Archive for Driver’s Seat

Hey, defrost this

On the 25th of November, I went out to the garage and located my ice scraper. Amazingly, it was right where I’d left it back in March. Maybe someday I won’t have to do this sort of thing anymore:

Fed up with the dismal winter ritual of chiselling ice off their car windows, a group of engineering students from Waterloo, Ont. came up with a way to ensure they never have to scrape another windshield again.

What began as university project two-and-a-half years ago to solve a pet peeve has evolved into Neverfrost, a startup company that’s developed a transparent film for vehicle windows to prevent frost and deflect harsh elements like snow and freezing rain.

The concept has already grabbed the attention of the trucking industry and its founders are so confident in Neverfrost’s future that one of them brushed off a job at Facebook and another sidelined plans for grad school, to chase their dreams of making the ice scraper obsolete.

And this isn’t some crummy plastic like your neighbor’s kid has stuck on the inside of his windows so you can’t see him picking his nose at the wheel, either:

The film incorporates nano technology, or the manipulation of objects on a molecular level, to prevent the windshield surface from reaching the conditions necessary for condensation and temperatures low enough to freeze.

Neverfrost also claims to be resistant to the impact of stones and insulates the vehicle cabin from outside elements, which its founders say can lessen the scorching heat of the summer sun.

Heck, it’s too bad they can’t make a whole car out of the stuff.

(“The Nobel Prize is such a lock this year,” says the Fark submitter.)

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You’re new around here, aren’t you?

Our reporter is a transplant from California to eastern Washington state, which might as well be Idaho for all she knows:

Mark this down as a learning experience, and go on.

(Via Autoblog.)

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The thing about used cars

Some of them can be used for quite a long time, as Matt can testify:

I get a call from Rob Ferretti of Super Speeders, who is also the devil when it comes to fun ideas. He found a 1996 Lexus LS400 in Tampa, Florida, with 897,000 real, verified miles on it, and thought I would like it. Those who know me, or at least know my taste in cars, would agree: if it checked out, I had to have the car. You see, I don’t crave a Ferrari, or really any of your traditional choices in cars, because I’ve seen them all a million times before. I crave the obscure; the interesting; the weird; the story. And buying a 900,000-mile version of my first car for basically no money and taking that bitch to seven figures myself, well my friends, that’s a story.

I don’t think the odo will show that seventh digit, but no matter. It will obviously be a million, because nobody will believe two million, and it certainly isn’t new:

A reasonable amount of money changed hands, and I now own real, tangible evidence of the durability of what is possibly the most important vehicle of the late 20th century, as well as a much more interesting example of my first car. These photos are the actual car I’ve bought, and though it’s had a medium-quality respray, the shift knob looks like crap, and the driver’s seat leather has been replaced, the overall condition is staggeringly good. Every. Single. Accessory. Works. Air Con blows cold, heat blows hot.

Much more than that, you cannot ask. Still, Matt wants to see that million without having to drive a hundred thousand miles all by himself, which explains this:

For reasons that I will make plain to you as soon as they are plain to me, I’m driving a Lexus LS400 with 902,700 miles from Los Angeles to Columbus, OH. My co-driver is the infamous Alex Roy. Our plans to cover a thousand miles a day have been undone by closed interstates and worse travel conditions than anything I’ve ever experienced on the East Coast. Nevertheless the big Toyota is running strong and sure.

I’m starting to think I should look for one of these big Lexi when Gwendolyn (vintage 2000, 156,000 miles) decides to retire. Her shift knob, incidentally, looks great.

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Deform follows dysfunction

Or maybe it’s the other way around. A year or so ago, I tossed up some nonsense which was intended to verify that yes, the new Ford F-150 pickup has an aluminum body atop its steel frame, and down in the comments I noted:

In terms of automotive bodywork, steel is decidedly cheaper, if only because it’s easier to form — and, as the body shop will tell you, easier to repair.

You can work an F-150 up to about sixty grand if you try, a sum that will almost buy you the lowest-end Tesla Model S. How much does it cost to fix those little beauties? Let’s just say a helluva lot:

“Cost of repair crazy high” is how one Model S owner puts it in a thread on the Tesla Motor Club online owners forum.

