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.