Weekly Roundup: The League Of Ordinary Gentlemen Edition

I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the readers and friends who contributed to my participation in today’s Distinguished Gentlemen Ride. I appreciate your belief in the DGR’s mission and your personal support. It means a lot to me and it is humbling in ways that are difficult to convey in this format. I’ll be putting up photos from the ride as I get them, but for now you are invited to take a moment to mourn my Zegna Trofeo jacket which suffered serious and possibly terminal damage from being run at 90 miles per hour around Interstate 270 this morning. I’ll keep you posted on Trofeo’s convalescence and recuperation.

Seriously, however, the ride was a blast and it put me back in touch with a local fellow who builds some wicked vintage Triumphs. I’ll be visiting his secret stash and sharing it with you in the near future. For now, check out the contributions that Bark and I managed to get out the door last week.

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1977 Mercury Marquis and Marquis Brougham – Ride-Engineered by Lincoln-Mercury!

The last few years of Mercury’s existence, say 2005-2010, were painful to watch. Though the marque had a pretty consistently bumpy road through the years (cheap Lincoln or fancy Ford?), there were still some interesting cars. Who could forget the loaded, tri-tone 1957-58 “senior” Park Lanes, 1967-68 Cougars and the fastback Cyclones of the late Sixties? Or the full-on Broughamtastic Marquis, which first appeared in 1967 as the top-drawer big Mercury? Heck, the Marquis pretty much WAS Mercury the last decade of its existence. So let’s take a look of some of its Seventies forebears, shall we?

The 1977 Marquis was essentially the same as the 1975 Marquis. The main difference was that in 1977 most of its competition had gone on a crash diet and turned out leaner, meaner, and yet more space efficient as well.

And “The New Chevrolet” and its siblings sold like dollar beer at the ball game. What to do? Simple: Improvise.

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Clickbait Narratives Are Still Ruining America

Look at the headline in the lead image. Aren’t you enraged? Betsy DeVos, that destroyer of public schools, that evil billionaire—she’s flying a private jet for official travel! It’s outrageous, ridiculous, and completely inappropriate for taxpayers to pay for a woman worth well over $5 billion to fly in a private plane! It must be a scandal, because Tom Price and Steve Mnuchin are also embroiled in scandals.

Of course, if you were actually to click into the article, you’d read the following quote, right at the top of the article:

Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill told The Associated Press on Thursday that DeVos travels completely on her own dime, accepting no government reimbursement for flights or other expenses.

“Secretary DeVos accepted her position to serve the public and is fully committed to being a faithful steward of taxpayer dollars,” Hill said.

So, wait…what? She’s flying on her own jet to save taxpayer dollars? Well, holy shit. She’s an American hero, not a criminal. But do you think this matters to people who just read the headline on Facebook? Who took the five seconds out their miserable days to make the mad little emoji, or to share it nearly a thousand times?

Nah.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: When You’re Smiling, The Whole World Smiles With You Edition

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to all of you before, but one of the MX-5 Club cars used by the Skip Barber School is joining our ragtag fleet of misfit toys. I’m awfully excited by this. We have all sorts of plans in store for the car and we already have forty — count ’em, FORTY! — extra tires for it. There’s also something to be said for having an easily cannibalized donor vehicle for your enduro racer, although I hope it never comes to that.

Click the jump to read excerpts from one of my more prolific weeks so far.

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Housekeeping: Two Million Ways To Waste Your Time

Thirty-four months to the first million and twenty months to the next. When I started this blog I had no expectation that it would eventually attract a couple thousand readers every day of the week. It’s not like Bark and I have done very much to make that happen. Rarely do we have more than a few new posts every week. Much of the credit has to go to the tireless and perceptive Tom Klockau. His classic curbside (wink) reviews are tremendously popular here, and with good reason.

As I did at the one million mark, I’ll answer some Infrequently Asked Questions below.

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1986 Lotus Turbo Esprit – If It Has A Burglar Alarm, Just Leave It Alone

Here is a highly uncommon sight here in the Midwest, at least outside of big cities like Chicago, Des Moines or St. Louis. Spotting a Lotus Turbo Esprit in the small town of Geneseo, IL (pop. 6,586), a mere twenty minute drive from the Quad Cities, is a rather rare experience.

If, like me, you grew up in the totally awesome 1980s, your most vivid memory of the Esprit could be of the white S1 from the film The Spy Who Loved Me. Kind of funny, thinking a British car could be watertight, eh? Ha! I guess Q Branch had really stepped up their game. “Now 007, we’ve installed rather numerous gaskets and grommets to ensure your car will stay leak-free. Do try not to destroy it this time!”

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The Great Escape

If you’re still waiting for this month’s issue of Road&Track here’s a preview for you. Richard Pardon and Paul Rees used the day after I flew home to make this short and fun video showcasing the Mercedes GT C in the mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy. Look at how handsome Paul is! If you’re already in possession of your magazine, of course, you know that I had the cover story and the long feature as well. Let me know what you think!

