Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Car Ad for Uzbek-Made Daewoo/GM Nexia

68 Ways to Get Yourself Executed In China

Yesterday, Briton Akmal Shaikh was executed in Urumqi for smuggling four kilos of heroin into China. His family claimed that he was mentally ill. The British government sternly condemned the sentence.

Now, I'm no fan of the death penalty. But you have to appreciate the irony of the British government, which intentionally set out to make opium addicts out of thousands, if not millions, of Chinese citizens in the 18th and 19th century (and humiliated the Chinese in a series of wars), lecturing China on the proper treatment of one Briton who was caught red handed smuggling heroin INTO China.

Apparently, there are 68 capital punishment-eligible offenses in China. Click here and go to page four for the full list. Most are obvious: treason, murder, spying. But some are kinda out there. They include breaching a dike and digging fossils of ancient vertebrate animals. Finally, I note that despite the severity of the punishment for graft and bribe-taking, capital punishment has had no preventative effect on these crimes in China.

I'll end this post with a bit of trivia. The last European to be executed in China was Shanghai-born, Italian World War I ace Antonio Riva. He was executed in 1951 for a plot to kill Mao Zedong.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Carspotting (25): RHD Mitsubishi Delica In America!

I almost did a spit take when I saw this Delica pull up into the parking lot. That can't be. Can it?

I ran out to the parking lot and there it was, a right hand drive Mitsubishi Delica Turbo Diesel 4WD Star Wagon. I'm still amazed that I saw it. It's way better than spotting a Veyron or any other overpriced supercar.

Carspotting (24): Rare Alfa Romeo Giulia Wagon/Estate/Break Promiscua/Giardinetta

I spotted this yesterday up in Calistoga. It has to be the rarest car I have ever seen parked on the street. I know nothing about Giulia wagons. Some research on the internet after the photo shoot did not help much. The only things I've learned are that it is probably called a Promiscua, it was probably built by the coachbuilder Colli, and it was probably once used by the Italian police.

While I was admiring this beaut and taking pictures of it, at least four other car guys stopped to look at it and debate its pedigree.

Wait until you see an arguably rarer vehicle that I saw a few hours after this Alfa....

Rear-hatch hinge.

That's a Mille Miglia sticker and a 1979 sticker celebrating 125 GP wins by Cosworth.

The three-slot air vent is supposedly a Colli signature.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Gavle Goat of Sweden Burned Down, Again (Video)

Nordic people have been making straw Christmas goats for centuries. The town of Gavle in Sweden has erected a huge Yule Goat each year for decades. And inevitably, someone burns it down. Since 1966, only ten goats escaped the fate of fire. It was burned down again this year.

To protect the goat this year, two livestreaming webcams were set up so that everyone can keep an eye on it. Someone hacked into the system and the webcams went offline long enough for vandals to burn the goat to the ground. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

China-India Border Dispute, Part 1: Arunachal Pradesh/South Tibet

In 1914, Great Britain and Tibet signed a treaty and set forth the McMahon Line as the border between Tibet and the British colony of India. The area south of the line ultimately became the frontier Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China never acknowledged Tibet as an independent and sovereign nation and as such rejected Tibet's ability to sign a treaty with Britain. China is of the belief that the area that is the state of Arunachal Pradesh is actually Chinese territory, and refers to it as South Tibet. China can never recognize the McMahon Line or the state of AP because to do so is to recognize that Tibet was an independent nation.

The one million or so inhabitants of AP are mostly Tibeto-Burman. They are, for the most part, neglected by the Indian bureaucracy. The Indian news outlets, on the other hand, constantly talk of the small state being devoured by the land-hungry, villainous, Chinese dragon. Seeing as how the Chinese military is presently making incursions into AP just as it is making incursions into Bhutan, the media may have a point.

And oh yeah, the Dalai Lama's visit of Tawang last month did not help Sino-Indian/Indo-Chinese relations either.

You'll note that I've been posting news clips only from Indian sources. If CCTV English starts discussing the issue from the Chinese perspective, I'd be more than happy to post that too.

Straight Pimpin': Tomica Cadillac Seville And Lincoln Continental Mark IV

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tomica Jaguar XJS Plus Bonus Videos

Here is Tom Walkinshaw driving the snot out of a V12 XJS in Bathurst.

Part 1 of Wheeler Dealers: Jaguar XJS

Carspotting (23): Opel GT

I'm not a particularly huge fan of the Opel GT, but I had to take pictures of this example at the local mega mall. The lighting was perfect, there were no cars blocking the view, and the orange and black paintwork looked amazing. I've never seen one with its pop up lights up. It reminds me of a Lancia Stratos. Scroll below to see how the manual pop up lights work.

Monday, December 21, 2009

China-Bhutan Border Dispute

I have wanted to catalogue the various border disputes China has with its neighbors for quite a while now. But I could never figure out where to begin. How about Bhutan?

China entered Bhutan on 17 separate occasions this year. The two countries have never agreed on the exact border. They do not have formal diplomatic relations and Bhutan is Indo-centric with respect to its foreign policy.

The region at issue is important geopolitically because it is so close to India's Chicken's Neck, or Siliguri Corridor. It was created when East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and West Pakistan separated from India. Its purpose is to provide India with a narrow path to reach its faraway northeastern states. The area is also used by smugglers from Bangladesh and as a refuge for Maoist Nepalese rebels.

