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October 1, 2012 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Today’s “luxury” car is just like today’s “luxury” watch. The value of the thing is the price, the presence, the heavy flame-surfaced tank-like offensiveness of an X6 imposing your prosperity on your neighbor’s fragile psyche like a heavy gold chain worn around one’s neck a thousand years ago.
posted by highway40 (146 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just read about 7 sentences and I already love this.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:39 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"These watches, which can’t match a eleven-dollar Taliban graduation watch for accuracy, are also imperfectly ticking down the seconds to their own deaths. "

Fuck. Yes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:42 PM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm just trying to get past the awkward title. Is 'faux-ury' supposed to read 'fury' or is it a stylized contraction for 'fake luxury'?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:48 PM on October 1, 2012


And speaking of watches, The Last Psychiatrist had an interesting column about the marketing used to sell Patek Philippe watches.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:51 PM on October 1, 2012 [26 favorites]


I am pronouncing it as fucks-your-eee and I like it.
posted by elizardbits at 1:51 PM on October 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


The day may come when the Panamera’s successor meets the same icy disdain among the upper-middle-class as the downsized Fleetwood did in 1985. The purveyors of instant junk may push too far, too hard, dare too much, fly too high, crash too hard. The ultimate status symbol may become an old 560SEL, that million-mile aerosedan from another era. It may become the 993, that perfected expression of the air-cooled ethic.

Given what people want for '62 Broncos and well-maintained Toyota Land Cruisers and International Scouts, I would not be surprised.
posted by Thistledown at 1:53 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who likes cars who recently ended up with too many spare dollars, and so purchased a "mid-range" (ie: probably not too far into the six digits) car before he traded that down to something he felt comfortable driving on a track.

But part of the process of watching him go through various different vehicles was amusing because it so wonderfully illustrated how the only thing one can possibly get in a luxury car these days is the prestige of having dropped a shload of money on something, anything, and maybe a few incremental milliseconds off zero to sixty time. And the latter usually comes at the cost of comfort and practicality.

Every Prius now has essentially the electronic gadgetry of the high end cars, and your average $25k family sedan has performance that blows away the times and lateral Gs of the supercars of my high school era, so drop the bucks on something high end these days and you're buying an expensive car that, if you care to take on the track, you then don't dare do anything exciting with.

Further, if you do go to the track with these guys, everyone's clustered around the awesome coolness of an old GT40, or another car that actually looks awesome and has the cachet of being something we lusted after in our adolescence, or making excuses as to why they're not driving seriously fast cars, like the various cart folks do.

So, yeah: Exactly as this guy says. And we all carry cell phones nowadays, WTF would you bother with a watch?
posted by straw at 1:54 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The pendulum has begun swinging back from "let's put gold leaf in our liquor" to "give me a Haynes manual and a toolbox big enough and I will fix the world." I like it.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:54 PM on October 1, 2012 [20 favorites]


See also: Veblen Goods.
posted by The White Hat at 1:56 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ahh yes. The Porsche Boxster S. The only thing missing is the sticker that says: "No User Serviceable Parts Inside"
posted by Floydd at 1:57 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


New money: BMW
Old money: Pre-1980 car
Old old money: Subaru
Dead money: New Sports Car
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:58 PM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Some jackass sideswiped my new Hyundai last week, and the insurance company rented me a BMW SUV to use until the bodywork was finished. After a week of that thing, I was ready to kill to get my cheapo sedan back. Stiff handling, terrible mileage (granted, SUV), and damn near every button and level on the console had a ridiculous learning curve because the designers re-invented the wheel at every opportunity – wipers, turn signals, gearshift, ignition, every damn thing. It took me two days to find the temperature knob for the AC.

So yeah, I like this article.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:59 PM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


You can buy a beautiful self-winding skeleton watch from dealextreme.com for $20. Mine works perfectly and has gotten compliments from fancy people several times.

Sadly I don't think there's a direct car equivalent. A Hyundai Genesis isn't going to trick anyone into thinking you have a Jag.

I currently drive a beater, but I've decided that when I need a fancy car I'll buy a used stretch limo. They seem to sell for under $10k when they're still working but out of date. Imagine arriving at business meetings and parties in your very own limo... Of course you'd have to crawl into the back to exit so your friends think you have a chauffeur. Also parallel parking would suck.
posted by miyabo at 2:00 PM on October 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


And we all carry cell phones nowadays, WTF would you bother with a watch?
Because they look nice! I mean, look at this guy. Look at how beautiful and clean that design is. Look at me, doing things like "paying rent" and "saving for retirement" instead of giving into my base consumer instincts and buying that thing.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 2:02 PM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I own two very plain manual-wind Swiss wristwatches, both of which were made in the 1940s. They're small by modern standards, keep time tolerably well (that is, much, much worse than my girlfriend's $15 Timex), and have no features more complicated than a second hand. One was forty bucks on Ebay and the other one came from the jewelry case at Village Discount Outlet. I like how they look, the noise they make, the mindless ritual of winding them up every morning before I make coffee. I figure that any machine that still works after sixty years of zero maintenance is remarkable in itself.

I don't have a car, but if I did, I would want it to match my watch.
posted by theodolite at 2:06 PM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I expect to give — or leave — them both to my son, who will take the uncomplicated ignition key of the Porsche and the polished wooden box of the Omega some time around his eighteen birthday, I expect.
Giving a Porsche to an 18 year old boy, what could go wrong?
posted by octothorpe at 2:07 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Let's quote that again:

The day may come when the Panamera’s successor meets the same icy disdain among the upper-middle-class as the downsized Fleetwood did in 1985.

Of course it will. 5 years after it rolls off the line. Nothing seems more uncool these days than a 5-10 year old luxury car. Drive around in a 5 year old Camry, you're a solid, thrifty citizen. Drive around in a 5 year old luxury car, you're a poseur.

I mean, look at the values of these cars when they hit that age. Sinks like a rock. Because they're no better than their mid-price counterparts, in fact share 80% of the parts with them, but somehow those same parts are 2-3 times the price.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:08 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Parallel parking is the only kind you can do in a stretched limo, unless you find a parking lot with RV spaces, or no concrete dividers between two facing rows of parking spaces.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:08 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


In ten years, maybe as soon as five, the only demarcation between automobiles will be how posh the interior is, how lovely the exterior lines are, and how much you over-spent on it.

Once the car drives itself, things like handling, capability and power become meaningless, and only plushness of ride, reliability and fuel economy will matter. If you need to pull a trailer or haul cargo, autonomous, riderless utility vehicles that follow your own will be a cheaper and more practical solution than a V8 SUV daily driver that you bought because you want to haul a boat twice a year.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:09 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seems like a really long way to say "conspicuous consumption".
posted by dfm500 at 2:09 PM on October 1, 2012


My last watch cost $3.97 with free shipping. I will face an interesting situation when it comes time to replace the battery.
posted by tommasz at 2:12 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"give me a Haynes manual and a toolbox big enough and I will fix the world."

If anyone needs me I'll be on AskMeFi working on a question about how to cope with this dizzying new experience of being an early adopter.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:13 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


And speaking of watches, The Last Psychiatrist had an interesting column about the marketing used to sell Patek Philippe watches.

I can't favorite this enough. Go read it everybody, it's a finely balanced mix of snark and actual argument; exactly the kind of article a discerning mefite would read.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:15 PM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Stuff That Works
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:16 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


from a review of Dana Thomas' Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster:

"the business that once catered to the wealthy elite has gone mass-market and the effects that democratization has had on the way ordinary people shop today, as conspicuous consumption and wretched excess have spread around the world. Labels, once discreetly stitched into couture clothes, have become logos adorning everything from baseball hats to supersized gold chains. Perfumes, once dreamed up by designers with an idea about a particular scent, are now concocted from briefs written by marketing executives brandishing polls and surveys and sales figures."

"As both disposable income and credit-card debt soared in industrialized nations, the middle class became the target of luxury vendors, who poured money into provocative advertising campaigns and courted movie stars and celebrities as style icons. In order to maximize profits, many corporations looked for ways to cut corners: they began to use cheaper materials, outsource production to developing nations (while falsely claiming that their goods were made in Western Europe) and replace hand craftsmanship with assembly-line production. Classic goods meant to last for years gave way, increasingly, to trendy items with a short shelf life; cheaper lines (featuring lower-priced items like T-shirts and cosmetic cases) were introduced as well."
posted by four panels at 2:17 PM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


To be fair, luxury goods often have the benefit of better design and craftsmanship. Yeah, it's wasteful and ostentatious, etc. At the same time, however, to some people it's worth it to spend money on something like a Junghan's watch purely for the design. The people I know that buy items like these usually save up by not spending money on e.g. beer, and get them second-hand, for what it's worth.
posted by spiderskull at 2:19 PM on October 1, 2012


Sadly I don't think there's a direct car equivalent.

There kind of is, though... the Subaru WRX STi and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo are around $35,000 and are fairly practical (outside of mileage), are easy to drive, and they also keep up with some really, really expensive cars around the track. Lotus also makes some comparatively inexpensive cars that are killer on the track. None of them catch fire like Ferraris, either, so...
posted by Huck500 at 2:24 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Author publicly reveals plans to give his son a Porsche as an 18th birthday gift. Complains that other people spend their money in shallow, ostentatious, status-obsessed and self-aggrandizing ways.

I used to read TTAC until one of Baruth's articles truly offended me with it's raving cluelessness, it's pointless rudeness, and its (no kidding) mockery of the violent accidental death of a child. I'm honestly surprised to hear that he has any kids himself.

I'm not that surprised to hear that he's also one of those wristwatch douchebags.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:31 PM on October 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


To be fair, luxury goods often have the benefit of better design and craftsmanship. Yeah, it's wasteful and ostentatious, etc. At the same time, however, to some people it's worth it to spend money on something like a Junghan's watch purely for the design. The people I know that buy items like these usually save up by not spending money on e.g. beer, and get them second-hand, for what it's worth.

Did you actually read the article? His point is that today there are many so-called luxury goods that are more expensive just for the sake of being more expensive and showing off that you can afford them, without that added benefit of better design and craftsmanship.
posted by peacheater at 2:33 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love that Jack Baruth, of all people, drives a Porsche. Shameless link to my previous post about him and Porsche.
posted by Dasein at 2:36 PM on October 1, 2012


He's right about the cars. It started in the mid 90s at Mercedes and BMW. Around 2002 visited a master BMW/Mercedes mechanic in his shop, and asked him which Mercedes he thought was worth buying. He said he stuck to the pre 1990s cars, as they were robust, and maintainable. That doesn't mean they were always the most reliable cars; rather, the systems were designed to be maintained and rebuilt, indefinitely. You could see the difference in the way that , for example, Honda built their cars. Very reliable to a point. But many parts were not serviceable, the cars had an expected lifespan and after that, it had to go to the junkyard, as repair would be very costly.

I don't see that today. In fact, I think this represents in significant ways, the failure of our industrial/managerial system. It's become all about the vulture approach-- come in , find something with a good brand, then slash manufacturing costs while pumping up marketing. Management pays themselves well, while the product goes to crap.

It's not just cars either...it's countries too. Political leaders in a country with a strong tradition of stability and prosperity, decide that the manufacturing costs are too high. They don't want to pay for infrastructure, education, science, jobs programs-- even though those things are what built the prosperity. Instead, they find ways to pay themselves more money, while slashing costs. They privatize essential services and infrastructure , which means their buddies get rich, ensuring more campaign contributions and a good post-government job. Then, they pump up the marketing. They go on TV and talk about "freedom" and "opportunity" and "job creation," and orchestrate elaborate entertainments to keep people distracted. While they're doing that, they're taking all the value out of the brand, putting it in their pockets. When your favorite clothing label or auto brand goes bad, you just go down and buy another one. Trouble is you can't do that when it's a country. Because some things shouldn't be for sale--- and they don't teach that in business school.
posted by wuwei at 2:39 PM on October 1, 2012 [88 favorites]


I recommend clicking on Mr Baruth's name in the byline and reading the rest of his work on TTAC. especially the Avoidable Contact series. and wow did I grow up in the same street race scene.. I also knew quite a few Concrete Sams..

what he's saying, essentially, is that when you bought a Benz or a Porsche in the good old days, you were buying the luxury of a well-built car. not just that the seats and the bodywork were nice, but it was built to last a long time. when the average American car would never see 6 digits on the odometer, the Germans were making cars you could hand down to your grand kids. the Japanese were too, but for the other end of the market. so when you bought that high end luxury car, most of the 1000s of parts inside it were also built to a higher standard. but now, just like the watches, the cars are flashier, with more and more complexity but less and less actual quality baked in.

the 993 is an analog car. it was built and engineered to a high standard, but it wasn't overly complex. same with the old watches. and the same with the old Japanese cars as well. particularly the Japanese cars from the 80s, when Japan as a nation was strong and their cars were over-engineered to a fault. under normal operating conditions they were almost unkillable.

to some people, being able to buy something strong, well-engineered, and durable is a far greater luxury than chintz and flash.
posted by ninjew at 2:41 PM on October 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


"This watch. This watch was on your Daddy's wrist when he was shot down over Hanoi. He was captured and put in a Vietnamese prison camp. He knew if the gooks ever saw the watch that it'd be confiscated; taken away. The way your Dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright. He'd be damned if any slopes were gonna put their greasy yellow hands on his boy's birthright. So he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide something. His ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. And then he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.

