Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #94

We're halfway through the 1990s, and things are starting to get better. While I'd really like to include the 1994 Dodge Ram, it's not a new vehicle, just a redesign (an excellent one, one that really brought the Dodge truck back from the grave). However, today's car is a Mopar product.

Dodge Neon (introduced in January 1994, but called a 1995 model). Chrysler had a really bad reputation for the company's small cars. From the Dart to the Omni to the Shadow, Mopar had a bad run of really, completely awful cars. Now, the Dart had its good points, in that the slant six didn't develop enough power to tear itself apart.

But the Neon was different. Oh, sure, it was underpowered and uninspiring to drive, and had a nasty tendency to kill the driver should they crash, but it had an upbeat ad campaign! It said "Hi". The front end looked like a smiley face - if you kinda squinted. The styling was so popular it changed the front fascia of the small car for near a decade.

The only thing missing was a Carol Shelby version...

That is all.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Shortest. Ride. Ever.

So, yesterday afternoon I decided to take the Harley out for a quick spin. Got the lawn mowed, shrubberies trimmed, laundry done, errands run, and it was time to feel the wind in my hair. Err, mustache.

I made it as far as the end of my subdivision when this happened:

That's what an Acura TSX looks like after it's rolled over after failing to negotiate a 90º turn at a high rate of speed (60 MPH+ in a 45 MPH zone). He clipped the traffic island and rolled twice, coming to a rest on its wheels after at least twice. He made a right turn from a travel lane, cutting someone off in the process (one of the other witnesses thinks he was racing the other car).

I was sitting on my Harley at this stop sign when all this went down:

He missed me by *maybe* 2 or 3 feet. Had I been in the truck, he'd have hit me right about dead center of the bed. Almost certainly totaled the truck, and I'd have at least gone to the hospital for observation. Had he been half a second sooner, he'd have hit me on the Harley, in which case I'd be having breakfast with my grandfather right now instead of posting this.

I remember sitting at the stop sign watching the traffic. The road perpendicular to the stop sign has two travel lanes and a right turn lane coming up to that intersection. I saw a car in the right turn lane, then I saw the Acura roar around him and try to take the corner. I heard him clip the curb, and then the car was airborne.


I'm not exaggerating when I saw he missed me by a couple feet at most. I watched the car hit the grass to my right and roll over again. I saw the airbags, deployed, as the car was still rocking on the shocks. At first I just rolled on the throttle, but turned around at the next intersection to be a witness. A crowd had gathered, 911 had been called, and as I rolled the bike to a stop I could hear sirens off in the distance.

Every day is a gift. First thing I did when I got home was hug my family. I'm fighting *REALLY* hard not to put a "For Sale" sign on the Harley. This is my second close call. Back about 20 years ago, I got T-boned by a kid who didn't realize that his side street ended at the state highway I was traveling on. I went through six months of physical therapy, and dealt extensively with insurance companies over whether my car was totaled or not.

I had planned on taking my motorcycle that night. Circumstances changed my plans so that I took my car instead. Now, had I been on the bike, much would have been different. The extra time I'd have needed to put on helmet and leathers might have meant I got stuck in traffic as a wrecker extracted his car from the house across the street. Or I might have left earlier, as I had done laundry at my folks' house, which obviously I'd not have done had I been on the bike.

There were enough "what-ifs" that I was able to get back on the bike. Eventually.

Not so sure about this time, though.

That is all.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #93

For the next in a series (and we only have twenty-something more of these to go!), here's the latest car introduced in the year matching the number.

1993 Toyota T100. No, I don't know what Toyota thought they were doing with this. Yes, let's introduce a full size pickup to compete with Chevy/Ford/Dodge, but we'll put an anemic V6 into it. Never mind that every other manufacturer has a V8 and a large diesel available! The 150 HP 3.0L V6 just didn't cut it, especially since the existing Dodge V6 had 175 HP.

