Category - Avoidable Contact

A weekly opinion column by Dubspeed Driven staffer Jack Baruth

Avoidable Contact #13: When it comes to the options, some people have no standards.

Click for Larger Image

Story and photograph by Jack Baruth

They call it “Trauma Bonding”, and although the exact definition is highly debatable, it’s generally understood to mean a situation in which victims come to identify or sympathize with their victimizers. It occurs in cults, domestic violence situations, and even hijacked airliners, but most importantly for the purpose of today’s discussion, it’s running rampant in the automotive enthusiast community. The most recent manifestation of the illness appears to be a fondness for outrageous fuel prices; it’s characterized by statements like, “I can’t wait until five-dollar gasoline forces us all to drive small, economical cars,” or “The best thing for everybody would be if we were taxed into using (insert naive reference to diesel, soybeans, unicorn sweat, or whatever other smelly, sticky, low-power, improbably available fuel tickles one’s fancy). Then all the SUVs will be gone from the road and we’ll all drive the cars we need, instead of the cars we want.

It’s not enough for these pump-price Pollyannas that miserable suckboxes like the Prius are available for them to purchase; they’d prefer that you be forced to purchase them as well. They’ve taken the American Dream – the idea that everyone should be free to achieve as much as their ability permits – and perverted it into a socialist fantasy where everyone will be issued the car they need. Who will determine the need of the American motorist? Well, you can bet that our quasi-Communist “betters” won’t let the American motorist actually make his or her own choice, because they might choose something outrageous, like a Mercedes CLK63 Black Series – perhaps even a Ford Expedition Funkmaster Flex Edition! Instead, we will be limited to “sensible” choices along the lines of the aforementioned suppository-shaped Toyopet or, if we’re lucky, one of those rocketship Nissan Versas, preferably in a nice shade of beige to discourage unnecessary feelings of aggression or enjoyment.

Decades ago, Kurt Vonnegut anticipated these pathetic people and their hateful outlook on life with his story “Harrison Bergeron”. It’s worth a read, because Vonnegut makes a pretty decent argument that enforced equality at the level of the lowest common denominator is not something to which we should aspire. Still, I can see the merits of the mandatory-one-point-two-liter-crapbox argument. If we really are facing an era of unprecedented resource scarcity – and there is considerable evidence to that effect – then perhaps we’ll need to burn the automotive village in order to save it, so to speak. Better to have some cars than none at all. No, I’m not quite ready to condemn the “responsible usage” people to the absolute lowest level of Car Guy Hell, although I will continue to apply random throttle on the freeway to frustrate the ambitions of any would-be hypermilers in my vicinity. No, I think I’ll save the worst of my venom for the most evil so-called enthusiasts in existence, the scum of the motoring earth, the Trauma-Bonders par excellence, the basest filth imaginable. That’s right, I’m referring to those sick bastards who complain about the prices in the Porsche option catalog.

Read More

Avoidable Contact #12: Why the motoring press can’t even Focus on its own Astra.

Click for Larger Image

“So, yeah, it’s a new Focus, but it’s not the one we want. In fact, had we been asked what we’d want for the latest Focus, ‘old mechanicals,’ ‘horrifying exterior styling,’ and ‘no hatchbacks’ wouldn’t exactly have sprung to mind.” – “Automobile” magazine, on the 2008 Ford Focus

“Not only does Saturn need the Astra, but North American buyers need it too.” – “Automobile”, on the 2008 Saturn Astra

Focus Sales in 1Q 2008: 49,070

Astra Sales in 1Q 2008: 1,477

“Four, five press cars a week!” The violence of his own enthusiasm was starting to get the better of the old fellow; sweat stains were visibly creeping down the wrinkled sides of his cheap Hawaiian shirt as he waved both hands forcefully in an effort to keep my attention. “The manufacturers know they need to put cars in my driveway, because when I write about a car, it puts customers on the front door of that damn dealership Monday morning, bet your ass.” Ugh. It’s common practice for manufacturers to “match up” journalists on press events, and judging from my experience they aren’t exactly using eHarmony’s patented relationship-predicting algorithms to do it, because I keep getting matched with drooling morons who appear to hate my guts from the moment I climb into the airport courtesy car. Oh well. Might as well keep the conversation going, if only for my own amusement.

