Category Archive 'Automobiles'
29 Nov 2018

So Much For the Great GM Bailout

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Kevin D. Williamson points out that saving GM cost a lot and did not actually work.

General Motors just shared some very bad news: It is closing five factories in the United States and Canada, eliminating 15 percent of its work force (and 25 percent of its executives), and getting out of the passenger-car business almost entirely to focus on SUVs and trucks. President Donald Trump threw a fit, but GM shrugged him off. The facts are the facts.

What did U.S. taxpayers get for their $11.2 billion bailout of GM? About ten years of business-as-usual, and one very expensive lesson.

Bailouts don’t work.

Never mind the moral hazard, the rent-seeking, the cronyism and the favoritism, and all of the inevitable corruption that inevitably accompanies multibillion-dollar sweetheart deals between Big Business and Big Government. Set aside the ethical questions entirely and focus on the mechanics: Businesses such as GM get into trouble not because of one-time events in the wider economic environment, but because they are so weak as businesses that they cannot weather one-time events in the wider economic environment. GM’s sedan business is weak because GM’s sedans are weak: Virtually all of the best-selling sedans in the United States are made by Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. The lower and middle sections of the market are dominated by Asia, and the high end of the market by Europe: Mercedes, Audi, BMW. GM can’t compete with the Honda Civic at its price point or with the Audi A7 at its price point. Consumers like what they like, and they aren’t buying what GM is selling.

RTWT

03 May 2018

No Dodge Viper For You!

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Some nameless federal bureaucrat in the Department of Transportation decided that if one air bag was a good idea, adding four to six (depending on available surfaces) was even better, and, hey! why not mandate two more curtain airbags, regardless as to the possibility of fitting them in certain existing models, like the Dodge Viper.

Eric Peters mourns the Viper.

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard # 226 — yes, there are at least 225 othersaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaferty standards to be complied with.

FMVSS #226 decrees side curtain air bags for every new car. This in addition to the plethora of air bags already stuffed into almost every conceivable surface/corner of every new car — which has at least four of them and usually six. Now, two more — big ones — mounted in the headliner on either side of the roof, to drop down like a curtain in the event of a wreck — ostensibly to prevent the ejection of the passengers through the (broken) side glass and to protect them from impact intrusion through where the door glass was, prior to impact.

That, in brief is the mandate of FMVSS #226.

The problem — for the Viper — is that there’s no room to spare for the installation of curtain air bags. Putting them in the already low-slung roof would make the car undriveable except by dwarves, due to the loss of headroom for the sake of air bag room.

And that is why the Viper is no longer with us — 2017 was its final year — political incorrectness notwithstanding.

It would have been necessary to redesign the car to accommodate the curtain air bags — which gets into money and Fiat (which owns Dodge as well as Chrysler and Jeep and Ram trucks) apparently couldn’t justify the expense it would have taken to make it so — just for the sake of complying with FMVSS #226.

Keep in mind, buyers didn’t demand curtain air bags. If they had demanded them, it would have made sense for Dodge to make them available as buyers would have been willing to pay for them.

But the obvious fact is that buyers do not want to pay for them — else it wouldn’t have been necessary to mandate them. This obviousness is lost on the mandate-issuers, who insist that buyers pine for all these saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety “features” which for some inexplicable reason most buyers would never buy, if they had the choice not to.

It’s not just the money, either.

Stuffing curtain air bags into the Viper’s roof probably would have mucked up the car’s lines — and that’s no small thing when dealing with supercars, which sell on their looks as much as how fast they go. People forget that it was also federal saaaaaaaaaafety standards which helped ruin the looks of the American muscle car back in the early ’70s — when Uncle decreed the first bumper-impact standards.

The gorgeous lines of cars like the 1970 Camaro Rally Sport — with its delicate and almost entirely for looks-only bumperettes off to the left and right of an open grill — were marred by 1974 by ugly (and heavy) “5 MPH” bumpers plastered across the face it and every new car.

Sales plummeted. So badly that GM almost canceled the Camaro (and its sister, the Pontiac Firebird).

