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Sleepless Nights and Loves Lost, but Rarely Found August 2, 2015

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
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The title to this entry sounds like it belongs on a romance novel, but from the car-guy perspective it is a love story. My sleepless nights are most likely a product of years of shift work, which leave the body clock confused and sometimes the effort of lying in a dark room only lets the mind run amok. This limbo state allows thoughts to be entertained and dreams that disturb even the lightest level of sleep, and so I wind up here, at the keyboard.

 

Yesterday was another chapter in frustration with my car as I tore in once again to install the next set of headlight housings. I thought I was finished only to be dismayed when the passenger light stopped working. I discovered a faulty plug on the new unit and I had to pull the front end apart once again. At this point I was livid enough to pummel someone senseless, but what made it worse was feeling angry toward a car I dearly love. See “Engineering for Insanity”

 

If there is one constant in the realm of the gearhead it’s the repeated lament of the dream car. If you’re young, it’s all about the car you plan to own someday, and if you’re older it’s the wistful memories of the car you wish you still had. When I was young I dreamed about too many different cars to count, but looking back its safe to say I’ve owned my share of nice rides. Yes, there are several I still hold fond memories of, but in the grand scheme the one I own now has a powerful hold on my heart.

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I think I miss my Trans Am because I love a black car and its T-tops made it the first open air machine I’d ever owned. I miss my Roadrunner for its fun factors, the magnificent noises it made, its eye-popping metallic orange paint that couldn’t be ignored (by onlookers or police) and its implied image to a cartoon bird I laughed at with joy in my childhood. (And still do today)

 

 

Parting company with my Trans Am was forced due to a job layoff, and marked the beginning of a long line of used cars that carried me through the years of raising children. All were adequate in their own way, but many I dreamed I would make-over from top to bottom and keep until I was old and gray, but none of those ever came to pass. Most of that is my own fault, but some is the weakness many of us suffer from, and that is simply that newer cars just keep getting better.

 

My wife would probably say I am still in the throes of mid-life crisis, and that may be partially true, but at least I feel that progress has been made. I’ll easily concede my first convertible was exactly in that category, but more than that it marked the first time I’d ever owned a second car for myself. Two drop-tops later, I think I have landed on my gemstone, however unlikely that may sound.

 

I can’t say I ever spent hours dreaming about a Chrysler 200, especially since its really a warmed over version of the 2008 Sebring I owned for several years. But a funny thing happens when you bring an Italian in the kitchen, and suddenly leftovers can become a dish you never expected to taste so good. I must admit to being both impressed and fascinated when I encountered the 200 at the New York Auto Show, but the day I laid eyes on this metallic red ragtop started a yearning I couldn’t ignore. (Another entry “The Sun and the Roadrunner” explains this notion more in-depth.)

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I doubt the Chrysler 200 is on anyone’s sports car wish list, and I openly admit its not a serious sports car by any means, but it does deliver a fun package the likes of which I haven’t owned in years. In its present faux Roadrunner guise, the car draws stares and compliments aplenty, and I find myself admiring it whenever I draw near. The V6 engine delivers as much or more power than many other cars I’ve owned. By comparison, if you owned a 300hp car when I was young, you held the reigns to a mean street machine. The beauty of the 200 is that power doesn’t punish you at the gas pump, and that makes it all the more joyous. Throw in the drop top, a great sound system that also answers the phone, an intoxicating mix of intake and exhaust music, and all the elements I missed from my early days are suddenly right at my fingertips to enjoy. Now if I can just get the bloody headlights to work…

 

My other throwback loss is a more recent one. At least once in our car-lives we run across the unexpected machine that seems to run forever, and when it finally lays down it’s like losing a best friend. I think you have to go through years of raising kids to gain the appreciation of a sedan, but when one comes along that looks good despite its extra set of doors, and displays a spirited nature to boot, that car can get a hold on you down deep.

 

I loved the cab-forward style of the Dodge Intrepid from the day it landed in showrooms, but it would be years later before I would finally own one. Even then, it seemed unlikely I was purchasing a landmark vehicle since it was several years old and had 90k miles on the clock. I was recovering from the expenses of divorce at the time, and the car seemed more an economic choice versus a passionate one. Little did I know I was mounting the driver seat of one of the most rock-dependable cars ever to grace my driveway.

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I met my wife via an internet dating site where an unusual glitch put us in contact. I doubt either of us had plans to find someone such a distance apart, but over the next two years the trek between Virginia and New York City became a familiar run. The Intrepid handled this monthly jaunt with comfortable aplomb, and at sometimes shameless speed, so much so it became affectionately known as “The Taxi.”

 

I have since tried to find another daily steed that would be so dear to my heart, but I’ve found that to be a difficult task. Not for lack of trying, mind you, I have come close on occasion but have yet to discover that same magic mix of beauty, charm, dependability, and fun. Nothing will ever be perfect, but if I could be lucky enough to locate that daily driver that could win me over the way my 200 Roadrunner has done, that would be enchanting.

 

On the bright side, all those miles to New York and back won me the best woman a man could ask for, so in that respect I couldn’t have done better. Love is a crazy thing, and in honor of my miles to the Big Apple, I wrote a poem you can find here on the blog entitled, “Heart on Wheels.”

– T. August Green

Engineering for Insanity July 26, 2015

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Most of us have seen the series of self-help books entitled “_______” for Dummies,” which are designed to give us the nuts and bolts of a given subject. I would personally like to find “Automotive Engineering for Dummies” and mail out mass quantities to every designer and engineer employed by the automakers of today.

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Lets be clear right up front, I’m all for technical automotive advancement. Modern cars are quite simply some of the best ever built, and their overall track record of reliability and safety bear that out. The engines and drivetrains of today deliver more power and superior fuel economy than any predecessor, and they do it on lower octane unleaded pump gas. All of these advancements came by way of research, hard work, and the forward thinking minds of smart people. I applaud them, one and all.

