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The Stutz Bearcat
February 4, 2012 8:35 PM   Subscribe

It's 1912 and you are kerpuffling down Main in your new Stutz Bearcat, the envy of all who witness your ride. The "dog house" hood, open bucket seats, a tiny "monocle" windscreen in front of the driver, and a cylindrical fuel tank on a short rear deck are attracting stares from passersby.

Plenty of people will come to love this vehicle, including Mr. Burns, Jay Leno, Hank and Johnny of 1971's "Bearcats!" TV show, to name a few.

The 1911 Bearcat raced in the very first Indy 500 -- see footage of the actual race! It's in there somewhere in all that dust (how could they see?!). With a respectable finish of 11th place, it was deemed "The Car that made good in a day."

Hear the kerpuffle. Watch it go!
Wish driving my Subaru was that cool.
posted by ecorrocio (64 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wish driving my Subaru was that cool.

Ahem.
posted by ghharr at 8:44 PM on February 4, 2012


Those were different times.
posted by xil at 8:51 PM on February 4, 2012 [18 favorites]


I wish they could make modern cars with modern safety features that looked that good.
posted by bleep at 8:57 PM on February 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hey, neat. I've only ever heard of this from the "Sweet Jane" lyrics, assumed it was a car from context, and never thought much more about it. Hooray Internet.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:58 PM on February 4, 2012


Potatopotatopotatolubdublubdublubdub...

The sound of a large-displacement pushrod V8 touches something in the soul that speaks of freedom and power and worth.

Now, as we enter the age of hybrid self-driving electric vehicles, I will miss and mourn cars like this, but I will not regret their passing. A comfy couch on wheels, that gets 50mpg while I read my paperback on my way into work while the car does all the driving? Yus, plz.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:00 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Transportation for the discerning Cthulhu Mythos investigator!"
posted by JHarris at 9:11 PM on February 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


The contrast between the beauty of the car and the ugliness of the subdivision it is forced to navigate makes me really sad....
posted by c13 at 9:30 PM on February 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's the name... Bearcat. Bear. Cat. The fierceness of a Bear and the coolness of a Cat. Add a little Stutz on top and it sings.

But for a true Classic Car, for me, nothing beats the 1928 Porter.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:47 PM on February 4, 2012


4 cylinders, 60 HP? Hmmmm.

It is pretty, though.
posted by pompomtom at 9:57 PM on February 4, 2012


I just want to say that Bearcats! and Jonny Quest were my two favourite boy adventure TV shows with great theme music. The Bearcat really was a very beautiful car, and it's amazing to realise that the design is 100 years old now.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:00 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I first heard this car mentioned in a Fitzgerald story. I think it's "Winter Dreams," where he refers to Judy Jones dating boys who "drive alluring Stutz Bearcats" or something like that. Always loved that story and always wanted to be one of those boys.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:06 PM on February 4, 2012


I really need to be driving a 20’s green Bentley, to go with my bowler and walking stick.
posted by bongo_x at 10:09 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My uncle used to take old junkers, find parts, and make them like new. He left my parents (my dad his brother) a model A that i love when he passed too young. He had one of these, and i drooled over it every time (he also had a barn full of others). They were always right up there in my list of beautiful designed cars.

I know Captain Hastings drove a Lagonda on the Poirot series, but it also reminds me of these. Those cars were so beautiful back then.
posted by usagizero at 10:13 PM on February 4, 2012


Stutzes are cool, but I have always been a Duesenberg fan.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:29 PM on February 4, 2012


I get the impression, somehow, that this is the car they wanted the Third Doctor to drive, but couldn't quite swing it in the budget.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:31 PM on February 4, 2012


My late grandfather was born in 1888, and when I was a kid he told me about the first time he saw an automobile.

He was sitting with a friend on his front stoop in rural Kentucky, when they saw dust being kicked up in the distance, then heard the racket of the engine getting louder and louder. He and his friend stared in amazement, speechless, as the car slowly rolled past and disappeared into the distance. After a minute or two, my grandfather turned to his friend and said, "Someone's gunna git kilt on one o' them things."
posted by The Deej at 10:36 PM on February 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


4 cylinders, 60 HP? Hmmmm.

Don't confuse horsepower and torque. The thing could do 100mph in 1930's..
posted by c13 at 11:25 PM on February 4, 2012


You know, I was thinking the other day about how amazing a modern car would look to someone from WW2. My Toyota is big, extremely comfortable, gets excellent highway mileage (not so hot in-city, sadly), is just about weatherproof, even at highway speed, and with occasional maintenance, will run for probably a million miles. And it'll do an extremely good job of protecting me if I get into a crash.

