Rewind: Capsule Review, 1988 BMW 750iL

Now it can be told, more than twenty years after the fact. This recent kid-smashing-up-press-car incident has caused me to think about my own misspent youth and the potential parallels between it and that of Little Lord Cheney. My father was a decorated war hero rather than a demoted war reporter, and when I crunched the nose of my first car my dad responded by taking away my license for an entire year and forcing me to ride a bicycle to my job washing dishes from 8pm to 2am at the local pizza-delivery place. He also made me learn how to drive on his stick-shift BMW 733i, so I never had the chance to drive a car through a garage door.

Still, I can point to a few incidents of damn-the-torpedos bad judgment in my teen years, and perhaps my favorite one was the day I found myself behind the wheel of a brand-new BMW 750il and decided to take a shot at one hundred and fifty-five miles per hour.
Continue Reading →

1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville: Pinecrest Green…With Envy

We are now rapidly approaching the end of summer. You know what that means: car shows are dwindling. And soon, will be gone altogether-until next April. And so it was that I attended the cruise night yesterday evening with a friend of mine. Sadly, no Broughams were in evidence. In fact, the show itself was kind of small.

Olds 01

Part of it was the heat-it was about 88 degrees out-but as we heard from fellow attendees, there had been a big show at Green Chevrolet that morning. Apparently most of the usual suspects went to that show instead, leaving North Park Mall in Davenport with relatively slim pickings, car-wise

Continue Reading →

Rewind: “Trackday Diaries — The Long And Boring Road”

(Originally published on June 10, 2010 — jb)

I do not know precisely when I became an itinerant. For a long time, I traveled the Midwest racing bicycles. When I was too crippled to race a bike I changed to cars. Some years I am gone from home more than half the weekends of the year, racing cars and teaching at various trackday events. I am on the road four days a week at a minimum in my day job anyway.

Constant motion distorts time, preventing one from seeing the growth of flowers or children. It distorts perspective, focusing attention on the next event and blurring what comes after or came before. It distorts relationships. Friends exist on the phone and the Web. We never touch or meet, comets locked on disparate orbits. A contrail of romantic episodes crystallizes to angry ice in the sky behind me. “I should have known,” an e-mail in my inbox reads, “that nothing you ever told me was real, or true.”

This is what is real and true: the next racetrack and the road to get there.

Continue Reading →

(Really Seriously) Made In The USA: New Balance ‘1978’

How’s that old saying go? If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Which is why I’ve spent a couple of days kind of spinning my wheels regarding the Nike endorsement of Caperman or whatever his name is. I haven’t owned a set of Nike shoes since maybe the early Nineties. In 1998 I got my first set of USA-made New Balances and I haven’t really looked back since then. So instead of talking about Nike, their overseas production, or their political activism, I’d like to talk about something that just recently became a possibility: the 100% American-made athletic shoe.

New Balance is well known for their Assembled in USA products which contain less than 70% USA-made materials, and for their Made In USA line which contains at least 70% domestic materials. Until recently, however, they had no shoe that was sourced entirely from the United States. That’s changed thanks to a massive infrastructure investment by New Balance. Unfortunately, the reason for that investment has proven to be a false hope.

Continue Reading →

Not Every Story Has A Happy Ending

A friend of mine died this week. Died in his asleep, presumably alone. He was 42.

In this age of social media, maybe I’d call him a former friend, because he deleted me from Facebook a long time ago, but if he had called me needing $100 to make it to his next paycheck, I’d have given it to him without a second thought. The reason I use that particular example is because, knowing his story, it’s probably the mostly likely reason that he would have contacted me.

I won’t use his real name, because I’m going to tell his story in true Speaker For The Dead fashion. Let’s call him “Bob.” Bob was a musical compatriot of mine for a few years, and we toured much of the midwest together in an Econoline van that had a penchant for eating alternators at the most inconvenient times. He was a brilliant guy, easily my intellectual equal and maybe even then some. But Bob’s life was, to put it mildly, a trainwreck.

Continue Reading →

Indianapolis International Violin Competition Semi-Final Video and Results

One of the most important international competitions for young (ages 16 to 29) violinists takes place in the United States every four years. (The other top-tier classical-music competitions that include violinists, Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky and Belgium’s Queen Elizabeth, also run on four-year cycles.) While one might expect the US entry on that list to be hosted in California or New York, the venue is: Indianapolis, of 500-mile auto-race fame—and for excellent reasons.

