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

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
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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.”

mitsubishi-endeavor-1

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.

2007-honda-cr-v

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.

Lexus_RX_400h_rear

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!

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!

End of an Era? March 29, 2015

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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!

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.”

The Joy of Not Flying March 6, 2015

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In my late twenties, I teamed up with a good friend of mine to learn how to fly. I had been fascinated by aircraft since I was a young child, and remain so to this day, but the joys of being a pilot are crushed to oblivion when it comes to modern commercial aviation.

commercialPic Let me be quick to admit that commercial airlines, by almost every statistical means are both the least expensive and safest way to cover large distance. When they do have an accident, it’s usually catastrophic and makes news headlines everywhere, but the sheer number of flights that go like clockwork on a daily basis offset those events by a wide margin.

While both fast and efficient, air travel, at least in the economy seats where the majority of passengers reside, is neither comfortable nor entertaining. Packed like human sardines in a tubular can, you sail over and through the clouds, sometimes with abundant turbulence, until you reach your destination feeling drained, and still trying to get your ears to pop from the altitude changes. I’m sure there are those who have adapted to these conditions with aplomb, but if there is one constant I’ve noticed in my life it’s that humans will adapt to incredibly punishing conditions which they eventually accept as normal if they so choose.

I’ve been blessed to be married to a wonderful woman for the last thirteen years who allows me the freedom to indulge my car hobbies (as long as our home life doesn’t suffer in the process.)

I’ve always considered that to be a fair and generous policy to live by, but more importantly, she has taught me the value of investing in vacation time. The experience of travel is both expanding and amazing, generating a firsthand account of just how vast and diverse this country is from coast to coast.

Granted, driving is not a joy for a great many people, and my wife has expressed abundant appreciation from day one that she now has a full time chauffeur. But for me, taking my car on vacation is an opportunity to enjoy its capabilities for more than just a commute to work.

The other benefits are the ability to stop and stretch or relax at a time of my choosing, pick interesting and different places to eat, and soaking in the sometimes spectacular landscape the road crosses through.

IMG_3528The last of those choices is of utmost importance to my wife, who is a photographer, and will often sing out for me to stop, turn around and go back so she can capture a specific feature or view. I’ve learned to allot generous room in my travel schedule for just such events, but I must admit it has become as entertaining for me as it is for her.

 

The other great benefit of traveling the road system is what is often referred to as Roadside America. This past week we flew to Las Vegas, rented a car, and drove to Grand Canyon. While the natural wonder of the world almost defies adequate description, and no single picture will ever do it any level of justice, the things we discovered in rural Arizona were equally entertaining. Certainly not on the vast scale of the Canyon, but by laughs and smiles they were gemstones in their own right.

IMG_2323Several years ago, we made a cross-country drive to Yellowstone National Park, and the incredible beauty, both natural and man-made along the way didn’t disappoint. For the six days this past week, our Dodge Journey rental was an impressive stand-in for my own car. In that span of time, the things we saw and experienced were wonderful to behold, and all would have been impossible to enjoy jetting overhead at thirty thousand feet.

There are parts of the country where the road can be monotonous and long, sometimes nothing more than mile after mile of agricultural wonder, but even then I’ll take my driver’s seat, the cruise control, and a good audio system to roll away the miles.

Legendary automotive journalist Brock Yates once said, “If I’ve got plenty of time to kill I might fly where I need to go, but if I have a schedule to keep, I’ll drive.”

Such a statement coming from the unofficial father of the Cannonball Run comes as no surprise, but even so, I’m not a fan of murderous hours of high speed hammering. For me, the journey is to be relished as we go, and I can’t count the number of places we’ve passed by and wished we had the time to stop and explore. Maybe someday time and money will allow just such travel to be possible.

My father was a Greyhound Bus driver by trade, and I know he savored personal travel in much the same way. I’ve never driven a large bus or tractor-trailer for employment, and I’m not sure I could since it would mean blowing mindlessly by everything I’d see, but I’ll never be able to thank my Dad enough for infusing me with the love affair of my car and the open road.