When you look at these cars, I think maybe the most interesting bit that is that almost anyone alive will know exactly what one of those is, and if they know how to drive, can probably drive it with a bit of explanation of how the clutch works. The basic design principles of modern cars are already in place. They've already got the wheel, brake, and accelerator pedals in the "right" spots, though the clutch looks really strange. And the headlights are more or less the same as modern cars, though far dimmer -- headlamp technology was very poor. I just find it exceptionally interesting that those basic design elements have lasted for a hundred years.

But man, those things were just intensely crappy compared to modern cars.... 750 mile oil changes, tires that lasted maybe 1,000 miles, constant maintenance and fiddling. The lines of that car are truly gorgeous, but it can carry two people and that's about all. I don't even see any cargo space.

It's kind of a first stab in the dark at making something that nobody had ever seen and nobody was quite sure what it would be used for. And I can't help but wonder if modern cars would look much different if the Stutz and other early designers had made different choices for how to make a motorized carriage.
posted by Malor at 11:56 PM on February 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


The first cars were literally horseless carriages. The basic shape was already in the mind of designers because the progression from horse-drawn chariot and travois and buggy had predestined it. The horse was replaced by the engine.
posted by Cranberry at 12:28 AM on February 5, 2012


I get the impression, somehow, that this is the car they wanted the Third Doctor to drive, but couldn't quite swing it in the budget.

Assuming the notional 1920s as the design basis for the (custom fibreglass) Siva Edwardian, there was quite a healthy British automotive industry -- some 180 companies at the peak. I don't know how many Stutzes would have crossed the pond in those days. But there were plenty of British antecedent vehicles.

It's the name... Bearcat. Bear. Cat. The fierceness of a Bear and the coolness of a Cat

In a sense. Americans of the day would likely understand the name as a colloquialism for a mountain lion.
posted by dhartung at 12:52 AM on February 5, 2012


Malor wrote: You know, I was thinking the other day about how amazing a modern car would look to someone from WW2. My Toyota ...

He'd probably be more amazed by a Mitsubishi.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:02 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really wish he had a microphone with a windscreen so this video would have been bearable to listen to. Other than that, this is awesome. When he stops moving and you can hear the car, what a great sound. Love seeing it under the hood.
posted by scrowdid at 1:44 AM on February 5, 2012


The basic design principles of modern cars are already in place. They've already got the wheel, brake, and accelerator pedals in the "right" spots, though the clutch looks really strange. And the headlights are more or less the same as modern cars, though far dimmer -- headlamp technology was very poor. I just find it exceptionally interesting that those basic design elements have lasted for a hundred years.

Top Gear did a nice bit on that, looking for the first car that had all those features.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:59 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


He'd probably be more amazed by a Mitsubishi.

Just being snarky, or is there some substance to that comment?
posted by Malor at 2:17 AM on February 5, 2012


Good link, MartinWisse.... but they cheated. An American car was the first one to come up with the standard arrangement, but they gave the credit to a British manufacturer because they made it cheaper. Bah.
posted by Malor at 2:28 AM on February 5, 2012


>Just being snarky, or is there some substance to that comment?

The amazing Mitsubishi.
posted by pompomtom at 3:00 AM on February 5, 2012


(presuming that that was the joke I thought it was...)
posted by pompomtom at 3:05 AM on February 5, 2012


The Indy footage was interesting:
Castor Oil for fuel.
Watching the pit crew kick a tire onto a wheel.
Two person crews- reminded me of Top Gun
Mechanic falling out of the car! You don't see that much in the modern era.
posted by MtDewd at 3:13 AM on February 5, 2012


... to someone from WW2. My Toyota ...

He'd probably be more amazed by a Mitsubishi.
There are still plenty of people alive who recall who the enemy was in WWII and associate Mitsubishi with the attack on Pearl harbor.
posted by Abinadab at 3:59 AM on February 5, 2012


A bearcat is another name for a binturong, though I don't know how widespread knowledge of binturongs would have been.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:12 AM on February 5, 2012


Americans of the day would likely understand the name as a colloquialism for a mountain lion.

No, you're thinking of a Cougar. A bear-cat is another word Americans used to have for a Wolverine. (We also have fisher-cats, or sometimes called fisher-bears, which, like the wolverine, looks nothing like a bear or a cat, and doesn't even catch fish.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:38 AM on February 5, 2012


Ahem.

My local Subaru dealer has one of these in his showroom.


But man, those things were just intensely crappy compared to modern cars.... 750 mile oil changes, tires that lasted maybe 1,000 miles, constant maintenance and fiddling.

Heh. My '57 Chevy's tires would last about 3000 miles. It had windshield wipers that were powered by engine vacuum, so they would slow down or even stop when you drove up a hill. Mufflers rusted out about every 18 months, and oil changes were supposed to be frequent. In the snow belt, cars of that era contracted body rot at a fearsome rate. It's only in the last 20 years or so that cars have gotten hugely better.