 

I also have a level of respect and sympathy for those tasked with trying to package modern systems into smaller, lighter weight vehicles. This area is always filled with trade-offs, and some of those are glaringly exposed when it comes to maintenance and repair.

 

The first few cars I owned were equipped with sealed beam headlights. They were made of glass, prone to crack or break, and produced a weak light compared to modern units, but usually a couple small screws and one electrical plug made them easy to swap out. Halogen lights that followed were also sealed beam and much brighter but were soon replaced by the bulb-in-socket twisted into a plastic housing.

 

The latter wasn’t a bad idea as most early set-ups made the housing relatively easy to remove and gain access to the bulbs. The plastic housings on the other hand tend to turn white from extended UV exposure or lose their seal, allowing condensation to form inside. The water droplets will soon rust the bulbs into their sockets, cause electrical shorts, and generally create headaches all around.

 

It stands to reason that as cars have become more reliable, automotive service departments have less work to do, or so they say. In my personal experience, there have been exactly zero times I’ve seen an auto repair shop empty with everyone twiddling their thumbs. If this problem does indeed exist at dealerships, it might be due to the following example of engineering insanity.

 

The headlight housing on my 2011 Chrysler 200 recently filled with condensation, so I ordered new replacements. I’ve swapped housings and bulbs on my wife’s Pontiac Aztek in about a half hour, so I expected no big problems. Little did I know…

 

YouTube has been a wonderful modern resource of information with regard to auto repair. Some of these videos are posted by auto mechanics, which tells me they wish desperately a few of us would learn to do some of these ridiculous tasks so they don’t have to be bothered quite as often.

After discovering I had to remove the entire front bumper cover from the car in order access the headlight housings, I asked myself why on earth anyone would think this was a good idea?

 

The day off I had to get the job done was a hot cooker outside with temps in the 90s. Thank God for power tools that help speed such things along, but by the time I was finished I had to believe any shop mechanic would find the job equally annoying.

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I’ll admit when I was cleaning up afterward, I had thoughts of finding the engineer/designer who came up with this brilliant scheme and dumping him naked into high speed traffic.

 

Curiosity then forced me to my computer to see if my car was an isolated problem child or if others suffered similar debacles. I was astounded to find a huge number of models designed exactly the same way. One post on a forum I frequent told of a visit to a dealer for a faulty headlight. Two and a half hours labor plus parts whacked this owner’s wallet for $300, and the dealers wonder why business is down? Am I suddenly not amazed when I see a car with a spotlight duct-taped to the front fender?

 

This reeks of engineering designed to force people to throw up their hands in surrender and take their cars to shops for repair. As if they aren’t busy enough, but if the dealer service departments are still wanting, I can tell them extortion engineering isn’t going to bring customers back smiling. $300 to swap a $20 bulb? Seriously?

 

Changing a headlight bulb shouldn’t require a brain surgeon, nor should it cost ten times the price of a bulb. Modern automotive engineers have done many things right, but this isn’t one of them. I won’t pretend to understand the logic, if any, behind designing such an idiotic way of doing things. I wonder if the same engineer removes the entire door frame, facing, and a few panels of siding just to get a Christmas tree in the house? More to the point, does he pay someone else to do the drastic job for him?

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Maybe he should have to once or twice.

 

Crossing Over with Humble Pie July 6, 2015

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If there is one constant in our world its change, and while we all resist new things on some level, over time we may find something new can actually be better. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the world of electronics, where yesterday’s brand new toy can be obsolete by nightfall. The automotive market is driven by change, either by steady improvement or trying to react to the rollercoaster of public taste, the latter of which can about as predictable as the next wind shift.

I have written many words bemoaning the absence of the car-based wagon in this country, all while cursing the existence of the malignant virus called the SUV. While I’m still not happy with that state of affairs, my constant reading and watching of the market shows a compromise forming. Part of my argument was the car-based wagon being more capable of sporty driving fun than the high center of gravity SUV. For the most part this is still true, but the fast-evolving creature in the middle is the Crossover.

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First, let’s be clear on terminology. SUVs began as truck-based body-on-frame vehicles, and as such were heavy and tall with the aero qualities of a brick. These vehicles won out over wagons for generous space and greater towing capacity, and neither ever had sporting intentions.

AudiRS4

Our friends across the pond proved wagons were not fake-wood-sided land barges, as Mercedes, BMW, and Audi all produced “estate cars” based on their best performance sedans. They still can’t match the truck towing capacity, but they did show a wagon can haul the goods and haul butt at the same time. Granted, the sport versions of these wagons come with an equally muscular price tag. Many sedans in this country have since followed the performance standards set by the German automakers, but the wagon died here long before those improvements took hold of mainstream cars.

Crossovers were born from the efforts to meet increasing fuel economy standards and a more affordable SUV. These vehicles share their platforms with cars rather than trucks so they use the lighter unibody construction. While many still don’t offer large towing capacity, market research revealed most customers didn’t need that feature but still wanted the taller seating position and increased cargo room.

05-07_Subaru_OutbackSubaru was probably the first to blur the line with the Outback. Virtually every Subaru is all-wheel-drive so the bones for an adventurous vehicle was already there, and raising the roofline and ride height was a simple matter. Subaru has long enjoyed a loyal customer base, but the Outback allowed them to nibble at the heels of the SUV market, luring customers in with better fuel mileage and more car-like manners for their do-it-all Swiss Army Knife on wheels.

Many say the Toyota RAV-4 is the first crossover to go on sale in the USA, followed closely by Subaru’s taller Forester, the Honda CR-V, and finally the Ford Escape as the first domestic model toyota_rav4offered in 2001.

Today, almost every automaker that sells in the U.S. has at least one crossover in their line up, and sales figures for 2015 show the trend beginning to eclipse the family sedan. Foreign automakers got into the business of SUVs and crossovers purely for the American market, and as that market has grown the high end companies are in on the game as well. But when it comes to sporting manners, once again it was the Germans that led the charge. The BMW X5 was one of the first, and as time progressed Porsche joined the fray along with Mercedes.