-Captain Koons, Pulp Fiction
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:49 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Huh. I thought the Boxster had a sterling reputation.
posted by mullacc at 2:53 PM on October 1, 2012


Every Prius now has essentially the electronic gadgetry of the high end cars,

This isn't true - and I don't understand why it's not true.

I'm not up on the last few years, so the examples I give might have expired, but while stability control, pre-tensioners, etc are making their way into regular cars, other useful - and cheap - stuff, like a HUD, are still absent on regular cars. Even the locks, regular cars still seem to be in the fish-out-your-fob-and-press-a-button to lock/unlock, instead of walk away from the car / be standing by the door when you open it.

My guess is that while each of these "little" things might be cheap, they still all add up to a fair chunk of change, and also make the cars more expensive to warranty.
posted by anonymisc at 2:53 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other news, people still wear watches.
posted by scratch at 2:58 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


More to the point, as long as those are "luxury" features, the manufacturers can charge "luxury" prices for the upgrade.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:59 PM on October 1, 2012


To bypass all of this nonsense, people need to merely purchase from me The Status Sticker.

The Status Sticker is a very attractive gold sticker with the letters "SS" slightly raised in silver. By affixing it to your car, house, purse, etc., you are letting people know that you have The Status Sticker!

It costs $10,000.00. What better way to let people know that you have ten thousand dollars that you can just throw away? I mean, everyone will understand that you have so much money that you are willing to pay ten thousand dollars for a sticker! You must be rich! You won't even have to worry about keeping up with the latest trends! Just slap The Status Sticker on any item and instantly transform it into something everyone wants!

memail me for details
posted by flarbuse at 3:05 PM on October 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


He said he stuck to the pre 1990s cars, as they were robust, and maintainable. That doesn't mean they were always the most reliable cars; rather, the systems were designed to be maintained and rebuilt, indefinitely.

I believe it was in the 90's sometime...I was reading an issue of Road and Driver or Car and Track...One of columnists wrote about the moment when he realized that Mercedes had gone off the tracks, lost their focus on solid, reliable engineering, and dove head-first into useless over-engineering. His review car had broken-down in the middle of god-knows-where, and he was waiting for the nearest dealership to send out a mechanic. While waiting, he popped-out one of the ashtrays from the back seat area. He proceeded to disassemble the ashtray and discovered that Mercedes had engineered an ashtray with something like 36 moving parts.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:06 PM on October 1, 2012


So Rolex isn't a luxury brand anymore? That's news to me.
posted by asnider at 3:07 PM on October 1, 2012


it's a finely balanced mix of snark and actual argument; exactly the kind of article a discerning mefite would read.

/aside
The funny thing is that I was going to point out that he is MeFi's own, but I don't know that he would appreciate it.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:08 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


"let's put gold leaf in our liquor"

Don't knock the Goldschlager. It has both gold and schlager! And deliciousness.
posted by Foosnark at 3:13 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every Prius now has essentially the electronic gadgetry of the high end cars...

And it's exactly that gadgetry that makes me wonder if I'll ever be able to buy another car, new or used, again. I pine for the days of old when the only thing in the center of the dash was a couple of air vents, a DIN-1 radio, and manual AC/Heat controls. To my mind, if you need an 8-inch touch-screen to change the station or adjust the heat, you're doing it way, way wrong.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:18 PM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


I drive a boxy Volvo station wagon that gets me to work on time every damn day and wear a Seiko Kinetic that makes sure I know what time I get to leave work and I approve this message. My things exist to make my life bearable, not make me look good.

(Unless being dependable makes me look good, in which case.. win!)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 3:19 PM on October 1, 2012


"So Rolex isn't a luxury brand anymore? That's news to me."

Going by the article, it's still a symbol of consumption. But there are so many Rolexes around it's not as conspicuous as it once was.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:47 PM on October 1, 2012


And we all carry cell phones nowadays, WTF would you bother with a watch?

Because I've had the time on my wrist for 35 years and I'm too set in my ways to change?
posted by straight at 3:50 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


On my comment that "Every Prius now has essentially the electronic gadgetry of the high end cars" anonymisc wrote: "This isn't true - and I don't understand why it's not true."

Well, okay, I think it's not true for two reasons (with a bonus third in a moment):

First, that, as you say, every penny adds up. A platform costs a billion bucks to design because shaving pennies pays off. Although, for perspective, an automobile platform costs a billion bucks and lasts 5-7 years, the iPhone 5 sold $1.7 billion in the first weekend(!).

Second, a lot of the stuff that ends up in high end cars is stuff you don't want. Another automotive industry friend tells the story of the several year old just shy of hundred thousand dollar BMW that's now worthless because some combination of light options meant that there were only a few of this car with this lighting option sold, the lighting controller burned out and can't be replaced, and the car's self-check only lets the car be driven for a while without the working lighting controller.

How certain are you that the near-field communications key fob is going to continue to work? If you sell it to someone who's rolling their car every 3 years and doesn't care what it costs, are they going to be more or less pissed off that the car depreciates a little faster when that fob fails than the person for whom a new car is a big purchase and that fob bloody well better still be working when they hand it down to their kid in 6 or 7 years or the car is a piece of crap and they've lost the next generation of consumers?

The bonus third where the high end manufacturers are starting to delicately step in is in the steps towards autonomy, primarily lane following and self-parking. The Prius already has adaptive cruise control, and the European Ford Focus reads speed limit signs and warns you if you're going over the local speed limit (geometry makes that harder to do in the U.S.). The automobile manufacturers have to do this delicately, though, because there's a long history of various safety agencies mandating expensive add-ons which don't actually impact safety all that much in practice (CHIMSL, ABS, etc), but the wins of the ESP/ESC stuff mean that every regulatory agency wants to get the driver further out of the loop as fast as possible, and the consumers still aren't so sure...
posted by straw at 3:51 PM on October 1, 2012


And it's exactly that gadgetry that makes me wonder if I'll ever be able to buy another car, new or used, again.

The gadgetry still has a long way to go. According to a talk I recently attended (given by a driver assistance systems researcher, so, grain of salt), it will become increasingly difficult to get good car safety ratings without some form of driver assistance. Various forms of autonomous braking and lane departure warning systems are already slated to be factored into European safety ratings starting in 2014.

I guess these things don't require touch screen displays any more than ABS and seat belt reminders do, but there are still going to be a lot more electronics going into cars.
posted by Serf at 3:51 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


To my mind, if you need an 8-inch touch-screen to change the station or adjust the heat, you're doing it way, way wrong.

The car companies need to get out of the software business ASAP. I don't want the radio or climate control second-guessing me. If I'm in the market for a car in the future, the standard three-dial air controls are at the top of my list of requirements, even if that means buying a cheaper model than I could otherwise afford.
posted by stopgap at 4:09 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel your pain, Thorzdad. But that kind of car will likely become a niche product, if it continues to exist at all. We seem to be heading for a future where we're surrounded by electronic devices quietly working away on their own initiative, giving us a seamless "it just works" version of reality. (Until something wears out and has to be replaced, of course.) We'll interact with the control systems in simple ways and never see all the complicated whirring going on beneath the surface. And since automobiles are the largest and most powerful machines most people interact with, they'll no doubt lead the trend.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:13 PM on October 1, 2012


Whilst I agree with all the sentiment here, there's something wrong about the characterisation of 'maintainable' > 'no user- serviceable parts inside'.

I've always (20 years) driven sub-£1000, ten-ish yo cars, because I haven't had any cash until recently. This has the added bonus that unless I feel like it, I often do no maintenance, at all, because nearly any workshop bill is uneconomic compared to getting another car. I had a Ford Escort in early 2000s for free that I drove without opening any reservoir except the fuel cap and the screen wash just to see what happened (someone backed into it in a petrol station). Anyway - under my unchanging regime of uncaring neglect, cars I bought in the 90s broke down sometimes. Coolant, fuel and lubrication usually, maybe engine mounts or bushes. Cars made since the mid 90s don't. If they did, and I wanted to repair them, I'd be screwed and that's a sad state of affairs. But somewhere in the inexorable rise of the check engine light and the diagnostic error code, also came a real increase in first order reliability.
posted by cromagnon at 4:21 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


>So Rolex isn't a luxury brand anymore? That's news to me.

Not in the sense the article is discussing. Rolex is most famous for incredibly durable, long-lasting, absolutely NOT ephemeral watches. This is the antithesis of the high-strung, nervous-cat, expensive-to-be-expensive watches he mentioned.

Further, in the high-end watch world, Rolex really is seen as staid, conservative, and somewhat uninteresting. They don't do fancy complications. They don't redesign every year, or every 5, or every 10. They make mostly the same set of watches all the time, in a couple sizes, and with various degrees added expense from precious metals or jewels.

Rolex _does_ belong to the club of "companies that actually make the whole goddamn watch" (as opposed to companies that buy movement blanks from suppliers, and then assemble a fancy case to put around it), however.

Rolex is also cheaper than the "spend just to spend" watches. You can buy a new one for well under $10K, which, while a lot of money, is WAY cheap compared to the high end.

They're not so much about conspicuous consumption as the brands he lambasts.

Also: 993s rule. Last air-cooled 911.
posted by uberchet at 4:22 PM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


The car companies need to get out of the software business ASAP. I don't want the radio or climate control second-guessing me. If I'm in the market for a car in the future, the standard three-dial air controls are at the top of my list of requirements, even if that means buying a cheaper model than I could otherwise afford.

Too late. Most cars will run the A/C with your defrost at all times because people are too stupid to know how to properly keep car windows clear.

I have a 2012 Tacoma. I like it very much, and outside of a Jeep Rubicon, you cannot find a more capable off-road vehicle stock.

But the traction control!

There are 10 driving modes to the modern Tacoma. In 2hi, there is VSC On, Trac OFF, and AUTO LSD on. In 4hi there is VSC off, TRAC on, and Trac OFF, in 4lo there is there are the same, plus a locking rear differential.

You almost need a pilot's license to drive the thing. The days of locking the hubs, put it in low-range and stomp on it are well over.

(the above said, I love, love, love my Tacoma. Never before have I driven a vehicle with such excellent road manners at 90 MPH and as capable at climbing up a rock strewn hillside or through a mudhole. And it does it at 16-18MPG which isn't Prius awesome, but it has 15 inches of clearance and 265/70 tires and 1:47 crawl ratio)
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:26 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Too late.

Does your Tacoma have all that climate control nonsense? My 2011 FJ Cruiser has the standard three air controls, an actual key you have to insert and turn, and it doesn't even beep at me when the gas is low, just a little blinking light.

All the off-road stuff, though, sounds about the same as your tacoma, although it has an actual lever you have to yank on to switch into 4wd, and you can feel that the lever is actually mechanically attached to the motor, which is awesome. It did take me a while to get the hang of all the traction control stuff.

Strangely, my wife, who wanted me to get a car with dual-zone climate control, now hates the CC in our Prius and wishes it was just three dials like the FJ.

Edit: Oh my god, you can edit now??
posted by Huck500 at 4:39 PM on October 1, 2012


Wait, what?

Edit: Oh god, an edit window. This is truly the end times.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:44 PM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Does your Tacoma have all that climate control nonsense? My 2011 FJ Cruiser has the standard three air controls, an actual key you have to insert and turn, and it doesn't even beep at me when the gas is low, just a little blinking light.

So far, not yet - three dials, just like God intended. And I disabled the AC/Defrost thing; the AC only comes on when you push the button now.

But it does have an electric transfer case. I would kill for a manual FJ style transfer case (it is essentially a bolt in replacement, but the levers are.. inconvenient. You basically have to lose the cupholders.) The electric transfer case can switch 2-4hi on the fly, although if you're stuck already, it might not engage if the splines aren't aligned.

My main complaint is that shift into 4lo requires the truck be completely(!) stopped and the clutch all the way to the floor.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:44 PM on October 1, 2012


"My grandfather... on his death bed... sold me this watch."
posted by The Deej at 4:50 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


miyabo: You can buy a beautiful self-winding skeleton watch from dealextreme.com for $20.