Castor Oil for fuel.

Lubricant, not fuel.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:00 AM on February 5, 2012


The Stutz factory still stands in Indianapolis. It now houses offices and artists' studios, but retains much of the look and layout of the factory it once was. There is an automobile collection scattered throughout the building.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:04 AM on February 5, 2012


In case any of you were curious, according to wiki, the Stutz cost $2000 in 1914, compared to a Ford Model T, which cost $550. In modern money, the Stutz would have set you back about $45k (vs. a little more than $12k for the Model T).
posted by crunchland at 5:10 AM on February 5, 2012


My local Subaru dealer has one of these in his showroom.

Inexpensive, and built to look that way.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:52 AM on February 5, 2012


A comfy couch on wheels, that gets 50mpg while I read my paperback on my way into work while the car does all the driving? Yus, plz.
We used to have those in the U.S... they were called trains.
posted by usonian at 6:57 AM on February 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's 1912 and you are kerpuffling down Main in your new Stutz Bearcat...

...when suddenly...


Or alternately,

It is 5 AM and you are listening to Los Angeles...
posted by Foosnark at 7:19 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's only in the last 20 years or so that cars have gotten hugely better.

Actually, it's my understanding that US cars were shitty on purpose, to encourage you to buy a new one. I don't know if the Japanese were competing on quality purposely, or by accident -- it could have been either, as U.S. cars were just that bad.

I haven't owned an American car in my entire life. I really seriously considered one for the first time just last year... almost bought a Ford Fusion. Some Fords are finally approaching Japanese and (now) Korean cars for quality -- but as far as I can tell, the only really good Fords are built in Mexican factories. Go figure.
posted by Malor at 7:20 AM on February 5, 2012


If you are good with tools and have a lot of spare time you can run one of these beauties and it would not cost you that much money.
posted by bukvich at 7:23 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, it's my understanding that US cars were shitty on purpose, to encourage you to buy a new one. I don't know if the Japanese were competing on quality purposely, or by accident -- it could have been either, as U.S. cars were just that bad.

The first Japanese cars imported to the US weren't all that great reliability wise. They had the same body rot problems as American cars. And if you want nightmares, look at the vacuum hose routing for a late '70s, early '80s carburetor Japanese car. They really didn't earn their reputation until the mid to late '80s. They did have better fuel mileage from the start.
posted by narcoleptic at 7:33 AM on February 5, 2012


There's only ever been one antique car for me. (Found out as an adult that Ian Fleming--yes, that one--based the car on these.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:39 AM on February 5, 2012


"Wish driving my Subaru was that cool."

I can't help but feel that the more uncool driving is made, the better off we will all be.

A related feeling is that we should make it law that car manufacturers have to use real driving conditions to celebrate their creations in commercials. So, maybe a few less early morning traffic-less scenes on just-wet streets, and more gridlock, driving around in circles looking for parking, and stop-and-go Saturday shopping.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:29 AM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


The lines of that car are truly gorgeous, but it can carry two people and that's about all. I don't even see any cargo space.

In all fairness, this car's modern equivalent is something like a Lamborghini Gallardo, so two seats and no cargo space is fine. The Bearcat was, in effect, a street homuglated race car.

And why compare to the 1920s? Let's compare a 1961 Jaguar E-Type, a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB, and, oh, a 2012 Volvo S60 T6.

The Volvo has more horsepower (300), more torque (320), and a higher top speed(155, limited). It will lap a track faster, thanks to a vastly better suspension, vastly better breaks, and AWD. As a useful car, it has two more seats, more cargo space, and will last at least four times as longer. Oil change interval is ten times longer. Coolant change interval is twenty times longer, though comparing to an E-type, where you replaced the coolant when it all fell out again, that's sort of a hard comparison to accurately define. The clock and radio in the Volvo will work. The chances of living if you crash the Volvo are vastly higher. Oh, and all that power will be made burning a third of the gasoline.

And the best part? The Volvo will cost *half* of what the E-Type or 250GT did when new, in equivalent dollars -- and you can get cars that will perform as well as those two did for even less.

Comparing 1990 era cars to 2010 cars is eye opening enough. Cars, today, are *vastly* better.
posted by eriko at 8:31 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to work out of the old Stutz factory in Indianapolis a few years back. It's been pretty gutted and turned into loft/office/studio space now, but there are old cars from the Auburn/Cord/Deusenburg/Stutz days on display even now.