BMW_X5

Just as with the sport-minded estate cars, these crossovers represent the top level of performance and handling that come at a premium price, but just like the performance sedans, the technology is slowly filtering down.

Most crossovers have a shorter wheelbase and overall length than a comparable wagon, and offer at least as much, sometimes more cargo room, both of which contribute to better curvy road manners. Ford offers a sport version of their successful Edge crossover, and more companies will surely follow in their tire tracks.

mazda-cx-5Mazda has been loyal to fun-to-drive roots in keeping with their “zoom-zoom” motto, and the CX-5 crossover that replaced the Ford Escape clone known as the Tribute, shows just how dedicated they are to their customer base. The CX-5 is lightweight, nimble, and equipped with the 2.5 Skyactiv engine becomes a pure hoot to drive. Mazda also made sure to bring this quick but economical gem to market at a price point that makes a sedan shopper think twice…let alone a wagon.

The Mazda CX-5 represents the tip of an iceberg that I’m personally glad to see arrive. Until recently, these utility vehicles served their purpose but left the fun factor at the door step. Vehicles like the MINI Countryman also showed it was possible to make such a vehicle and not have it be insufferably mundane, but MINI still carries a slightly steeper price tag.Countryman

More vehicles like the Mazda are a welcome addition to the marketplace, especially if the nameplate attached says “sport” but is more than a set of wheels, a chrome exhaust tip, and a roof spoiler. I look forward to the day I can look at a sport wagon from overseas and think that it’s nice, but I’m really not missing the option because I’m spoiled for choice with fun options in my own backyard.

There are times when humble pie doesn’t taste so bad. Maybe I’ll even have fries with that.

– T. August Green

Chasing the Dream: The car writer road trip July 1, 2015

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There are so few people I’ve met that knew what they wanted to do with their lives from an early age. We all have dreams that usually involve stardom in some form but those are fraught with a narrow window of opportunity or become out of reach for a variety of reasons.

HotWheelsMy fascination with cars began early with a collection of Hot Wheels and Matchbox toys. I still find it amusing how these old toys can command such prices as antiques and collector items, with the value going ever higher if they remain in their original packaging.

Original packaging? Surely you jest! That toy was out of that cardboard and plastic before it ever got home. Collector items? I don’t think mine would be of any great value because they ran countless miles across road courses carved from dirt, marked with chalk on concrete, and taped off on hardwood floors.

Porsche-917

I loved watching racing on television, and while NASCAR was fast growing in popularity, I craved the winged warriors of Can-Am and the sports cars that stormed Le Mans. I still recall seeing the Steve McQueen film on one of our family movie nights at the drive-in. I was twelve years old, but the Porsche 917 was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever laid eyes on.

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The passion for cars has stayed with me through the years, but it wasn’t until much later that the interest in writing took hold. I’d been a long-time reader of car magazines, and they were responsible for sparking the drive to learn more, both about the machines I was driving and the entertaining way that information was presented.

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By the time I began to follow certain automotive journalists, I already had kids and was on a job with benefits that wasn’t so easy to walk away from. I’m not alone in that bucket because I’ve met a great many people who have talent far beyond what they do for a living, and that’s a shame. If I could make the jump to automotive journalist tomorrow I’m sure I’d enjoy the change, but in the meantime I’ll indulge myself here.

To test cars, visit interesting locations, storm track days, and write about the results sounds like it could be time demanding but seldom boring. With a mindset of getting my feet wet, I have some vacation time coming up and decided to venture out and document my own road trip test.

My ride of choice will be my 2011 Chrysler 200 Touring Convertible. While my self-created Roadrunner is more cruiser than serious sports car, it’s more than a paper tiger as it packs 300hp from its 6cyl engine, wider wheels and tires, and drilled/slotted brakes with ceramic pads. I won’t be spanking Mustangs or Camaros, but the car has an above average fun factor which I got a taste of on three laps of Watkins Glen.

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My destination for this outing is Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the legendary road that carves it way through Deal’s Gap known as Tail of the Dragon. A headrest-mounted GoPro-type action camera should provide some good video and hopefully the weather will cooperate for some lovely summer scenery along the way. This is the kind of roads and landscape convertibles were born to roam and I’m sure the Roadrunner will earn its stripes.

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Departure is planned for Sunday, July 12th 2015, so check back here for updates as I go and hopefully I can entertain you along the way.

– T. August Green

(Update) The Dragon road trip is temporarily postponed due to bad weather in the Smoky Mountain region. Between weather reports and time off from work will determine my next attempt, hopefully in the next couple of months.

More info to follow.

What makes a Dad? June 16, 2015

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With Father’s Day fast approaching, I reflected on how I came to be in that category, and the factors that shaped me into that role. There’s a reason children don’t come with instruction manuals, while some may be similar, no two are exactly alike. As such, the ability and skills to be a parent differ widely with every child, and while there is an almost endless list of texts and “experts” on the subject, in most cases we learn as we go.

Years ago, I accepted a request by my local church bishop to teach young children basic Sunday school lessons. While I assured him I was woefully unqualified to do so, he calmly informed me the children would teach me all I needed to know. At first I considered this strange advice, but I soon realized that teaching was as much about trying to connect with the class as it was the chosen subject matter.

There is an oft repeated old saying that goes something like, “Any man can be a father but it takes a special person to be a Dad.” There has seldom been more truth captured in a single sentence, and we need not look far in today’s society to find plentiful examples of both with many levels in between.

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I think most fathers want to believe they’ve been good to their children, but only their children know the impressions they leave behind.

I have to give my father credit for teaching me a great deal about life in general and the importance of good work ethics. He dealt out a generous amount of tough love, and although he was difficult to deal with on many occasions, there were always those quiet, open moments when he confessed the things that mattered most.

Maybe I got a few more of those moments than my older siblings as time and disease crumbled away his last few years of life.

I was only nineteen when he passed away, but he left indelible impressions on my soul. For better or worse, he was my Dad.

