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That story is true I'm here to say, 'cause I was driving that Model A
February 12, 2011 7:00 AM   Subscribe

I’m Jonathan Klinger and I’m spending one full year driving a 1930 Model A everywhere I go. (Starting October 13, 2010) Why? Because not everything a person owns should contain a computer. 365 days of A
posted by fixedgear (38 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fun to read, but it reminds me of an analogy that I used to make for computer users.

Back when automobiles were newer than they are today, people used to have to carry tools with them to do maintenance and adjustments to the engine regularly, even during daily use. And in older cars, they'd even have to wear special clothes because the engine would throw oil and stuff while driving. It was messy, and difficult, and required a lot of user knowhow to keep things working well.

Kind of like how running a computer can be, even today.

In 100 years, we'll have computers down to being as generally trouble-free as our cars are today.

Right now, we're pretty much running Model A equivalent computers.

Or something. It was a weak analogy back when I came up with it anyway.
posted by hippybear at 7:07 AM on February 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


That sounds pretty cool.
posted by Miko at 7:12 AM on February 12, 2011


Thirding the coolness. But my bicycle doesn't have a computer, and I've been driving it for 35 years, so I WIN!

(Plus he can afford to drive an expensive antique car, computer or not, which makes him a privileged whatchamacallit.)
posted by sneebler at 7:23 AM on February 12, 2011


Please, website designers, FAQs should not be populated with talking heads videos and no text. Well, a Talking Heads video is ok, but you catch my drift.
posted by crapmatic at 7:23 AM on February 12, 2011


Right now, we're pretty much running Model A equivalent computers.

Your flying car, sir.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:26 AM on February 12, 2011


What's the top speed on one of these things?

And I think an FAQ can be whatever you want it to be. Videos work for me.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:35 AM on February 12, 2011


BFD I drove a 1941 Chevy in 1981,82. Only problem I had was self engrandizing blogs hadn't been invented yet. Well that and the heater was busted.
posted by Gungho at 7:38 AM on February 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


The car was powered by an L-head 4-cylinder engine with just over 200 cubic-inches in displacement. A three-speed sliding gear transmission with 1 reverse speed was used. Top speed was achieved a little over sixty-miles per hour with the average fuel mileage being rather exceptional at over 40 MPG. source
posted by fixedgear at 7:42 AM on February 12, 2011


A more powerful statement against having a computer in a car might be to attempting to drive an early, computerized 1987 Buick Riviera everywhere for a year, and then blogging about it's failures.
posted by eschatfische at 8:03 AM on February 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


First car I drove was a Model A. One of my more unpredictable uncles let me drive it when I was about 8, with him sitting next to me to help. Then he bailed out in the middle of the field about two minutes later. Good times.
posted by theredpen at 8:04 AM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


So he's going to spend a year lumbering around in a 10 MPG piece of rolling advertisement and maybe get a book deal out of it? Congratulations.

Some of the Mennonites in western New York (and I think elsewhere) use the things all year round, every year. You know, except for when they're using horses. Color me unimpressed.
posted by wreckingball at 8:12 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why? Because not everything a person owns should contain a computer.

Why not?

I don't mean that in the sense that everything should contain a computer, but when appropriate, why not throw in a $1.99 uC that can replace the function of hundreds of mechanical parts?

Cars actually make a pretty good example. Thanks to having a computer in it (actually dozens or hundreds in a modern car, but not my point), you get far more power and fewer emissions with a modern bottom-of-the-line subcompact than with that Model A*. It remembers your favorite seat position and radio stations. Ever seen a movie where the bad guy steals the ingenue's distributor cap? Can't happen any more, modern cars don't have a distributor, they use computer controlled timing.

I don't think we need computers in everything, but rejecting a product solely for its level of technology makes one either a Luddite or an annoying hipster.


* 40MPG at the extreme high end, yes, not bad (though realistically, they pushed 25-30, still not bad but not quite so impressive sounding)... But did so at 40HP. Good luck merging into rush-hour traffic
posted by pla at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Right now, we're pretty much running Model A equivalent computers.

Your flying car, sir.


Your personal jetpack bundled with a robot that grants wishes and a round-trip ticket to a ski resort on Mars, sir.
posted by cmonkey at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2011


I don't think we need computers in everything, but rejecting a product solely for its level of technology makes one either a Luddite or an annoying hipster.