He describes a minor front-end collision, from which he was able to drive away, that cost him $20,327 to repair.

Visible damage was limited to the front left fender, lights, and the corner of the hood. But the bill listed 92 hours of labor and almost $8,000 in parts, including a single self-piercing rivet billed at $35.

That $35 is about what you’d pay for a Tylenol at County Hospital.

Twenty thousand bucks will just about buy me a knee replacement, from which I won’t be able to walk away for some time.

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Warmth vs. intercoolers

This guy thinks he has a dilemma:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: If I have to buy a sports or super car like Maseratis, Porsches, Ferraris or Lamborghinis, should I sacrifice dating/marriage?

He goes on:

I’ve always wanted a nice european car and its been my dream for quite a while. I was told the car is financially cheaper than the woman. So if I wanted a nice super car like a Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale, Porsche 911 Turbo S or a Audi R8 5.2 V10, maybe even a Lexus LFA. Should I sacrifice on women and children, get a good education and save as much as possible for 15 years before buying my dream car?

Not to worry. The process is automatic: once a woman finds out you’re more interested in a car than in her, she will scorch the pavement for a quarter-mile just to get away from you.

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Ludicrous speed

Tesla has brought out a P85D version of the Model S, with a smaller motor out back but an auxiliary motor up front for all-wheel-drive use. Apparently it also provides something of a performance boost, as suggested by this shot from the car’s touchscreen:

I don’t think I’d want both Insane and Slip Start pressed at the same time, though.

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But where are the holes?

Seldom do I ask myself “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?” Once in a while, though, the Tri-Shield tempts me:

Buick Avenir concept

This is Avenir, a concept created by GM Holden in Australia, and this is what it’s like:

Designed to be a proper Buick of the traditional fashion, the large coupe-like four-door sedan has the same 5.2-metre-long dimensions as the current Holden Caprice, and utilises rear-wheel drive (note: the original press release stated all-wheel drive, which GM withdrew), a nine-speed automatic, adjustable dampers and a next-generation (unspecified size) direct-injected V6 engine with cylinder deactivation technology.

It’s not the next-generation Riviera or anything like that, and the rounded-off boat-tail rear may be a bit much, but it’s a compelling pitch.

(If you must have holes Cruiserline Ventiports in your Buick, well, there’s that vent in front of the door; it’s actually subdivided into three sections.)

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Not one mention of vodka

The derisive term “Safety Nazis” has yet to make any headway in Russia, but their regulators are even wackier than our regulators:

Russia has listed transsexual and transgender people among those who will no longer qualify for driving licences.

Fetishism, exhibitionism and voyeurism are also included as “mental disorders” now barring people from driving.

The government says it is tightening medical controls for drivers because Russia has too many road accidents.

I can see wanting to put the voyeurs and the exhibitionists on the bus — maybe even the same bus — but trans people? Are they mistranslating the term as “transit”?

“Pathological” gambling and compulsive stealing are also on the list. Russian psychiatrists and human rights lawyers have condemned the move.

In other news, there are psychiatrists and human rights lawyers in Russia.

(Via Jen Richards, who quips: “I have both the poor driving skills of a woman and the aggressive rage of a man. Please stop me from #drivingwhiletrans!”)

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A couple of grand

Which is kinder than the more obvious answer:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Whats the difference between a 4 CYL AND A 6 CYL?

It’s just a darn shame that Volkswagen quit sending us five-cylinder cars.

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I didn’t 4C this

Still, I should have guessed that the pitch would be something like this:

Jonathon Ramsey of Autoblog said it best:

We haven’t watched a car ad with this much European panache in quite some time — and let us be clear, we’re using the phrase “European panache” in its marketing sense, which is code for “women in lingerie.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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Steel your heart away

The American steel industry didn’t get its dander up when automakers started messing with things like aluminum spaceframes and carbon fiber: the vehicles so designed tended to be pricey, low-volume, and, well, un-American.

That was before Ford decided that what the world needed now was an aluminum F-150, and when the single largest-selling vehicle in the country makes a switch like this — well, there’s a full-page ad in the buff books, which I saw in Motor Trend, the first of the February 2015 issues I read, extolling the virtues of steel and not even mentioning That Other Metal. Inevitably, there’s a Web site, at autosteel.org, and so I figured I’d see who was up to this:

The Automotive Applications Council (AAC) is a subcommittee of the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) and focuses on advancing the use of steel in the highly competitive automotive market.

