2020 Hangover

…and not the kind which follows delightful over-indulgence in alcoholic beverages, either.

No, I’m talking about the spiteful year of 2020, which saw us spared only a plague of crotch-eating crickets (no idea how it missed that one), but saw fit to land three quick punches in the face during the last three days of December.

1.) The clothes dryer packed up — heating element just quit, making it about as useful as a stud bull without testicles — it would go through the motions just fine, but no result.  And — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — it happened two months after the manufacturer’s warranty had expired.  However: when I was rummaging around in the papers surrounding its purchase so I’d have the details when I arranged for a service call, lo! there on the invoice was an additional cost for:  ta-daaaa! an extended warranty (which I hardly ever buy but I had this time), and it had over a year still to run.

This didn’t end the problem.  I called Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM, as they call themselves now) to see what they could do, and was directed to their (outsourced) repair company who handled such calls.  After grappling with the poxy automated telephone system — add this bastard thing to my Ten Hates — I discovered that this outfit was only responsible for the warranty on items purchased since 2019, and my purchase from 2017 was handled by yet another company, and no of course they had no idea who that could be.  So I called NFM and politely asked what the fuck they were doing by sending me to the wrong address, so to speak.  To be fair, NFM was as always a delight to deal with:  attentive, sympathetic and helpful, they apologized fulsomely and sent me to the proper company who, of course, had an automated telephone menu which eventually got me the number of a certified repair outlet in my area… whose number was no longer in service.  So I went back to the company’s poxy website — which was designed by the same people who designed the ObamaCare government website — and eventually found a place which promised to send a guy round after the New Year to fix  the dryer.  (To be continued.)

2.) The next day (before New Year’s Eve) was cold and windy, and raining buckets.  So, this being 2020, it came as no surprise when New Wife called plaintively from her school to inform me that Sputum (her Fiat 500, thus named because of its color) was refusing to start.  Lights were working, but engine she no crank.  She and the school maintenance guy had tried to jump-start the thing, but no luck.  Shit.  A new starter motor loomed in our future, $1,200 installed.  So I went over, tried to push-start the car (stick shift, yay) so we could at least get it home or to the shop (did I mention that the day was freezing, wet and windy?) and… no joy.  So maybe not the starter motor, but some chip in the ignition system?  Crap.  Called our car service guys (EuroSport in Plano, blessings be upon them), and they said that while they couldn’t attend to the car until the New Year (natch) because they were closed on New Year’s Eve, they’d organize a tow the next day and at least get Sputum to their shop.

I took New Wife to work on New Year’s Eve (half-day only) and waited for the tow service to arrive.  They did, and took care of the business without any fuss.  I went off and did the pre-NYE grocery shopping, then went back to pick up New Wife.

3.) And lo did the “Check Engine” light come on in the Tiguan — and to be fair to VW, that light only comes on when there’s something quite seriously wrong.  No chance to get the thing checked, of course, because New Year’s Eve.  I crept home nervously, therefore, and New Wife and I faced the prospect of no cars instead of two for the entire long weekend — and we had planned on going out a bit because we both had cabin fever and needed to.

So we spent the entire weekend cooped up in our apartment, snarling at each other.  (Okay, to be fair, she moped and I was doing the snarling, as you might expect.)

The following Monday dawned bright and fair — no rain, no freezing temperatures, this was 2021, wasn’t it? — so I took her to work and set about the business of getting both cars attended to.  Here’s the full report.

Sputum’s battery was dead — stone dead, despite the lights and such working — it was no longer capable of taking a charge.  So one new battery, duly installed, and the Fiat was as good as new.  The mechanic did mention that there were some signs of rodent infestation (nests containing acorns, hence squirrels), and they’d nibbled on some of the wires, but no serious damage.  (I mention this because it will be important later.)  Our apartment complex is quite heavily forested and there are a jillion of the little tree-rats all over the place, but can I shoot them out of the trees with my trusty Baikal pellet gun?  Oh no, because city ordinance #2375-4 para. 48 “No discharge of guns including pellet guns in city limits”.  Anyway, the outcome, Fiat-wise, was not bad especially as I discovered that this was the car’s original, four-year-old battery, so all in all, not a bad outcome.

