(Please extend the usual sullen Riverside Green welcome to returning contributor Michael Briskie — JB)
It was snowing outside the dealership, and the sales staff were busy running around cleaning cars on the lot. “They don’t make them like they used to,” said an aging customer wandering around the showroom. He was admiring an immaculate 1960’s Beetle, occupying prime real estate just inside the front doors, juxtaposed against the new cars on display. I hesitated before asking what he meant by that, recognizing the likelihood of a long conversation stuffed with foggy nostalgia.
“We used to drive an old Beetle through the snow like it was nobody’s business,” he said. “You couldn’t break it if you tried.”
Given his fondness for the good old days, I wondered why he even bothered to come look at new cars on this slippery morning. He could instead buy that very Beetle, perfectly restored, for less than ten grand. He was right though. Air cooled Beetles conquered everything from winter storms to Baja desert racing. Many still do. 50 years later, tens of thousands of these things just keep on going, probably because they’re just so easy to fix.
People buy cars around their perceived notions of reliability all the time. In fact, there is no other reason I can use to explain the volume of Corolla sales. It all got me thinking: Do automakers REALLY care about the lifespan of their cars? And like that Bug, fifty years from now, will we see anything at all on the road from 2018? With that, let’s dig into the ideas of planned obsolescence, lifecycle management, and mainly, whether or not any car companies give a damn about how a car ages.
Seventy-three degrees on a climate-twisted February night in Ohio. On the way out of the burger place I noticed that the light down the street was green so I rolled the throttle lightly in second, relaxing the twist just long enough to kick into third. And again, twist relax kick. And again. It was the work of just a few seconds, never spinning the Kawasaki past five point nothing on your RPM dial, ladies and gentlemen. I rolled through the light. To my left, there was a policeman. He looked startled. Reflexively, I checked the speedometer, which read just a needle’s width beneath the 100 mark. More than double the speed limit, in a suburb where they don’t tolerate that sort of behavior. In my left mirror, I saw him jump-start through the intersection and line up behind me a thousand feet back.
So there was nothing left to do but twist it the rest of the way. Cue the old hyperspace effect. I am forty-six years old, suburban and harmless, battered and broken. But I am also this: gone.
In 1972, Buick Motor Division’s top of the line series, the Electra, entered its fourteenth year. The Deuce and a Quarter, so named by its many fans due its impressive length of two hundred and twenty five inches. The luxury Buick was always a fine choice in full size cars, and even in the early 1970s it still held its head high as the car of doctors, lawyers and other professionals who wanted comfort, quality and reliability, speaking quietly of their wealth instead of shouting it with a Cadillac.
This past Wednesday I parked my rented Harley Road Glide in a basement beneath Sunset and Caheunga then ran up the stairs to Amoeba Music with just one task in mind: buying as much smooth jazz as I could fit into the Glide’s parsimonious panniers. If you’ve ever been to Amoeba, you know that they keep the jazz and blues in a sort of ghetto backsection behind and to the left of their performance stage. There was a band tuning up on said stage and they were engaging in the not entirely original pastime of soloing over whatever song was playing on the PA.
Above the stage, in large white letters on a black background, was the following statement:
AND COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN
WE STAND WITH YOU ALL
Well, that’s awfully nice, but it’s also awfully fucking stupid.
Ronnie wrote this nearly a month ago, but I was lazy and didn’t get it posted. With the recent Gibson bankruptcy speculation in the news, this piece now looks reactive rather than predictive — that’s on me, not Ronnie — JB
Did you know that Studebaker still existed as of just a few years ago? Yes, they stopped building cars in 1966 but in 2009, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Cooper Industries was the legitimate corporate heir of the Studebaker Corporation and thus responsible for the environmental cleanup of Studebaker factory sites in South Bend. Cooper Industries makes electrical components like circuit breakers and has since been acquired by Eaton. That’s just the latest in a series of deals that started when the Studebaker corporation, no longer making cars, merged with Wagner Electric and the Worthington Corp. to form Studebaker-Worthington in 1967. McGraw-Edison bought Studebaker-Worthington in 1979 (except for Studebaker-Worthington Leasing, which still apparently exists, providing financing for industrial equipment) and Cooper Industries bought McGraw-Edison in 1985.
