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My Buick Regal

Casual readers who drop by this blog surely assume, just from the tang and fizz of my prose, that I drive an Aston Martin, except when I'm taking my Hog for a rumblin' ride across the continent. But the regulars here know that, deep down, I am a catastrophically boring person who drives a Honda Accord, militantly.

The drama of car ownership is one that long ago lost its appeal. I no longer have relationships with cars. Sure, when I was 21 it was fun to have a tempestuous, utterly unpredictable, ultimately shattering romance with a 1964 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible. (Even though every single person who ever saw me drive it said precisely the same thing: "You look like a little boy behind the wheel.") But you reach a point in life when you want a turkey sandwich of a car.

You want something that starts up every day with the turn of a key and gets you to work, without negotiation, emotional heavy lifting, tears or recrimination. You want a car whose signature achievement is unmemorable transportation.

But I do have a second car. It's actually my wife's car. And it's actually her Dad's car. The late doctor, an esteemed surgeon, drove a Buick Regal. Which we now own. Although it is not a particularly huge car, it is strangely boat-like.

I am not suggesting for a second that Buick or General Motors or American car manufacturers generally are unable to make spiffy little Honda-like cars [see this story]. Of course they can and have and will. But when I think of the classic American brands, I think of big cars, of ocean liners on wheels, the kind of vehicles whose spaciousness proclaims an abundance of continental resources and whose handling betrays a great deal of inertial mass.

I once owned a Mercury Monterey, which demonstrated in every movement all the Newtonian laws of motion. It was beautiful on a slow curve, but to make a sharp right or left I had to plan ahead with a calendar. The gas mileage was so poor that it was measured in gas footage.

As car sizes have dropped, General Motors has apparently deigned to preserve that 1970s feeling -- that subtle impression -- of massiveness. Thus the Buick has the turning radius of a basketball arena. Each door seems to weigh 500 pounds. When you open a door the entire car leans. Routinely the door will then lodge in the sod and mud at curbside. Ease car forward; dislodge door; shut door -- this is the procedure for driving anywhere.

A pothole affects the Buick much as would a detonating land mine. But on a smooth road, the Buick glides at 80 miles an hour, knifing through the thin and feeble terrestrial atmosphere. This is a car that would be perfect for driving on, for example, the surface of Jupiter.

I am in the market for a new car, since my Honda has 109,000 miles on it and needs some major maintenance (and I have a little cash from mortgage refinancing). I'd love to buy a car from Obama Motors and do my part for the resurgence of the American car industry. But I'm tempted to take the Honda to the shop and tell them to give me another four or five years.
--

Here's a story on the decline of GM.

--

In the boodle, Curmudgeon writes:

Joel says he doesn't want to suggest "for a second that Buick or General Motors or American car manufacturers generally are unable to make spiffy little Honda-like cars... Of course they can and have and will." I would have to seriously dispute this. IMHO Detroit has never understood, on a visceral level, anything remotely like how to build a small car. The few attempts it has made over the past *half century* (italics sorely needed) have been sporadic at best and pathetic at worst. The proof is in the pudding: if Detroit even had the faintest idea of how to diversify its product line, companies such as Volkswagen, BMW, Toyata, Honda and Mitsubishi would never have gotten a foothold in this country, never mind beat us at our own game. How two countries, Germany and Japan, could get up off the mat after WWII and not only compete with Detroit but beat it

tells you everything you need to know about Detroit's incompetence and tunnel vision. A Volkswagen, fer cryin' out loud. And even those cheap, tinny small Hondas and Toyotas in the early days, when they were pieces of crap, were STILL selling here in lieue of the Detroit tanks.

Detroit had the home field advantage -- and STILL has it to this day -- and *still* can't compete against Honda or Toyota. Every single small foreign car ever purchased in this country is a rebuke to Detroit thinking. Every stinking one.

Fair disclosure: I've owned 4 MGBs, 1 Triumph (TR-4), 4 Hondas (two Accords and two Civics, one ancient and one a new hybrid), 1 Toyota (Camry), and 1 English Ford over the course of 44 years. That's 10 foreign cars. I didn't buy any of them because they were foreign; I bought them because Detroit had nothing, absolutely nothing, that was remotely similar. Throw in a 1960 VW Beetle that my family owned but which I drove for a couple years, and that's 12 cars. Every one of them small and reasonably fuel efficient (in the context of their times, anyway). But not one single one of those cars had a Detroit equivalent at the time. Not one. Most of them still don't.

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 2, 2009; 10:27 AM ET
 
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Comments

Rubentstein may be a tad older, Weed. It isn't clear from the carbon-dating.

(For a minute there I thought you were gonna say as old as me.)

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 10:21 AM

... Mudge, back then, there wasn't much to pick from when looking to have some fun. I'm sure Artur was indeed forced to date one of the building block elements if he were looking for a little fun.

Posted by: russianthistle | June 2, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Something's wrong with a turkey sandwich?? *rechecking the fridge's meat drawer*

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

There are few things in the world of sandwichia that surpasses a good carved turkey sandwich. I join Scotty's boarderline umbrage.

You can take a turkey sandwich to a nearly dramatic state with sourdough bread, fresh garden tomato and crisp lettuce (and plenty of pepper).... or just keep it simple. Joel, back off on the turkey sandwich.

Posted by: russianthistle | June 2, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Amen on the turkey sandwich, be it hot or cold.

I foresee an entire thread here having nothing to do with cars.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Fix the Accord!

Mr. F drives a GM product, huge and over-featured for what he needs. I think it was Gene W who wrote things you will never hear a guy ask such as- "But honey, what will I do with 4-wheel drive the other 363 days a year?" Often asked of, but not by, Mr. F when we speak of getting rid of at least one vehicle-not to be replaced. But it's reliable and long since paid for so there we are.

The motorcycle repair guy featured in the NYT mag is on WAMU now for any what's interested.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I have a theory of cars that, in some sense, recapitulates a larger theory of life. I call it progressive gratification. (There are no patents pending.) The basic notion is that true car happiness comes from making sure that each car you own is just a little bit better than the car that came before. For one of the great tragedies of car ownership, at least with many men, is that they peak too soon and then have nothing but remorse and diminished expectations to look forward to.

I hade a friend called Chip whose dream car was some fancy German import with fine Bavarian leather. (I may be getting the details wrong.) Anyway, the thing is, this car had been his obsession since well before he could drive. He would surreptitiously peruse glossy centerfolds of this vehicle under his sheets late at night. So when Chip got out of college and snagged a great job, the first thing he did was take out a huge loan and purchase his dream car. And he was happy. That is, until it was time for him to purchase his second car. I mean, where was he going to go now? Especially since he still owed money on the first car. He had nowhere to go but down.

In order to prevent this tragedy, I recommend that one’s first car be not actually mobile. It should just be a rusty shell. Which is pretty much what my first car was. And yet, I loved it because it was my first car, and hence intrinsically empowering. With each subsequent purchase I have tried to up the ante just a bit. (Granted, I did have that diversion onto MGB territory, but I was in a real weird place then.) My goal is that each car will be just a bit fancier than the last. This way I will always have something to look forward to. My last car, I expect, will be the greatest one yet. My dream car. I’m thinking, like, a Miata. And this is the one I plan on being buried in.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 2, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I want a car powered entirely by nuclear pulse propulsion. So it won't emit nasty greenhouse gases.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 2, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

RD-You are a genius. Bought a Datsun 280ZX as a soon-to-be 2ndLT, at an interest rate I wouldn't pay on a credit card now, and lived to regret it through subsequent vehicles (all wonderful in their own ways, but still).

A Miata is indeed a great goal for dream, and last, car status. When Mr. F bought mine (in lieu of some stupid jewelry) I declared it "the last car I will ever own" with the intent of driving it until it hit 500,000 miles or maybe even a million. It will be my last car, but the high mileage won't be necessary since it has become a winter "garage ornament" as the dott calls it, but I am sooooo glad for the long wait. Truth be told, I took a break just now to look out the window at it.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I seem to have become stuck at the "first good used car I ever bought" stage; I've pretty much had your basic-model Civic, in one guise or another, all my life. Crank windows, cheap plastic dashboard, neither bell nor whistle anywhere to be found.

I once dreamt of having a car with a fancy digital dashboard, but have plumped for reliable and fuel efficient and not horrendously expensive to maintain.

I will need to buy a new car fairly soon. I might reward myself for a life of hard work by buying a *new* Civic! Black, perhaps.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps even a hybrid, Yoki? :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Howdy. I read the "turkey sandwich" comment as one of praise. There comes a point in life where you want a car as satisfying and reliable as a good turkey sandwich.

Since I'm having difficulty typing, I wonder: why not "turky"? Why add the extra "e"?

Off-Kit: If Cheney supports gay marriage as part of the greater good of marriage, and he supports torture, does this mean Cheney believes marriage is torture?

Posted by: Ivansmom | June 2, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Never did drive a domestic auto--rather opting for relatively inexpensive plus reliable--a VW, a Toyota, a Honda, in that order. Never got into the macho male car thingie. *LOL* Not only did I have zero desire, I never had the money.

Perhaps people don't realize that oil from the Carboniferous won't last forever. It never fails to impress me how much politicians and people say they hate relying on foreign oil, then they turn around and guzzle it like there's no tomorrow. We're so good at taking care and splurging on our *now* selves, but so lousy at taking care of our *future* selves-be it finance, diet and excercise, conservation of resources.

So, if the Universe is about 14 billion years old, and the Earth is about 4.5 million years old, roughly, do sky scientists know to what degree and where the Universe is or may still be forming?

Posted by: laloomis | June 2, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I not only remember our 1950 Chevrolet (army drab olive green with that tiny window up in back) but the car before that (the brand of which I don't remember, but it was basic black and boxy with the coolest running boards -- the Chevy had them, too). My dad bought the next car -- maybe a Plymouth (although he hated Chrysler cars, and would *never* buy a Ford) in 1959-60 with the coolest fins. He also got, a few years later a Dodge with push-button transmission, which as it aged always sounded the horn on right hand turns. A real head turner, you know . . . .

Now that the Third Generation Prius is out on the market, I may have to wait a bit longer to be able to afford one -- like maybe into Generation IV or VIII, perhaps.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | June 2, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

SCC: 4.5 Billion, with a b

Posted by: laloomis | June 2, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

My uncle's widow depends on a GM pension.

She thinks she should be OK until 2015, but after that she doesn't know.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 2, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Haven't laughed out loud in a long time for about 30 seconds at my computer screen, but this story got me going. Dinosuar fossils as the latest interior design trend. Please, someone call my ASID sistah!

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/nyregion/02trex.html

So just who buys dinosauria anyway? Are museums duking it out?

“There is a lot of home decor that falls under the category — private buyers who are considering putting them in their homes for decoration,” said Staci Smith, a spokeswoman for Bonhams & Butterfields.

That makes sense if you are, say, Fred Flintstone. But apparently there are a number of highly successful business and entertainment figures who aspire to stone-age chic.

Posted by: laloomis | June 2, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Ivansmom, stop! Just stop with the logic! You'll drive us all crazy. (Of course some of us are already there...)

I was chatting with a good friend this morning when she had to take a call from the shop and call me back. It seems that her son's 1987 red Mercedes convertible died at a major intersection last Thursday on the way home from school, messing up traffic for the better part of an hour.

The shop reported that the timing belt broke, with predictable results for the engine. Price of a new engine, $8000. I told her they should buy the kid a good used Toyota instead.

The sad thing is that he is a senior and was in the yearbook as the person with the coolest car in the parking lot. Oh well, 22 years is a good run for a car.

Posted by: slyness | June 2, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Interesting map on the TV news last night showing which states had more than 10,000 GM retirees. The usual suspects: California, Texas and Florida.

Posted by: laloomis | June 2, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

slyness, you really should warn bc before posting stuff like that...

*faxin' bc some smelling salts*

:-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Front Page Alert, BTW...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Like Frosti, the first car I bought was a used Datsun 280Z...it was powder blue (WHAT was I thinking?) and I loved zipping around in it. That dang thing was always in the shop and I came to rue the day that I had let my common sense be overruled by girlish vanity. Taking a page from RD's theory about car buying, I then got a Ford Escort that I drove into the ground, moved up to a Ford Escort station wagon when I had kids and I drove that thing into the ground. I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I got a '96 Toyota Camry in 2000 and it had ELECTRIC windows!

I now have a beautiful Accord that I expect to keep for at least 10-12 years and 200,000 miles. We kept the Camry for my son to use. His initial reaction was, "I'm not driving that granny car" but he got over that quickly once he got his license. Now, he leaves for college 2 weeks after my daughter gets her license (how is this happening?) My daughter says, "I'm not driving that thing" about the Camry.

We'll see....

Posted by: Kim1 | June 2, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Ivansmom- you remind me of the Episcopal priest I heard on "Speaking of Faith." He said most people who oppose gay marriage are really repulsed by gay s3x. He said, "But if you want to stop people from having s3x, you should encourage them to get married."

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Agree: keep/fix the Honda.

Joel says he doesn't want to suggest "for a second that Buick or General Motors or American car manufacturers generally are unable to make spiffy little Honda-like cars... Of course they can and have and will." I would have to seriously dispute this. IMHO Detroit has never understood, on a visceral level, anything remotely like how to build a small car. The few attempts it has made over the past *half century* (italics sorely needed) have been sporadic at best and pathetic at worst. The proof is in the pudding: if Detroit even had the faintest idea of how to diversify its product line, companies such as Volkswagen, BMW, Toyata, Honda and Mitsubishi would never have gotten a foothold in this country, never mind beat us at our own game. How two countries, Germany and Japan, could get up off the mat after WWII and not only compete with Detroit but beat it tells you everything you need to know about Detroit's incompetence and tunnel vision. A Volkswagen, fer cryin' out loud. And even those cheap, tinny small Hondas and Toyotas in the early days, when they were pieces of crap, were STILL selling here in lieue of the Detroit tanks.

