Monday, September 30, 2013 5:45:06 PM America/Detroit

2013 Detroit Auto Show

I felt fortunate to go to this year’s Detroit Auto Show (er... North American International Auto Show) right before it opened to the public, thanks to my car club. And it was free admission for just $10. <sarcasm>Thanks!</sarcasm>

I thought I would get a chance to walk around the other areas before everybody else came in, but we were asked to hang around our area. There were only a couple of cars that I really wanted to see anyway—the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and the Tesla Model S. I sought those two cars out early, and then just wandered about taking pictures of whatever caught my eye.

Porsche - There Is No Substitute, but there was some breakfast with coffee and tea.
Thanks to Porsche for letting the Porsche Club of America into the show early, feeding us breakfast, and letting us fondle the cars. I know inanimate objects are not sexy, but I definitely saw fondling of vehicles going on.

Yellow Brakes, Green Money
And now I’ve developed a fetish for yellow brakes.

Gray really tones it down
Apparently other clubs got the early treatment as well. I tried not to make contact with the Corvette people for fear that my Porsche accent would be detected.

Not your son’s Camaro
I was happy to see that the rear lights were not as Camaro-like up close as they appeared in the release photos. I haven’t decided if I like them yet, though.

Overall I like the new C7 Corvette, but it’s going to take a while before I’m familiar with the new look. The previous C6 seems elegant in comparison, but I don’t care. This is a potent sports car.

Repulsor rays are not an option, unfortunately
I thought I would be more excited to see the new Acura NSX, but I wasn’t. I like it well enough, but I think I have such fond memories of the original that the new one doesn’t live up to my expectations. And Ayrton Senna did not use his magic loafers to develop this new car.

Kyle Busch was not offering rides in this car
I will probably never buy a Lexus, let alone an LFA, let alone an LFA Nürburgring edition. But I’m really glad companies are making cars like these. Car/driving enthusiasts can debate price/performance ratios or the heart and soul of a sports car, but just the fact they exist is A Good Thing™.

It needs more blue
What astounds me about this car is not that it has more than twice the horsepower (662 hp) of my car, but that it gets roughly the same gas mileage (15 city / 24 hwy).

Like the song says, this car goes 185 mph. Actually, it goes 301 km/h.
This became a game after a while. Every time I tried to take a picture of the three Maserati cars along the main aisle, a model would stand next to the car. I could not get a clean car picture. Not that I’m saying that was a problem.

What could possibly go wrong, he asks

Really, it’s not so bad...

It does not come with tiny, optional flight attendants
I saw this last year, but I wanted to see it again. I think both my kids would want to ride back here. I just don’t know if I would let them. I like the idea, though. And I could see myself getting a Model S. For my wife, that is. She’s the tree hugger.

Got milk? Got bread? How about some butter?
I was going to make a joke about using the race car to pick up some milk from Target, but then I realized I have to go there to pick up some diapers.

I wasn’t close enough to see if they were Snuggies
The Ferraris still nestled in their blankets, fast asleep.

The Family Ferrari
The Ferrari FF, or as I like to call it, the Super Subaru. But I’d like mine in Rosso Corsa.

Crankiness Rating: 1 out 11 (The water for the breakfast tea was not quite hot enough.)

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Old People with Old Cars

(I’m posting this a bit late, but being lazy and busy at the same time isn’t easy to manage.)

“All of the biggest technological inventions created by man—the airplane, the automobile, the computer—says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.”
--Mark Kennedy

One thing I hate about the dream cruise is that it’s a giant traffic backup along Woodward Avenue, and that it’s all intentional. After spending the entire work week trying to avoid traffic, I don’t want to sit in one on the weekend.

O GTO, GTO! wherefore art thou GTO?
...a traffic jam by any other name would smell just like gas fumes, too.

But if I had to sit in my car in a traffic jam, it might as well be a giant party like the Woodward Dream Cruise. I went with my family this year to show a German friend American’s crazy love affair over automobiles. (Germans, who technically invented the gas-powered automobile and motorcycle, love their cars and bikes as well.)

“Let a man find himself, in distinction from others, on top of two wheels with a chain—at least in a poor country like Russia—and his vanity begins to swell out like his tires. In America it takes an automobile to produce this effect.”
--Leon Trotsky

The Woodward Dream Cruise is held on the third Saturday of August each year along Woodward Avenue, going through different cities. People set up their pop-up tents and seats along the road to watch cars parade by. Most of the cars are muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s, but you can expect almost any car to drive by.

Companies and businesses along the route set up private and public parties, car shows, and general fun-ness for the spectators. For example, we took our kids to the Family Fun Zone sponsored by Kroger and local oldies station WOMC. They had drinks and snacks, bounce houses, face painting, Hot Wheels play area, and live concerts all for free.

“When Solomon said there was a time and a place for everything he had not encountered the problem of parking his automobile.”
--Bob Edwards

Along the side walk are mini car shows everywhere. Here you can see the cars up close and in detail. You get the sense that each car is really a labor of love. Or dementia (it’s sometimes hard to separate the two). And time. And money. It’s not hard to find a customized 1966 Pontiac GTO with an engine bay cleaner than my interior and an engine block painted to match the car. Or rare Corvettes. Or cool diecast cars. Or things that are beyond description.

I grew up with a lot of these old cars around me. The difference is that when I was younger, these same cars where pieces of sheet metal covered in Bondo® and gray primer and didn’t run. I’ve never seen any of these cars in the mint or restored conditions you see cruising the street today.

The main show is on the street, of course, as cars parade by spectators. If you like cars, you have to experience the Dream Cruise. Come by and soak up the atmosphere and car fumes. (The fumes from this single day will easily exceed the combined emissions of all cars manufactured world-wide in 2012—Made Up EMan Fact That May Actually Be True™).

