Monday, December 16, 2013

The Aging of the Dawn of Aquarius: From Baltimore to Woodstock in a 2013 Volkswagen Turbo Convertible

Say nothing!
Whatever you do, don't mention the war. I did once, but I think I got away with it. Fortunately, Volkswagen is more circumspect. Despite the 2013 Beetle Turbo Convertible having been inspired by VW’s 1949 Type 1, the company draws the line at mentioning the war – or even the decade in which it was fought – in its retro line-up.  

This means that while buyers can get their new VW cabrios done up in '70s, ‘60s, and even 1950s fashion, any trim-level suggesting a German staff car as pursued by P-47s down a forest road in the Ardennes is strictly verboten. 

Overrunning countryside, postwar style: The 1949 Type 1

Of course, imposing retro designs on a car that started out as one tends to confuse things. Truth to tell, the Beetle and its fastback forebears have pretty much always been retro. Hell -- even the ‘49 model that served as our test car’s design buck was barely distinguishable from its 1935 prototype; and if that weren't enough, both models' deco-era lines did the hustle into disco-era times as a result of VW’s mid-century antipathy toward cosmetic model-year changeovers. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

We To Buffalo Roam: The 2013 Lexus IS350 AWD

To Allen P. Spaulding, Jr.

I have a theory that the truth is never told from the 
nine-to-five hours.
-- Hunter S. Thompson

If at all.
-- Anonymous

We were approaching Big Flats on the Southern Tier Expressway when the Adderall kicked in. At least I think it was the Adderall. Couldn’t have been the Prilosec. Either way, I remember turning to my sometime Caribbean songwriting collaborator Dr. Beefalo and saying “History is hard to know with all the hired bullshit” when there was this tremendous roar all around us. This was followed by the night sky pulsing in time with the Klezmer version of “People are Strange” on the radio. “As your sometime Caribbean collaborator,” Beefalo shouted while peering skyward, “I advise applying as much speed as needed to reach escape velocity in case of a problem.” “Good thought,” I hollered back, Florshiems pressed to the floorboards. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The 2013 Jeep Compass Goes West

For you crazy kids who may not know, “gone west” is an old expression denoting someone’s disappearance -- or death. Fair to assume it arose back when there was a real western frontier to escape into rather than the scrub behind some BJ’s Wholesale loading dock. Frederick Jackson Turner liked the saying -- and Kerouac bandied it about -- but lately it's gone west itself. Still, old expressions don't really die, they just show up in old movies. Thus, "went west" joins such cinematic chestnuts as Natty Bumppo's recalling the time “since Hector was a pup” in The Last of the Mohicans, and some beatnik’s bongo-backed adviso to “split the scene” in the demimonde thriller, Stakeout on Dope Street.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fashion it Again, Tony: The 2012 Fiat 500c

The new Fiat 500 is a solid update of the late-Fifties Fiat Cinquecento -- that 18-year exercise in mouse-eyed adorability that once served Americans as a source of low-cost transport, and -- in the case of its larger sibling, the Fiat 600 -- ruinous fan-belt consumption.

As one delivered intact through the 1960s in a rosso 600, I ought to know. Wherever this little runabout ran about, it left behind bits of fan-belt like so many mouse droppings. Thus, I couldn't get my kicks on 66 or anywhere else along the vast Aquarian Plane unless equipped with new belts with which to repair the Fiat's 633-cc motor. This parts-changing ritual yielded nothing in the way of sublime insight. It wasn't Zen and the Art of Incline-four Maintenance or anything like that. In fact, it shred knuckles like the belts they labored to replace. Still, it was a small price to pay for a car that your standard hippie gamine could just hug to death.

Fiat 600: Mohammed not depicted

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shiver Me Skid Plates: On the X-Trail of Pirate Jamaica, Part II

Continued from Part I

A short walk past a faded Red Stripe sign proclaiming it to be “Where the Buccaneers Drank their Beer,” brought me into the city that cheered Morgan on his return from Portobelo. You needn't be Rockefeller to see that Port Royal is a far cry from a prim Williamsburg restoration or anything like that. Rather, the Pirate Pompeii greets the sunrise as a quiet fishing village in which uniformed schoolgirls await their bus in the dawn's crisp air, and — provided you stay long enough past day-oh for it to open — the Red Stripe flows pier-side at a tatterdemalion watering hole called the Fisherman’s Cabin. For me, it was enough to pull a chair up to the still-shuttered establishment and watch a rusted freighter sail the harbor in a scene as tropical as any showing palm-shaded natives with pots on their heads.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Behold and Wonder: The 2012 Audi A7 3.0 TFSI quattro Auto Tiptronic Sedan

Is it cultural differentiation, or the car-makers' take on genetic manipulation? Maybe it’s going hybrid as applied to auto bodies -- or nothing more than novelty for its own sake. Regardless of what's behind it, taking its cue from the International Kongo Kruiser Motor Gypsy (or whatever that is) above, the DNA of traditional car models has undergone a freakish shuffling of late.

Good Goth: The 2012 Audi A7
Thus the hatch-backed and richly named 2012 Audi A7 3.0 TFSI quattro Auto Tiptronic Sedan joins with crossovers, roadster pickups, sport wagons, other four-door coupes and the rest of the shape-shifting vehicles to have emerged from Dr. Frankenstein’s Unconventional Car Windmill.

Awaiting the 2012s

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Shiver Me Skid Plates: On the X-Trail of Pirate Jamaica, Part I

Within the archipelago reaching from Cuba’s promontory to the Venezuelan coast, Jamaica loomed over the Spanish Main like a hawk. This didn’t escape the notice of maritime England, which – after seizing the island in 1655 -- used its predatory perch to fall upon Spanish ships as they coursed Caribbean sea lanes for Cadiz.

To relieve Spain's galleons of their New World gold, the British commissioned pirates* – the rag-tag nomads and swarthy misfits who'd long preyed on the Iberian fleet anyway. It was in the Jamaican city of Port Royal where such bandits as Blackbeard and the doubly fearsome Francis L’Ollonais were masters of the “Brethren of the Coast.” After his sacking of Spain’s Venezuelan stronghold of Portobelo in 1668, all Jamaica would be governed from Port Royal by the pirate-king-turned-privateer, Sir Henry Morgan.