The SMDI Automotive Market program continues to be the catalyst for bringing together steel, automotive industry, and federal partners (such as the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation) to conduct research, provide technology transfer, and promote steel-intensive solutions in the marketplace. Advanced high-strength steels, which are the fastest-growing materials in automotive design, enable our automotive customers to deliver vehicles that are more lightweight, fuel-efficient, and affordable, while still protecting passengers.

That last bit, about protecting passengers, might well turn out to be their best talking point, since a fair percentage of the public is familiar with aluminum only as foil or beer cans, neither of which is exactly known for puncture resistance.

Participants in the SMDI include three big domestic producers — AK (a merger of Armco and Kawasaki), Nucor, and US Steel, and major European producer ArcelorMittal. A quick glance at the financials indicate that all four of these firms have taken substantial hits to the bottom line of late, so it’s no surprise that they’re trying to keep things from getting worse.

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Tesla unplugged?

Bark M. figures that in a year’s time, there won’t be any more muskrats to guard Elon Musk:

The Emperor’s New Clothes are starting to fall off. Sales numbers don’t match registrations. Oil prices are artificially low. Even in peak selling conditions, Tesla couldn’t make the inroads they wanted — how will they do it when oil is hovering around $55 a barrel? Elon Musk had the cards stacked his way, but he couldn’t capitalize. The party is likely over for Tesla by the end of the year — and likely in a sale to an unlikely buyer (Apple? Google?).

Actually, those buyers seem relatively likely, if only because they could pay for the automaker out of petty cash. “Unlikely” would be, say, BlackBerry, whose financial state is such that they can order either corn or flour tortillas, but not both.

Besides, a major contributor to Tesla’s bottom line is the trading of ZEV credits, and they can’t last forever, even in California.

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How mechanics can afford boats

It’s not reasonable to expect a contemporary driver to be able to rebuild an automatic transmission. (I’ve written an actual FAQ covering two units, and I don’t think I could rebuild them.) Still, there is such a thing as Too Dumb To Drive:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: If my break lights stay on when the car is off does that mean the battery is being used?

I’m tempted to tell her something like “No, it’s running off Wi-Fi,” and then wait for her to show up again with a complaint about how much batteries cost.

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No flights there

“The mental space of a long drive,” writes Ann Althouse, “is a very different place”:

I don’t have a fear of flying. I hate the conditions of disorder and complexity and indignity. I don’t want to be treated that way.

And I have a car.

A car gives me flexibility about when to leave. I can pick good weather days, or give up on the whole trip at the last minute if I want. With a car, I have control and freedom. Yeah, it probably takes longer, but I am a free citizen in the United States of America.

If I drive to Kansas City — about six hours if I allow myself some time to dawdle — I’ll be slightly tired, and I’ll almost definitely have to avail myself of the porcelain facility. But if I fly to Kansas City, about four and a half hours counting check-in, baggage retrieval, and the long haul back to civilization, MCI being located halfway to Des Moines fercrissake, I’ll be growly and uncommunicative, except for the growls, and I’ll eventually collapse in a heap.

“You can’t get there by plane,” says Althouse. And if you could, you probably wouldn’t want to. I know I wouldn’t.

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You serfs have no right to do that

And we’re going to sue you for voting against our revenue measure:

Three towns in Missouri joined together to sue the the residents of St. Charles [County] who voted to ban red light cameras. St. Peters, Lake Saint Louis and O’Fallon are asking a county circuit court judge to overturn the charter amendment banning automated enforcement adopted in November with the support of 73 percent of voters. City leaders argue that the 69,469 residents who voted for the measure had no business limiting the right of local politicians to use automated ticketing machines.

“The charter amendment invades the legislative jurisdiction of cities in contravention of state policy, and conflicts with the authority specifically delegated to cities by the state to address their specific needs including traffic and enforcement of traffic regulations,” attorney Matthew J. Fairless wrote in the cities’ complaint.