He and I got a rough start over cold nights, wrenches, and droplights, but it sunk all the way to the bone. Airplanes are great for their intended purpose, but for the full joy of travel, I’ll borrow from the Harley biker crowd, “It’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

I’m sure Dad would agree.

Daring Greatly February 18, 2015

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts, Poetry.
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CaddyLogoCadillac has been in transformation for over a decade, and their cars continue to reach new heights. What was once scoffed at on the international stage is now becoming feared and respected as the carmaker produces cutting edge new models that rival the best Europe has to offer.

Cadillac recently moved it headquarters from the parent company in Detroit to New York City, a move designed to put their image in touch with the level they seek to represent. No other major city in the country can compete with the scale and impact of not just Manhattan, but the Big Apple as a whole. It is THE iconic metropolitan urban landscape, and Cadillac seeks to be the same.

Elmiraj-CaddyRecent concepts such as the Elmiraj and the Ciel show the level of upscale luxury the company is striving for while still paying fitting homage to their domestic roots. New models like the potent ATS-V display the kind of performance usually reserved for German engineering.

In an age of business forever focused on bottom lines, it is refreshing to see a marque dare to rise up and challenge both tradition and perceptions. Cadillac recently launched a new marketing campaign entitled, “Dare Greatly” where images of New York are narrated by the lines of a poem written by Teddy Roosevelt. If find this prose fitting not only to this resilient automaker but to athletes and actors alike who live their lives under the scrutiny of the press and public at large.

Powerful words from a President who lived with a bold heart and strength of will.

“Man in the Arena”

It is not the critic who counts

Nor those who point out how the strong man stumbles

Or where the doer of great deeds could have done better

The credit belongs to the man in the arena

Whose face is marred by dust, sweat, and blood

Who strives valiantly

Who errs

Who comes short again and again

Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming

But those who actually strive to do the deeds

Who knows great enthusiasm and devotion

Who spends himself in a worthy cause

Who at best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement

And at worst, if he fails,

He at least fails… while daring greatly.

While I may never own a Cadillac, I have a growing respect for an automaker that dares greatly.

The Man in the Glass December 24, 2014

Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
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phonto

 

 

 

 

 

For those of us who are sports fans, the days and weeks of the holiday season are laced with our passion for the game of football. For college teams it marks the end of the season and the culmination of bowl games. For the NFL, it is a time when those final decisions are determined of who will vie for a berth in the Super Bowl. The playoff brackets are filled and everyone else is home for the holidays.

At a time when most religions and beliefs are centered around the spirit of giving, I find many great analogies in the game of football. Players give themselves to the game, they muster all their strength and will for the greater good of a team, to play for each other, and the respect and admiration of their coaches and families.

In the last few seasons, the NFL Network has been producing a series entitled, “A Football Life.” In each episode, a player, coach, or team is showcased for their unique contribution to the game, but more importantly, the program reaches into the personal background to reveal not only roots, but the stark and sometimes harsh realities of the human lives involved.

Champions and greats of the NFL always seem larger than life to their fans, and given their physical prowess along with the colorful and intimidating battle armor worn on game day, it’s easy to see why. Yet when those trappings of gridiron combat are stripped away, we see the tender human soul and the terrible price the game exacts upon the physical bodies of the once proud warriors.

Many came from humble beginnings, and some have fallen back to simple existence with relative anonymity, but there are those chosen few that have lived their lives as they played the game and their reach and inspiration to others goes far beyond the accomplishments of the hundred yard arena. Men like Roger Staubach, Doug Flutie, and Kurt Warner have both personified and exemplified what it means to be a champion in life, even if the pinnacle of their sport eluded them. Their stories are woven of enduring confidence, strength of will, and abounding generosity. Not only generosity of the monetary kind but of deep compassion and self-sacrifice. They remain giants of the sport long after their uniforms gather dust.