“But how do you manage to review five cars a week?” I asked in as innocent a tone as I could muster. “I mean, how do you even drive that many?”

“I DON’T!” was the near-shouted reply. “My daughter drives ’em, and if she likes a car, I’ll give it some of my time. We don’t even own any cars any more. No reason to. They’re free when you know what you’re talking about.” Clearly, it was going to be a long ride to the test site, but it turned out to an instructive one. For nearly three decades, I’d been a passive consumer of automotive magazines and websites, always wondering what it would be like to make it to the “inside” and actually live the lifestyle of a super-cool automotive journalist. Then one day, our senior editor, Zerin Dube, picked me out of utter obscurity to impose my worthless opinions on you, our valued readers – and before I knew it, I was a player in the whirlwind motor-journo lifestyle of free food, free hotels, free fuel, and all the bacon I can eat at the breakfast bar. It’s kind of like being Paris Hilton, without the pocket dogs and the “Nightshot” videos with Rick what’s-his-name.

Unfortunately, in the same way that Ms. Hilton appears to have gone, oh, shall we say, completely insane as a result of her fabulous life, I’m starting to suspect that all autowriters eventually lose their minds as well. It would explain a lot, you know. It would solve the mystery of why I recently had some crazy old dude whose sole racing experience consisted of transit driving in a cross-country rally give me a drunken lecture about my braking points on-track. It would help me understand why people who barely earn fifty grand a year prance around like the Prince of Wales and bully the staff at the press event hotels. Most importantly, it might offer a clue as to how the Press As A Whole did such an incompetent job of reviewing the latest arrivals on the small-car scene.

Read More

Avoidable Contact #11: How Fake Luxury Conquered The World.

Click for Larger Image

Gather ‘round, everybody. I have an epic tale to tell. It’s the story of how Fake Luxury Conquered The World. There are heroes, and villains, and sweeping vistas, and if we don’t exactly have a princess cooped up in a tower, we might have a few sexually liberated young women in airbrush-mural vans. Interested? Follow along with me as we return to the dark days of the early Seventies…

Read More

Avoidable Contact #10 – There’s no stop to the madness; the new site; introducing “Mr. Roboto”.

Click for Larger Image

Story by Jack Baruth, photography by Matt Chow

Don’t look now, but Dubspeed Driven has become a pretty big deal in the past year or so. Thanks to you, our faithful and patient readers, we’re knocking the teeth out of some of the biggest names in auto-blog-o-lism. While our competitors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on snazzy offices, first-class flights to Europe, “branding consultants”, and high-priced, low-talent hack writers, we’re getting it done with the proverbial two tables and a microphone… which is really more like four part-timers and a couple of Canon DSLRs, but you get the idea. There’s no money in this for us, no banner ads funneling cheddar into offshore accounts. You won’t find any ulterior motives at work here – we just want to have fun and share some neat cars with you along the way.

With so many “eyeballs” in the same electronic room, so to speak, it’s time to shove the walls out a bit and remodel to serve you better. In the next month, the site you know as Dubspeed Driven will formally re-brand as Speed:Sport:Life, with a new, more readable format and a double-barrel blast of new content. I’d like to tell you that we’re getting a ground-up redesign along the lines of our big-dollar “e-magazine” competition, but let’s face it: if we had that kind of money, we’d spend it filling a Daytona Prototype with strippers, not building a photo studio and filling it with trolls. Sorry about that. We will, however, be making a solid effort to make it easier for you to read and enjoy the articles. Fonts, whitespace, formatting – we’re working on all of that. We might consult an expert in website redesign if it comes to it, but for the moment we have an idea of what you would want and how to achieve it.

Oh yeah, we also have a new test driver. He’s an evil cyborg made from German scrap metal, artificial eyeballs grown in a dry-ice-flooded laboratory, and a stolen pig heart.
Read More

Avoidable Contact #9 – The impending failure of the mighty GT-R.

