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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for January 2009

The Homer

The world is full of back seat drivers of nearly every orientation. As Detroit flounders about searching for a way to meet the obvious needs of American drivers (low cost, high mileage cars) taking the time to criticize their apparent ineptitude is both fun and easy; perhaps not so coincidentally. 

It’s easy to yell “Hey Detroit! Just produce a car that gets 40mpg for 10 grand you greasy bastards!” Make it ugly as hell, just powerful enough to get up the driveway and void of any luxury options besides brakes and turn signals. In essence it would employ the same design standards as low-income housing: Nothing you don’t need and not much else you could.

Genius I know, but presumably if there were a magic way to instantly design and produce a car that Americans would consume like Big Macs it would already be stuffing our drive through lanes like a clogged artery. 

This leads me to believe that perhaps it’s consumers themselves that might be waffling between their check books and their pride when it comes to just what they want from their car. 

What would happen if Joe the Plumber, Joe Six Pack, or say Homer Simpson ever had the chance to take the reins of a Detroit design team with unlimited funding to produce the car we’ve all been waiting for?

Actually I don’t have to wonder about Homer, because that already happened in Season 2 Episode 15 of “The Simpsons.” 

Homer discovers that he has a long lost brother by the name of Herb Powell who is head of Powell Motors; a Detroit based Car Company that is on the brink of being taken over by the Japanese because of mismanagement. 

Homer voices his disgust in Powell’s line of cars and Herb comes to the conclusion that Homer represents the “average” American’s cynicism towards his product line. Herb then decides to put Homer in charge of designing the car that will save Powell Motors.

Without any sort of creative regulation, Homer directs the design team to produce “The Homer,” a car so deeply engrained in American culture it sinks Powell Motors. 

At the unveiling of the car, Herb lays eyes on it for the first time and finds that it is priced at $82,000 (in 1991) and is equipped with two bubble domes, fins, giant cup holders, a massive rear spoiler reminiscent of a Super Bird and three horns (“you can never find one when you’re angry,” Homer says) all of which play “La Cucaracha”. 

The rear bubble is separate from the front, designed for unruly kids and comes with optional restraints and muzzles. Homer describes the engine noise “as if the world was gonna end.” Upon closer inspection, the car has an air horn, gaudy front grill, drop down footstep and a bowling trophy for a hood ornament.

Herb’s company is dismantled and he leaves town regretting that he ever met Homer.

Maybe Detroit is in somewhat of the same predicament nowadays, regretting that they spent the better portion of a century creating monsters out of their consumers. We’ve come to love our SUVs, HEMI power and yes, giant cup holders.

Dear Mr. President, where’s my car?

Dear Mr. President, 

I would like a people’s car and I could have used it yesterday. Please excuse the edgy reference, but in 1933 Hitler asked Ferdinand Porsche to build a “Volks-Wagen”, a car for the people. 

Porsche answered with what would become the Volkswagen Beetle; the most widely produced economy car in history. The idea behind its original creation was that it could be made available to the citizens of the Third Reich through a savings scheme for 990 Reich marks, concurrent with the price of a small motorcycle. In terms of performance the standard was set at the ability to carry two adults and three children at a top speed of 62mph. 

It was a simple concept, and after WWII ended Americans learned to love it. We’ve come to know the Volkswagen Beetle under monikers such as “Herbie the Love Bug,” when in reality Herbie was conceived in the fires of ethnic cleansing, a testament to American’s short attention span and the practicality of quality German engineering. 

To reiterate, Hitler was a terrible man, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. I would encourage you to exercise some executive power and tell the big wigs from the big three to go sun themselves at one of their corporate retreats, or continue to do so, while you commandeer their companies to mass-produce a low-cost ultra fuel efficient car for the millions of Americans who need them. 

It could be called the “Hope Mobile,” but it doesn't have to be anything flashy. I wouldn’t mind if the only music the radio played was an Mp3 loop of Stevie Wonder, U2 and other feel good favorites from your campaign trail so long as it saves us some money and is safe and reliable.

Also, how's that brand new Cadillac limousine fortress you cruised around in on inauguration day working out for you? Glad to see you have a government produced car that fits your needs.

Sincerely, 

One of the many people who voted you

Super cop car for 2012

By 2012 it’s likely American cops could be patrolling the streets in a real life version of David Hassellhoff’s crushingly 80’s Night Rider car, KITT, minus the pretentious attitude and quip comments. 

