Category - Avoidable Contact

A weekly opinion column by Dubspeed Driven staffer Jack Baruth

Avoidable Contact #19: Rich Corinthian swaybars.

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Shall… we… play… a… game? How ’bout that old Sesame Street standard, “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other – One Of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong.” I’ll name four people, and you tell me which one “doesn’t belong”. Ready? Setta? GO!

  • Brock Yates
  • Alex Roy
  • Felipe Massa
  • Lawrence Pargo

Okay, time’s up. Which one doesn’t belong? That’s right – Felipe Massa, who is an actual race car driver. The other three are non-racers who have become semi-famous for jerking around on the freeway and endangering other drivers at triple-digit speeds.

Wait – you didn’t say Lawrence Pargo, did you? I mean, come on! Pargo’s right there with Yates and Roy, having recently been caught on a speed camera running a rented Hyundai Sonata down the road at a staggering one hundred and forty-seven miles per hour. In Pargo’s defense, it must be noted that his attorney told the court that he couldn’t possibly be guilty of the crime. It turns out that the lowly Sonata, commonly considered to be a crapwagon suited only to “credit criminals”, elderly people, and minimum-wage healthcare workers such as Mr. Pargo himself… well, it can only do 137.

Consider if you will, dear reader, that when Sir William Lyons released his all-new sports car in 1948, he was so proud of its top speed – a speed that made it possibly the fastest standard production car in history to that point – that he simply named the car after that top speed! The XK-120! One hundred and twenty miles per hour! It was the stuff of legends. Fast-forward to the modern day, and Hyundai doesn’t even bother to name a 137-mph car something appropriately cool like “G6DB-137”. Instead, it’s simply the “Sonata”, staple of rental fleets everywhere, capable of blowing by top-end postwar sports cars as if they were bolted to the ground. This Pargo fellow was no race car driver; he isn’t even a wannabe racer like, ahem, certain other people named in the list above. He was just a young fellow who was late for work. It didn’t take him an ounce of skill to reach triple digits, didn’t cause him a moment’s worth of concern, didn’t require a Nomex suit or a competition license. With a simple shove of the drive-by-wire, traction-controlled accelerator pedal, he was running a rental car at the same speeds Stirling Moss reached in the Mercedes 300SLR.

How did this happen?

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Avoidable Contact #18: It’s actually rather easy being green; the case for front-wheel-drive.

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Story by Jack Baruth

Color me pleased; my 2009 Audi S5 has finally arrived, resplendent in vintage Porsche Lime Green. I hasten to add that this color is emphatically not the Signal Green which has become common on the current Porsche GT3 RS its actually from Porsches 1973 and 1974 color book, and is a much brighter, more cheerful color than the rather more serious Signal Green. Readers of our S5 review may recall that I was smitten with Audis curvaceous V8-powered coupe from the moment I fired it up, so there was little doubt in my mind after our November test that I would eventually put one in my own garage. As with everything else in the Speed:Sport:Life fleet, from my Phaetons, to Zerins TT 3.2 Quattro, to the Big Dog’s Cayenne GTS, all the way to my sweetheart of a 993 pictured above, we had to pay for the car. We dont get free long-term testers the way our friends in the print magazines or banner-ad-laden blogozines do. If we want a car for more than a week, we have to take out our wallets. Its nice, in a way, because it means were putting our money where our mouths are. I liked the Audi S5, so I bought one. Simple as that. The other street (as opposed to race) car I bought this year, in case any of you care, was my mothers 2008 Ford Focus SES sedan, another vehicle which received a generally positive review on these pages. So, as you can see, the manufacturers actually make money when they invite me to press events, because a bout 30% of the time I end up buying a car and looking at this page for information on where to get the best insurance!