Detroit had the home field advantage -- and STILL has it to this day -- and *still* can't compete against Honda or Toyota. Every single small foreign car ever purchased in this country is a rebuke to Detroit thinking. Every stinking one.

Fair disclosure: I've owned 4 MGBs, 1 Triumph (TR-4), 4 Hondas (two Accords and two Civics, one ancient and one a new hybrid), 1 Toyota (Camry), and 1 English Ford over the course of 44 years. That's 10 foreign cars. I didn't buy any of them because they were foreign; I bought them because Detroit had nothing, absolutely nothing, that was remotely similar. Throw in a 1960 VW Beetle that my family owned but which I drove for a couple years, and that's 12 cars. Every one of them small and reasonably fuel efficient (in the context of their times, anyway). But not one single one of those cars had a Detroit equivalent at the time. Not one. Most of them still don't.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Kim- the dott used to whine and whine about riding with me in my Toyota pick-up while the Miata sat in the garage. She knew when she got her license she'd never be allowed the Miata, but would try to weasel her way into Mr. F's SUV with all the bells and whistles (my truck doesn't even have power locks). Then, she saved enough money that the Bank of Dad was ready to grant her a car loan. She started shopping for the type of car she could afford and suddenly thought the Toyota pick-up would be just the perfect thing for us to sell her, at a deep family discount. I'm still laughing.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

O turkey sandwich, truly sensible
but for excitement, indefensible
I want to sing your praises loud
but it’s desserts that bring the crowd
You’re low in “bad” LDL
but without cheese, what the hell?
But maybe in these leaner times
your humble tastes are no mean crimes
While others wear their honours out
You’ll ne’er be accused of causing gout
So you may be the lunch line Honda
but of you, I couldn’t be fondah.

Posted by: engelmann | June 2, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Slyness, the kid can still have the coolest car in the parking lot. Just tell him to dust it off occasionally.

Posted by: russianthistle | June 2, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Hmm...I may have to add the Mudge rant to the kit, don't you think??

As for the turkey sandwich comment: I am not dissing turkey sandwiches. I have them all the time. That's a default lunch. But rarely does one have a truly memorable turkey sandwich. I am not saying it's impossible. I'm just saying that a turkey sandwich is never going to be as dramatic as, say, a hamburger, much less as in-your-face as a slab of salmon or a lobster or some kind of gumbo or whatever else they eat at the expense-account lunch places.

I should note that I also once owned a Comet, and an Opel.

Posted by: joelache | June 2, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

SCC: 11 foreign cars, plus the VW, not 10.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

If you add it to the kit, Joel, please fix my math error. I added a Honda but forgot to adjust the total.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

It's really tough to get a lobster between two slices of bread without using mayo...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Señor Achenbach; Are cars outside of science and reason? Savage capitalism took care of GM, Chrysler and our Holiness The Marketplace will dictate what is to come to our roads. Since the onset of legal blindness I've had to face the reality of the deplorable public transit system in this country of freedoms. Zoom-zoom with DVD players, bluetooth, minibars, and isolation from "them"; what a paradise for "us"in a ton of plastic and metal [Long live my WombLX!]. Texting while driving, what a joy! I wonder when the urban planners will begin to propose a livable city, with shared transportation and green spaces not car spaces. Of course, is cultural. We are commanded by marketers. Why save for retirement when there is so much "cool stuff" to consume. I read somewhere that finding a suburban exoplanet was not a viable solution. Can't remember who wrote that good scientific advise.

Posted by: RUBENMORTIZ | June 2, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Use a staple gun, Scotty.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Now, Joel, there you go. It really does depend on what your norm is. Turkey every day... default lunch? We see.

To me, a real turkey sandwich is wonderful. My favorite store-bought turkey sandwich in DC--especially for the money--can be had at Washington Deli at 19th and K St. NW.

Hamburgers do little for me, since I look at 100s of pounds of hamburger in the making each day.

Posted by: russianthistle | June 2, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

The Astounding World of the Future, has come and gone-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJjUVIIYptE

(Sorry, couldn't find a transcript)

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Ooops, I closed the tiny little window asking me not to close it so I could take a survey... silly me.

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

A place up here adds avocado toppings to sandwiches for a small extra charge.

I found my avocado-turkey sandwich order memorable.

And I've always owned American cars. The word "Honda" keeps reminding me of a joke told in Punjabi;

I don't remember the words anymore but "drive a honda" (gayeee honda) translates as "ride a honda."

A gent is out driving a very expensive sports car on the highway, he drives a touch over the speed limit and he gets passed by a Sikh in a honda, who says

"have you ridden a honda" in Punjabi.

He steps on the gas in annoyance, and passes the honda again. Eventually, the honda passes him again, again with the same taunt

"Have you ridden a honda?"

A few back and forths, and the sports car driver is now completely determined to outspeed a stinkin' honda for good, just to shut up the taunts.

Well, the honda eventually fails and crashes, and the sports car driver stops to help. The Sikh says (in punjabi)

"I just wanted to know where the brakes were...."

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 2, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

That was very funny, Frosty, especially with a little lip-reading. A transcript wouldn't have helped.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Yep Mudge. I'm afraid that if GM doesn't sell that big building downtown Detroit, rent something about 20 times smaller in the burbs and fires all but the few that fit in the new facility they will be at the public through forever. The attitude is wrong. They make their supplier nuts with their rigid administrative demands that make the suppliers spend money on process, not products. From having 200 persons with the title of vice-president or president in the organization to flying the corporate jetS to go beg for public money, they don't get it.
Yesterday they were still talking about market share. Isn't profit the usual marker for success in business?

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 2, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Joel, you owned an Opel? I always thought of those as very exotic cars. I don't know why.

Engelmann, you've done it again. Ode to the Turkey Sandwich. Splendid.

My favorite car, from a nostalgic viewpoint, was my first - an early-'70s Cutlass, two-door, with a nice V-8. I don't know why my folks thought that was a safe car for a teenager, though it was nice and heavy on the road.

Posted by: Ivansmom | June 2, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Between my parents and my husband and I we have owned/I have driven in a wide range of cars. Dad went through a typical mid life crises an had at one time an early 70's Benz 280 SL, followed by the 450 SL, convertables very sweet cars, and because he considered them so well built and safe he let my siblings drive them, in fact it was his preference to letting them drive mom's Buick Station Wagon which was the equivalent size of a small hamlet.

The first car I owned was a VW Fox, drove the heck out of it for about 10 years, nothing fancy but it lasted and survived me learning how to drive standard in it - never worried about driving in the worst conditions in that car.

Late my husband purchased a Buick (Century) - he had grown up in a GM town and Buick was to his mind the top level (well except for Caddy's but that is another story). At the time we were maybe mid thirties - shortly after purchasing he realize he did not quite fit the demographics for the car - not a huge car but had the buick float, and oddly shaped seats that I never found comfortable - like overstuffed chairs.

I have always wanted a Honda or Toyota, we have another VW now that I like. Since I no longer drive long distances an electric car would be great but I now have to carry a lot of stuff in my car - generally stuff full of dirt so a practicle, larger sized one is required.

Now an electric car - with large sections of it made from rubber I could just hose down would be perfect.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Still in my first car, a Chevy now fifteen years old. An impossible feat for a domestic car, except all's not what it seems: it's got foreign innards. The previous owner was a 16-year-old who enjoyed street racing, and therefore replaced basically everything under the hood with foreign guts. (He was caught going 120 in a 40 at 2:00am, and in an admirable turn of parenting was swiftly deprived of said car.)

Despite heat, humidity, massive dust at my former location and salt air at my current one, the foreign parts have only given me trouble when interfered with by a bad mechanic.

As for the parts belonging to the Chevy itself? The A/C: broken. Power windows: one works. CD player: inoperable. Paint: peeling. Electrical system: occasionally nonexistent. Fluid level indicator: on whenever it pleases, no matter what the actual level of fluid might be.

Which is a long way of saying, when my current beloved car finally reaches the end of its life, I would not touch a domestic vehicle for all the money in the world.

Posted by: schala1 | June 2, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Good point, SD. But any company that's always talking about market share and/or profit isn't really talking about the most important thing: making a product the customer wants. Talking about market share and profit just mean you are only thinking about shareholders and money. You clearly are NOT thinking about your true work, your customer, your products, doing what you are supposed to be doing. Market share and profits are supposed to be by-products of running a good company, not the end goal. If your product and your customer aren't your top priority, then you are nowhere. Except maybe in bankruptcy court.

Invariably the trouble with businessmen is they think about "business." They don't think about their products or their customers. They have their priorities reversed, but no one can tell them that.

Detroit's job isn't to make money. It's job is to make cars. If it does that well enough, the money will follow.

They all have their heads up their...

Same trouble with the banking industry/mortgage people. They forgot what their primary jobs were: to service their customers. Instead, they thought their jobs were to earn commission and make profits any old which way.

It is very hard to make people at the top of corporations understand what their jobs are. People further down the line usually don't have much or any trouble figuring it out. A truck driver with a 9th grade education seldom gets confused about what his job is.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Rats. Forgot to count my wife's Toyota Highlander hybrid. Make that 13 cars.

The Highlander may be the only one of the entire bunch that had an American semi-equivalent: when we were shopping my wife was also looking at the Ford SUV Escape hybrid. The Toyota cost $10k more, but we bought it because it was significantly more comfortable and had more bells and whistles; the Ford, while cheaper, was just kind of plastic-y and nothing special.

At the time those were the only two SUV hybrids on the market. One domestic, one foreign, and the foreign one was better. Simple as that.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Mudge...bells and whistles?

What, your wife wanted an ice-cream truck?

(Yes, I could have resisted the sacrasm, but remember, I have an aunt who is worried about her GM pension and everybody's bragging about how they never buy American.)

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 2, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Oy, have I got something to say about *this*

Fair disclosure - too many cars over the past 30 years to list, but several Chevrolet Malibus (including a 67 SS 396 4-spd) and Caprices, several Plymouth Road Runners (with horns that went "meep-meep!") and Satellites, several Dodge Omni Turbos (including a GLHS), several Dodge Shelby Chargers (including a GLHS, too), a Dodge Spirit R/T turbo (DC to Columbus, Ohio in 5 hours), a 68 Mustang convertible, several cheap Dodge Neon ACR race cars, and a fleet of imports including a VW Beetle, a Toyota Celica GT (78), a Honda Accord, Triumph Spitfire, Lotus Europa, and more.

The current fleet includes a 90s-era BMW with 206k mi. on the clock, the original clutch, and still gets over 30 MPG combined and a 97 Dodge Neon that's peeling and rusting but still runs at 165k mi. on the clock and the original clutch and gets around 32 MPG combined.

Which brings me to my point - where I think Honda, Toyota, etc. won the war for the American consumer was by not going for car guys like me, but for the not-car people. I don't mind doing car maintenance, and taking care of wear items on a regular basis. I think most Americans are like Joel, and don't want to think about their cars when they're not in them (and even then...?) and perhaps consider them appliances - refrigerators on wheels. They don't need panache, zip, style, a rewarding, engaging driving experience, etc. Oil changes are fine, but ball joints, bushings, brakes, engine mounts, clutches, etc. - fuggetabout it.

Those companies figured out how to make cars that need very little to no maintenance for 100k mi., and run comfortably and reliably for that long -- and far longer if folks actually do the maintenance listed in the owner's manual, and drive it with some degree of mechanical sympathy.

At some point, I think that Americans started taking cars - and the auto industry - for granted. I suspect that Toyota and Honda recognized this, and built good cars that met those expectations in general and didn't require much thought.

The domestic industry built cars and trucks for specific needs or aspirations, and as those targets changed over the years, their products required too much revamping to meet those specific needs. I don't think they paid attention (or development cash/effort) to the general needs of a good generic car, which became Toyota and Honda's bread and butter. Ford did do a better job with this than GM and Chrysler, which is why they're in the position they're in vs. the other two.

Interestingly, Mazda makes (and has made)some very interesing products, and hasn't been much more than a niche player, though the the new 6 is a step towards the Camry and Accord.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 2, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Attention frosti!!!

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/eye-on-2012/pawlenty-to-retire.html

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I saw a '65 Chrysler Newport at a store the other day. Just like my old gray ghost, "The Chiseler." I tried to work up a little nostalgia. But it was fleeting and wore off quick. 12-15 mpg.

I'm unsure why my link to stellar formation of heavy elements caused consternation. (Jumper provides link to webpage showing alleged Google Street View shot of Mianus. Page shows totally black image. But no one follows link. No great loss.)

ROTFLMAO frosti.

Posted by: Jumper1 | June 2, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

If my current rental car--a teeny Chevy Aveo--is any indication of how GM makes smaller cars, then heaven help the company.

I'm still waiting for my "new" car to arrive. But my new Town & Country (like my previous ones) is an import car: built in Windsor, Ontario.

Posted by: -TBG- | June 2, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Saying what is true is not bragging, Wilbrod.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry about your aunt, Wilbrod_Gnome, and best of luck to her--and for my own part, I can assure you I wasn't bragging. My Red Blooded American Childhood (tm) was filled with Fords and GMs and those Heartbeat of America commercials. This turn of events is pretty painful. It would only be worse if Canada started making apple pie better than us.

Posted by: schala1 | June 2, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Government Motors also p-off a good number of people formerly known as good repeat customers. My FIL bought something like 5 Chevies in a row, regular like clockwork, one every 5 years. The last one he bought was named for a famed Italian firearm manufacturer. That car was in the shop maybe 4 times in the first year, always for serious stuff, with GM battling every warranty claim they could. The car fell apart within 3 years, and these were the days of 12 months/12000miles warranty. Since then he bought one from a dodgy company (I inherited that K-car) 1 VW, 2 Hondas and one Toyota. 5 cars GM didn't sold.
After my own experience with a chevy products I won't buy from that company again. A leak from the head gasket at 81000km, a secret warranty was covering it until 80000km but GM wouldn't budge (that is a $2500-3000 repair). And the minivan started dying on its 6th anniversary from a long list of ailments. A neighbour has the same model that is one year model more recent and now, in its seventh year, that car is suffering from the same serious maladies. They are built-in.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 2, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I guess that's why the CEO's get paid the big bucks...sigh.

