Thursday, July 31, 2014

The view of Oakland from the top of the Tribune Tower

The Tribune Tower is an iconic landmark in Oakland. It used to house the city's newspaper. Now, there's a restaurant downstairs where the printing presses used to be and the rest of the building consists of offices. A colleague has an office there with access to the very top where the clock is.

It was really neat to see the city from a different perspective.

This is looking west, towards Broadway, the federal building, and Civic Center Plaza:

The island in the background is Alameda, Murilee Martin's famed Island That Rust Forgot.

Lake Merritt and Oakland Hills:

I took this only because the Wells Fargo sign, which everyone sees on a daily basis from the street level, is HUGE from up on the 22nd floor:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ukraine, today


Funny car show ad

Alan's 1979 RX-7, 10 Questions

Friend of this blog, and Bring A Trailer writer, Alan just picked up a 1979 Mazda RX-7. I had some questions for him and he was kind enough to answer them. Here 'tis.

P.S. I am writing this postscript after reading the interview once again before posting it. I really envy Alan. He shares a passion for cars, like we all do. But his knowledge of cars and his ability to convey his passion and knowledge with's beautiful.

1. How did you find the RX-7? I found it scouring Craigslist while hunting for cars to write about on Bring a Trailer. I couldn't believe the price or condition and got on the phone at the earliest decent hour the next morning.

2. What's the back story? How many owners? Where did it live its life? Unfortunately documentation was limited to the title. No maintenance or previous ownership history, but the seller claimed to have bought it from the original, San Diego-based owner a few months prior. A Palmdale farmer with a small collection of desert toys that suggested he had a thing for interesting machines, he had bought the car as a surprise gift for his son who had just begun driving. I could hear the disappointment in his voice when he told me he passed on it in favor of his grandmother's 2001 Kia Spectra because it had an MP3 input jack and A/C, though to be fair I'm not sure I'd want to daily drive a car without the latter in the desert, either.

3. What needs to be worked on? It needs a new transmission, I think. It shifts well but bearings sound like a cement mixer in all gears except for straight-through fourth and when the clutch is depressed. A common fault on early, optional 5-speeds from what I've read and not necessarily an indication of abuse. Fortunately they're cheap, easy to find, and easy to replace. Door gaskets are dried out and ugly, but I've got a set of NOS replacements on order. I've got plugs, wires, cap and rotor on hand but haven't gotten around to putting them in. Gear oil in the diff and trans have been changed with Royal Purple synthetic (the latter in a failed and expensive attempt to cure the cement mixer syndrome), engine oil and filter have been changed, coolant system flushed, and the air and fuel filters are fresh as well. Everything else feels great--tight suspension, good clutch, brakes, steering and so on.

It's been repainted in the original red at some point, but it was only a so-so single-stage job that's fading pretty heavily. Thinking of taking it down to Tijuana and getting it resprayed by the guy who did my brother-in-law's beautiful '87 Jetta coupe. He paid something like $1,200 for a better-than-OEM, window and trim-out job with some minor dent removal, too. I don't want to spend too much on it, but the car is so straight and clean it really deserves to look its best.

4. What's your plan for the car? Keep it? Flip it? That's the debate. My wife approved the purchase on my sincere plans to flip it, but she knows I've always wanted an early RX-7, too, and has softened her stance on the matter since I've brought it home. Her dad and brother are gearheads, too, and she has a casual appreciation for cool old cars, but this is the first old, small Japanese sports car I've brought home that she really likes. I'll probably flip it before the end of the year, but in the meantime I'm taking my time to get it perfect first. Taking lots of late-night errand runs/joy drives, too.

5. It's a clown car, it's so tiny. How do 21st century humans fit in it? Haha, yeah. Good question. I'm a big dude, too. Well, wide, anyway. It's not super-roomy inside but it's not uncomfortably cramped for two, either. Plenty of leg and head room for my 5"9' frame and probably enough for someone three or four inches taller, too. I've never ridden on the shallow rear luggage compartment, though ;)

6. How is the handling? Brakes? Oh yeah, it needs tires. I haven't pushed it too hard yet because it's riding on nearly-bald Falkens. Having a hard time finding the correct 185/70/13's from a good brand. I might have to put my snobbiness to the side and order the Hankooks. The 205/55's on it right now just don't look right, and since the wheels are totally curb rash free and the car 100% stock the right look is important to me. Steering is by manual recirculating ball and feels distinctly old-fashioned--heavy, oiled, a bit slow-witted but with good off-center response. From what I can tell so far it feels light-footed with quick turn-in and very neutral balance, but seems like it will be very easy to steer on the throttle once I get new rubber. Feels like a well set-up chassis. Brakes have tons of gritty, analog feel and are a real joy to work thanks to minimal vacuum boost and a firm pedal, but aren't at all up to modern standards when it comes to raw stopping power. I don't tailgate.

