Recently in Cars Category

"That thang got a hemi?" - Pt. 2
January 24, 2013 5:33 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I was grinding through my usual brutal commute home from work yesterday evening - the longest ten minutes of my life, you know - when I laid eyes on this odd sight:

Photo - Bentley Continental GT

For those who don't keep up with such things, join the club; I had to google it, too. It's a Continental GT. Bentley's aren't exactly commonplace in West Texas, although this was the second one I've spotted in Midland in the past seven days.

Anyway, I confess that my second thought after spotting the car was "why would you feel the need to have a vanity plate to tell people what kind of car you're driving?" I mean, isn't the car itself sort of, you know, self-explanatory?

Well, no, actually. Because my first thought was, "oh, there's a nice-looking Chrysler 300." And then it struck me: if you'd paid 200 large for a car, you surely wouldn't want people to mistake it for a car costing 1/10th as much.

Photo - Chrysler 300

I think it's the badge that threw me, although both have rather boxy rear ends (no offense to any boxy-rear-ended Gazette readers). And I'm sure that Chrysler would be simply appalled to think that people are mistaking one of its cars for a Bentley.

Of course, it does occur to me that the owner's name is Bently, in which case it all makes a lot more sense, plus I don't have to express umbrage over the sorry state of spelling on vanity plates nowadays. I blame the interent. [See what I did there?]

This encounter did give me an idea for a plate for my next car:


Two Things: Venom / Dogma
December 2, 2012 8:50 PM | Posted in: ,

We're deep into the Christmas shopping season and some of you have been asking for gift hints. This post is for you. And by "you," I mean, of course, Warren Buffet or The Sultan of Brunei.

Hennessey Venom GT

Venom GT

Forget 0-60. That's soooo 1960s. Forget 0-100. That's for wannabes. The new gold standard for vehicular excessiveness is 0-200, and the Venom GT - billed by its manufacturer as the world's fastest roadster - will bridge that gap in 15.3 seconds. By contrast, the zillion-dollar Bugatti Veyron, the previous King of the Over the Top Hill is, well, several seconds slower (depending on whether you believe Hennessey's website, or Bugatti's). Of course, one could make a good argument that for normal people (aka, women), a few seconds slower getting to 200 mph is a triviality not worth considering, but for the rest of us, it's major.

The Venom (what is it with the letter "V," by the way, that attracts nasty cars: Venom, Viper, Veyron, Visigoth? OK, I made that last one up, but I would totally be in the market for a pickup called the Visigoth.) has an engine system that allows you to choose your sentencing guidelines: Misdemeanor - 800 hp; Felony - 1,000 hp; Death Row - 1,244 hp. The latter setting works out to about 1 horsepower per 2.2 pounds of weight, which is truly insane for a four-wheeled vehicle.

Hennessey is reportedly making only five Venoms in 2013, so get your order in early. You'll still be behind Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who requested a Venom in convertible form, and was willing to pay $1.1 million for the privilege of being the only person in the world to have one.

Pinarello Dogma 2

Dogma2

Shifting gears while remaining in the gear-shifting realm, the two-wheeled equivalent of the Venom might be Pinarello's Dogma 2, a $20,000 bike (when equipped with high-end components like Campy's Super Record electronic shifting package). Depending on what pedals you put on it, the bike weighs just a whisper over 15 pounds (yielding a HP/lbs ratio of...well, it depends on whether you're Bradley Wiggins or, um...yourself), which is flirting with the minimum allowable weight to compete in the Tour de France (~14.99 pounds). And, speaking of the TdF and Bradley Wiggins, he won it last year on this bike.

It does share a few traits with the Venom. Its primary frame material is carbon fiber, and its styling is guaranteed to distinguish it from your neighbor's Huffy/Pontiac Aztec. And it also represents an investment that's proportionately outrageous for those who can just barely afford one.

Also, both would fit in my garage. *hint, hint*

Lo Beem
March 3, 2012 11:21 AM | Posted in: ,

My friend LouAnn took her BMW coupe to the car wash today, and after paying and waiting in line for an hour (car washes in Midland are really busy, since hand washing at home is now illegal), she was told that her car's ground clearance was too low to go through. 

Being the good guy that I am, I found a solution for her.