In the twenty-something days since I took delivery of the S5, pictures of the car have flown around the Internet with a rapidity usually reserved for lucky shots of Britney Spears making a bowlegged departure from Paris Hiltons McMerc SLR. Ive also received dozens of phone calls and text messages from friends and acquaintances who have spotted the Audi in traffic or parked somewhere. People who see the car in the metal seem to be about 70/30 in favor of my choice, while Internet users who see the car online (where, it has to be said, the color does not photograph quite “right”) are closer to 80/20 against. Some of the negative reactions are fascinating because their authors seem so well, personally offended by the shiny S5. I cant believe Audi agreed to paint the car that color! is a semi-common response. Well, they did agree, and they will also paint your new Audi in almost any color you like, thanks to their outstanding Exclusive program. The problem for most of these people is that they are afraid to own a German car in any color that is not silver, grey, or silver-grey, and the presence of brightly-colored German cars destroys their cherished Autobahn stereotypes. Of course, were they to ever sign off World of Warcraft, stumble blinking out into the afternoon light, borrow their parents Camrys, drive to the airport, and actually visit the hallowed Fatherland, they would see that the most common cars there arent silver Audis – theyre bright blue Lupos and yellow Renault Twingos. Germans like color, too.

Some of the younger Audi-forum readers are absolutely shocked that its possible to buy a car from Ingolstadt that isnt utterly tasteful and reserved. How do I know that theyre young? Its simple: theyre obviously too young to have ever seen the interior of a Seventies Audi, or even the seats of an ur-Quattro. The whole idea of tasteful German cars is a scam, kids. It was something the marketing people thought up twenty years ago so the dealers could stock a smaller selection of inventory. I grew up surrounded by lemon-yellow Mercedes diesels, brown Porsche 911SCs, pearl-white Audi 5000s, and baby blue big-bumper Bimmers, and believe it or not, none of the drivers of those cars ever died of color overdose. My father almost killed himself a few times pushing his orange Volvo off the freeway after it stalled for no particular reason, but I have no reason to believe that color was involved. Trust me on this one. I know that your local dealer has thirty-six BMWs on his lot and they are all either silver, grey, or black, but if you take out a BMW brochure and flip all the way to the back, past the endless photographs of optional skiing accessories but right before the disclaimer that tells you to obey posted speed limits, you will find little squares of color. While most of them are silver, grey, silver-grey, or black, chances are there will be a red or blue square on the page. Its okay to go to the dealer, point to that square, and meekly inquire as to whether you might be permitted to purchase a car in that color. I’m not kidding. I even know a guy who bought an arrest-me red 740iL a few years ago and they didn’t actually arrest him! Crazy, I know. Of course, if you are not looking for any specific range, you have plenty of options. Myabe you can also consider used cars carlisle and see your options. It all depends on your automotive requirement.

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Avoidable Contact #17: Cheating Nissan, Bitter Porsche.

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Story by Jack Baruth

Okay, class, put away your books. Time for a pop quiz. It’s just one question, and it’s multiple-choice:
Which car holds the official Nurburgring lap time record for production automobiles?

a) Nissan GT-R

b) Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

c) Porsche Carrera GT

d) Radical SR8

So, what did you pick? It doesn’t matter. Whatever you picked, you’re wrong. It was a trick question. There is no “production car record” at the Nurburgring. Period. It doesn’t exist. You may find that shocking. After all, don’t the British car rags continually natter on about the “production car record”? Didn’t recently devote several terabytes of hype to the idea of the GT-R setting a “production car record”? Isn’t there, like, a totally official list on Wikipedia somewhere? There has to be a record! Everybody talks about it all the time!

Sorry. There’s no “Nurburgring lap time record” for a simple reason: Real lap time records are set by real race cars, using real timing and scoring equipment, during actual competition or sanctioned practice sessions. They aren’t “self-reported” for the same reason the World’s Strongest Man Contest isn’t held by having everyone mail in their “results”: because people can, and do, lie and cheat.