Holy hell, thanks for the tip. You absolutely can do that. Not only that but there's quite a selection as well. I think I have to, now.
posted by Scientist at 4:50 PM on October 1, 2012


From the watch article: "What's missing? Mom. Doesn't she want a watch? Starting in 2009 she does, so tint the B&W to sepia and let's see what else modern women want."

A weirdly photoshopped neck, apparently.

TTAC article: "As the Reagan era came to a close and the last vestiges of disco died screaming under the relentless, atonal attack of Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jag-Stang, America’s men came to a sudden, almost universal realization: it was no longer okay for men to wear jewelry. Of any kind. Almost overnight, gold rings and sterling-silver necklaces disappeared from the public attire of the middle and upper-middle classes."

I have been surveying the wedding rings of my male colleagues lately (lots of boring meetings where have hands on the table), and I notice there's a real movement away from plain gold bands and towards much more diverse rings, I guess as a reaction against the total lack of jewelry for men ... though the wedding rings of the dudes in suits that aren't plain gold bands tend towards "understated but clearly manly."

"Labels, once discreetly stitched into couture clothes, have become logos adorning everything from baseball hats to supersized gold chains."

Ugggggggggggh. This makes it hard to buy a not-annoying purse that lasts more than six months. Although I guess most of the annoyingly-plastered-with-logos ones only last six months too. It's about the label, not the quality.

My current purse, the PURSE is holding up to abuse okay, but the exterior LABEL is coming off. I only grudgingly gave in and got a purse with a very small exterior label because I otherwise liked the purse and I've been happy with that brand's quality in the past (before exterior labels) and THE LABEL IS THE PART THAT'S WEARING OUT FIRST AND LOOKS SHITTY. (It's a leather-and-metal label stitched on to the leather of the purse, I do not appear able to remove it without damaging the purse.)

Really tangenty, but I have this vivid memory of going to Benetton for the first time in the late 80s (or early 90s) as a pre-teen with a favored slightly-older friend and being really excited because Benetton! Teenagers! But we got there and I said, with consternation, "Everything says Benetton on it." My friend laughed at me and said, "That's the point." But I refused to buy anything and I found it really upsetting that all the clothes said "Benetton." I'm not sure if this is a marker of my upbringing or of a youthful and prescient dislike of being corporatized and branded. (It's probably the former but I prefer to think it was the latter.) But I remember, so vividly, the first time I found out that a corporation wanted to put its words on me and that most of my peers wanted to let them, like seismic world-view-shift vividly. I was so taken aback.

Also now I'm afraid to talk about my car and be brand-judged. (Okay, I googled, apparently I'm a "casual chic" "mom who does it all" who wants "practicality and safety" while still getting something "fun to drive." It's like a horoscope meant to apply to everyone in my general demographic!)

I have still never bought anything from Benetton. Although I totally had an ESPRIT bag in junior high so NOT SO IMMUNE FROM TRENDS, WERE YOU, TINY EYEBROWS?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:58 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I once had a 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood. That car was as unlike modern cars as a Sherman Tank is like a bicycle.

When I bought it for $500 it was only getting 4 miles to the gallon. Drove fine, prevous owner didn't know what was wrong with it. Turned out four of the spark plugs were completely shorted out by carbon deposits. Sparks and carb fixed, it got about 13 MPG, which is not too bad for a mid-60's sedan with a 429 cuin V8 and weighing 5,000 lb.

I know how much it weighed because I work for a scale company and one day I arranged to drive it to a job, where I put it on a truck scale. Not only did it weigh almost exactly 5,000 lb, the weight was split almost exactly between the front and rear axles at 2,500 each -- this despite the monster engine in the front. This is a car that could have done a Dukes of Hazzard stunt jump with nothing in the trunk.

Did it have unserviceable frills? Oh lord yes. Had a mechanical dash clock; that never worked in my era. Had a mechanism to automatically dim the headlights if there were oncoming high beams. It broke, and not in a good way; took me three days to figure out how to keep the headlights from flicking off at random when night driving. It was a bit old for cruise control but would have had thermostatically controlled A/C if the A/C had ever worked for me. Power windows, two of which still worked.

But under the frou-frou, that was a honkin' car. I read of one fellow who drove one in demolition derbies who gave it up because he nearly killed a friend with it. It was massively overbuilt in every possible way. The headliner fell down and the paint faded but it would still go 110 MPH without breathing hard, and hold the road like a bullet train. One night a trucker decided to harass my wife and she just punched the accelerator for a couple of minutes. End of problem.

But alas, between the maintenance and the gas, it got to be too much. Traded it for a Toyota Corolla back around 1998.
posted by localroger at 5:07 PM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


thorzdad, your comment reminds me of something that happened recently.

I had gf's '08 VW at an independent shop to change the transmission fluid (it has the stunningly complex dual-clutch automated manual gearbox. the fluid change CAN be done in your garage. with a $100 tool, and honestly it's kinda complex for DIY and then you still usually need the proprietary VW computer to complete the service) and we got to talking about how awful the iPod integration is. I had to install and aftermarket interface to play an iPod through the radio, and the weak point in controlling the music is the difficult-to-replace VW head unit. on most other cars, replacing the damn radio isn't even an option anymore. because the radio is on the CAN-BUS with all the other electronics. that is the car's 'network'. and everything else can get really screwed by messing with any one piece of the network. to get iPod connectivity, it would literally be easier to replace the entire car.

in my '06 Toyota truck.. I can swap in any radio I want. oh, and guys don't get me started on how electronics have replaced proper off-road hardware like locking diffs and selectable transfer cases. Toyota can pretend all it wants that ATRAC is a good substitute for a real locking diff.. but it just isn't. not to mention having to DIY the switch just to be able to complexly defeat the traction control in a 4wd vehicle (although this is my model year, some newer versions had the switch).

in short, I like my cars and trucks analog. which means the likelihood I'll ever buy a car made after like '05 ever again is very slight. another point Mr Baruth was making: buying new is a luxury a lot of people will continue going without.
posted by ninjew at 5:08 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not that it matters, but there are a few watch companies out there making their own movements. Orient is one I like. I carry a cell phone now, so a watch is kind of superfluous, esp. a mechanical watch. I'm old enough that I'm just used to wearing a watch though, and young enough to have missed the "quartz revolution." Up until fairly recently, all my watches had been quartz. Somehow the idea of an all mechanical watch is kind of neat and novel to me now, so I picked up a reasonably priced Orient, and I like it, I think it's kind of cool.

On the sports car front, if you want bang for the buck, I have three words for you: Used Lotus Elise. The engine and transmission are the same as that of the Toyota Celica GTS, so the drive train is pretty solid. It's pretty bare bones inside, the style has been described as "early go-kart". Amazingly, they usually have air conditioning and power windows. The frame is all aluminum and cannot be repaired though, so you generally don't want one with a salvage title. That being said, Lotus is not known for reliability, and Colin Chapman's philosophy of "simplify and add lightness" is sometimes carried to extremes to the detriment of reliability and safety. The body is all fibreglass, and what would be a minor fender bender in a normal car can add up to seriously hefty repair bill with the little rocket propelled eggshell.
posted by smcameron at 5:21 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the commenters got it exactly right:

"Look at a Porsche the way a millionaire looks at a supermodel: highly desirable and beautiful to possess for limited amount of time, but much less beautiful and too expensive to maintain for more than a few years.

The demand for supermodels is high and constant, it just shifts to the newest models while the older versions suffer cliff-face depreciation. Just like a Porsche."

posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:36 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


1f2frfbf: "I drive a boxy Volvo station wagon that gets me to work on time every damn day and wear a Seiko Kinetic that makes sure I know what time I get to leave work and I approve this message. My things exist to make my life bearable, not make me look good."

Sad to say that the Kinetic is a prime example of useless over-engineering. They originally used a capacitor, now they use a lithium battery, but the key flaw is that the battery/capacitor wears out in the same amount of time that an ordinary watch battery lasts.

Stomaching the price-differential of the special Seiko battery might be possible if you didn't need to replace all the gaskets and the Kinetic movement didn't require expensive service on the same time frame.

All of a sudden you're spending $150 to service a $300 watch when a similar normal battery powered watch would require a $5-10 part installed by any watch store (or yourself).
posted by polyhedron at 5:38 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not that it matters, but there are a few watch companies out there making their own movements.

The author talks about this in the article. The downside is that is makes the watches needlessly complex and essentially unrepairable, since every watch is going to have completely different innards.
posted by echo target at 5:50 PM on October 1, 2012


I have found that any of the Seiko 5 automatic watches are everything that the cray cray priced Swiss chronometers are for 1/20th the price. Seriously. 23 jewel, self-winding and very pretty. Says wikipedia: Seiko mechanical watches are highly prized by collectors—from the Seiko "5" series (the 5 reflects the five essential features of the watch, namely shock resistant, water resistant, automatic, and day and date display), which is the most common, to the highly prized luxury "Credor," "King Seiko," and "Grand Seiko" lines.

I got my first one from my grandfather's estate, I wear it for dress up (it's gold and too sentimentally precious to me for day to day wear) and it's still working flawlessly. He bought it in the '40s sometime. I have two that I have since purchased, they have never needed any service and have been through conditions that would have shredded a lesser watch. Make sure to look for the Japanese manufactured watches, they seem to be of a slightly higher build quality and reputation over the Thai versions. You'll see the "Made in Japan" print between the six and eight on the face. Look on Joma for a good $45 starter watch.

Also, holy shit, edit window. Oh praise be the devs!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 5:55 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Once the car drives itself, things like handling, capability and power become meaningless, and only plushness of ride, reliability and fuel economy will matter.

Once the car drives itself, it's essentially a robot taxi. In this world, only a minority of car collectors will actually bother to own one; for anyone else, various sorts of rental schemes, with intelligent routing and scheduling to minimise the risk of not having a car on hand, will be far more effective.
posted by acb at 5:59 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not up on the last few years, so the examples I give might have expired, but while stability control, pre-tensioners, etc are making their way into regular cars, other useful - and cheap - stuff, like a HUD, are still absent on regular cars. Even the locks, regular cars still seem to be in the fish-out-your-fob-and-press-a-button to lock/unlock, instead of walk away from the car / be standing by the door when you open it.

The aforementioned Prius can now be had with a HUD, "Keyless Go", Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Navigation, Bluetooth integration with your smartphone, LED headlamps, power-folding side mirrors and a solar roof panel. You can even remote-start the air conditioning.

The only luxury feature it doesn't have is leather seating, but only because that would be terribly gauche for such a green car. Instead they include "SofTex" seating that has a low something-or-other production pollutant output.

Most of these things are indeed available in the average family sedan these days. Kia has even trickled Keyless Go fobs down into some of its economy models like the Soul.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:16 PM on October 1, 2012


They're not so much about conspicuous consumption as the brands he lambasts.

Arguably they are chasing some of that money though. Submariner prices have gone through the roof over the last 10 years, and the (hideous) new Sky-Dweller starts at $40k.
posted by markr at 6:19 PM on October 1, 2012


I don't know anyone who wears a watch. I haven't worn a watch for 20 years.

I don't know anyone who drives a luxury car. Actually, I knew one guy, my podiatrist. I dropped him because he bought a Hummer.

I just bought a 1994 Honda Accord EX Coupe with a 5 speed manual for $3000. It's a Florida car (no rust from winter salt) and was dealer refurbished (although I wish they had repaired the electric window which is $260 just for the motor). Even though it's 18 years old and has 110k miles, it drives a lot like the best car I ever owned, a 1965 Mustang GT Convertible with a 4 speed. Except this car, old and worn as it is, is about a hundred times as good a car as my freshly restored Mustang back in 1975. I have to restrain myself, or else I burn rubber at stoplights and chirp the tires when shifting gears. I drove the Accord to work today, the interstate was mostly empty, so I decided to kick it into 5th. Before I knew it, I was driving 100mph. It was smoother than my old Mazda beater at 45mph. I expect this Honda to go over 200k miles easily.

I drove past a Hummer today. I gave him the finger.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:24 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah. Right now I'm considering a "new" car, and the one I'm looking at has more miles and is older than the one I have. But, it's an E39 BMW M5, a veritable car of my dreams. New it was 80 grand, but now it costs less than a Honda civic from 2 years ago.

Our family was host to many a Reagan-era BMW, and they'll basically be nice to drive as long as you maintain them. The problem is, they mostly fell into disrepair. My E30 donated parts to my first car, an E21 we found under a tree. The E21 is still running.

My sister drove a late 80's 745i, and it was t-boned at about 40 mph and not only did it still run, but drive as if nothing happened (indeed, the accident straightened it out a bit). My brother took this same car and tested it's upper limits, 130 mph on country roads. It had roughly 300,000 miles on it.

