Sunday, December 15, 2013

On Stickshifts, Longroofs, & Infants - ANF's Growing Family

Long time no post, but I've got a good excuse. My wife and I are overjoyed to be expecting our first child after nearly 11 wonderful years of marriage. It’s simultaneously beautiful and horrifying news, and has sent us on a mad dash to get our finances, health, home, and even our car in order before the July 24th, 2014 due date.

my beloved but tired dirtbag before the Prodrives were fitted

Being childless never stopped me from liking wagons, and in many ways we already have the perfect mommymobile—a 2000 Subaru Legacy Outback. It’s safe, commodious, and even has a factory built-in child seat. It’s also a massive steaming pile of shit, albeit a fun to drive beat one. It’s been through approximately 17 head gaskets, and based on nothing more than intuition (aaand maybe the conversation drowning gear whine) I’d say it’s well on the way towards lunching it’s second 4th gear synchro, taking the rest of the gearbox with it. Time for an upgrade.

Here are my criteria:

  1. Longroof
  2. Safe
  3. Fun to drive
  4. Manual transmission
  5. Not front wheel drive
  6. See number four

A mythical beast. I’ve spent the last five weeks scouring Craigslist, eBay, and Autotrader for a car that matches this description, and have turned up empty handed again and again—despite the fact that this is literally what I do for a living as a professional car hunter/writer with Bring a Trailer.

First I thought I’d like a Forester Turbo, because I really like Subaru’s, and you’ll notice reliability was not among my list of must-have characteristics.

They’re fast (0-60 in 5 flat, stock), safe (for more than a decade now Subaru has quietly been building the safest cars on the road, regularly beating even Volvo in tests), and make that fantastic off-kilter, deep farting noise I love so much. I’ve already got a set of 18” OZ Prodrive P1’s that would look perfect in combination with a coil over enabled drop, and we’d have more than enough room in the back to accommodate the seed, Home Depot runs, and our midcentury furniture hunting addiction (and our super-posh ass collie – edit by author’s wife).

Problem is the only examples I’ve found are either beat to hell with 100k + miles, ridiculously overpriced, tastelessly modified, rusty, previously wrecked, and/or in violation of commandments 4 & 6. All of this can also be applied to turbocharged Legacy wagons.

baggage included

Maybe an E46 Touring, then? After all I love German cars. I love the way they're built, engineered, and the way they drive. I used to love them even more back when they were styled with the kind of careful, purposeful restraint German design used to stand for, an ethos of which the E46 was perhaps the last BMW to adhere to. Problems with this one:

  1. German cars are nearly without exception driven by sociopaths and other assholes.
  2. Though this describes me pretty accurately I like to pretend to myself that I am a nice guy.
  3. My wife is a sweetheart and doesn't deserve these associations. Read into that what you will.
  4. The only manual equipped ones are owned by BMWCCA types (see no. 1) and are extraordinarily overpriced. This is what happens when a group of people who derive so much of their over-inflated yet shallow and delicate sense of self from their car are allowed to appraise its monetary value.

I’d buy an Audi but I like a car that is built and drives properly more than I like soft touch plastics. Many feel differently, though, and in addition to fitting the typical German car driver characteristics mentioned above, these people frequently have fauxhawks and small, yipping dogs with Louis Vuitton collars.

That brings me neatly to Plan C., buy a nice W124 300TE and throw in an LSsomethingorother from a wrecked Vette/Camaro/Firebird/Saab 9-7x, hook it all up to 6-speed of some sort, then happily drive around in the best car ever hacked. 

I’d put another list of impediments here but it’s not necessary as only one thing really stops me from doing this—I’m awful at swinging a wrench. I enjoy it, and have semi-successfully toyed with project cars in the past, but never anything entrusted to cart a baby around in.

pure class

Are you listening Subaru? You have at least one American customer who could probably scrape enough cash together to kind of afford a new forced induction Legacy wagon or Forester XT should you choose to offer him one with a manual like you already do in other, less stupid countries.

Last night I decided I’ll just get a nice ’06-’07 Hawkeye WRX five door and an old beater Datsun pickup. Now all I need to do is find an example of the former with no mods and low mileage—wish me luck.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Death on the Boards - Robert Williams, Mr. Bitchin'

So apparently Hulu has movies, too - who knew.  Found this gem about the counter culture artist and founder of Juxtapoze Robert Williams there recently, and it's really good - funny, educational, weird, and apt.

