A Blog About Cars ... And Much, Much More
Thursday December 31, 2015
• Personal: In June, tests indicated that my cancer had returned. I underwent a daily regimen of radiation and chemotherapy for five weeks, with serious side effects. Recent tests show that the cancer is in remission.
I have been the recipient of prayers from many friends as well as numerous readers of this blog and am delighted that these prayers have been answered. I am eternally grateful to my wife of 49+ years who has been my loving caregiver throughout my medical ordeal.
By the way, most of the side effects have gone away or dimished significantly and I'm feeling pretty much like my old self again.
In 2015, I posted reviews of 51 books. My favorites were 'The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution', 'The Wright Brothers', 'Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future', 'How We Got To Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World' and 'Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington'.
• Car Stuff: The big news is that I had a substantial amount of work done on my '39 Plymouth coupe. All of the little mechanical and electrical annoyances which have built up over the last several years are now fixed. I also had the gasket at the top of the tank - where the sending unit is located - replaced. The result is no more leaks and gas odor after each fill up and, apparently, a more-accurate gas gauge as well. I also had some minor body work done and then had the car painted. The paint is as smooth as glass as are the body panels. The paint is more metallic and is covered with multiple coats of clear coat. The results are spectacular.
I posted 11 new AutoSketches this year. There are now a total of over 70 car renderings on my website.
I also wrote articles covering the highlights of the Scottsdale auctions as well as the Monterey auctions. Prices keep rising in the old car market and 2015 was no exception. Recently, a 1956 Ferrari 290 MM driven by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, was sold at auction for an astounding $28.05 million. Will old vehicle prices continue to rise or is this another bubble? Who knows?
It seems as though everyone is trying to develop a self-driving car, even Apple. Google is hooking up with Ford to create autonomous vehicle technology. I keep hoping that the old inventiveness of J.C. Whitney will reassert itself and that the auto accessories firm would offer an Amazing Self-Driving Conversion Kit for $49.95. "E-Z to install - takes only minutes! No special tools required! Fits all cars except Hudson and Kaiser."
The biggest auto industry story was the Volkswagen emissions scandal - tampering of emission control software to cheat on emissions testing of their diesel engines. VW got caught red handed. Peter De Lorenzo wrote: "This one boneheaded scenario managed to do two things no one thought possible: 1. Destroy the vaunted reputation for German engineering excellence literally overnight. I mean, let's be clear here: they admitted that they couldn't figure out how to meet the standards. As in, WTF? And 2. Destroyed the VW brand image in this country and around the world in one fell swoop."
The scandal cost Volkswagen's CEO Martin Winterkorn his job, as well as those of Audi R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberg and others. Settlement costs are expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars.
On FCA (Fiat-Chrysler), De Lorenzo wrote, "How long will FCA milk the Jeep and pickup truck bandwagon before the realization sets in that they're a Jeep and truck company (with a few hot rods and cool cop cars thrown in for good measure) and not much else? Never."
• The Economy: The U.S. economy continues to be sub-par in the area of job growth. Wages have been mostly stagnant for years, exacerbated by a combination of automation and off-shoring of jobs. The economy is currently growing at an anemic rate of 2.2% per year, compared with the long term average of 3+%.
Entitlement programs (food stamps, disability programs, Medicaid, etc.) will soon consume an impossible share of our national income unless drastic changes are implemented. Yet politicians continue to insist that these programs are "off the table." No one seems to want to do anything about our biggest national problem.
The Dow was down 2.2% for the year and the S&P was down fractionally (-0.7%), while the NASDAQ was up 6.2%. The largest S&P tracking index mutual fund (Vanguard Index 500 Fund) was up 1.36% (with dividends reinvested) - nothing exciting but better returns than you'd receive from a money market fund or savings account.
Hedge funds, as usual, didn't justify their high fees: the average global hedge fund was down by almost 4% this year and the average equity hedge fund was down by almost 3%. Most health care mutual funds and ETFs did very well; both Vanguard Health Care and T. Rowe Price Health Sciences Fund returned almost 13% in 2015.