People — the mandate-issuers — will say the bumper-festooned cars were saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafer and of course, that’s absolutely true.

So what?

The people buying the cars didn’t demand the ugly/heavy “federal” bumpers and so there was no natural reason to install them. Mandates countermand natural choice. Your freedom to pick what you prefer is suborned and supplanted by the preferences of people you’ve never heard of and who are certainly not your guardians at litum.

I never actually coveted the Dodge Viper. But when Big Brother decides I can’t have one, Dodge Vipers start looking awfully good to me.

Just think, there was a time, long ago, when both Britain and America were free countries and a fellow could drop by, for instance, Morris Garages (MG) in Oxford, England, and order himself a new car, choosing himself its engine, body style, color, and features. In those days, a car would start at way under $1000.

Today, a normal car costs $40-50,000 and has some costly new federally-mandated something on it or in it, added by those-who-know-what’s-best-for-us.

Personally, when I found my last BMW had no spare, but instead lousy, expensive, noisy, bad traction, run-flat tires, I swore I’d bought my last new car.

My new philosophy is old, pre-at least-some-mandates, cheap, and fix-the-thing-up.

25 Mar 2018

The Driverless Car Killed Its First Human This Week

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“When you are asleep at the wheel you never see the junkie with the bicycle sliding into the road.”Vanderleun.

The automobile is both a prime symbol of, and the practical tool that makes possible, the freedom of the individual American. Jump in your car and just drive and you can put behind you all the bonds and troubles and obligations of ordinary human life. Get in your car, and you can be a thousand miles away, experiencing a completely different region and landscape, enjoying a completely different climate. The old mill closes down, and you’re thrown out of work? Hop in the car and drive off to somewhere that the jobs are.

But, of course, this experience of freedom and empowerment is only for rural and suburban Americans and the rich. People living in cities usually cannot keep cars. Parking is expensive and just plain unavailable in most parts of town. A car in the city is only an expensive nuisance and a hostage to fate. Take your eye off it, and somebody will rob the battery, the air bags, and the radio, possibly also your tires. Park in the wrong place, and the city will tow you, introducing you to a genuine, real-life Circle of Hell experience.

No wonder city-types so bitterly resent the automobile and the freedom others have that they don’t, and that undoubtedly has a lot to do with the ideology of junk science targeting the internal combustion engine so maliciously.

If you can’t simply ban the automobile altogether, forcing everyone (everyone not rich or part of the Nomenklatura, that is) to queue up, identity papers ready and at hand, to ride jammed together like sardines, breathing each other’s breath, smelling each other’s body odors, on public transportation, the grand egalitarian experience, then, the next best thing has got to be the self-driving car.

If Jones’s papers are not in order, if his fees and taxes aren’t paid, if his internal passport doesn’t give him permission to visit Peoria, well! Alexa will simply decline to carry him. If Jones is wanted for questioning or a new course in the proper language of Diversity, Alexa will fetch him directly to the police station with no nonsense about choice of destination.

It is only too easy to understand why the Left absolutely loves the idea of the driverless car. Personally, I think, for many of us, it will come down to actual armed resistance before we give up control of the wheel ourselves.

———————

Spengler despises the crude scientism of it all, and he thinks we ought to be getting the torches and pitchforks ready.

That’s why Hollywood grinds out movie after movie about computers coming to life, programmers falling in love with their avatars, and so forth, starting with Steven Spielberg’s ghastly “AI” (2001). The liberal techno-utopians of Silicon Valley believe they are beneficent Dr. Frankensteins, creating the New Man.

And now we have video of the man behind the curtain.

The video shows a woman walking her bicycle across the highway: the Uber car was going at a good clip and coming over a rise. Not quite three seconds pass between the first sight of the pedestrian and impact, enough time for an alert human driver to spin the wheel. The human driver in the car was supposed to correct for machine errors, but the video shows one Rafaela Vasquez a/k/a Rafael Vasquez staring downwards until the moment of the crash. Reports Arizona’s 12News:

    According to records from the Arizona Department of Corrections, the safety driver sitting in the front seat of a self-driving Uber in Tempe at the time of a fatal pedestrian crash is a convicted felon.