I find that I am especially moved by the stories of great coaches. Perhaps more than any other member of a given team, the coach truly has to give of himself every single day. He must be both teacher and leader, he must find ways to inspire and motivate, and above all, he must find that fleeting element that brings all his players together with a common cause. These goals must be accomplished week in and week out all through the season, and if they are both diligent and fortunate, one group will hoist the trophy that bears the most legendary coach’s name in the history of the NFL…Lombardi.

Marty Schottenheimer never hoisted the ultimate prize of his sport, but he delivered one of the most poignant descriptions I have ever heard. “There is a gleam, men. A gleam in that trophy, shown in the reflection as it is held high. A reflection of the hearts and hands that hold it aloft, of the team that gave their all for each other.”

Coaches like Marty Schottenheimer may lack the accolade of a Super Bowl title, but no trophy can measure the wisdom, inspiration, and pure kindness that he imparted to countless players and other coaches. From little league grass fields to the cathedrals of the NFL, coaches everywhere are mentor, confidant, father figure and friend to an endless stream of players and families alike.

I recently watched the story of Coach Bill Parcells, and he shared a poem that has stayed with him for his entire life. I found it both touching and thought provoking. Published by Dale Wimbrow in 1934, I share with you, “The Man in the Glass.”

(Forgive the inconsistencies, as there appear to be several variations online)

 

When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you King for a Day

Go to the mirror and take a long, hard look

And see what that man has to say

 

It isn’t your father, mother, or wife

Whose judgment upon you must pass

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the man staring back in the glass

 

He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest

For he’s with you clear to the end

And you’ve passed the most dangerous, difficult test

If the man in the glass is your friend.

 

You may be like Jack Horner and chisel a plum

And think you’re a wonderful guy

But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

 

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

 

Upon first reading, it might seem as though the poem invites us to be selfish and goal-oriented, but I can say from harsh experience, the man in the glass tells no lies.

He will listen to all your woes, but sees through empty excuses. He will never fail to be there, and he will always expect the best of you, even when you don’t think you can. He silently reminds you that if you cannot exercise the simple Golden Rule, how can you hope to achieve your goals? He gives his all to you, and believes in you when no one else will.

Scripture says God created man in His own image, and I often wonder if it’s truly our own eyes that look back at us from the glass, or is it a gateway, a kind of glimpse at the better part of ourselves? The person capable of giving and caring unconditionally?

This Christmas season, maybe we can all be our own best coach and give the best part of ourselves, not just to those we love, but to those who might need it more than we know.

 

 

 

Dear Sergio, the time is right… October 27, 2014

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts, Uncategorized.
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The CEO of the Fiat Group, Mr Sergio Marchionne is a rare breed in the auto industry. He is a well versed businessman who is passionate about cars, and he clearly understands how one drives the other. Italians have a long history of building uncompromising supercars, but even their more pedestrian offerings still possess that ethereal quality of driving soul.

When you sit in the big chair of the company that owns controlling interest in the likes of Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo, you had better understand how some cars are needed to fuel the desires of driving over the rationale of practicality.

With that thought in mind, I wish to make a proposal to the the savvy petrol-head holding the reigns over Chrysler Corporation.

The recent announcement regarding the realignment of Pentastar product lines makes a lot of sense, and I think it opens a few prime opportunities. With Dodge filling the role as the face of performance cars and Chrysler moving away from the notion of near-luxury in favor of a more mainstream market immediately makes the Chrysler nameplate a more high value vehicle.

I was happy to read the Durango is most likely going to transition over to become a Jeep, since it Charger-esque styling might be somewhat eye-catching, it has all the performance and handling of a small bus…with similar fuel economy. The Avenger was already DOA, the Grand Caravan was competing against the Town & Country in the same showrooms (not good business) and the 200 needed a full overhaul, which it got at the cost of losing the convertible. However, another drop-top model is rumored to be in the works and if it bears even a passing resemblance to the Maserati Gran Turismo Cabriolet, the world will be a beautiful place.