Yet among all those lessons and memories, how much of it prepared me to be a father myself? Those are hard questions to answer but there must have been some effect, even on a subconscious level. But this much is certain, my children have been the biggest contributors to making me who I have become. Only they can truly judge my success or failure as a father, and I owe them immense appreciation for every element they added to my life.

So now, I would like to spotlight each of them for simply be2012-12 dec 25 christmas-50ing who they are.

 

 

 

 

Michelle

I call her, “Missy,” and she calls me, “Daddy.”

She is my firstborn, and the core of the single most vivid memory I have of parenthood.

I was dressed in one of those silly yellow paper gowns when the nurse laid her into my arms, and in that moment I knew my life was forever changed. It was no longer just me, I was from this point onward a father, and my goals and priorities now included this tiny person who was dependent upon me.

I held her in my arms that day, and many years later I gave her away to a young man she loved, but in my heart I still hold her close.

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Today, she is the mother of my first grandchild, and I see so much of her in that darling child with each passing day. I know she has done for Missy what she did for me, and that is a priceless gift that can never be replaced.

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Missy and I have shared many interests and moments over the years, and from her childhood days to her time as a wife and mother, she has taught me the value of heart and emotion, the importance of expression, and the assurance that the best gifts are the kind not bought, but given with pure intent.

She stood by me through some of my darkest times and helped shape the life I live today. Without that kind of support, my world could be a very different place, but when its your child that believes in you, great things are possible.

Thank you, Missy, for making me a Daddy.

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Joshua

I call him, “Bubba, Hot Rod, Killer, Joshman,” and many other terms of male endearment, and he simply calls me, “Dad.”

He is my one and only son, my flesh and blood, and I’ve never met anyone who wants so fervently to be a hero. Such heart and strength of will are forged like steel, with fire, the force of the hammer, and the unyielding resistance of the anvil.

Sometimes I believe it is the pure will of God Himself that fathers should contend with their sons, and history is replete with examples of such struggles. But just like the blacksmith that shapes the sword, the steel speaks to him, and his use of the fire and the hammer are ultimately designed to hone the steel into something stronger and more powerful. The blows can be both light and fierce, but in the end, the craftsman holds his creation with reverent pride, knowing he gave all his talent and knowledge to make it the finest and best his hands could produce.

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Raising a son like mine was filled with challenges, but we met each head on, and while sparks often flew there were also many times we played as hard as we fought. Like my Sunday school class, the effort was trying to connect, and the rules for that game changed almost daily. At times it was frustrating, but the times when it worked gave you the spirit to never give up. It was almost as though I was being tested each day to prove my worthiness, like a king and his promising upstart training and teaching each other to groom him for the path ahead. The work is hard and tense, but the glimmers of progress are rewards in themselves.

Josh and I are divergent in many ways, but in those places we connect, we make the most of the common ground. Josh has been my single greatest teacher in dealing with the unexpected, learning to adapt, and realizing that different directions are not bad things.

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His strength of will and rigid sense of right and wrong have always impressed me, even if we didn’t agree, and I know as life wears him down it will only make him sharper. The time will come when he will step into my role as a parent, and I have every faith the fire that made him will ultimately serve him well. I believe he will lead by strong example, and his experience will temper the metal of the hero he has always wanted to be.

Thank you, Josh, for making me a Dad.

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Arlie

I call her, “Arlie, Cutie, or Kiddo,” and she calls me, “Timmy.”

 

I fell in love with her Mommy and stepped into a small world that had been a private one for most of her life. Arlie broke the ice between us like throwing bricks through glass windows, and I quickly learned when to duck and when to catch. Being a potential step-parent is not always a welcomed idea, and this certainly looked that way, but behind the outward rage I could see something else, something wounded and guarded, yet daring.42702 010 1 4x6

The hardest thing about step-relationships is the absence of history. You didn’t start off together, you miss the growing experience of each other, and the shadows of different people can block your way. Finding a path through this maze is fraught with peril as loyalties to those they know well always trump the fledgling relationship.

Trust is hard earned and comes in uneasy pieces, like a bridge made of random stones that will never fit like smooth bricks.

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She taught me the stark difference between being a father, a father figure, and a close friend. The most important of which was to throw the roles out the window and learn to flow with what the given situation demanded.

There are no comparisons to be made between others because all that mattered was the two of us and what was needed to make that work. My primary task was to love and care for her mother, given she was the most important constant in Arlie’s world.

Thankfully, that hasn’t been a problem since my wife has fully encouraged my efforts, but even that couldn’t smooth the emotional wringer we put each other through.

 

Starting in younger childhood years has its own set of challenges, but we kicked off pretty much as adults with all the hills and valleys that entails. Getting past the walls and defenses we put up can be slow and painful, but when we eventually open doors, even a little at a time, what we finally reveal inside can be fragile, but also kind and beautiful.

The strange part is how wonderfully in sync we are in certain areas while others are polar opposites, but that has been an education in itself. It can be difficult to be strongly at odds with another person yet still find it within yourself to accept those traits, lose the expectation of it ever changing, and still hold them dear to your heart.

The bond between a parent and a child can be the most powerful thing on Earth, but with a step-relationship that bond must be meticulously constructed and cared for like a prized friendship. It has the potential to be as strong as any created by blood, and in some ways stronger because both gave of themselves to make it happen. Both people had a need or want to fill, even if they didn’t recognize it at first and if they manage to cement the strand together there is little that can tear it apart, even among family.

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Arlie has taught me it is possible to let someone into your life you didn’t foresee coming, and grow to love them in ways you didn’t know were ever there within you. It is treasure of unexpected wealth, and while different from others that came before, is still valuable beyond compare. The task of finding that connection wasn’t easy, but the sacrifices in heart and tears from both sides created something wonderfully unique, and one I believe will stand the test of time. I hope so at least, because she has become more a part of me than I ever thought possible.