Click for Larger Image

Story by Jack Baruth, photo by “bubba sideways”

I can’t count the number of times during my long and painful BMX career when I sat on my bike, sized up some dirt jump, wooden ramp, or fifteen-stair drop-off, and thought long and hard about how much I’d regret what I was about to do, should it go wrong. Most of the time, my pessimism was unfounded – I’d clear the jump, bound over the obstacle, land the drop. Every once in a while, however, I’d lose my balance, slip a pedal, or just plain run out of talent, and for a tiny, sickening fraction of a second, my breath would catch in my throat before I hit the ground to the accompanying “crack” of a broken bone. I never actually heard a bone break, mind you; it always felt like a really sharp pinch in a place where no pinching should be possible. The memory of that little “pinch” is what made me sit on my bike for an extra moment or two before cranking off towards disaster. There were times I’d have liked to just sit there until it was time to go home, but the difference between the rider and the poser is that the poser never stops just sitting there on the bike. You’ll never get hurt just sitting there.

If I don’t make the prediction I’m about to unleash – if I turn this column towards a safer topic, like E85 pricing or trail-braking techniques for FWD race cars – I won’t get hurt. There won’t be any hate mail. Zerin, my long-suffering editor, won’t get any calls from the manufacturers. It’ll be business as usual. I should really shut up right now.

Oh, the hell with that. Let’s pedal towards the jump and make a prediction. I believe that Nissan is making a potentially serious error in importing the new GT-R to the United States and Canada. I believe that they will eventually regret doing so, and that the GT-R will join that time-honored long list of big-money automotive marketing mistakes that contains everything from the Edsel to the Lincoln Blackwood. Yeah, yeah, I know. Some of my dear readers are already searching for the “Respond” button at the bottom of this column so they can make unpleasant and biologically improbable suggestions regarding my momma, while the more action-oriented among you are already GoogleMapping a very special trip for the purpose of beating my face in at the NASA season opener. (It’s April 12, at Mid-Ohio, if you must know.) If there’s anybody left who simply wants to know the reasons behind this particular piece of prophecy… you’ll just have to put the chainsaw down and keep reading.
Read More

Avoidable Contact #8 – Dealer vs. Manufacturer, and the loser is you.

Click for Larger Image

Story by Jack Baruth

She’d entered our dealer principal’s office as a coltish, blinking young woman, stepping awkwardly in new high heels. Almost six feet tall, impossibly thin, painfully beautiful, wearing a purposely dowdy pantsuit. It was always fun to see the new dealer reps arrive from Ford; without exception they were tall, good-looking young men and women with impeccable degrees from Michigan universities, earnest Midwestern faces, and a charmingly naive sense of the world. They’d meet the dealer, a hard-assed former B-17 pilot who had built the dealership with his own hands, and they’d meet the general manager, a hulking man with a Mafioso’s hair and the easy yet malicious attitude of a professional assassin, and those two old bastards would grind ’em into the ground. We enjoyed the show. Sure, these kids were on their way to six-figure salaries, a home in Bloomfield Hills, and the outrageously hedonistic life of a Detroit executive – but before they could make the big money, they’d have to take a beating from our guys. Of course, things were slightly different this time. Our dealer principal had recently handed over the daily operations to his phlegmatic, fortysomething son, whose demeanor and physique had long ago earned him the nickname “Droopy The Dog”. Droopy had insisted on seeing the Ford rep alone, probably hoping that he could earn some respect among the sales staff by beating up a twenty-three-year-old girl. Rumor said this meeting was to discuss an extra “allocation” – the amount of stock sent to each dealer on an annual basis. We all knew what we wanted from this girl – we wanted extra allocation of PowerStroke diesels, we wanted more three-quarter-ton trucks, and we wanted to become an SVT dealer. With any luck, Droopy would get the job done.

When she walked out of his door, the awkward young volleyball player had become a triumphant Valkyrie. She grinned at the assembled sales staff and strutted to her cream-colored Town Car Cartier. From colt to racehorse, in one meeting flat. Our general manager frowned, went into Droopy’s office, and slammed the door. Hushed voices turned loud, and before long the two men were screaming at each other. The rest of the salesmen had melted away by the time the door banged back open, leaving me to face the general manager alone. He looked at me and said,

“Aerostars. Aerostars! The bitch made him take four AEROSTARS!.”

Read More