And now we come to the Tiguan’s warning light.  “Kim, at first glance it looks as though you may be having an issue with the turbo”, a comment which struck fear to my heart (and more especially to my wallet) because a new turbo is over $1,500 and double that for installation.  So I waited with trepidation for the final diagnosis, hoping that maybe it was just the sensor that was at fault (only a few hundred dollars to replace that).

It was neither.  “It looks as though you’ve had some serious rodent infestation, and they’ve chewed the wires connecting the sensor to the turbo.”

Cost of replacing the wire (which, of course, in the modern parlance means a new sensor because it’s a single unit):  $160 plus labor.

So all in all, what had threatened to cost me close to $5,000 to fix both cars in 2020, eventually cost me less than $500 in 2021.

And the clothes dryer was duly attended to — turns out it was the control panel at fault, and not the heating coil or motor — and the fix took less than half an hour.

So life is good, so far in 2021.  But later in the month will come the Presidential Inauguration, whereupon I expect not only socialism but crotch-eating crickets to follow soon thereafter.

You heard it here first.

Quibbles

When you set yourself up as judges to discover the “Greatest Sports Car Of All Time“, you need to use a decent track for the test.  Which the guys at Road & Track  did, choosing the lovely Lime Rock Park circuit in northern Connecticut (which I’ve driven round a couple times before, once in a BMW 3-series, and again in a restored ’65 Mustang), and the track is perfect for the task (right-click to embiggen).

However, in such a competition you can always count on amateurs such as I to question the choices of the finalists.  Which in this case were:

  1. 1949 MG TC
  2. 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL
  3. 1965 Shelby 289 Cobra
  4. 1967 Porsche 911 S
  5. 1988 BMW M5
  6. 1995 McLaren F1
  7. 2001 Acura Integra Type R
  8. 2020 Mazda Miata MX-5

I have no problem whatsoever with the first four cars and the last car on the list:  all five are excellent choices, and are almost perfect sports cars.  Now for the bad news.

The Beemer M5 is a fine car — I once owned a “detuned” 525i myself — but by no stretch of the imagination could it ever be called a sports car, because it has four doors.  No.  Just… no.

Ditto the Acura.  I think that the selection committee for this exercise got carried away with engine performance which, need I remind anyone, might be a prerequisite for a track car or race car, but that’s not in the sporting tradition (as I once mentioned here and here ).

In similar vein, the MacLaren doesn’t belong here, just as the Porsche 918 or Ferrari 458 would be out of place in this company.

So scratch those three imposters from the list.  Which begs the question:  what three (actual) sports cars should take their place?

I don’t think that anyone would argue against the 1960s-era E-type Jaguar as my #1 choice for inclusion.

…even though its performance takes it perilously close to the “supercar” definition (and in its time, it certainly was).

No list of “Best Sports Cars” would be complete without at least one Ferrari (with the “supercar” reservation as above), and I think the 1960 Ferrari 250 California Spyder might pip all others –even the more modern ones — in the marque:

My third replacement would be the 1966 Alfa Romeo 1600 Spider Duetto:

Finally, as a concession to my Murkin Readers, I might be persuaded to substitute the 1965 Ford Mustang for one or the other of the cars — but while the Mustang is a undoubtedly fun car, I don’t think it’s really a sports car, when compared to the above.

Honorable mentions should also go to the 1959 Aston Martin DB4, the 1955 Ford T-bird, the Porsche 356, the Morgan (any year, although the Morgan is really just a perfected version of the MG TC), the Honda S2000 and the BMW 507.

 

If you go along with my rejection of the two 4-door models and the outright supercar, then which three cars (not necessarily listed here) would you substitute?

Persuasive Argument

As everyone knows, I love me my old cars more than the  modern wind-tunnel designed mass-produced homogenized blobs we see on our roads today.  But there’s a problem:

Classic cars are wonderful, wonderful things. They look incredible, smell incredible, and make incredible noises. We will never see vehicles like them roll off production lines ever again.
And this is a good thing, because along with all the good stuff, they’re a massive pain in the arse.
They leak, they break down, they’re inefficient, and they’re not all that quick. You have to be committed to a classic. They need constant love and attention to make sure they run well. You can be their nurse, which requires lots of hardcore knowledge, or you can have a specialist to do it for you. And they’ll be grateful, as you’ll put their kids through college.

