J. BARUTH: It’s rare for us to not misuse our press-fleet trucks for race-car-hauling duties, but there weren’t any events during our time with this rather chrome-bedecked Super Duty. Instead, we took it to a Pat Metheny concert at the Taft Theater in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Kind of a hoity-toity thing to do with a three-quarter-ton truck, but that’s okay, because there’s a lot of velvet glove surrounding this particular iron fist.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have what is known as “teh Internets” among tech-savvy folks. And if you have teh Internets, chances are you’ve heard of the “Fiesta Movement”. The “Fiesta Movement” was Ford’s bold attempt to round up the one hundred most annoying “social media intenders” in the United States and get them to “tweet” about the Fiesta to all their self-involved pals. Had Ford asked me my opinion of the “Fiesta Movement”, I would have told them that it was very possibly the stupidest idea in the history of Western civilization.
Luckily for them, Ford didn’t ask me, and the Movement turned out to be a complete success. As a result, the 2011 Fiesta has arrived on a wave of pre-launch all-media publicity capable of wiping out the entire West Coast. You’ve all seen the car. You’ve all heard about the frisky interior, the SYNC system and its new capabilities, (Pandora, Twitter, and other Android/BlackBerry applications) and the rainbow of millennial-friendly colors available for selection. The only thing you haven’t heard about is what it’s like to thrash the little Fiesta to within an inch of its 1.6-liter life. Stick around, because the road sign in front of us reads “Curves Ahead”.
The nice folks at autowriters.com published a modified version of Avoidable Contact #31 last week, and as one might suspect it’s raised quite the fervor among the Frank Bacons of the world. This is all well and good, but it has occurred to me that, in the course of exposing the mendacity/mediocrity two-punch combo which characterizes our industry, I may have inadvertently crushed some of my readers’ dreams of becoming an automotive “journalist”. To those readers, I offer my most sincere apologies.
Better yet, I offer a solution. Instead of becoming an automotive journalist, why not become an English automotive journalist? Trust me, it’s a better gig. Not only will you instantly acquire the kind of cast-iron credibility that American autowriters will never so much as sniff, if you are lucky someone may even bring you back “across the pond” to run an American auto rag!
Naturally, you’ll need a little help to make this dream become reality. I cannot help you fake the accent, and I cannot teach you to operate a stick-shift with your left hand, but I can show you how to write just like an English journo. It’s easy! You’ll probably still need a freelance editor to take a look at your work and make sure it is written cohesively but other than that, you should be good to go. I’ve provided five “tropes” below to get you started. According to the nice people at tvtropes.org, a site I am not linking directly because it’s so good you will never return to S:S:L, “Tropes are “devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.” It’s almost impossible to find a Brit-rag article that does not use one or more of these, so a solid command of this fab five is essential to your future career. Each trope is carefully described and a kind-of-fictional example is provided for your use. What are you waiting for? Get writing — and by next week you could be driving an Azure on the Mulsanne!
Imagine that you’re an alien. Not an undocumented immigrant, mind you, but a genuine, green-tentacle-and-glass-helmet monstrosity of a visitor from beyond the stars. While your fellow aliens examine the defense systems of Earth (not so hot) and the intelligence of the population (somewhat simian), you attempt to reconcile all the written history you can find with the evidence before your massive, bloodshot, singular eye. You are particularly interested in the history and psychology behind the local transportation devices, known as “cars”, “whips”, “hogs”, or “causes for divorce”.
Most of what you’ve learned is pretty common-sense stuff, even for an alien. There’s a problem, however, and you have, after some months of study, come to call it “The Grand National Problem”. You’ve used your indistinguishable-from-magic science to read everything in the vast record-keeping halls of General Motors. You know from the documentation that the vast majority of Buick Regals produced during the Eighties were chrome-laden, velour-lined “Custom” and “Limited” models. It’s as plain as the order codes on all the old Selectric-typed order forms.
Or is it? All those Customs and Limiteds GM supposedly rolled off the lines at, um, Flint? They’re gone. All your spaceship’s sensors can detect on the roads, all the ones you see at the half-ass local old-car shows, are examples of a rather minor production variant: the “Grand National”. In some years, Grand Nationals accounted for under ten percent of Regal production, but in the twenty-first century virtually every roadworthy example of the baroque Buick sports the blown-six logo and the “Darth Vader” paintjob. The regular Regals have been out of circulation so long, your orbital telescopes cannot even pick them out in junkyards. Something’s gone wrong, either with the data or the observations. Was there a G-body genocide? What happened?
The man before us in this crowded Los Angeles garage, Mustang head honcho Dave Pericak, is about to burst. He knows what the press is about to learn: that there are two muscular rabbits in his hat, and he’s going to pull them out with an absolute maximum of hyperactive enthusiasm. We all know the numbers: 305 horsepower for a revitalized V-6 and 412 ponies in the five-liter. 31 miles per gallon for the automatic six, 26 mpg for the stick-shift V-8.
What we don’t know, or perhaps haven’t considered, is the significance — the context — of these numbers. There’s a Honda Accord sulking outside this garage. Why? It seems Mr. Pericak wishes to make a particular point. Honda is synonymous with fuel efficiency in the minds of the American public, but the Accord V-6 coupe is rated at just 28mpg. As an automatic. As a stick-shift, it gets 25. Take a moment to think about that. A front-wheel-drive Honda coupe can’t match the mileage of a rear-wheel-drive ponycar. The antiquated, low-tech, “oxcart-axle” Mustang may be faster and more powerful than the Accord, but we all expected that. Did we expect that it would be more fuel-efficient as well?
By the time the relatively rapid press briefing is over, we all understand what’s happened here. While Chevrolet was aiming its Camaro at the Mustang, Ford was aiming elsewhere. The V-6 Mustang is a two-fisted blow to the throat of competitors as diverse as the aforementioned Accord and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. The five-liter takes the core values of that revamped car and adds enough pace to walk away from some very rapid automobiles. And both cars are priced to cause heartburn everywhere from the RenCen to Ingolstadt.
The nice folks at Jalopnik link to us so often, it’s the least I can do to begin this column by suggesting you watch this video over there. For those of you who don’t like watching videos, it shows a police car operating at a velocity of ninety-four miles per hour in a marked 40 zone. At around the one-minute mark, we see the police car strike a Mazda containing two teenagers. Both are killed. The police car is not running its lights, was not operating the siren, and was not even responding to an emergency.
Here’s the best (or worst) part: the officer who killed the kids, Jason Anderson, was apparently “racing” the officer whose car recorded the video, one Richard Pisani. Pisani is traveling at about 74 mph during one part of the video. In a marked 40. I cannot find any evidence that Office Pisani was in any way disciplined for his conduct. Think about that for a moment.
Perhaps most worryingly, the video shows absolutely no awareness, driving ability, or the vaunted “high-speed police training” on the part of Officer Anderson. It’s fairly obvious that the Mazda is going to cross Anderson’s path. We’re regularly told that by police departments that their officers have “special training”, but this is an accident that most solid NASA HPDE drivers could easily avoid. If they weren’t driving a police car, you wouldn’t be surprised if their car insurance claim was denied by the company. This can happen in certain circumstances; insurance firms can just be like that. Which is annoying, especially if the worst-case scenario were to happen. A modest amount of steering to the left would have saved two lives. Instead, Anderson simply drives right into the Mazda, with his car’s “black box” recording 100% accelerator pressure up to the crash. He was flat-out to the very end.
The good news is that the technology exists to prevent a tragic event such as this from ever happening again. In fact, the technology has existed for a very, very long time, and it could be easily installed on every police vehicle in the country. Let’s discuss.