Seconded. I still don’t get why hipsters do this — why is a crappy plastic camera (or, worse, an iPhone app that emulates a crappy plastic camera) better to them than the fantastic digital pocket cameras available today?
posted by spitefulcrow at 8:32 AM on February 12, 2011


I'm going to spend every day, for a year, trying to do something meaningful with my life. I'm going to love my wife, and work hard at my job; I'm going to be loyal to my new friends and stay in touch with the friends I've left behind. I will be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Hard to make a gimmicky blog about that, though.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:48 AM on February 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


The problem with the computer analogy isn't that it's weak, it's that it wasn't taken far enough.

The computer equivalent of say a 1994 Toyota Corolla, so totally reliable that you could weld the hood shut and still drive it 100,000 miles, were the Commodore 64 and Apple ][e. Seriously. They were capable enough to run a small business (as many small businesses proved), absolutely reliable, and simple enough to be fully understood and therefore vetted by an individual human being who could own his work.

The problem with newer machines is that they try to do too much and end up not doing anything very well. The decline of the computer began with the PC, the first widespread personal architecture that wasn't fully documented for end users, as it did for cars with the computers that generated proprietary codes that could not be read or interpreted without special machinery.

More functionality isn't inherently bad; as pla says, the computer in your car gets it better mileage and more power in exchange for having to be serviced by expensive professionals and the occasional random inexplicable failure. The problem is when that tradeoff goes too far, as in most modern PC's or eschatfische's 1987 Buick, where the technology is pushed too far and the nuisance of the extra failure modes begins to outweigh the advantages of the automation.
posted by localroger at 9:00 AM on February 12, 2011


(Plus he can afford to drive an expensive antique car, computer or not, which makes him a privileged whatchamacallit.)

Might not be that expensive. I could walk up the road apiece and buy an up-and-running Model A for ten grand from my neighbor right now (well, that was before the recession, I'll be he'd take five now). The only reason I don't do so immediately, is because I'm able to imagine how quickly the thrill of having such as thing (much as I love the Model A) would wear off, and I'd be stuck for the upkeep of a car I never use. Plus I'd have to make room for it in the garage, which would mean cleaning out the garage, and ... no thanks.
posted by Faze at 9:03 AM on February 12, 2011


Looking through this and our comments, I think he frames things wrong with the "Because not everything a person owns should contain a computer." statement in the corner. He's not really protesting computers or technology. He's really holding a mirror up to our relationship with and understanding of the technology we take for granted.

In a lot of ways he's got more in common with the guys who were hacking their Honda Insights when they first came out than with the hipsters.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:04 AM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a '74 VW Thing. It would be irresponsible of me to drive it everywhere I go. It's an inefficient, polluting death trap.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:44 AM on February 12, 2011


Buddy of mine has an A. (the clutch is rusted at the moment, so you can't change gears...summer project!) 16,000 original miles. We re-wired it one Saturday- re-wired the whole damn car. THey're just so damn simple; except for the rust thing, they're a joy to work on.

60mph? eek, 50 is about it, and you have to hope the bottom end doesn't need new bearings after that.
posted by notsnot at 10:04 AM on February 12, 2011


I'm such a contrarian. I came onto this thread to say what pla said, but surprisingly, it's now been said many times. So, how about a different comment: he's really just bragging that he drives a model A, and the computer comment was just a "look how cool I am" remark on the end. People do that a lot. For example, I made my first website using notepad because that was all I had, and then I bragged about it saying something about how you shouldn't need a fancy editor to write HTML. All I really meant was "I'm so awesome that I can make a fancy webpage without a fancy editor," but I can see how it might have come off sounding to an observer as though I really had no respect for full-featured editors and the web designers who use them, which wasn't the case.