Even worse, the T100 didn't have an extended cab version available. GM, Ford and Dodge all had club or crew cab versions available, although Dodge lost the crew cab in '94 when they came out with the new body style. Of course, the new body style pretty much killed the T100, as the Dodge market share of the truck market went from 100K to 400K, while the T100 went from 40K to, well, negligible.

They would rectify these problems with the Tundra a mere 6 years later, though...

That is all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I Reserve the Right to Waffle...

We took a couple days off and had a little mini-vacation up north this past weekend. Thursday night, I took my wife, son, and brother-in-law to see the Patriots lose to the Packers in pre-season football (my wife's sister's father-in-law has season tickets and wasn't going. TheBoy is a Packers fan and it was just perfect).

On the ride up, the Mrs. and I came up with a third option for the new ride. While I still really want the Challenger, right now it's just not in the cards. We were noodling over a mid-range sedan, thinking that something we could pay off in 4 years or less would be good, and then we can discuss the Challenger at that point. The Mrs.' Pilot will be about the same age as the Dodge is now, and reaching the same milestones (new tires/brakes/etc.), so it would be a natural time to trade in before putting a lot of work into it.

Then we realized: Why not a small, AWD SUV?

The Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota Rav4 are all well-within the price range that lets us achieve the "mid-range sedan" objective. The CR-V and the Rogue get mid-20s gas mileage in the city, low 30s for highway; the Rav4 slightly less (although the Toyota does come with 2 years' free maintenance, which IMHO offsets the 2-3 MPG differential).

I checked out the Ford Escape, and the mileage drops another couple MPG, plus it doesn't have the same options at the price point (yes, the Ford is more expensive than the Honda, Nissan, or Toyota!) Another consideration is resale - the three Japanese SUVs will sell for 2X what the Ford commands when we sell in 10 or so years. And by that I mean the CR-V/Rogue/Rav4 will still be worth *something*...

Dodge doesn't offer a small SUV - the smallest they offer is the Journey, which get s 16 MPG on the highway. Jeep offers the Cherokee, Compass, Renegade, and Patriot; all are in the right price range, but at lower gas mileage numbers than any of the Japanese SUVs (21 MPG city vs. 26). The advantage to Jeep is that, since it's the same parent as the Earthf**ker, that's where I'm likely to see the highest trade-in value.

There are a LOT of options in this price range, especially with a decent trade-in. If the Mrs. is going to take the vehicle once it's paid off, it would help for it to be comfortable, dependable, and similar to what she's been driving (CR-V gets the edge here). There are going to be a lot of test-drives in my future - given that I spend 2+ hours a day in my vehicle (and make the occasional 1,000+ mile round-trip to ME), I need something that is comfortable to drive *and* sit in traffic in. That means features and accessories.

A lot of the final deal is going to come down to price - specifically, who's willing to negotiate. I know the MSRP of each car with the accessories I want, and I have a rough idea what my truck is worth, as well as what most of the manufacturers claim it's worth. If a dealer wants to offer me significantly below book value for the Dodge, they'd better be offering a staggering discount on the new vehicle, or I walk. I'm not beholden to anyone, and if enough of them piss me off, I'll rehab the damn Ram and they won't get a single penny out of me.

Looks like there are going to be a lot of test drives in my future...

That is all.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #92

Man, there were some good cars introduced in 1992. The GMC Typhoon (and how on earth did I ever miss the Syclone last year? FAIL), the Honda Del Sol, the Mclaren F1 and the Nissan Altima all merit mention. The Chevrolet Tahoe was a very close second, given the sheer genius GM showed when they cut 21 inches off the back of a Suburban and then charged MORE for the vehicle. But the winner, of course, was this:

1992 AMC Hummer. First year the Humvee was offered to the public, in part thanks to the gentle prodding of Arnold... Naturally, with the pro-American sentiment running high in the wake of our success in the first Gulf War, the Humvee sold like mad, despite having the turning radius of a parking garage and all the amenities of a Model A Ford. But it was vaguely militaristic and totally not like a WWII Willys Jeep...