With Dodge moving away from mini-vans and SUVs, Chrysler options get more interesting. I pray they burn and bury any notion of reviving either the Aspen or Pacifica SUVs, since both were over-priced, bulbous heavy whales with horrid mpg ratings.

There are many of us who enjoy a more practical vehicle without wanting to give up the sporting feel of a car. The Charger and the 300 prove you can have room, comfort, power and real world economy in a full-size sedan, and those are great things, but one element is missing… a bit more carry space for those occasional large items.

Not everyone wants to jump to a mini-van or SUV, and there is no sense competing against your own sister brands, so why not offer something different. Bringing back a Charger-based Magnum would probably not fly with the musclecar image of Dodge (nobody will care about a Hellcat Sportwagon) but the 300 is another story entirely.

Dodge-Magnum_SRT8

The 300 falls short of the Charger in sales virtually every month despite having similar equipment and the same engine lineup. Daimler-Benz sold an estate version of the 300 in Europe for several years, but with the drastically upgraded styling and materials used by Fiat/Chrysler, I think the time is right for the 300 Touring estate car to debut in North American showrooms. Leave the bloody fake wood in the trash where it belongs and give us the sleek 300 style we’ve come to love.

Dodge Magnums still command top prices in the used market, and the 5-door body would offer something unique for the 300 model line that Dodge couldn’t touch. The “S” variant would make a slick shooting brake while the fabulous Pentastar 3.6/8spd auto would deliver great utility with real-world, high 20s fuel economy.

The Magnum R/T was one of the coolest hot rod wagons ever built, but it suffered from Daimler-Benz lackluster interior and being the first of its kind in the country in years. A 300 S Touring on the other hand would deliver comfort, space, power, economy and true versatility.

Mr. Marchionne, I’ll have mine in black if you please! chrysler-300-wagon-03

The Sun and the Roadrunner June 20, 2014

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
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One of the most prominent car-guy memories from my youth was what I considered to be my first real brush with an honest-to-horsepower muscle car. I had barely gotten my driving permit when I went for a ride with some of my friends in a 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner, and as I recall, I giggled and laughed like a foolish school boy (which I was) at every throttle rush, howling rear tire, and roaring exhaust note. It was a memory that stuck deep, and I’m sure was rooted in how often I watched cartoons where the Roadrunner would flip his tongue and zing away from the hapless Coyote.

SunRnnrAvtrOnce bitten by the car bug, the effect has never let go, and I fawned over the muscle cars I watched rumble by me at every turn, dreaming of the day I would feel the punch from the driver seat. By the time I graduated high school, the muscle car era was history but many examples of the proud pavement warriors still roamed the streets.
Most regard the late 1960’s as the heyday of the muscle car, and while Chrysler might have come late to the party, they made their mark with some of the most legendary cars and engines in modern automotive history.

The Roadrunner was born in 1968 as an entry-level performance car. Plymouth was Chryslers’ budget division and they already had a performance model in the GTX, but the Roadrunner aimed to be a less expensive, bare-bones tire cooker. Utilizing the base Plymouth Satellite gave them a wealth of go-fast goodies to pick from since its B-body platform shared mechanicals with not only the police units of the day but the already well-known Dodge Charger and Coronet. While options like air conditioning, plush carpet, and leather seats fell by the wayside, stout drivetrains and engines all the way up to the mighty 426 Hemi could be checked off in the options list.

One such animal proved to be my first hands-on experience when I took a job in the service department of a local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer shortly before I graduated high school. I started to leave for lunch one day when the parts department manager asked if I would grab him some food while I was out. The conversation went something like this,
“Hey, dude, grab me a burger while you’re out?”
“Sure, whatcha want?”
“Get me a double, and here, take my car,” he said as he tossed his keys to me.
“Umm, okay, which one is yours?”
“Right outside the back door of Parts, it’s a maroon Roadrunner. You can drive a stick, can’t you?”
“Yeah, I can, but are you sure about this?”
“Plenty of guys here have driven it, just don’t wreck it.”
“Yes, sir!”