Below is a clip of Williams explaining the history behind his 1992 painting "Death on the Boards".  It involves a 1 1/4 mile banked wooden board oval racetrack, closed since 1924, right in the opulent, plastic heart of Beverly Hills, CA, a Frontenac, a Duesenberg, and a man named Chevrolet.

The man's an OG hot rodder and badass and knows his cars really well - I like the pride he shows in knowing his canvas recreations are accurate to the last nut and bolt.  

I'm ordering a copy of the print for my office.  Hi-res image good for a desktop background.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reverse Orca - The Worst Car Thing I've Ever Owned

A few years back my wife and I were busy struggling through the most difficult part of our marriage thus far.  I'd been laid off for a period of time and was having a hard time finding work.  Bills piled up, credit cards were maxed, savings depleted.  I sold a lot of my stereo gear, I sold a lot of rare records, and when I ran out of those, I sold my baby - a minty '89 AW11 MR2 (which I later re-bought in a much worse state, a story for another time).

We were left with one car, which Anna needed to commute Monday through Friday, forcing me to rely on public transportation for the job hunt. This wouldn't have been a big deal back home in Chicago, but was a massive inconvenience in the Motorized Republic of Southern California - the infrastructure out here is just nowhere near as developed, and where it is it tends to be pretty unreliable.  

Enter my father-in-law, a fleet manager/lead mechanic at Cox Communications of San Diego, who came through in a pinch with a freshly decommissioned 1999 Saturn SL (gracias, Gil).  There's no 1 or 2 missing from that model name, it was the sub-stripper, sub-basement, bottom-feeder, homeless crack fiend garbage can corrugated cardboard soup kitchen edition, too skint for a fancy alphanumeric designation.  It cost us $900, had 70k well-maintained miles on the clock, A/C, an automatic, an AM/FM cassette deck, and massive oil/coffee/vomit(?) stains all over the formerly tan carpet floor.  It was refrigerator white with black bumpers, which in combination with its rounded body gave it a resemblance to a color inverted killer whale - we nicknamed it Reverse Orca.  It was, no exaggeration, the biggest piece of garbage anything either of us have ever owned.

not ours, we took no photos of it

For starters, the seats were made of two massive, flat, limp pieces of foam covered with school-bus grade beige vinyl.  They pivoted in the middle and slid back and forth but sucked regardless of their position, allowing your whole body to slide laterally during even modest cornering.  20 mile drives would leave your back aching like you spent the day moving house.  The quality of everything you saw, touched, or controlled was appallingly low.  I remember the dash has mold flash lines an eight of an inch high and hard enough to cut skin, and it all fit like together like a Soviet knock off Optimus Prime - the tape deck once popped out of the dash as it twisted through a long on-ramp.

The engine broke 4 motor mounts in 18,000 miles, and there was nothing wrong with it - they just do that.  It was rough, and sounded like an industrial generator amplified through a blown speaker.  The rev limiter cut in at 4,500 RPM, I kid you not, and it might as well because it made no power anywhere anyway, with the only noticeable affect of giving it more throttle the sensation of heavy pieces of 100 grit sandpaper rubbing together faster and faster.  The trans would hunt on inclines you couldn't detect without a bubble level.

Steering feel was shockingly inconsistent, with weight switching from light to heavy and back again through the same easily taken turn.  Brakes were soft and prone to locking regardless of how many times I bled them, and it handled like the suspension was made of water logged firewood, which is to say spongey and hard at the same time, a feat unmatched anywhere else in all of automotive history, and surely the lifetime achievement of Saturn's development engineers - here's to you, guys, your legacy will live on.

I hated that car, but it got me where I needed to go and eventually helped me get back to work, and for that I'll always be grateful.  It never broke down, always managed at least 27 MPG, and cost next to nothing to insure.  We sold it for a $100 profit to a guy who bought it for his daughter, who was about to start college - a noble job for the faithful heap of trash.

What's the worst car you've ever owned?  Here's your chance to vent, I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Audio Klassics dot De - German Electro Fetish Porn

I'm a geek for this stuff.  

The site is run by a German guy showing off his immaculately preserved old gear and equally over-the-top stores of beautiful, vintage Danish furniture, all of it very well staged and photographed.  So decadent it's almost embarrassing, but also one of the coolest things I've run into in a long time.