It’s called the E-7. Designed by Carbon Motors with over 100 features specifically requested by over 1,800 law enforcement officials from all 50 states it's primed to be the first ever purpose-built cop car to effectively expose Ford’s Crown Victoria Police Interceptors as little more than full size family cars retrofitted for police use. 

Powered by a 300 bhp 3.0-liter Forced induction diesel, the E-7 has a top speed of 155 mph, polishes off a 6.5 second 0-60 time and turns the quarter mile in 14.5 seconds at 98 mph all while getting a combined city/highway fuel economy of 28-30 mpg. 

With the introduction of their next generation cop mobile, Carbon plans to reduce the estimated 1.5 billion gallons of fuel consumed by our nation’s law enforcement and the 14 million tons of C02 it produces each year by up to 40%. 

The list of crime fighting goodies crammed into the E-7 includes but is not limited to the following:

-Cockpit with fully integrated factory fitted law enforcement equipment
-Radiation, chemical and biological weapon sensors
-NIJ Level III-A (or better) ballistic protection (front doors and dash panel)
-Video and audio surveillance of rear passenger compartment 
-360 exterior surveillance capability 
-Night Vision compliant interior illumination 
-LoJack (stolen car tacking device)
-Automatic license plate recognition system
-75mph rear impact crash capability 
-Integrated emergency lights, spotlights, take down lights, and directional stick
-Built-in LED emergency lighting
-Lap top/printer
-Integrated forward looking infrared system (FLIR) 
-Integrated push bumpers and pit capability 
-Driver specific intelligent key
-Optimized approach/departure angles and ground clearance

Impressive, but with the economy being somewhat less than stellar could our country's law enforcement really afford to purchase a car with this list of options by the droves? 

Carbon reports that over 1,000 law enforcement agencies are lining up to purchase the E-7 and “want the car yesterday.” The company has not released an exact price tag but says it will cost “close to what cities currently pay” for police cars. 

For the full story and all the juicy details visit www.carbonmotors.com. Also check out “Carbon E-7 showcased at San Diego Police Convention” in New Videos here at MotorSpaceNW. 

Or if you’d like a ride, wait till sometime after 2012 and commit a crime; it might be the E-7 that chases your crazy ass down and carts you away.

Aurora Avenue, Part 2 - The Denunciation

Snubbed, I was snubbed. No prostitutes, no drugs, and the closest I got to powering about in a muscle car was revving the engine of a moldy 1970 Cadillac Coupe DeVille; the cheapest car on the lot at the only antique dealership I could find on the strip. The Muffler was half shot and it made a sound like gravel being shaken violently about in a coffee can when I pressed the shoe box-sized accelerator to the floor. 

“Leeeeemmmmmooooonnnnn!!!! Leeeeemmmmmooooonnnnn!!!!”

I was assured by the guys in the shop that after several days of driving the old boat around town the smell would vanish. But then again you stop noticing the smell of your own flatulence under instances of prolonged exposure. 

The plan was to drop the MotorSpaceNW name and say that I was a writer or something to that effect looking to test-drive a restorable car for a story and let the car sales guy draw his own star struck conclusions. Preferably, he would sit shot gun and instruct me to “open her up a little” as we roared past love for rent, drug dealers and several of my ex-girlfriends in some kind of fantastically overpowered automotive dinosaur.

The car guy concluded that after the lot hands came back from lunch they could add some gas to the Caddy’s tank and let me take it around the block, the block being the lot itself. 

Swing and a miss. It was time to up the anty and really back these guys into a corner. 

“Well, you know,” I said cutting the engine on the DeVille, “I’m under instruction to test drive a MUSCLE car, what do those start at around here?” 

The car guy was obviously better at this game than I was and tactfully attempted to let me know my charade was in fact visible, not an ace masterfully hidden betwixt my cummerbund and dress shirt. 

“And uh, how does the site (MotorSpaceNW) plan on paying?” He asked, “Cash? Finance?”

Oooh, ah, it was time to do some thinking without revealing that I was fabricating an answer directly in front of him. I took a long sip of my coffee and pulled the look off masterfully, but it wasn’t much of an accomplishment as the next words that came out of my mouth were beans, beans being spilt in cascading waves of truthy vomit.

