Friday, September 28, 2007

Fuji-San, Here We Come!

In honor of Fuji returning as the Japan GP venue, here is a screen shot from the venerable and timeless video game, Pole Position, and a photo taken on Thursday of the track.

Go Lewis!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How Hoards of RHD Corollas Ended Up In Kabul

Virtually every news footage of traffic in Kabul shows the obligatory yellow and white early 1990s Toyota Corolla wagon turned taxi. This begs the question*, where did all of these right hand drive Corollas come from?

Well, it all starts in, you guessed it, Japan. White is by far the most popular car color in Japan, whether you're a middle class housewife with a Corolla sedan or a Ricoh copy machine repair guy with a company-owned Corolla wagon. The only difference being, the commercial wagon has the company logo, telephone number, and random advert words stenciled on the body panels.

Oh what a feeling!

The other Corolla ad I could have posted starred Peter Falk (as Columbo)

Due to Draconian inspection regulations meant to stimulate the domestic auto industry, Japanese cars in Japan become prohibitively expensive to keep after three years. Millions of low mileage (100,000 kilometers), reliable, and well maintained cars and vans flood the non-existent Japanese used car market annually.

In the first half of 2005, auction houses throughout Japan exported 350,000 used vehicles. Most head to either Vladivostok for the insatiable Russian Far East market or Dubai, where they end up in South Asia or East Africa.

Savvy Pakistani businessmen buy the cars from the Japanese auction houses and have them shipped to Dubai. There, Afghan expats buy them and ship them to Bandar-e-Abbas, on the Iranian coast. There, the cars, still in their containers, are shipped overland to the frontier town of Islam Qala. The cars are then driven over the Afghan border to Herat, where they sit in huge car lots owned and operated by a few Kandahari families. Finally, the Corollas are driven to Kabul, where they are painted partially yellow. However, the Japanese characters, logos, and telephone numbers are kept in place, as they are evidence that the car was Japanese, well taken care of, and most importantly, reliable.

Suburb of Kabul or Yokohama?

In 2005, a 1992 to '94 Corolla in good condition sold for $5,400 to $6,800 in Kabul. Importers of right hand drive Corollas took a beating recently when the Afghan government banned the import of all right hand drive vehicles. Investors lost their shirts on that gamble.

In this consumerist and disposable world, it's good to see perfectly fine cars being used to its maximum (and beyond) potential. These Corollas are used by hard working entrepreneurs ad infinitum.

I must say, though, it was extremely difficult to find any decent photographs of the ubiquitous Kabuli Corolla taxi on the net. Their importance is taken for granted. They merely blend into the bleak and dusty background. But if anything will raise the phoenix from the ashes that is the Afghan capital, it is the peppy Corolla. Fight on!


*Big thanks to Anna Paterson of AREU for her extensive research on a topic only she and I care about. Read her 31 page pdf tome on the subject on AREU's website.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Most Adorable Photograph, Ever!

I'm not one to push cutesy crap, but this has to be the most endearing photograph ever taken. See it and Diane Arbus' other works now at the Fraenkel Gallery!


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Vehicles of The Lives of Others

I can't believe that William F. Buckley and I have the same taste in movies, but we both think The Lives of Others is one of the best movies ever made. Ulrich Muhe's performance was extraordinary. It was like watching a German version of Kevin Spacey, but without the ego, the snarky facial expressions, or the multi-million dollar salary. The story, the message, and the ending blew me away.

This movie was made with a budget of less than $2 million. The period sets (mid-80s Eastern bloc) were exact down to the smallest detail, such as the frame of old man Honecker's portrait hung in the background. The filmmaker could have taken the easy route and just called up the local Trabant club to decorate the street scenes. But no. The detail-obsessed will note the variety and quality of the vehicles in the background. Since does not have a listing for this movie yet, I'll dissect some of the vehicles that piqued my interest.

Minister Hempf's Volvo limousine. Rather than a Russian-made ZIL, the Polish elite rode in stretched Volvo's. Even the most powerful men in East Germany had slow, boring cars. But at least they were reliable and not made of wool or cotton, like the ubiquitous Trabants.

Paul Hauser's West German Uncle's W126. In contrast to the unglamorous, and let's face it, shitty, cars of East Germany, Paul's uncle drove a powerful and roomy Mercedes sedan. The gold W126 "personified" West Germany. It was confident, strong, and rich.

The Stasi's Barkas delivery truck. CMS was transported to her interrogator in a Barkas delivery truck. These little putt-putt utility vehicles had three cylinder, two stroke engines displacing a mind-blowing 992 cc's. Unbelievably, they served their drivers well and carried East Germany forward into the 1990s, almost.

Wiesler's Lada. Square. Anonymous. Bland. Reliable. Socialist. These words describe both the movie's protagonist and his Lada.

Now go and rent the movie! It's out on video.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Bring Back the Fender Mounted Side Mirrors!

In the 1970s, virtually every sporty Japanese car in the Japanese market had fender mounted side mirrors. Though they look odd to the contemporary round eye, hundreds of millions of people grew up accepting the fender as the default location of side mirrors.

The location forward of the A-pillar meant the mirrors had no blind spots whatsoever, an ergonomic gift to drivers in congested Asian highways and byways.

But anti-fender mounted mirror advocates had more reasons to protest. They were too far to see for the average driver with below average eyesight. They were difficult to adjust manually (Need to adjust your mirror? Bring a friend!). And finally, due to the laws of aerodynamics, some of these mirrors vibrated to the point of uselessness at highway speeds.

But all these arguments, albeit valid, cannot overcome the aesthetic je ne sais quoi quality of the fender mounted side mirrors. They just look so damn good!