The suit alleges the charter amendment will result in “a loss of revenue” and, therefore, each of the cities has standing to sue. The cities also argue that the Missouri General Assembly gave each city government “exclusive control over all streets, alleys, avenues and public highways within the limits of such city” so that the people who live in the county have no say in the decisions made by political leaders.

Meanwhile, the state has never actually authorized these things, and a case is pending before the state Supreme Court to determine whether they can. Which clearly doesn’t bother at least one of these towns:

St. Peters was the first American city to see a red light camera corruption trial. Former Mayor Shawn Brown was convicted of soliciting a bribe from Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia. He was released from prison in 2008.

Not that this counts as motivation or anything.

(Via Fark.)

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Right smack in the puss

I have owned three cars equipped with Supplemental Restraint Systems, a.k.a. airbags. I have never seen them deploy, even in the car that was wrecked. (That said, I walked away from that wreck without a scratch, which I attribute to the use of the Standard Restraint System, a.k.a. the seat belt.) In this case, one might argue that the airbags didn’t actually work; then again, that these things work at all, says Mike Smitka, is fairly miraculous in itself:

A car going 30 miles per hour is traveling 44 feet per second. If you hit a tree, the worst sort of accident, and are sitting 5 feet behind your car’s bumper, the airbag has 5/44 = 110 milliseconds to do its thing. Your airbag sensor needs to detect a sudden deceleration within 20 milliseconds, has to start the propellant igniting in another 2-3 milliseconds, and the airbag (some are over 20 gallons = 70 liters!) must inflate into the proper shape in another 60 or so milliseconds.

Airbags ignite with the bang comparable to a fair-sized firecracker. Those who complain of airbag burns after an accident — not that such burns aren’t real, I’ve been at accident scenes — should be made to go to their local gym and have a boxer hit their face with a steering wheel to see what they missed. That airbags can be made to work, yet seldom cause serious injury, is to me pretty amazing.

I have a 70-liter (closer to 18.5 gallons) gas tank, and something that size in my lap is hard to imagine, especially if it wasn’t there a tenth of a second ago. Fortunately, I’ve never had to experience this sort of thing. (And they totaled my car anyway, once the repair estimate went over five grand or so.)

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Beyond comprehensive

One of the arguments in favor of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act — which, to the surprise of no one actually paying attention, required a mere 67-percent increase in my annual deductible to qualify the corporate policy without sending the premium to the stratosphere — was that “it’s just like car insurance, nobody has a problem with that being mandatory.”

Well, no, I don’t have a problem with that. I’d point out that rather a large percentage of drivers have been ignoring that particular mandate all along, but ultimately I suppose I need to be more concerned about people who simply can’t read policies:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: My motor is messed up in my car will my car insurance pay for it to get fix?

Short answer: no. And there’s really no need for a long answer.

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Put one in your garage

Well, it won’t fit in my garage, not at 85 inches wide. (My Infiniti sedan is a tight-ish squeeze at just over 70 inches. Then again, my garage was built in the tall-car era, back in 1951.) That said, the Defense Logistics Agency has turned loose 25 genuine military HMMWVs from their stash of about 4,000, and they sold for an average of just under $30,000 each at auction.

Presumably you won’t be able to tag them for on-road use, so you’ll have to tow it (all 5900 lb worth) to whatever rocks you want to crush with it. Don’t even ask about fuel economy. (Actually, it’s probably in double digits, but the lowest double digits possible; Northrop Grumman has offered a chassis upgrade for Humvees that brings them up to a theoretical 18 mpg, but it costs six figures all by itself.)

A new batch of Humvees is expected to come to market after the first of the year.

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Plus intangibles

Jalopnik’s Doug DeMuro gets rid of his Ferrari, and passes on this bit of wisdom to those still coveting the prancing horse:

I have enough money to own it, but not enough money to own it. I can afford to fix it when it breaks, pay the insurance, cover the fuel, do the major services, etc. But I can’t afford to drive it around without worrying about a random $5k repair or a $10k accident — and that is real wealth. However I think to be in that world you have to be worth millions.

All those yutzim on Yahoo! Answers who want to spend the next ten years in Mom’s basement so they can afford their dream cars need to have this stenciled on whichever body part will hurt most.