Lowrider BMW

No need to thank me, LouAnn...that's just the way I roll. And, Norman, I understand the conversion kit can be installed in a couple of hours by a competent craftsman. I suspect that switching from front- to rear-wheel drive might be a bit challenging, but I'm sure you're up to it.

Sliding Into Place
August 11, 2011 8:25 AM | Posted in: ,

This is for anyone who's ever struggled to parallel park, as if we needed yet another reason to feel inadequate.



This attempt set the world record for tightest parallel parking (is there anything for which a world record can't be established?), said record measured by the clearance between vehicles. This attempt was 26cm. However, according to Neatorama (the source of the link), a Chinese man now owns the record at 24cm.

I'll be more impressed when I see this feat duplicated with a Ford F-250 King Ranch.
I realize that picking apart the logic of any television ad is like taking candy from a fish in a barrel, but GMC's recent "I Vow" series touting its Sierra pickup line seems to push the envelope for damning with faint praise. Here's my cogent analysis of what the commercial says vs. what it really means. (Don't thank me for these revelations; this is just what I do.)

What it says: "I vow to be ready to go whenever you are."
What it means: "I have an ignition switch, battery, and starter."

What it says: "I vow to work even after the sun goes down."
What it means: "I have headlights."

What it says: "And I vow to take a tank of gas as far as she'll go."
What it means: "I will not violate the previously-thought-to-be-immutable laws of physics regarding the conservation of energy and matter." Actually, I have no idea what they're saying here, because this is one of the most nonsensical statements in the history of advertising, and that's saying something.

There's also the puzzling issue of genderizing the tank of gas, referring to it as "she." The social and psychological implications are overwhelming, and space doesn't permit their analysis. Perhaps later, when the presidential campaign is completed.

Here's the ad in all its underwhelming glory, if, like a persistently annoying gnat that hovers on the periphery of your consciousness, you sort of knew it was there but couldn't be bothered to focus on it:


Brain Wracking Rack
April 5, 2011 2:26 PM | Posted in: ,

One of the challenges of owning a bicycle with a wheelbase of more than 9' is transporting it. Conventional bike racks just don't work.

In the past, we've used a Thule roof rack system along with a Thule tandem carrier that I extended with a length of square tubing and a second welded-on "foot" for attaching it to the rack. Here's what the bike looked like mounted on our previous vehicle, a Dodge Durango.


As you can imagine, lifting a 50 pound bike up and onto the carrier was quite a job. Fortunately, I was able to effectively supervise my wife as she did the job and I thought it worked quite well. OK, you got me...this was a two-person job, one of which I could never farm out to somebody else.

Now that we have a pickup, you'd think the job would be considerably easier, wouldn't you? But the bike's wheelbase is only about a half foot shorter than the truck's, and the bike is several feet longer than the truck bed with the tailgate down. Nevertheless, by continuing to use the Thule carrier and enough tie-downs to moor the Queen Elizabeth, we can transport the bike in the Ridgeline's bed in effective, if ungainly, fashion. Click on the following photos for evidence.


Now, the issue should be obvious. While the bike is quite secure, I worry about it extending so far in back of the vehicle. There's little chance that someone would run into it during the daytime (it's apparently quite an eye-catching sight traveling down the highway, judging by the reaction of other drivers on I-20 last weekend), but night is a different matter. I'll mount reflectors on the carrier for nighttime use, but I'd prefer a completely different solution. We may have to revert back to the roof rack approach, which is unfortunate, as it will require both of us to load and unload. I can handle the current setup by myself.

I don't want to alarm anyone, but there could be a welding project in my future!
I don't know what possessed someone to do an in-depth comparison of the new Ram 3500 Heavy Duty pickup with a Delta IV Heavy rocket...but I like it!

The truck actually compares very favorably with the rocket when it comes to payload, defined for the pickup as towing capacity (25,400 pounds) and for the rocket as, um, payload (28,650 pounds). Of course, the rocket is delivering that payload to a thousand miles above the earth, and on one fuel fill-up.

And speaking of fuel, you might also want to choose the Ram based on this comparison, as the rocket gets only .00087 miles per gallon and costs $600,000 to fill up. I'm thinking the cash pay-at-the-pump option won't get used much by rocket owners. On the other hand, the rocket's tank holds 483,500 gallons of fuel (liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen...take those warnings about static electricity serious, bubba) which means you're paying less than $1.50 per gallon. Of course, that's probably without taxes.