Thank you, Arlie, for making me a “Timmy” I never knew I could be.

 

When Father’s Day comes in the future, I will remember with great pride the three wonderful reasons why and all they have given me. To be a Dad is to be more than you can ever be alone.

– T. August Green

Top Ten Cars Uglier than the Pontiac Aztek April 1, 2015

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“Beauty, like supreme dominion, is only supported by opinion”- Benjamin Franklin.

Beauty has always been a subjective thing, and so often we see something as beautiful after it proves its value to us in many other ways. At that point, our opinions have moved beyond simple outward appearance toward richer, deeper feelings.

The Pontiac Aztek has been the automotive press whipping post for more than a decade. I penned another blog post in 2010 defending this oddity of the vehicular realm.

You can read that post here; The Much Maligned Aztek.

What follows are definitely my personal views, and while some of the vehicles on the list may well be sturdy, reliable machines that have been good to their owners, the fact remains I find their outward appearance revolting. If anything, this is a turnabout for all the insulting press I’ve read about our Pontiac over the last ten years.

And here we go….

buick-rendezvous-03Buick Rendezvous

As mentioned in the related post, this was the Aztek sister ship, and how it escaped insult along with its sibling is beyond me. While its styling might not be as edgy as the Pontiac, I’ve seen cliff boulders with more pleasing lines. The large tail lights accentuate the bizarre hatch glass, which with its black trim looks like a giant welt growing off the rear like a tumor. If the Buick were featured in an episode of Cars, I could hear the following lines.

Buick; “Excuse me, honey, do my tail lights make my butt look big?”

Hummer H2; “Not as blocky as mine, baby, but I like some boom in the back.”

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Mitsubishi Endeavor

This was one of the Aztek competitors in the SUV market, but I’ve yet to see this vehicle make an ugly car list. With that pig snout grille and body side sculpting that looks like its about to sprout pontoons, I guess it was considered more adventurous. Wild Boars are adventurous, dangerous, and unreliable, but they still aren’t attractive. Its nice to know the Mitsubishi has natural company.

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Honda CR-V

Honda owners are some of the most loyal on the planet, but I think even they have to admit the company’s styling tastes comes in ebbs and flows. Let’s face it, there are some mundane looking Hondas in this world, but the conflicting lines of the roof against the sloping back windows make me feel like this vehicle was designed after one too many bottles of saki. Go home, Sensei, you’re drunk.

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Lexus RX

Sometimes you wonder if a certain model is produced in only one color. While I have seen the rare Lexus in black or gold, pearl white appears to be their dominant choice. The overall ovoid shape of this vehicle immediately clicks in my brain as an egg on wheels. As a car nut kid I did my share of model bashing, but I never put Humpty Dumpty on a set of truck tires. This was also one of the first vehicles equipped with clear tail light lenses that turn red when lit, and being stuck behind a RX in traffic is akin to having a red-eyed robot winking at you. Both ugly and annoying.

Nissan_Juke_(27)Nissan Juke

To “juke” means to move in a zig-zag fashion, and I think that’s exactly what the designer of this car was doing at the drawing board. Was it one of those freak days when the exterminator didn’t keep his appointment and the studio was crawling with offensive little bugs? Was it a nightmare the designer just had to get off his chest the next morning?

For all of the “WTF” questions that have been asked over how the Aztek made it to production, I scream those questions from the rooftops over this car. Every time I see one I suppress an overpowering urge to swat it with a giant backhoe.

hyundai-velosterHyundai Veloster

For all those who point to the Veloster and call it cute, quirky, different, or some other adjective to deflect its oddball looks, I point backward a generation to two cars that hit the market with similar descriptors; the AMC Gremlin and its bloated cousin the Pacer.

I actually owned a Pacer for a short time and found it to be a very useful and reliable car, but that did nothing to stem the non-stop flow of stares and jokes I took during that time. I have to admit one of my co-workers summed up owning a Pacer in simple terms, “It’s kind of like a bathtub. You don’t mind being in it, but don’t exactly want to be seen there.”

I think the biggest benefit of owning a Veloster is that if you’re driving it, you don’t have to see it passing by.

Nissan_Cube

Nissan Cube

I read that in Japan, owning a boxy looking vehicle is considered macho, and for all the things Japanese culture has given us, I hope that one is never widely adopted. Although given the short term success of the Hummer, and now the growing sales of the mini-boxes, I’m left to wonder. Many of the micro-vans or whatever their popular nickname happens to be, remind me of basic kitchen appliances. Toasters, canisters, or what-have-you, but the Nissan Cube should be renamed the Icebox. This offbeat, asymmetrical, styling hangover painted white looks like you should clear a parking spot in your kitchen. But hey, picnics and pot luck dinners should be breeze. Nissan should offer massive discounts to catering services the world over.

Dodge-Durango-SXTDodge Durango

The poor, lost child Durango has been through some tough changes. The SUV started off well enough, borrowing from its Dakota cousin, and all seemed well until the tumultuous years Chrysler ownership bounced from Daimler-Benz to the inept hands of  the Cerberus Group. (The latter knowing NOTHING about running a car company, and boy did it show.) Thankfully, the passionate people in control these days have transformed the Durango into a truck that begs for its life to be a Charger, but those murky models in between were insane bastard offspring of a mish-mash of Jeep and Ram truck DNA.

Not attractive from any angle, these Lego-block beasts should be herded to service in the distant wilderness where wild animals could care less, and park rangers will never lose them as much as they might want to.

BMWi3

BMW i3

If this is the future of automotive technology then its time for me to move to an urban location over-run with public transportation. This latest product from the Bavarian Motor Werks might be cutting edge, but it looks like a deformed astronaut helmet. I almost envision a frustrated chief of design sounding off to his staff, “Give me a car so advanced and incredible I wont give a damn what it looks like!” Job done, except the rest of us just might disagree with the apathy toward appearance.