Weekly Roundup: Without A Cause Edition

Wallace Stevens published his first and arguably greatest book of poetry, Harmonium, at the age of forty-four. Thirteen years later, he published “The Idea Of Order At Key West”. I do not know what future generations will make of Stevens or his work — as with Eliot and Pound, I suspect that the exhaustive demands that Stevens makes of the reader, his footnote-fancy-free requirements that one be both massively erudite and finely sensitive, will cause him to eventually disappear from a canon unable to properly encompass much more than the feelgood blatherings of Maya Angelou or Pablo Neruda. Stevens wrote for men like himself, men who were not immune to emotion but who had subjugated their passions to the work of creating the Western World. We will not see their like again and their cultural legacy will not fare well in the new pedagogical tradition that largely defines itself in terms of the negative space between tangible accomplishments.

Perhaps all that anybody will remember is that Stevens worked tirelessly in the insurance business for most of his adult life. By the time Harmonium was published, he had already put in seven years at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he would work well into his seventies. Never well-liked at his day job, Stevens was nevertheless efficient and successful. He was also sufficiently vigorous at the age of fifty-six to break his hand on Ernest Hemingway’s jaw in a rather odd dust-up that was apparently founded on mutual artistic contempt and in which Hemingway, like recent lime-green Huracan purchaser Conor McGregor, failed to capitalize on a considerable advantage in youth.

I think about Wallace Stevens quite a bit when I read today’s younger autowriters. Almost without exception, they would be better off working some kind of day job and thus having the freedom to be a bit choosier about both the assignments they accept and the quality of the work they turn out. I’ve had this discussion with a few of them and I’m always told that “nobody is hiring”. That’s ridiculous. McDonald’s is hiring. Home Depot is hiring. Your local car dealership is hiring salesmen and service writers. What they mean is that nobody wants to pay them $75,000 a year to perform some kind of vague white-collar work that requires no prior skills or experience. That’s a shame but I can’t help but point out that I faced an identical situation when I left school in 1994 with an English degree and an extremely patchy resume consisting mostly of missed opportunities.

There’s a lot to be said for flipping burgers nine hours a day and spending the rest of your waking hours becoming a better writer. It’s going to pay off much sooner than sitting around the house talking shit on Twitter and curating the pornography collection on your laptop. There’s something about repetitive, unpleasant labor that really stimulates creativity in people, assuming they have the knack for it in the first place. Oh well. I don’t expect anybody to take this advice. It’s too easy to stay plugged into social media and the Brownian motion of endless, pointless conversations.

Let’s see what I managed to get written this week while also working a “real job”. As the man said, let be be the finale of seem.

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What Was Your First Automotive Mishap?

My first mishap with a car was with my first car, a 1991 Volvo 940 SE, black over tan, with sunroof. I was eighteen, had only been driving a few months due to health issues, but LOVED driving. So much so, on occasion I would get up really early, like before sunrise, to take the car for a ride before school. I remember several instances where I’d sneak the car out about 5:30 (so as not to wake anyone up and ask me why I was doing a damfool thing like going for a drive at 5 AM), go for a ride around town listening to the oldies station, and then head back, get my school crap and head off to Alleman High School.

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In Which The Author Conducts A Technical Interview On The Shoulders Of Giants

I was in the gig economy before the gig economy was cool, you know. In the past two decades I’ve been a consultant, a third-party service provider, a contributor, a self-employed technocrat, and just a plain old temp. Sometimes it’s been remarkably lucrative and often it’s been remarkably depressing. Sometimes both at once.

Last month I said goodbye to the last of my technical support customers and took a new full-time contract. I’m surrounded by very nice people there. The commute is short and the parking is free. It’s a little hard not to get depressed when I’m sitting in my cube and seeing all my various journo-friends and journo-foes traveling the world and enjoying all the perks that the business can provide. The best I can tell myself is that Hawthorne started his adult career in the Custom-House and Melville spent his final years there. At the end of every day I do not worry about whether I sold my integrity cheaply or whether I failed to fight for the truth on any given subject. Such things have no meaning or relevance in the eternal late-fall twilight of that seventy-four-degree flourescent office building.

I make no decision on any subject beyond the technical. There are a thousand dreams and ambitions in that building and there are people who are compensated to a truly stunning degree and there are people who spend their lunch hours in worried dialogue about bills and childcare but it matters not to me. I show up in the morning and I do my work and I leave and by the time the oil is warm in my CB1100 on the road home all thoughts of the job have slipped from my mind with that same light viscosity.

This past Wednesday I assisted one of the fellows in the office in conducting a short technical interview. It was my intention to ask a couple of bland questions and shut up, but things got a bit out of hand.

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