It's not the price, but the maintenance. My grandfather calls these "car payments."
posted by hellojed at 6:25 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


polyhedron: That may be, but it's given me over a decade of trouble free service and it was made to be repaired, and it if goes to hell tomorrow that comes out to $15 a year minus my initial outlay (around $250, I think). Which is all exactly fine by me, I'm not a watch guy, I'm a tool guy, and this tool has served me well.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:45 PM on October 1, 2012


I have an a Rolex from my Bat Mitzvah, but that white gold and diamond lady miniature doesn't square with my transdude hipster look. And engraved, so can't really dispose of it. Runs perfectly when I bother to pick it up, though. I usually wear a black Casio G-Shock watch; I'm on my third one since college. The next-most-recent works perfectly, but the groovy "armored" band and case disintegrated.

The only electronics in my '83 VW Westfalia are the aftermarket stereo, itself 25 years old, and my cellphone. The car's ECU is a circuit board with resistors, capacitors, and whatnot on it, and I carry spares and a soldering iron. It's on its third engine and who-knows-which transmission, but I could put in any 80s or later VW or Subaru engine in it. It can take Mercedes, VW, Porsche, or Audi wheels and brakes from most vehicles after 1979. I'm about to put 1986 Volvo seats in it. I can purchase virtually any non-chassis part new from either VW or a plethora of makers. There are a dozen repair shops in my city that are happy to see my old van come in, and short of replacing the drivetrain, the bill won't be over the $600 paid for it. OK, it only gets 19 miles per gallon... for a camper that sleeps four. In town, I take the city bus.

No, they don't make stuff like they used to. But I couldn't check the world's information from my pocket computer/phone by talking to it, while on top of a glacier, and send my live video at the same time, back then, either. Or get online instantly to troubleshoot my mechanical issues - or b*tch about them.
posted by Dreidl at 7:06 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


there are a few watch companies out there making their own movements. Orient is one I like.

The author discusses this in the article; there are actually an increasing number of companies making their own movements. It's not necessarily a good thing. If some company makes their own movement and then goes out of business, after only making a few thousand of them, what are your odds of ever being able to get it repaired?

I don't know anything about Orient so I'm not sure if that's going to be a problem with them, but it's certainly an issue with the very high-end, low-production, stupidly expensive mechanical watches that are in vogue right now. Hence the whole discussion of them being ephemeral products, since they are wearing out and will almost certainly not be repairable in the future.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:08 PM on October 1, 2012


I wear a watch to remind me of my mortality.
Its weight reminds me of the heft of time.
I like swinging my arms around to wind the movement.
The mild vibration reminds me of the buzzing of life.

I don't even remember to set the correct time and date ... I have a phone for that.
posted by captaincrouton at 7:08 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have had a Porsche. A Boxster S, in fact, of the same vintage as the writer of the article. I regretfully had to sell it recently.

I bought a Porsche because my father had one when I was a kid, and I always loved the sound, to say nothing of the look on my Dad’s face when he was driving it. I also find them to be beautiful machines, particularly the older 911’s and the first generation Boxster. The purchase had nothing whatsoever to do with getting laid or impressing anyone. No one has ever gotten laid on account of their car, and where I live you need to spend a lot more than I did for my old Porsche if you want to impress anyone.

I paid less for my Porsche than I have for any other car I’ve owned, and I’ve never owned another “luxury” car. My Porsche was cheap because it was old. It also happened to have been beautifully maintained by the previous owners. I sold my Porsche for more than I bought it for. Cars are always a terrible investment, regardless of whether you buy a luxury car or an old Civic. This was not. Because it had long since exhausted its depreciation, and because it came with an excellent extended warranty that had been purchased by the owner before me (so he ate the cost), I had a free car for two years, less the cost of gas, of course, which was no more than average.

If you have never driven a mid-engined sports car with the top down on a curvy road on a cool evening, you should. My Porsche turned a trip to the grocery store into a beautiful, physical experience. The sound of the engine right behind your head, the incredible balance and response, you feel a connection to this machine the way you might when typing on a clean old Selectric, or riding a surfboard that you have waxed a thousand times. My wife and I took the car out for drives in the hills all the time for no other reason than just to drive.

Porsches are regularly rated among the most reliable cars in the world. Not just among luxury cars, I mean among cars, period. Used Boxsters (of the more recent platform) and 911’s are often rated the highest among used care reliability.

I would recommend a used Porsche to anyone who likes driving, good design, pleasant mechanical rumbling, gravity or wind. You have to take the time to choose carefully, but if you do, it can be a wonderful experience. As an old mechanic said to me once, “It adds a little life to your life.” Can’t argue with that.
posted by ivanosky at 7:09 PM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


I can't figure out whether this sort of thing is a weird kind of insanity, or just run-of-the-mill stupidity.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:15 PM on October 1, 2012


Orient has been around awhile. They aren't exactly a fly-by-night johnny-come-lately. They also aren't generally a luxury brand, generally being cheaper than equivalent Seikos. They are generally a "good deal" in terms of quality/dollar (ignoring the obvious fact that a mechanical watch is generally inferior to a $5 quartz watch for the nominal purpose of telling the freakin' time.) The Orient movements are ubiquitous enough that repair is not a problem.

Oooooh, edit window!
posted by smcameron at 7:24 PM on October 1, 2012


I'm also a Seiko automatic (diver!) fan. While I sometimes wonder about more expensive Swiss watches, the reality is that the Seiko is as good or better of a product at a fraction of the price of the Swiss luxury watches. (ooh! 5 minute edit window!)
posted by gen at 7:27 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a sucker for 1980's and earlier BMWs. I just recently bought a 1989 BMW M3, which I have yet to drive because the previous owner was...less than honest about the condition of the engine, and cars don't run well when the #4 piston is missing parts of itself and slamming into the cylinder head. It's going to cost as much money to fix the car as it cost me to buy it (which, incidentally, is still a decent value, just more absolute dollars than I was hoping to spend), but when it's done, I'm going to own a BMW E30 M3, which is one of the greatest cars BMW has ever made, and own it for less than it costs to buy a new GTI or WRX. The engine was meant for touring car racing so it lasts 200k miles between rebuilds and with routine maintenance never goes wrong, and the electrics are from the 1980's so there's very little to go wrong if I don't fiddle-faddle with it too much. Other than that, it's pretty much a BMW E30 with fancy bodywork and suspension, so the parts are cheap and plentiful.

Plus, it's from a time when a 2.3L straight-four with 200 HP was enough for a world-beater performance car, and you didn't have to have a W24 with eight turbos in order for the people who get the entirety of their car opinions from Jeremy Clarkson to give you the time of day - in other words, it is, above all else, balanced. It's fast enough to have fun, but not enough to kill you if you don't take a corner exactly right, and every person I have ever talked to who's driven one goes all wide-eyed and dribbling thinking about how perfect the chassis and handling are.

I'm not biased against other cars from the era, either. W123 Mercs are the perfect car for those who want class and sophistication in a bulletproof car and have the cash to pay for the dipped-in-liquid-moonbeams MB OEM parts. Datsun 240Zs and 260Zs (not to mention 510s) are still good looking cars that make a great noise. The BMW 2002 is a cracking little sedan with amazing aesthetics and design. (Let's just politely ignore America's contributions during this period of time.) There's nothing wrong with owning any of these cars if you have the cash to keep them running, which, if you don't get fucked like I did, won't approach the cost of buying a new car every six or seven years if you're willing to do the most basic of maintenance yourself (like oil changes). I won't hate on those who choose otherwise to avoid the hassle and heartache that occasionally comes with these kinds of cars, but only buying new or slightly used cars means missing out on the class, beauty and quality of some of the older cars.

(Also, I may or may not know people who've dealt with Jack Baruth in person. It's not your imagination in the article. He's a tool.)
posted by Punkey at 7:32 PM on October 1, 2012


I got a Vostok Amphibia watch. Soviet design, 31 jewels, self-winding divers watch. Damn thing is indestructible. I have abused the hell out of it, never a problem, and it was $60. They still make all of their own movements.

I used to drive a 1983 Mercedes 300TD. God, I loved that car and do I ever miss it. In the end, Canadian winters were not kind and the body went before anything else. I swear the drivetrain on those things will run forever. Most of it probably still is running, as it was donated to a mercedes repair shop owned by my dad's friend as a parts car.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:42 PM on October 1, 2012


W123 Mercs are the perfect car for those who want class and sophistication in a bulletproof car and have the cash to pay for the dipped-in-liquid-moonbeams MB OEM parts.

Compared to my 2004 VW Golf TDI, parts for that '83 Mercedes were dirt cheap. Also, you could still get any part for that car. Some parts for my Golf were unavailable from VW when it only was 5 years old (man, I miss my heated seats on -30°C winter mornings).
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:45 PM on October 1, 2012


Sorry but no. Just because there are companies making even more expensive and inaccurate watches doesn't make Rolex into an shining example of restraint and common sense. And it is all fine and good to wax poetic about the ruggedness of older cars, but the reality is that most midrange modern cars are more reliable and have better handling and lower cost of ownership than your average 80's or 90's luxury car. This is the narcissism of small differences.
posted by deo rei at 7:46 PM on October 1, 2012


fimbulvetr: "Also, you could still get any part for that car. Some parts for my Golf were unavailable from VW when it only was 5 years old (man, I miss my heated seats on -30°C winter mornings)."

I do love that BMW and Mercedes-Benz, in particular, are really good about keeping the important parts available. You can actually still buy a crate engine for my M3 from BMW, or all the parts you'd need to turn it into a Class A rally car, and Mercedes is just as good about that.

Still, the cost depends entirely on what part you're fixing. My engine rebuild on the E30 M3 is going to cost upwards of $10k from a very reputable shop (who's actually known for kinda low-end per-hour costs), thanks to things like pistons for $400 a pop and it costing $2k in parts alone for a head rebuild. I had an Integra Type R prior to this M3 (stolen from the CSU - Long Beach parking structure and chopped into pieces in Watts, rest its soul), and that needed an engine rebuild too. Total cost for the full rebuild? $3k. The little fiddly things are cheap, but some of the really important stuff can be really expensive. The M3 might not be the best example, especially for engine parts, seeing as it was essentially a rev-limited race engine and had stuff in it which is still pretty high-end and expensive today, like sodium-filled valves. Still, the rule with older cars is they're cheap to fix, except when they're not.
posted by Punkey at 7:55 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


but the reality is that most midrange modern cars are more reliable and have better handling and lower cost of ownership than your average 80's or 90's luxury car

I have owned a lot of old cars, from the early '60s to the late '70s. They were fun cars, but totally unreliable. Now, I'll give you handling when it comes to new cars, but everything people say about the complete bomb-proofness of 1970's - 80's Mercedes 123 models is true. They are absolutely reliable, very easy to maintain, and cheap to keep on the road. Rust was the only thing that got me in the end, and that was after over 30 years of Canadian winters and road salt.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:00 PM on October 1, 2012


Also, I cannot lie: I lust after 1970's and 1980's French cars, too. I'd sell a kidney to have a Citröen SM in mint condition. I'd need to, if I wanted to keep the car running. Nothing says reliability like a very, very complicated suspension system in a French car, with an Italian engine. Oh, and if the suspension system gives out, since it shares a hydraulic system with the brakes, you can't stop. Safety! But still, look at it.
posted by Punkey at 8:05 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


straw writes "And we all carry cell phones nowadays, WTF would you bother with a watch?"

Because you can check the time on a watch in less than a second just by glancing at your wrist rather than by getting your phone out. With practice you can even do it surreptitiously in a lot of cases. Also my work place bans phones on the job site but not watches. Finally I often walk about with no phone. If I'm going for a run or a swim in river I'm not going to bring anything as high buck as my phone.

stopgap writes "The car companies need to get out of the software business ASAP. I don't want the radio or climate control second-guessing me. If I'm in the market for a car in the future, the standard three-dial air controls are at the top of my list of requirements, even if that means buying a cheaper model than I could otherwise afford."

Good luck. I'm currently driving a Geo Storm. It's a perfect run about car. It's doesn't have power anything but brakes and steering. All the controls are switches and levers. It's got a fairly fancy stereo but only because I cannibalized it from my previous ride plus a 20 year old hand me down reflex sub. I love it's look, how it drives and it plain essence of driving interface. It's tiny engine pumps out 100 horses which is just fine in a 2000lb car.