Starting in the early 1950s, Studebaker’s position as an automaker became increasingly precarious. Though they had one of the earliest genuine postwar car designs in 1947, they really didn’t have the financial resources to go toe to toe with the big three Detroit automakers, particularly as GM, Ford, and Chrysler introduced modern, high compression V8 engines. What should have happened was a merger of the major independents, as was proposed by George Mason, who ran Nash (and merged it with Hudson to form American Motors), and wanted to merge with Packard, Studebaker and Kaiser Frazer, which had bought Willys. James Nance, who ran Packard, wasn’t willing to give up any power so a fourth major U.S. automaker never came to be. Eventually, though, Packard’s worsening financials forced them to merge with Studebaker, not realizing that Studebaker’s automotive operations were probably in even worse shape.
Mr. Lido A. Iacocca is a polarizing figure. For some, he took all the glory, imposed his will at his own peril, and took credit for the work of others. Alternately, he was a super salesman, made his career from nothing, created some new market segments no one else had ever thought of, and saved a car company at the brink of being toast. Few are neutral about the man. But I fall a bit more into the latter camp, and the subject of today’s daily dose of Lincoln is why: The magnificent Continental Mark III.
The Sports Car Club of America has been around since 1944, sponsoring amateur and professional racing in several diverse formats for thousands of racers during its existence. However, despite its long and storied history, the SCCA has another nickname—the Secret Car Club of America. The club hasn’t always done the best job of promoting itself and growing its membership over the years, resulting in an inevitable graying of the club’s membership.
As other motorsports organizations came into being in the last ten to fifteen years (24 Hours of Lemons, ChumpCar, American Endurance Racing, GoodGuys), the SCCA suddenly faced a significant amount of disruptive competition for new customers. In response, they hired Heyward Wagner (the man holding the Benjamin in the above photo with me and Friend of RG, Rebecca Turrell—sorry for that pic, Heyward) to be the Director of Experiential Programs—in other words, his job was to think up new events to attract and retain new members.
Among Wagner’s ideas is the wildly successful Track Night in America, now in its fourth season of existence, and Targa, a sort of mini One Lap that encompassed multiple motorsports disciplines (autocross, time trial, road rally, and trackcross) into one competition. And now, the SCCA is preparing to launch its latest venture, Time Trials Nationals, this September. Time Trials Nationals will take place at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, KY, and will consist of both a flag-to-flag timed session and a TrackCross, which is a point-to-point autocross-style time trial that involves only a certain section of the track.
I sat down with Wagner this week to talk about what it will look like.
1970 was a big year for Lincoln-Mercury. The Continental Mark III was a sales success, the recently refreshed Marquis/Monterey were strong sellers, the final performance Cougars, namely the 1970 Eliminator and XR7, went on sale, and there was a new Continental. Yes, the 1961 Continental had single-handedly saved the marque from oblivion, and its clean, classic lines and throwback center-opening doors made it an icon of the 1960s.
And the look was deftly maintained throughout the decade. These new Sixties Continentals looked nothing like prior Lincolns, and especially unlike the enormous 1958-60 models. Sounds a lot like 2017, when the new Continental appeared, doesn’t it? But I digress.
I first saw the kid in the corner of a “meeting space” about two months before the end of my contract. Tall, skinny, basement pale, awkward bowl haircut, bewildered look. Polyester slacks. Yellow stripe shirt with these absurd white contrast French cuffs and collar. Two-thirds of a prom outfit from the white-trash site of urban Columbus, really.