7. Rotary engines are not known for their longevity. How did this one survive? Either it's been taken very good care of (warmed thoroughly always, taken to redline often, oil level checked often), or the 23k and change miles it shows on the five-digit odometer are accurate. Or both. Lots of things hint that the mileage may be accurate (near flawless-interior, clean, rust-free body, unworn pedal covers) while others (faded respray, worn tires) suggest it may have rolled over before. It's a mystery. It starts instantly with a few carb-priming throttle pumps even after sitting for a week. It likes some choke when cold, but I love how there's a whole little ritual to getting it going. I've started pre-mixing with a combination of 2-stroke and Marvel Mystery oils direct into the gas tank at fill-up. Rotary guys swear by it for extended apex-seal life. I don't know if it works but it's fun.

8. What is the significance of this model, in the grand scheme of Japanese performance cars? Well, as the first-ever year for the model it's the purest, simplest and earliest form of RX-7, arguably one of the most important Japanese sports car nameplates of all-time. In a narrower way I also think it makes for an interesting contrast to the ever-more complex and more capable versions that followed it, though I suppose that's just expanding on my first answer. I also find it fascinating that for decades it stubbornly remained the only holdout to still use a rotary engine, when only a few years before its introduction the Wankel was widely being proclaimed to be the future of internal combustion.

9. Why do you like it so much? I like weird cars, and I like Japanese sports cars, and the RX-7 is just as much either of those things as it is the other. It's from the year of my birth, which is pretty cool. I like flip-up headlights, the way the engine has to be driven hard in order to stay healthy, I like the sound it makes and the smoothness with which it revs. I really enjoy the way it looks, especially at the rear. The way the tapered glass rear hatch makes the car's narrow hips appear much wider than they really are, the broad, flat-deck just aft of the lid and simple, split tail lamps below remind me of the exotic first generation Cosmo somehow, and really sum up what I enjoy about old Japanese cars' aesthetic in one neat little snapshot. Little quirks like the big, centrally-mounted tach that doubles as a pre-ignition voltmeter, forward-tilting hood, the way the bright blue air filter housing withMazda Rotary Engine markings dominates the engine bay view. It's more than the sum of its parts, too, there's just something about it that's impossible to convey. It just feels special.

10. What happened to the Lexus? Do you miss it? I sold it to my wife's crazy uncle. An ex Qualcomm satellite engineer who loves first generation LS400's and telling stories about how his drinking buddy Nelson Piquet would pick him up in a helicopter at his (the uncle's) cattle ranch in Brazil outside of Rio. Guy's been everywhere and done everything and isn't shy about telling anyone who will listen. His '91 had recently suffered an engine failure following a bad overheating incident (faulty thermostat that failed when he was stuck in bad northbound Tijuana/San Diego border crossing traffic) and I knew he would take good care of mine. I've been told we can take it out and valet park it at a nice restaurant next time we're feeling fancy.

Thanks, Alan!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Israel and Gaza

Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself. And Hamas is no angel. But what Israel has been doing to Gaza (and its civilians) in the last few weeks is not only nuts, but sadistic. And the international reaction? Worthless words asking Israel to please cut it out. Unbelievable.

Insane and fun Himalaya cliff road

Being deathly afraid of heights, I could never do this. The waterfall portion would give me a heart attack, at the very least.

Via Maximo of Crasstalk.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mad Max remake trailer

In general, I despise all remakes. But I can definitely get behind this.

Shooting 200,000 goats in Galapagos

Am listening to this podcast on the Galapagos. It's crazy.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Volvo V50 window sticker

Imagine my surprise when we got home and I got the window sticker from my Volvo in the mail. The previous owner found it in his house and wanted me to have it.

He had to special order the car because he wanted a stick. The only options he got were xenon lights ($700) and stability control ($695). It was shipped to Port Hueneme and trucked to a dealership in Santa Rosa. It was assembled in Ghent, Belgium. The engine is from Sweden, the transmission from Germany. 0.4% of the parts are from the U.S. or Canada.

Azerbaijan F1 race in 2016

Christian Horner did not appreciate being asked about the upcoming F1 race in Sochi and the 2016 GP in Azerbaijan. The teams have to toe the line and share one message, so it's not like he was going to say anything negative about the venues.

Azerbaijan certainly has the money (from oil) to host the event. And relatively speaking, it's definitely a "better" venue than Russia and Bahrain, and perhaps even China.

So, Tarlan, what can you say is the feeling of your countrymen about the race?

Race turns into demolition derby

Via Flavio Gomes.

The Truth About Cars

I am excited to announce that I will be a contributor to The Truth About Cars. Its managing editor and Tamerlane's Thoughts fan, Derek Kreindler, invited me to write. I look forward to writing for a much larger audience, including important people in the auto industry.