Wilbrod, all sympathy to your aunt. I don't understand the anger at the workers. While there's plenty of blame all around, I think the executives should get more of it. But then, I'm one of those socialists, I guess.

We have rarely had the means to buy a new car, and Mr seasea knows and likes cars, so he's very good at getting good used ones. I've driven various kinds of Toyotas - they're so reliable. My favorite car ever was a 1985 Toyota Cressida. It had leather seats, power windows, and variable speed windshield wipers. It was boxy and a granny car, but I loved it, despite a radio with a mind of its own - and a power antenna.

My first car was an Opel Kadett station wagon. Poor thing. I carried a gallon of water with me because the radiator leaked...and the transmission was done in by the potholes on Route 7 in Arlington. I drove to PA with no 4th gear, replaced the transmission, drove it for quite a while after that.

Posted by: seasea1 | June 2, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Michael Moore was on the Keith Olbermann show the other day, talking about planned obsolence. Great idea the American car companies came up with to entice people to buy cars...unfortunately it has backfired.

For quite a few years we had nothing but used Toyotas in the driveway. Now we have a used GMC pickup too. Saw quite a few at the campground too, hauling trailers. Seems like GM went for the SUV/truck market and abandoned the cars, and when gas prices went up, they lost.

Posted by: seasea1 | June 2, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I know this will be greeted with a slew of great American car commercials, and I know they're out there, but . . . I'm particularly fond of #3, but have to note that #1 was what, from the 60's? 28 MPG for that car, not considered important in a timely manner by American automobile manufacturers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5SM1yot428&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCv5AJU0ThM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9beQh1yH5uU

I learned to drive in a VW bug. My house and my aunts' houses were all connected by the same 10 or so acres and my cousin used to drive us home through our yards in her little bug.

My first car was an Austin Marina, a little sedan that I just loved. Unfortunately, it broke often and expensively. Much later, a Honda Accord, a Honda Prelude, and when I grew tired of sliding down snowy big hills backwards, a Jeep Cherokee Sport. Loved that Jeep. Now, a Subaru Impreza Outback. Love it too, but not as much as the Jeep. Much better mileage, though. When the heater core died on the Jeep at 190K, my mechanics adopted it for their country home, so it really did go to the farm.

Yoki, please consider something with all- or 4-wheel drive. We know you have mad snow driving skillz, but what would it hurt?

Posted by: -dbG- | June 2, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

But dbG, that would take all the fun and excitement out of it! Nothing like the waggle of a little fishtail on black ice to get the blood pumping.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Two Chrysler minivans in my past, and I replaced the transmission at 105,000 in both of them. Elderdottir is still driving the 97 Voyager, knock on wood. Nice riding vehicle, great for road trips, but boy, I spent a lot of money keeping that monster on the road.

My first car was a '61 Ford club wagon, with three on the steering column and a manual choke. Having learned to drive that boat, I figure I can drive almost anything. Never tried to drive a fire truck, though. I can drive Mr. T's Dodge Dakota, the LRT (Little Red Truck, as opposed to the BRT's, the Big Red Trucks the fire department drives). I don't much care for driving that truck, becaust I'm not tall enough to see over and around the huge side mirrors and it makes me nervous.

Posted by: slyness | June 2, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, that's fine as long as that pumping blood stays contained within your body! :-)

Besides, you can trade that for the feeling of insufferable virtue you get when your car passes others who are stuck.

Posted by: -dbG- | June 2, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod I do have sympathy for your aunt, so many GM employees in my province, as I understand it our provincial government has a fund to bailout companies that go bust and the penions are wiped out - the bailout to GM will be significant - not just in the money going to the company from the province and the fed but for the pensions as well.

That said there are also Hondas, Toyotas, Suzukis and probably more that are made all or in part here, so to ignore them would also cause losses in employment.

My GM car for example was built at a Suzuki facility.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Slyness, get the mirrors adjusted so you can see under them :-p.

I have a Dodge Dakota (SLT) and I love it, it's far better fit for gnomes than I could have imagined.

I added convex mirror decals though, to decrease blind spots.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 2, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Yoki.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Hey, 'mudge.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Eh, I think that the Honda Accord's just fine for snow driving (like most FWD cars) - if you put snow tires on it. I believe that the most important thing with snow driving is to not panic if you start to slide a little, and to keep your eyes on where you want to go - calm, smooth, measured.

TBG, I think that Aveo is a rebadged Daewoo product, sourced from South Korea or South America. And the very bottom of the line in terms of cost...

But as gas prices climb back up over $3 a gallon, expect to see more of them on the road.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 2, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

That reminds me, it is probably safe to take the snow tires off my car now...

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

When we were on the left coast last week, Mr. T rented a Toyota Sienna. He was astounded to see that it had 40,000 miles on the odometer. Nice vehicle, but I like my RAV.

Wilbrod, the LRT has the big side mirrors so Mr. T can pull a trailer. He has two, the 8 by 12 closed cargo trailer, and the 8 by 16 open trailer. He uses both on a regular basis. The man is good at towing. He says he learned how to maneuver a trailer starting with the little one that hooked on to his pedal tractor when he was about 4.

We won't discuss the LRT's mileage when towing a trailer. But it sure is nice to have the capability when we need it.

Posted by: slyness | June 2, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

bc, can your= repeat your snow driving tips everytime it snows here, despite living in a cold climate the number of accidents we have when we get more than a inch of snow shows most people do not pay attention to such advice. Just add increase the distance between you and the car in front of you.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Time to put on the mosquito tires Yoki?

That's the modern car business, GM's Aveo is about 98% South Korean and the BMWs assembled in SC are perhaps beyond a 50% American status.
So when the blow-hards in Congress are braying about buying american and derides such imports like Beemers they act like the protectionist little twerps they are.

Vauxhall/GM of the UK finds itself without a brain as their cars were designed and engineered by Opel/GM of Germany. The buyers of Opel, including Canadian Stronach of Magna, would not give spare change to get Vauxhall in the deal. We live in interesting automobile time.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 2, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Public Service Announcement...

BPH/Boodle Porching Hour/Happy Hour
Wednesday, June 3
5:00 pm to ?
McCormick & Schmick's
1652 K Street, NW
(near Red Line and Orange/Blue line on Metro; $7 valet parking after 5 pm)

See you there?

Posted by: -TBG- | June 2, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Yup!

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Joel, your Honda has 109K? It's scarcly entered middle age! You've got almost another 100K left to go!

Admit it, you want heated seats. MP3 player access. Sporty rims. New stuff.

We recently bought a Nissan Murano, a kind of semi-SUV. We bought it used, so we didn't have control over the extras, but they're so cool. Heated leather seats (a Godsend in the upper Midwest), Bose(R) sound system, flat screen data screen with rear view camera that turns on when you go in reverse; it's like driving a Swiss Army Knife(R).

Can you get those things with a Ford Escape?

Posted by: jp1954 | June 2, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I am a little curious as to the model year of said Buick Regal, if only because the mid 90's models were on the Consumer Reports list of "good buys" as used cars.
To Yoki, I sometimes leave the winter tires on year round if they happen to be a soft compound "ice grip" style as they are really quite sticky on wet roads as well.
To Slyness, that timing belt letting go surely piled up the valves amongst other damage. It may not be a fair comparison, but since the topic seems to be the relative merits of domestic versus foreign autos, here goes. Back in the late 80's I bought a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a 455 Rocket engine from the original owner for $300. Though certainly not the largest vehicle of that model year, it did qualify as a "Land Yacht", being 19 feet long and a full 6 feet across the bench seats. After I drove it for a little while, it developed an engine noise that made me uncomfortable with my plans to drive it cross-country. Eventually, I found a replacement motor from a 1970 Delta 88 and got it installed for $650.(purchase price included). That motor was a W30 block 455 that had 1 Horsepower for each day of the year(365) and my plan was to put 1000 miles on it before I headed East. Wouldn't you know, at the 950 mile mark, the timing Chain slipped and the people from whom I'd bought the motor replaced it for the price of the parts(about $75). Ten years later, I was still driving that car on the opposite coast from where I'd bought it. And, even though it was huge and a real sleeper at stop lights, I still got over 20 miles per (Cdn) gallon with it on the highway. Around town was not as economical, especially on the occasions that I needed to open up the 4 barrels at some stoplights in order to put some young pups in their place(2nd!). Anyway, I've always preferred domestic due to the availability of cheap parts and "backyard mechanics", so I can sympathize with the proposed $8000 bill for a new motor. In my experience, for that money, I could buy a dozen good used domestic cars and squeeze 3 to 4 years service from each with no problem.

Posted by: shygaard | June 2, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of cars...

Chinese Company Said to Be Buyer of Hummer
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/business/03auto.html

Wow

Posted by: schala1 | June 2, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Hiya shygaard!

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

My parents bought domestic.

I used to carry a USA-1 key fob in high school as proud evidence that we had a Camaro (my dad's car). Not quite as cool as the 66 T-Bird it replaced--the Camaro had seat belt interlocks and would stall reliably until warmed-up--but impressive if you looked past the amazingly mismatched plastic dash parts (in both color and fit).

The T-birds that preceded the Camaro had their share of problems. All three, a 58, 64, and 66 had severe electrical problems (no forward turn indicators, balky power locks, etc.).

Fast forward to 1980. I was a sophomore in in engineering school and convinced my parents to buy an Oldsmobile Diesel, despite eight troublesome years with a Toronado with near constant suspension problems, wind leaks, and a near-useless radio.

At the time we ordered the car in late 1979, the price of gasoline had just crossed the mythic dollar a gallon line for good while diesel hovered around half the price.

The GM Diesel was the Prius of its day in fuel efficiency. In the time it took for the order to come in, the price of diesel zoomed past gasoline. Once the car did arrive, the power brakes failed almost immediately. The assist mechanism was unique to the Diesels and parts were backordered for months. My father had to threaten legal action to get a loaner car.

That car sat in the carport for four months waiting for the part. A few months after that, the fuel system began to fail spontaneously (turns out the very expensive pump could not handle any degree of fuel contamination, even with an aftermarket marine filter installed).

My mother struggled with that car for four years until it died finally on the shoulder of I-10 in rural Mississippi, in the last 100 miles of a 2000 mile road trip. Those last 100 miles came at great expense on the back of a flatbed tow truck.

That was it. We gave to car to a mechanic friend who got years more service from the chassis after he threw away the diesel and retrofitted an old Chevy smallblock. We replaced the car with a 1985 Camry that ran until wrecked 13 years later. I have had four Hondas that collectively have gone nearly a million miles with probably a total of $3000 of repair work among them. One has almost 200,000 miles and runs like new.

I imagine my story is typical, and that's why GM ended up where it is today.

Posted by: wistlo | June 2, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

wistlo, add the '68 T-Bird to the list of years with electrical problems, we had one go up in flames in our driveway.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Car history (chronologically): 1967 Ford Falcon, 1977 Datsun B210, 1980 Datsun 210, 1984 Toyota Corolla, 1990 Ford Probe, 1998 Chrysler Sebring, 2004 Isuzu Rodeo. All bought used, except the Rodeo. The Probe was my all-time favorite, and violated RD's most excellent rule about not buying your dream car. It was nice-looking, could carry the contents of a 1-bedroom apartment, got reasonable gas mileage, and accelerated like a scalded dog. I still miss it.

Now my criteria for a vehicle is simple: whatever I can buy with the least amount of interaction with a car salesman. I bought the Sebring sight-unseen on a friend's say-so at auction. The transaction for the Rodeo was about a half-hour. "Here's the price I'm willing to pay. Deal? Good. No, I don't want undercoating, extended warranty, upgraded floor mats. Here's your check."

Posted by: Raysmom | June 2, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Hello, friends. It has been a not so good day, but feeling a little better. Wilbrod, you are the best. And I loved the handle.

As for GM, these folks saw the handwriting on the wall some years ago, but did not change their stripes. I've never understood that about them. Companies, at least those that survive, always update to meet the times, but GM continued down the path of those gas guzzlers and huge bodies. It's like someone never got it, and they had to see what every American saw: those foreign car were selling like crazy here in America. A big company like that didn't offer a shred of competition. I do feel bad for the folks that work there, and for those that live on pension from GM. I hope your aunt, and all like her, Wilbrod, survive.

Mudge, as always excellent writing. And JA, very good kit.

Yoki, Scotty, Martooni, Slyness, and everyone here, the best to you. *waving*

If my Toyota was a little younger, I'd zip to DC, and meet you folks at Ladies Night. Enjoy yourselves, and have a decaf for me.

Posted by: cmyth4u | June 2, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Hi, shygaard!

We don't get enough rain to make it worthwhile wearing out the snow tires on pavement. I want 'em in good shape when I really need them.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I was thinking today about my dad's 1966 AMC Ambassador. 327 CID V8 and front seats that fully, and I do mean fully, reclined. My high school girlfriend and I steamed the windows in that car many a time. "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" indeed!

My first car was a 1929 Ford Model A Tudor sedan I bought in high school for $300. Only car I ever owned that I could confidently work on absolutely any part of it. After that I have owned three Fiats (Man it hurts to admit that. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one Fiat might be an accident, but three begins to look like a death wish.), a Chevy Impala, a Mustang, two Ford trucks, one Dodge minivan, a VW Rabbit, three Nissans, a Mazda, a Honda, two Toyotas, and a couple of motorcycles.