Acura-ZDX

Acura ZDX

Here is yet another left field sister ship. The Honda Accord Crosstour, now known simply as the Crosstour, has drawn its share of detractors. Despite the criticism from the press, the Crosstour has found a niche in the market as it pulls off the utility of a wagon without quite looking like one. All of which probably pleases the execs at Honda no end since the Crosstour replaced the Accord wagon to begin with. While the Crosstour sports a love-it or hate-it appearance, its Acura cousin pushes that envelope to its outer limits. The styling attempts to hide the rear doors fail in execution, and the more sharply angled glass lines only make the vehicle look more cramped. But for me, the biggest laugher is the beaver-tooth front grill treatment. Acuras are meant to be upscale cars, but I would feel a pang of nausea every time I looked in my driveway only to see Punxsutawney Phil staring back at me with glowing eyes. I’ve noticed more recent models with the grill given a muted black treatment in an effort to tone down the effect. That’s nice; the beaver needs his teeth cleaned. Those morning coffee stains are just annoying.

Aztek

And my Aztek is ugly?  Maybe so, but she aint alone by a long shot!

– T. August Green

Chariots and Wagons March 31, 2015

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
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chariot-raceThe chariot has always been a glory machine. History depicts its use in both racing and war, being pulled my multiple steeds of great strength, an early equivalent of the modern-day, high powered sports car.

Then there are wagons, from simple buckboards to large covered land barges, sharing all of the varied, mundane duties we saddle our contemporary vehicles with, they were the useful but unglamorous transportation of their time.

Such is the dilemma of the modern gearhead. We all dream of the exotic supercar but are forced to deal with the requirements of our daily lives. Many eventually find the means to garage a second vehicle, pampering it while waiting for warm, sunny days when we can indulge ourselves. For those with abundant means (like Jay Leno) this arrangement becomes far more elaborate.

Still, the consummate gearhead cannot deny his inner force, and as much as we say otherwise, we seek to make our daily workhorses more exciting and athletic. I believe it is this sedate, subdued notion that makes some of us gravitate to the more unusual, possibly even forgotten machines.

Scientists say creative human minds tend to utilize both halves of the brain with greater interaction. While some see this as artistic connection, others regard it as more of a short circuit. History has shown that most people gifted with various artistic talents tend to be somewhat eccentric, and in some cases just plain odd. The creative gearhead is no different.

Automotive design has always been subjective, and for every machine hailed by all as breath-taking and beautiful, there are three others as exciting as vanilla and one as homely as the village humpback. Yet time has a funny way of transforming the yawner into a desirable, sought-after prize.

On a quick tangent, the Pontiac Aztek has made more “top ten ugly car” lists than any vehicle in recent memory. Shouldn’t there be an award for that? As an owner and supporter of said vehicle, I feel it has been given an unjust sentence and I’m currently compiling my own list entitled, “Top Ten Vehicles Uglier than the Pontiac Aztek.”

Stay tuned for that upcoming blog post.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was both creative and inventive. While others saw the relics of WWII combat as junk littering the European countryside, Lamborghini salvaged engines and parts to begin a thriving business making farm equipment. He loved sports cars, and after owning a few unreliable Ferraris, decided he could build a better machine himself.

LamboLogoBeing born under the astrological sign of Taurus, Lamborghini was fascinated by a visit to the Seville ranch of renowned fighting bull breeder, Don Eduardo Miura, and chose to adopt the raging bull as the emblem for the car he sought to build.

Obviously, the raging bull logo was intended to evoke an image of superior power over that of Ferrari’s prancing horse, and the car he produced did all of that and more. The Miura is still widely proclaimed as the first supercar, utilizing a mid-engine/rear drive powertrain layout for optimum balance and handling.

The Miura was introduced in 1966, and Lamborghini sold his company shortly before his retirement in 1974. The outrageous Countach with its signature scissor doors would come a few years later followed by a herd of raging bulls named Diablo, Jalpa, Murcielago, Gallardo, Aventador, and the latest, Huracan…all named after legendary fighting bulls.

(Save for the Countach, which translates into an Italian expletive.)

In between the fearsome super bulls, there have been trucks, tractors, motorcycles, and marine engines, but the one I find most fascinating is the 2+2 hatchback coupe produced during the Ferruccio tenure. For the decade of 1968-1978, Lamborghini built this unsung, everyday driver with the heart of a raging bull, which he called the Espada.

LamboEspada3

In Spanish, espada means sword, which is the weapon the matador uses to finish his beaten adversary, but as it applies to the Lambo sports coupe, one could say it’s both sharp and edgy.

Marcello Gandini is a legendary automotive designer, and his creations include the aforementioned Miura, the outrageous Countach as well as its successor, the Diablo, and the fearsome Lancia Stratos, just to name a few. But before all of those works of art became fire-breathing road weapons, Gandini sculpted the Jaguar Pirana concept car.

While working for the design group Bertone, he borrowed heavily from his show piece to give Lamborghini its understated, four-seat touring/GT car. One has to give the Italians due credit for finding ways to build driver excitement into almost everything they produce. From their tiny economy cars to their plush sedans, the sound and feel that begs the driver’s soul is present at some level.

LamboEspada1

The Espada was the alternative to the rakish supercar by offering room for passengers, a usable amount of carry space and the symphony of a V12 engine under the hood. The Espada will never command the spotlight like its sexy siblings, but it has probably delivered more smiles to more drivers while the dream machines gather dust in garage bays.

During the same years the Espada was produced in Italy, Chrysler Corporation unleashed a fleet of rowdy musclecars on the streets of America. Names like Charger, Challenger, Cuda, Super Bee, Daytona, Roadrunner, and GTX would all become legends in their own rite while the mighty Hemi engine provided the power to dominate the asphalt.

John Herlitz may not be the epic designer on the level of Gandini, but his contribution to American performance lore is no less important. Herlitz penned the 1970 ‘Cuda, which became an instant success and today is one of the most sought-after sports coupes in the country. Hemi-powered original models have fetched prices over a million dollars, but one of his lesser designs holds lock and key on my gearhead heart.