So, what kind of performance do you get for the >$100 million price (MSRP, of course; options like running boards and chrome wheels extra but it comes with a killer GPS, standard)? Try 17 million horsepower per engine - and the rocket uses three of those bad boys - vs. the Ram's measly 350 hp. (No one's figured out how to measure torque from a rocket engine but we can assume it's full of awesomeness.) The Ram is only three seconds slower in a 0-100 mph showdown, but it sort of gets hammered in the all-important 0-17,500 mph category.

Still, as cool as it would be to pilot a Delta IV Heavy, they won't fit next to a Sonic Drive-In ordering speaker, and you can't hear the stereo once you have lift-off, so there's some significant downsides.

Too smart for my own good
October 12, 2010 2:38 PM | Posted in:

When we bought our new truck in July (has it been that long ago?) I didn't get an extended warranty, but I did spring for a prepaid "oil changes for life" plan. And I'm beginning to realize one of the downsides of failing to keep up with automotive technology.

When I did the mental calculation on the payout for the prepaid plan, I used my standard "every 3,000 miles" schedule, and I figured I'd easily come out ahead, even factoring in the time value of money. What I failed to realize is that today's cars (at least in the Wonderful World of Honda) no longer require oil changes as frequently as the 11-year old Durango I was replacing. And, in fact (I'm sure most of you already know this), you -- the driver and owner -- have no active role in the decision regarding when the oil needs to be changed; the computer will let you know when it's time, thank you very much.

So I now find that the Ridgeline has just under 4,000 miles and the computer is telling me that we're still at 60% of oil life, and I'm beginning to realize that I've paid approximately $70 each for oil change over the estimated 100,000 miles I'll probably rack up before buying another car. Another brilliant financial decision.

On the other hand, maybe I'll get lucky and the truck will exhibit one or more of these characteristics and I'll get more frequent changes.

To All the Cars I've Known
July 27, 2010 1:02 PM | Posted in:

Our recent purchase of a new vehicle represented a rare event in our lives. In our almost-40 years of marriage, we've owned relatively few cars. We tend to keep cars for a long time (if not for high mileage; our commutes have generally been short to non-existent).

Anyway, I made a deal to sell the Durango - the car that is being replaced by the new Honda - and the disposal of that 11 year old vehicle brought to mind the relatively short list of the other cars we've owned. I'm sure you're dying to know more, so here goes.

  • 1972 Chevy Malibu - Did I mention that I had to get married in order to get a car? Debbie brought this red coupe with a snazzy white vinyl top with her, and we drove it through college and into the early '80s. It was a lightning rod for collisions (not our fault), and we were poor enough that we always used the insurance money for more important things (like food and rent) and so it was the most beat up of any of our cars when we finally donated it to an unknown person at the behest of our church's benevolence ministry.

  • 1977 Olds Cutlass - This was our first new car purchase, and our first "grown-up" car. It was loaded, and I can still remember the salesman warning us about the expense as we went through the checklist of options we wanted added to the vehicle. Little did he realize that we were large-living DINKs (and our family income probably totaled all of $20K at that time, but, still...). We kept this one until 1985, when it became the only car we ever traded in for a new one (and we'll never do another trade-in, by the way).

  • 1981 VW Sirocco - This was the closest I'll ever get to having a sports car, although this admittedly wasn't very close. But it did have five-on-the-floor and Recaro bucket seats. My most vivid memories were of the way it reliably died during the slightest street flooding in Midland (and at that time in the city's history, a heavy dew could cause such flooding), and how I successfully hotwired it after losing my keys in the lake one afternoon while windsurfing. We gave this car to family members in the early '90s.

  • 1985 Chevy Suburban - This was the workhorse of our stable. We actually ordered three of these at the same time, one for us, one for my parents, and one for Debbie's parents (no, we didn't pay for all of them). We hauled more gear to more places with this big honkin' V8 gas guzzler. On one trip we had a full set of scuba gear, two windsurfboards, and a tandem bicycle. This was the last car we owned to have a carburetor, a weak link that stranded us twenty miles north of Roswell one summer. I'd like to blame aliens, but the real villains were working in the shop where the car was towed, diagnosed with a bad (and expensive to replace) fuel pump, and then sent us on our way, limping back to Midland only to learn that we needed a carb rebuild. We sold the Suburban in the mid-90s.