“I’d ban all automobiles from the central part of the city. You see, the automobile was just a passing fad. It’s got to go. It’s got to go a long way from here.”
--Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Cruising the sidewalk
The sidewalks were as crowded as the street

Split-window Corvette
His and Hers windows

VW-Porsche Beetle
A Porsche-powered Beetle? Maybe.

Nice model
I’m jealous that he/she has a matching 1/18 scale diecast model of his/her car.

Random car on the street
This could be a fun daily driver.

Skyporn—only in Detroit

Coney dogs
Detroit—home of the Coney Dog (probably no relation to skyporn)

More traffic
Until next year...

Crankiness Rating: 3 out 11 (Great event, even if I hate traffic and looking for parking spaces. And lots of people—I hate them, too.)

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Ruf Mich An


“Wow, that Porsche was not doing 70!” exclaimed my wife as a white Porsche zoomed by in the other direction. The speed limit here was 70 kph.

The exhaust note was still buzzing in my head as I kept thinking, Pfaffenhausen. We had taken a detour from the autobahn to find a castle, but the particular one we stopped by wasn’t taking visitors.

Pfaffenhausen. “Yeah, it was probably going double that speed,” I replied.

“Well, so much for that Schloss. Should we try and find something else for the kids to see,” asked my wife, “or should we just head back?”

Pffafenhausen. “You know, I think I’ve been to Pfaffenhausen before.”

“What did you see there?” she asked.

“I think that’s where RUF is located,” I replied.

“What is that? Is that a car thing?”

“It’s a company that modifies Porsches,” I said. “Actually, I think it’s technically a German auto manufacturer.”

“Why don’t you go drive by then,” she suggested.

“I have no idea where it is. I wouldn’t even know where to start. That was fourteen years ago when I was last here.”

“What’s the name again?” she queried.


“How do you spell that?”

“Just like it sounds in German: R-U-F,” I said.

“Like that?” She pointed to a building we were passing by.

Screeeeeeeeech! Bump! Bump!

“Do you think I can park here?” I asked her.

“Umm... I think you’re on their front garden.”

I was trying to remember the German Golden Rule of Parking: If there isn’t a “No Parking” sign, then it must be okay. Wasn’t that it?

“I think you’re on their front garden.”

Then I thought about the First Rule to a Successful Marriage: Always listen to your wife.

“Uh... okay.”

I broke a couple more German traffic laws and found a parking spot across the street. I grabbed a camera and hurried back to RUF. I went inside the lobby and asked the woman there if I could take pictures. She said if I wanted to, she could ask someone to show the cars to me. I said I was just driving by with my family and I just wanted a few pictures. She said to bring them as well.

So I went back to the rental car and got my wife and unpacked the kids from their car seats. Back at RUF, a young Arnold Schwarzenegger type from the Black Forest went over the two cars sitting in their lobby with us.

I still remember the Road & Track article about the original CTR (Group C Turbo RUF) Yellowbird in their top speed shoot out. Our host told us that was back in July 1987, twenty five years ago. It went 340 kph (211 mph), beating out all the other cars at the shoot out.

He said that the CTR3 sitting next to it doesn’t quite break 400 kph (249 mph), but goes around 380-390 kph (236-242 mph). I thought about our rental car for a minute and tried not to cry.

I was here fourteen years ago for an open house with the Porsche Club of America, German Region, when RUF was producing the 993-based CTR2. Alois Ruf, Jr. himself gave us a tour of the facility. All I could remember was the scrap bin full of gorgeous Porsche brake calipers that they replaced with their own. I was so tempted to come back at night and raid their garbage bins.

We didn’t tour the garage area this time, which was probably good. I didn’t need the kids running around a shop area, and I didn’t need to see more euthanized Porsche brake calipers. Instead, I got my pictures, my wife got to stretch her legs, and the kids got sugared up with some RUF candy. Everyone was happy.

Una paloma blanca
I’m just a bird in the sky
Una paloma blanca
Over the mountains I fly
No one can take my freedom away
--George Baker
Group C Turbo RUF (CTR) Yellowbird Group C Turbo RUF (CTR) Yellowbird interior Group C Turbo RUF (CTR) Yellowbird engine
The original RUF CTR Yellowbird

The RUF CTR3 The RUF CTR3 interior The RUF CTR3 engine
The €400,000 Cayman-based RUF CTR3

[Update: 2012-10-06] I have no idea why I didn’t include this picture before. If you see it, stop by and say hello.

The roof is just fine on this building
No roof jokes here

Crankiness Rating: 2 out 11 (I need more money. Much, much more.)

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Autobahn vs. Interstate

I’ve written about the paradoxical nature of the autobahn before. Although I complain about it sometimes, it’s actually pretty good to drive on. It’s just that the fantasy Americans have about it falls somewhat short. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what we have.

My family and I landed in Munich with only a couple hours of sleep. My father-in-law had rented a “big” VW Caravelle transporter van to take us from the airport. It was a just little bit bigger than the minivan my sister brought us to the airport in.

VW Caravelle
VW Caravelle
From the Alien vs. Predator (AVP) dealership: the VW Caravelle Van, aka The Beast.

After installing the crazy German child seats into the van, we were off. For some reason, my father-in-law thought that the sleep-deprived American, me, was the better person to drive this 140 hp diesel beast over an hour on the German autobahn.

So there I was, driving with my wife, my in-laws, and two kids asleep in the back doing about 100 mph down the autobahn. In the rain. And that’s what makes the autobahn awesome.

Back in the U.S., our culture looks at people that drive over 100 mph on the freeway like serial killers, child molesters, or people who don’t turn right on a red light. It’s been pounded into our brains that Speed Kills.

Speed doesn’t kill, Stupidity kills.

If I was driving the same way in the U.S., then that would be stupid. But the autobahn’s culture of speed facilitates such driving. The road is generally smooth. People generally stay out of the left lane. People generally use the turn signals. Passing on the right is verboten.