Posted by: kguy1 | June 2, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Hiya Scottynuke,

The irony of planned obsolescence is the unplanned obsolescence of the planners.

Years ago, during a small film project, the subject, who was a performance engine builder, related an anecdote that basically boils down to the "Big Three" in the 50's and early 60's combing the junkyards for targeted models which were then forensically dismantled. Careful notes were made as to odometer readings for each specimen and as to the lifespan left for each part. Then the bad news, If for example most cars had less than 200,000 miles on them and the steering boxes still had over 50% life left in them, the tolerances on the steering boxes were then subsequently lowered. They could have just as easily increased the tolerances of the parts that had or were near failure. As Frost said "The road not taken".

Posted by: shygaard | June 2, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Kguy!!

I admit, my Cutlass was the only car I've ever owned that I could work on. Knew all about pistons and carburetors and oil and whatnot. It went downhill ever since.

At one point I had a K-car type clone. I used to leave it unlocked on the streets of downtown DC, hoping someone would steal it. Never happened.

Posted by: Ivansmom | June 2, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Cheney could just come out against gay marriage. He might need a glass of water before it's all over.

Slyness, I've missed everyone here too. I think I'm just tired and probably need to slow down. The kids we worked with passed the math part of the test, but failed the reading. They're re-testing this week.

The g-girl made the "terrific kid" in her kindergarten class with her picture in the front hall of the school, with some teeth missing. It will all be over next week.

Posted by: cmyth4u | June 2, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

My Mom once parked her Dodge Dart in the neighborhood of Johns Hopkins Hospital, unlocked, for a week. With the keys in the ignition. No takers.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 2, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

My dad used to give his cars names- Judy, Nellie Kelly, Blue Goose, etc. I called my cars names, but not like that. More like "You @#$$%^%$ Italian piece of ..you get the idea." One of my best friends in college was from West Texas and he had a '65 Buick Skylark which he dubbed the Raging White Stallion. Do people give their cars names anymore?

Posted by: kguy1 | June 2, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

kguy, good to see you again, we had an AMC Ambassador wagon as well, Dads friend worked for AMC, that car was special because we got a colour TV when we bought it - some sort of give away - our first one - somewhere between 70-72?. This was the forerunner to Mom's Buick wagon - the Ambassador got passed down to my brother, he who like to drive fast through the windy bumpy roads, by that time the cars fully reclining seats had a mind of their own and if you hit a bumb just right the drivers seat would recline fully - an interesting experience for a driver in a moving vehicle.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Hi Yoki,

You can trust that I'm not being facetious when I say that, if you don't mind or even occasionally welcome the odd bit of drifting on snow and ice, you won't mind some minor unexpected hydroplaning in summer. The adrenaline rush is very similar.

I've had my share of "whiteknucklers" and during each new experience, it feels like more than my share, at least until it's over.

Posted by: shygaard | June 2, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

That's my kind of driving, shygaard! I would never consider such a thing facetious.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Hey, kguy! We've never given our cars names, although we did have an 84 New Yorker that we referred to as "The Cruiser". Big, comfy car. One of the first times I drove it was when I took my sister to see Mt St Helens up close. I had never been there, either, and it was "interesting" on the twisty, narrow roads - especially when we came out of the trees and could see how far down it was if we slid off the road. But it was reliable - I had to drive it home in an unexpected snowstorm once and it did fine. Mr seasea talks to his cars, and may have secret names for them.

Posted by: seasea1 | June 2, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

My father called his mint green '57 Chevy station wagon "Old Betsey." Why? I'll never know. Maybe it was the custom in that time, say late 50s and early 60s?

Posted by: laloomis | June 2, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I've about run the gamut for cars. The first was a hand-me-down 56 Chevy sedan my Dad bought when I was heading off the college. It wouldn't go very fast, but it was built like a brick. I had to give it back when I went in the Navy. Then came the 61 Dodge Lancer (paid $400 for it in 1968). Push-button tranny and all, it went to 110K by the time I sold it in Iceland for $120. Back home, I got a 62 Dodge Coronet, used, that quickly became known as the Great White Whale. It was everyting that was wrong with Detriot iron back in those days - you needed a harbor pilot to park the thing, and it got 12 mpg on a good day. Then came the Japanese invaasion - a Datsun 1200, followed by a B210. A brief excursion to a '75 Chevy Monza was awful. Back to a Camry. Then Chrysler Corp. started getting it right with the minivans, of which I had two. Then came the first "crisis" vehicle - a used Mercury Capri roadster, which was not a great car. After I got in a rear-ender that car got replaced with the 93 Miata, which is still going at 230K miles. The second Caravan got retired after the tranny went out for the third time at 190K, and the emergency replacement for that was the old (89)Vovlo wagon. We just inherited the 99 Caravan from my folks, so we are now up the 3 cars, any two of which are normally roadworthy. Hopefully, next up will be a new hybrid that will take us into our "sunset years".

Posted by: ebtnut | June 2, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

"you needed a harbor pilot to park the thing", LOL ebtnut.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

My first new car was a Chevy Cavalier and it was a great little car. Got married, hubby drove a Buick Regal, then a Saab and I was relegated to a Renault LeCar (remember those? talk about a rollerskate car), which was also my first stick shift. Then I drove a red Honda, forget the model, but it resembled that sporty Mercedes at the time. Boy did I love that car. Currently, I have a Chevy Tracker (2003) and, knock on wood, it has been a great vehicle. Smallest SUV around, pretty much, with good mileage. But then, GM in its confounding *wisdom* stopped making that model and replaced it with another, bigger SUV! I've heard that the Ford Escape, which is similar in size, is a comparible and decent vehicle.

I feel compelled to buy GM or Ford. It just seems like the least I can do. Call me pathetic, but this whole GM/Chrysler bankruptcy stuff makes me want to cry. I do live in the Detroit area, so it is particularly saddening.

Posted by: jlessl | June 2, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

GM confirms the old saying "friends come and go, enemies accumulate"

Posted by: jw765 | June 2, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

kguy! ebt!

We only named one car: a 1968 Ford Galaxy. No power steering, no power brakes, tiny steering wheel, turning radius of the Queen Mary, acceleration of an asthmatic mule. Named it Turtle Tires.

Posted by: Raysmom | June 2, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

My first two cars were Datsun 510 wagons, which didn't like really cold winter weather but were mechanically simple, so it was easy to figure out any problems. I didn't realize until much later that they were something like BMWs for the underpaid.

Next, a four wheel drive Chevy LUV pickup (mistake, via Isuzu), a four wheel drive Chevy S-10 pickup (worse mistake), Geo Prizm (a domestic Toyota Corolla hatch that lasted me 12 years), and Ford Focus wagon (chosen in part because Consumer Reports found it "fun to drive". It is.)

Yesterday, it felt really, really odd to see a Hummer pickup model on display at the GM-sponsored ride at EPCOT. All the more so, to find that the brand's new owner is foreign, and paid just $500 million. So will that buyer, Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. try to position itself against India's Tata as a purveyor of luxury SUVs? Or will Mahindra & Mahindra win by selling cheap, efficient little trucks and SUVs that can handle lousy roads?

I'm bothered that if the demand for autos

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | June 2, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I would tell you about our 1975 Gremlin but I don't want to make you all burst into tears.

Posted by: nellie4 | June 2, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

My second car was a 64 Impala. Such wide expanses of sheet metal I wanted to paint murals on the sides and trunk. Named it Connie, after my first real girlfriend, because we had a similarly fraught relationship.

Reading across the boodle today I am reminded of a minor artistic masterpiece, "Four Hole Buick", an opera briefo from the ancient comedy troupe Ducks Breath Mystery Theatre. Unfortunately nobody has yet ripped it to a youtube video, but I can offer a link to the url:

http://www.ducksbreath.com/

Some of you may remember the Dr Science or Ian Shoales bits on NPR.

Posted by: j2hess | June 2, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

My mom did own two Honda hatchbacks.

One finally died right on an intersection on 123-- on a lefthand turn.

The next one, we frequently had to push to get to start.

Lemons happen in every brand.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 2, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I'm loving the car stories, everyone. So far, my favorites are ftb's turning-right-honks-the-horn and dmd's unexpectedly-fully-reclining seats. Long laughing out loud for both of them.

None of my stories compare. But speaking of naming cars, when I was a child, we had a big bright yellow full-size van -- a Dodge, maybe? Bought used, not particularly gorgeous. My grandfather -- who kept his own cars perfectly washed and waxed -- was not impressed. He called it "the yellow peril." Sigh.

Posted by: -bia- | June 2, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

K'guy -- funny that you mention that about giving cars names. When I had my Pontiac LeMans in the exquisite avocado color all the rage in the late 60s, the then 7 year-old daughter of a friend of mine called it "Peabody" -- of course, had it been a convertible, it would *have* to be called "Split Peabody" -- right?

Okay, all. Game number 3 of the Stanley Cup finals is tonight in Pittsburgh. Stand back, 'cause I'm gonna shout:

GO RED WINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you for your attention. You may now return to your regularly scheduled whatever you were doing activities.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | June 2, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Betsy was the name of (comic book) Archie's car.

Posted by: engelmann | June 2, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I remember when the Prius was newish, you could hear US auto makers poo-poo it as being sold only at-cost, and not a serious market contender. A cute toy, but not a real car, certainly not a real profit-making product. In the neighborhoods where I live and the folks among whom I travel, one is hard-pressed to drive down a residential street without passing at least one Prius, and often one passes several. That's pretty good market share for a single model of car in a middle-class neighborhood. Toyota may lose money on the Prius as a product, but an alternative view is that they have managed to get the public to pay for an engineering development program and public relations campaign that Toyota got essentially for free and which has positioned Toyota as the go-to company for a car that is well-built, reliable, and technologically advanced. American makers could have done the same thing, investing in future buyers, but instead they chose to milk the maximum out of what they already had. Now they are stuck with a lot of designs that few want and they have nothing to bring a subsistence flow of money in the door while they try to develop products that the public might buy more enthusiastically.

It may be that GM and Ford and Chrysler build cars that are equal to the Prius in wonderfulness, but you would have to convince me of it. Toyota has spent years proving it. When I'm expending a big chunk of a year's salary on something that I will be entrusting with my life and the lives of my family for at least 10 years, I'm interested in certainties, not possibilities. Toyotas and Hondas and their ilk work, reliably, inexpensively, and without demanding my constant attention.

Honestly, I don't even consider myself as part of GM's problem, because I have never purchased an American-made car new. Thus, I have never really been part of their market, so I can't be blamed for 'abandoning' them. Every time I have purchased a new car, I have done my research, made my investigations, done my test drives, and proven Curmudgeon's point: the Big Three just do not provide what I'm looking for in a small car. I want something perceptibly well built, with a reputation for reliability, safety, and economy, and a pleasure to drive. Perhaps American cars can meet some of those standards. I have not met one in my price range that can meet all of them -- whereas I can find plenty of foreign cars that do so.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 2, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

ftb - so, what's your prediction for tonight? Will our beloved Wings give up a game. Maybe a *mercy* win for the Pens. Would make it interesting, but it would be sweet if we ended up sweeping.

Posted by: jlessl | June 2, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Hi ScienceTim,

GM cars that match your criteria used to be plentiful on the used market. Basically the late 60's to early 70's (say 67-72) mid-size GM products with the F-41 suspension and a small block v-8.

How I wish that I'd had then the space I do now because, 20 years ago I could pick them up by the dozen for a couple of hundred each.
Nowadays, I see the same cars in 2-door models go for 20,000 to 45,000 at the Barret-Jackson auctions

Posted by: shygaard | June 2, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

curmudgeon6's "...4 Hondas (two Accords and two Civics, one ancient and one a new hybrid), 1 Toyota (Camry), and 1 English Ford over the course of 44 years. That's 10 foreign cars. I didn't buy any of them I bought them because Detroit had nothing, absolutely nothing, that was remotely similar...But not one single one of those cars had a Detroit equivalent at the time. Not one. Most of them still don't."

Fair enough, but we're not living in the year 2002. I generally agree on the small cars - GM/Ford are still 2-3 years behind (we'll see what happens when the new Focus comes out and the Cruze next year). But until then, the only compact car that competes from the US brands is the Pontiac Vibe, which has US assembly (N California), US design, and US engine, with a Toyota powertrain. For someone looking for a new car, the Chevy Malibu and the Ford Fusion (part. hybrid version) easily compete with the Accord and Camry.

Just do your research and buy what's fits your budget and styling preference - you might be surprised.

FYI: I've owned a Saturn SL, VW Beetle, and Pontiac Vibe. The VW Beetle was the best engineered & most fun to drive of the bunch, but I had to literally take it into the dealer 25+ times over the course of 110,000 miles (the end coming when it literally died on me while I was turning into a parking lot to take pictures of it for an ad in Autotrader!). In 115,000 miles with the Vibe, no dealer trips until the 102,000 miles mark.

Posted by: robpollard | June 2, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Not a sweep, surely? That's not very sporting.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

I had a Vibe as well for 4 years, while overall I liked it did have a few small problems, things began to rattle after a while, and the drivers window shattered - power window issue, scared the heck out of me and of course it happened on a very cold day. As low end cars went though it was OK.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

So do they throw tuxedos on the ice in Pittsburgh after the first home score?

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

*Snort*

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

My very first car was a used Mercury Comet, a car only a first-time owner could love, it took a quarter mile to reach 60 mph. I  had a Bonneville back in the 70's when they were land shark size. It had a bench seat and once, while taking a ramp in my usual speedy fashion, I slide halfway across the front seat - you know, it's hard to drive from that position. After that I had a succession of Audis, nice cars. One of my two favorite cars was a 1990 Audi 90 Quattro, 5 on the floor, fun to drive. The last American car I owned was a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix. I wanted a Camry, but #1 worked for GMAC at the time so I got a discount. I enjoyed the car and  altho' it had a few issues, they were all fixed under warranty. I loved my Miata best of all, but as Frosti says, it's not a winter car so when we moved and I went from a two-car garage to a single, I sold it. I drive a Mazda 3 now, nice car, handles well but someday I want another Miata.
 
robpollard, I looked at the Vibe when it first came out as it seemed a perfect size, but I was unimpressed by the interior detail, it was cheap. They may have improved since then.