    The driver, 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez, served several years in prison under the name Rafael Vasquez. She was charged with unsworn falsification and attempt to commit armed robbery. She was released from prison in 2005.

The Wizard turns out to be an obese and indifferent minimum-wage employee with a prison record pretending to work while Uber pretends to pay him or her, as the case may be. …

It will take more than the avoidable death of Elaine Herzberg to persuade the public to light their torches and march on the castle of the Frankenstein wannabes. Nonetheless the disaster offers a teachable moment. The liberal obsession with arbitrary self-definition rests on the pseudo-scientific premise that we are the determinate, machine-like outcome of physical processes. Destroy this premise and the whole artifice of liberal thinking will crumble.

RTWT

HT: Vanderleun.

19 Mar 2018

1938 Phantom Corsair

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1938 Phantom Corsair — The Phantom Corsair is a prototype automobile built in 1938. It is a six-passenger 2-door sedan that was designed by Rust Heinz of the H. J. Heinz family and Maurice Schwartz of the Bohman & Schwartz coachbuilding company in Pasadena, California.

Rust Heinz planned to put the Phantom Corsair, which cost approximately $24,000 to produce in 1938 (equivalent to about $370,000 in 2010), into limited production at an estimated selling price of $12,500. However, Heinz’s death in a car accident in July 1939 ended those plans, leaving the prototype Corsair as the only one ever built.

The Phantom Corsair now resides in the National Automobile Museum (also known as The Harrah Collection) in Reno, Nevada.

The automobile was featured as the “Flying Wombat” in the David O. Selznick film The Young in Heart (1938), starring Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Paulette Goddard, and Billie Burke.

The Corsair was also featured in a segment of the Popular Science film series in 1938.

The car is one of the rare vehicles that is unlockable during free roam in the 2002 video game Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven.

The Corsair is one of the 15 rare drivable vehicles featured in the 2011 video game L.A. Noire.

11 Mar 2018

F*** Safety

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Henry Racette is not one of those swaddled, buckled-up-for-safety types, begging for the Government to take away his guns and drive his car for him.

There’s talk – silly, absurd talk – of banning the private ownership of cars. Molon labe, baby! You can have my Yukon, my three-ton id, when you pry it from my cold dead hands. And you can forget the self-driving nonsense, too: up here where I live, you can’t see the lines on the road four months out of the year on account of the blowing snow. Good luck dealing with that, Google.

Ayn Rand, in one of her two major works of fiction (I’m going to go with Atlas Shrugged, but someone correct me if I’m wrong – it’s been almost 40 years since I read it) has her heroine wax rhapsodic (as if there’s any other way to wax) about the act of smoking. Dagney (or possibly Dominique) marvels at the flame held in obeisance inches from her, the spark of destruction so casually lashed into service for the pleasure of mankind. Never having been a smoker, and coming of age as I did during the first great anti-smoking crusades of the ’70s, I admit that the imagery was less compelling for me than it might have been for someone of my parents’ generation. But Dagney’s ruminations have remained with me, an oddly vivid example of our peculiar attraction to dangerous things – and to mastering them.

I like guns. I didn’t always: when I was a child, I was indifferent to them. Then I became a man, a lover of liberty, and an enthusiastic critic of the insipid and emasculating idea that safety comes first. Lots of things are ultimately more important than safety. Being able to credibly say “thus far, and no farther” is one of them; merely reaffirming that we have the right, the moral right and the legal right, to say that is another.

Safety is important, don’t get me wrong. But of all the parameters that define the human experience, safety isn’t the one we should seek to maximize. John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the most comprehensively evil song ever written, is an ode to safety above all else, the pathetic celebration of the apathy-induced coma. I’m glad Lennon never became a US citizen.

Living as an adult male – as opposed to an androgynous, pajama-clad, cocoa-sipping man-child – means spending years, decades even, standing precariously close to the edge of doing something stupid. (The life of a young man is a race between the rising arc of sensibility and the statistical certainty that, if we’re only given enough time, we’ll have our “hold my beer” moment and, if we’re lucky, the ER visit that goes with it.) That sometimes leads to tragedy, but most often to maturity, and there’s no path from baby to man that doesn’t, at least occasionally, tread close to a dangerous edge.