I was a blogger, “You actually get paid for that?”

I wasn’t going to buy anything (Conciliatory stare)

I was sent to snap some pictures of a muscle car and test drive it, and then write a story about the whole experience: A bright spot of relative truth on the ass end of an ever-elongating turd of lies. 

“Well, let me check inside,” the car guy responded cautiously. 

He reemerged from the show room several minutes later with the keys to a Canary yellow 1980 Corvette Sting Ray. Marked at just under nine grand, the car guy speculated that it produced nearly three hundred horses; a considerable amount for a car that fit like a glove.

Car guy started her up and she roared, then purred like a kitten awaiting the tender caress of my throttling foot. 

Then my would be sales associate/co-pilot hopped into the driver’s seat and unlocked the passenger door for me. 

Sigh. I climbed in next to him and as we circled the block I listened more intently to the laborious sounds of his breathing than the sputtering coughs produced from the spotty power of the small block 350. 300 horses my ass, that thing made 300 horses like the Caddy would hold it’s fluids on a trip to Vegas and back. 

What a mess, and it was over before it ever had a chance to begin. After the uncomfortable merry-go-round about the perimeter of the dealership with a steady drone of early onset respiratory failure for background music I was thrown back onto the pavement of the car lot like a fish too small for the skillet, but I sizzled with resentment none the less. 

I’ll be back Aurora Avenue; you haven’t seen the last of me. No American should be denied the right to at least test-drive a piece of their country’s heritage. You can turn me down once, twice, but the third time I’ll use my charm to smite the arrogance that you’ve set me to brood with. Mark my words: I’ll test drive one of those beasts before my days are through.

*CORRECTION: In “Aurora Avenue Part 1” the establishment “Exotic Tan” was mentioned as being a well known destination for copping a happy ending. This very well may be true, but in fact “Exotic Tan” is not located on Aurora Avenue, but on Lake City Way. Please excuse any inconvenience this error may have caused.

Aurora Avenue, Part 1

This week, I’m infected with an intrepid disease. It has me thinking it’s a good idea to do something I swore I 'd never do again: Return to explore the used car capitol of Western Washington and the culture it has managed to cultivate over the course of its seedy history. I’m speaking of course, of Aurora Avenue, Seattle, Washington. 

It’s a dim, dirty strip of road, home to so much deplorable behavior you barely need to leave your car to witness it. 

Either side of the Ave is sealed off by a nearly endless barrage of well-polished junk slingers, staked nearly wall to wall like low-income government housing for car dealerships. Each is fairly uniform with twenty or more cars pushed together in the mad arrangements of a valet parking garage. 

If you cruise by several days in a row you’ll find the solid automotive blocks have been rotated around like a rubrics cube to circulate the goods and keep the allusion going that the deals are going quick, but new ones are always coming in. 

Yet, for all the pushers on Aurora, there’s no shortage of buyers. When Kurt Cobain was slipping into the grips of serious heroine addiction the last several years or so of his life, he made a habit of traveling to Aurora where he would hole up in one of his favorite no-tell motels, to shoot up, eat potato chips and watch TV. 

Perhaps not so coincidentally, if you travel far enough along Aurora Ave, you’ll wind up at the George Washington Memorial Bridge, more commonly known as the Aurora Bridge. It’s a popular location for suicide jumpers. In fact, since it’s completion in the early thirties, over 230 people have successfully taken their lives from its fatal height above the water. 

It’s become such a notoriously handy spot to off yourself, in 2007, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire allocated $1.4 million in her supplemental budget to erect an 8-foot high “suicide prevention fence” to keep the jumpers from jumping. 

With a preponderance of shady used car dealerships, hard drugs on demand and an ever-popular suicide destination, Aurora rounds off your visit with a liberal dose of fugly prostitutes.

Ah yes, the prostitutes. I fondly recall my first encounter with the Aurora Avenue working class ladies. Actually, it was the first time I made the trek to the strip with the intention of actually stopping there.

It was high school, a time of exposure and exploration; in my mint condition ’79 Cherokee, packed to the door-handle ashtrays with three of my best buds from the school’s offensive line. 

We trolled down Aurora in hopes of finding a half-debunked muscle car and a used car salesman just drunk enough off his lunch hooch to let us take her for a test drive. 