I can grok those that purchased the Humvee for the off-road capabilities. 16 inches of ground clearance. An approach angle of 35 degrees. Able to climb a 60% grade. Fording 30 inches of water. The Humvee made sense if one was interested in exploring areas normally closed to the motoring public save those with specialty vehicles. Of course, probably 1 in 100 ever saw dirt, let alone mud.

Without the H1, there never would have been an H2, the Hummer built on a Suburban frame. Realizing that 99.9999% of all Hummer owners had no interest in the vehicle's abilities in the mud, but rather the status of the name, GM decided to take an existing frame, put a modified, vaguely-Hummer-looking body on it, and sell it for twice what the donor vehicle was selling for.

Naturally, they sold a ton of 'em...

That is all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Doing The Math

There's a fairly good chance that in the next month or so the Earthf**ker will be replaced. It's over 100K right now, and has run nearly flawlessly the entire time I've owned it. I believe there have been exactly two non-wear problems, one with the heater fan and one with an engine fan, and both occurred while under warranty. I've put nothing but, excuse the expression, gas, tires, and oil into that truck.

I fear I'm pushing my luck.

Yes, I know that - barring catastrophic failure - repairing a vehicle I own outright will be less expensive than buying new. The problem right now is that the truck needs tires ($800 - $1,000) and brakes ($500+, depending on whether it needs new rotors which I suspect it will). And while I know it is possible to do the brakes myself, that ain't gonna happen. I don't have the time, the tools, or the know-how (or patience).

On top of tires and brakes, it is only a matter of time before the exhaust needs replacing ($500 -  $1,000, depending on what needs replacing). Ditto shocks ($500?). There's also a few scratches and some minor surface rust that I'd want taken care of as well, if I were to keep the Ram ($1,000). These are the known/suspected areas, and none of them are a surprise (except perhaps the rust. That irks me, especially considering that the Ram was garaged for the first 6 winters of its life...)

With what the dealerships are quoting me as a trade in (which is an electronic assessment, but at least a starting point), I can get into either a Honda Accord or a Nissan Altima for about $400 a month for 4 years. I've got about a year's worth of payments that the Ram will need if I'm going to keep it; if I had a crystal ball and could tell that it would run perfect for 5 years once the work was done, that would be one thing. But I have no idea of knowing if the transmission will blow in 25K miles or if the wiring harness were to get fried or...

It's the unknown that really gets me.

Neither the Accord nor the Altima really excite me; both are pretty bland sedans. We owned an Accord sedan when my son was born and it served us very well; I've rented a bunch of Altimas and been pretty impressed with the gas mileage and performance. That's another thing: both the Altima and the Accord 4-cylinders have 180+ horsepower and get 26-27 MPG in city driving. That's easily double what the Ram gets - in a typical 12K mile year, that's a savings of $1,200 a year (3 car payments) with gas at $2.50/gallon.

I've heard very good things about the reliability of both vehicles (and we put ~ 120K on our Accord before the Mrs. turned it in on her Pilot). Either would be a solid, respectable choice that should serve us through college for the kids (which is kinda the plan). But I do have to admit, neither get my blood going like the thought of this:

Dodge Challenger R/T. 372 horsepower 5.7L Hemi V8. Custom leather interior. Mag wheels. Spoiler. Racing stripes. I'm going to do the smart, responsible thing, but I'm sure as hell not gonna like it...

And damn, but the midlife crisis car is going to be epic - I'm thinking Hellcat...

That is all.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #91

Today's car is an interesting case study in how to ruin a perfectly good brand.

1991 Saturn SL. When Saturn hit the market it was something completely different. Brand new from the ground up, everything about the car - and the company - was a radical departure from the way GM had always done business. It was not simply a Chevy Oldsmobuick; it was its own car entirely.

The line started small: There was a coupe, a sedan, and a wagon. The line would grow only with extra trims added for the first decade. Then, at the turn of the millennium, Saturn decided to expand with the LS series of mid-size cars (the SL were compacts). This was the beginning of the end, as the LS was merely a re-badged Opel Vectra from the European market, and they were plagued with problems, far in excess of the SL line.