• Passings: 2015 deaths included automotive legend George Barris - 'King of the Kustomizers', baseball legend Yogi Berra, actress/comedienne Judy Carne, who popularized the "Sock It to Me" phrase on 'Laugh In', comedian Jack Carter, Time magazine film critic and fellow St. Joe's Prep classmate Richard Corliss, St. Joe's Prep classmate Father Rich Curry, SJ, Pet Rock creator Gary Ross Dahl, composer and arranger Milton DeLugg, St. Joe's Prep classmate Ed 'Tank' Devlin, actress Donna Douglas who played curvy Elly May Clampett on 'The Beverly Hillbillies', old car enthusiast Margaret Dunning, actor Richard Dysart ('LA Law'), actress and early '60s sex symbol, Anita Ekberg.
Other deaths included author, recording artist, animation voice actor, comedian, radio personality, advertising creative director and all-around legend Stan Freberg, singer Frankie Ford ('Sea Cruise'), 'It's My Party' songstress Leslie Gore, well-known character actor and car enthusiast Edward Herrmann, blues legend B.B. King, singer Ben E. King, actor Robert Loggia, racer and automotive journalist Denise McCluggage, singer/poet Rod McKuen, Patrick Macnee, who played dapper secret agent John Steed in the TV series 'The Avengers', actress/comedienne Anne Meara, actor Martin Milner (Route 66, Adam-12), television actor Al Molinaro ('Happy Days'), car collector Lord Montagu, television personality Bess Myerson, automotive artist Randy Mytar, actor Leonard Nimoy (aka Mr. Spock), Gary Owens, droll announcer on 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In', friend and former boss Joe Reuter, Gulf War hero General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, R&B singer Percy Sledge (best known for the 1966 boomer anthem, 'When a Man Loves a Woman'), actor and former U.S. senator Fred Thompson, Tillman the skateboarding English bulldog, actor Dick Van Patten, Cory Wells, founding member of the band Three Dog Night.
Also, Bruce Jenner died ... and came back as a woman.
• Business Demises: In-flight shopping catalog SkyMall filed for bankruptcy. British television show 'Top Gear' is toast - at least with its original hosts. UK model car retailer Modelauto has closed. One of the Los Angeles area's oldest and largest model railroad hobby shops, Allied Model Trains, has gone out of business. Weaver Models, makers of O-scale trains and Scalecoat model railroad paint, has closed its doors.
The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Inc. went bankrupt - again - and the 600,000 square-foot Nabisco cookie manufacturing plant in Far Northeast Philadelphia has closed for good.
The Red Lion Inn at the Quay, a landmark on the Vancouver, WA side of the Columbia River, is closing and will be demolished.
'Details 'magazine has folded, Haggen Stores, a supermarket chain with locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington went Chapter 11 and struggling surfwear maker Quiksilver declared bankruptcy.
KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week. Its scumbag CEO, Martin Shkreli, made news when he wildly jacked up prices for hard-to-come-by drugs and was later arrested by the FBI for securities fraud.
• Everything Else: In May, there was a bad train wreck at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia. Eight people were killed and dozens injured. My dad worked out of Frankford Junction as a railroad freight conductor (Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central and Conrail) for 42 years, retiring in 1979.
Obama continues to be the Worst President Ever. The Middle East continues to be a mess with ISIS terrorizing the region and everyone else. Sharply-dropping oil prices added a new element; if prices continue to drop, many nations dependent on oil revenue will be in a severe financial pinch. It is hard to imagine Vladimir Putin taking over any more countries when he can't make payroll for his army.
• The Good News: Many people, including myself, like to gripe and whine about this-and-that. But the fact is, that - for all its shortcomings - 2015 has been a very good year to be alive, compared with, say, 1349, when the Black Death killed between 75 million and 200 million people.
Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. Worldwide, people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. In that regard, we are living in a Golden Age, thanks to advances in technology. America's poor people now live better than royalty did in 1915.
On a personal note, without the technological miracles of modern medicine, I would not be alive. I feel truly blessed to be still around and able to write this year-end posting.
The infant mortality rate in the U.S. is continuing to drop, declining another 2.3% last year. Meanwhile, the UN reported this year that global child mortality from all causes has more than halved since 1990. That means 6.7 million fewer kids under the age of five are dying each year compared to 1990.
Despite this year's epidemic of mass-shooting events, the United States is still far safer than it was in the past. The latest FBI statistics, reported in September, suggested that the trend toward lower rates of violent crime in the U.S. that began in the early 1990s has continued. There were nearly 3,000 fewer violent crimes that year than the year before and more than 600,000 fewer than in 1995 - a 35% decline.