He actually says on the blog:
I don’t want anyone to think that I dislike modern cars. They serve an excellent purpose and are amazing pieces of technology. But, most of them don’t do anything for me beyond the purpose they serve - that is being a reliable and relatively safe mode of personal transportation. Most modern cars lack the level of personality that older cars do. (I happen to believe that this is one of the reasons that the recent fad of retro-designed automobiles have a decent following…that is because they emulate the personality that the original example provided…and sometimes at an exaggerated level.)
That actually makes perfect sense to me. I agree that modern cars have less style to them, with a few expensive exceptions. Although that's disappointing, I don't think it's really a negative statement about modern technology, it's just the way things are -- new stuff tends to be flashy and stuff we're all used to tends to be more mundane in design. Oh well.
posted by Xezlec at 10:27 AM on February 12, 2011


The movie could be just like Julie and Julia, except in this one Meryl Streep is helping the Nazis!
posted by condour75 at 10:59 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why? Because not everything a person owns should contain a computer.

Why not?


Frakking toasters.
posted by biffa at 11:08 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the guy is a hipster, but so what? Nothing wrong with people using plastic cameras if that's what floats their boat.

Even though Model As and Holgas leave me cold, I know exactly how he feels. You can use the modern ultra-reliable version of the thing, but still feel the joy of working within the limitations of the more primitive simper things. For me it's old airplanes -- all I want to do is fly an old fabric-and-wood tailwheel airplane off a cow pasture. For others it's old motorcycles, or sailboats, or weaving, or ... Doesn't everyone have something like that?
posted by phliar at 11:17 AM on February 12, 2011


You can get up to 60 mph in an 'A but it'll fucking shake the shit right out of you. The fuel economy isn't that bad, they are inefficient compared to modern autos but they really don't use much gas in the first place since you can lift one of them with 3-4 guys.

My grandfather and dad both are members of MARC: Model A Restorers Club with about 6 cars/trucks between them. I'm about to inherit a 1928 Truck that will be my only car, but don't expect a Tumblr about it.
posted by wcfields at 11:57 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


fixedgear writes "Top speed was achieved a little over sixty-miles per hour with the average fuel mileage being rather exceptional at over 40 MPG. source"

Good mileage is easy when your car doesn't weigh anything and you don't need to worry about emissions. Heck I used to regularly get 25mpg with a 383 cubic inch engine in 4600lb car thanks to high compression and 2:70s.

pla writes "Ever seen a movie where the bad guy steals the ingenue's distributor cap? Can't happen any more, modern cars don't have a distributor, they use computer controlled timing."

Instead they have dozens, maybe even hundreds of sensors, relays and fusible links all of which are essentially unique to particular models (unlike a distributor cap which was usually one of only a few for any given manufacturer (or heck even different manufacturers) and are just as easy to remove from a car thereby rendering it immobile.
posted by Mitheral at 1:00 PM on February 12, 2011


I wish I could find a way to get my 90 yr old grandmother to post in this thread, but basic email still confuses her so I suppose that's out. She grew up with these old Fords: a Model T at first and later her dad managed to get a Model A after a brief, very brief, burst of prosperity that was brutally ended in the 30's.

Over Christmas, I got her to talk about what it was like to make the trip between her family's farm in northern Arkansas and St. Louis, where her father was working. The trip would take around 4 days, depending on weather, The sideboards and back seat floor were loaded with the camping gear and all the food they would need for the trip. The kids would sit on back seat with their legs stretched over the boxes, mom and dad in front, shaking and bouncing their way down the dirt roads and occasional paved ones at 30 mph, sometimes 40 if they got a good stretch of road.

Stopping for the night meant pulling off by the side of the road. Mom and Dad got the small tent and the kids slept all around it. If it was raining, the kids got to sleep in the Model T with the top up and the curtains pulled.

The scariest moment for my grandmother was when they crossed the Mississippi. They took the ferry over and on the far side, the levee was rather steep. All the kids and Mom had to get out of the car while Dad tried to go up the hill, and then stalled out and began to slide back down towards the water, which caused my grandmother to panic. The car was unloaded of all cargo but still couldn't make it over. Finally they got it over thanks to a group of teenagers who had nothing better to do than to hang out at the ferry landing and push cars over the levee in hopes that they'd be given a dime or a quarter.

Makes me wish I could have been around for the days when a simple trip to St. Louis would be an almost epic journey.
posted by honestcoyote at 1:10 PM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"...inefficient, polluting death trap."

Applies to pretty much all cars. 80 years have gone by and fuel efficiency has not improved. In many cases, it has gotten a lot worse. Safer, mainly thanks to airbags, but still very dangerous.