All true, and it’s the reason why (apart from the upfront cost) that I’ve never been that keen on getting one of the old cars that I love, e.g. a 1950s-era Jag Xk120:

I have also stated that I won’t drive an electric car.

However, it’s a fool who won’t change his mind when confronted with a different reality, and here’s the reason I could be persuaded to change my mind.  (Read this before continuing.)

I foresee great things for this.  It might be Lunaz’s climb towards Elon Musk-style wealth, or it could end up being a way for classic car manufacturers to get their foot into the EV market.

So allow me to alter my precious stance on electric cars.

Would I ever drive a Prius?  No.

Would I drive an electric, rebuilt Dino Ferrari?

I think we all know the answer to that one.  And if Ferrari were too slow to the party, then:

…or:

In Comments, list your top three favorite cars that you would drive as EVs, assuming they were affordable.

Propaganda?

I’m not so sure I believe this one:

Carmakers will increasingly find themselves in a race to shut, switch or sell factories producing vehicles with internal combustion engines to avoid being left with “stranded assets”, as regulators set a course for a decade of electrification to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Why?

The year 2020 will be seen as key for electric cars because of new EU regulations that mandated a limit on average carbon dioxide emissions of 95g/km across all cars sold.
The UK has committed to carrying on its emissions regime at an equivalent or stronger level after the Brexit transition period ends on 1 January 2021.

I am really curious about this, because the Grauniad  article strangely seems to omit any actual numbers of carmakers reducing their regular engine production.  Instead, all sorts of “analysts” are quoted as saying stuff like:

Philippe Houchois, an analyst at Jefferies, an investment bank, said carmakers’ share prices will be in large part dependent on their ability to avoid losses on fossil fuel assets. “If you want to be a better valued carmaker you need to find a way to shrink your assets faster than a gradual transition to electric vehicles would suggest,” he said.

And yet:

Volkswagen has already conceded that it will miss its 2020 target, incurring a fine estimated at around €270m (£248m).

Given VW’s size, that’s not such a big deal, especially as it can be written off against taxes.  And one of the other big guys seems strangely un-panicked:

BMW announced on Sunday it would build 250,000 more electric cars than it had previously planned between now and 2023. Oliver Zipse, the company’s chief executive, said he wanted roughly 20% of cars it sells to be electric by 2023, up from 8% this year.

For the mathematically-challenged, that means that regular cars will still account for 80% of BMW’s sales.

And all that activity is in Europe and the U.K., where distances are not vast and there’s always a public transport option as a last, albeit expensive and inconvenient resort.

How about Over Here?  Forget about it.  As much as the Biden / AOC Greens would like to do what the Eurotrash are doing, that shit isn’t going to fly in North America, because

  • we Murkins loves us our gasoline-driven cars because freedom;
  • setting up an infrastructure to deliver the amounts of electricity needed to power the jillions of proposed American electric cars is so big, nobody has yet actually dared to state its cost — especially when we have abundant supplies of oil (which the Euros do not) to fall back on;
  • we don’t actually have the power generation capacity to deliver the juice even supposing we had the above infrastructure, as California is going to realize very soon;
  • battery manufacture is worse for the environment than using gasoline-powered cars (when you look at the total amount of energy and resources needed to make the infernal things), and at some point even the addle-headed Greens may come to realize it;
  • the U.S. automobile market is so big, most car manufacturers would be happy to “settle” for just producing their regular cars for our market and their electric wagons in Europe.

And now, let’s talk about the Third World, because for yet another strange reason the Grauniad  article doesn’t.

In places like Asia (India, China and South-East Asia specifically) and Africa, not only is there insufficient power generation capacity — they can barely power their light bulbs let alone millions of cars — but there is no industrial capacity capable of putting in the electric automotive infrastructure.  Just the geography alone is daunting — Africa because of the distances and fragility of the countries’ ability to prevent sustained vandalism (I won’t even talk about the endemic African corruption as a brake to progress), South-East Asia because jungles, and China doesn’t have the cash.  As for India and Pakistan… oy.  Even the Russians would have a better chance of success than the Indians, and nobody’s talking about them either.