Sadly it's got at least two accidents on the starting to rust body and 285K on the drive train. And while it has an air bag I can't imagine it's terribly safe. So I've been debating driving it till it dies and buying something newer, possibly even brand new or patching it along for another year or so. So I've been looking and you apparently can't buy a Storm equivalent today. First off the choice is 2dr coupes is very limited. Especially if you want something cheap. I mean the Scion FS-R is awesome but it's about 50% ore than I've got. Second even cheap ass Hyundais have keyless magic fob entry, power windows/seats/mirrors/seat heaters/Sat Nav/goofy dual clutch auto transmissions/etc. Third new cars are frickin' huge. Fourth most cars are designed by wind tunnel.

All told it's bad enough I've started considering building a Caterham 7 or something. Though I sure do wish I could find a Storm with say 160K and no body damage.
posted by Mitheral at 9:01 PM on October 1, 2012


Baruth makes me miss LJK Setright.

Setright had this wonderful article about Jaguar in Car magazine and I'm sort-of-quoting from memory: "The old Jaguar engineers mostly smoked pipes, and did little sums on their slide rules, and made beautiful cars. The new engineers have CAD systems and rational systems and they make rational cars but they are not Jaguars."*

Setright would say what Baruth says, but much more economically. Setright would lambaste pretentiousness and frills and stupidity and arrogance. Which Baruth wants to do and a lot of his points are right, but TTAC and I have too long a history for me to see Baruth as much more than a poseur who knows his Porsches.

Porsche lost me with the way they handled the IMS failures: "bummer, you need a new engine". M-B and BMW are asking for nondisclosure agreements about their wacky non-replicable failures. Nearly all the luxury makes have bullshit motors and complicated widgets and high-school sensor fusion attempts that don't work well and often don't work at all.

Ultimately Baruth is right. "Luxury" in today's car context means a platform sold to the proles, but festooned with so many tricks and gimmicks that any fool would know they'll break as soon as there's a hard rain or a light impact or someone connects the battery backward. And Baruth is justifiably pissed about how Porsche, M-B and BMW screw their customers. All these things are right, and a Corvette C5 will stomp and dismember a lot of the German bahn-burners, and drive through swamps and survive gunfire and all that. So he gets kind of close to Setright there. Setright would approve of C5s but say they were too wide (for English country lanes). He'd have liked their simplicity and their tear-ass-to-the-horizon gestalt and snickered at the motorized gear selector on Jaguar XFs and the motorized cooling ducts on VW Phaetons, but he'd have done that in six hundred words and said twice what Baruth said, something like this: "Gimmickry is self-defeating, honest engineering and honest dealing are what make lifetime customers and enthusiasts".

*If you have a link for that article I would be eternally grateful, for the opportunity to read it again.
posted by jet_silver at 9:22 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


a platform sold to the proles

More likely leased every 3 years, forever, than sold. (Sure enough, an ad in the paper tells me I can lease a 3-series for under $300/month. Doesn't mention the purchase price).

And the discussion upthread about 70s-80s Mercedes models is spot on.
posted by junco at 9:42 PM on October 1, 2012


complete bomb-proofness of 1970's - 80's Mercedes 123

Yeah, okay, but the Merc 123 isn't really a car. It's - I don't know, more of a camel or something.
posted by deo rei at 9:51 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What do you guys have against keyless fobs? My car has one and I love it, it means I don't have to take the key out of my pocket!
posted by cell divide at 10:08 PM on October 1, 2012


A regular key cost $2 to get copied and when your driver's door cylinder fails you can still get in on the passenger side. The proximity fob costs a lot more; won't fit in your wallet, won't work if your battery (in either the car or the fob) is dead and when it fails you're done.

Also is it possible to leave a fobby car unlocked?
posted by Mitheral at 10:24 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cars today do have better handling, safety and mpg. They are also generally more reliable, in the sense of fewer defects from the factory, and fewer intermittent failures. What they aren't, is generally as serviceable for long term use. Other than something like the Toyota Hilux, which is rugged, reliable AND serviceable for long term use.
posted by wuwei at 10:26 PM on October 1, 2012


And we all carry cell phones nowadays, WTF would you bother with a watch?

Same reason wrist watches overtook pocket watches back in the day.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:43 PM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


I would debate the "handling" part.

It turns on whether or not you consider absolute ragged-edge grip and performance "handling". If that's the case, then yes, modern cars do, by and large, handle better. There's some exceptions that you could make a case for, but they're all hypercars that cost millions of dollars to buy, even today. Apples to apples, the average four-door family sedan grips harder than a sedan from back then, and the sports cars of today are so sticky that they've got ridiculous levels of grip. There's a bunch of reasons for that, bigger and better tires, suspension design, technology like traction control and, in some cases, ABS, but it is an indisputable fact that modern cars grip harder and, in most family transport cases, stop faster.

However, I don't know many people who really know cars that would say that "handling" and "grip" are the same thing. Handling is more than just sheer mechanical grip, it's a sensation of what the car's wheels and tires are doing, how the center of gravity is transferring throughout the car as you drive, it's feeling the back end start to slip in the seat of your pants or the progressive increase of lateral load on the front tires through the steering wheel. "Handling" is much more about being able to count on the car to react quickly and precisely to your inputs, and having the car communicate clearly and distinctly what it is doing and what it is about to do. And that is where most modern cars, particularly your average family runabout, fail miserably. Technology like drive-by-wire steering, throttle and in some cases even brakes, trends towards softer and less communicative suspension, the same driver aids like traction control that aid in absolute grip, and even smaller things like the prevalence of automatics and the near impossibility of finding manual cars without special order all contribute in making modern cars actually "handle" considerably worse than some of their past counterparts. These technologies put layers of abstraction - and usually numbness - between the driver and the car. Drive-by-wire tech is the biggest offender, completely removing any sense of road feel from most cars today, making reading the car almost impossible and making it very difficult to have confidence that what you ask the car to do is what it will actually do. Traction control means that the car will brake tires to arrest a slide - but they can also disrupt your control over the car. Even things like the banishment of manuals from dealer lots means that the car will shift when it decides to shift, not when you do, making the management of where the engine is in the power band, and therefore how much torque and power it's putting out at any given moment, that much more difficult. The do make semi-auto gearboxes that shift exactly when you want them to, but they cost tens of thousands of dollars and aren't what you would call smooth-shifting.

My point is, handling is much more than just a number on a skidpad. If that was true, every car would be like the Dodge Viper. Because of its ridiculously large rear tires (345/30-19, which means they were 13.6 inches from sidewall to sidewall), that car has grip for miles and miles - but the instant you run out of it, it turns around and takes your head clean off with snap oversteer, and there is very little warning as to when that's about to happen. Handling means that when the grip on the rear tires is about to run out, you can feel it coming and either back off the throttle, adjust your steering angle, or even anticipate the moment the rear tires break free into oversteer so you can catch and hold it in a slide. Handling is the ability to attack a corner at 9/10ths with confidence that your car is planted and solid, and that you can feel the lateral load building in the car as well as yourself - and if you want to step over into 11/10ths and get the tail out, you can do that too. With all the electronic aids and controls that modern cars have, very few of them actually "handle" better than the cars of the past - and those that do tend to have very high price tags.
posted by Punkey at 10:58 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


And whether or not those newer sports cars are actually more fun to drive is an entirely different debate. I find it hard to enjoy myself in a car that starts to find itself at 75-80 MPH - especially since I don't live near a race track.
posted by Punkey at 11:08 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


When my old Toyota hit 10 years old, I figured it was time to replace it, and picked up a used Avalon really cheap during the brake-computer scare a couple of years ago. (It was so heavily discounted that, until very recently, the car sites were telling me that I could trade it in for a fair bit more than my purchase price.)

I'm kinda mixed on the hyper-computerization of everything. I'm not inherently opposed to it, as so many of you seem to be. I like the fact that I don't have to think about the headlights; I set them to 'auto', and they just take care of themselves. They even have a self-leveling mechanism; when I turn them on manually, I can see them adjust themselves. And the wipers can be set to 'auto' and they mostly just work. I hardly ever have to mess with them. They speed up and slow down according to how much water is on the windshield. It's pretty amazing, actually. The cruise control defaults to 'laser cruise', which tracks the car ahead of me, so I don't have to micromanage speed in traffic too much. (It doesn't, however, work properly in the rain, and it's much too conservative, so I tend to either turn it off, or use regular cruise, if the situation is even a little complex.) And I like having the GPS in the car, with the maps and instructions, although my specific generation of navigation system has a pretty horrible interface that's slow and hard to deal with. It's still a lot better than not having one, or having one in your phone. And I absolutely love pushbutton start. Just have the keys in my pocket, put my foot on the brake, and push the button, and the car starts itself, exactly correctly, every time. I LOVE that feature.

But I also worry about some of this stuff, because the manual says things like 'the headlights will last for the life of the vehicle', which implies to me that they have a specific lifetime in mind, and then things are going to start breaking. And with all this complexity, that's an awful lot of possible breakage. It's very comfortable to drive around in, sort of a modern equivalent of the old Cadillacs that encased you in a moving bubble on the road, but I just don't see how this thing is going to have anywhere near the longevity of my mostly-analog Toyota from ten years earlier. I saw no particular reason why that car couldn't last for decades, with care. This one, I'm not so sure about.
posted by Malor at 11:13 PM on October 1, 2012


Believe me, I like the fiddly bits like the auto-on headlights or four-zone climate control or CD/DVD/MP3/HD Radio/XM/Sirius/AUX/USB/iPod/Ansible radios (not the big screens, though) or seat massagers or radar-guided cruise control (which always makes me think it's about to fire missiles) or infrared night-vision dashboards or the other cool interior toys. I'm currently debating what radio to replace the stock head unit with just so I can get a basic AUX 1/8th" input jack and wishing the car came with more than one cigarette lighter for power - or cupholders.

But the electro-hydraulic steering and drive-by-wire throttle and 8-speed automatic gearboxes and always-on traction control, that I can do without.
posted by Punkey at 11:20 PM on October 1, 2012


Ansible radios

Oooh?
posted by Malor at 11:21 PM on October 1, 2012


I'm sure MB will come out with it any day now, if Audi or Lexus don't beat them to it first. I hear the rock station from Tau Ceti V is awesome. The rest is completely true, though. 8-speed is actually rather passé. Dodge has a 9 speed, and everyone's working on a 10 speed. In a few years, automatic cars will have more speeds than your average mountain bike, all in the service of fuel efficiency. It'll make the cars gutless and boring to drive, but most people don't care about that.
posted by Punkey at 11:25 PM on October 1, 2012


Baruth exemplifies what I guess Americans mean by douchebag, a status-obsessed, name-dropping, holier-than-thou, windbag who litters his flabby, flatulent prose with snippets gleaned from Wikipedia. The Last Psychiatrist is a good find.
posted by epo at 1:11 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Punkey, congrats on the E30 - that's a keeper. You might enjoy this article from Evo where they drive an E30 M3 head-to-head with an E87 123d, a 25-years younger diesel-engined commuter hatchback that has near identical performance specs.
posted by phl at 3:15 AM on October 2, 2012


I like digital watches. I saw the fashion changing back to analog for no reason other than some fucking designer convinced folks that digital wasn't "stylish". So I absolutely REFUSE to wear an analog watch. A quirk my partner shares, only he actually dislikes analog watches. He wears a nice digital, because he runs in upper management circles.

We hate cars and are happy where we are because we don't need one. Mind, we could have one for free, including free gas. But instead we get train passes that cover all Switzerland, including most city buses. w00t! And money left over! But many people can't comprehend our position.

We do spend for some things. Specifically, camera gear. Yea, 5d Mark III, and a bag full of L-series lenses. Not wasted at all. And sometimes we stay in fancy hotels, just to shoot the view (for a high-value of shoot that includes time-lapse and gigapixel images).

Why on earth would we want to waste money on meaningless crap like designer labels or fancy cars? Well, maybe if it's that car that goes underwater. But then we'd be happier, I'm certain, if we just rented it and got the photos. :-)
posted by Goofyy at 4:01 AM on October 2, 2012


And we all carry cell phones nowadays, WTF would you bother with a watch?

We do? And when we do, we can carry them everywhere we go? In a highly visible, easy-to-access location (i.e. not in a pocket and with a locked screensaver)?
posted by DU at 5:15 AM on October 2, 2012


I am a bit of a gearhead, and my tastes have gone from teenage expressions of the fear of uncoolness (my MGB GT) at the price of my sanity to perverse fetishes for cars that lie in the uncanny valley next to VW Golfs to a series of cars for smart people, pragmatic eccentrics, and sporting drivers with a flair for the esoteric. I've owned two enormous sixties luxobarges, in American and German flavors, a slew of moderately practical Japanese motoring devices, the most insanely and explicably joyous car I've ever have the good fortune to drive, and more.