One of the uses when I was there in the 90's was automobile storage. There were all sorts of esoteric cars in a large area behind where the IBM parts depot was- 500 pace cars, Ferraris, Maseratis, the whole gamut. Most of the cars were covered to keep dust off, but it usually wasn't to hard to discern the underlying shape.

Good times.
posted by pjern at 8:34 AM on February 5, 2012


Everyday I'm kerpufflin'...
posted by KingEdRa at 9:39 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't confuse horsepower and torque. The thing could do 100mph in 1930's..

This again. Look, I'm not knocking the early 20th century engineering here, but 60hp is 60hp, whether it's 1910 or 2012. I'm not surprised the Bearcat could make 100mph, so can modern small engined cars. It probably took it's sweet time getting there though.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2012


To Canadians, this is the Bearcat.
posted by Flashman at 10:15 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


My Toyota is big, extremely comfortable, .... yadda, yadda


Perhaps all true, but no one is going to be writing posts praising your Toyota's beauty and coolness 100 years from now.
posted by caddis at 11:45 AM on February 5, 2012


This is Agent Johnson from the FBI. Be on the lookout for a 1936 maroon Stutz Bearcat!

[The Bearcat drives by Chief Wiggum.]

Chief Wiggum: Ehh, that was really more of a burgundy. [returns to sleep]
posted by Earthtopus at 11:46 AM on February 5, 2012


Potatopotatopotatolubdublubdublubdub...

The sound of a large-displacement pushrod V8 touches something in the soul that speaks of freedom and power and worth.


An old (and probably dead now) guy I worked with around 1980 always drove Cadillacs, and he would imitate the sound of his first one (a '29) this way:

Dime     dime   dime  dime dimedimedimedimedimedime...
posted by Rash at 2:20 PM on February 5, 2012


I followed a Tesla Roadster for a few blocks in traffic by the Stutz building in Indianapolis and it makes a bit more sense now that I know the building is used as storage for fancy cars. We don't get many cars like that in this part of the country.

It is truly amazing how much cars have improved in the past 20 years. I wonder how the increased lifespan of new cars today will effect the market in the long term - will people keep cars longer and shrink new car sales or will our steady supply of surplus five year old Nissans/Hondas/Kias/Fords be exported to other countries?
posted by ChrisHartley at 3:23 PM on February 5, 2012


Cars, today, are *vastly* better.

I would dispute this in a sort of big picture sense. Cars today are safer, faster, more convenient, and, for the first ten years, vastly more reliable than cars of the past. They don't require constant tinkering and don't suffer from maladies of poor metallurgy (the demise of pot metal alone is a boon). They tend to start when you need them to, and stop when you need them to, and turn in a way that neither sends the rear end whipping out uncontrollably or has them plowing helplessly forward through turns. They're very good for about ten years, or six, if we're talking European or American cars.

Then, the check engine light comes on.

Mechanic dutifully plugs in the OBD-II computer. Finds a problem. New oxygen sensor. Two hundred bucks. Things are cool. Then, the check engine light comes back on. Mechanic dutifully plugs in the OBD-II computer. Crank position sensor acting up. Fix that. Minutes of peace elapse. Check engine. Spend a thousand bucks. It's all good. Check engine. Catalytic converter. Spend a thousand bucks. Check engine. Airflow sensor. You think you've got it. You get six months with no light. Then the passenger window gets stuck down. New motor assembly and labor, maybe you get lucky for six hundred bucks. Check engine. Mixture sensor, or something with the fuel injectors. This time takes a few visits to the mechanic, and a chunk of change, but you're good.

Headlight goes out. You figure out how to navigate the topology of doors and covers and little plastic do-lollies in the engine compartment and install your twenty-six dollar bulb, which lights the way...for eleven days. Change it again, same thing happens. Back to the mechanic to diagnose some odd glitch in the electricals. Somewhere along the way, your six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission starts lagging. Four visits to a specialist mechanic and a thousand bucks later, you're good to go...but you can't, because the electric motor in your vibrating heated adjustable seat has somehow failed and left your seat tilted too far back because the kids were in there playing around and...now the left taillight won't work and it's not the bulbs. Somewhere along the line, your flimsy plastic spoiler breaks loose from the flimsy plastic valance and drags for a year. It's not a problem, except dirt enters the gap and fries the electric cooling fan. Cha-ching goes the mechanic.

Check engine. Seriously? Check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, and of all the dings and dents in the car, the biggest one is from the last time, when you'd finally had enough and given the car a nice healthy kick.

You can keep it going, Volvo-style, forever, in the sense that it might last forever if you just keep putting in more money, and putting up with more little niggly things, largely because your car isn't simple—it's absolutely infected with absurd little systems that solve problems that advertisers invent. Electric windows, electric locks, electric mirrors, electric seats, magical talking maps, DVDs to shove nonstop entertainment into the memoryholes of your hyperstimulated media-dependent kids, air pressure sensors for tires, reverse video cameras, and more and more and more. They're all neat, all lovely toys, and they make you happy and comfortable as a modern middle-class American for a while. Then—

Check engine.