The best things in life are dangerous: freedom, love, faith, women, sex. Children – those raw nerves we thrust out into the world. Cars. Guns. Saying what you think.

RTWT

04 Feb 2018

Uma Is an Awful Driver

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Maureen Dowd serves up Uma Thurman’s #MeToo testimonial.

We learn from all this that Uma is a true New Yorker, unable to drive, and scared out of her wits at the prospect of managing Maxwell Smart’s joke sports car, the Kharmann Ghia! Watch Uma go all over the road before she crashes it.

Uma plays a superwoman assassin in “Kill Bill,” but, alas! we learn here that she’s a hypochondriac (“my permanently damaged neck and my screwed-up knees.”) and a whiner. (“As she sits by the fire on a second night when we talk until 3 a.m., tears begin to fall down her cheeks. She brushes them away.”)

Maureen Dowd clearly sat up and listened to Uma’s BS until 4 A.M. You know what that means don’t you?

05 Jan 2018

“Sascha”

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Austro Daimler ADS R “Sascha” (1922)

Year of production: 1922
Engine: four-cylinder
Displacement: 1,089 cc
Power output: 45 HP (33 kW)
Top speed: 144 km/h (89 mph)

Porsche’s great tradition in the Targa Florio road race started with the “Sascha” for Austro-Daimler. The high-performance compact car, intended as the forerunner of a four-seater production model, scooped first and second places in its engine size category at the very first attempt in 1922. The manoeuvrability and efficient use of fuel by this light vehicle, which weighed only 598 kilograms, were the key to its success. The car named after the man who provided the project’s financial backing – the factory owner Alexander “Sascha”, Count Kolowrat – went on to record 43 competition wins. Ferdinand Porsche, too, was passionate about motor racing because it gave him the opportunity to demonstrate the fitness of his designs in extreme conditions. He pursued and established one particular principle with the “Sascha”: an excellent power-to-weight ratio as a key attribute of all Porsche sports cars. This means the ratio between the vehicle’s weight and its engine output in kilowatts.

01 Jan 2018

Big Brother Is Coming For Your Car

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In National Review, Charles C.W. Cooke notes that driverless cars are right around the corner, and any day now the busybodies, the improvers, reformers, and holier-than-thous are going to begun to demand that we all turn in our driver’s licenses and car keys and use only safer, robotic self-driving cars controlled by a grand central intelligence, designed and supervised by scientific experts. If they succeed in getting their way, Americans are going to be a lot less free.

[E]veryone will suffer from the catastrophic loss of privacy. Any network of self-driving cars would, by definition, necessitate total and unceasing tracking of their occupants. I may know how to get to the local liquor store without a map, but my car most certainly does not. To make it there in a driverless model, I’d first have to tell it where I was going, and then it would have to ask the Internet, and the satellites, and, probably, my credit card. To the existing framework we would thus be adding a planet-wrapping exoskeleton with a perfect digital memory. The car, far from serving as a liberator, would become a telescreen on wheels — an FBI-approved bug, to be slipped beneath the chassis in plain sight of the surveilled. At a stroke, my autonomy would be gone. Without permission from the Web, I would be lost in space. A mere server glitch could render me immobile. The government, should it so choose, could stop me dead in my tracks. Yet again, I would be handing over my self-reliance to the government and to the corporations, and asking, plaintively, “Please sir, may I move?”

I refuse. …

he coming debate over driving is not really about driving at all, but about movement, autonomy, and reliance upon one’s self. Which is to say that the root question is whether free people are to be permitted to move themselves around without needing somebody else to agree to the transaction, or whether the government may interpose itself. This, naturally, is a perennial inquiry, not a contingent one. It would have been as pertinent in 1790 if there had been an anti-horse movement, and it will be necessary when the car has been replaced with the jetpack, or the rotocopter, or whatever is coming our way. May I move myself, or may I not?