I drove a Miata for three years. It was lovely, and was not my mid-life crisis car—a friend of a friend was selling it in mint condition for an absurdly low price and my Metro was finally starting to fall apart after three years of being used as the stand-in for a truck while I was building the giant mosaic at the American Visionary Art Museum. I do not fit in a Miata, but I slouched, adjusted the seat as best I could, and sang as much as possible to distract myself from the chiropractic horror of being a circus bear in a very small car. It had cachet, being a brilliant piece of design and engineering, but I had to get out before I ended up in a wheelchair.

These days, I'm driving a '96 F150, which is the last model year in which they feel like a truck built for work instead of being a high-fashion log for insecure boys (it's got opening quarterlights and a bench seat!). It's enormous, square, has the build quality of everything American (i.e. none), and gets 13.6 MPG, which is fine, as it reminds me that cars are meant to be constrained in usage.

As with any of my shopping ventures, the process was endless, largely because I think the misbegotten fixation on luxury has destroyed the possibility of finding a car or truck for a person who really doesn't give a shit about "luxury." I don't buy into that imbecilic Western sense of whiny entitlement that programs consumers to believe that they just work so hard that they deserve all these little false niceties because sometimes you just have to spoil yourself. An inability to live simply is the reason most people's lives are so stressful.

I wasn't sure what I was looking for when I went looking for the post-Miata. Well—that's not true. What I am looking for is a modern 2CV, which is perversely one of the best designed cars ever produced. I want the modern metallurgy and the modern electric engineering, but I also want the absence of crap that does nothing. In a 2CV, there is essentially two moving parts involved in opening a window—a little clip and the flappity window. On most modern cars, windows are electric because we love the little luxury of just pushing a button and aren't smart enough to do the math on why replacing two moving parts with a thousand, an electrical subsystem, and thirty pounds of extra weight.

We're living in an age built by people who grew up with a poster of a Countach and Jaclyn Smith taped to their walls and all that teenaged insecurity carries right on through, albeit with the added delight of safety panic, because the world is now so very dangerous that our small economy cars must weigh three thousand pounds because we're such a shambling lot of panicky ninnies who think well, I probably could get the smaller car, but then how would I feel if my whole family was killed in a collision? Better safe than sorry!

In my Miata, I occasionally got the standard line of "...Aaand you're okay driving a girl car?"

I could have done the usual counterpoint of explaining that the Miata is the demon of the racing circuit and brilliantly engineered and so on, but that's part of the corruption—I have to explain my choices to idiots. If you stop feeling like you have to explain your choices to idiots, life gets appreciably better.

"Well, I'm most evidently a boy, but yes, I'm fine with my car. Plus, I can put the top down and wear a rakish hat."

Mind you, I have already reached the absolute pinnacle of genuine luxury, having driven a Citroën DS21 as my daily driver for years. There's nothing gimmicky or garish about a DS, and the sole external differentiation between the workmanlike ID models and the palatial Pallas models was a brushed metal trim panel instead of the usual corrugated on on the C pillar and a wee little "Pallas" badge on some. There were no electric windows, no remote controlled locks, no gradient-dimming interior lights or climate-controlled glovebox or...anything.

A DS is a bit tinny, with hard plastics on the dash that make lousy auto journalists tut-tut in complaint, and they're louder than they could be, but there has never been a car since that's had the celestial, impossible ride of a DS and there never will be. Mine was three colors, due to an idiot backing into my door and me being an idiot and backing into a tree stump, and the interior was fairly tattered, but cruising south on 301 late at night in November, with no traffic anywhere and the future lit up by the brightest headlights I've ever had on any car and the road a distant memory underneath me, coupled to my little cocoon of space by the engineering brilliance of André Lefèbvre, a man who famously drank nothing but water or champagne. In true French style, the response to the notoriously lousy roads in the country was to make a car that was indifferent to them.

That's luxury.

The luxury you get in, say, the awful BMW corruption of what Alec Issigonis and Alex Moulton wrought comes entirely at the cost of the soul of the machine. Whereas a circus bear can get into a proper Mini and marvel at the space, a normal person wedging themselves into a BMW Mini has to ask why the fucking hell they're so cramped in a car that's two feet longer than the original. Yeah, the funky retro switchgear is cute, but you know what else is cute? Having room to put your stuff.

I could ramble on interminably about why I hate what the fetish for "luxury" has done for cars, but the best evidence is in how this insecure teenybopper fixation has shaped our market. There's not a single car sold in the US that even remotely resembles a peoples' car. In the lineage of the Fiat 500 and the 2CV and 4 and the Mini and the Maluch and even the wretched, wretched hateful little ripped-off Beetle, there's now nothing. Try to make a simple car, and people laugh at you.

But in the end, we're all happy little soldiers, and buying into the mythos of luxury feeds the 1%. As long as we aspire to garish, shameful luxury in contrast to our means, we will always be stuck in our ruts, chained to a spreadsheet in the prairie dog plains of cubicleland, and always unhappy, because what we have is okay, but shouldn't we have something better? I mean, we work hard—don't we deserve to play hard, too™?

Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 6:31 AM on October 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


To you wristwatch haters, I give you the following comparison:

Wristwatch: rotate wrist slightly toward midline of your body and/or incline your head. Observe time on watch. About 1/2 second. With practice, can be done without people noticing that you're not paying attention to them.

Smartphone: extract phone from holster or pocket. Activate display. Observe time on display. Return phone to holster or pocket. About 3-4 seconds. Is visible from anywhere in the room as the universal signal for "I'm tuning you out right now."

In other words, it's less convenient than a pocket watch. We gave up on pocket watches (most of us) decades ago in favor of wrist watches for this very reason.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:36 AM on October 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


fimbulvetr: "Compared to my 2004 VW Golf TDI, parts for that '83 Mercedes were dirt cheap. Also, you could still get any part for that car. Some parts for my Golf were unavailable from VW when it only was 5 years old (man, I miss my heated seats on -30°C winter mornings)."

Man, Volkswagen completely lost its mind somewhere between 1998 and 2005. Those cars have the weirdest problems. [I should know, I own one.]

First off let's get it out of the way that cars should be easier to work on and maintain. The Germans are especially guilty of this on both luxury and non-luxury models. However, this isn't as much of a problem as people think it is.

People can be incredible luddites when talking about cars, completely unaware of the survivorship bias present in their arguments. Yes, the old cars that are still on the road were built well. There are also a lot of old cars that are not still on the road for very good reasons. Largely, we actually have learned those lessons, and even cheap econo-boxes are pretty sturdy these days.

These people also seem to have a very distinct idea of how a car should be built, and how long it should last -- usually framed in the context of 15-20 years ago. This is problematic for a few reasons: Namely, cars have gotten safer, more efficient, and many components that were traditionally unreliable are now considered to be as robust as anything else under the hood. It wasn't long ago that we were hearing these same complaints about fuel injection.

Today, a lot of modern coolants and fluids can actually outlive the reservoirs and hoses that they're sitting in. Unless you spring a leak, you should never need to touch your power steering fluid, and the coolant in my (fairly old) car is rated to last over 100,000 miles. I'll need a new timing belt before I need to change the coolant. More on that timing belt thing in a second...

Yes, the instructions for changing that Porche's power steering fluid are completely bonkers, but it's also not exactly routine maintenance. You might as well complain about the complicated instructions for changing that car's rear differential, given that you're just as likely to need to do that.

Also, fuel economy ratings are rapidly improving, thanks to a host of new technologies that have matured over the past decade. If you're putting 300,000 miles on your car, you should consider a shorter upgrade cycle. It'll cost you less in the long-run. It's actually not completely terrible that cars don't last as long as they used to.

Personally, my car situation is a bit unusual. I drive a 14-year-old Audi, and put about 4,000 on it each year (thanks, Fuelly!). This car wouldn't be remotely practical for most people -- I spend more on maintenance than I do on gas -- and it gets horrible gas mileage. However, that's all fine, because I don't drive it all that much, and the intangibles more than make up for it -- it's a really fun car to drive, looks great even after 14 years on the road, and the fit and finish of the interior is unambiguously superior to anything you'd find on a cheaper car. Nothing rattles, everything just "fits" together seamlessly, and absolutely none of it looks like it's been around for 14 years. To me, this is the biggest perk of driving a "former" luxury car*. Upgrading to a more efficient/reliable model won't save me any money, so I'm going to keep driving it until it dies. *[I should note here that the Korean automakers seem to have figured out how to make nice interiors inexpensively in recent years, so this advantage should gradually start to disappear.]

That all said, the author does have a point, although I'm not exactly sure that it's limited to luxury cars. Parts for my car (particularly anything OEM) are just outlandishly expensive. We need to start standardizing "boring" parts that are not unique to any particular vehicle to drive some of these costs down. My car was born out of the early days of the 'value engineering' era, and as a result it really is needlessly difficult to work on. Some of the plastic clips haven't lasted as long as the engineers anticipated. Some parts that never need to be serviced are easy to access, while others requiring frequent maintenance require extensive disassmbly. If a timing belt swap is considered to be routine maintenance, it should not be so difficult (or the engine should be re-engineered to not require this particular chore every 80,000 miles).

Basically, automakers should not feel compelled to build cars the way that we built them 20 years ago. However, some of them should be more mindful that their cars will require maintenance at some point, and that this maintenance will probably take place in unexpected places.
posted by schmod at 7:06 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wristwatch: rotate wrist slightly toward midline of your body and/or incline your head...

Wait... doesn't anyone else strap their iPhone to their wrist with clear packing tape like I do?
posted by The Deej at 7:10 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, a word on touchscreens:

Touchscreens are terrible from a UX perspective, as they provide no tactile response. This should be enough reason to avoid them alone.

I'm honestly not all that concerned about their reliability, given that modern electronics seem to be pretty darn reliable.

However, if we're going this route, they should be standardized so that they can be replaced or upgraded with off-the-shelf components. Also, a common operating system *needs* to be developed. Car manufacturers have clearly demonstrated that they do not have the R&D funds or expertise necessary to develop good software on their own.

We've regulated automotive standards in the past -- it wouldn't be a bad idea to regulate and enforce similar standards for automotive software.
posted by schmod at 7:14 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh I remembered another advantage of a wristwatch over a phone. Because a watch is tethered to you (packing tape not withstanding) you aren't afraid to use it in adverse conditions like winter or fishing. And in winter it's less skin to expose to look at your watch than to fish your phone out of an inside pocket. Finally most cheaper watches are at least water resistant which means if oyu get some grease or chocolate sauce on them they can be washed with simple soap and water.
posted by Mitheral at 7:36 AM on October 2, 2012


We've regulated automotive standards in the past -- it wouldn't be a bad idea to regulate and enforce similar standards for automotive software.

The US goverment is unlikely to pass the kind of legislation that would enforce collusion in this manner.
posted by Mitheral at 7:38 AM on October 2, 2012


TTAC is a real gem and unlike most of the writing about the auto industry, they call it like they see it. In defense of the high end brands they do serve a purpose to gradually improve the craft of automobile design. Things we take for granted today were often innovations in top end models, but the margin of advantage is getting slimmer and the article correctly points out that the high end autos are going for image instead of performance.

I think the slide toward bling started when three things happened:

1) Gearing was specifically set up so you could hit 60mph in 2nd gear, thereby avoiding a third shift. This is a pretty artificial way to bump the 0-60mph numbers.

2) The ever heralded 0-60 figure became more indicative of tire traction than engine performance

3) Companies started to build in launch control modes such that any idiot could achieve max 0-60 times by pushing the pedal full force on the platform and driving a straight line.

All of this was made so that non-drivers could achieve sub 6 second 0-60 times. It did what it said on the tin. Great, but it lost its soul. More confounding is the obsession over 0-60 as if this matters. A better gauge is 50-100 but that is best left to track conditions.
posted by dgran at 7:43 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait... doesn't anyone else strap their iPhone to their wrist with clear packing tape like I do?

Only when I'm trying to be subtle. When I'm trying to show off my wealth through conspicuous consumerism, I strap on my iPad; it's the huge watch of electronic devices.*

* I don't actually own an iPad; wanna buy me one?
posted by asnider at 8:25 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mitheral: "The US goverment is unlikely to pass the kind of legislation that would enforce collusion in this manner."

Off of the top of my head, we've got increasingly-strict fuel economy standards, stringent safety standards, mandated OBD-II and CANBUS, and an absurdly inane and detailed list of requirements for headlights and taillights.

The US arguably leads the world in terms of automotive regulations.

Remember that most typical assumptions about politics, morality, ethics, and scope of government in America do not apply at all when talking about cars. It's like we have an entirely separate system of logic and discourse for dealing with anything that has four wheels.
posted by schmod at 8:49 AM on October 2, 2012


Man, Volkswagen completely lost its mind somewhere between 1998 and 2005. Those cars have the weirdest problems.