Really? Fucking really?

In the same way that operating systems gain gimmicks, gee-gaws, "features," and fripperies, but rarely fix the old jittery things that didn't work to start with, we accept this state of affairs because our ability to just enjoy something that's simple, well-built, sturdy, and most of all serviceable has fizzled away in the face of fake luxury, spurious futurism, and the endless need to provide talking points for car salesmen.

You really have to wonder. Why doesn't the OBD give you any data? The car will tell you where you can get a thirty ounce six dollar espresso within two miles, but when your car goes wrong, all you get is that check engine light. Planned obsolescence accelerates. Old cars went bad quick, but that was more about fashion, about the finer points of fins flickering in and out around the nether regions in response to the whims of Harley Earl. In 2012, you can still run a '62 Beetle as a daily driver. Takes a bit of work, and a bit of attention, but it's not that far from reality, if you have the knack.

In 2062, there won't be a single New Beetle left on the road. They will have all been dutifully dismantled and recycled, which is good, but the classics of 2062 will be the cars that were already classics in 2012, not cars from 2012, possibly adapted with little hydrogen tanks. If you had the inkling to, say, drive around in a classic Kia Soul, you might be able to manufacture the thousands and thousands of complex composite parts they need then, using 3D printers to run up new door handles to replace your sun-blasted originals, but would you? Will there be a romance of the cars of 2012 in the same way we enjoy something like the Bearcat?

In the seventies and eighties, cars of the fifties were collected, curated, restored, and treasured. In the nineties and oughts, cars of the sixties started getting more cachet. Twenty years used to be the age when clunkers turned classic, but what car of the eighties is worth keeping? Awful Fairmont-based Mustangs? The Buick Century? The Ford EXP? People love a few of them, mostly the monsters that make good donks, but overall, the eighties sucked ass for cars. Even the good ones, or the interesting ones, like the Subaru SVX or other limited production specials can't be serviced. The manufacturers don't make the parts anymore, and where can you find replacement Ecsaine® in a color to match?

I'm a pessimist, I know, but—well, I've been lucky. I drove Citroëns as my daily drivers for years, vintage Saabs before that. There's a thing to being in the seat of the majestic DS21 that has never been replicated, and I suspect never will.

Following the old route 301, heading to Georgia in the crisp autumn weather, the DS never missed a beat. The interior was padded from stem to stern, with the novel and curious feeling of three inches of foam under the carpets, even, and the ride is extraterrestrially smooth, with high pressure hydraulics working with green suspension spheres full of nitrogen to turn what seems like an already decent road surface into a distant daydream of texture. You shift with a lever tucked behind the wheel, with no clutch, and the gentle click and hiss of hydraulics managing the whole action like the running gear of a submarine. The engine is small for a car so large, but the aerodynamics would not be beaten until twenty-five years after the car appeared, and speed doesn't come lurching on—it just sort of accumulates, and suddenly, you check the speedo and you're going a hundred miles an hour, with the clotted traffic on the parallel interstate slipping backwards as you drift into your own world, where things and machines have something like a soul, something worth loving. The miles call for you, and you drive and drive and drive.

In the end, mine needed a clutch at 360,000 miles, and on a DS, a clutch job is 28 hours of labor for a skilled Citroën mechanic, and something of middle age was setting in, so I bought myself a little four door economy sedan appliance. It was trouble-free, relatively comfortable, and the first car I ever owned with air conditioning. I put a hundred thousand miles on it before the check engine light appeared like a jewel glowing in a person's palm, announcing the end of the line. It was a decent little road toaster, but it wasn't lovable, or compelling.

Eight years with a four door economy sedan accomplished the task of making me dislike driving, because once you strip away the magic, you're left with traffic, and with the horrid realization that commuting by car on modern highways is like volunteering to serve time in the land of hungry ghosts, filled with insatiable desires, rages, and unawareness. Modern cars make driving a tiresome chore that we compensate for with endless distractions and fake luxuries, and yes, it's a good thing to spend less time on the side of the road, but I can't help but think there should be something between the cantankerous joys of artistry and the cloying, saccharine emptiness of Camryland. I'm a romantic, which is why car buying is exquisitely painful for me, because I surrendered once to the modern thing, and it just made me sad. I'd rather drive something wonderful twice a month and take the train the rest of the time, but again, I'm square in the center of middle age with a red Miata that I don't fit in, so I'm clearly conflicted.