My first post will be a legal (and practical) analysis of GM's payout to victims of the dreaded ignition switch. I will do my best to make the posts interesting. I encourage you to hop over to TTAC as readers. I'm proud to be in the same shop as my car blogging inspiration, Murilee Martin; Jack Baruth, the guy who owned TWO Phaetons; and the hardest working man in the biz, Derek Kreindler.

I will continue to write for Hooniverse and my own blog. Thank you all for your years of encouragement and support.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Away for a week

Jose Canseco, circa a long time ago.

I won't be posting on here for about a week. I will continue to tweet. When I return, I will have an exciting announcement.

Deportations by plane

Obama deports 1,000 illegal immigrants a day-- more than any other U.S. president. Usually, you have to have committed a pretty serious crime to get deported. I've always wondered what the flights are like. This video answered my question.

Mercedes S-Class v. Lexus LS comparo

Muy interesante.

I used the price of the base Mercedes S-Class with the smallest V8. So,:
1990-91: 420SEL (W126)
1992: 400SE (W140)
1993: 400SEL (W140)
1994-99: S420 (W140 until 1999, W220 in 2000)
2000-06: S430 (W220 until 2005, then W221)
2007-14: S550 (W221 until 2013, then W222)

There's a strong correlation between the quality of the Mercedes and its real value. The W126 was solid. The first few years of the W140 were awesome, and then Mercedes started cutting costs. The W220 is arguably the worst S-Class, and it shows with its relatively low price.

Sources for Merc MSRPs: AutoTrader, CarGurus, and BenzWorld

Eat It

Weird Al is a genius. And such longevity!

Why would you export a RAV4 EV?

While visiting West Coast Shipping's warehouse, I saw this RAV4 EV. Less than 2,000 were sold, and all in California.

I wonder why anyone would buy this abroad? My theories:
1. Electrics and hybrids are very popular in Mongolia (someone here told me that, but I don't remember who). Maybe it's headed there.
2. It does share components with the Tesla. Maybe it's just a parts car. But what components does the RAV4 share?

Mercedes tow truck

No snark or sarcasm-- I feel bad for Hamilton. The pendulum swings once again in Nico's favor, but when one man wins due to the other's mechanical issues, the win is a bit hollow.

That truck, by the way, is sharp looking.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My "Shipping Cars to Kyrgyzstan" post

is up on Hooniverse. This was seriously one of the top automotive experiences of my life. It combined my love for cars, geography, and Central Asia!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lexus MSRP history

Sources: NADA, AutoTrader,

Toyota introduced it at $35,000 in order to attract new customers. Some would argue that they dumped it on the market. Then, prices spiked immediately thereafter.

And just for the record, the LS400 was introduced in the 1990 MY, the LS430 in MY 2001, and the LS460 in MY 2007.

Now, I'm going to find the price history of the Mercedes S-Class. I'm going to use whatever the base V8 model was for those years. My hypothesis is that the Mercs cost much more in 1990 and are much cheaper today, and the quality has taken a corresponding nosedive.

Something a bit lighter

What a miserable day for the world. Here's something fun-- Old timey Italian cops on motorcycles! H/t to Peter.

MH17 and SA6

If the pro-Russian rebels shot down the plane, they probably used this. It's not necessarily high tech, but it seems very effective. This video gives you a comprehensive and detailed look at the system, from mounting the missiles to the radar system.

Stockton bank robbery chase video

With this video, which you can only see by clicking onto YouTube, you see a lot of police cars and hear a lot of gunfire. Two robbers and a hostage were killed. The video isn't overtly violent, but it's definitely surreal.

Lexus MSRP over the years

I'm reading Lexus: The Relentless Pursuit. It's a really fascinating look into the successful car company. There are a lot of interviews with the men behind the LS400. My only gripe is that the author is a business reporter and knows nothing about cars. He described a Supra as a sedan (and the editors didn't catch the error).

I was amazed at how inexpensive the LS was when it first came out. I want to compare its MSRP over the years with a similar S-Class Mercedes. I was able to find some figures using NADA and AutoTrader. Can anyone find another source for the missing years? Also, is there a 1989 model?

Here's what I have so far:
1990 35,000 (LS400)
1991 38,000
1992 42,200
1993 46,600
1994 49,900
2000 54,005
2001 54,205 (LS430)
2002 54,405
2003 55,125
2004 55,375
2005 56,225
2006 56,525
2007 61,000 (LS460)
2008 62,900
2009 63,825
2010 65,380
2011 67,130
2012 67,630 
2013 71,990

2014 72,140

Weird Al, Unplugged

This is crazy. He's actually a handsome dude. Almost looks like Joel McHale.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

UAZ in Strange Days

Sanchez of Kazakhstan brought up the UAZ in the 1995 movie Strange Days. I thought I'd share two quick thoughts.