68runner

 

It was a hot summer day and the Roadrunner had no a/c, but did that matter? Not a chance. The car was slick and shiny and wore the factory Rallye Wheels wrapped in Goodyear raised white letter tires. I suppose to him this was a basic, daily driver car, especially since I had heard stories of his radical 340 ‘Cuda parked in the garage at home. A twist of the key and the 383 Magnum big block rumbled to life, and a slow release of the clutch and I was officially at the helm of a dream muscle car.

Reality rarely measures up to fantasy and in this case that held true. The black vinyl interior was cooking hot and the lack of power steering made parking lot maneuvers challenging, but once on the street things changed for the better. I admit I didn’t choose the closest burger joint just for the excuse of driving the car a bit further, and every stoplight made me fight the urge to unleash the wild bird. I managed to hold my reserve for the most part as I spared the tires by not launching the car but pulled slowly away until I shifted up to second, and then I mashed the loud pedal. The rush of sound, wind, and speed was immediate while slower traffic forced me off the throttle in short order. This was probably for the best since I already felt guilty about that little dose of jollies but the conversation when I got back was even more surprising.
“So, dude, you like it?”
“Yeah man, that’s nice”
“Did you punch it?”
“Just a little,” I admitted sheepishly.
“Don’t you love that tire chirp between gears?”
“I didn’t do that.”
“Dude, what’s wrong with you?”

It wasn’t until 1969 that Chrysler offered the Roadrunner in a convertible body style, but soft tops in those days suffered from a multitude of ills. Convertibles were also not looked on as the best candidate for a muscle car because just like today, they are heavier than their coupe counterparts. Chrysler was one of the first domestic automakers to build cars with what they called “uni-body construction,” but today, virtually every mass produced car is built this way. This means there is no frame for the body to sit on, but the strength of the body itself provided the rigidity of the vehicle. When you cut away the roof, you’re left with the equivalent of two bricks being held together by a single playing card, so a bit of increased support becomes necessary, therefore adding to the overall weight.

General Motors began offering the “T-Top” with their lift out glass panels to give that open air feeling while holding on to some of the unit body strength. My other youth dream car was the Pontiac Trans Am, which exploded in popularity in the late 70’s after being immortalized by Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit.”

79TransAmIn 1980, I finally managed to get my grubby mitts on a gently used, black and gold Bandit Trans Am, complete with the screaming bird across the hood and T-Tops overhead. Sadly, I only got to keep the car a scant three or four months before I was forced to sell it due to a layoff on my job. In the long run, it may have turned out for the best as I soon realized the car had a back seat fit for no human over three years old. The trunk was miserably small and if you put the glass roof panels back there the space was completely filled.
As hauntingly beautiful as the car is to me to this day, I’d have to admit it’s one of those cars only good for a fun drive and little else, let alone any kind of travel that requires luggage.

I have since owned many different cars in search of one that would fill that emotional void and move me the way the Trans Am did, and it has been a unicorn hunt to say the least. I feel I’ve come very close on a couple of occasions, and the internal inspiration has led me to name most of my cars after various birds of prey. I find wild raptors in nature to be fascinating creatures and their speed and hunting techniques make them great mascots of power and awe-inspiring beauty. On the whole, a natural fit for a car that wants to be a fighter jet.

The Roadrunner on the other hand is one of nature’s great deceptions with its unassuming and non-threatening appearance. A bird that is capable of flying but chooses to run also makes for something comical, and probably what inspired the cartoon artists at Warner Brothers to begin with. But in reality I was amazed to learn the desert Roadrunner is a strictly carnivorous creature, making meals of lizards, frogs, scorpions (yikes!) and even leaping to snatch other small birds in mid-air. However its true badge of respect is watching it make short work of a rattlesnake. Yes, you read that correctly, and this isn’t a freak occurrence of luck, as the roadrunner easily matches the snake in lightning-fast reflexes, and as it taunts the snake to strike, it will jump and clamp its beak with a death-grip on the neck of the rattler. Then with blinding quickness, it will execute a rapid series of vertical slamming motions, breaking the snakes’ back in several locations, after which the bird consumes the reptile whole. Maybe Wile E. Coyote should’ve done a bit of research to consider what might actually happen if he ever caught said bird. The results might not be pretty.