A German driving school program costs 2000€ and takes a few months to complete. In typical German fashion, it’s very serious. You usually have to be 18-years-old to get a driver’s license. The written test itself is a thick booklet. The Germans tell me that actual math is involved (in a country that created Gauss, Planck, and Einstein, of course math is involved).

On this particular Sunday afternoon, traffic was pretty light. I didn’t even know how fast I was going most of the time. Instead of worrying about my speed and looking for people who would be checking my speed, I was paying attention to the road and the traffic. The only time my father-in-law seemed worried (and I as well) was when we dropped below 80 kph (50 mph) because torrential downpour created a couple of inches of standing water on the road. (That was the most water I’ve ever seen on an autobahn.)

On U.S. freeways I’m constantly dealing with people making random lane changes, people weaving while talking on the phone, and people who believe that driving in the left lane is a birth right. Such hazards are even less predictable than the weather.

Yes, there are problems on the autobahn as well. The relative speeds of vehicles is an issue, from trucks that lumber along at 100 kph (62 mph) to cars doing well over 200 kph (125 mph). There are drivers (usually from other countries) that aren’t used to the speed, the laws, or the closing speed of BMWs. There are guard rails an arm’s length from you on the left lane. And there are drivers that are allowed to do whatever they want because they bought the right kind of car, usually a BMW or Audi.

But I think there’s more awareness, more conformity to safe driving rules on the German autobahns than on American freeways. I would much rather drive on a road with the attentive German grandma who’s doing 150 kph (93 mph) in her VW Golf than with the American guy doing 125 kph (78 mph) in the left lane with his GMC Tahoe while on his cell phone, drinking his McDonald’s coffee.

We made the 130 km (81 mi) drive from airport parking to my in-laws’ house in about an hour. A number of cars had passed us at high speeds. We had casual conversations about the crappy weather in Germany. Grandparents got to spoil their grandkids with some gummy bears. Just a typical day on the autobahn.

Look and plan ahead. Pay attention to your mirrors. Drive smoothly. Use turn signals. Stop going in front of me when I’m driving faster. That should be as basic as breathing through your nose. Why is that so hard for people to do on the interstates in the U.S.?

“The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest.”
--Henry David Thoreau
“If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough.”
--Mario Andretti

Unbegrenztgeschwindigkeit roughly translates to: don’t worry, be happy.
This is the sign St. Peter will be holding when you go through the gates to heaven (the white one, not the blue one)

Crankiness Rating: 2 out 11 (Ferrari needs to make a 6-seater that I can afford.)

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2012 Detroit Auto Show

I didn’t get a golden ticket this year. I don’t get to hang out with the Veruca Salts and Augustus Gloops of this world. I don’t even get platform shoes, a green wig and sing questionable songs. Instead, I went to the NAIAS at Cobo Hall with the unwashed masses. I may need to shower.

I could have gone to the Porsche hospitality suite on Saturday, but I didn’t make it because of El Maguey’s Revenge. You don’t want to know.

Since I work in the auto industry, I know I probably shouldn’t be too critical of the manufacturers. But I’m also a consumer, and I’m old and cranky, so I just have to give my opinion. Here are my thoughts on the cars of the show.

(As a note, I didn’t take pictures of the product specialists, aka “booth babes.” Or “booth bros.” I blame the Booth Babe. Instead, I listened to them and actually made eye contact. However, I couldn’t avoid noticing boots with the extremely high heels many of them were wearing—possibly on the booth bros as well. I think I’m ready for my first fetish.)

I don’t scour car magazines and auto websites like I used to, so I was surprised at some of the concepts I saw. Some debuted elsewhere, but were nonetheless new to me. My favorite is the Chevrolet Miray concept, at least in looks. It’s a hybrid that doesn’t look like a Prius, always a plus in my book. My sentimental favorite is the Acura NSX Concept. The original was one of my favorite cars, and I love the video of Ayrton Senna and his Magic Loafers driving an NSX around Suzuka.

Chevrolet Miray - now with winglets
Miray: Your Ray, Our Ray—but only if there’s two of us

Acura NSX Concept
Acura NSX: Sadly, this version does not come with the magic loafers option

Infiniti Concept
Infiniti: This ugly concept is on a carousel so you can be convinced of its all-around ugliness. But somehow it looks better in pictures than in real life.

Use an ultra-light rod and reel with light line will allow you to feel the bluegill’s bite more effectively and you will catch more fish. In clear water, light line is less likely to be detected by fish. Line weights from 2 to 6 lb test work best.
Toyota brought some kind of gilled blue fish to its stand

There were a few new cars that I liked at the show, with a total of two that I can afford, and a total of zero that I’m allowed to buy. I was interested in the Cadillac XTS until I remembered it was actually the Cadillac ATS that interested me. And the CTS-V wagon.

I have a proclivity for hatchbacks, so the Ford Focus ST with a 247 hp engine got my attention as well.

Cadillac XTS
Cadillac XTS: not to be confused with the ATS

Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
Cadillac CTS-V Wagon: For hauling kids to the bus stop as fast as you can

Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
Ford Focus ST: Needs flames

I also like the new Tesla Model S, but with 8,000 pre-orders and starting at $50,000 with the government incentive, I won’t be seeing one in my driveway any time soon. The Lexus LFA isn’t new, but this Ferrari wannabe has a V10 that revs to 9,000 rpms. This $375,000 car doesn’t come in a manual, so I’ll have to pass on it, too.

Nikola Tesla’s personal people mover
Tesla: I’ve only seen this as a gutted test mule. It actually looks good with an interior.

I need to put these seats in my current cars, although “horrible death” keeps popping in my mind
... with jump seats. This solved my hypothetical “third child seat” problem. I love these.

Repeat: I will not drive 128 mph in a 45 mph zone in this car
Lexus LFA: Now with more ducts

The only car on my must-see list is the Subaru BRZ. A small, light, underpowered car that handles well? Sign me up. While I was trying to soak in the looks (it’s just so-so), I overheard this 20-something guy next to me making up 95% more facts than I typically do about cars, like “it’s called 86 because that’s the height of the engine,” referring presumably to the Toyota GT-86 / Scion FRS version of the car. What does that even mean? Eighty-six what? Inches? Meters? Gigawatts?