1. Before the movie was released, I got word that the studio was going to show it free to everyone for one night, so long as everyone stayed after and gave the filmmakers feedback about the movie. (This was at the old movie theater in Emeryville next to PPP.) They had not made the final version yet and were still tweaking it. I remember how blown away I was by Angela Bassett being the first strong female character in an action film.

2. I tell this to everyone, but I've seen a UAZ here in America. I was walking in DuPont Circle in Washington, DC when I saw one with diplomatic plates parked.

The DeLorean was inspired by a Hyundai?!

Who knew? H/t to Ripituc.

More photos here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Andre the Giant Cadillac

Duke engine

Engineers: Is this revolutionary?

H/t: Peter

Monday, July 14, 2014

Strange DeLorean

Does anyone know the story behind this?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Any Alpina experts out there?

Cooper and I saw this beast while waiting for my wife outside the grocery store. In fact, we heard it before we saw it. I had to wait for the owner with the cowboy hat to step away from the car before I did a creepy walkaround of it. It seems to have every conceivable option ever offered, from sunshades to that BMW badge on the bottom of the B-pillar. It has a Montana plate that reads "ALPINA".

Apparently, the earlier B12 E38s had the 5.7 liter engine and the later E38s had the 6 liter. But I guess the preliminary question is: Is this a real Alpina?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stanced VIP V50

Is this guy doing it right? Don't answer that.

1990 Alfa Romeo Spider ad

To quote Antti, "Hands down, this is the cheesiest promotional video music I've ever heard."

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Red China Mercedes Pullman for sale

Hat tip to Motoring Con Brio (I call him mtc here).

Here is the ad. Here is a bio of the original owner, Communist leader Chen Yi.

Cooper's first "birthday"

We adopted the little guy a year ago today.

Volvo meet in Davis

I'm considering tagging along with the local Volvo club to an upcoming event. I also spent way too much time last night looking at performance mods for the V50.

I just looked at the winners of April's meet in Davis. Under the S40/V50/C30 category, there was only one entrant. So if I signed up, by default, I would win second place.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Monday, July 07, 2014

Prius repellent

Hat tip to Peter S.

Definition: Slate: "Prius Repellent is a perfect introduction to one of the Obama era’s great conservative subcultures: the men and women who “roll coal.” For as little as $500, anyone with a diesel truck and a dream can install a smoke stack and the equipment that lets a driver “trick the engine” into needing more fuel. The result is a burst of black smoke that doubles as a political or cultural statement—a protest against the EPA, a ritual shaming of hybrid “rice burners,” and a stellar source of truck memes."

My wagon post on Hooniverse...

...has generated some interesting comments.

1972 Italdesign Maserati Boomerang Concept

More pics here.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Uniform violence

This weekend, Los Angeles:

This weekend, Jerusalem:

Star Wars, today

Martina Navratilova, car enthusiast

On her one and only Ferrari, the 400i:
"I had the worst Ferrari of all time, the 400i. It was a four-seater piece of crap because the turning radius was like a hundred yards," Navratilova says, laughing. "I couldn't get it in and out of my garage because I had to keep going back and forth, back and forth, just so I could fit it in. Pain in the ass. I bought it in Texas and I sold it Texas. That was a bad Ferrari."

More here.

Honda Odyssey and Pilot

Just learned while watching Pawn Stars that Honda had ATVs called the Odyssey and Pilot. Who knew?

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Bombardier Q400

On my recent Alaska trip, I flew between Fairbanks and Anchorage (260 miles) in one of these. These turboprops are much cheaper to operate than the jet engined equivalent. And with such short trips, the top speed is really irrelevant.

Toyota Will Cypha

I had never heard of this car until I saw it on Ripituc's Instagram stream today. He spotted it in Santiago, Chile, of all places. Apparently, it was a marketing exercise aimed at young drivers. Moreover, Cy-Pha is short for Cyber and Phaeton(!).

Friday, July 04, 2014

Gender gap in Japan

Recently, a female legislator was heckled with sexist remarks by a fellow legislator.

The 2013 Global Gender Gap index ranks Japan 105th globally (out of 136 countries). The ranking starts on page 16. Here are some selected rankings of interest:
1. Iceland
2. Finland
3. Norway
4. Sweden
5. Philippines(!)
14. Germany
15. Cuba
16. Lesotho
17. South Africa
18. UK
20. Canada
22. Burundi
23. USA
24. Australia
32. Kazakhstan
34. Argentina
45. France
60. Laos
68. Mexico
69. China
91. Chile(!)
127. Saudi Arabia
130. Iran
136. Yemen

Cooper likes it!

Comfortable and quiet. He pretty much sleeps the entire time.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Sounds of Goodwood

Via Flavio Gomes.

Anyone been?