Happy New Year!
Tuesday December 29, 2015
Something Shiny For Christmas: I gave my daughter a chrome-plated, 1:43 scale model of a 1933 Auburn Boat Tail speedster ... (more, including photo >>>)
Who Knew? The late curmudgeon and '60 Minutes' commentator Andy Rooney owned and drove a British Racing Green 1966 Sunbeam Tiger, which he purchased new and kept until his death in 2011. His daughter drives it now. The Ford V8-powered car was used to haul Andy's ashes to the cemetery; the green Sunbeam was his final ride.
Christmas Mass: My primary care doctor warned me to stay away from people because my immune system is still compromised from the chemo and radiation treatments I had earlier in the year. He said that I should avoid crowds in theaters, restaurants and churches. I have gotten a flu shot but he wants me to be a social hermit until the flu season ends around Easter. Now you know why there have been no restaurant reviews lately and why I haven't written anything about the new Star Wars movie - I haven't seen it.
But I decided to go to church on Christmas. I figured Jesus would protect me on His birthday with one of those Invisible Protective Shields - like the ones I used to see in those 1950s Colgate toothpaste commercials. I took in the early 7:30 am Mass at St. James in downtown Vancouver. It wasn't very crowded and the service was wonderful and mercifully brief. It got me in the proper spirit of Christmas.
Christmas Trains: My daughter shot a short video of my Lionel Hiawatha passenger set running on a floor loop which goes around our Christmas tree in the living room.
I Hope You Got What You Wanted For Christmas: I did. I received many gifts. The gift of feeling good for a change. The chance to go to church. Some nice model cars - I'll post pictures and descriptions of them in the coming weeks. The opportunity to be with family. Quite a few really nice bottles of wine. And more stuff - books and candy. I even got a Pope Francis bobblehead from my brother:
I had a very Merry Christmas. I hope you did, too.
Joe & Kathy's Christmas Adventure: It all began when my wife and I purchased a couple of Favorite Child Awards from Archie McPhee for our two grown children:
We modified the boxes, using elementary school photos of our children, attached an envelope containing a substantial check on the back of each, wrapped them in Christmas paper and made the presentation on Christmas Day.
See their reaction here.
Merry Moon: Since our kids were here for Christmas, I cooked fillets mignon on the outdoor grill under the light of a Merry Moon - a full moon at Christmas.
It made a brief appearance as the clouds parted just long enough for my daughter-in-law to snap a photo.
Retail Disaster: Stumptown Blogger has predicted that Macy's will close its downtown Portland store in 2016.
"The store is a ghost town. Macy's numbers have been a disaster as cyber sales are eating their lunch and dinner. They announced non-profitable stores will be closing. What could fill that hole in downtown Portland? We could see the city offer a deal for them to stay. It would be a huge blow to the image of center city."
Portland, Oregon's "center city" already has a rotten reputation. I avoid downtown Portland because of ever-shrinking parking opportunities (thank you, MAX Mass-transit Overlords; thank you, People's Republik of Portland Politburo), an excess of disgusting bums and street creeps, insufficient police presence, as well as bicycle terrorists who obey no rules of any sort.
When we first moved to this area over 26 years ago, my wife and I frequently drove over the bridge to Portland to shop, dine or go to the theater. We spent several thousand dollars per year patronizing Portland establishments, mostly in the downtown area. Now we spend our money elsewhere. I haven't been downtown in over five years.
RIP: General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the American-led forces that crushed Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf war and became the nation's most acclaimed military hero since the midcentury exploits of Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, has died of complications of pneumonia at age 78.
I Bet He Voted For Obama: "Police arrested a man for allegedly shoplifting 22 boxes of condoms." He also had 100 aliases and 60 Social Security numbers. Harry Jackson, 56, described as an elderly black man with a cane and a long green coat, was charged with fourth-degree shoplifting of the Trojan condoms, valued at $395, police said.
Don't Forget, It's Called 'The Religion Of Peace': A Saudi Sharia Judge has issued what is called an "Oral Fatwa" authorizing the execution of disabled children in all area that ISIS controls. So far, 38 kids have been murdered.
Wow - ISIS is getting as bad as Planned Parenthood.
Quote Of The Day is from Groucho Marx: "I would never join any club that would have the likes of me as a member."