The details, though—that's where I fear things will never be the same. The nuance of the taillights on a Facel Vega, the cheerful, tensionless arch of the hood on a Beetle, the magical roofline of a Citroën DS, the unexpected concave side of an NSU Ro 80. The open, airy packaging of the original Mini or Fiat 500, or the wacky delights of an Ami—all these things are impossible now, when we get to choose between defiantly ugly and lifelessly uninspired. A design as esoteric and elegant as the Panhard 24 woud never pass muster with a focus group, where everything gets dumbed down to the flattest, most mathematically average shape possible. We get numb perfection, machines that do the task of transporting you and yours without ever inspiring more than the kind of smile associated with gassy babies. Your mileage may vary, but oh dear.

I was on the road to work the other day, and a Honda Civic passed me, and it was a real reminder of what we've lost. It was enormous, hunkered over, and sleek, and I'm sure it's at the technical forefront of what's possible in a world run by the marketing department, but it doesn't look like the Hondas I've known and loved. Soichiro Honda would hardly recognize these gargantuan things and blocky SUVs (with the exception of the brilliant, and therefore unpopular, Element). Everything's huge and complicated and insulated and otherwise designed to disconnect you from the road, and where the original Civics were engineering about an essence, the current ones are about marketing and baroque systems that add weight, expense, and future unreliability to cars.

I dunno. Cars today are better, but it's a short-lived sort of better, and they end up as disposable commodities, best used for a decade, then dumped in favor of another car payment on a twenty-eight thousand dollar car (the average price of a new car in America). You end up caught up in a trap, making payments half the time and chasing dashboard lights at the end, going into the cycle over and over.

It takes all kinds to make a world, though, and the market has spoken. Still seems sad to me, but there's really no alternative left, except to retreat into the past while it's still out there.
posted by sonascope at 6:27 PM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Check engine.

A fuckload better than "Seize Engine."

That being, of course, the former failure mode of not very very carefully paying attention to your oil and coolant levels.

Indeed, the modern "Check Engine" light is often "I would have destoryed this engine within a thousand miles, but your stupid computer was paying attention."

Sign. Me. Up.
posted by eriko at 8:35 PM on February 5, 2012


c13 writes "Don't confuse horsepower and torque. The thing could do 100mph in 1930's.."

On low octane gas refined with questionable quality assurance. The Bearcat's 4:1 compression ratio was a serious feature when it first came out allowing it to run relatively reliably on the craptastic gas available.

Malor writes "I think maybe the most interesting bit that is that almost anyone alive will know exactly what one of those is, and if they know how to drive, can probably drive it with a bit of explanation of how the clutch works. The basic design principles of modern cars are already in place. They've already got the wheel, brake, and accelerator pedals in the 'right' spots, though the clutch looks really strange. And the headlights are more or less the same as modern cars, though far dimmer -- headlamp technology was very poor. I just find it exceptionally interesting that those basic design elements have lasted for a hundred years. "

Well besides the clutch you need to learn how to manually adjust your distributor advance; how to operate a manual choke and get used to the questionable performance of mechanical, rear only, (probably external) drum brakes.


Malor writes " The lines of that car are truly gorgeous, but it can carry two people and that's about all. I don't even see any cargo space. "

It's effectively a homlogation special. Cargo space and passenger space were a waste of pounds.

clvrmnky writes "So, maybe a few less early morning traffic-less scenes on just-wet streets, and more gridlock, driving around in circles looking for parking, and stop-and-go Saturday shopping."

You live in the wrong place (and it sounds like you are locked in to commuting at the wrong time)

Malor writes "But man, those things were just intensely crappy compared to modern cars.... 750 mile oil changes, tires that lasted maybe 1,000 miles, constant maintenance and fiddling. "

Amazingly they were still a step up maintenance wise over the alternative: a horse pulling a wagon. And of course people didn't travel in personal transportation any where near as much as the average American does now. A thousand miles might be 4 months of motoring.
posted by Mitheral at 9:41 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, you're thinking of a Cougar.

Slap*Happy, sources indicate it was used for both. The wolverine, however, has a much more limited (and northerly) distribution, and may have been practically nonexistent if some sightings are reinterpreted as cougars or bobcats (there was indeterminacy about the definition of "wolverine" itself as well).
posted by dhartung at 12:54 AM on February 6, 2012


>Check engine.

A fuckload better than "Seize Engine."


The only problem is that the check engine light rarely addresses temperature or oil pressure, sticking to the mysterious realm of insoluble computer problems. When your coolant is low, the temperature light comes on, and when your oil pressure is low, the oil light comes on. When the check engine light comes on, it's addressing any of a hundred things, but rather than adding a two-line LCD display to the car that would cost five bucks so it would tell you exactly what is happening, it's just a call to prayer at the cathedral of expense. What's wrong? Tell me. Tell me what's wrong.