AZroadrunnerRReatsnake

 

 

 

 

 

 

From my car-guy perspective, the Trans Am was always about sleek power and beauty while the Roadrunner personified driving fun. Sadly, Chrysler Corp. ended its affiliation with Warner Bros. and the last Plymouth Volare Roadrunner was offered as a 1980 model and I have to say it was a paper tiger at best, a mere shadow of the hoot-to-drive animal it once was. To be fair, those years saw all performance cars fall prey to the quest for cleaner emissions and the crunch of the gas pump. True performance cars were rare beasts indeed.

My 1976 Volare Roadrunner was a weak bird when I bought it but a sprinkling of 340 parts onto its 318 engine along with a close-ration four speed transmission turned it into a respectable street machine. The better than average performance along with a bellowing set of Thrush sidepipes proved to be enough to make me a constant source of attention to local law enforcement. This Hemi orange cop magnet proved to be another car that provided a torrid, short-lived romance and was best sent on its way before I lost my driving permit.

76RnnrAftr

 

 

 

 

Years and cars came and went, and most for the very pedestrian uses of family life, but the mid-life crisis is a well documented phenomenon and my personal hormone imbalance bypassed the desire for a motorcycle and went for the open top car. Thankfully, convertible technology had made huge strides in three decades and I dove in with a 2004 Chrysler Sebring convertible as my rite of passage.

In the last ten years, retro styles and names of cars have become all the rage as automakers reach back for a slice of their glory days. The results of some have been impressive, and the 2005-up Mustang probably reigns supreme as the most successful retro design. If there is one thing car-guys are famous for, it’s the adage of, “If you can’t find one, build one yourself.” High dollar auctions are replete with replicas masquerading as vintage iron, but the well done replica has gained a level of respect many never thought possible.

I had no desire to pass my Sebring Roadrunner off as anything valuable, but more to play into the fun aspect of “what if?” The end result got more than a few thumbs up from other enthusiasts and even a few “are they making these again?” from the less informed passer-by. All in all, the fun quotient was partially achieved but the nagging problems of an older car and the lackluster performance of the tiny 2.7 V6 engine made it expendable.

Entry3

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m on my forth convertible now, and I feel I’ve finally run across another Chrysler worthy of wearing the Roadrunner birds. My previous 2008 Sebring was a great car in a lot of ways, and I put over 50k miles under its wheels including an amazing cross-country drive, but it suffered from the same under-powered 2.7 engine and an outdated four speed auto trans. The Chrysler 200 that followed in its footsteps is a vastly improved car in many ways, most notably its impressive 3.6 engine and six-speed Auto-Stick trans. The interior is also a major upgrade and the tweaks to its exterior styling softened some edges and transformed it into an attractive cruiser.

SebringIMG_1516

 

 

 

 

 

 

To me, the most beautiful Roadrunner is easily the 1972 model year. I owned a 72 Satellite Sebring in classic Petty Blue with a white top that I had high hopes of turning into a Roadrunner clone but finances never made that possible. The slick aero lines of the 71-72 made it one of the favorites of King Richard Petty, and mine too. I’ve always thought this model would look amazing in a targa roof style but that will be up to a custom builder and customer with deeper pockets than I’ll ever have.

BessiePlumCrazyRR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 200 however cuts a handsome figure with its top down and its transformation in to modern feathered flyer is well underway. I may not be authorized by Chrysler or Sergio Marchionne, but I plan to attend the All Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, PA next year and show off a prime example of what the designers passed up on. I say long live the Roadrunner, even if it’s a Do-It- Yourself retro package.

IMG_1561

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