I can't agree with that enough! The things that have broken on mine are just . . . bizarre. The one that really gets me is that I've had to change the flywheel twice. Who ever heard of a flywheel failing? Clutches, sure, but a flywheel? What they heck were they thinking when they put a dual mass flywheel in those engines I will never understand. Mine now has a solid single-mass flywheel. Weirdo electronic glitches that just go away on their own. And don't get me started on the under-engineered camshafts in the PD TDI. I'm just going to get angry if I keep thinking about all of the crap that has gone on that car, so best to just stop now.

posted by fimbulvetr at 9:17 AM on October 2, 2012


Actually, I would beg Congress to do the opposite: adopt Europe's safety and emissions standards. They're as strict - if not stricter - than what we have here (I'd say keep the fuel efficiency standards, though), and then, with our safety and emission standards in line, we can get stuff like this and this and this and this and this.
posted by Punkey at 9:17 AM on October 2, 2012


One of the side benefits to the newer approach to car building is standardization. It's a beancounter's favorite friend. While it can be negated if the standard parts are shoddily engineered - which is definitely a problem, in many cases - it benefits everybody if a part can be used across many makes/models/years.

For example, I broke a pulley/tensioner thingy while working on my 2004 Subaru a couple of weeks ago. I took the broken part to the local Subaru parts counter. The guy at the counter barely gave the part a glance, walked in the back, and brought out a replacement. Took less than a minute. When I remarked on that, he said that Subaru used that part on every model, and had done so for more than 12 years.

First benefit: the part is always in stock. Second benefit: the part is cheap, because they produce tons of them. Possible drawback: Parts guys know the part because they see a lot of broken ones.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:34 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's not exactly a new thing. My car's from the 1980's, and even in the fancy engine, there's parts commonalities with other cars in the range, and other BMWs of the era.
posted by Punkey at 9:43 AM on October 2, 2012


Punkey:

Agreed; any manufactured item is going to be like that. I think it's being leveraged more and more now, though.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2012


Punkey: "Actually, I would beg Congress to do the opposite: adopt Europe's safety and emissions standards. They're as strict - if not stricter - than what we have here (I'd say keep the fuel efficiency standards, though), and then, with our safety and emission standards in line, we can get stuff like this and this and this and this and this."

What makes you think that regulations are keeping those cars out of the US?
posted by schmod at 10:50 AM on October 2, 2012


giving us a seamless "it just works" version of reality.

Which is great until it doesn't work anymore, which is guaranteed over a long enough span of time, and then you're stuck with an inexplicable black box full of expensive custom parts that can't be diagnosed in any economical fashion and just have to be thrown away and replaced, often for a significant fraction of the initial purchase price.

What do you guys have against keyless fobs?

They're great until they don't work anymore, which is guaranteed over a long enough span of time, and then you're stuck with, etc., etc.

I drive a classic ('92) Range Rover, and its automatic locking mechanism is failing in the same way that the automatic locking mechanism failed on the classic ('90) Range Rover I drove years ago. At least there's still a mechanical key I can use to open up the car, and then there are mechanical slides I can toggle to unlock the doors by hand: the failure of the automatic widgetry doesn't render the car completely useless.

I'm tempted to find whatever fuse it is that drives the system and remove it, so the car doesn't even pretend to have automatic locks anymore, because then at least its behavior would be predictable.

In a highly visible, easy-to-access location (i.e. not in a pocket and with a locked screensaver)?

How often do you actually need to know what time it is? I live my life surrounded by timekeeping devices - there's one in the corner of the screen I'm looking at right now - and I am almost always just sort of vaguely aware of the time whether I'm paying any attention to it or not. Actually checking to see what time it is has become rare.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:59 AM on October 2, 2012


Punkey: I'd sell a kidney to have a Citröen SM in mint condition.

That's the coolest car I've ever driven. The back seat is a giant hunk of soft foamy goodness, and in addition to the weirdness you mention, the headlights turn to light your way around corners. Also (so I've been told) you can take off one of the rear wheels and still drive it.
posted by sneebler at 11:06 AM on October 2, 2012


schmod: Because that's what keeps the cost too high to enter the market. Renault has floated occasional proposals to enter the US market through their ties with Nissan, but the cost of re-engineering their cars to meet the differences in US safety standards on top of the usual costs of transport or retooling lines in the US is a big barrier. It's what kept Ford of Europe or Opel/Vauxhall (both GM) cars out of the US, too. There's other reasons, for sure, but differing safety and emissions standards is a big stumbling block.

sneebler: Only one of the wheels. That's actually how Charles de Gaulle survived one of his many assassination attempts - the attackers shot as his executive SM with an AK-47 and blew out one of the tires, but the car was able to quickly drive off on three wheels.
posted by Punkey at 11:17 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


A wee Citroën correction here: de Gaulle was in a DS (his standard mode of transport), as the SM was still a disaster eight years in the future when the DS saved le President.

I'd love to say the SM was as good as people believe it to be, but they are not particularly good to drive (the steering is insanely quick and the DIRAVI steering is too light at high speeds and too heavy at low), they're absolutely ruinously expensive to own, and if they're running well, it's because someone spent the money to reengineer the horrendous Maserati chop-job engine (it was actually a V8 that they just lopped off to make into a cranky, fidgety V6 that is unreliable above all things).

My, but they're glorious to look at, but remember, this is the car that killed Citroën. I'm lucky, as one of my best friends has a magnificently restored SM that I can ride in when I feel impersonating Idi Amin (the most famous SM owner), but in the same way that other people's children are a joy because you can give them back, an SM is best as an acquaintance unless you've got Mitt money.

Ironically, the car most people think the SM is would really be the Series 2 CX, which is absolutely brilliant and benefits from the perfection of the hydropneumatic suspension design of the GS and a much less rushed design cycle. Those you can get relatively cheaply, and they're actually a reasonable daily driver, unlike an SM, which is such a fussbudget that you could really only use it as a toy car.

Mind you, I'm a little biased in favor of the less-hyped Cits, so YMMV.
posted by sonascope at 11:46 AM on October 2, 2012


Punkey: " It's what kept Ford of Europe or Opel/Vauxhall (both GM) cars out of the US, too."

Huh? Ford is huge in Europe. The Focus is the 2nd most popular car on the continent.

Opel/Vauxhall have good reasons to stay out of the US, being GM subsidiaries and all. More often than not, their cars have very similar "platform-mates" that are sold in the US. GM has recently been very receptive to the idea of assimilating their foreign products into the US market -- a surprisingly large portion of GM's current lineup is derived from former Daewoo (now GM Korea) models.

Ford also only (very) recently began selling its smaller European cars in the US. I don't think that the safety standards were a particularly huge hurdle for a company as large as Ford -- the company thought that there simply wasn't much demand for those cars in the US. Once the demand became apparent, they were able to quickly bring them over to the US, given the company's well-established presence here.

Fiat's having a rough time, because they have no dealer network, and their only US model just isn't that impressive when you consider the pricetag. Also, there are plenty of folks who still remember Fiat's last attempt to sell cars in America.
posted by schmod at 12:25 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, the instructions for changing that Porche's power steering fluid are completely bonkers, but it's also not exactly routine maintenance.

Um...You missed the part where he says that Porsche suggest you regularly check the power steering fluid level. So, yeah, the procedure is routine maintenance.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:36 PM on October 2, 2012


I don't mean bringing the marques, I mean the cars. The European divisions of Ford and GM have a history of building great small cars that we never, ever see over here. Emissions kept the Euro Ford Escort from coming over here (except as a Merkur, rendered gutless by the extra emissions equipment that Europe didn't require at the time), ditto with the original Lotus Elise, which ran a Rover K engine which hadn't been made smog legal. Except until the most recent model change, the European Focus and the US Focus were siblings in name only. The US didn't get a true Focus refresh until they finally brought the Euro Focus over here for the 2012 model year. As for Opel/Vauxhall, they only really tried to bring their cars over here towards the death rattle of the Saturn brand (which is sad, because the Astra was a great car for the 6-8 months it was on sale). Both companies complained endlessly about redesigning safety and emissions standards for the US, which is why that even after the small-car demand was obvious, it took Ford until the Euro Focus was redesigned for the 2012 model year (and subsequently designed as a global car) for it to come to the US. Same with GM, they're only recently going to a truly global product line due to the redesigns necessary to sell the same cars in the US and Europe.
posted by Punkey at 1:58 PM on October 2, 2012


schmod writes "Ford also only (very) recently began selling its smaller European cars in the US. I don't think that the safety standards were a particularly huge hurdle for a company as large as Ford -- the company thought that there simply wasn't much demand for those cars in the US. Once the demand became apparent, they were able to quickly bring them over to the US, given the company's well-established presence here. "

Ford specifically designed the latest Focus to be a world car; the old versions we didn't get here didn't meet US specs and it costs millions of dollars to change things like emissions equipment; bumper height; headlights etc.
posted by Mitheral at 6:03 PM on October 2, 2012


What do you guys have against keyless fobs?

One winter day during a blizzard, I was getting ready to go to work and opened my car locks with the security fob. The car was icy, so I started it up with the keys, left it running, and started to scrape the ice off. When I finished scraping the ice off, I tried to open the door, oh crap it locked itself with all my keys inside. I didn't know it would do this. I have a spare key fob inside my apartment, but my apartment keys are locked inside the car.

I am faced with several unpleasant choices:

1. Break the car window to get in and cause hundreds of dollars of damage.
2. Kick down my apartment door and cause hundreds of dollars of damage.
3. My 2nd story balcony sliding door is unlocked. Jump from the fire escape to the balcony, most likely getting killed in the process.

A neighbor came along and I bemoaned my miserable position. She said she had a key to the landlord's closet, there was a ladder in there. So I climbed a ~30 foot ladder in the middle of a snowstorm, got on my deck, went inside, and got the spare fob. I went outside, tried the fob. The fob will not unlock the car while the engine is running.

I decided to break in through the trunk. I crawled in, pushed in the fold-down rear seats (you shouldn't be able to break in this way). But I am too big to get through the fold-down hatch. I can barely reach the rear door lock. Door opened. The trunk would never latch again, I had to wire it down.

Now I have a car with no remote key locks and I much prefer it. I can never lock my keys in the car, it must be locked from outside.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:06 PM on October 2, 2012


sonascope, I had an ID19 (red fluid) in undergraduate. It sounded a bit hoarse, but it always handled the crap roads I drove on as though we were on a modern autoroute.

"Scientific progress goes boink", like a Citromatic. Cheers!
posted by jet_silver at 8:16 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


What do you guys have against keyless fobs?

I include them in the category of crap that breaks (expensively) and which serves no purpose except to encourage laziness. I'd add them to the list of things like seat heaters (if you don't live in Sweden), electric seats, electric windows, electric locks, electric hatch closers, electric hatch openers, air-conditioned glove compartments, remote key fobs (which also mean that instead of a nice small set of keys, you get to carry around a big black lump the size of a 1950s hamburger), car alarms, headlight wipers (if you don't live in Sweden), remote controls for the stereo, for fuck's sake, lane sensors, rear view cameras, auto dimming mirrors, and so on and on and on and on.

We feel like we deserve a little luxury because we just work so darn hard, but we work so darn hard because we're stuck paying for all the stupid luxuries we feel like we deserve. Plus, we have to pay a huge extra price to get a hybrid that'll get the mileage you would have gotten if you just built a simple, utilitarian car with a bit of flair and then didn't load it up with a thousand pounds of "luxuries" and what amounts to a roof's worth of asphalt shingle material that gets glued to every hidden surface of a car to make it sound like a big heavy luxury car.

My truck, which is big and heavy on its own, came with electric windows, which will be replaced with wind-up windows when the mechanisms break and electric locks, which just make no sense at all—I've got my door, which I can reach, and the other door, which I can reach if I scoootch over a bit. Why on earth do I need electric locks? These aren't the kind that lock the door when you put the car in gear (it's a '96), so it's just this ridiculous showpiece item to demonstrate to your fellow construction crew workers that you've arrived and are one promotion away from trading your yellow hard hat for a white one. Sheesh.
posted by sonascope at 9:57 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


What do you guys have against keyless fobs?

They're great until they don't work anymore, which is guaranteed over a long enough span of time, and then you're stuck with, etc., etc.


Not true. If the fob stopped working, I can use my cellphone to open it via another system entirely, and from then on simply use a spare fob. (There is also an emergency key that similarly grants alternatives, but I don't bother to carry it - there just isn't a need) And if it's not the fob but the car computer that has broken, then you've got bigger problems than the locks. (And I'm not interested in driving a 20 year old car, for safety reasons, and one consequence of that is that I don't encounter 20-years-of-use mechanical/electrical issues.)

and which serves no purpose except to encourage laziness.