By contrast, most of the cars I've owned in the past had oil pressure gauges, and coolant and/or oil temperature gauges, and even, in the case of my Citroën GSA, an engine vacuum gauge, with which you could divine an amazing amount of information about your engine's performance and condition. In that car, it actually marked out a band where your emissions were lowest and your fuel economy was highest, and taught you how to drive so you'd stay in that realm as much as possible. Now that everything's digital, all you'd need is a little standardized module tucked into the dash with a display, and it would cost almost nothing, but people would rather have air conditioned gloveboxes and tiny refrigerators for bottled water between the seats.

It's funny, people get so up in arms about the closed architecture of things like iPhones, and yet they've just shrugged at the way cars have steadily buttoned things up, from information to basic access in the engine compartment, with plastic covers growing to fill the entire underhood area. I'm the odd man out, I guess, but I just don't like it. Being able to know things and do things is a big part of what makes us humans, rather than mere consumers.
posted by sonascope at 6:34 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, dummy lights. In about 1983, I was driving my 1970 Buick Skylark (Don't ask - I was young and poor) up the expressway, when it started making a really bad noise, and gradually lost power as the bad noise got louder and louder. I coasted to a stop on the shoulder as soon as I could get over, the whole time looking at the dash, asking the car "What? What? WHAT?" I jammed it in park, and was about to reach for the key, when the light finally came on.

Hot.

Duh -- I'd blown out the lower radiator hose at the block, and all my coolant was long since scattered back across Loop 1 North. Thanks, dummy light.

*bangs head on un-padded steering wheel*
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:01 AM on February 6, 2012


@Mitheral: "You live in the wrong place (and it sounds like you are locked in to commuting at the wrong time)"

Seriously: Wat?

Never mind the dubious meaning "choice" of where you live, and how you can get to the places one needs to get to in their immediate locale, the whole point of commuting is that it is simultaneously right and wrong for two opposing reasons. Industry and commerce depend on a workforce collecting at nodal points within some target hours, and this has not changed all that much over the years.

No, I don't "live in the wrong place". Did you seriously mean to say that? Because it is a tremendously ignorant comment that I have no choice but to call out.

I live where I can best make an income and raise my family and afford housing and all that stuff that has nothing to do with driving. And also, in my case, afford the ability to /not/ own a car and /not/ commute by car daily. Because the intersection of those requirements is not easy, as anyone who lives in the US or Canada will tell you, with our varyingly crap-tastic public transit systems.

Anyway, my critique of the unreasonable ways that advertisers like to shill the typical sedan or "cross-over" truck-thing has nothing at all to do with where I live (other than I often recognize the streets the production company has rented for the morning to shoot the commercials -- streets I know will be absolutely jammed with stop-and-go traffic in a few hours after the commercial shoot wraps).

Because there is no urban place I've ever lived in, on several different continents, where the baseline of your driving experience will be nothing but golden light on wet streets without another car in sight. Neither do drivers /typically/ accelerate reasonably through beautiful shopping districts that /invariably/ have easy free parking directly in front of the place they need to go.

One does not need to drive regularly to see that the reality of a typical urban driving experience does not match up with the utter fantasy of the "driving experience" suggested to us by ad agencies and breathless car & driver magazines.

Cars and car-related urban spaces are wonderful in a great many ways, but we can't pretend that there aren't a variety of interconnected down-sides that are often conveniently glossed-over when thinking of cars just as "experiences" or "transportation." Advertisers recognize this, and do their best to never remind us of the true personal and public costs of car ownership.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:29 AM on February 6, 2012


"It's funny, people get so up in arms about the closed architecture of things like iPhones, and yet they've just shrugged at the way cars have steadily buttoned things up, from information to basic access in the engine compartment, with plastic covers growing to fill the entire underhood area."

Not there I live. I know a couple of head-under-the-hood types who seethe at the way things have been locked down in both of these cases. But your argument is that it isn't as prevalent as, say, a typical app-user pissed at not being able to install an iTunes equivalent.

And, point taken. I suspect that more people can identify with "install app on device" more than "do some magic with car to make it go again or better."

Because, in my experience, most of the head-under-the-hood types are more interested in getting access to RPM limiters and horse-power vs. fuel efficiency settings than opening up engines (again) so you can do basic maintenance.

Which, I have to admit, I'm slightly in favour of if it also keeps the gear heads from subverting the efficiency and emissions stuff that is probably there for a reason.

Though, I still scratch my head that VW would hide their reserve gas tank stuff on some models with a hidden software switch. That got leaked to the internet in about 5 seconds.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:37 AM on February 6, 2012


...I suspect that more people can identify with "install app on device" more than "do some magic with car to make it go again or better."