How bad was the LS series? Let me pull from my own experience. In 2000, we were looking to trade the wife's aging convertible in on a sedan. The field was narrowed to the Honda Accord and the Saturn LS200. For the Honda, an extended warranty (bringing the bumper-to-bumper coverage to 5 years, 60K miles) with $0 deductible was $399. For the LS200 it was $2,400.

Needless to say, we bought the Accord...

That is all.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

I Wish I Could Say This Surprised Me...

Wow. Just... Wow.

Obama nominates ex-MBTA boss Beverly Scott to NTSB
The former head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Beverly Scott has been nominated by President Obama for a position with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Scott resigned her position as general manager at the MBTA in February after record-setting snowfall resulted in widespread, long-term delays and cancellations across the aging system.
Hmm. Beverly Scott. Why does that name sound familiar? Oh, that's right. I've covered her "performance" before.

Folks, let's get one thing perfectly straight. Massachusetts is 90% controlled by Democrats. That a double minority would resign from a public job means one of two things: Either she was so grossly incompetent that her complete and utter lack of ability was going to get a bunch of people killed, or she was robbing the place blind and left a trail. No one leaves the public sector voluntarily.

Especially with perks like this:
During her tenure at the MBTA, Scott spent 106 days traveling out of state while at the helm of the MBTA, taking 30 trips in 24 months.
Thirty trips in two years. 15 trips a year. More than one a month. As head of the MBTA. We can only assume that her trips were to other large cities to study how they handled emergencies, large events and crowds in their public transportation, right?

Seriously, stop laughing. It's undignified.

But she's moving up to the national level, now, thanks to our glorious excuse of a President. A woman so horrifically incompetent she was forced to resign in Massachusetts is somehow qualified to weigh in on national transportation issues. This is like someone fired from a hospital for gross incompetence getting nominated for Surgeon General. Think about this: SHe couldn't hack it (pun intended) in Massachusetts - where, I remind you, the past three Speakers of the House have gone to jail and the former governor was embezzling money.

I'll bet Barack doesn't call her "Sweetie", though.

That is all.

That is all.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Makes Sense, Now...

Ah. Now we see why Cadillac Deval declined to run for re-election...

Hidden junket funds: How Deval Patrick secretly diverted millions to off-budget accounts
Former Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration secretly diverted nearly $27 million in public money to off-budget accounts that paid for a $1.35 million trade junket tab, bloated advertising contracts, and a deal with a federally subsidized tourism venture backed by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, a Herald investigation has found.

The maneuver to fatten the hidden “trust” 

accounts with millions from state quasi-public agencies allowed Patrick to skirt the state Legislature and evade state budget cutbacks during the recession, the Herald found.
$27 million of our tax dollars improperly transferred to Patrick's "travel" budget. He didn't have to worry about budget cuts affecting his lavish lifestyle (remember, this is "Cadillac" Deval we're talking about), because he'd been secretly diverting public funds into accounts he could tap for his own use. Because, you know, Cadillac don't fly coach...

What do I expect to happen from this revelation? Close your eyes. What do you see? That's right, a big, fat nothing. Patrick is smart enough not to have diverted any of these funds into private accounts; he merely diverted funds into a secret account that didn't have the oversight ordinary travel funds are subject to. I'd wager he might get a small fine (to be paid out of his hidden account, of course), but actual prosecution is quite doubtful.

I mean, it's not like Patrick bought a boat or anything...

That is all.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #90

And with this week, we are out of the 1980s. That's a good thing -- the '80s were, by and large, a vast wasteland for automotive design and technology. When the Mustang GT of the mid-to-late '80s had a whopping 225 horsepower -- and this was considered a lot! -- you know cars in general sucked. Heck, the Chevy Camaro IROC could BARELY outperform the Ford Escort GT...

The 1990s didn't start off much better. However, there was this:

1990 Ford Explorer. The SUV craze began. It took an "everyman" sport utility built on the Ranger frame to really popularize the SUV. Yes, I know, the Jeep Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer had been around for ages. Heck, the Suburban had been around since the 1930s. GMC and Chevy introduced the S-15 Jimmy and S-10 Blazer in 1983. The Toyota 4Runner was introduced in 1984, and the Nissan Pathfinder in 1985.