Outside of “Exotic Tan,” a small business better known for its quality happy endings than tanning services, a large women in desperate need of a boulder holster and several more teeth beckoned to us, 

“Hey! Hey! You guys wanna party?! Whooo!!” 

As high school kids looking to grip the rickety shifter of a Dodge Charger, we were in a way, but not that way. Not with the walking embodiment of Roseanne Barr, had she failed to hit it big with her own sitcom and receded to the corner of the Exotic Tan on Aurora. 

“Get a bra!!” One of my friends yelled back as the traffic light of the cross street dropped to green. 

The woman was outraged at our tactless rebuttal to her friendly query. To voice her distaste, she lumbered after our car with frightening speed, fueled by whatever street drugs her last patron had tipped her with, spewing a frenzied slur of what we supposed to be profanities but could not clearly decipher. 

It was awfully traumatic for us, and we dared not venture from the relative safety of the Jeep and into the lots where we might have actually been able to get behind the wheel of a vintage high-powered ride. 

Now, more than half a decade wiser, clean shaven, with my hair cut down from a rebellious white man’s afro to the tidy cut of a working class gentleman, it’s time for me to return to Aurora Avenue and finish the job.

I’m going back to test-drive a muscle car, dammit, one of the last great American artifacts. Will I return with a drug addiction? Herpes? Will the Aurora Bridge vex me to the icy waters below? 

I can’t honestly say. But I’ll take my camera and fill you in later this week if I’m able. Stay tuned, it could be good.

Marijuana and Driving

Marijuana. What does it mean to you? For the cool kids out there, it probably arouses questions such as: Who’s got it? How much do I have left? And, Do they know? 

Sure, most people with their heads moving freely outside of their ass cheeks will tell you that weed might not be for everyone, but when used in moderation is far less dangerous than, THE MAN would lead us to believe…and far better suited to cure a hangover than the fire water he likes to tax up the kazoo. 

Yet, for all the weed smoking that goes on behind closed doors, getting behind the wheel after being seduced by sweet Mary Jane can pose some ethical dilemmas that run deeper than your average paranoia.

Is it safe? Well, the average character that likes to get high on any kind of regular basis will tell you that not only is it safe, but that it actually makes them drive more cautiously and thus, better. 

It’s easy to think of counterpoints to such arguments, such as classic bits by Cheech and Chong where they cruise down the freeway smoking a joint the size of a Flintstones baseball bat. 

“Man, slow down! You’re going to get us killed!” Chong says to Cheech. 

Then, it’s revealed that they’re doing a righteous 8mph and driving along the median as traffic whizzes dangerously by. Ha ha, pass the bong and make a triple-decker peanut butter banana and marshmallow sandwich during the commercial break; it’s all good fun from the living room…right?

Only, if you chuckle nostalgically at such a scenario, you might very well be one of those dirty dope smokers endangering the lives of all the other more responsible drivers on the road. Minus of course, the people that might have had three or four drinks, are on prescription drugs, cracked out on caffeine, texting, chain smoking, nearing a dangerous ineptitude in their old age, or are in perfectly good health and sound state of mind but simply suck at driving. 

See my angle yet? Yeah, well, I must admit that there is something more than a bit disconcerting about watching somebody put down a pipe and spend thirty minutes trying to locate their keys before attempting to finagle them into the ignition of their car. 

Wavers of the green flag will bring up the age-old adage that you can function much better high than you can drunk. Well, that might be true, but then again, how high are we talking, Smokey?

Let’s draw some lines here. There’s the, “This song sounds a lot better now” high, then there’s the, “I’d like to listen to that song, but I’m too busy tripping out on the translucent worm floating through the film of my eye when I stare at the ceiling just right,” high.

On the boozy side of the coin, there’s a big difference between driving home after a cocktail at the bar and cursing at an elm tree to get out of your way after downing a bottle of Wild Turkey. 

The real inequality between driving on hooch and grass then it would seem, is that it’s legal to drive after a couple drinks, but not after a couple tokes. 

The law as it stands seems more than slightly unjustified in this regard: There’s been extensive publicized study on the effects of mixing alcohol and driving, but weed…not so much.

Leave it to the British to bridge the gap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3zou4F00Ic. 

The video is entitled “Marijuana and Driving,” it aired on The Speed Channel and makes some interesting points on the matter. Enjoy, and be safe.

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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