After he turned down the brochure from the product specialist, proclaiming he already read it all in the internet, he described how he had lived in Europe for a while, bought an Alfa Romeo there, and drove the Stelvio Pass and Nürburgring. I kept wanting to throw out comments, but luckily I was able to remind myself that I wasn’t in an internet forum. And I also wondered how often I’ve actually been this person.

Mazda RX-8 Wannabe
Subaru BRZ: At least it’s smaller than I thought

Subaru BRZ Wannabe
Scion FRS: Subaru’s Doppelgänger

After accepting the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to get two child seats in the back of the BRZ, I walked away to escape from my eavesdropping and save my brain from exploding.

My other random thoughts on the show:

Wet Dream, especially if it rains
New 911 Convertible: Had I gone to the hospitality suite, I would have been allowed to fondle this new 911 convertible. Instead it stands aloof from me, blocked off, behind glass walls, guarded by invisible but stylish Porsche Ninjas.

I had to fight through the crowds to take this picture
Dodge Dart: This is an ugly car. Shouldn’t this be the Dodge Insipid? I can’t believe this came from Chrysler. What happened to their designers? Did they all leave after Fiat took over? Isn’t this an important segment? I prefer the last incarnation of the Dart over this one. Maybe it’ll grow on me. Like fungus. Hopefully for Chrysler this will have other redeeming qualities, like a good personality.

Women - Aisle 3
Subaru STI sedan: This set some track record at the Isle of Man even though it almost lost it at 150 mph and has an Ohio license plate.

EMan Death Dealer
Honda CBR: I love motorcycles, but I can never, ever ride one. Ever. Because if I do, I will twist the throttle too hard, causing the motorcycle to wheelie and flip up in the air, then falling on top of me, crushing me to death in my own driveway.

Just carry a spare car and you won’t need this
Porsche spare tire: The Cayenne’s spare tire must be be inflated before it can be used, like Porsches of old (e.g., my 944). In its flattened state, it is still bigger than the wheels of three of my cars.

And it’s not a manual
AMG SLS: Also ugly, but doesn’t look too bad from this angle.

Falcon F7
I’m thinking—more cow bells
Falcon F7: Gaudy and ugly, but it has 620 hp so it’s okay.

The -1%
Maybach: This is what an extinct dinosaur looks like.

Station wagon #2
Acura TSX Sport Wagon: Look! A station wagon! With a sporty name!

Say: “Concept!”
This was a popular gimmick for the auto show—taking audience pictures. Most of the big manufacturers had some kind of photo set up.

Like dis or dat
Interactive videos were all the rave, too

Beware the Cobo basement lest you lose your automotive soul
This was sad. I know they’ve done this before, but the basement used to be where all the quirky, wacky manufacturers were located. Now it’s like a sad, silent carnival ride of golf carts that even carnies would be ashamed of.

The Everlasting Gobstopper GT
This model is not so aerodynamic but it lasts and lasts and lasts.

“Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.”
--Ogden Nash (because he had kids)

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Kitchen Pass to Zebulon’s Mountain

Road trips make me un-cranky. My favorite trips tend to head west from Detroit, since these avoid Ohio. They seem to have some vague justification, like family gatherings, races, and so on, but these are just McGuffins, simply to point the car in a rough direction.

What is it for this trip? I’ve decided to drive my Subaru up Pikes Peak before it’s completely paved over. At least, that’s what I told my wife.

Up the airy mountain
Down the rushy glen
We daren’t go a-speeding
For fear of radar policemen
--(apologies to William Allingham)


I don’t always have the time to plan my trips how I would like to, but it’s still fun to plan. You just open up the map and start looking for places to go. You can go any where. It’s just a matter of how much time you have. Pikes Peak seemed like a good place to go. Unfortunately, I only have the time to drive to the Peak, turn around, then drive back. So even though Devil’s Tower is next door in Wyoming, it is verboten.

Stood alone on a mountain top starin’ out at the Great Divide
I could go east, I could go west, it was all up to me to decide
Just then I saw a young hawk flyin’ and my soul began to rise
And pretty soon, my heart was singin’...
--Bob Seger

One slippery slope in planning is getting equipment. I use GPS loggers to track my travels now, making geotagging photos easier. I wanted a video camera for this trip, but was reluctantly conceding to use my old DV camera. With DV tape (kids, ask an old person what “magnetic tape” is, which was still used at the turn of the century in 2000, when I bought this).

Then I started browsing Amazon and noticed this camera. Plus a 16GB microSD card. And a mount. And software to integrate GPS data into the video. And a data logger/flasher for more data. Which leads to a new ECU map to flash. Which should be checked with a wideband O2 sensor. Which is easier to install on a new downpipe. Which mates nicely with a catback--- $$$$#@!*& GGGRRRRRR-- Stop !!!

So where was I? Oh, yeah-- on my way to Pikes Peak. I think I’ll leave tomorrow morning.

(Check back. I’ll post updates here throughout my drive.)

Day 1: 2011-08-31 Wed 6:25 am EDT (Home: 0 miles)

Crap. I’ve been up for a couple of hours now, but haven’t actually done anything today. I should pack.

The car’s 240GB iPod is loaded up with all the crappy music I like. And several audible books, including a couple from Malcolm Gladwell for inspiration. Or to realize how much I suck. The Subaru STI is cavernous compared to the Porsche 944T that I used to do this kind of thing in. I have to resist bringing too much with me. Only the essentials. I have to focus. Stay lean. But then, with the seats folded down, I could fit my bike back there.

(... much time passes ...)

Yup, I over packed. What started out as a quick trip to Pikes Peak for a couple of pictures is turning into an expedition up Kilimanjaro in search of Yeti. And it doesn’t even live there. Anymore.