I feel bad for the GM employees, but, as Cassandra said, the suits should have seen the writing on the wall and they didn’t, or ignored it. They should be the ones taking the major hit financially, but of course, they won’t, it’ll be the ‘little people’ as usual.

Posted by: badsneakers | June 2, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Stuffed Opi, maybe, S'nuke.

(Actually, strictly speaking that name pluralized should be Opera...)

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 2, 2009 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Warren Brown sings that "Chevy beats Camry" tune every week, but here's the deal- I buy a car when and only when the present car bites the big one. Present car is long paid for '99 Camry (last year you could get the V6 with a manual trans)with 133K miles and currently getting 29 MPG hwy 23 city. It's one of the best cars I've ever owned. According to Kelly Blue Book, the trade in value of my car is $2875. A Chevy Malibu of the same age, mileage, equipment, and condition has a trade in value of $1075. Why should I willingly change brands in the face of that ownership experience and difference in residual value?

Posted by: kguy11 | June 2, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Rob, my friend, please don't patronize me and suggest I do my homework--I might be surprised. For one thing, I'm not even in the market for a car, so that's moot. But this is a measure of just how blindingly out of touch you are: Detroit has had (pardon me for breaking into all caps) FIFTY FREAKIN' YEARS to try to build small sporty cars. Five decades, Rob, quite possibly before your FATHER was a glint in someone's eye, OK?

Name me one single domestic model on the market today that compares to a Miata, a Hinda S-2000, a little Beemer (Z-3?), a hot, sexy two-seater.

We're not living in the year 2002? Do you have any clue how many of us old fogies (and we're mostly old fogies on this blog, in case you are unaware) are laughing at that kind of a statement? Are you trying to say things have improved a lot since 2002? You're dreaming, Rob. Try "this is not 1972." It's still a joke, of course.

By your own admission Detroit is still a few years behind, and the Focus and the Cruze aren't going to make a dent in half a century of incompetence. We aren't in competition with Germany and Japan; we lost that battle decades ago. It's over. And not only is it over, we deserved to lose, because Detroit had its head up its butt for so long. Detroit STILL doesn't get it, or it wouldn't be in bankruptcy.

Do you understand that the refrain, "Detroit has gotten a lot better lately" is hardly a great advertising claim? What would you like the new GM motto to be? "We're nowhere near as stodgy as we used to be"? Maybe "We're almost as good as a Honda"?

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | June 2, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

badsneaks you are correct about the interior detail of the vibe - that was what was rattling after 4 years. Previous car had been an early version of the Cadillac Catera (German engineered I think), loved that car went like crazy, awesome stereo, solid build. Not so good in the snow though - the ABS brakes could be heard frequently even on slow speed stops (i.e. stop signs). I was never quite sure if I would stop in time - made for some exhilerating winter driving. Gas mileage was not great though.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

jlessl-I had a Tracker back when they were "Geo" to hide their US pedigree. Alas, it was more cost effective to sell it in Hawaii than pay to have it shipped back. I must say it was the easiest car sale we've ever done. Printed off the for sale sign and let Mr. F drive it 2 miles to pick up some paperwork at his office. I received a phone call from someone who saw it on the road, 15 minutes later he took a test drive, and the next morning we had the cash.

Car names- the Miata is Bess, or more formerly Bess II. The original Bess was a Geo Metro convertible, traded for the "family vehicle" Tracker. Frostdottir's Hyundai Accent is Black Beauty, and Mr. F's vehicle is TB. Looking back, I guess we've named half of our cars, but they need to speak to you. You can't pick just any name.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

jlessl -- I must say that I'm a bit conflicted, only because a sweep would not let us hoist the Cup in Joe Louis Arena. Now, I'm not saying that we should throw the game to be able to do that, but Detroit needs all the exceptionally good karma that it can get right now. Although, even if (when?) we do sweep the rink with the Penguins, we *still* get to hoist the Cup in Detroit.

Just like we did last year. *grin*

Snuke -- octopi are way better to show your love than tuxedos.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | June 2, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Time to put on a parka and go mow the part of the lawn that was delayed by rain on Sunday. Freeze warning tonight. I wouldn't be too hasty about those snow tires Yoki.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Hey! I'm no old fogey!

I may be ancient. Quite likely I am, but I absolutely reject and refute fogeydom.

More of a Thomasine "Do not go gently into that goodnight" sort of a woman.

Which is pathetic, reely, when I think about it...


Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, for comparison to the BMW Z-3: I have no idea how they are mechanically or performance-wise, but the Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky (same car, really, it seems) are similar to the Z-3 in terms of design targets. Very spiffy looking cars. Cars for which I have zero use, of course, and whose brands are soon to go to Logo Heaven in the Big GM Reorganization and Downsizing.

Wilbrod, I respect your loyalty. However, two things about your note concerning "lemons in every brand":

(1) I note that you said the first Honda lemon "finally" died -- how many miles did that lemon earn? The"finally" suggests it lasted a while.

(2) Most of the folks who are dumping on Big Three products and product lines are not talking about a single car -- they're talking about a succession of miserable ownership experiences, or miserable failure in finding a suitable car among B3 offerings. Lemons really are off the point -- a lemon can be credited to manufacturing defects, or a mistake on the part of the line workers. Most of the complaints are about designed-in properties: things that engineers and managers had years to think about and correct, but didn't. I think most of the folks here respect the workers. The problem is that beautiful workmanship on a metal turd won't make it smell any better.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 2, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

A few years ago someone told me I was "spry" and I was polite to them. The next time someone calls me that, I will deck them.

Posted by: badsneakers | June 2, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse

My friend who teaches English in a community college in Edmonton named hers "Emily." That was only to be expected.

I've never named a car, but I've always wanted to own a named house, the way many in British villages still are.

Mine would be called Ceilidh.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Oh frosti! *Laughing*

Can I be invited as a member of the posse?

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Laughing, badsneaks. I'll hold your jacket. (And I'd give anything to be "spry.")

Tim is quite right: pay heed to him. It's not about any one car, it's about the succession of bad cars, fifty years worth, more or less.

And I'nm not even talking about bad ownership experiences: I'm just talking about product availability: small, nice-looking cars. Period. I'm not even going into engineering or reliability, etc. (God knows, my love for MGBs has nothing whatsoever to do with reliability. It's like loving a severely "fallen woman." You know how it's going to work out, and she really doesn't have that alleged "heart of gold," and she's only gonna wind up breaking your heart, but you can't help yourself.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | June 2, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

My car is "The Little Car", pronounced with a lilt and a subtle expression of happiness. Except now, because the bumper and hatch got banged in a collision. Repairs tomorrow!

The ScienceSpouse also once had a Little Car. Unfortunately, it was totaled when she was T-boned. Come to think of it, that car WAS American-badged, it was a Dodge Colt hatchback. Of course, really it was a Toyota Corolla hatchback.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 2, 2009 8:09 PM | Report abuse

My grandparents had a farm with a name, I always thought the name had been a playful twist on our last name but it turns out it was from a Pauline Johnson poem - somehow after I learned about that the name held more charm.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 8:12 PM | Report abuse

My first car was a donated AMC Hornet, 1973 I think it was. The ghastly thing was forest green and rust. The dealer would not give my aunt 50 bucks for it so she gave it to me. What a horrible, horrible car. The fenders were flapping in the wing and suspension parts were re-arranging themselves randomly on each outing. GM should go the way AMC went, down the hole.

Last car story for me. In bought and used a 1994 Plymouth Voyager minivan until it died from terminal electrical failure in 2000. Great winter car, the best FWD car I ever drove when winter tires were fitted. The radio/tape deck was good too. Good experience all-over except the final months when the car was repeatedly dying from short circuits at the ripe age of 6.
Then I bought the 2007 version of the same car a couple of years ago to discover that the radio was no good anymore and that the seats couldn't be moved around as before. Now you can only remove the seats, you can't put the 2 seater in the back or the 3-seater in the middle. The engine is a tad better than the old one and burns much less fuel, which is a good thing. The winter driving skills are all gone too, it's a fishtailing turkey. But, roughly, in 13 years the Chrysler corporation managed to decrease the usefulness of their primary people mover.

I bow to the Red Wings defensive firsttimeblogger. Where did they get all those brilliant Swede defensemen? Holy crap, I can't make heads or tail of their strategy. They are good, adaptable and fast. Their switcharoos in the neutral zone make me dizzy. I still give tonight's game to the Flightless Birds, and maybe another one. They are pretty good too. They need a bit of luck as well.
I'm a sucker for the underdog (and the offense).

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 2, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

SCC wind

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 2, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

I learned to drive on "Bluey," a 1964 Plymouth Valiant station wagon with push-button automatic transmission ("Park" was a lever).

My first car was the Datsun 510 sedan I bought from my dad in 1976. Four-speed manual transmission. After that was totaled in a Christmas Eve wreck (not my fault), I got a used, metallic green Dodge Colt (made by Mitsubishi). After that died, it was a brown, 1973 Dodge Dart Swinger (complete with the little painted flower-power flower on the logo) with a tan vinyl roof. Now, THAT was a great car.

We also had a Chevette manual, another Colt, a Ford Taurus and a succession of Chrysler minivans (waiting for my 4th one right now to arrive).

Oh... and the orange 1973 Toyota Landcruiser Dr G bought brand new when he was stationed in Okinawa. His purchase price was about $3K and we sold it 15 years later after 170,000 miles for $900.

Posted by: TBG- | June 2, 2009 8:37 PM | Report abuse

I learned to drive on a 1959 Chevy Impala. That car was gigantic. The first car I drove when I got my license was a 1963 Impala without power steering. I parallel parked that baby more than once. Each time my arms shook at the end. My dad thought ‘foreign cars’ were suspect. Relatives had a Peugeot which my dad pronounced as “peekwought.”

Posted by: badsneakers | June 2, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Well there -- so not all American car stories are entirely related to hateful crud. Some people have fond memories. Myself, I fondly remember the bulbous blue Plymouth that tried to kill me when the passenger door latch failed and I sailed out onto the icy streets of our Hoosier suburb, saved only by my trusty Peanuts™ lunchbox. The car is gone. I still have the lunchbox.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 2, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Memorable turkey sandwich: the #24 at La Bodega on Simonton Street in Key West: turkey, lettuce, tomato, bacon, avocado, alfalfa sprouts and Russian dressing on baked-on-the-premises whole wheat bread.

La Bodega is gone, but the memory of that turkey sandwich remains, 28 years later...

Almost all my cars have been Toyotas. My favorite car of all time was a Datsun. I'd love to have a Miata. But I hate the idea of being dependent on a car for transportation. I'm currently sharing my car with my daughter. Today I had a job-hunting seminar to go to, three miles from my house. Dress code was, you know, "job-hunting professional." Temperatures in the 80s, humidity high. Would I be forced to take the car just because of the dress code? That is too absurd. My car doesn't have air conditioning anyway, so it's not that much help. In the end, I opted not to take the bike because there aren't facilities to completely change clothes and I couldn't see riding the bike with skirt and pantyhose. My compromise, which worked out fine, was to walk, wearing a tank top with my skirt and change to a long-sleeved shirt upon arrival. At the end of the day, changed back into the sweaty tank top and walked home. Lovely.

My copy of The Evolution of God arrived today. I'm about to open the Amazon box and start reading it.

Posted by: kbertocci | June 2, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

Trying hard to get into this discussion of cars, I can say that I learned to drive on the same car as TBG's, and my first car was a Fiat station wagon, which I bought in the 70's gas crisis. It wasn't a bad car; I had a rear end collision that was repaired, and then sold it for the same price I paid.

Here are two articles I enjoyed reading today, and both relate to common interests here.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/science/02essay.html?_r=1&ref=science

http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/the-real-professor-langdons-puzzles/

Posted by: rickoshea0 | June 2, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Better to burst into tears about a Gremlin than to burst into flames in a Corvair. But best of all is burst into laughter over a Segway with a roof.

Posted by: Jumper1 | June 2, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

I totally forgot about the Datsun of unknown model name that I bought for $250 in Korea. The speedometer did not work, which was a good thing because if I'd known how fast I was going in traffic surrounded by huge buses I probably would not have driven it. The driver's seat reclined spontaneously but a duffle bag full of junk jammed between it and the back seat kept it propped up quite nicely. The only real "problem" was that if you hit a bump or bad pot hole the battery could bounce off the metal tv tray it was mounted on. At least I think it was a tv tray, it did not look like original equipment. I was very happy to get $300 for it when it was time to return to the States.

I must say it was 100 times better than the postal jeep I bought for $50 in college.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Hmm. Favorite cars - there's a good question.

I've been fortunate enough as a low-key automotive journo and licensed hot shoe to have seen and driven a lot of interesting cars over the years.

I guess the favorites I've owned would be: 1. the In-Violet (purple) '71 Plymouth Road Runner 383 4-spd - looked great, was reasonably quick in a straight line, handled adequately, and stopped OK. Always got a lot of compliments on that car. The shifting action was awful, but I never cared. Parked it on Van Ness St. in DC while I was working on Conn Ave. and it got creamed while I was in the office.

2. My Dodge Spirit R/T - looked like grandma's sedan, but was a DOHC 4 cyl. turbocharged 5-spd manual trans rocket that gave me over 30 MPG hwy/city combined and could eat up highway miles like no one's business. Comfy, too. Had to sell it just 'cause there were too many cars around.