  • 1993 Chrysler Concorde - We began a string of Mopar purchases with this green sedan, which was the most expensive car we'd owned. It was well-appointed and had a surprisingly powerful motor...and a surprisingly harsh ride. It was quite reliable and required no significant repairs, until we gave it to Debbie's parents in the early 00s, at which time everything started breaking. However, Debbie's dad is still driving it, so it's got something going for it.

  • 1995 Plymouth Neon - We may be the only people in the world to have owned a Neon that wasn't made by Dodge, and I'm still not sure how we ended up with a Plymouth. Of course, the two models were identical except for the logos. We had the dealership add power locks to this basic run-errands-around-town car (I think we took it out on the highway exactly once), and they came with a funky security system wherein the doors locked automatically within about ten seconds, whether the keys were out of the ignition or not. And if you didn't override the system just right, you had to put up with all the interior lights flashing for an interminable period, which made for some freaky nighttime errands. We gave this car to family members in the mid-00s.

  • 1999 Dodge Durango - We're now in the Modern Era, sort of. The Durango proved to be the most reliable and versatile vehicle we owned to that point. It got pretty good gas mileage, had very few mechanical eccentricities (aside from occasionally having to pop the hood and jiggle some wires to get it started), and it, too, did more than its share of hauling stuff for us. I've had up to fifty bags of cypress mulch crammed into the interior and strapped to the hitch-mounted cargo carrier. And, of course, we're now in the process of selling it.

  • 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe - This is Debbie's current car, a little SUV that has a great combination of reliability, versatility, and economy. The only problem we've had with it thus far is a stuck disc in the CD player, and who listens to CDs anymore, anyway? I've transferred the XM radio from the Durango to the Santa Fe, which solves her music listening issues. She's putting about 6,000 miles per year on this car, so I expect it to be around a while.

  • 2010 Honda Ridgeline - This, of course, brings us up-to-date with the family car history (I intentionally left out the motorcycles, by the way...and the bicycles). As you would expect, the new pickup was more expensive than any of its predecessors - it didn't cost much less than our first house - but it's got all the bells and whistles that any urban cowboyish sort of tinhorn might want. It's a keeper.

So there you have it: just nine cars in 37 years. I actually know people who have owned that many cars in three years.

Here's a final interesting (well, to me) thread that runs through this vehicular history: every one of these cars was either red or gray, in some shade or another, except for the Concorde, which was a nice dark green. I'm sure that's a sign of our schizophrenia; we're either screaming for attention or trying to fade into the background.

Zits and Me
July 25, 2010 2:18 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm referring not to facial blemishes but to the comic strip, which is one of my favorites due to its  ability to unerringly portray the foibles and habits of teenagers. And, apparently, me.

See, we've got this new car - a Honda Ridgeline, if you must know. It's loaded with toys - navigation package, XM radio, 115 volt auxiliary power outlet, and Honda's HandsFreeLink, a Bluetooth-based system for using your cellphone and the car's GPS without actually touching those devices. Those are all really cool things, but the owner's manual is almost 400 pages, and the configuration of the technology is not always intuitive.

So, I sat in the car in the garage for more than an hour yesterday, pairing my phone to the car's system, and [making attempts at] importing my contact list into said system. At one point, my wife felt it necessary to come into the garage and observe that I reminded her of Jeremy from the aforementioned cartoon, when he and his friend took possession of an ancient, non-running VW bus and, lacking funds and skill to make it go, contented themselves with just sitting in it. I couldn't really argue with the comparison, given the less than stellar success I was having making this hands-free thing go.

I did eventually get my phonebook imported, sort of. If your first name begins with "A" through "P" and you're in my contact list, then I can call you via the car's system, but for some reason, you who are in the dread "Q-Z" category didn't make the import. I'm really sorry, but you probably won't be getting a call from me anytime soon, at least not while I'm sitting in my garage, since I still haven't figured out how to do anything with the whole shooting match while actually driving down the road.

Baby steps. Or, at best, teen-aged steps.

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