Someday I'll post a few pics of my own much, much more modest Craigslist collection.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Senna's NSX For Sale - Think You Can Heel & Toe?

Even if this NSX's only special attributes were that it's a low-mileage, 100% original, stock, pristine survivor, it'd be something truly special.  Add to this list previous stewardship under arguably the greatest driver who ever lived and you're left with something several orders of magnitude more valuable than a mere flawless example of a machine whose superb handling he's credited for honing - this is holy grail material.

Here he is extracting every last milligram of performance across every spare millimeter of Suzuka in the kind of slip-on loafers you might use to run and check the mail.  I doubt I'm as relaxed during REM sleep as he seems to be clipping apexes on the extreme razor's edge.  Peep the heel/toe - superhuman skill.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot - Listening to Numbers Stations

I’ve decided to branch out a bit here at ANF.  The primary focus will remain on cars, but writing about them for a living as I’ve been doing for a while now has encouraged me to broaden my scope - I hope you’ll find my scattered momentary interests and obsessions, er, well, interesting.  I deeply appreciate my readers, so feel free to let me know your feelings, good or bad.

It's been mentioned here before that I’m a big fan of the band Wilco, and in particular their 2002 masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  The album is named after a sample used here and there on the record of a synthesized British female voice repeating those three military alphabet letters.  I’d been curious to know where this sample came from and what it meant since I first heard it back on the day it was first released over a decade ago, and just yesterday I finally put in a bit of research on the subject.

Apparently it’s part of a shortwave radio broadcast that originated from something called a “numbers station”.  Numbers stations are thought to be platforms for illicit, secret communication between government agencies and internationally deployed spies.  According to the Conet Project, who have amassed a large collection of these recordings from around the world, numbers stations date to as early as World War I – making them among the earliest practical uses of radio.  Nearly every government on earth has at one time or another used these means to send coded messages, and they’re still quite prevalent today. 

Shortwave broadcasts are capable of reaching around Earth’s curvature due to ionospheric reflection, also known as “skywave propagation”, in which their high frequency waves literally bounce back and forth between surface and ionosphere, like a basketball between your hand and the floor.  This, combined with the simple, relatively low-powered equipment needed to broadcast shortwaves makes them an obvious choice for covert, intercontinental communication.  Besides spy and military agencies, numbers stations are also thought to be used by international criminal, anti-government, and terrorist organizations, too.

You can listen to any of these broadcasts right now in the comfort of your own home.  “Comfort” might not be the right word, really, as the seemingly random sequences of voice, song, and electronically-generated noise contained within them are somehow deeply unsettling - this little girl counting in German played a part in a terrifying nightmare I had last night.  Haunting and captivating seem to go hand-in-hand, though – like salty and sweet, or pleasure with a bit of pain, it’s a favorite flavor combination for social misfits and perverts of all stripes.  Have a listen, but be prepared to be thoroughly creeped the fuck out.

Check out this link to the Conet Project for a list of recordings.  This one in is my favorite - a series of gongs that sounds exactly like a 12th generation cassette recording of some experimental German band's drug-fueled tape looping sessions in a dank Berlin housing project basement sometime in the early 80s - a lot like early Einst├╝rzende Neubauten, then.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bryan Cranston's August 2013 GQ Photo Shoot

I'm a huge fan of Cranston's Walter White on Breaking Bad, and place him second only to Jon Hamm's Don Draper in Mad Men as the best acted, most compelling character on TV today - an order likely more down to my slight preference for the latter show than any discernible difference in talent between the two.  Either way, both shows are superb examples of how we're currently in the midst of what many consider to be the "Golden Age" of television drama, and I highly recommend checking them both out if you haven't already.

I stumbled upon this photo spread on GQ's site earlier today and of course immediately fell in love with the theme.  I recognize the lowrider as an Olds Cutlass, but what's the red convertible?  I'm pretty sure it's a FoMoCo product, but that's as narrow a description I've got in me.

Edit: it's a Galaxie, thanks to reader Ravuya.