History is important and we should definitely preserve what we can, but this kind of stunt smacks of retardation, which is to say, the opposite of progress. If efficiency is improved by adding a computer, or repetitive tasks are eliminated, or if things become safer as a result, then, yes, absolutely it should have a computer in it.

Xezlec quoted Klinger from the blog: "Most modern cars lack the level of personality that older cars do." For the record: giving mechanical devices personalities is maybe not such a good idea.

Not related.
posted by fartknocker at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2011


I grew up around Model A Fords in the shop with my Dad. We had one like this, and a lot of others. I remember sanding fenders FOREVER. He used to just restore them, but now he makes hot rods out of them using speed parts from the 40s and 50s. I recently made a short video of us hitting 70mph on the way to the airport in his latest hotrod.

I sent my Dad this project and, as an old car guy, he's pretty excited about it.
posted by fake at 1:46 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yesss... let the hipster hate flow through you! It will make you powerful...
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:07 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is just something cool about simple machinery you can understand and work on yourself.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:37 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


So wait...this dude is showing that he doesn't need computers to drive an inefficient car...and then goes home and blogs about it on his computer?

What?
posted by hal_c_on at 11:19 PM on February 12, 2011


Ever seen a movie where the bad guy steals the ingenue's distributor cap?

No, never. Rotor, maybe, but not the cap. Once you got the cap off, the rotor was right there, was much smaller, and in a lot of cars just pulled loose with no tools required. Also, it didn't have seven or nine fat wires plugged into it that you'd have to deal with somehow.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:02 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of a guy I know. He has an uncle that I like to call "Uncle Upstage". Having a nice quiet family wedding? His date will be wearing a ridiculous white sequined dress and her breast will fall out. Having a nice birthday party where the kid will be told he is going to Disney World this summer? Uncle Upstage will be wearing a Disney shirt. Having a baby shower? He will show up and park his Model A in the most inconvenient but visible spot.

This blogger doesn't care about computers or maintaining tradition. He just wants people to come up and talk to him. He's the guy who brings a guitar to a party.

No, never. Rotor, maybe, but not the cap. Once you got the cap off, the rotor was right there, was much smaller, and in a lot of cars just pulled loose with no tools required. Also, it didn't have seven or nine fat wires plugged into it that you'd have to deal with somehow.

Agreed. One look at the engine and the victim knows what happened. What you do is put the cap on 180 degrees out of phase. Certain engines will run, barely.
posted by gjc at 7:28 AM on February 13, 2011


Removing the distributor cap is movie short hand for car disabled, they don't want the effect to be subtle. I'm pretty sure it was distributor cap that generally gets removed though TV Tropes doesn't seem to have an entry. The only examples I can think of though are subversion where it's the coil wire that is removed and which naturally doesn't slow anyone with a smidgen of knowledge down as any spark plug wire will substitute and most engines will run without one cylinder firing.
posted by Mitheral at 10:02 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


What you do is put the cap on 180 degrees out of phase.

Except that all most some distributor caps had a square and a round index key, so you couldn't put them on out of phase. The rotor is the thing to take, because it's just easier. If you wanted to create maximum delay, put the cap back on. MacGyver would probably whittle a new rotor out of wood and tie a paper clip to it for a conductor. On TV, that would work.

I'd rather talk about this than the guy with the Model A, but my father had stories about his A, which was his first car. He used to run it on kerosene. Also, apparently the bumpers were capable of hooking into another car's fender well and opening it like a can opener.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:40 AM on February 13, 2011


Removing the rotor was my anti-theft security system back when I drove a '62 VW van and a '73 super beetle.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:32 PM on February 13, 2011


I realize that I'm a little late to this thread but just wanted to forward a more appropriate metaphor to what hippy bear used to lead off.

Model A's were messy, required special clothes, tools and skills to keep working. Modern cars don't need any of that.

Most modern bicycles require special tools to keep well maintained and is seen as requiring special clothes due to greasy drivetrains or pants cuffs getting in chainring sprockets or additional nightime visibility.

Postmodern bicycles will ideally do away with all of this but it's perhaps somewhat telling that the bicycle predates the car and hasn't quite followed the same direction with evolutionary convenience.
posted by bl1nk at 11:58 AM on February 22, 2011


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