I think that's a fairly reaching/weak reason against smoother functionality, and if anything, the opposite is (similarly weakly) true; not having to use a fob or key frees up my hands for carrying stuff and doing stuff, and I find that I constantly take advantage of this. I really notice the difference when I rent a car and have to fumble around with keyfobs, suddenly it's more hassle to carry purchases instead of using a cart, etc.
posted by anonymisc at 11:35 AM on October 3, 2012


Now I have a car with no remote key locks and I much prefer it. I can never lock my keys in the car, it must be locked from outside.

I think you have this backwards - every car I've ever met with mechanical locks, it's been easier, not harder, to lock yourself out, it's just that since before we were born, everyone worked around that by developing good habits to protect against it.
posted by anonymisc at 11:44 AM on October 3, 2012


I think that's a fairly reaching/weak reason against smoother functionality

I would argue that the "smoother functionality" is often just a gimmick that's not justified by the complexity of the systems required to make it work. There has never been a time in my life when I needed to magically open my door with no contact, and certainly there are people for whom that might be a thing, but luxuries become obligations very, very quickly when the marketing department is involved. I've never seen a review of a car with wind-up windows where the reviewer didn't complain that the wind-up windows were a disappointment. Now they're universal, but frankly, I don't need 'em, never will, and am irritated that I have to spend more money to have something I don't want.

every car I've ever met with mechanical locks, it's been easier, not harder, to lock yourself out

In the years that I drove peculiar European cars, all but one of them had a door locking system that could not be latched just by pushing a button. You get out the car, close the door, lock the door with a key. You can't lock the key in the car with that system—it's actually impossible, unless you count intentionally leaving a window slightly open so you could throw the key back into the car.

Of course, I'm not against the gee-gaws, gimcracks, and silly gadgets per se. It's just that our market is built around feature creep, and because luxuries end up as "necessities," cars end up overcomplicated, expensive, and loaded with dumb crap that's the fad of the day until it ends up codified in the mass conception of what is essential. Give me the latest fancy thing at the top of the market, sure, but there ought to be a proper alternative at the bottom, and there just isn't.
posted by sonascope at 11:56 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dunno. You can't lock the driver's door of my VW golf with the key fob, so it is pretty impossible to lock myself out. When I drove a '73 VW bug, I got very good at breaking into the car through the vent window. I used to be against electric windows because of the whole reliability argument, but I gotta say being able to open or close any window in the car from the driver's seat is pretty fantastic and basically impossible with a manual crank car. And heated seats are not just a silly luxury in Ottawa winters, especially when you drive a diesel which for some reason take forever to get warm.

I do agree that it would be nice if all the gadgetry were optional, but apparently it doesn't sell.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:37 PM on October 3, 2012


More accurately, you cannot lock the driver's door with the fob if it is open . . .
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:53 PM on October 3, 2012


You can't lock the key in the car with that system—it's actually impossible,

You are mistaken. Simply hold the latch up as you close the door, and a locked door remains locked when closed. Those doors implemented this extra step precisely because it was so easy to lock yourself out with mechanical locks (especially when children might open and close doors for fun)
posted by anonymisc at 1:28 PM on October 3, 2012


There has never been a time in my life when I needed to magically open my door with no contact,

There have probably actually been lots. How many times have you never noticed that you forgot to lock your car? You can't answer that question, because you don't know.
posted by anonymisc at 1:59 PM on October 3, 2012


You are mistaken.

Incorrect. There were more than a few cars for which the locks would mechanically unlock as you closed the door, no matter what position the door handle was in. In a '70 Citroën DS21, for instance, the inside latch on the driver's door was designed to latch only if you latched it with the door closed (i.e. from the inside). Same was true with my Citroën Dyane.

The hold-the-handle thing was a Japanese innovation, but some European marques kept to the lock-it-from-the-outside policy for quite a while. If I was at home, I could scan the owners' manuals from my Citroëns, Fiats, and related oddballs with locks that worked this way for your perusal, but suffice it to say, I locked my doors with a key for the better part of two decades, so your mileage may vary.

As it happens, I've kept the habit, and in 27 years driving, I have never locked my keys in a car, save for one time when I opened the trunk of my Miata with my backpack and work keyring and home keyring in my hand, threw in the backpack and work keys and closed the trunk, only to find that I'd tossed my car/home keys in the trunk with my backpack, not my work keys.
posted by sonascope at 2:18 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


@smcameron:

>There are a few watch companies out there making their own movements.

Absolutely. Lots. Predominately at the high end, though. Not many actual movement manufacturers survived the quartz years.

@mr_crash_davis:

Pre-1998 Porsches (other than the 928) are actually not that expensive to own. There's lots of them, parts and mechanics are plentiful, and you get a good chunk of bang-for-buck. I've had a 1995 911 since 2000, and it runs like a champ despite my policy of, essentially, benign neglect.

Incidentally, it has a real key, not a fob.

@echo target:

>The author talks about [in-house movements] in the article. The downside is that is makes the watches needlessly complex and essentially unrepairable, since every watch is going to have completely different innards.

You misunderstand the author's point. In-house movements can be esoteric and rare, or they can be made the same way for decades. Nearly all Rolexes (except Daytonas until a certain point) have in-house movements, but they're well-understood and quite repairable by any good watchmaker.

Trouble arrives in a couple ways. First, a very complicated watch -- by this I mean something that does more than tell the time, the date, and the day of the week -- will be necessarily harder to work on. Even so, there are movements that do fancy things (perpetual calendars, moon phases, chronographs) that are nevertheless considered classics and have enough of a market presence that getting them fixed, even outside "official" channels, isn't hard.

The author is actually calling out pop-up high-end manufacturers using tricked-out movements, but without having a decent dealer or repair network. And a watch startup is still a startup, so you could end up with a very expensive paperweight that no watchmaker near you wants to touch.

Switzerland could fly off into space tomorrow, though, and you'd still be able to get an in-house movement from a major watchmaker repaired.

@polyhedron:

Sign me up as someone else eternally baffled by the Seiko Kinetic thing. I mean, why not just buy a decent automatic? Seiko even makes some, both under their own brand and via their Orient subsidiary.

@markr

Rolex is weird. You know they're owned by a trust, right? I suspect they keep the "price" dial in a position that allows them to meet demand, so as to avoid the quality issues associated with rapid scale-up.

The run-up is nuts, though. I bought an Omega in the late 90s (dot-com boom trophy), and at the time it was a bit more than half the cost of a Submariner. That is no longer true.

The run-up is an old thing, too, though; when Sean Connery wore a Rolex in Dr. No, they were pricey but not the sort of thing that someone who needed a solid watch couldn't buy. Even 20 years later, in the early 1980s, I knew a (straight-arrow) policeman who had a steel Datejust.

Now they're completely out of reach, even for good chunks of the upper-middle-class.
posted by uberchet at 2:49 PM on October 3, 2012


The best lock design, from a useability and complexity perspective, is no locks. Locks that function when the car is not in motion only exist as an anti-theft measure, they only add complexity to building and complexity to using the device, nevertheless it is felt that this tradeoff is worthwhile.
Recognizing that, then locks that seamlessly act as if there are no locks to worry about (you never need to press a fob button or operate a lock or learn habits to avoid getting locked out) are the clear winners in useability, and from a security perspective, mechanical locks are trivial to bypass, and modern locks have ripped the bottom out of stolen car statistics, so modern magic locks win there too. From a reliability perspective, anecdotally I've met more broken mechanical locks than broken magic locks, but I'm not sure that reliability is even a valid criteria because people who buy 20 year old cars are not the people that the car was designed for, and they have decided that driving a car not designed for their needs is a tradeoff that is worth it to them.
posted by anonymisc at 3:03 PM on October 3, 2012


Now I have a car with no remote key locks and I much prefer it. I can never lock my keys in the car, it must be locked from outside.

On my 2006 Prius, there's a key hidden in the fob that you can take out and use to open the doors if the fob isn't working... although you can't start the engine with it. Also, the doors won't lock if there's a fob inside the car.
posted by Huck500 at 3:19 PM on October 3, 2012


Changing an internal latch to a lock is a matter of adding a few ounces of metal for linkages and a lock barrel. Changing an internal latch to an electronic lock is a matter of adding an additional wiring harness, fuses, a solenoid, an additional mechanical linkage, a computer, a radio for communication, a chunky plastic talisman with circuitry and a battery, as well as the original mechanical linkage and mechanical lock, because without a mechanical means of opening a car with a dead battery, your only way in is a hammer. It's fine as a luxury, but there's just no reasonable way to define that wad of overcomplication as a necessity.

If you are happier being able to wave a giant plastic fob that you've somehow been able to extract from your pocket while carrying the armloads of groceries that car commercials used to sell this absurd system, that's fine. I don't want it, don't want to waste fuel carrying worthless hardware around, and plan to keep a car for a long, long time, so I like to think ahead and consider which things are going to be expensive and fussy long after most car owners jump to the next bright and shiny new object. I'm clearly in the minority, and that's fine, but the market does not provide for my end of the spectrum, which is sad.

Why isn't there a market for both discofantastic luxogadgetmobiles and something designed for people who don't care so much for fripperies and impressing their rivals? It's debatable, but I would contend that it's largely the hypermarketing of luxuries as necessities, coupled with the overall shaming of simplicity and practicality in our various cultures. We're the 99%, 99% of us, but we're stuck aping the 1% with tinny facsimiles of luxury because the commercial told us to be ashamed of anything humble.
posted by sonascope at 4:51 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are happier being able to wave a giant plastic fob that you've somehow been able to extract from your pocket while carrying the armloads of groceries that car commercials used to sell this absurd system, that's fine.

I think you've confused the systems. You don't extract a fob from your pocket, or wave it, or touch it, or ever even think about it. If the fob is in your pocket, the car is always unlocked whenever you are near, and always locked whenever you've walked away. It's like not having locks at all, or like magic.

Fobs that you must fish them out and wave them or push a button are the old technology that is on every regular car, not the "luxury" car technology.

And unlike fobs and mechanical locks which offer barely any security (about 5 seconds hindrance to an experienced door-jimmy), these newer approaches are unbeatable and actually offer real meaningful security, which is the only reason to bother with having locks in the first place.*

Not that any of that is likely to change your preferences - you really have to live with the new system for a while to discover just how stupid it is to constantly be changing the car back and forth between a locked state and and unlocked state when you're trying to carry things or actually do stuff.

*The only attack I'm aware of requires two operatives each with a custom-built suitcases of electronics, and one of the operatives must discretely hover at the edge of your personal space to get his suitcase close enough to get your key talking. It's a ridiculously complex approach that can fail so many ways, so it doesn't happen in the real world - a flat-bed truck and a winch is an easier way to steal the car.
posted by anonymisc at 6:07 PM on October 3, 2012


Of course, the auto-everything fob is why my boss at my last job's car was ALWAYS sitting unlocked and running on the streets of Baltimore. Every time she walked past the damn thing, it would unlock and start. Took a while to read through the manual and figure out how to turn that "feature" off. It's just about the most pointless display of meaningless gadget tech since cars that played a little record to tell us our door was ajar.

The reason for locks in the first place is to stop casual opportunity crimes. No matter how space age your locking system is, it will be broken by someone who wants your car. The locks just hold off the open-and-grab, and even the highest tech car still has glass windows.

Again, though, if you want to spend big bucks on a toy, that's your prerogative. We should not all get stuck with toys we don't want, just because they're the current fad. I was reminded of this when my coworker lost the key to her Passat while we were paddling a giant pink poodle sculpture through the filthy waters of Baltimore. Cost her more than two hundred fifty bucks to replace the "key" to her wonderful high tech digital access system...as opposed to the two bucks it costs me to get a replacement for the key to my truck. That's progress?
posted by sonascope at 8:18 PM on October 3, 2012


The reason for locks in the first place is to stop casual opportunity crimes. No matter how space age your locking system is, it will be broken by someone who wants your car. The locks just hold off the open-and-grab, and even the highest tech car still has glass windows.

This is demonstrably wrong, as the plummeting car theft stats of these vehicles (but not older vehicles) show. So you can break windows? So what? Whatcha gonna do then... put the car in your pocket? No, you need a flatbed truck and a winch, and even then it's not simple. But if the car just takes a $2 key to start, then you can hotwire it and be gone in 15 seconds (literally - 15 seconds).

Anyone can cite an example of terrible design, that doesn't mean that good design doesn't exist. Bad design goes without saying, it's the air we breath. It's not at all interesting to suggest that bad design is a reason to avoid good design.
posted by anonymisc at 10:20 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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