A Rather Excellent Tumblr - Mechanics

Anyone have any idea what the hell is going on in the third pic down?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cars, Coffee, Ibuprofen & Meeting a Hero - Mazda 787

It'd been several weeks since I made it out to Cars & Coffee, Irvine, mostly due to routine, non-automotive related stuff - house chores, fitness, sleeping, showering, family... The biggest deterrent, though, has been getting up at 4:30 in the A.M. and promptly driving nearly 100 miles on very little sleep when every joint in my body feels full of coarse sand and bee venom. 

You see, I've been walking/interval jogging nearly five miles, five days a week in an effort to add some lightness, and though I'm still more closely resemble a fully laden Range Rover than a Lotus Seven, I have lost the equivalent weight of a Honda Civic battery in under two weeks.  I'm still eating some pretty extraordinarily unhealthy things once in a while, too, so all in all I'm pretty happy, despite being too tired and sore to do anything at all.

This past Saturday, though, equipped with 800 mg of Ibu and a whole lot of black coffee, I somehow found myself in the LS400 pointed towards Irvine.  After meeting up with my buddy Bowl-Rice and his immaculate Oettinger A4, then stopping again to pick up my dad, we ended up arriving pretty late around 7:30. 

We'd only been there for a few minutes when I heard something really wicked sounding start and settle into an idle lumpier than the sock full of batteries that I've become accustomed to feeling like I've been beaten with.  It was obviously a Wankel - "probably Mad Mike's bridgeported 13B-powered Mango Corolla", I thought.  Getting a little closer and seeing the 200 or so captivated men and their annoyed looking female companions (with fingers in ears) surrounding the source of the noise I became very excited - maybe it was some kind of mad triple rotor Cosmo or batshit insane RX-7 drift car?


It was a freaking 787.

Please pardon the poor composition - I had to wait for the crowd to clear to snap these shots, but the situation was still far from conducive to full-frame photography.  The first shot is taken from a still of a cell phone shot video, hence the awful resolution and lighting.  Speaking of that video, here it is in its full, unedited glory amateurishness.  The brapping begets redlining at about 2:10.

So, that's one dream attained.  The sound cannot be conveyed in video - every staccato pop from the exhaust was felt in the chest like a compression wave when standing near large-bore fireworks exploding, or heavy bass at a small venue concert with very large speakers.  The shrill, trebly rev peaks that come across as flat and one-note on film are actually comprised of seemingly dozens of layers of harmonized effervescence - like a distant and weak radio broadcast of the Vienna Boy's Choir repeatedly hitting a crescendo through a thick fog of static noise, amplified through god's own hifi.  

I will never forget it.

Chris Harris Drives Fangio's C Type at the Mille Miglia

And magic ensues.  This is one of the most inspiring things I've ever seen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Hint of Things Coming

Excuse the corners, not my idea.  Still, an interesting slice of context as to the size of Auto Union's Silver Arrows cars - they always look MASSIVE in photos, but apparently they're anything but.

More and deeper to come soon.  I've been ridiculously busy, but have no plans to abandon my baby.

Edit: some have suggested this may be a 2/3rd scale replica.  Le D'oh!!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cars of the Zodiac

I'm a Libra: "His ideal car would be a vehicle mounting two steering wheels, two hoods, and two motors, permitting him to drive in either direction.  In actuality, a Libra owns a sports car and a sedan."

Sounds about right.

Hat tip to PHENOTYP over on Oppo

Wankel Powered Lawn Mower Dyno Run & Donuts

Freakin' hilarious. Donuts start at 1:30

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How to Go Faster & Influence People - Gordon Murray

Superb documentary detailing his Formula One design career, the McLaren F1, and his latest microcar projects, the revolutionary T25 and T27.

One I Wrote for Petrolicious - 928 Ways to Kill the 911

"A world without the Porsche 911 is not a place I like to imagine, but to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, you’ve got no place as a writer if you’re not willing to indulge the occasional dark thought. So here goes: no iconic uber-beetle, that unmistakable silhouette honed by decades of aerodynamic refinement no more than a dream, the gruff, off-beat idle and yowling, warbling top-end scream of that fabulous pancake six merely an echo from an alternate plane of reality, that gently bobbing front end, living, ethereal steering, initial understeer and physics-defying post-apex traction no more corporeal than an emotion. This 911-less world is a cold and colorless place for anyone with petrol in the blood, a nightmare scenario for those of us who love great cars like others love the sun, so we should all be thankful that Porsche never had their way—they never killed the 911."


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Damp Days 901

My prefered kinda weather.  Never happy this time of year. /emo