The Right Pedal

Thursday, May 03, 2007

This blew my mind.

Sure, we know that Russians love their bizarre 4x4s. They even have 6x6s, and 8x8 isn't rare either. But this.... This is will warp your concept of propulsion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Never thought I'd say this, but this makes me wish I were standing outside a muddy pit in Russia.

Scroll below the Mercs to see the ZiLs power-sliding. The bad-assery is off the charts.

And the side-car Urals and machine-gun-toting goons are the icing on the cake.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Overhang 'em high

Let me illustrate a basic principle of automotive design: Pinocchio is ugly. Don’t make cars look like Pinocchio.

I’m sad to report that the manufacturer which most flagrantly violates this rule is one of my favorites: Citroen. Their new luxury sedan, the C6, has the biggest schnozz ever seen outside a Nazi propaganda poster.

I don’t know why this look (properly called a “long front overhang”) is so offensive. Rather than spout more anthropomorphic twaddle, let us simply agree that it’s a bad idea. Here’s the C6 that should’ve been:

I can tell you this much: long front overhangs are typical of front-wheel drive, compact cars. FWD and compactness are tricks to boost fuel economy. Rather than optimize the experience of driving one’s car, they optimize the experience of PAYING for it. This is ignoble.

While some people (99% of people, more or less) don’t give a rat’s ass about the nobility of their overhang, it’s the sort of thing I obsess over. Just as you might look out your window and feel heartened to see a child planting a tree, I get the same feeling from a tidy little overhang: Nice job, kid, it’s good to see someone has his priorities straight.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Union of Concerned Plagiarists

The Union of Concerned Scientists just announced their intention to save the world with an eco-heroic minivan. It would combine a plethora of available technologies to reduce carbon emissions by about 40%. That's all well and good, but my problem is that they totally stole the shell from Renault. The green one is the UCS's van-o-the-future, the silver one is Renault's Espace:

I'm baffled why they would do this. It's dishonest to pretend that they designed this thing. True, the vehicle shell is totally irrelevant to the technologies they're pushing, so perhaps we ought not fuss over the body that they pretend will house all the green goodies. But then why bother with the CAD faux-concept at all?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Ethanol bothers me.

Today, our president is visiting el presidente of Brazil. As presidents typically do, they discussed corn and sugar. Normally, my interest in these foodstuffs would require the addition of butter, because this would yield caramel popcorn.

Interersting historical note: Caramel popcorn was invented in 1893 at the Colombian World Fair in Chicago by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. (Hence "sweet baby Jesus.") Such a divine creation could only be created by the... well, the divine.

But the theology of caramel popcorn was not, according to the news reports, on today's agenda in Sao Paolo. As you probably know, sugar and corn are the two most popular sources of ethanol--the miracle fuel which will save the towns of the Midwest from economic collapse, save the rest of us from the petro-terrorists, and save our cats from the tragedy and heartache of feline leukemia.

Generally, I favor any fuel source which sends less money to the oil-slicked sheiks, especially if it also strengthens our strategic reserves of caramel popcorn. But Bush's hard-on for ethanol is highly suspicious. Brazilian ethanol is economically competitive; sugar farmers don't receive government subsidies. American ethanol, however, is a surprisingly Communist endeavor. It depends on the expropriation of wealth from our nation's bourgeois coast-dwellers, and transferring said wealth to the Stakhanovite agribusinesses of our nation's corn-filled center. This process is better known as "farm subisidies." (Communists are masters of euphemism.)

And of course, the corn growers want tariffs on Brazilian ethanol, so we probably won't get the economically sensible cheap stuff. This is pretty goddamn outrageous and unpatriotic, because apparently they would prefer that we spend our energy dollars with the above-mentioned greasy sheikhs, rather than the Brazilians. (And no, we shouldn't be spending it on our own corn-based ethanol, because that's Communism, and Communism is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, or something like that.)

So: ethanol isn't going to help. Agribusiness will demand that their subsidies stay, and tariffs grow, and that will be the end of ethanol as a useful alternative fuel. However, it will probably take years and billions of dollars before anyone works up the guts to put a stop to this foolishness.

Oh well. At least it will be cheaper than the Iraq war.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I am a masochist

My previous entry ennumerates the ways a Passat is wrong for me. Nonetheless, I couldn't resist taking one for a test drive last weekend. It was a base edition (no heated seats) with the time-bomb engine and a stick shift.

Alas, I loved it. I whipped it through Storrow at speeds theoretically impossible for a front-wheel drive, 3,500-lb sedan on squishy tires. It's one of those cars that encourages you to do highly illegal things.

I didn't want to give up the keys. But I did, because the alternative involves parting from many thousands of dollars (or jail time).

Friday, February 23, 2007

Passat, you tease

My car started making a noise, one which I refer to as the "thousand-dollar squeak." It seems to recur every year or so, and it costs about $1,000 to fix. I'm getting tired of it (the thousand-dollar part, not the squeak), so I might just ignore it and see what happens.

Of course, whenever something is slightly less-than-perfect in my car (or any other part of my life) I start thinking about buying a new vehicle. The new VW Passat has crept up to the top of my list... only to tumble down to the very bottom, leaving me emotionally battered. Let me explain...

I want a car that is big and German. So far, the Passat qualifies. I also want heated leather or vinyl seats. (Cat hair sticks to cloth seats like glue... except when it unsticks all over my clothes. And unheated leather/vinyl will freeze my tuchus.) The Passat continues to qualify.

I also want a reliable car. And this is when the foam starts hitting the fuel tank: the Passat's reliability is a Columbia-scale disaster. But wait! Consumer Reports says that NASA was only in charge of the standard 4-cylinder engine; the optional V6 is actually quite dependable. Whew....

Hold on a sec, is that an o-ring cracking? The V6 starts at $30,000? And heated seats are another $1,000 extra???

And the good engine only comes with an automatic? What the hell kind of German car is this?

To add insult to injury, VW is about to offer a special edition Passat with heated seats and sunroof for under $27,000. That would be perfect, but it's only available with the 4-cylinder engine (the one made from birds' nests and nitroglycerine). And it's only availale with the automatic; a manual would've been about $1,000 cheaper, and more reliable, too.

So, fooey on you, VW product planners. The company that once boasted of fahrvergnugen no longer deigns to offer a V6 + stick shift sedan... let alone at a People's Car price.

Mercedes on TrimSpa

I love the W140 S-class. It's big, fast, big, and really, really big. It's the most imposing car to come aus Deutschland since the 770k, which was available only to certain Very Bad Men. (Note the flag on the front fender.)

Critics attacked the W140's portliness, and I must agree that the car looks a bit bloated. A car should always be "longer, lower, wider" than its predecessor, and the W140 is indeed longer and wider... but not lower. Big is beautiful, but not when it makes the car look like a Conehead. Bruno Sacco, the designer of the W140, and many other glorious mercs, said exactly that: his only regret from his design career is that the W140 is 4 inches too tall (though to be fair, he did not compare his creation to a Conehead).

Herr Sacco's comment granted me a license to fool around with MS Paint and see if I could improve upon his W140. My results are below. The photochopped W140 is on the left, the actual version is on the right. I just squashed the greenhouse down about 20% (roughly 4 inches). The surgery was obviously performed with a blunt knife, but I think the patient looks better. The rest of the car could use a little squashing too, but my conscience can live with only so much screwing off at work. Yes, even when a Mercedes is involved.