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Faster, please

The opening sentence of John Phillips’ column in the January Car and Driver:

In 1991, I wrote about a Top Fuel dragster that was homing in on the NHRA’s first 300-mph quarter-mile pass, a velocity that many felt might teleport the driver so far into the future that he’d land in an era where Congress couldn’t pass bills.

Current NHRA Top Fuel quarter-mile record at this writing is held by Spencer Massey of Fort Worth, Texas, who has done the deed in a certified 332.18 mph.

Apparently that’s still not fast enough.

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Winter tires

Not for use when it’s warm out:

Pumpkin Spice Rubber

(From reddit via Miss Cellania.)

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Avoid this dude at all cost

Because he’s not paying attention to where he’s going:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: What color is the wire coming from the radio in a 2013 GMC Sierra Denali for the parking brake bypass?

Why would anyone want to know this, you ask?

Trying to do a bypass so I can watch dvd while driving

Look around for a bridge abutment with a GMC nosepiece embedded about, oh, this deep.

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Dawning is the day

When this appeared in the media a couple of days ago, noises were made to the effect that we might be seeing a Whole New Era:

Gas price at OnCue, 44th and Shields

Of course, for this to be true, everyone else would have had to rush out and match this price, seen at the OnCue Express at 44th and Shields. As of today, the Duo at 59th and Blackwelder will sell you E10 at $1.999, if you’re paying cash — add a dime for plastic — and the 44 Food Mart, just east of that OnCue, has dropped to $1.989. That’s it. This is not, I shouldn’t have to point out, a Whole New Era. And GasBuddy counsels caution:

GasBuddy anticipates that some motorists in Texas, South Carolina, and Missouri may see $1.99 show up soon as well. Areas of Houston, Spartanburg, and St. Louis are the only metro areas within “striking distance” of less than 20c/gallon.

We should make clear that at this time, we do not believe any city or state will see average prices under $2/gal, but yes, a handful of stations across the United States may see these prices. Should oil prices continue to decline, as some of our analysts have predicted, it will open the door to motorists in more cities seeing a few $1.99 prices.

I’m still paying $2.619 for premium, of course.

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A definite lack of curves

According to urban — or maybe rural — legend, one mile in every five of the Interstate Highway System is perfectly straight, so it can be used as an emergency runway for aircraft. (The Federal Highway Administration begs to differ.) A one-mile straightaway is no big deal, though: it’s not enough to get hypercars like the various Bugatti Veyrons up to top speed, and, based on my own road-trip experience, it’s not enough to put you to sleep.

At the other end of the spectrum, on the other side of the world, there’s this:

Imagine a drive, a thousand miles long with no turns or bends, across a vast featureless plain with repetitive landscape, and hundreds of kilometers between towns and service stations. That’s Eyre Highway, the road that connects Western Australia to Southern Australia via the Nullarbor Plain, a flat and treeless, giant bed of limestone 200,000 square kilometres in area. With no hills or lakes to obstruct, the highway was laid down as a straight road that runs for 1,675 km from Port Augusta in the east to Norseman in the west, and includes what is said to be the longest straight stretch of road in the world: 145.6 kilometres, between the small roadhouse communities of Balladonia and Caiguna.

The very name “Nullarbor” tells you how many trees you can expect, give or take a few.

While in the East you still find some towns like Kimba, Wudinna and Ceduna, the western three quarters is almost devoid of life. This section lies almost entirely on the Nullarbor Plain. The typical view is that of a straight highway and practically unchanging flat saltbush-covered terrain, although some parts are located on ridges. Spread throughout the length of the highway at approximately 200 km to 300 km apart are roadhouses providing basic services such as fuel, food, refreshments, accommodation and repairs, but not all are open 24 hours.

About this time of year, the Nullarbor seems almost inviting, at least to me, partly because it’s still spring for the next few weeks, but mostly because there’s not much of a crowd.

Oh, and there’s this:

Because of its remoteness, some sections of the Highway serve as emergency airstrips for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. These airstrips are signposted and have runway “piano keys” painted on the road, and turnaround bays for small aircraft.

You definitely won’t see that on the likes of I-35.

(Via The Presurfer.)