I should leave now.

Next stop: first bathroom break.

(P.S. I probably can’t go to lunch at the mall today.)

Wed 11:45 am EDT (Indiana rest stop: 190 miles)

I don’t think a road trip starts until you’re actually on a freeway. It’s like plugging into the internet. Now you can go anywhere. But unlike the squeaky clean internet, it has porn ads (Hot Tokyo massage; Adult superstore-- exit 157, etc.).

With all of the road construction going on, logically, at some point, wouldn’t at least some of the roads be better by now?

Wed 10:10 pm EDT (Kearney, NE: 878 miles)

Nebraska sends out mixed messages. It has a 75 mph speed limit, but around the cities where the limit is lower, they pull a lot of people over. Nebraska, you’re very wide with just one interstate. Cut everyone a break on it. (You’re also very flat. You should think about toning to get some definition. Try the P90 workout.)

Dirty Window
Man, I need to clean my window

Day 2: 2011-09-01 Thr 11:15 am EDT (Colorado rest area: 1053 miles)

I left yesterday (Wed) much later than I wanted to, so my kids were up by the time I got going. Seeing them always reminds me of one of my rules: “Don’t do anything (really) stupid today.” This might seem like a pretty simple rule, but sometimes I forget. And looking around at other people, I don’t think some know that this should even be a rule.

So with that in mind, I decided not to tailgate a trailer and take my picture in its reflection. Sure, I may have gotten away with it, but why take the chance?

Not only should you not tailgate this truck, but you can’t eat it either

I had intended to do a gas mileage experiment today. I would drive with one tankful of gas with the windows down, and one tankful with windows up and air conditioning on, both at freeway speeds. I decided not to do it, however. With the windows rolled down at 80 mph, it got loud, which made me turn up the radio, which made my “microwave emission data collecting device” alerts useless. And it kept messing up my hair, and I didn’t want to wear a hat.

I may revisit this experiment in a few years, the next time I get my hair cut.

Thr 3:31 pm EDT (Manitou Springs, CO: 1302 miles)

In case any one is interested, I’m still alive, and I’ve at least made it to my hotel.

A big rock
Why did they put this on the wrong side of the sun?

Day 3: 2011-09-02 Fri 10:31 am EDT (Pikes Peak: 1347 miles)
(14,110 ft. Or 14,115 ft. Or 14,169 ft *)

Well, now. That was anti-climatic.

Apparently, Pikes Peak Highway is mostly paved. There is about a one-mile stretch around mile 11 that is still dirt road, and that’s about it. Because there’s active construction going on, you can only go by with an escort, both going up and coming down through this area.

So unlike YouTube videos of the Pikes Peak hill climb race, there was no rooster tail of dust, no four-wheel drifts around 1st gear corners over a precipice, no butt-clenching moments around bends. No, I take that last bit back. It’s still pretty intimidating to drive up this road, even if it’s paved. The hill climb racers must have amazing cajones to speed up this mountain like they do. In contrast, it may be a while before I see mine again.

(*) It turns out that Pikes Peak is actually 14,115 ft. tall, according to this article. It’s been revised up from 14,110 ft. after more accurate measurements were made. My backup GPS, which I used for the video, indicated an even higher value due to its drift. My normal GPS had a more correct value, but I had other problems with its data.

More rocks
This is today’s 2011 version near the top...

Porsche rocks
...but back in 1997, the shoulders were a bit wider (and the sky bluer)

Day 4: 2011-09-03 Sat 2:28 am EDT (Illinois rest area: 2340 miles)

Here are some random thoughts for today:

  • Is there a coffee table book about the rest areas of America? If there is, I don’t want to read it.
  • I’m always surprised at how often I see a Michigan license plate around the country. I guess Michigan is a good state to be from.
  • Whenever I read (or listen to) a Malcolm Gladwell book and he uses statistics to prove a point, I have to ignore the internal statistics alarms going off in my head so I can keep enjoying the book.
  • Luckily I get to drive on a holiday weekend when there are more police to make sure everyone is “safe.”
Rock beats RADAR and LIDAR, if you hit them right with it
Colorado police officer using both RADAR and LIDAR to personally make sure I’m safe

Sat 11:18 am EDT (Home: 2724 miles)

And the next thing I know, I’m home. Just a little more than 24 hours ago, I’m wearing a sweater on top of Pikes Peak, and now I’m hiding from 90+ degree heat inside the house. And because I’m sleep deprived, the last few days don’t have quite a real feel to them right now. At least I’ve avoided doing something really stupid, and I can play with my kids again today.

I have to say that was a good trip for me. But next time, I’m bringing my family.


I’ve always said that one of my life goals is to never be on YouTube. Well, I guess this video officially makes my life goals a failure.

Day 1: Home, MI to Kearney, NE (878 miles)

Day 2: Kearney, NE to Manitou Springs, CO (424 miles)

Day 3: Pikes Peak to I-80 (IL), mile marker 51 (993 miles)

Day 4: I-80 (IL) mi 51 to Home, MI (384 miles)

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Press On Regardless (How Stupid I Am)

I took a recent road trip for work to our proving grounds in Michigan's upper peninsula, the UP. Although I've lived in Michigan for most of my life, this is only the second time I've been to the UP. The other time was to take my wife to Mackinac Island, which to many people around here doesn't really count as going to the UP.

I hated the car I was driving. It is one of our test cars, a big, rear-wheel drive car. It's too big for me. Although it has winter tires, they are old winter tires (and a brand from my company) and really need to be replaced. This certainly had the potential for disaster, since this trip was in March.

My first clue that this could be bad was while trying to change lane in slushy snow a couple hours north of Detroit. The car’s stability control kept me guessing if and when the car would actually move over. And it would get worse.

“Don’t knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while.”
--Kin Hubbard

When I crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the upper peninsula, it didn’t take long before vowing never, ever to come here ever again. Ever. If not longer. I drove in slippery, whiteout conditions the entire time in the upper peninsula until I arrived at my hotel.