The Roadrunner was a home-run hit for Plymouth Division, with sales running amok from 1968-70. Herlitz was given the daunting task of redesigning the popular model for 1971 in order to trim down its weight and make it more aerodynamic. The car he delivered for 1971-72 remains to this day as one of my all-time favorites, and while it may not be on the level of Camaros or Mustangs, I love it for all the things it does well.

72RunnerWllppr

The car is roomy and comfortable, making no apology for its size, while its rakish lines, long hood, and high rear quarters combine to form a lovely wedge shape. The design proved to be more than simple appearance, as King Richard Petty stormed the high banks of NASCAR to win the Daytona 500 and 20 other races on his way to the 1971 Winston Cup Championship. The following year in 1972 saw him win 21 races and over a million dollars in purse money, making him the first to crack that golden figure in winnings.

For the 1972 model year, a failing economy and new emissions standards forced the muscular Hemi into retirement, but a subtle change to the rear bumper and tail lights made this car even more beautiful in my eyes. Some in the automotive world refer to the look as “jet exhaust lights,” but whatever term is used to describe them, they absolutely work for me.

72Runner-rear

The next year brought a massive revamping of the coupe, and in my opinion, completely ruined the appearance. So one year model of plunging sales figures remains to this day as my everyman, unsung hero car.

The pencil and paper will always be the most basic canvas for artistic expression, but technology has gifted more of us with the means to play with dream designs. Today’s custom car builders take such ideas and revive the relics of the past into modern on-off street demons. Chip Foose is probably the most recognizable given his “Overhaulin” television series, but Illinois-based Troy Trepanier has fashioned his share of twisted steel and sex appeal.

A few years back, Rad Rides by Troy tackled the project of remaking an icon, a 1970 Hemi Cuda for comic Joe Rogan. The result was ground-pounding beast that was dubbed “Sick Fish.” I’ve seen my share of potent Cudas over the years but this one is pure awesomeness from the pavement up.

SickFishCuda

I couldn’t resist playing with an image of a 1972 Roadrunner I found online, lowering the stance and giving it the larger wheels to emulate the amazing Cuda. Such a car could still carry people in comfort, cruise the highways, and with a modern Chrysler Hemi mated to the latest eight-speed ZF auto gearbox, it could deliver not only abundant power but real world fuel mileage to boot.

72RunnerLow

Some dream cars are chariots, and some are wagons, but all are beautiful in the eye of the beholder, no matter how many horses are hitched to them.

Let’s Motor!

– T. August Green

End of an Era? March 29, 2015

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts, Uncategorized.
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TopGearCastThe final decision has been made and Jeremy Clarkson was officially sacked by the BBC. James May and Richard Hammond remain in limbo state for now, but the BBC has stated that Top Gear will continue and they even opened themselves up for comments on their website for public opinion. Brave souls the Brits, but you have to give them points for nerve. The network also reported they would try to find some way to air the remaining material they have for the rest of Season 22.

BBC officials have minced no words in statements saying Clarkson was a huge contributor and entertainment force behind the scenes, but the team that makes up the program is larger than any one man. Between their magazine, online presence, and how they have spawned their product into so many other nations is impressive to say the least.

As much as I love the UK show, I’ve watched the Aussie version and I have to give them credit for doing a fine job. It takes any crew a reasonable amount of time to gel, even the early seasons of the UK show were clunky compared to the latest episodes.

Given the information that Clarkson reported himself to his superiors, and has publicly asked that the producer he punched be held blameless, I’m forced to wonder if he was looking for a simple way out. If so, his outburst surely did the trick. I was even more amazed that his on-screen barbs, however offensive they may be to some, are not what sunk his job in the end. I feel confident the BBC would’ve tolerated his political incorrectness in large doses before ever seriously sending him packing…and I think he knew that too.

I admit when I first started watching the show, I was often rubbed by the degrading American barbs, but then one only has to watch late night comedy or ‘stand up’ to see how badly our entertainers bash every other culture on the planet. In that vein, I see Clarkson as no different. The air of Brit superiority over “The Colonies” has long been a comic punching bag, and as much as we might hate to admit it, a lot of our pointed out shortcomings are real.

top_gear_america_teamThe trio on USA Top Gear are blending and bouncing off each other better with each series, and while I wish their format was closer to the UK show (I think they gave up on it too soon)…they are probably faced with enormous budget and insurance restraints not present in the UK. With the BBC being a public/government run entity, they have no advertisers or stock-holders to answer to.

Will Top Gear UK be different without the current team? No doubt. Will it sink? Maybe, but great quarterbacks retire and teams still win with new players. The format for a funny and exciting show still exists, and the passion for all things automotive doesn’t die with Clarkson’s exit.

The Brits have a wealth of comic talent at their disposal, and The Stig hammering around the track for Power Lap Times will still be just as awesome as it is now. Celebrities will still line up for the Reasonably Priced Car, and the supercar wars will rage on.

The-Stig I’m willing to give a new crew a chance, just like I did with the History Channel version. Better that as opposed to losing my masked hero and the chance to see and hear the most phenonmenal cars in the world scream around a race course. I learned through time and harsh experience that Hollywood cannot be counted on to deliver those goods. All they know how to do is wreck and blow up anything exotic or beautiful, just for the sake of an over-reaching action sequence. Screw that.

I will forever miss the team of snarky Brits, but there were those who said Star Trek could never be re-invented or re-created. Time and talent proved that to be false.

Long live Top Gear!

– T. August Green

Skin Care for your Car March 16, 2015

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You don’t have to look far in any department or drug store to find an absolute plethora of skin care products. Everything from lotions to sunscreen to anti-aging butter all but scream from the shelves for your attention, and they obviously sell since you don’t often hear about cosmetic companies going belly-up.

The human body is the most amazing machine in existence bar none. The harder you work it, the stronger it gets, and above all it has the ability to heal and repair itself, now if only we could build a car that does the same.