Despite the obviousness of this concept, it is not yet universally understood that one cannot simply claim a lap time on the Internet and have it be “official”. Case in point: I happen to be a member of a small Web forum for Midwestern racers and open-lapping drivers. A few years ago, we had a bit of a tempest in a teapot when a fellow claimed that his $5000 project car had lapped Mid-Ohio in a certain time. He’d obtained this time by taping a stopwatch to the dashboard and timing himself during a NASA HPDE session. While this fellow was a competent driver, we were rather skeptical about his reported time, not least because it would have put him on the pole of the American Iron race which had also occurred that weekend, and his old sedan was pretty far away from being an optimized AI car. Furthermore, those of us who have to race under the cold glare of an accurate-to-one-ten-thousandth-of-a-second transponder system rather objected to the idea of just banging a stopwatch somewhere around the start/finish line every lap. It’s pretty easy to gain or lose a few seconds by sloppy stopwatching, you see. After much discussion, the driver in question agreed that the time probably shouldn’t be considered “official” in any sense, and everybody calmed down. It wasn’t that we didn’t trust him; it was simply that recording one’s own lap time is not, and will never be, the equivalent of setting an honest, independently timed lap under controlled conditions. It’s just plain common sense.

Or is it? After all, didn’t Nissan recently manipulate the all-too-willing media into “witnessing” and then reporting “official Nurburgring lap times” for their all-conquering R35 GT-R? First, there was the pretty-hard-to-believe 7:38 time which the fine journalists at Edmunds advertised, excuse me, reported, followed by the no-really-you-have-to-be-kidding 7:34 time, and finally the don’t-insult-our-collective-intelligence 7:29 shared with the world in a breathless press release a few months later. The Nissan media blitz was so successful that when Horst von Saurma obtained a 7:50 time from a real production GT-R, it went virtually unreported by the major automotive rags. Where’d those twenty-one seconds between von Saurma’s drive and Nissan’s “test” come from? The Internet had many answers, none of them credible, and none of them particularly persuasive to anyone who has ever driven the Nurburgring in anger.

And now, Porsche – the company which has had perhaps the most storied relationship with the ‘Ring, the company which has been testing production cars in the Black Forest since the Fifties, the company which has historically set the benchmark for excellence around the North Course – has called Nissan out on their self-reported times. Without quite saying as much, Porsche has implied that Nissan cheated at the ‘Ring. Did they? If so, how?

The answer is simple: Nissan did not cheat, because it’s impossible to cheat when there are no rules. There’s no official lap time record, remember? What they did do was knowingly manipulate a credulous, ignorant media and general public into misunderstanding the GT-R’s capabilities. It’s not the first time they’ve done it, and they aren’t the only guilty parties.

Here’s how it was done.
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Avoidable Contact #16: The line is a lie.

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by Jack Baruth

It’s one of my favorite driving memories: Years ago, as my BMW 330i hammers down the front straight at Mosport, a shape appears in my rearview mirror. Purple. Frog-eyed. Fast. With a flick and a furious gargle of exhaust, the shape flashes by. Porsche. 964 Turbo. Three. Point. Six. The ultra-rare, last-of-the-line Turbos. We’re nose to tail at the entrance to the first turn. Five-foot flames burst from the Porsche’s twin tips as the driver snags his final downshift. I can see the exaggerated slip of the front wheels followed by the characteristic sag-and-lift that precedes every truly vicious corner entry in a rear-engined street Porsche. It might have been that I briefly contemplated whether I should have looked up the best life insurance options prior. However, then came the calm, blasà voice of my instructor (and later, fellow competitor) Brian:

“Ignore that, thank you. Ignore the Nine Eleven. He has a different line.”

A different line? What does that mean? How can cars have different lines? Isn’t there just one line, and don’t we call it “The Line” for just that reason? Why is his line different? With no time to debate at the beginning of a famously fast and tricky corner, I followed Brian’s instructions and was rewarded with another reasonably competent lap, but that particular incident burned in my mind for long afterwards. If my Bimmer had a line, and that Porsche had a line… were those the only two lines to be had? Were Nine Elevens the only cars that had different lines? Did mid-engined cars have a different line? What’s the “school line” about which I’d heard so much at Mid-Ohio? Who kept track of all the lines? Could they change? It felt as if I had stepped out over an abyss. As the Zen phrase says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” There were certainly many possibilities in my mind at that point.

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Avoidable Contact #15: What we talk about when we talk about soul.

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Eliot… or was it ex-PFC Wintergreen?

Soul. “Soul”. SOUL!