The snow had started coming down as I approached the bridge. By the time I crossed it, there was significant accumulation on the roads. I then made the mistake of passing the cars ahead of me. As I drove past them into the whiteout, it occurred to me that I no longer had any reference points ahead of me, like knowing where the road was. D’oh! For some reason, at 10 pm on a Sunday night in a snow storm in the UP, there didn’t seem to be much traffic around. Just lots of trees.

So I just drifted back and forth between the left and right rumble strips, hoping they would be there as well on bridges.

If you’ve never driven in a whiteout, I can try and re-create it for you.

  • Paint your windshield black with white spots.
  • Spin until you vomit.
  • Drive.

This is the part I don’t fully understand. Although the conditions were abysmal, I never stopped. Neither did the handful of people behind me. No one thought about pulling over for a little while and waiting until conditions improved. Or at least until a snow plow came by. Instead, we all decided to take the chance of removing ourselves from the gene pool. I’m guessing it’s probably a guy thing.

I was pretty cranky by the time I pulled into Sault Ste. Marie about an hour and a half later. It stopped snowing right when I took my exit, the last one before driving into Canada.

Luckily for the drive home, I was asked to drive a mid-size, front-drive test car back. I say lucky because it’s more my size, and it drove like a rental car to me, which I like for some reason. This time I drove with my colleagues in a mini convoy. As we got “down state” (a new term for me for the lower peninsula), we hit more snow. It wasn’t whiteout conditions, but it was annoying none the less.

My supervisor drove the car I had driven earlier, and he seemed to have no issues with it. At some point we got separated, and it took me over 20 minutes just to catch him and another colleague who was in a brand new, all-wheel drive BMW 535i. My supervisor was leading the way, driving 70-75 mph in the heavy, freezing snow. I considered it impressive driving on his part. If I was driving that car, I’d still be up there, lodged between two trees deep in the northern Michigan forest, waiting for the spring thaw.

Strangely, when the roads cleared up around Saginaw, he slowed down. It was probably too boring for him.

Springtime in Michigan. A good stretch of I-75 where the road was visible.
At least I didn’t have the sun in my eyes

I made it back home, but not without incident. I got stuck once in the snow— in the ever treacherous Subway parking lot when we stopped for dinner. Don’t ask. I’m still paying blackmail tribute for this incident.

What did this little adventure tell me? Well, it snows a lot in Michigan, especially up north. I don’t like snow. I may even hate snow. I definitely hate driving in snow, especially without my Subaru. That just makes me extra cranky. Michi-people drive either really, really fast in snow, or really, really slow. There's nothing in the upper peninsula except road kill and snow. And I’m an idiot.

So basically, I didn’t learn anything new.

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
--Carl Reiner

The Vampire’s Highway

“Did gerade Linie ist gottlos.”

A friend of mine is on a foreign assignment to Romania for a couple of years. The city where he’s located is nice enough, with a university and a technical industry, and was the first mainland European city to be lit by electric street lamps in 1884.

When I first travelled there over 10 years ago, the airport was previously used by the military, and AK47-armed soldiers were posted around the terminal building, guiding us as we walked from the airplane to the terminal. Commercial planes did not stay overnight, as the hangers, camouflaged and covered with dirt, were used for military jets. Getting through immigration was always entertaining.

Outside of the airport, the people there are friendly, and we have a lot of young, fun-loving colleagues there. I’ve visited Romania quite often, but I’ve never really wanted to stay for an extended period of time— until this.

This is the Transfăgărăşan, a road in Romania. My friend sent me this vacation photo, apparently in an effort to taunt me (although he does not have an outrageous French accent).

Somewhere in the Romulan neutral zone (photo: L.Ivaldi)
More Google pictures here.

The road was built in the early 1970s by Nicolae Ceauşescu, the former Romanian dictator, as a military route in response to a Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. (Apparently, Romulan tanks must be able to corner like they’re on rails. And what is it with dictators and fabulous roads?) It’s 90 km long over the Făgăraş mountains (Transylvanian Alps). According to Wikipedia, the road connects the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia, and one of its attractions is the Poienari citadel, the home of Vlad III the Impaler’s moustache.

It’s also the only decent road in Romania. Every other road I’ve been on looks like it was carpet-bombed to disguise how bad the potholes actually are. In the city where my friend lives, the roads are easily worse than here in the Detroit area (where the buildings also look like they’ve been bombed).

In Top Gear’s first episode of series 14, Jeremy Clarkson declared the Transfăgărăşan as the best road in the world, even better than the Stelvio Pass in Italy. This was shortly after insulting the Romanian people in ways too numerous to count.

So now I’ve added both the Transfăgărăşan and the Stelvio Pass on my list of roads to drive on. Getting a nice sporty car to Romania may be an issue, so I may have to take my chances on whatever car I can get my hands on there.

Road trip!

Happy Days

Moving away from that depressing topic that is the Black Plague (a.k.a. BP), let’s ironically talk about track days, where we get to burn lots of gas in good conscience.

My local car club organizes driver education (DE) events (or high-performance driver events - HPDE in some circles) at local tracks during the driving season. We usually drive at once a month at Waterford Hills race course and a weekend event at Grattan. The goal is to learn how to drive your vehicle near its (or your) limits in a safe environment, something you shouldn’t do on public roads.

Most clubs like ourselves usually allow non-members to participate. We just charge a little more if you’re not in the club.

In our DE, we have instructors for those that need them. We have four categories of drivers: green for beginners, white for intermediates, blue for advanced, and red for instructors. And for those in the “bonehead” category, we have a special black flag just for you.

“A bad day at the track is still better than a good day in the office.”
--Any track participant from any track event

All of that preamble was just an excuse really to post some fun pictures from a beautiful day on the track. The only problem on this day was that I was only taking pictures, and not actually driving on the track.

Happy (non cranky) thoughts...