The purpose of this particular meeting was to hear a mutual pitch from RedHat and Microsoft, trying to get our department to set up its own little kingdom of servers and “container architecture”. This is a constant struggle in pretty much any major corporation, a battle that’s being fought behind the scenes 24/7. Once upon a time, each company had a mainframe and it was under the direct control of the tech department. Then when minicomputers like VAXen came along, you had individual departments setting up their own systems. When small “servers” came along, the problem got a thousand times worse. Then you got Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA and FINRA, laying a complex web of compliance regulations on all those small servers. So the Fortune 500 companies swept everything back up into one central department. This made life much tougher for all those individual departments, who now had to go to corporate IT and wait a year for something they used to get done in a month. So they started… cheating, setting up their own stuff on the sly.
My ex-wife had a job for a while where she would sniff out these “shadow servers” and even the “shadow helpdesks” set up to support their users. Hundreds of $20,000 computers and hundreds of full-time jobs, all shuffled off the books and reported to headquarters as something else just to avoid the hassle of dealing with central IT and their deliberately difficult processes. Once she arrived in a city to find that the department she was investigating had built a whole server room, a million-dollar operation listed as something else entirely. She tore the place down to the ground like Samson. A couple years afterwards, she heard rumors that it was being set up again. The heart wants what it wants, you see.
Anyway. The company for which I was contracting had spent a billion-with-a-B dollars on a central tech architecture and container platform. But that didn’t stop my sub-department from wanting to spend a million-with-an-M dollars on its own private little playground. So the RedHat and Microsoft people had arranged a meeting to show us all the benefits we would get from buying their products. And that’s where I saw the kid, whom I would later come to think of as The Creature From The Tech Lagoon.
Last week, I started a story on a stolen van turned into a homeless shelter by discussing brother Bark and his time as a touring musician. The very first response suggested that I was being a bit “greasy” for even discussing the fact that Bark met a lot of young women on the road. This is the mindset of THE_CURRENT_YEAR in a nutshell, isn’t it? If I announced tomorrow that I was gay you’d all be basically forced to congratulate me on it in about the same fashion as if I announced that I had a season-long ride in Lamborghini Super Trofeo. If I decided tomorrow that I identified as a woman, albeit a six-foot-two, 240-pound woman with dark circles under her eyes and a hairy ass, it would be mandatory for my friends and co-workers to praise my “bravery” and “courage” in doing so. Hell, if I explained to the TTAC staff that I was now a yellow-scaled wingless dragonkin they would have to take that absolutely seriously or face an extremely expensive lawsuit from me for denying my completely normal dragonkin sexuality.
If, on the other hand, I write something about the idea that I might be interested in a 19-year-old woman… HOLD THE PRESSES, YOU FUCKIN’ PERVERT! THAT’S NOT NORMAL! Fifty-year-old men are supposed to be interested in fifty-year-old women! It’s disgusting that they aren’t! Oh well. You have to live in reality, which tells us that older men like younger women and sometimes — shudder — they return the favor. I dated a 19-year-old for a bit right before meeting Danger Girl, who is not 19 but is also not close to my age. I dated more than one 25-year-old when I was in my early forties. The world did not end for anyone involved.
In fact, throughout human history it’s been common for successful, powerful, or persuasive men to throw away their wives in favor of younger women. It was Judeo-Christianity that brought a halt to this unsavory practice along with many others: Rejoice in the wife of your youth, says the Proverb. That was a new idea, this concept that you wouldn’t just roll your woman out with the garbage once she hit thirty or so. Oops. It’s no surprise that the collapse of public Christianity has freed-up men to once again pursue, and catch, young women. Fifty years ago, if you dumped your old-ass wife and got some young hottie people at your church would turn away from you like you didn’t exist. It would hurt your social life. It would hurt your employment or your business prospects. Men were expected to stand by their wives to the bitter end. Oh well. We had to tear down that old morality so we could all be free to pursue sexual pleasure as the sole overarching principle of our lives. Any collateral damage from that is just a too-bad-so-sad, isn’t it?
Anyway, commenter gtem is a little bit concerned about the idea that I won’t respect him just because he is parroting the modern Dove Real Beauty theology-in-a-box, so he takes a moment to assure me that he is not a “nu-male”. What’s that, you ask? You’re gonna be sorry you did.