The only countries in the Eastern Hemisphere which would have anything like a chance of setting up a European-style automotive electrification infrastructure are Japan, New Zealand and Taiwan (small size and islands), and South Korea might have an outside shot at success.  Australia?  Tiny market and vast distances.  Ain’t gonna happen.  (I note in passing that Japan’s Honda has quit supplying engines to the F1 market, giving as a reason that they want to concentrate their resources on electric automotive technology, but it’s also true that their F1 engines are markedly inferior to those of Mercedes, Renault and possibly even Ferrari;  and even Honda might think that chasing success in Formula 1 — i.e. increasing the existing $100 million annual spend — isn’t worth it.)

So while the Guardian’s breathless headline (“Race is on as carmakers shut, switch or sell combustion engine factories“) may make one nervous — which I think is its purpose — a little reflection shows that in this case anyway, Europe and the U.K. are quite possibly going to be the outliers for the foreseeable future of automotive production, large a market as they are.

And unless the Euro (and even Japanese) carmakers can sell their electric cars at the same rate as they sell their regular cars in the U.S. (don’t hold your breath), they’ll face even harsher financial consequences than just paying taxpayer-subsidized fines.

Think about it:  what if Toyota suddenly announced that they were only going to be selling Prius models in the U.S., and not Corollas, Camrys, RAV4s, Tundras, Venzas, Land Cruisers, Tacomas, and all the others?  Think Prius could pick up the slack?  (That’s a rhetorical question, of course.)  Now repeat that scenario for BMW’s I3 and all the other manufacturers’ electric offerings.

Ain’t gonna happen.  Not now, not soon, and quite probably, not ever.  Despite what the Guardian wants to believe, and us to believe.

Singular Beauty

Whilst wandering around and getting lost in the Dark Forests of Internet Car-Dorkery, I stumbled on this vision, the Maserati A6/54 2000 Zagato Spyder:

It’s not too horrible from the rear, either:

And its interior is blissfully simple and devoid of modern geegaws, like airbags and seatbelts.

It was made in 1955, and even if you were to win the biggest lottery around, good luck finding it.  “It?”

They made one.  One.

Way Too Much

Insty posted a link to the Car & Driver  long-term road test of the Porsche Cayenne SUV, and while I am generally a fan of Porsche (other than their Germanic penchant for over-engineering and the fact that all their cars are pig-ugly), there were still a couple of things pointed out in the study which set my teeth on edge, to whit:

The perfect long-term car is one that delivers 40,000 happy miles, and our 2019 Cayenne is well on its way to achieving that platonic ideal. It’s never left us stranded, and so far all of our gripes have been handled by the dealer.

You know what?  That reliability is a given nowadays, thanks to manufacturers like Honda and Toyota,  In fact, after shelling out the ~$100K for a fucking SUV, I would demand that nothing breaks in the first 40,000 miles.  But that’s not the end of it.

While that 10K service and recall work didn’t come with an invoice, the 20,000-mile service reminded us that Porsche ownership is just as expensive as it sounds. It set us back $632. In addition to the work done at the 10K visit, the 20K visit calls for replacement of both the cabin and the engine air filters. The dealer also replaced some worn-out wipers for $82.

I know, I know:  if you can’t afford the maintenance, don’t buy the car.  Over six hundred for a lousy 20k service, and eighty-plus bucks for a pair of windshield wipers?   Ah don’ theenk so, Manfred.

But that’s not the worst of it.  Enter the most useless fucking technology ever inflicted on car owners, all for the sake of eco-consciousness:

An aggressive stop-start system often kills the engine too early, and the restart occasionally comes with a horrible driveline thud. Disabling stop-start eliminates the thud, but we can’t help but wonder if the occasional transmission stumble on cold mornings is related and a sign of something else going on with the ZF automatic.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again:  if I buy any car, this stupid stop-start bullshit would be turned off before I left the dealership.  (And if it couldn’t be turned off permanently, it’s to a different car brand I’d be going.)  As for the Cayenne, any kind of “driveline thud” is a Bad Thing.  I can’t believe the C&D testers didn’t address the issue after the first hundred miles, let alone after forty thousand.  (Don’t even get me started on the engineering philosophy behind an “aggressive stop-start system, or we’ll be here all day.)

I seldom pay much attention to new-car tests because all new cars are going to be okay.  It’s the long-term tests that are interesting because that’s what exposes faulty materials, engineering or design.

And I’m sorry, but all the joys of “90mph cruising” (with the concomitant shitty fuel consumption) don’t  compensate for all the above.