Could there be any more contemptible arrow in the pathetically trite quiver of general automotive journalism? How many times has a car been tidily scooted from last to first in a comparison test by the mere invocation of “soul”? How often has a lazy print-rag writer used the concept as a deus ex machina with which to salvage a worthless review of a nearly equally worthless car? Imagine, for a moment, that a law were to be passed banning the use of the word, or concept, of “soul” with reference to automobiles. How would Car and Driver fill an entire magazine every month, other than by bowing to the inevitable and simply making the whole thing a glossy ad for MacNeil Automotive Products, manufacturers of WeatherTech™ floormats, complete with innumerable pictures of the mystery brunette who is so frequently seen enjoying everything from side-window shields to cargo liners – you know, the one to whom the French would refer as une femme d’un certain age?

Soul is a crutch, a cop-out, a shield behind which the harried hack may hide everything from laziness to journalistic incompetence to plain, simple bias or hatred. The Nissan GT-R has no soul. The Peugeot 504 was a soulful car. When the straight-six engine disappeared from a particular car – and that car could be anything from the Jaguar XJ to the Mercedes E-Class to the BMW M3 – that car lost its true soul. What crap. What claptrap. What a waste of my time and yours, dear reader.

And yet we shall not let the bad be the enemy of the good. It does not matter how many plodding writers fall through the open windows of their own shallow talent into the luckily-placed rescue trampolines of “soul”; the idea resonates with us, however weakly, because at some level, we all understand its potential validity. We have all considered that a certain vehicle might well possess something very much like a soul, have all waved our hand at an irrational thought or preference regarding a car and chalked it up to the “heart of the machine”. Soul means something, whether we like it or not – and that means that we may discover what that something is through careful inspection and/or introspection. This is what I will now endeavor to do, and we will not pause to consider the myriad of metaphysical doors which open by the wayside, nor will we stop until we have reached something true, something real, a butterfly box in which we may pin “soul” and leave it to writhe out its final inconsistencies. Let’s find “soul”, you and I.

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Avoidable Contact #14: I believe the child hoons are our future.

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The sound of a BlackBerry 8830 “World Edition” striking the inside of a Cadillac STS windshield at approximately fifty miles per hour is somewhere between a ‘clack’ and a solid ‘crack’. It was followed by a surprised yelp from my wife as she was momentarily suspended from her safety belt by the g-force of a full-ABS stop, having just lost her smartphone in mid-texting. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been time to warn her that we were about to test the Caddy’s 70-0 stopping ability on a twisting side road. Loafing along, chatting idly about this and that, I’d been almost inattentive to the view ahead – until I’d seen the flash of red coming around the blind corner towards us.

It was a kid, by which I mean a teenager. (When did I start using the word “kid” to refer to people old enough to drive? I suppose it was around the time I became old enough to potentially have a driving-age child of my own.) Young, wide-eyed, fighting for control of his late-Nineties Dodge Avenger R/T, sawing at the wheel to save a corner entry that was probably more than a bit too hot, he was just on his side of the double-yellow when he came into my field of vision. It looked like a solid head-on collision in the making, so I immediately left-footed the pearl-white STS to a halt with two wheels off in the ditch in the hopes he would save the car before he got to our position, or at least slow the thing down enough to keep us all out of the emergency room.

His corner exit was disastrous at best, but a slight change in road camber past the turn gave our rather terrified Avenger driver just enough grip to straighten the car out, and he coasted past us looking for all the world as if he’d lost his primary parachute and been saved by the backup. A few hundred feet down the road, I heard him pick up full throttle again and steam away from us with all the vigor the bespoilered old Mitsu-Dodge could muster up. Reaching up to the dashtop to retrieve her BlackBerry, my wife looked at me expectantly. You see, I’m a veritable firehose of criticism behind the wheel, offering my passengers a constant stream of observations regarding the idiocy, foolhardiness, timidity, yellow-light-early-braking, left-lane-banditry, and general despicability of my fellow motorists. Surely I’d have something to say?

“Good for him,” I smiled, and with that, we resumed our boring little trip to the hardware store.

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