3. The Silver Bullet. A ridiculous turbocharged nitrous-oxided Dodge Omni race car made out of junkyard parts and was as finnicky and cantankerous as any car could possibly be -- until the situation was dire and you needed to lay down a good time to get a trophy. Then at the green, it would leap up spitting flames (and a signature power-on backfire on the 1-2 shift) and roar with a sound like the gates of Hades itself opening. It'd fly around a wet autocross course on three wheels (there's a picture of it in an old Hot Rod Magazine doing just that) to take FTD (that is, Fastest Time of Day) even though it has an automatic transmission, and would keep pulling like a freight train all the way through the traps (at 125 mph) at the final round of a drag race with trails of tire smoke, hot engine parts and every engine fluid in it's wake as she gave her all to get to the finish line first. We don't always win, but the car always gives all she has and then some. We always pat her on the roof and tell her that she's "a good girl," a metal canine with an iron heart the size of North America.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 2, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

When we were transfered to Guam in the late 60s, we took our two year old Plymoth with the push-button transmission. Once on Guam, we needed another car so my husband could get to work. He found a used -- Very Used -- Isuzu. Before he could bring it home he had to get all the chickens to evacuate, it had been a hen house. Always had that faint tang about it. But at the end of two years it was still in better shape than that pile of Detroit rust which we left out there!

Posted by: nellie4 | June 2, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Did I say Taurus? We had a Ford Tempo. Bought used from Hertz after the Chevette dropped its alternator on the pavement for the last time... in beach traffic on Route 50 near Parole, Md., on a Friday evening in July. You can bet we made lots of friends that evening!

Posted by: TBG- | June 2, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse

I like cars that have heart, like my old Neon ACR. It looks pretty junky, but it handles quite well (I've won some trophies with it) and is engaging to drive for any car, much less a cheap FWD enconomy model. The steering has great "feel" and the brakes are set up with a little rear bias so that you can kick the tail out in a corner and drive it on the power all the way around a turn - as with so many things in life, exit speed is everything.

The rear seats fold down, and I can carry a tent with 10 ft long poles wedged diagonally across the car, poking out of the front passenger window, bungeed to the side view mirror. For a little car, it can carry a *lot* of stuff.

Like LiT's "Bic", I'll probably drive it until it flames out, though I am tempted to do a restoration on it...

I'd have to second *Tim's mention of the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice as a car that's in the same ballpark as a Miata, but not quite as lithe, and certainly not as competent as a BMW Z-4 or as razor-sharp as a Honda S2000 (I'd own any of those in a heartbeat if I could somehow justify it, though for some reason, I'd probably go with an early S2000 because I'd love to have a car with a 9000 RPM red line).

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 2, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Oh, did I mention that the Sky/Solstice are rebadged versions of the European Opel GT?

American - not so much.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 2, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Ma Frostbitten and Frostson both drove their used Ford Tempos to more than 150,000 trouble free miles. At 18 it was a bit embarrassing for him to drive the same vehicle as his grandmother and though they were reliable I don't think either would say it was their "dream car." More like, "good enough for now" and now just went on and on.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

TBG, you made me laugh out loud. The Family G makes friends wherever they go; it's kind of a given. This great warmth draws everyone in.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

I have owned one and only one Chrysler product, a '95 Dodge Caravan. When the transmission died at 93,000 miles, the mechanic told me two things-

(1)The car is worth $3,000. The rebuilt transmission will cost $3,000. With the new transmission, the car will be worth $3,000.

(2)Wow, 93,000 miles. That's pretty good for one of these.

I donated it to the high school auto technology class and took the tax deduction.

Posted by: kguy11 | June 2, 2009 10:42 PM | Report abuse

The only "Chrysler" I ever owned was a 1978 Dodge Challenger, which wasn't a Challenger at all for those who remember the classic muscle car. Engine by Mitsubishi, great little car. Saw the same model (silver over black, 5 speed, plaid cloth seats) on the roads fairly frequently for almost 20 years. Traded it for the previously mentioned 280ZX.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Because I am a geek and a philistine, here is what I'd really like (if I had money): a classic open-wheel roadster, which I would like to convert to an electric car (with regenerative braking) and hub motors. The original motor and transmission can go on a static mount to impress the gear-heads. Fortunately for the purists, I have neither the money nor the technical know-how.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 2, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

is it too late to comment on the kit itself after 142 comments into things... I know, I'm completely out of the loop... like trying to jump into double dutch... like JA, I am totally hooked on my little Toyota Corolla. Cars are like dog breeds. Everyone has their preference and it's hard to change once your mind is set.

Posted by: MissToronto | June 2, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

*Tim, I know lots of folks doing just that.

All you need is time and money.
And that know-how.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 2, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Of course, the roadster would be even better if the headlamps were replaced with... (wait for it... ) Frikkin' lasers!

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 2, 2009 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Change of plans -- I now expect to be at the BPH. Aloha!

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 3, 2009 12:13 AM | Report abuse

How many years to acquire that know-how, including fooling around with cars as a kid, bc?

That motorcycle article made me wonder just how much time gets invested in developing mechanical savvy.

One of my cousins enlisted specifically to learn diesel truck mechanics, he now has the trade he wanted.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 3, 2009 12:36 AM | Report abuse

frosti, we had one of those Mitsubishi Dodge Challengers - somewhere around 1978 or so. It was one of the few cars we bought new - bright blue. Mr seasea came across a white one several years ago, but it hadn't held up that well, at least in my eyes.

Unseasonably hot here. I'm not complaining! I just hope that winter's not lurking around the corner.

Posted by: seasea1 | June 3, 2009 1:12 AM | Report abuse

The first car I owned was an 11-year-old Honda Civic Hatchback. It was in the late 1980s. The only complaint I had about it was it didn’t have pickup speed when getting on the freeway. I thought it was because of the accident it had before I bought it. After 2.5 years I traded in for a new Honda Civic. Still no pickup speed. They were both stick shifts. I don’t know if the lack of pickup speed is the fault of the car or the driver. Come to think of it, I probably had to floor it a little to get it go zooming.

Posted by: rainforest1 | June 3, 2009 2:04 AM | Report abuse

About 20 years ago, I hear that Ford’s small cars had a lot of problems compared to the Japanese or European ones. Ford’s big cars did not have that many problems which meant Ford don’t know how to make small cars. I’m sure they are better at it now even though I don’t see that many small Ford cars around.

Posted by: rainforest1 | June 3, 2009 2:16 AM | Report abuse

rainforest!!!

Ya, the Civics aren't doing too well on the hills, at speed, to this day.

Posted by: Yoki | June 3, 2009 2:26 AM | Report abuse

I don't suppose rainforest and Yoki are still here. No, my insomnia is never thoughtful enough to strike when companions would be available. [insert deep sigh.]

In keeping with my Eeyorish mood, let me describe my first car. A 1976 Ford Pinto. Chartreuse. Purchased for the princely sum of $1875 when it was a year old. I didn't know it had been in a severe crash. Then my first college roommate crashed it again. After it was fixed (and I use this term in a minimalist sense) it became a ravenous money-eater, sucking every available dollar into its maw.

Looking back on it, that car probably had a lasting, though subtle, effect on my whole life. Think of the concerts, movies and books I was too poor to enjoy. Think of the hours spent in autoshop waiting rooms! So much youth wasted.

I was trying for humor here, but even I can see it's falling flat. You know, like the lugubrious robot in Hitchhiker's Guide? Oh well.

Going to try sleeping again. 'Night, all.

Posted by: Wheezy1 | June 3, 2009 4:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm on mudge's side here. He dailed it dead to right. Domestic car makers Just. Don't. Get. It. I am a two Hyundai family because Korea stole a page out of the VW/Toyota playbook and ran with it.

Start down market. Build cheap reliable cars for the price of bigger used ones. Chip away at quality for a decade or so until you overcome your initial reputation for shoddy rattley cars. Move steadily upmarket until you are toe to toe with the established brands.

The Big 2.5 skimped and neglected the small car market because it wasn't profitable enough but it was the camel nose for all its competitors. Brand loyalty is huge and it's built in the first couple of purchases.

This plan is nearly foolproof if you have about a decade to execute it. Heck, even Chrysler followed it under Iacocca with the Omnis and K-cars until they took their eye off the ball and resorted to their old ways.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 3, 2009 5:59 AM | Report abuse

Good morning Boodle!

Hmmp! I bought a huge roasted chickrn last Saturday and been eating chicken sandwiches since. There is a chain here with bakery stores everywhere. You can't ignore them. There is a store two blocks from my apartment. three stores within 200 meters of my metro station. Downtown there are several stores inside the metro,

Since owning the monster chicken, a sort of Cadillac of birds, I decided to visit the unavoidable to see bakery.

No wonder there are so many Castano stores. Their bread is wonderful and cheap. They also sell chicken sandwiches. When I finish my Cadillac chicken sometime next month, I will not search for a turkey.

Haff a good BPH, you lot.

Posted by: Braguine | June 3, 2009 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Good morning boodle! Fog on the river this morning and 39 Chez Frostbitten. Away from the water there are reports of frost. I refuse to use the heat or fireplace, but there's something deeply depressing about wearing a sweatshirt and wooly socks over PJs for morning coffee.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 3, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Brag is leaving us to prove his statement as an exercise.

While he may be eating the Cadillac of birds, the Castanos are the Honda/Toyota/etc. of bakery stores.

Posted by: -dbG- | June 3, 2009 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Everything's sunny in Philadelphia, frosti. Come on out.

Meant to say, when my car was fixed after that unfortunate incident last month (wasn't my fault), the body shop manager told me twice that he thinks Subarus are better built than Hondas or Toyotas. Maybe he says that to all the Subie drivers. bc?

Posted by: -dbG- | June 3, 2009 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Brag!! Good to see you.

SCC-deeply depressing in June that is. In January we call it cocooning.

MN Republicans scrambling to get their campaigns started. Wish I'd made a bet with Mr. F about T-Paw's intent. He thought he had some insider info that the gov would run for his third term. Is there a political prognostication tiara?

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 3, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

Ah, the old Plymouth Valiant... It was literally as old as I was when I got behind the wheel. Took my abuse and got me where I needed to go. When my own money's been on the line, however, it's been Hondas apart from one aborted attempt at a Mazda MPV.

So...

The Nats fired their pitching coach and won a game... with late-inning offense. *raised eyebrow*

And I have to agree with Dionne's take on how Pawlenty's decision could draw out the Franken/Coleman madness even further... *SIGH*

*is-it-quittin'-time-yet-no-oh-well-where's-the-caffeine Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 3, 2009 7:51 AM | Report abuse

dbG-a quick get away to sunny Philadelphia is tempting.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 3, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Humbly acknowledging my beloved Red Wings' loss last night, before rushing to the dentist for the 6-month checkup.

Now we can win it in Detroit!

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | June 3, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

So, no tuxedos on the ice last night?

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 3, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Frostbitten,
We have similar morning temperatures. In the mornings I dress like a pervert ready for action, Wear an old trench cost in leu of bathrobe.

Posted by: Braguine | June 3, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Though busy writing a screenplay, been amazed watching the Boodle's six clock. The U'S' intelligence community is in total disarray. Will be writing about it shortly,

Brag

Posted by: Braguine | June 3, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Jalopnik has the ten cars that bankrupted GM.

http://jalopnik.com/5274023/ten-vehicles-that-bankrupted-gm/gallery/gallery

I would argue it was way more than ten.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 3, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Brag, I'm a little suspicious about what you've been eating. I'd be glad to send you my recipes for Condor Cacciatore, Condor Au Vin, Condor Salad Sandwiches, Kentucky Fried Condor, etc., if you'd like.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Not even an octopus tendril, Snuke. Ah, well.

The dentist loves me -- I appear to be the poster child of excellent dental health. I'm just glad I only have to see them, lovely people that they are, twice a year.

Hope you all have a wonderful time at tonight's BPH. I'll be with you in spirit.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | June 3, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Morning, all. I'm finally here.

About 4:30 yesterday, I couldn't get online and called tech support. We deduced that the 5 year old modem was dead. However, this morning, I heard that Time Warner had an outage in this area about that time, so I plugged the modem back in. And voila, it works! I still think I'll get a new one, though. We are living on borrowed time.

Wheezy, my parents bought me a 1971 Pinto new in October 1970 for $1919. It was the world's most basic car, no radio even. And with a 75 horsepower engine, it couldn't support a/c so I did without. I kept it for 20 years, till the transmission was totally gone. I even got rear-ended in it, but fortunately had taken it in for the warranty work shortly before so it didn't burst into flames.

Say what you will, I'm for the safety features in current vehicles. Once upon a time, I took the course to be an emergency medical technician. Basically, EMT's and paramedics are taught how to take care of people who have been in vehicle crashes. It's scary what happens when cars try to occupy the same space, or when they go places they shouldn't.

Posted by: slyness | June 3, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle.

********
Today in Nautical, Aviation, Statue and Baseball Poetry History

June 3, 1665: James Stuart, Duke of York (later King James II of England) Lord High Admiral and brother of King Charles II, defeats the Dutch Fleet off the coast of Lowestoft during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
1888: The greatest pome ever written, "Casey at the Bat," by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, is published in the San Francisco Examiner.
1942: The Battle of Midway, America’s first major combat victory in the Pacific and often considered the “turning point” in the battle against Japan, begins with Navy carrier air attacks on Japanese transports heading toward and intent on capturing Midway island. The battle was set in motion when Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Rochefort’s code breakers at Pearl Harbor managed to decode part of a Japanese message, and set a simple trap for the Japanese to confirm the code. When that trap sprung, Rochefort was able to predict the coming assault on Midway, and Adm. Chester Nimitz sent three carriers to intercept the advancing Japanese fleet; on this day search planes tried desperately to find the main body of the enemy fleet, especially its carriers.
1965: Air Force Major Ed White is the first American to “walk” in space; observing the event is his partner in the Gemini 4 mission, Maj. James McDivitt. It was the first NASA multi-day mission, too.
1969: The Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne cuts the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Frank E. Evans in half during operations off the coast of South Vietnam, killing 74 Americans. The skipper of the Evans was in bed asleep and an unqualified officer had the helm.
2007 – USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) engaged pirates after they boarded the Danish ship Danica White off the coast of Somalia.
2003: Death of Felix de Weldon, 96, sculptor of the famous Iwo Jima flag-raising sculpture (formally the USMC War Memorial) near Arlington. He served in the U.S. Navy during WWII.
**********

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Sooo, was the federal loan of $50 billion in taxpayer dollars to General Motors the wise thing to do? Or as the TV pundits clamor this morning: Is this sum simply a jobs bailout program?