Continue Reading →

Rewind: “Turnaround”

Originally published September 1, 2013. Re-dedicated five years and nine days later to an old friend, with apologies — JB

“We have, oh, I don’t know, maybe four hundred and thirty miles behind us,” William said, “and one-twenty-ish yet to go. But trust me, the worst is yet to come. Route 58 from the freeway to the four-lane before VIR is just… hateful, particularly with the tire trailer behind us. Not a single light on the road. No gas stations — the public-urination stories I could tell you, seriously. And the road twists and turns forever, one time we were towing the race car here and Jim literally freaked out, made me stop the truck in the middle of nowhere so he could calm down, he was convinced we were going to tumble down the side of a hill, a lot of spots there’s a sheer drop. I think half of the reason anybody ever goes to Summit Point is that, frankly, it’s an easier drive by a long shot. Same distance from Indy almost but so much easier. But, you know, one more fuel stop at the exit, then you can sleep, I’ll go slow, and then we have the little condo rented on the Climbing Esses, you can wake up late, and you can sit out on the porch and watch me drive. If you want.”

“Oh, yes, I think I dooooooooo want to see you drive,” Kristin smiled in response, stretching her long body out in the Corvette’s confined passenger area, her bare feet scrunching the thin carpet and the line of her neck visible in the reflected glow of the arc lights above them along I-77. “Yes I do. And you can take me on the racetrack? We can race, right?”

“It’s not racing,” he laughed, “but don’t tell some of the other Vette Club guys that, they are pretty sure it is. It’s called an open trackday, but there are no trophies, no prizes, and the focus is on safety.” His pocket buzzed, and he ignored it. Although the cabin noise in his C5 Z06 wasn’t nontrivial, both of them could hear it. A minute or so later it buzzed again, and they started in mutual fascination at the light of the screen visible through his jeans, then he slowly withdrew the phone from his pocket, and they saw his wife’s face, and her name. Then it went silent, and for a moment he felt relief, before the screen lit once more, and he looked from the phone, to the road, then to Kristin, who challenged him with her eyes and whispered, as if the face on the screen could hear but not see her already,

“You’d better answer that.”

Continue Reading →

Rewind: “100 MPG Carburetor”

(One of the signs that things were changing at TTAC after my tenure was the implementation of “Authorship Agreements”. Prior to the Authorship Agreement, TTAC contributors retained all rights to their work. Afterwards, VerticalScope owned an “exclusive license”, at least in theory. For the amusement of my readers here, I’m going to periodically reprint some of my work from before the Authorship Agreement on these pages. One final note about the Agreement is that VerticalScope decided not to enforce it when Steve Lang started deleting his old articles from TTAC and re-selling them to Yahoo, so I don’t even know if it could be enforced again. Regardless, what you read here will be from the Golden Era. Here’s a tale connecting a high-profile General Motors rumor that wasn’t true with a high-profile GM rumor that turned out to be deadly — JB)

Strictly speaking, there was no reason for Ashley to attend old Frank Jacobsen’s retirement party. She’d been part of the department for all of five months and she’d spent most of the time doing the other engineers’ paperwork. It was true what they told her in school: To be a female engineer, particularly in Detroit, you need to be twice as good as the men. Over and over she found mistakes that were childishly stupid; over and over they patted her on the head, praised her in an email, and gave the next important assignment to some charmless nerd.

Frank had been the exception. More than once he’d called her over to his desk, eschewing the usual Sametime or chat bullshit that the young guys liked to do in place of actual work, and asked her for what he called her “professional opinion.”

“Now, Miss McCormick, I was wondering if you would examine this set of drawings and render your professional opinion.” And when she pointed out a way to re-radius something for materials savings or change the spacing for the comfort of a future mechanic, Frank would make the change and then credit her in the next meeting. He was an okay guy, Frank was. And given the way things were going in this business, when was the next chance she’d have to see someone actually retire?
Continue Reading →

Weekly Roundup: Hit The Road, Jack! Edition

Now it can be told: Three times over the past year, Robert Farago and I attempted to buy Thetruthaboutcars.com, also known as TTAC, from its current owners. We had backers, we had writers. We had a man (me) and we had a plan (Robert’s) and if we didn’t have a canal well we at least had Van Halen’s “Panama” on vinyl. Each time we approached VerticalScope/Torstar, they gave us either a California No or a forthright no. Six months ago, things looked encouraging for a brief moment, but negotiations stalled when it was time to talk real numbers.

Their refusal to sell, however, is not why I’ve left TTAC as of 31 August 2018, and it’s not why my final effort for the site was published today.

Continue Reading →