Other than the Jeeps and the Suburban, though, *all* of these models were two-door versions until 1990. Coincidence? Doubtful. It took Ford coming up with an all-new SUV (replacing the positively dreadful Bronco II) to get everyone on board with 4-door vehicles.

I had a 1985 S-15 Jimmy. In the late 1980s, it was classified as an "Other" in the "Body Type" category. The Ford Explorer literally defined the SUV -- the classification was created when the Explorer came about and the genre exploded.

A number of things happened to make the Explorer so successful. The minivan, for starters, was instrumental in killing the American station wagon. While you were formerly able to get most cars in coupe, sedan, and station wagon form, the evolution of the minivan made the station wagon obsolete.

Secondly, the large car died. In the mid-1980s, the majority of cars were switched to front wheel drive and got smaller, leaving only the Chevy Caprice and the Ford Crown Vic for large cars. As cars got smaller, people started looking for larger vehicles. The Explorer, being built on a truck frame, didn't have to conform to the same standards as a passenger car. It could be bigger, heavier, and get worse fuel economy without ruining the manufacturer's CAFE standards.

Some call it a loophole. Others with a more keen grasp of economics would call it "supply and demand." Whatever you call it, the Explorer literally brought about the SUV craze that dominated the market in the 1990s and 2000s.

Which is rather interesting, considering that it was bland as hell and, for the first years, significantly underpowered...

That is all.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


It was bound to happen...

Yep, the Earthf**ker just broke 100K. Took 8.5 years, but she got there. This is the first vehicle I've owned where I've put 100% of the mileage on through 100K. I've had plenty of cars that wound up with > 100K on the clock; but this is the only one where I took it there from 0 (well, I think 12 or so).

I'm at a crossroads, of sorts. The truck's due for a new set of tires and brakes, and while I think I'll get it done for now, I realize that her days are numbered. When I bought the Dodge, I had a 26-foot camper to tow with it, and a 15-mile (one way) commute through back roads with little traffic. Now, the camper is gone, and I sit on a freeway for an hour each way. The 12 - 13 MPG the Earthf**ker gets digs into the ol' budget.

Except, of course, I love this as a replacement:

Dodge Challenger. R/T with the 370 horsepower Hemi V8. It gets slightly better gas mileage than the Ram, but not so much that I'd see any sort of savings. It would, however, scratch the itch that I've had for over 25 years, to have a muscle car. I looked at Trans Ams, Camaros, Mustangs and other such cars in my teens and early 20s, but the closest I ever got was a used VW GTI. Now that the kids are older, and I don't have to worry about months of deep snow, it's a possibility.

I'll most likely end up with a mid-size sedan, mind you (the Altima gets 27 MPG in *city* driving!), but I like thinking about the Challenger...

That is all.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #89

Okay. This is it. We made it through the terrible 1980s. Last year. I had a hard time deciding which car introduced in 1989 would make the cut, as there were several models illustrative of the time period. Since they would define the early part of the 1990s, though, I left them off in favor of this:

1989 Infinity Q45. While the Audi/VW duo had been around for years, and even Acura had split off from Honda as the marque's luxury brand, it was the launch of the Infinity line that really sparked the badge engineering wars. While GM/Ford/Mopar had done it for decades, Japanese automakers had largely ignored the concept.

With the Infinity, though, the rules had changed. Nissan upped the game to improve on the already established Maxima to include a previously unheard of 8-cylinder engine. Toyota would launch the Lexus brand, and for the next generation a race was on between the two manufacturers to see whose upscale model would entice more buyers from Mercedes and BMW.

In a sense, it was very good for the automotive industry, especially for luxury marques. Looking at the Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Chryslers of the time (dear lord, the New Yorker was based off the gorram K-CAR...), the 1980s were an abyss for American luxury. It would take well into the 2000s before the American industry responded.

And next week, we begin the tepid '90s...

That is all.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dear Apple...

