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Lion

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| Tuesday, November 18 2014 |

On Cars

For those who don’t know, I am a driver. I’m one of those guys who has spent countless hours and bales of cash becoming as good as I might at manipulating a motor vehicle. I have driven over half a million miles in two decades. I have driven in seventeen different countries. I have crossed the continental United States six times, often in three days or less. I have raced on the road, on dirt, on four wheels and two for the majority of my lifetime. If I ever get around to starting a family, the wife will drive a high-powered sedan, not a SUV. I have never owned a vehicle with an automatic transmission, and I never will. I’m also an engineer and have been a master mechanic for a decade and a half. In short: I know my cars.

If we roll the clock back about two decades— I was probably the last generation of kids who got their license the second they were old enough to, bought a car the second they could afford to, and spent every moment not consumed by work, school or naked girls trying to make the thing go faster. This period of time was known as the late 80s and early 90s. At that time, every domestic car made was a steaming pile of shit. Even the halo cars. This was when every family car was a box, the Corvette was slightly slower than jogging, and Ford was churning out four-cylinder Mustangs that looked like door stops, and more or less drove like them.

Naturally, my father was a domestic guy, as when he went through his driving rite of passage, the big three actually made interesting, quick cars. They were still crap, indifferently built by idle communists, but at least they had big engines and curves. You couldn’t race, unless you were hard-core enough to know the name Carroll Shelby, but you could cruise. Quickly. When I came of driving age, however, there were no big engines. There were no curves. Everything was a box, coasting along form the Carter era of general stupidity, and generally terrible. No, if you wanted something relatively cheap, well made, and zippy as a teenager, you bought Japanese and dreamed European.

Namely, because the Europeans had not yet become simpering, hand-wringing pussies yet, and hence still made sports cars for playboys to blast along the French Riviera. Playboys who could drive, mind you, because 98% of cars made in Europe came with a manual transmission. For most, due to economy. Manuals were cheaper to build and fix. For the speedy stuff, because a slushbox was a crime against nature. So it was, our walls were plastered with Lamborghini Countaches and Ferrari Testarossas and Porsche 911s. And we pinched our pennies and did all manner of terrible job to purchase that first Toyota Celica or Datsun 240z. Or if we really bled ourselves to death and discovered a level of sleep deprivation previously thought impossible, a well used Porsche 944.

And that’s what I did. I loved and stroked and entirely rebuilt mine, because it was a wreck when I got it, and put some 50,000 miles on the thing in two years, before my life took the path less traveled and I was able to climb a few rungs in the vehicular hierarchy. When the 944 was broken, which was often, I chugged around in a Toyota Pickup that I bought for a happy meal amount of money. It never broke, the doors closed properly, the weather stayed outside, and it would climb up a lamp pole if you let it. My peers and I did as teenagers do, and nary a domestic vehicle was to be seen, save for the hapless soul stuck borrowing the family truckster to get anywhere.

By the mid to late 90s, when we were discovering these weird things called “college” and “drunk, naked women”, the Japanese and Europeans were in all out war with each other on the car front. The Japs built their legend cars: The Supra, the Skyline, the NSX, the 300ZX. All designed to compete with the Porsches and Ferraris of the day, at a fraction of the cost, with near total reliability. I bought my first Supra Turbo without a moment’s hesitation, even though I had very little idea of how I was going to pay for it. Fate, it seemed, was on my side, as those days marked the end of anything resembling a normal life.

And boy, what a difference a decade makes. In 1995, Toyota made three excellent sports cars. In 2005, they made none, having completely brushed off their die-hard enthusiast market to concentrate on twelve “different” SUV models and eco-boxes for morons. The Europeans had also lost the plot, trading beautiful, exotic machines that were amazing to drive for flappy-paddled video games designed with the glitarati, rather than drivers, in mind.

Around that time, though, something strange started to happen at home. Domestic cars started to not suck. First, there was the 3rd generation Dodge Viper, which marked the first time the car was actually drivable, and in many ways survivable. Then came the S197 Mustang, Ford’s first honest attempt at one since the early 70s, and damned if it wasn’t a good, well made, quick car. Chevy joined the show with the C6 Corvette, which also marked the first time a Corvette actually handled properly and had an engine that wasn’t hilarious.

Fast forward another decade, and we’re left with a rather surprising reversal of the entire car industry. Japan, with a few exceptions, more or less makes generic, boring crap. Yes, you can weld the hood on a Toyota or a Honda and drive it for 300,000 miles, but for those of us who would rather drink a gallon of Drain-O than do anything of the sort, that accomplishment is somewhat moot. Europe had a ball-ecotomy, which combined with marketing idiocy, now seems only to make quick cars for idiots. To buy a Ferrari today requires enough money to purchase a fairly nice house in most states, and should you be foolish enough to do so, you’ll be treated to the world’s most realistic video game, and little else. The driver is so disconnected from the car, he may as well stay at home on the couch. Lamborghini has been entirely ruined by Audi. Porsche has been entirely ruined by themselves, to the point that the marque once known for the most die-hard of fans will no longer make their flagship sports car with a manual transmission. If you want to actually drive a Porsche, you’re stuck with a Cayman, and who knows how long that will last until it is finally given the PDK-only death blow.

There are a few hold-outs left in Europe who still make an interesting car. Lotus, for example. But even they, on the tail end of the brilliance that was the Elise and Exige, have slowly started ruining their cars with weight and flappy paddle nonsense.

But lo: Things are afoot at home. The last decade has seen some utterly amazing things happen in the domestic car market. To everyone’s surprise, mine especially, about the only place you can get a good, reasonably cheap, fast driver’s car any longer is if you buy one made in the USA. There is one notable exception, and that is BMW— who now makes most of their interesting cars in the states. But still— you’re spoiled for choice.

The new Viper, which everyone including me thought would never exist, is by far the best one ever made. It retains an even huge-er V10, a manual gearbox, and looks that… well, look at the damn thing:



Then there’s the new C7 Corvette, which if you hold your breath through the distasteful bailout odor, one can only conclude is the best car the company has ever made.



Finally, there’s the Ford Renaissance. What started with the S197 Mustang and kicked into orbit with the Ford GT has continued with the Raptor, the latest-gen 662 horsepower Shelby GT500, and now this:



The new Shelby GT350. Manual, light, 8,000 rpm flat-crank V8. If that doesn’t have you throwing money at the screen, there’s little help for you.

I really never saw it coming. Ford flat out blindsided this once-Japanese-and-Euro-phile car nut by making some of the fastest, prettiest, driver’s cars in the world, and with a price tag that makes one consider buying two. So, my hat is off to you, guys. Against all odds, you’ve made me a Ford man.

I’ll take the GT350 in white, with blue stripes.
posted by Mr. Lion @ 20:16 EST | comments (0)

| Wednesday, November 5 2014 |

USA wins, NY loses.

So, the midterms went about as expected. The only exception being in NY, where some 2.2 Million idiots re-elected one of the most corrupt and generally idiotic Governors we've ever had. That number of fucking morons more or less corresponds to my daily commute, though, so it's not very surprising.

Also not surprising is the usual braying idiocy from the low-information left on places like twitter, where they're bemoaning the death of "diversity" and "women's rights" and other general stupidity.

Never mind that the GOP just elected an openly gay Congressman, the first black Senator in the South since ever, the first black woman in Congress, and the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress.

Yeah, no "diversity" or powerful women here.

posted by Mr. Lion @ 09:54 EST | comments (0)


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