Friday December 25, 2015
Away In A Manger: Every Christmas, we put up a Nativity set which belonged to my parents. I don't know its history; the stable has a date stamp of 1937 on the base. It may have belonged to my dad's family. Or my mom's. Or maybe my dad made it in high school; he was quite good at carpentry. At some point, my mom painted a Bethlehem scene on the back wall.
I've had to repair the stable several times. The years have taken their toll on the wood, which has dried out, warped and split. But I'll never throw it away because it is part of my family's Christmas tradition.
In addition to its original (presumably Pennsylvania-made) parts, some of the wood components have been replaced using branches from our trees - some when we lived in Oregon and some from our present Washington location. New straw, bought locally, has replaced portions of the original roof.
My two children had Nativity figures but no structure in which to house them. In 2004, I fabricated two new stables - one for each - and presented them as Christmas gifts. I kept the 1937 model for my wife and me.
St. Francis of Assisi first popularized the Christmas manger in the 13th Century. The use of a manger or feeding trough as a makeshift bassinet inside a barn or stable recalled the Gospel according to Luke, who wrote that Mary gave birth to Jesus, and "laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
These many centuries later, we still use miniature Nativity scenes to remind us of the real meaning of Christmas.
No one knows what the real stable and manger looked like; in those ancient times, there was no thought given to preservation of historic sites. Like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, the original Nativity stable no longer exists. Except in the hearts of Christians everywhere.
Merry Christmas (permalink)
Wednesday December 23, 2015
The Case Against Car Ownership: Dan Neil believes that highly-developed, self-driving cars with AI could spell the end for vehicle ownership. "You'll simply order up what you need - sporty convertible, utility vehicle, box van, etc." from your primary supplier/distributor.
"Within a generation, automobiles will be endowed with what's known as Level 4 autonomy - full self-driving artificial intelligence for cars - which will not so much change the game as burn down the casino. Autonomy will make it possible for unmanned automobiles to be summoned, via app, to your location. And not just any passing tramp steamer, but exactly the vehicle you need for the occasion, cleaned and fueled, for as little or as long as you need (offers may vary in your state). When you're done - poof! - it will go away.
In order for this scenario to happen, there has to be enough people who believe that cars are simply appliances. Auto enthusiasts need not apply. At least, that's how it seems to me.
Dan continued his explanation of the New Reality: "You don't pay for the car. You pay for the miles. And only the miles. It's a whole new way to fly. Let's start small. Need a pickup for three weekends a year but don't want to pay for the other 49? Autonomy can make that happen easily without a visit to the dreaded U-Haul depot." Need a car to take mom to the doctor or fetch a spouse from the airport? Neil writes, "A decade hence, major auto makers and smaller players will be at each others' throats for the privilege of sending consumers vehicles a la carte, for a one-way trip, an afternoon, a weekend, a month. These transactions will move through the glowing bowels of your monthly credit accounts, and you won't even feel them."
"Americans will look back on pre-autonomy like the age of Casio calculators and DOS prompts. Remember cab drivers? Remember traffic jams? Remember when parents lived in dread that their children would die in a car accident? Death and major injury from traffic accidents will drop drastically. The automobile's other costs - decreased productivity, fuel burned in uncoordinated traffic - will be swept away. "Beyond the practical benefits, autonomous cars could contribute $1.3 trillion in annual savings to the U.S. economy alone," wrote Ravi Shanker, a Morgan Stanley analyst covering the U.S. auto business. Global savings? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.6 trillion."
"You may be wondering, back here in 2015, if the auto industry is worried about shared mobility. Doesn't it spell declining sales? It could. But in a mature market like the U.S. turnover will remain fairly stable. What would change is the number of passengers that passed through every vehicle - including a vast untapped market that doesn't drive today. "Level 4 AV technology, when the vehicle does not require a human driver, would enable transportation for the blind, disabled or those too young to drive,” says the Rand Corporation in a report on the subject. “The benefits for these groups would include independence, reduction in social isolation, and access to essential services.""
"And, far from funneling consumers into fleets of lustless electric drones, autonomy could have the opposite effect. Immersive-connected consumers will be able to draw from a vast and constantly replenished motor pool of shared vehicles - dune buggies, pickup trucks, German luxury sedans - with little or no notice, a cast of automotive avatars." Yeah, well ... maybe. I'll believe this when I see it. If this were true, you'd already be able to rent a Corvette from Hertz in Omaha. Or a Bentley from Avis in Newark. Or a Meyers Manx from Enterprise in San Diego. But you can't. So there. Don't believe the Panglossian hype.