Random cars
Bunch of Random Cars

More random cars
More Random Cars

More random cars
Yet Even More Random Cars

M3 into Turn 1

That way
Go that way very, very fast...

A Mini and its distant cousin

Front straight
Going down the front straight

It’s like a Porsche Parade

STI, not SUV
That’s not an SUV but an STI back there, like mine

Flying Chef
I just like this picture— one of the few I like a lot

Yellow 993T
I’m guessing this is the 993 Turbo (and not a 4S with a Turbo spoiler). The last air-cooled turbo 911 is one of my all-time favorites.

Pit Stop
This may or may not be the result of a redneck pit crew stopping work for a beer break

I’m (obviously) biased towards the STI

Not Good
Oh— that can’t be good

Not a Little Red Corvette
Big Red Corvette

Nice Day
Good day, eh?


[Confession: This entire blog entry was constructed just to be able to post a picture of Mr. Arthur Fonzarelli. Sorry to drag you down this far.]

Deborah vs. The Volcano

A friend of ours was supposed to fly from Germany to see us last month. Unfortunately, she timed her flight with Eyjafjallajokull’s eruptions (I wonder how many letters Icelanderians (Icelandicians?*) get to start with in Scrabble). After her flight and her rescheduled flight were both cancelled, she set her flight date a few weeks later just to be safe. So, of course, the volcano erupted again shortly before her latest flight. We’re all hoping that flights between Europe and North America won’t be cancelled this time.

[update 2010-05-17 14:25: The plane is in the air, expected to land about three hours late.]
[update 2010-05-17 17:00: The plane has landed, only about 11 minutes late.]

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”
--Captain Eric Moody, British Airways Flight 9

Although I love airplanes, I’ve never been a big fan of air travel. I blame this on my first flight when my younger sister and I were dressed in matching blazers and pants, with red, white and blue stripes. The 1970s were better left forgotten.

At least back then, air travel was a big deal, unlike the cattle drive it’s become today. And some of the planes we fly today were still new back then. I think that flying now makes people very cranky.

I would rather just drive. To get in my car, I don’t have to wait an hour in a security line just to get (new) naughty pictures of me. I don’t have to dump liquids if the container is over 3 ounces. How can you drink Mountain Dew 3 ounces at a time? (This could be advantageous if you have to pay to use the bathroom.) And I don’t have to pay for extra carry on or check-in baggage. If it mostly fits in the car, I can take it.

Granted, it takes longer to travel by car. On a race against a flight from Indianapolis to Detroit, it took me under six hours to drive, while the flight was just over an hour. But after considering the drive to and from the airport and the waiting for the flight, it wasn’t as bad as it seems. I really lost by just about an hour, and had my choice of gourmet meals from Taco Bell and McDonalds.

Back in 2007, my family was going to California for a reunion. Somehow, I convinced my wife that I would drive our Subaru Legacy wagon to California and back, and she and our daughter would fly there and back. So I got to drive from Detroit to San Francisco in about three days (and Los Angeles to Detroit in two). I timed it so that as soon as I arrived in San Francisco, I checked into our hotel, took the shuttle to the airport, and picked up my wife and daughter.

While the flight was over five hours versus three days in the car, I think I still had the better trip, and not just because my 18-month daughter cried most of the flight to San Francisco. I like driving on I-80 and watching the miles melt away.

I like the vastness of Nebraska, the deserts of Nevada, and the mountains of California. (Okay, the paint-splattering, windshield-caking bugs of Louisiana or Florida I don't like so much.) Watching lightning strike 1/4 mile from the road isn’t as terrifying as seeing the same event 1/4 mile from an airplane. Throwing the car through the curves in the Sierra Nevada doesn’t involve (as many) airsick bags. Even driving uphill in a loaded car in slow traffic from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with the temperature outside at 117°F still beats the little bag of pretzels they give you on flights these days.

I just like driving. A lot.

Great Salt Lake rest area
I wonder if Utahians (Utes? Utahinonians?*) have a problem with high sodium.

So when my family mentioned that there were plans to go to California again next year, my wife saw my face light up and her first words were, “I’m not flying alone with two kids!”

(Driving runs in my family, all starting from my dad. My sister mentioned she wanted to make the California drive, too, which was followed by a lot of twitching from my brother-in-law.)

This will require a lot of planning on my part. I will have to convince my wife to let me drive there again, this time with the smaller Subaru Impreza STI, while adding an extra kid. How much stuff could a little baby need?
Subie Doobie Doo
One day I’ll have to learn to take good pictures of cars.

(* Where I live, you’re either a Michiganian, a Michigander, or a Michigoose. Actually, that’s wrong. If you are in the lower peninsula, then you live under the (Mackinac) Bridge making you a troll. Otherwise, you’re one of Da Yoopers.)

Google Eyes

Sometimes I have too much time on my hands. This can be easily achieved by neglecting things like eating, sleeping and family. Generally this means I’m obsessing over something trivial. Such was the case last year when I virtually re-lived a vacation I took 15 years ago, thanks to Google.

(It goes without saying that Google is amazing. This company, which does no evil, benevolently gives us free technology like maps, e-mail, and phone numbers, and asks nothing in return except for intimate details of our internet life. Google is the internet equivalent of V, and I for one bow down to our reptilian overlords. And yes, I have Google stock.)

“Wherever you go, there you are.”
--Thomas à Kempis (1440 AD)
--Buckaroo Banzai (1984 AD, for those who are younger and can’t remember Thomas)

I started geotagging photographs a couple of years ago, to the annoyance of my wife, when Apple introduced this feature in their iPhoto software. Geotagging involves adding GPS information to your photos, either when the photo is taken, or afterwards in post-processing. I use the latter method, because my wife gets to the UPS packages on our porch before I do.

