The Doom Wagon

My friend Doc Russia has a fixation about being prepared for any eventuality.  His gun collection is, shall we say, comprehensive — so much so that the last time he rode out with the North Texas SWAT team (a gig he volunteers for, uncompensated), he arrived with his latest toys and one of the guys burst out:  “Damn, Doc!  You’ve got better gear than we have.”  And it’s true.

One of the things that the SWAT guys need is transportation for the emergency doctor who rides out with them — to be more specific, transportation for Doc’s successor, because of course, Doc’s ride (which we his friends dubbed the “Doom Wagon”) could probably not only survive a nuclear blast, but also outlast the cockroaches which would survive that.  Even Keith Richards would shake his head and give up.

For those who are interested in such things, it’s a Toyota 4Runner, although after he’d finished with the mods, it looked like nothing Toyota ever dreamed of.  Here are a couple pics, just for you to get the idea:

All this came from Doc’s need to be prepared for any eventuality:  it’s a bugout wagon par excellence, and as you can see from the latter pic, it carries spare fuel (it has to, ‘cos it be thirsty, mon).  Also inside is a giant medical bag, to save lives, and to take lives (if necessary), a semi-auto rifle in a hidden compartment and a spare Glock 17 in the glove box, along with shall we say an adequate  sufficiency of ammo for both.  Alert Readers will have seen the light bar, and the snorkel for deep-water fording, but would not have seen the massive steel underbody plate, the beefed-up adjustable suspension or the built-in air compressor (to be able to re-inflate a tire in case of a puncture).

So much do the SWAT guys covet this beast that Doc promised to transfer it over to them should he ever have to quit the gig, so his replacement would have its full use.  (It’s even deeded to N. Texas SWAT in his will.)

I don’t know why I’m using the present tense in all this, because last week the Doom Wagon was stolen out of the hospital parking garage while Doc was on duty in the ER.  According to an eyewitness, it wasn’t gone in sixty seconds;  the pro team of thieves (which it must have been) only needed about half  that before driving off in it.

So while Doc was saving lives in the emergency room, some fucking bastards stole his truck.

He’s insured, of course, but that’s not the point.  I’ve been with him almost all the way in his quest to create the perfect utility vehicle — we’ve sat and talked and argued about this option versus that option, weighing cost vs. performance vs. utility and so on — and in the end, all for nothing:  gone to a mope with a crowbar and a screwdriver.

Here’s what’s interesting.  Needless to say, Doc’s medical kit and the two guns with it are also gone, but that’s not what bothers him the most.

You see, his eight-year-old daughter’s favorite water bottle, complete with her name engraved on it, was also in the truck — and when I picked him up from work, he was most upset that he was going to have to explain to her that yes, there are bad people in the world, and because of them, she’ll never see her water bottle again.  It would have been her first experience of evil because like most good parents, he’s tried to shield her from the ugliness as much as he could.  No more.

You don’t  want to hear the details of our revenge fantasies, should we ever lay hands on these bastards.

Beauties And Beasts 1

As Sundays at this address seem to have degenerated into discussions of beauty (with a little gratuitous leering thrown in — you animals), I had  an idea for a new series:  beautiful cars, suitably accessorized.

Here, for example, is the Ferrari thread:

 

Your votes in Comments.

Next week (unless y’all hate this idea):  another brand.

Best Truck Ever Made

In Comments to an earlier post (about beautiful sports cars), we have this off-topic gem:

Longtime Reader William O. B’Livion says:
My “car lust” to the extent I have it is on the Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rover Discos.

I’m going to ignore the Discos and concentrate on the Land Cruisers, specifically the early FJ40/43 models of 1967-1979.  Here’s what we’ll be talking about:


The old joke among Africa hands is:  “If you want to go into the African bush, take a Land Rover.  If you want to come back out again, take a Land Cruiser.”  Yup;  their reliability and toughness are legendary, and it can be said that Toyota did to Land Rover what Honda’s NSX did to Ferrari:  it changed the whole game, and absolutely forced them to become more reliable.