RTWT

12 Jun 2017

“Most Frightening” Crash Jeremy Clarkson Has Ever Seen

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Yahoo News:

Former Top Gear host Richard Hammond has escaped serious injury after a crash in Switzerland.

Mr Hammond was attending a car race when his vehicle, a Rimac electric supercar believed to be worth £2 million, left the road and mounted a grassy verge.

“It was the biggest crash I’ve ever seen and the most frightening ,” Jeremy Clarkson tweeted on Saturday afternoon. “But incredibly, and thankfully, Richard seems to be mostly OK.”

The Grand Tour tweeted: “Richard Hammond was involved in a serious crash after completing the Hemburg Hill Climb in Switzerland in a Rimac Concept One, an electric super car built in Croatia, during filming for The Grand Tour Season 2 on Amazon Prime, but very fortunately suffered no serious injury.

30 May 2017

No More New Cars!

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My solution: a 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser. I’ve mounted a 1930s Alvis Hare mascot on the hood.

Eric Peters warns that buying your next car new could be a terrible mistake.

t’s a great time to buy a used car as far as the deal you’ll get.

It’s a smart move, because of the hassle you’ll avoid.

Maybe not right away but down the road — probably just after the warranty coverage expires.

What’s happened is we’ve crossed a kind of engineering Rubicon. It has happened over the past two or three years — and there is probably no turning back, not unless regulatory reasonableness returns — and that doesn’t look likely. If anything, it is likely to become less and less reasonable.

The car companies have had to resort to design and engineering measures just as desperate and extreme as the financial measures to which they are resorting to fluff up sales. But in the case of the design and engineering measures, it is to placate federal regulatory ayatollahs, who continue to demand, among other things, that new vehicles achieve ever-higher fuel economy — and lower “greenhouse emissions” — irrespective of the cost involved.

It is why, next year, BMW will append a four-cylinder/hybrid drivetrain to all 5 Series sedans — and eliminate the six-cylinder/non-hybrid versions.

It is why every new-design car has a direct injected (DXI or GDI) engine rather than a port fuel injected engine. Automatic Stop/Start systems are pretty much standard equipment, which you can’t cross off the options list.

The latest automatic transmissions have eight — or even ten — speeds. Turbochargers, sometimes two of them, are the new In Thing.

Bodies are being made from aluminum rather than steel.

And, of course, there is “autonomous” driving technology — cars that semi-steer and park themselves, accelerate and brake on their own.

None of these things materially improves the performance — or even the economy — of the vehicle in a way that’s meaningful to the owner.

A car with DI and an eight-speed transmission might give you a 3-4 MPG uptick on paper vs. the same basic vehicle without these technologies.

That’s not nothing, of course.

But it doesn’t cost nothing, either.

Not much is said about the fact that the car costs more to buy because it has these technologies. You “save on gas” — by spending more on the car. The same logic used to peddle hybrids.

It’s interesting that this other side of the equation is almost never discussed and that the ayatollahs who smite us with their regulatory fatwas — so seemingly concerned about how much we’re spending on gas — never seem much concerned about how much we’re spending to cover the cost of their fatwas.

Up front — and down the road.

These turbocharged, direct-injected, stop-starting cars — with their eight and nine and ten speed transmissions and aluminum bodies — deliver the goods (MPGs) when new. Enough so that the car companies achieve “compliance” with whatever the latest federal fatwas are, at any rate.

But what happens as they get old?

I’ve written before about what’s already happening. About relatively young cars — less than ten years old, sometimes — becoming economically unfixable (that is, not worth fixing) when, for instance, the uber-elaborate transmission fails.

You have an otherwise sound car: an engine that will probably run reliably for another 100,000 miles, an un-rusty body and paint that still looks great. The overall car’s not a junker — but the transmission is junk. So you have it towed to the shop, expecting to get the tranny (not Caitlyn) rebuilt. And the guy tells you they don’t do that anymore. Rebuild — or repair.

They replace.