What'll Fed Reserve Chair Bernanke tell a House committee this morning about the state of the economy?

Article in our local paper about how California will shut a number of state parks, but not the high income-generating ones, such as the San Simeon Hearst place...or palace. On the chopping board are two of my favs: Fort Ross SP (Russian settlement) on northern California's rugged coast, and the drop-dead gorgeous Emerald Bay SP at Lake Tahoe.

Posted by: laloomis | June 3, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

And what do you suppose China's going to do with GM's Hummer division? Yesterday morning cable said it was "a mystery buyer." By afternoon, China was named.

Posted by: laloomis | June 3, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Do astronauts "walk" in space--don't they just kind of float around? Does God evolve? Where's the paleo record?

Posted by: laloomis | June 3, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Four days ago, AP reported that a woman who was part of Obama's "advance team" in Normandy came down with swine flu. Eleven of her coworkers were put in 24-hour isolation. The 54-year-old woman was hospitalized in Caen--where she'll remain for a week.

AP also reported, "The swine flu incident comes as veterans, visitors and French, British, U.S. and other officials are streaming into the area for the anniversary."

Posted by: laloomis | June 3, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Did they walk in space? Nope, no strike outs either. I think there was a wild pitch or two, followed by a couple of base hits, and then a grand slam brought them all home.

Posted by: LostInThought | June 3, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Here's a sure bet- a bunch of WWII veterans are going to die shortly after all the Normandy invasion memorial events.

Toodles boodle. Long work day ahead. The end of the school year, and the end of our 2 year after school program grant, bring a nightmare of financial paperwork. Shouldn't whine now, in September the evaluation paperwork nightmare will be twice as bad. Unfortunately there is zip, nada, zero, in state funding available to continue after-school programs. We will be ok, as a private foundation stepped up to help us pay for heat and lights, but many colleagues throughout the state are laying off staff and raising fees, or closing completely. I guess we should be glad we could never afford full time employees or benefits-made us look like one lean human service machine when it came time to beg for money.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 3, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

LSD-50. Which iteration?

Posted by: -jack- | June 3, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, on your point about small cars from Detroit, isn't it almost always the case that small car from American auto makers means cheap? I think that was/is their blind spot.

Posted by: russianthistle | June 3, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Jack, that's just Navy jargon. It stands for "Landing Ship, Delusional."

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, I must have slept right through the first Ango-Dutch war.

Posted by: russianthistle | June 3, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Two celebrity touchdowns in San Antonio yesterday. The space shuttle, riding piggyback, touched down at Lackland AFB yesterday so the jet it's riding atop could refuel.

Actor Morgan Freeman wants his own private jet so he can more easily get around the world. In town yesterday--and on TV news ---looking over his new Emivest before delivery. Note the Dubai investment in our local company near our airport. TV news said Freeman had been filming a movie in South Africa with Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood directing--that's all the film info from our local station. Web says the movie about Mandela will be titled "Invictus."

http://www.ainonline.com/news/single-news-page/article/emivest-restarts-sj30-production/

http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/eastwoods-mandela-feature-gets-titled-invictus

Posted by: laloomis | June 3, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Delusional. *L*. My kind of ship.
I'm right with you regarding the American auto industry, 'Mudge. After the transmission seized, without warning at 70 MPH, and the car went careening down I-85, kissed the guardrail, and wound up 1/2 way into oncoming traffic, breaking my wife's arm in the process, and somehow sparing us from further injury, we called GM, inquiring about warranty repairs. Their question was: "How many miles?" 110 K, was the reply. GM: "Well, you're not covered. Anything over 100K miles is gravy." Until the time when American auato manufacturers produce vehicles that are durable enough, like a Honda, we won't darken the doorway of a dealership. Even if they're giving away free turkey sandwiches.

Posted by: -jack- | June 3, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Jeez, Weed, go back and read Pepy's diary about those wars. He was on the Navy Board at the time, and had the normal bureaucratic problems with personnel and logistics. Some things never change.

Posted by: slyness | June 3, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

It's certainly a fair question, Weed, but I don't know the answer. Yes, I'd agree that a great deal of the foreign cars I was talking about came on the cheaper end of the spectrum...but not all of them.

I'd say yes, because I think it was the VW Beetle, that famously sold for $1,995 for many years (new! right off the boat!). And the early Japanese cars were the same: the Datsuns and Toyotas and the Honda hatchbacks, etc.

But by the same token the Mercedes SL class of sporty convertibles, the 350 series and like that, were never low end. I bought my first brand-new MGB in 1970, and it was $3,900, twice what a VW cost. No, it wasn't high-end, but it wasn't "cheap," either. The MGB and Jaguars and Triumphs and Healys, etc., while not budget-killers, weren't especially cheap. I seem to recall that foreign cars like Renaults and Fiats were cheap, depending on the model, but the Fiat Sypder, a great little car, cost about the same, more or less.

The only comparable American two-seater against all these foreign models was the Corvette. For a few years (3? 4?) the first small Thunderbirds were in that market, but quickly metastasized out of the market.

I loved the early Corvettes until they morphed into the Stingray models and got crazy. But even the earlier Vettes were too hung up on high horsepower, missing the point entirely. Detroit just never did understand modest horsepower.

Granted, a sizable proportion of the American market was then and still is horsepower-crazed, for no particular good reason. But what Detroit never understood, and still doesn't to this day, is that an equally sizable proportion is NOT horse-mad and power-crazed.

The argument that such-and-such a size car isn't "profitable enough" for Detroit has always struck me as absurd on the face of it. How can a small car made overseas be profitable for a foreign manufacturer, but NOT be profitable for a domestic manufacturer that doesn't have to load them on a boat and ship them 6,000 miles to the far shore of a distant continent? It's crazy.

Ditto the argument that the market size isn't large enough. There are car manufacturers who have been producing cars in lots of only hundreds (Ferrari, etc.) or a few thousand for 80, 90 years. How come a bunch of guys named Aldo in Turin, Italy, fer crissakes, can build a high-end sex machine and nobody in Detroit can? How come a handful of Brits named Percy can build a Morgan Plus-4 Cabriolet or a Rolls Silver Cloud that is as silent as a Swiss watch, and Henry Ford can't?

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Hi, curmudgeon. Wasn't trying to be patronizing. Simply responding to the part you put at the end of your original comment about your cars, "Most of them still don't." -- emphasis on the "still", meaning today.

I know you are not in market for a new car, but Joel (and others) are, so to say there aren't extremely valid current competitors to the Accord and Camry (two of the cars you listed) was my point. I agree, as stated before, GM and Ford (and esp. Chrysler, which is why they've been bought by Fiat) do not currently have the necc. small cars to compete with Civics (except for the Vibe, which is a hatchback, so may not fit the preference of someone who wants a small sedan).

Cars change a lot in the 5-10 years since most people purchase them. I had a bad experience with my VW Bug, but when it comes time for me to by a new car in ~5 years, if my research tells me the Bug has gotten ton a better (e.g., it wins awards, has high reliability in the various rankings) I'd be foolish not to look at it.

In any case, the Korean car companies are making the major push now (followed soon by the Chinese), so there will only be more competition (and likely better cars) in the future.
http://www.autoblog.com/2009/06/02/by-the-numbers-may-2009-gm-and-ford-surprise-edition/

Posted by: robpollard | June 3, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Yanno, I missed the First Anglo-Dutch War, too, Weed, but unfortunately I got dragged into both the Second and Third A-D wars. I gotta say, those Dutchies were damned good sailors and damned good fighters. I learned to have a lot of respect for them. And they always had good admirals and good leadership, too. The De Ruyter family in particular, hAd some good 'uns. I'd always let a Dutchman have my back any day of the week.

And they built good ships, too. Yes, they tended to be slow sometimes, but you never had to worry about one of 'em falling apart under you, or rolling over, or loosing a spar in a zephyr like some people's ships I could name.

In a way, I was kinda sorry to see them go when we (the Brits; I was with them at the time) finally dislodged them from the New World. Them folks in and around New Amsterdam and up the Hudson River were some nice folks, good solid burghers and Knickerbockers, and lordy lordy, their cooking was magnitudes better than wot we 'ad aboard the King's ships, I can tell you. The Pennsylvania crowd could cook you up a storm, too.

'S'truth: I always ate real well in the Colonies, Labrador down to the Keys and every port and watering depot in between. T'weren't no thousand-mile coastline anywhere else in the world could hold a candle to 'em.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I just learned something, and now i feel dumb. I now know that fly-by-wire, in the contetxt of large aircraft, means that the hydraulic and cabled operating systems are actuated by electronic signals. A system of wiring harnesses, not the fly by wire that I envisioned. I guess that drive by wire means that there isn't really a cable from the accelerator to the engine, just a spring and a rheostat doohickey jthat makes you feel like you're putting the pedal to the metal.

Posted by: -jack- | June 3, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Oops. Not coming to the BPH after all -- I forgot that today is the day my car is getting repaired, so I won't have a car in time to drive down to the Metro or to drive me home afterwards. The rest of you have fun anyway -- if possible.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 3, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Mudge...the thought occurred to me that it's 'not profitable enough' not because they're greedy sobs who only want the big bucks with little effort, but because they didn't think it viable to change course while sustaining growth and remaining financially healthy, what with factors such as retooling issues, existing contracts and facilities, new education/training, and other costs associated with long-term infrastructure needs, etc. I know...this assumes they didn't see the bigger economic mess coming down the pike and were left holding the bag...but that's pretty much like everyone else.

The good thing about all of this is that I think it will usher in an era where the direction/focus of the US auto industry will significantly shift toward the small, well-engineered, economically and environmentally sound.

But what do I know.

Posted by: LostInThought | June 3, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

One of my regular food bloggers mentioned "food porn" recently. I'd heard the term before but somehow this time it sticks in my mind: it's a lot of what I'm seeing on the Food Network nowadays. Big heaping monstrosities of obscene mutated deep-fried cheeseburgers with a dozen fried eggs, and a half-pound of bacon on top. Covered in gravy. Something so far from sensible it's surreal. And only tempting if you are famished, and would eat, frankly, almost anything.

Unlike the turkey sandwich, in other words.

Which takes us to the point, of course: auto porn. Curves, smooth aerodynamic bodies, throbbing throaty engines, and size. Oh, yes. The Hummer.

But just below the surface it's all mixed up in the self-loathing denial of the Puritan thumb, the vestige of which still rests on our collective psyche. The Denali is just Denial in disguise. What a paradox! So the tribe of tut-tutters, one of which I must be, serve, inescapably, as the flavor in the forbidden fruit, and each generation of the powerless falls prey once again to the machinations of the serpents of Advertising.

Posted by: Jumper1 | June 3, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The Boodle seems pretty disarrayed this morning, too...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 3, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I just hate it when a refresh reveals nothing, but a post brings up hours of new posts... *rolling my eyes* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 3, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

jack - I was so excited this morning when I heard the term fly-by-wire on NPR because I actually (kind of) understood it. I only (kind of) understood it because I read this really fascinating article in Vanity Fair a couple of weeks ago about the untold story of the Hudson River landing...

http://www.vanityfair.com/style/features/2009/06/us_airways200906

Posted by: Kim1 | June 3, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

oh and rickoshea - I meant to tell you that I enjoyed the link to the real Professor Langdon piece. Way too puzzling for me, but I had fun trying.

Posted by: Kim1 | June 3, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I agree with everything you say in your 10:57, LiT. I thought bc made a really excellent point when he said Detroit tends to build cars for people who are really into cars, but German and Japan tend to build cars for people who don't much care about cars, they just want some sort of reasonably inexpensive transportation to get from A to B without a lot of hassle.

What we now know is basically that Germany and Japan were right, and that Detroit was/is wrong. But this isn't just 20/20 hindsight. There have been warning signs and portents for decades now, and many, many critques over the years who have been pointing this stuff out to Detroit. I've been reading business books for at least 30 years now that talk about Big Business here and overseas, and about management blindness. The overriding theme seems to be that short-term thinking, which Detroit has in abundance, as does Wall Street and the banking industry, etc., is bad, and that long-term thinking is good.

There have been business books galore over the past 30 years or so describing various and sundry wonders of the Japanese economy and its management practices, such as Theory Z and all that. The handwriting has been on the wall for decades. And now people are shocked, shocked, I say, to discover that Detroit is fundamentally flawed, or that deregulating the banking and mortgage industries was a bad idea.

The scariest thing of all is that the one institution that seems to understand the virtues of long-term thinking the best is... al-Qaida. And how a country with an affliction for short-term thinking and the attention span of a fruit fly (us) is going to beat them I sure don't know.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Princeton on lockdown; gunman on campus according to a campus alert, fyi.

Posted by: joelache | June 3, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Just a couple of post-scripts. That old Dodge Lancer that I took to Iceland had the Slant-6 engine, one of the best mills around for the time. Only thing of consequence that went wrong was a broken rocker arm. Fortunately, there was a Chrysler dealer in Rekavik that had the part, and I popped it on in the hobby garage on the base. My wife (then-fiance) used to tool around in her sister's Pontiac Fiero (about a '95 maybe), which was supposed to be the competiton for those other nice little roadsters. Well, she was driving on the SW Freeway in rush hour one morning when she noticed smoke coming from the center console. By the time she was able to pull over and get out it was smoke-filled, then burst into flames while she watched. This was apparently a not-unkown habit of those models. Re: The Dodge/Plymouth mini-vans--They acknowleged that their super new auto tranny that adapted itself to your driving style was not reliable. This was in about the '96 to '98 timeframe. It was my '97 that went through 3 of them. Granted the second and third were rebuilts, but still. After the third time, we dontated it to Vehicles for Change. We only got $125 as a deduction for it.