Let me draw your attention to the last pic, because it is a product of an evil, evil  bunch of men who are preying on the Land Cruiser-lust of people like me, and have taken upon themselves to rebuild the classic FJ40s of yore, albeit at nosebleed prices.  Here’s their website (but you may want to to hand your wallets etc. to yer wives for safekeeping, and send yer nubile daughters out of town before clicking on that link and watching the little video up front because OMG).

And a serious question for everyone:  who among you would not want to own one of these, if you could get it for a realistic (e.g. ~$50,000) price?  I’m not much of a truck guy (I only ever owned one, a 2001 Ford F-150), and after looking at those pics (which mostly came from here), even I have Land Cruiser-lust…

Sacrificing All For Beauty

Back in the early 1990s, there were essentially three “production” sports cars vying for the title of “fastest”:  the Ferrari F40 with a 2.9-liter V8 engine, the Porsche 959 with a 2.8-liter flat-6, and the Jaguar XJ220 with a 3.5-liter V6, all three featuring twin turbos.  While all were nominally production models, only a couple-three hundred of each were ever made because they were designed specifically to compete at Le Mans in the then-Group B class.  To just about everyone’s surprise, the car with the highest straight-line speed was the Jag, at 217mph.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

As always in posts of this type, the thing is pointless without pictures, so here we go, in order:

All three are beautiful by the standards of the time:  the F40 because Ferrari;  the Porsche despite being a Porsche (I actually think the 959 was the nicest-looking Porsche ever made until the Cayman);  and the XJ220 was gorgeous even in a marque which had always made beautiful cars (XK120, E-type, etc.).

All three are crap to drive — the F40 has a spartan, ugly interior with a hideously-stiff clutch and gearbox, the 959 was also a handful (although the toughest of the three:  in 1986 the 959 entries finished 1st and 2nd in the Dakar Rally), and as for the XJ220, let me quote one of the reviews of the time:

The testers liked the “sheer blistering pace, looks and a superb cabin” but its size, the doors not opening far enough and handling were criticised:  “If there’s a more evil device on our roads, I wouldn’t like to find it, for the XJ220 suffers from immense initial understeer followed by violent and snappy pendulous oversteer.”  Most disappointing was the engine;  at idle it sounded “like someone’s clanking a bucket of rusty nails together”.

However, given that these beauties were never intended to be “passenger” cars, all the above can possibly be forgiven.

The last pic, that of the XJ220, is a special one.  I took it at the Salon Privé at Blenheim Palace over a year ago (full report here and here), and I have to tell you, with all of the automotive beauty on display that day, the XJ220 quite simply took my breath away.  It looked like a jaguar [sic] : feral, sleek and dangerous, and even in repose, it seemed to be begging someone to drive it really, really fast.  I’d never seen one in the flesh before, unlike the other cars listed above — and good grief, my carlust was almost ungovernable that day.

I suspect that others may feel the same way, not necessarily about the XJ220 but about the other two, or others.  So, Gentle Readers and fellow Gear Knobs:  which cars make you forget how terrible they may be to drive simply because they’re so beautiful?

Responses in Comments (or by email, if you prefer).  I’ll make the best three suggestions the subject of next Saturday’s post, and add pictures if necessary.

Over-Complicated

I am a lifelong VW fan.  While VW isn’t the only brand I’ve ever driven (mostly due to circumstance and timing), over the years I’ve owned nine, starting with a humble panel van like this one (I played in a band so duh):

Note the extreme simplicity:  divided flat windshield, swing-open doors, hard bumper over-riders, manually-adjusted rearview mirrors and single-beam headlights (the ones pictured are far sexier than mine were).  And that’s just the exterior.  The interior was equally spartan:

(This must have been a deluxe version — it had a radio.  Mine didn’t even have seatbelts.)