China has every desire to stir up instability here, as it will inevitably result in the weakening of India. Much of India's army is on the western front defending Kashmir, so China has almost free reign on the eastern front. PLA troops are entering Bhutan. Roads and bridges are being built inside Bhutan (allegedly). And China is allowing thousands of civilians to "invade" Bhutan for months at a time to collect cordyceps mushrooms which, apparently, like everything else rare, is said by Chinese medicine experts to help with certain issues experienced by middle aged men (nudge, nudge). Tibetan pickers are said to earn $900 just for collecting an ounce of this stuff.

Here is an Indian news clip from 2007, but the story is the same today.

Connecticut State Police Mazda MX-6

I'm kinda surprised that these cops have mustaches.

(Update: I noticed the guys at MX6.com just linked this page, so here are a couple more bonus pics!)

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, I read about the Connecticut State Police using Mazda MX-6s as patrol cars. I never found a picture of one, until now.

At least 30 Mazda MX-6s of different colors were used by the state police. They replaced 5.0 Mustangs and Buick Grand Nationals for speed enforcement duty. The cops wanted a car that:
  • had a high performance engine,
  • could handle bad weather (had to be front wheel drive),
  • had a trunk that was big enough to carry the requisite gear,
  • got good gas mileage,
  • did not cost much more than a Crown Vic, and
  • had a low profile.
The Mazda's near twin, the Ford Probe, was not chosen because it was too low for the taller troopers and its long doors (four inches longer than the Mazda's) made them a hazard on freeway shoulders when opened.

The only significant modification for police duty was a stronger alternator. They had automatic transmissions, ABS, and topped out at 120 miles per hour. Acceleration was more of an asset than top speed for chasing baddies because the state is so small, congested, and because the next trooper is just a few miles ahead.

Source: Feb. 1990 Popular Mechanics article by Mike Allen.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The VW Phaeton Is the Best Cadillac Fleetwood Cadillac Never Built

Some people say the Toyota Avalon is the best Buick that Buick never built. Well, after driving the Volkswagen Phaeton (an '06 V8 model), I declare that the Phaeton is the best Cadillac Fleetwood that Cadillac never built.

The Fleetwood
Remember the Fleetwood? In the 1980s, these luxo-barges came in white (for successful hair band musicians), charcoal gray (for evil businessmen on The A-Team, Knight Rider, and Miami Vice), and black (for U.S. dignitaries). They were long, luxurious, and very American. Those are the same qualities the Phaeton exudes.

VW exported only the long wheelbased version to the States. It means stretched rear doors, a la the Audi A8L (but the VW is about 700 pounds heavier due to its steel (versus aluminum) platform).* There is just as much legroom in the back as a long wheelbased S class, 7 series, and...an old Fleetwood. Behind the wheel, I felt like I was steering an Australian roadtrain. It literally felt like I was pulling a WIDE LOAD prefab trailer home. This is definitely a car for boomers and retirees who want comfort, not for those who want to have some fun while driving.

18-way adjustable seats. 120 buttons and switches (not counting the 14 on the steering wheel or the 48 for the back seat passengers). When creating the Phaeton, VW head Ferdinand Piech wanted the ultimate car. One of his design requirements was that the W12 version be able to go 186 mph in 122 degree heat with the interior climate control at a constant 72 degrees. Just a look at the Dresden factory where the Phaeton is made confirms that no expense was spared. No wonder it is the luxury car of choice for Sly Stallone, William Shatner, Pope Benedict, and Kim Jung-Il. It is as luxurious as a Cadillac Fleetwood would be today, if GM continued making Fleetwoods and if GM sacrificed as much blood, sweat, and tears on the new Fleetwood as it did on the new CTS.

American? A VW? What is the quintessential quality of a large '80s American car? Vague steering, of course. The Phaeton's steering feedback (or lack thereof) is the complete opposite of every German car in existence. I could steer it with my pinky finger and it took almost 90 degrees of input (I exaggerate) just to change one lane. It was ridiculous. It is a Fleetwood.

Used VW Phaetons for Sale
There are not that many Phaetons here in America. Only 2004, '05, and '06 models are available. Here are the sales figures:
2003: 265 units
2004: 1,939
2005: 820
2006: 233
2007: 17

V8 Phaetons sold new for close to $70,000. If you are a hard bargainer, you can pick up one with around 50,000 miles for $22,000 to $24,000. At first, I thought that was a lot of depreciation and a great deal. In retrospect, that is a lot of depreciation but you can buy a similar A8L for a little bit more.

You should look for two things when buying a Phaeton. Since I'm not a Phaeton expert, these two tips apply to all used car purchases. First, check to see how long the car you're interested in has been for sale for. Many Phaetons tend to sit for months without a single serious offer. The longer the car sits, the more eager the seller is in unloading his White Whale.

The other thing to look for is its service history. Generally, Phaeton owners are pretty good about taking care of their cars. But because it is a VW (and the most complex VW at that), there are going to be electrical issues. See what specifically has been repaired or replaced. Large scale lobotomies within the first 10,000 miles are worrisome, to say the least.

*The VW is even 600 pounds heavier than the S600!
Fleetwood photo credit.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Childhood Stamp Collection

Being the Renaissance Man that I am, I used to collect stamps. For a brief period during the fourth grade, I was mad about stamps. I was doing some purging today and came across these. (I did not purge any of the stamps.)

These stamps are a part of a set from China. I assume the message this sends is "We got our sh&t together, agriculturally and industrially."

I don't know how I got these, but they are of a nuclear reactor near Bombay (Mumbai).

Now these were my favorite. Apparently, there was a transportation series put out by the US Postal Service. I really got a kick out of all of these old timey wheeled conveyances.