You know what sucks? Having a phone that won't keep time. Spending several hundred dollars on a piece of technology that won't perform the basic function that a $20 Timex will is annoying as hell.

You know what's worse? Finding out that this has been a problem for very near three years

Look, I get it. Not all technology is perfect. But, damn. This has been a known problem for close to three years. I got the phone less than a year ago, so the problem was known for two years when I got it. And yet no one has been able to fix it? That's not the way to keep market share, folks...

Looks like there will be a trip to the Verizon store this weekend. Boy, I just love technology...

That is all.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What I Did On My Summer Vacation...

I took the kids to King's Dominion for three (well, 2.5) days of roller coaster fun. The Mrs. took them to WI to visit with family the previous week, and they had a great time playing at the water park with their cousins and visiting the county fair. This week they spent the first half riding roller coasters and going on water rides.

I'd forgotten how great a good roller coaster can be for bonding. There's something about the shared experience of adrenaline and terror that just brings a family together...

This is the Shockwave. It's a stand-up loop coaster. It is also the oldest stand-up coaster currently in operation in the US. It's also being retired after this year, so this was its swan song, and I'm glad my kids got a chance to ride it.

Here's the Rebel Yell. It's not a fancy loop coaster, or a speed demon, or anything like that. It's an old-fashioned, wooden-frame roller coaster that spans a rather sizable chunk of the park. The ride lasts 2 1/2 minutes, one of the longer coasters, and is - for a wooden coaster - one of the more gentle rides (the other wooden coasters were, well, less 40-something friendly when it came to knocks on the ol' spine...).

In the middle is the Ricochet, a variation on the "make really sharp turns and make you think the coaster is going to fall off" rides, with the Hurler wooden coaster (made famous in "Wayne's World" in the background). Yes, we're on the Ferris wheel for this picture, and yes, that's exactly why I went on the Ferris wheel...

Lastly, though, is the most modern roller coaster we went on:

The Intimidator. An homage to Dale Earnhardt, it stands 305 feet tall and propels riders to speeds in excess of 90 MPH. Folks can and do black out from the G-force. That's an 85-degree angle of drop right there...

I went to King's Dominion when I was 17 years old. A friend attended ECU, and I drove down to help him move into his apartment. We took a week and hit both Busch Gardens and King's Dominion, so it's a heady rush to hit these same parks now with my son, who is only 2.5 years younger than I was. Many of the roller coasters were actually the same, which was pretty neat.

I sure handled them better when I was 17, though...

That is all.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #88

Today's car is one of those coulda shoulda woulda cars. We've only got one more 1980s car after today, but we'll be quite ready to leave the 1980s after this guy.

1988 Buick Reatta. Next to perhaps the "revised" Ford Thunderbird, it's hard to think of another car that should have done well but cratered into the ground on fire. At least in the case of the T-Bird, it wasn't the car so much as the marketing. In the case of the Reatta, it was a little of both.

Had GM done a couple things differently - started out with a convertible and made it rear wheel drive - they would have completely stolen the thunder of the Mazda Miata. Instead, they released the Reatta as a two-seater, but with front wheel drive (lackluster performance). They added the convertible option in 1990 - after the release of the Miata - looking like they were playing catchup.

It's quite similar to the Cadillac Allante, actually. The first few years, the Allante was grossly underpowered compared to the Mercedes 500 and Jaguar XJS, against which it was expected to compete. In the very last year of its existence, GM did the only smart thing they did with the entire car and dropped the fire-breathing Northstar V8 into the Allante, instantly making the 1993 model the only one worth owning.

But I digress. How bad was the Reatta? Let's put it this way: GM expected to sell 20K units a year. They would up building (which is not the same as selling) 21,000 - over its four year lifespan. A few simple changes and they would have replicated the success of the Gran National, if not even more - imagine the turbocharged V6 (thanks!) of the GN crammed into a rear-wheel drive, convertible Reatta. They might have staved off both the Miata and the BMW Z series with that...

But it's GM - Government Motors - so their ability to fail naturally doomed this from the start...

That is all.