Neil believes that America's much-sung-about love affair with the automobile "has grown cold. Rates of motor-vehicle licensure are already plummeting among young Americans. The obligations and costs of transportation - an average 17% of household budgets - are driving them out of automobility altogether. And enthusiasm for automotive culture is waning too, as the empty seats at NASCAR events attest." Well, that's because NASCAR has become predictable and the cars are unrelatable - they no longer look like their alleged street brethren. "Race on Sunday; sell on Monday" no longer applies, because what's racing looks nothing like what's in auto showrooms.
"Personal-vehicle ownership isn't going away. Some people will own and cherish cars. But those people and their cars will be considered classics. Rates of ownership will decline, an artifact of an era of hyperprosperity and reckless glut. Twenty-five years from now, the only people still owning cars will be hobbyists, hot-rodders and flat-earth dissenters. Everyone else will be happy to share."
I'm not sure I'm ready to live in this Brave New World.
Casual Dress: Anyone else see Sunday's '60 Minutes' report on Apple? The geezer in me was disturbed that not a single top exec at the Cupertino, CA company - and Charlie Rose interviewed several - was wearing a suit. No one was wearing a tie, either.
Apple's new corporate headquarters - now under construction somewhere in California - looks like a gigantic spaceship. All I could think was, "Where's Gort?" And, "Klaatu barada nikto!"
Good Riddance To That Awful 'Westfield Shoppingtown' Name: A Dallas real estate investment company has purchased the Westfield Vancouver Mall and four other U.S. malls owned by Australia-based Westfield Corp. in a deal valued at $1.1 billion.
New owner Centennial Real Estate Co. "immediately restored the shopping center's original name of Vancouver Mall. It said existing on-site management teams will continue to operate the properties under its direction. The transaction closed last Friday and, by day's end, the name Westfield had already been purged from the mall's website and Facebook page."
Vancouver Mall was built in 1977 in Vancouver, WA and has undergone numerous ownership changes, renovations and changes in retail offerings over the years. It was acquired in 1994 by Westfield, and in 1998 it was renamed "Westfield Shoppingtown" (a name never uttered by us locals) at which time the mall had 146 stores in 870,000 square feet of space.
These days it's looking pretty grim and deserted. Maybe the new owners can change that.
Not Surprising: Lindsey Graham has dropped out of the Republican presidential race. I don't think his poll numbers ever rose much above 1%.
He always reminded me of Bruce, the gay, vest-wearing, mustachioed dude on 'Family Guy'. "Oh. Nooooo!"
Local Homeless Stats: "The Council for the Homeless estimates there are 300 to 400 unsheltered people in Clark County, though the exact number is hard to pin down."
Clark County Washington has a population of about 450,000. Homeless people represent 0.07-0.09%% of the total. The homeless population of the U.S. is estimated at 610,000 out of 320 million total population - 0.19%.
Requiescat In Pace: Reverend Richard Curry, S.J., professor of Catholic studies and theater, has died of heart failure at age 72 at the Jesuit infirmary at St. Joseph’s University in his hometown of Philadelphia. He had a great heart but a bum ticker. Rick was a fellow classmate at St. Joseph's Prep.
He served as director of the Academy for Veterans, a program that serves to assist veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan who have been disabled in the line of duty with emotional rehabilitation, employment assistance and other services.
Father Curry founded both the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped, which offered disabled individuals the chance to perform, and the Belson Bakery Training School, which serves to teach disabled individuals how to bake and work at the bakery. Curry is also the author of two cookbooks.
He received the Distinguished Service Award of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities in 1987, and received 25 honorary degrees from universities and colleges, including Georgetown University and Fordham University. Reverend Curry earned a Ph.D. in theater from New York University in 1977.
This fine, one-armed Jesuit never let his disability hold him back from exceptional accomplishments. He'll surely be missed. (permalink)
Four Stages of a Man's Life: 1. You believe in Santa Claus. 2. You don't believe in Santa Claus. 3. You are Santa Claus. 4. You look like Santa Claus.
Monday December 21, 2015
Truckin' USA: Did you know that Ford and GM pickups are selling at an annual rate of 1,559,341?