You must buy a new (or “remanufactured”) transmission, because they’ve become too complicated and time-consuming to deal with on a work bench. You are faced with spending $5,000 on a replacement transmission for a car that’s worth $8,000.

Gotcha.

Older cars made with economically sane five and six-speed transmissions remain economically repairable. But they do not make them new anymore. Not many, anyhow.

And not for much longer.

It is not just that, either.

Last week, I reviewed the last of the Mohicans — as far as full-size trucks. The 2017 Toyota Tundra. It is the only current-year, full-size truck you can still buy that does not have a direct-injected engine. This means it will never have a carbon-fouling problem — as Ford and others who have added DI to their engines, to squeeze out an MPG or three more, to please Uncle, have regularly been having.

Actually, it’s you — if you own one of these DI’d rigs — who will have the problem.

And be paying to un-crud your direct-injected engine, which may involve partial disassembly of the engine. This is not like changing the oil. Nor will it cost you $19.99, either.

Ford’s solution to the DI blues? It will be adding a separate port fuel injection circuit to its direct-injected engines next year. So, the vehicles will have two fuel injection systems. You’ve just double your odds of having a fuel system problem at some point.

The point here is it’s not just one thing; it is a synergistic multiplicity of things that are bringing into actuality the Planned Obsolescence people used to grumble about — but which was mostly not the case. Until just the past several years, most cars were usually economically repairable well into their senior years. It made sense to put, say, $2,000 for a rebuilt (four or five-speed) automatic into a car worth $8,000.

But with all the complex, fragile, non-serviceable, and hugely expensive-to-replace-when-it-fails stuff they are grafting onto cars to make them Uncle friendly, they become not worth fixing long before the cars themselves have reached their liver-spotted years.

The truth is that probably every car made since about 2015 is a Latter Day Throw-Away. It will run beautifully for about ten years. Just a bit longer than those $500/month payments we were making.

RTWT

I reached the same conclusion after buying my last BMW. It came with no dipstick. (You get to rely on the computer, which is useless and wrong anytime your battery is low, the temperature is too cold, the wiring gets wet, &c., &c.) It also came with no spare tire. Instead, we got run-flat tires which set off flat-tire warnings all the time on dirt roads, which had terrible traction on wet roads, and which were good for 10K miles. I’m used to getting 50K miles on normal Michelins.

There is, each year, more and more expensive crap built into automobiles, and fewer and fewer choices left to the unlucky car owner. I never wanted seat belts to begin with, let alone air bags.

Personally, I intend to go even farther back into automotive history than the author advises. My next car is going to have no computer at all, but will have a distributor and carburetors, and be much easier to work on.

19 Jan 2017

British Sports Cars

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Old Joke:

Why do the British drink warm beer?

Because Lucas made the refrigerators.

12 Sep 2016

He Rarely Drives His 933

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porsche_911_993

Jack Baruth, in Road and Track, describes the mixed joys and sorrows of owning a dramatically appreciating, while simultaneously aging and decaying, Porsche.

Thanks to the lovable bigotry of the PCA crowd and the lamentable cupidity of Porsche itself, my raggedy used Porsche is no longer quite so pathetic. It’s now worth maybe twice what I paid for it. Might be worth more than the original sticker. I should have bought a Turbo instead of a Carrera. I coulda had one for fifty grand in 2002. It would fetch three times that much now. I should have bought a second 993 instead of a 2004 Boxster S. Would have cost me half as much and it would be worth four times as much now.

Like Townes said, it don’t pay to think too much on things you leave behind. But the skyrocketing value of my 993 has changed the way I treat the car. My old plan was to drive it into the ground and buy another one. Now my plan is to preserve the vehicle for my son. He can sell it in eleven years and go to Yale, or go BASE-jumping in Bali. Maybe both. …

I could sell it now. Put the money into some sort of index fund for my kid. Buy him fifty Krugerrands in a sealed tube, a talisman against the famine times. Surely it will never be worth more than it is now. Yet I don’t think I could sell it at any price. I feel like Ahab, striking my chest and claiming that my old Porsche will fetch a great premium here! And my ribcage rings most vast, but hollow. It’s just a car. Just a thing.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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