My poor wife started getting requests from me like, “Schatz, what was the name and address of that bed & breakfast we stayed in for a night while we were in Provence eight years ago?” I would follow that up with information from my driving log. “It was 53.3 miles from that gas station we filled up in Avignon.” She would look at me, narrow her eyes a bit, decide it’s not worth it to melt my brains with her feminine powers, and return to whatever she was doing.

So I started using Google Maps and Google Earth instead.

In 1995, I drove my 944 Turbo from Detroit to Edmonton (and back, of course) for my sister’s wedding. Over the course of 5600 miles and 9 days, one tends to take a lot of random photos. And I did. It was my goal to geotag those random pictures.

I used Google Maps to follow my routes. When I would find a place where I think I may have taken a picture, I used Google Earth and navigated to the same place. Then I had a program that would take whatever latitude and longitude Google Earth was centered on and add it to my photographs. It’s straightforward, but time intensive.

I take notes on my trips, but usually just whenever I stop, such as for gas or food. Sometimes, though, I drive a few hours between stops, randomly picking roads to drive on. Luckily, Google saved me again. They have a feature on Maps called Street View which displays 360° images of streets around the world. It helps me visually confirm locations. So when I needed a find a road out West, Google had it. They’ve apparently taken street views shots of all the roads in Wyoming. Both of them, I think. Here are a couple of then and now examples:
Ucross Clearmont
Top: EMan (1995), bottom: Google (2009)
Clearmont, WY

Ucross Ucross
Top: EMan (1995), bottom: Google (2009). They changed the sign. Maybe the population changed.
Ucross, WY

(In just 14 years, global warming apparently turned Wyoming into a cloud-covered, dystopian wasteland, much like in the movie that never existed, Highlander II: The Quickening.)

The Google pictures aren’t high quality, but they’re not bad. They’re good enough for me to tell where I was. Who knows— maybe in a few years, I won’t even have to take my camera with me on vacation. With Street View, satellite images, submitted photos, and who knows what by then, I’ll just check on Google and see what a fun time I had.

2010 Detroit Auto Show

There are some perks working in the auto industry. As a lowly, peon engineer I don’t get too many. However, once in a while, I get a golden ticket— an industry preview ticket for the auto show.

“I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket. It’s my bar of chocolate. Give it to me now.”
-- Veruca Salt
So what is the advantage of a golden ticket? I get to see the auto show a week before the unwashed masses put their finger prints all over the cars, and I don’t have to wear a black tie (which I don’t own). If I go next week, then I become the unwashed mass.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the problem of the Detroit auto show for me. It’s not so exciting for me anymore. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the economy, or maybe there just aren’t many exciting cars out there anymore. And checking as I do every year, I couldn’t find any that flies.

This year, as with last year, Porsche, Nissan and Mitsubishi didn’t show up at the Detroit auto show. Ferrari wasn’t here last year, either, but Fiat put a couple of random Ferraris in the Chrysler area, which barely got noticed. I was hoping they would have the new 458 Italia, but they didn’t.

Do not adjust your set. One of the most interesting vehicles I found were a $108,000 Oompa Loompa-sized minivan (Tango) and a Chinese amphibious assault vehicle.

I was also happy to see the 5.0 return to the Mustang (with 412 horses!). I liked the M&M blue and yellow(ish) colors they introduced for the new Mustangs, although I wouldn’t buy either color myself. I think of the three current American pony cars (Mustang, Camaro, Challenger), I like the Mustang the best. And I usually tend towards GM products.

This auto show was really about the electric vehicle. They have Electric Avenue upstairs with numerous electric vehicles, and they have a small quarter-mile track downstairs where one can drive and electric, hybrid, or fuel cell vehicle amongst the trees and mulch they put down there. One of the most talked about electric vehicle is the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt. Here is a picture of it from the show, and the concept from the 2007 auto show. They never quite turn out like the concept, do they? I still like it, but I would have liked the styling of the concept more.

Maybe with the appropriate beer goggles, I would be able to see the resemblance.

The last photo I have is this Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG gullwing, which I had high hopes for, until I saw the back end. Luckily, you don’t see the back end of the car when you’re driving it. And you’ll need all 563 hp to keep others from getting a good look at the back.

2008 Detroit Auto Show

Yikes! Is it that time of the year already?

(My 2007 coverage is here.)

I got lucky this year and got a Willy Wonka ticket to the show. Some of our customers bailed out, so one of our sales guys gave me a shiny industry preview ticket. There are about 1/8 as many people at the show during the preview as during a typical Saturday at the show. I need to have more customers cancel next year.

“Americans are broad-minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive, there is something wrong with him.”
--Art Buchwald

This year, there were two cars I really wanted to see up close and personal. They were both red, both had hood scoops, and I took bad pictures of both.

2008 Subaru Impreza STI
Eh. I still like this car, but it’s not as emotional or “in your face” as its predecessor. I can, however, fit a stroller in the back. Children and small animals should still fear its hood scoop, though.

[Update 2008-11-15: I ended up buying this car in black, and I’m very happy with it.]

[Update 2009-11-08: After one year, I still love it.]

2008 Pontiac G8 GT
I’m calling this the upside-down, 4-door Camaro, as it shares much from the new Camaro, and is made by GM’s Holden division in Australia. To show off its non-American design, there are no real cupholders in the back to speak of. There is a slot in the door for a bottle, but I wouldn’t put a grande frappucino in it. For 361 hp and $29,995, I can overlook that shortcoming. The only problem-- it’s not coming with a 6-speed manual this year. Argh.

2008 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
Excuse me while I buy a lottery ticket....

2008 Lamborghini Gallardo
And then there was this little slinky black number at the Lamborghini display. I may need a moment. And another lottery ticket.

Hummer HX Concept
Surprisingly, I liked a non-sporty car concept at the show. The idea of taking the doors off and finding some dunes someplace gives me visions of Wonder Bug, which may mean I need to take my medication again.

Penobscot Building
Finally, it seems my best pictures of Detroit are at night, with poor visibility, and pointing up. I continue the trend here with the following shot from the rooftop of Cobo Hall.