Posted by: ebtnut | June 3, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Guy with handgun got arrested; emergency over.

Posted by: joelache | June 3, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.
Robpollard, welcome aboard. I think the VW Bugs you and Mudge are comparing are apples and oranges. For example - did yours have a radiator and drive the front wheels? I am sure that Mudge's didn't.

Onto the manufacturer thing, a good friend of mine took an early retirement from one of the domesitc auto compaines that's in bankruptcy right now over the fact that they did not want to expend what he considered adequate resources developing high-quality small, fuel efficient cars, as he was advocating. A year or so earlier, I'd had a short conversation with some execs of that company about the same idea, and came away thinking: they'll never get it.

Well, in the few short years since then, they got it all right - right in the kisser.

Mudge, I think that Ford or GM's engineering teams *could* build cars that are equivalent to a Rolls, (Ford *did* own Jaguar and Aston Martin, but not the same thing), but they don't have the managment to manufacture or the marketing to be able to sell even Lincolns or Cadillacs at such prices. Anyone remember the VW Phaeton?

dBG, Subarus *are* good cars. I think they need to do some catch up to Honda and Toyota in terms of rustproofing (who learned the hard way about 10 years ago), but they're on their way. Being part of GM for a few years and doing some work with Saab helped, believe it or not.

bc

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 3, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

NBC reported two males were arrested with toy guns, but lockdown continues while police search the campus. No shots fired.

Posted by: Wheezy1 | June 3, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

If I ever start a Spaceball team, I'm picking LiT first.

Glad to see that the Princeton situation has been resolved, I hope everyone's OK.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 3, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

From the Bernanke hearing on the Hill, one Rep. mentioned how Geithner was laughed down in China. TMP has more details--as well as a cartoon; other reporting as well on the web:

http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/talk/blogs/rutabaga_ridgepole/2009/06/chinas-best-and-brightest-laug.php?ref=reccafe

Posted by: laloomis | June 3, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

'mudge, when you say, "but German and Japan tend to build cars for people who don't much care about cars," I think it is well to remember that the cars they sell in North America are not all the cars they make. I have it on good authority that many Japanese people are at least as mad for cars as any American, but they express it in a different way. Because of the crowded conditions, the cars must be small and efficient, but in Japan they are often *loaded* with cool electronics that have never been offered here. It is the accessorizing there that separates the enthusiasts from the A to Bers.

Posted by: Yoki | June 3, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I'm surprised we haven't discussed that which Weingarten revealed in yesterday's chat; that he's considering taking a buy-out.

Posted by: Yoki | June 3, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I don't really remember the US auto industry being in all that great shape at any point during my adult life. Seems to me that it's been jumping from crisis to crisis, always trying to recover from the last thing, never strong enough to go onto new things, and hasn't really had any sustained period where they cruised along enough to make big changes. And people did buy Hummers. (Kind of like McDonald's deciding to sell salads. Didn't make anyone think of McDs as health food. The burgers and fries are still what sells.)

Posted by: LostInThought | June 3, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Yoki, I think it was me that Mudge was quoting.

There are auto entusiasts all over the world and many of those niche cars made in other countries by Honda, Toyota, Nissan, etc. never make it here because they can't justify the business in this country.

And when they do take a flyer, it flops more often than not. Witness the last Mazda RX-7 - a great car, underappreciated.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 3, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Again mudge nails the head. To Detroit, cheap meant shoddy not inexpensive. The classic case study is that GM's response to the VW bug was a crappy little car that cost nearly a thousand dollars more.

Also the brand migration model that GM had was faulty. Chevy and Pontiac were the entry levels and you were supposed move up to a Buick or Oldsmobile as you go older and then get buried in a Caddy. Then to save expenses GM made different trim levels of the same platform and sold them under different badges. The nadir of this was the Cadillac Cimmaron which was a Cavalier with leather seats.

For Toyota and Honda, you moved up in models. After having two Carollas in college I upgraded to a Camry when I started a family. All the buttons worked the same. Just the Camry was a little bigger and nicer.

The small entry level cars form a brand identity which the domestics never quote caught on to.

And Accords haven't been small cars for many, many years.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 3, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

What you say is true, Yoki. Also, the foreign manufacturers also make extremely small vehicles that are almost like powered rickshaws (or in fact ARE powered rickshaws). I was in Lima, Peru, about 7 or 8 years ago, and was just totally amazed at the immense variety of truly weird kinds of vehicles the likes of which we'd never seen or heard tell of here in North America. Rickshaws, mini-buses, vans, powered "Schwinns" (in the sense of powered bikes, meaning not your Dad's Harley "bike"), etc. -- stuff that would never be approved for import here in a thousand years. But some of them were...well...kinda cool.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

LiT also has a good point about the Big 3 jumping from crisis to crisis, I think partially due to their annual manufacturing cycles.

For many years now, the business model has (d)evolved to the point where they annualy take out huge short-term loans to develop and retool and resource the manufacturing plants for Next Year's Model (done over the spring and summer), to pay the suppliers, etc. [and maybe some of last year's loans...]

Lurching from one year to the next in this manner, having to reward shareholders and keep the stock price up so that they can *keep* their credit ratings so that they can do the same thing again next year - that's no way to do much long term planning or development.

And one trip-up, like gas prices shooting up to $4 a gallon, or a recession, and the whole thing falls flat on it's face, and the company holding tons of debt, based on cars it suddenly can't sell.

Not a great business to be in using that model.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 3, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Off-topic alert. The National D-Day Memorial isn't doing well at all:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/02/AR2009060202360.html?hpid=sec-nation

We went to the Memorial on Veteran's Day a couple of years ago. Very moving place.

Posted by: Raysmom | June 3, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that anyone has mentioned a station wagon. Dad was into camping, or some sort of long distance foray every sommer until my sister and I tuentered high school. For a long time we had a trailer, thus, the station wagon was a necessity. On one trip my bro boght a Zero bar from the vending machine. Gross doesn't begin to describe the taste. the wagon was a '70 Kingswood Estate, and the A/C was on, so we had to secretly crack the window to dispose of the zero, lest we incurred the Wrath of My Father. Somehow he could reach all the way to the back to take a swipe at us, even in a station wagon. The zero stuck to the window until the next rest stop. This links to another great station wagon, the Vista Cruiser:

http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/gm-stories-1966-oldsmobile-vista-cruiser/?hp

Posted by: -jack- | June 3, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Petzal over at the Field&Stream posted, briefly, a great Cimmarron story. The advertisement people probably quickly reminded him that GM/GMC was a major advertiser in F&S and he pulled it.
The Cimmarron was a Cavalier with more than just leather seats. It had extensive body additions and equipment yet the same awful engine. Petzal told the story that a test car provided by GM to a bunch of automotive journos, when loaded with four gorillas like him, couldn't get moving with the air conditioning on; it was stalling. And yet GM tried to market that thing against Audis and BMWs for 4 years. Frikking pathetic.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 3, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

The station wagon category has revived in recent years, especially if you include things like the Scion boxmobile and the new Nissan Cube (I parked next to one on Monday. It's fairly large, next to my Focus). SUVs seem to be gradually morphing wagonward.

I worry that in a year or two, demand for cars will rise quite a bit, resulting in shortages and high prices. Am I misleading myself?

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | June 3, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Just finished reading that Vanity Fair article Maggie linked to earlier (here it is again: http://www.vanityfair.com/style/features/2009/06/us_airways200906) about Sully Sullenberger and the landing on the Hudson. Jeez was that piece good. The writer is a fairly well-known guy named William Langewiesche, ex-Atlantic Monthly staffer, whose father Wolfgang was also a journalist, freelancer writer and pilot who wrote "the" book on how to fly an airplane, called "Stick and Rudder." I think I read it when I was about 14; my father had a copy (he had a private pilot's license).

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, the writer captured the spirit of Commandant Piché quite well. The man has been in the media quite a bit in these parts.

There are plenty of station wagon around, but the last thing a company would do would be to call them station wagon. My Forester looks a lot like one but it's a "mini-ute". There all all the variations on crossover, cross platform, multi-purpose cars. And there is BMW's X3, their Sport Activity Vehicle that looks a lot like a station wagon to me.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 3, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

The whole SUV category was created as an end-run around CAFE standards. By making them tall and calling them trucks, they became the rather fuel inefficient alternative to station wagons. Yet another classic example of the law of unintended consequences.

Now that the regulations have been rethought and the genres have blended into near indistinguishability, the SUVs are morphing back into station wagons since that is what the market would have wanted in the absence of artificial restrictions.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 3, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, the more disturbing news to me in GeneW's chat is that it sounds like Tom Shroder (Tom the Butcher) is going to take the buyout.

Posted by: seasea1 | June 3, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Several of the writers in one of the previous buy-outs took the money but came back as freelancers for a while. Technically, Gene is syndicated (but I have no idea how many newspapers actually carry him), having made a play for the Dave Barry slot when Dave 'retired', so he might be able to continue his WaPoMag column as an independent writer. What would become of his chat and his quarterly Pulitzer bids is unknown. But I doubt he is going anywhere anytime soon.

And who would take Tom The Butcher's place, or would they just finally fold the WaPoMag permanently and make all those plastic surgeons and over-priced furniture dealers take their business elsewhere.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 3, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, how's your scurvy doing today?

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 3, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

One of the cars I drove in high school was a 1973 Pontiac LeMans Station Wagon which my dad had bought solely to tow a boat (he later sold the boat for an airplane but kept the car). He had bought it for $300 off of some lady's lawn on his commuting route. A new set of tires doubled his investment in the vehicle.

When I went to college, it got passed on to my brother who chided me for neglecting the power of the 455 engine. He would drag race detractors at stoplights and nearly always blow theme away.

It looked a lot like this:

http://www.stationwagon.com/gallery/1973_Pontiac_Safari.html

only in faded puke/pea green but complete with peeling wood grain side paneling.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 3, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Alas, bc, my scurvy seems to be under control (more's the pity), and I cannot make it to the BPH. I have to finish rebuilding the shower stall in the master bathroom, an unexpected $350+ honey-do.

And the refrigerator icemaker is leaking, and an appliance repair guy is coming circe 5 or 6 p.m.

I'm not sure which is worse, no shower or no crushed ice for my gin-and-tonics. Depends on which kind of stinking I want to get, I suppose.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

SD, Commandant (?? what's he commandant of??) Piche became a hero of mine after reading that piece.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 3, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Tom the Butcher is a man of such infinite talents that it will take TWO poorly-paid interns to replace him. One, armed with the spell- and grammar-check functions of Word will evaluate readability. A second intern will have access to Wikipedia and Google for fact-checking. Story assignments will be delivered by the advertising department, which will check for brand consistency, tone, length, and hidden satire.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 3, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Alas, indeed. Mudge.

If there's anyone around here who's more used to dealing with leakage than you, sir, I'd like to know who it is. Well, I suppose that Depends.

Cheers.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 3, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Family of origin car pedigree:

VW Beetle in Germany (I was born in that car on a dark, rainy January night between Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg on Die Romatishe Strasse (old Roman Road)

Opel Wagon (German model).

In the US, circa 1965 we drove a 56 Ford Station Wagon -- baby blue.

In 1971, we outfitted a Ford plumbers' van into a family van.

Circa 1975, my dad bought a used muscly-Comet, as a second car. I learned to drive in that car.

Circa 1978, we bought a Ford 14 passenger Thrifty Carrier.

(thus endeth my driving with my family.)

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | June 3, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

My cars, all used:

Toyota Pickup, circa 1974 but I had it for two glorious years of 1982 and 1983. The real stamped metal bumber was such a cowboy touch. Avocado Green.

Toyota Celica Liftback, circa 76, but I drove it between 82 and 88. Screaming Yellow Zonker Yellow!!!!!!

Toyota Corolla, 1982, driven with original clutch and lovingly abandoned in July 2005. Rusted, metallic Pumpkin.

Volvo Wagon 240DL, 1986, driven until 2004 (LOVED THIS CAR). Understated Metallic-y Gold.

Current Wagon = 2000 Mercury Sable, now with 78K on it. (I really like this car but do not love it, like I did my 240.) Teal Green.

I change the oil frequently and rely on the advice of my mechanic. We have been "married" now since 1983.

I have never owned a mini-van or SUV; shall go to my grave thusly. Am worried, though, that the true station wagon is not an option for me now, because of the SUV crossover blurring of species hybridization.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | June 3, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Uh-oh. I just saw on the WaPo home page a picture of Obama receiving a gift from the Saudi king. That means a gift given in return. I hope he got Michelle to pick one out -- Barack has proven that he has no skill in that department.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 3, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I liked my Ford Escort station wagon. I didn't like my Ford Escape SUV.

I agree with Yellojkt about the SUVS just being taller, more macho, less fuel-efficient alternatives to station wagons.

SUVS are citified "truckettes."

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 3, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

New kit!

Posted by: Raysmom | June 3, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I have owned all sorts of cars in my life from a ford mustang to a volkswagon rabbit to a subaru legacy. I've loved all of them. I am now currently driving a Buick Le Sabre (1998) and even though it's bigger than my subaru was, it's a nicer, quieter, softer ride. It's a 6 cylinder that gets 30 miles a gallon. So, as far as "boats" go, I happen to love this one. I have been thinking about trading it in for a newer one, but haven't really thought about buying another small car. I do have to say though, that the subaru was a great car while it lasted.

Posted by: inspiration44 | June 3, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

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