," where two or more different cars share some or all of their basic engineering. To illustrate the distinction with an example: the first-generation Chrysler minivans shared the K-cars' platform, but a Plymouth Voyager was a completely The Reliant K, not to be confused with the Aries K...different vehicle from the Plymouth Reliant--that's platform sharing.  On the other hand, the Reliant and its Dodge Aries counterpart were identical in all but minor decorative touches--that's badge engineering.

Economically, it makes sense to use as many common components as possible across multiple product lines, and carmakers have been doing this ever since Benz & Company Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik started offering two model lines way back in eighteen-ninety-something. Platform sharing is so common we almost don't notice it anymore, and VW is taking the concept a step further by developing a "construction set" platform that all of its vehicles will eventually share. 

The problem arises when the manufacturer gets too focused on keeping costs down (or too lazy, take your pick) and shares more than drivetrain components or platforms between cars. Share too much, like, say, all of the outer body sheetmetal, and soon what are allegedly "different" cars become indistinguishable, whether viewed from twenty yards away or from the front left seat. We look down on the practice today as the bane of automotive variety, but the first recorded instance of automotive badge engineering was actually welcomed by consumers.

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Stick With It!

Get on the stick!A couple of weeks ago, David Sirota, a writer for the "digital magazine" Salon, took to the keyboard to ask one of those burning questions only magazine and newspaper feature writers ever think to ask, and only when they're running up against deadlines and can't think of anything better to write about: "Is It Ethical to Drive Stick?"

No, I did not make that up. Click the link if you don't believe me.

How could one's choice of automotive transmission possibly be a matter of ethics? Performance, fuel economy, mechanical reliability, initial cost versus marginal utility and other microeconomic particularities, physical dexterity, personal preference, certainly--but ethics??

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This is just WRONG....

In a misguided attempt at a highbrow publicity stunt, BMW gave over one of its precious M1 supercars to some artsy-fartsy guy from Pittsburgh, who proceeded to assault--there is no other word for it!--assault the M1's lovely fiberglass bodywork with cheap house paint and six-inch brushes. The English language lacks the words to fully convey the utter wrongness of what happened to that poor Bimmer.

Caution: those of you with weak constitutions, or who are easily offended, or have high standards of artistic taste combined with a history of hypertension, should not watch this video. Parental discretion is advised.

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100,000

Over 100kDad and I were in the "Battleship," the grey '76 Ford LTD, somewhere on I-76--I don't remember where we were headed. For the last couple of miles, Dad had been paying very close attention to the instrument panel. "Instrument panel" is kind of too strong a term for what the LTD had: a CinemaScope wide-screen speedometer, a gas gauge, and a bunch of dummy lights, none of which were lit up. The engine sounded normal, the car was tracking straight and true, but Dad was very intently focused on something. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing," he replied. "Just hold on."

He started slowing and pulling off into the median, extremely attentive to his speed and rate of deceleration. He came to a precise stop and pointed at the odometer, a very satisfied look on his face.

"00000.0", it read. All zeroes.

At Dad's insistence, we got out and stood in front of the car and shook hands, a modest ceremony to commemorate what was, at that time, something of an accomplishment: getting a 1970s Detroit car to hold together for 100,000 miles.

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March 19 Weekly Open Thread: 3 Things I Wish All Cars Had

Welcome to this week's Weekly Open Thread where we talk about most anything automotive-related. This time, may I suggest a few features that I'd like to see on all new cars, and possibly retrofitted on all vehicles.

Brake lights1) Brake lights that work when the car in front of you slows down. Now that seems logical, right? But wait... the driver has to hit the brake pedal to make this happen, so what about the smarty- pants in front of you that grabs the hand brake or shifts down "enthusiatically?"

That car is rapidly decelerating, and you may not know it in time. That driver may be trying to get rear-ended. But if we had decelerator indicators, devices even as simple as mercury switches, we'd know that the vehicle is rapidly losing speed... and we could prepare better.

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

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