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Shtick shift

It is not sufficient to sell products anymore: we must now sell brands, vague, inchoate floating clouds of image that are supposed to justify the purchase of those products in a way that “It works good” never could. I get sent hints every week on establishing and furthering my personal brand, despite the fact that after six decades it ought to be pretty much obvious.

Melody Lee is Cadillac’s Director of Brand and Reputation Strategy, a title which would have made Henry Ford spit in his whiskey. And this is how she sees the task before her:

[T]o get more millennials like herself to start thinking about buying a Cadillac as opposed to an Audi or a BMW, Lee isn’t focusing on the cars themselves. Instead, she is putting her energy into changing what the cars represent.

“We want to be a global luxury brand that happens to sell cars. We don’t want to be an automotive brand,” Lee said in an interview. “There is nothing that exciting about an ad with a car in it by itself. We need to start injecting more humanity into our brand and into our advertising.”

This could be difficult, since Cadillac’s sole market-dominant product is the overwrought Escalade, a sport-utility vehicle with hardly any sport, damned little utility, and dehumanizing levels of bling. Inasmuch as the ‘Slade is GM’s single most profitable model, you’d think this would be precisely the image they wanted, but apparently they’re embarrassed by it, perhaps because the Wrong Sort of People — people who don’t subscribe to Architectural Digest, let’s say — are buying it.

But Lee is immersed in her mission:

“I don’t buy products, I buy brands,” explained Lee. “I don’t use Apple computers because they are the best computers, I use them because Apple is cool. We need to show drivers what the Cadillac lifestyle is all about.”

Between that and the notion of Lee’s boss, Johan de Nysschen, that Cadillac ought to compete in the six-digit range with Bentley and Rolls-Royce, and suddenly you have to ask yourself: “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?”

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Regression to the meanest

We’ve all seen them: cars barely worth $500, thumping along with $1000 worth of audio equipment. It never occurs to us that the reverse could ever be true:

Yahoo Answers screenshot:

You have to figure that every dime he has is tied up in that S-Class. And the only generation of S-Class that had an S320 is the W220 series, roughly 1998 to 2006, so I’m betting he doesn’t have an AUX input or a USB port and is desperate for anything that will incorporate them but won’t actually break him. Given this example of Walmart pricing, though, I’d suggest he shop elsewhere.

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Kind of a floaty ride

I’ve seen exactly one of these in my life. The Tupelo Automobile Museum has another one, in decidedly better shape:

Amphicar at Tupelo Automobile Museum

About 3500 Amphicars were produced between 1960 and 1968, priced starting at $3395. One of those coffee-table collector’s books describes it thusly:

Superb neither on water or land, but nonetheless the world’s only amphibious passenger car. Designed by Hans Trippel and powered by a Triumph Herald four-cylinder engine, it did what its maker claimed: run on the road (68 mph tops), sail on water (7 knots maximum) without sinking (rubber gaskets seal the doors; a bilge pump is available if the scupper-level rises). A transfer case handles the drive to twin props, and water navigation is via the steering wheel (the front wheels act as rudders). The sure cure for marina fees, yacht club sharks, and people who want to borrow your boat.

The Museum itself contains about 150 cars from the collection of the late Frank K. Spain, founder of WTWV (now WTVA) in Tupelo, a character in his own right:

Spain hoped to parlay his good relations with NBC officials into getting his new station an affiliation with the network. However, several NBC executives believed Tupelo was not a desirable place for a local station because of its rural location, even though most viewers in northern Mississippi could only get NBC via grade B coverage from WMC-TV in Memphis, Tennessee and WAPI-TV (now WVTM-TV) in Birmingham, Alabama). Nonetheless, they told Spain that if he could figure out a way to obtain a network signal, he could carry it.

Spain allegedly negotiated under-the-table deals with WMC-TV and set up a network of microwave relays and repeater systems to carry the WMC-TV signal to Tupelo. Station engineers then switched to and from the signal when network programming aired. This setup, necessary in the days before satellites, enabled WTWV to bring NBC programming to northeastern Mississippi and northwestern Alabama.

You got to figure a guy like that would appreciate a car that floats.