The only things I ever replaced were the headlights because the originals were so weak that a car coming up from behind would cast my shadow into my beams), and  a clutch plate (at about 80,000 miles).  The engine was the mighty air-cooled 1600cc, which made uphill travel with a full load an exercise in patience (for the cars behind me).

I owned “Fred” (as the band nicknamed it) for eight years.  Then I moved on, over the years driving a Beetle (original model), Golf, Passat wagon, three Jettas (!) and two Tiguans.

Imagine my surprise when (thanks to Insty) I read a review of the 2019 VW Jetta, which contained gems such as these:

Both Jettas we tested were top-of-the-line ($26,945 [WTF? — Kim]) SEL versions, so they came with all the bells and whistles. As an illustration of how interconnected all these various subsystems are, consider the following: switching among Eco, Normal, and Sport modes remaps the throttle, changes the transmission shift points, and can even tighten the steering. But it will also tweak how the adaptive cruise control behaves, changes the climate-control settings, and even changes the interior ambient lighting.

…and:

The interior tech might well be the Jetta’s strongest card. SEL Jettas come with the 10.25-inch “Digital Cockpit” display, a VW version of Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit” that I’ve raved about in the past. You can configure it to a great degree, from austere minimalism to information overload, and together with the MIB II infotainment system, the overall experience is slick. (Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and MirrorLink are included.)

I should point out that my panel van had a new-car sticker price of about $4,000 in today’s currency, and my second (top of the line) Jetta had a sticker of $14,000 (also in today’s dollars), thus making the 2019 model nearly double the price, for nowhere close to double the utility.

I’m not saying that VW should return to the austerity of the panel van;  hell, my old Fred made Fred Flintstone’s car look like a Cadillac — it was absolute hell on a cold or hot day, let me tell you, plus it was about as safe to drive as a mobility scooter on the Long Island Expressway.  And no doubt some marketing genius at VW will tell you that this unheard-of luxury is what the market wants (while a VW accountant won’t tell you that all the doodads add thousands of dollars of profit per car, but they do).  I have no problem with many of the safety features demanded of today’s cars, but I absolutely have to question the need for “Eco, Normal, and Sport” gearbox modes in a small passenger saloon car with a farty little 1400cc four-banger engine.  (The next model year will feature VW’s superb 2.0-liter turbo engine — the same one used in my Tiguan — which will cause the 1400cc model’s sales to tank (you heard it here first) because given a choice between needless but anemic luxury and performance, only Alan Alda / Greenpeace types prefer the former.)

I also know that today’s “luxury” becomes tomorrow’s “indispensable”, such is the insidious upward creep of progress.  But as VW cars have become more luxurious, the “People’s Car” has transformed itself into the “rich people’s” car, and VW has opened a gap at the bottom of the market (which they used to own) for car manufacturers from other countries to fill.

I’m going to quit now, because I’m sick of pissing into this particular wind.  And my next  Tiguan will have the “parking assist” software because of all the automotive luxuries ever designed, this is one of the few which actually makes sense.  Yeah, I’m selling out.

Buh-Bye

It would appear that you won’t be seeing any of these cars after the end of the year (not in new-car showrooms, that is).

None of the deletions are particularly shocking — they’re either dated or else never caught on, for whatever reason.

The only one I feel sorry about is the SmartForTwo, and that only for sentimental reasons:  had I continued to live in downtown Chicago, there is absolutely no question that I would have bought one, for its parking advantages if no other.

I know that a couple of you will pine for the Dodge Viper — Jeremy Clarkson, for one, will no doubt go into mourning — but while a lot of people may have liked the Viper, it was never enough for them to actually buy one.  Ditto the Chevy (Holden) SS.  Hence their passing.

As for the other 14 cars on the list… [shrug].  Ugly, dated, boring and superfluous:  it’s frankly amazing that they lasted as long as they did.  And the less said about the execrable Mercedes B-class (“no-class”, actually), the better.