When your car’s skin is new, the paint shines, the metallic glistens in the sunlight, and the overall effect is pleasing to the eye. Everyone that buys a new car looks at with a wide smile, and I can think of a scant few times some comment isn’t made about how shiny and pretty the color looks. Yet so few people take any steps to insure that it stays that way, or even try to preserve some level of protection and care. Far too many car owners accept shining paint as a new car thing that is doomed to fade with time.

Almost all of us have suffered a sunburn once in our lives, which usually results in red, tender skin followed by some peeling. Over time, the sunburn will heal and you’re as good as new, but your car isn’t so fortunate.

ClearPeelThis picture shows what “sunburn” looks like on your car. We lather ourselves with sunscreen to protect our skin, but your car’s sunscreen is called wax or polish. Granted, it usually takes years before a car looks this bad, but what you see is the  top clear coat degrading away from all the harsh elements, not the least of which are UV rays. Dirt, dust, pollen, acid rain, road salt, are just a few of the things assaulting your car almost daily, and it doesn’t get the benefit of a jacket (car cover) or a house (garage) to protect it from such wear.

A great many people that do wash their car either go through a car wash, which uses a potent industrial soap, or they wash it at home with dish detergent. Yes, common dish soap will wash away grime, bird droppings, tree sap, and a host of other nasty agents from nature, but it also cleanly strips away any protective coatings previously applied.

Dedicated car wash soap is more finish friendly, and some even provide oils or silicone to help the clear coat from becoming brittle, but wax and polish are still the things your car’s skin cries out for.

Now we’ve all seen images of the dedicated car freak spending all afternoon rubbing and buffing until his arms are limp fish in the quest for that reflective shine. Thank God modern chemistry has left that process to those who enjoy such laborious “fun.”

2QuikDetailerQuikWaxMeguiars Quik Wax and Spray Detailer may not be as long term durable as canned paste wax, but they turn the mist and dry process into a rewarding one. I’ve seen many people who don’t bother drying their cars, and are more than happy to let the sun and wind do the job for them. Yet each bead of water acts like a prism in sunlight, and each falling of a little acid rain (common near any industrial area) leaves those annoying little water spot rings that are murder to get rid of, but worse, they are the prelude to clear coat breakdown.

A good, thick microfiber towel and one of these spray products lets the drying cloth glide smoothly over the finish, leaving the wax protection behind. Quik Detailer can even be used on the glass, leaving it clear and shedding water just as good as Rain-X. The lovely shine is the real benefit, and repeating this process after each wash keeps the goodies for your car’s skin steady coming.

Even if you aren’t a Gear-head like me, your car represents a substantial monetary investment, so take some time to care for its skin at least a fraction as much as you care for your own. The car will thank you openly by looking newer for longer, and that’s always a pleasing thing to see in the driveway.

Let’s Motor ;)

Ultimate Road Trip March 14, 2015

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I ran across this article online where a student was challenged to come up with route to cover all 50 states with at least one stop in each at a prominent landmark or historical location. I’m always fascinated by the concept of cross-country road trips, so needless to say I read on. You can read the entire post HERE.

Road-trip-map

The map above shows the route, but I thought it would be fun to check off the places I’ve already been and see what I’ve got left to tackle. Road Trips need goals, you see, and you can play along by ticking off the locations on your bucket list as well. Items in bold italics are my previously visited spots.

  • Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  • Craters of the Moon, Idaho
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Pikes Peak, Colorado
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
  • The Alamo, Texas
  • The Platt Historic District, Oklahoma
  • Toltec Mounds, Arkansas
  • Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Tennessee
  • Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi
  • French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • USS Alabama, Alabama
  • Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida (aka Kennedy Space Center NASA)
  • Okefenokee Swamp Park, Georgia
  • Fort Sumter National Monument, South Carolina
  • Lost World Caverns, West Virginia
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, North Carolina
  • Mount Vernon, Virginia
  • White House, Washington, D.C. (haven’t done the tour)
  • Colonial Annapolis Historic District, Maryland
  • New Castle Historic District, Delaware
  • Cape May Historic District, New Jersey
  • Liberty Bell, Pennsylvania
  • Statue of Liberty, New York
  • The Mark Twain House & Museum, Connecticut
  • The Breakers, Rhode Island
  • USS Constitution, Massachusetts
  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Mount Washington Hotel, New Hampshire
  • Shelburne Farms, Vermont
  • Fox Theater, Detroit, Michigan (went to Detroit, did Chrysler Museum)
  • Spring Grove Cemetery, Ohio
  • Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
  • West Baden Springs Hotel, Indiana
  • Abraham Lincoln’s Home, Illinois
  • Gateway Arch, Missouri
  • C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, Kansas
  • Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, Iowa
  • Taliesin, Wisconsin
  • Fort Snelling, Minnesota
  • Ashfall Fossil Bed, Nebraska
  • Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
  • Fort Union Trading Post, North Dakota
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Hanford Site, Washington state
  • Columbia River Highway, Oregon
  • San Francisco Cable Cars, California
  • San Andreas Fault, California (does San Diego count?)
  • Hoover Dam, Nevada        

The student list skips things I found of interest, but that’s the beauty of a road trip, the ability to custom tailor the destinations to your likes and choices. Getting the time is always an issue, but I’ve never had a road trip be a completely bad experience. Flying is always faster, but it lacks culture, romance, and the beauty of the journey. While the interstate highways are the most efficient means of road travel, even they can detour from some of the gemstones this country has to offer. The road is out there, and it leads to wonders that can be breathtaking to behold.

This is the difference between just having a car that is good, basic transportation or one that devours the miles while rewarding the driver with comfort and entertainment. My wife is amused at how I take pictures of my car while on vacation, but to me its a friend that has taken the adventure with me, carried me to places I couldn’t get to alone, and brought me safely home once again.

The road is never paved with yellow bricks, but it beckons with sights every bit as amazing as Oz ever could dream.

As the MINI drivers are so fond of saying, “Let’s Motor.”

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