I can't change the sparkplugs on my new Kia mini-SUV. I've changed sparkplugs in everything from a '69 Caddy to a lawn mower. It's basic maintenance, and usually easy to do.

Not with a modern car. I need to remove the intake manifold to get at the back three plugs. This involves unhooking all of the sensor electronics and unhooking all of the vacuum connections. Both prospects are recipes for disaster. I don't =think= I need to uninstall the fuel injectors to get at the manifold, with all of their electronics and fuel plumbing, but I'm not certain.

I don't currently have a garage, and this may be a multi-day operation the first time I try it. Swapping plugs is usually a 5 minute job, and one that I once performed while it was snowing. Not this time. So, I'm going to have to take this thing to a =dealer= so they can sock me with an hour's labor at $100/hour, and another 50 bux in insanely overpriced plugs and wires. None of my local indie mechanics want to touch it, and they all make their money servicing laughably unreliable 5-10 year old Euro-lux cars these days, anyhow. Not enough margin in swapping plugs on a Kia.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:58 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Slap*Happy- It might be easier to undo an engine mount and tilt the engine. That's what I had to do in my Grand Prix.

Now I have a Hyundai Accent, and upon looking at the engine compartment, I can safely say this will be an easy car to work on. Being a 4 cyl helps a lot, but it seems like it was laid out conveniently. Also, timing chain instead of timing belt. The only apparent downside seems to be that the valves use shims instead of hydraulic adjusters, and the cam needs to be removed to adjust them.
posted by gjc at 2:23 PM on February 6, 2012


Slap*Happy- It might be easier to undo an engine mount and tilt the engine.

No, part of the intake manifold is actually sitting right over the back three plugs... the wires are routed out beneath it. Dumbest design I've seen in a long while. Good to hear about the chain, because the last-gen Accent had a timing belt that started to squeal at 45k, and we've needed two serpentine belts in 70k miles as well, tho the plugs are easy to swap out.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:41 PM on February 6, 2012


clvrmnky writes "No, I don't 'live in the wrong place'. Did you seriously mean to say that? Because it is a tremendously ignorant comment that I have no choice but to call out."

Sure I meant to say it. If one values a wide open road commute or even regular leisurely drives there are places when one can live to accomplish that. If those things conflict with other things you value more then you won't have access to leisurely commutes. Obviously that isn't something you value but to take automobile manufacturers to task because their advertising isn't showing your local traffic conditions seems misguided.

clvrmnky writes "Because there is no urban place I've ever lived in, on several different continents, where the baseline of your driving experience will be nothing but golden light on wet streets without another car in sight. Neither do drivers /typically/ accelerate reasonably through beautiful shopping districts that /invariably/ have easy free parking directly in front of the place they need to go."

I don't know whether you'd consider my city urban. Only ~95K residents and just the 37th largest metropolitan area in Canada. At any rate I'm currently working out of town. My commute includes: the busiest surface street by volume in the city; crossing our busiest bridge; skirting the edge of down town; and passing through one of our mall and big box districts. My commute is 24-25 minutes in the morning and 28-30 minutes at night. In the morning I leave at 6AM and the roads pretty well are "golden light on wet pavement". Or at least they will be in a few months; right now it's more moon glow on frosty streets. I see a few dozen cars my entire trip most days and sometimes it's like a ghost town. Coming home I'm in the start of our "rush hour" but that pretty well means a light or two wait to cross the bridge. The roads are busy but it certainly isn't grid lock except for the aforementioned half a kilometre back up at the bridge entrance light.

Ergo your original advocation that laws should be passed requiring car manufacturers to show actual conditions wouldn't change anything. It would be simple to show at least some people have commutes that mimic current advertising. I should have expressed it this way in the first place instead of being gloatingly snarky. Sorry about that, I was being lazy.


Slap*Happy writes "I can't change the sparkplugs on my new Kia mini-SUV. I've changed sparkplugs in everything from a '69 Caddy to a lawn mower. It's basic maintenance, and usually easy to do. "

Thing is though changing the spark plugs on a modern car isn't really basic maintenance anymore. Fore example the spark plug change interval on the 2.0L Kia engine is 160K kilometres. The vast majority of 2.0L Kia owners will only change the plugs once. Heck I'd bet the vast majority of 2L Kia's only get their plugs changes once in the life of the car. If they make it to 320K most owners of cars with 320K kms are going to permanently defer that maintenance.
posted by Mitheral at 7:37 PM on February 6, 2012


Check engine. Seriously? Check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine, check engine

You've been driving my car again, haven't you Sonascope? I like to call it the "scrape together $300-400 so I can pass inspection for another year" light.
posted by usonian at 5:42 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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