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H2 = 0

Drivers of Hyundai’s Tucson Fuel Cell and Toyota’s Mirai fuel-cell buggy will be getting actual hydrogen without having to pay for it, at least at first. This is not, you should know, a manufacturer incentive:

According to Autoblog, a seminar held at the Mirai launch regarding hydrogen revealed the fueling stations currently in place in the United States aren’t able to accurately measure how much hydrogen is pumped into a given vehicle. Without that accuracy, no FCV owner can be charged for the fuel, a problem the California Air Resources Board is working to fix. Deputy Executive Officer Alberto Ayala explains:

“If you think about it, it’s a real simple yet real practical challenge. If you’re going to pay for X amount of hydrogen, you’re actually getting that amount of hydrogen… We are at a point where we are solving multiple remaining questions [with hydrogen infrastructure], and that just happens to be one of them.”

Cynics suggest that it really doesn’t matter, since these cars exist solely to collect ZEV credits from CARB. The chemistry student I used to be notes simply that there’s more hydrogen in the universe than anything else, with the possible exception of bad ideas for reality shows: the tricky part, of course, is that none of that hydrogen is sitting around uncombined, waiting to be pumped into your fuel cell.

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Befouled

Arriving at my decidedly non-reserved slot in the company parking lot after 4:30, I noticed that creatures unknown had taken a dump on Gwendolyn’s hood. (The British term “bonnet” seems even worse here.) The stuff was just slightly darker than burnt sienna, which told me that it likely wasn’t a bird; any bird passing something that color, and in that volume, would very likely be found dead a few yards away. So: some sort of humanoid, perhaps in prankster mode. I swore vengeance, vowing that if I ever caught the perp messing around my motor vehicle again, I would kill him, and tell God he died.

This sounded even sillier after a couple of iterations, so I tried to come up with another explanation. Could something have slopped onto me during the morning commute? And why didn’t I notice it, if it had? The latter question, at least, was easier to answer: I leave for work in the first half of the six o’clock hour. Sunrise that morning: 7:12.

I grabbed a paper towel from my in-car stash and pinched off the bulk of the, um, loaf. This time I had an ID: old-style axle grease. Now I can always think of a good reason not to go to the car wash, especially when there’s a 70-percent chance of rain in the next 24 hours, so I decided I would address this mess at home. As it turned out, I had the solution right at the kitchen sink: I covered the stuff with a thin layer of Dawn dishwashing liquid, squeezed a sponge or two worth of water on the blob, waited a little while, and whisked about 75 percent of it away on the first swipe. Probably damaged the sponge beyond repair — the Law of Conservation of Filth, which states that to get something clean, you must also get something dirty, is inflexible and adamantine — but hey, I got that crap off my car without messing up the clearcoat.

Later, I contemplated the source once more. If something going down the road is sloughing off grease in such quantities, I reasoned, very soon it will not be going down the road at all, because a bearing will be baked to a crackly crunch.

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Looks better from the inside

Says Fillyjonk: “I wouldn’t buy an aggressively ugly car, like the bad old Aztek, even if it was highly rated.” I’m not sure that Pontiac really, truly wanted a mobile eyesore, but the command came down from the General — “Turn this minivan platform into a proper SUV, and don’t spend a lot of money on it” — and the Aztek was the unfortunate result. Buick sold the same basic vehicle as the Rendezvous, and while it didn’t assault the eyes the way the Aztek did, it was still ungainly and ill-proportioned.

That said, in this age of wind-tunnel conformity, automakers have had to come up with styling that separates them from the crowd, and some of those efforts paid negative dividends: the idiot grin on last-generation Mazdas; the “spindle grille” being affixed to current Lexus models; the chrome beak from which Acura is slowly backing away.

Still, some cars are, well, cuter than others: the VW New Beetle (New New Beetle, simply styled “Beetle,” is less cute than its predecessor), the Fiat 500, various Minis. Of course, “cute” suggests “small,” and all these cars are: the only large vehicle I’d think of as cute is the Ford Flex wagon, whose bricklike appearance suggests it was built up from LEGO blocks.

And then there’s the Dodge Neon, introduced in the middle 1990s. It was all about that cute: typical advertising showed the car making eye-to-headlight contact and saying “Hi.” After a decade or so of this, Dodge decided that their next small car would be the very antithesis of cute:

Now that’s aggressively ugly.

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