"Through the first eleven months of 2015, GM has sold 734,253 full-size pickup trucks, 39,110 more than the F-Series' 695,143-unit total."
Over 1.5 million pickup trucks sold every year - I guess we are a trucking nation.
Off The List: "When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released its list of 61 safest 2016 model year vehicles, one manufacturer's name was missing. General Motors had no vehicles on either the IIHS Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ list."
Bah, Humbug! Sadly, Santa will not be rolling into Vancouver, WA on the SP&S 700 steam locomotive this year ..."Unfortunately this year, the person who coordinated it every year retired in the Fall," BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said. "We hope we can bring this tradition back next year. (more >>>)
Lock Him Up At Gitmo And Throw Away The Key: Harrisburg Pennsylvania resident Jalil Ibn Ameer Aziz, 19, has been arrested for aiding the ISIS terrorist group. He had 57 ISIS Twitter handles and threatened to behead Obama.
An "unnamed FBI agent said investigators also found a tactical backpack, military-grade ammunition, high-capacity gun magazines and a 'modified kitchen knife'" in the rented home Aziz shares with his parents. ... Aziz, a U.S. citizen who is believed to be jobless, abetted ISIS recruiting under false identities that included "Colonel Shami." He has also promoted videos of beheadings committed by the terrorists and chatted about buying women enslaved by ISIS.
Hate Crime Data: Mark J. Perry has shared some interesting facts:
Members of which of these groups were most likely to be a victim of a hate crime in 2014: Muslims, Blacks or Jews? Based on media coverage, you would have to say Muslims or Blacks. According to a Google news search for the term "hate crimes" along with the name of each of those three groups, there are 88,300 results for "hate crimes" + black, 63,400 results for "hate crimes" + Muslims and only 26,200 results for "hate crimes" + Jews.
"And yet recently released hate crime data from the FBI for 2014 reveal that there were 2,022 African-American victims of hate crimes last year, 648 Jewish victims of anti-religious hate crimes and 184 Muslim hate crime victims. Adjusting for the population size of each group (42 million blacks, 6.2 million Jews and 5.7 million Muslims), the hate crime victimization rates last year per 100,000 population were 10.4 for Jews, 4.8 for blacks and 3.2 for Muslims."
Therefore, American Jews were more than twice as likely as blacks to be a victim of a hate crime last year and three times more likely than a Muslim to be a hate crime victim.
If You're Old Enough, You Remember Her Little Catalogs: Lillian Vernon has died at age 88. She created a multimillion-dollar catalog business that sold specialized gifts, clever notions and home goods.
Vernon came to the U.S. from Germany as a Jewish immigrant fleeing the Nazis. She began her mail order business in 1951 (home-based and conducted at her kitchen table), selling inexpensive gifts and household organizers. Her company went public in 1965, and by 1970 she had her first million-dollar sales year.
In 1987, Lillian Vernon was the first woman-owned company to be listed on the American Stock Exchange. Vernon sold her business in 2003 for $60.5 million. RIP.
Bad Pun Of The Day: One of Santa's helpers was sent to a therapist because he seemed depressed. Diagnosis: Low Elf Esteem.
Friday December 18, 2015
Prices That Are Out-Of-This-World: In 1956, a new Volkswagen Beetle could be had from the factory for a mere $1,154.
A few towns over, the factory price for a new Porsche 356A/1300 was $2,450, a little more than double the price of the VW. By the late 1960s, a Volkswagen Beetle had a sticker price of $2,000 or so, while a Porsche 911 sold for almost $6,000.
You might be inclined to think that today's 911 would be three times as pricey as a Volkswagen. Not so. Not even close. Peter De Lorenzo wrote, "While perusing the prices for the new generation 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo and Turbo S, it's clear to me that we've officially reached the point of no return when it comes to Porsche."
"A "base" 911 Coupe is now $89,400. A 911 Carrera S is $103,400, the 911 Targa is $108,600 and a 911 Carrera GTS comes in at $114,200. And the 911 Turbo starts at a whopping $159,200. Now I'm sure an argument can be put forth that these prices are in line with the performance/value equation that Porsche presents and that they're consistent with the sticker "creep" that has overwhelmed the industry, but $200,400 for a 911 Turbo S Cabriolet? Really? That's moving into a price territory that's borderline ridiculous."
So, what do you get for your money? Well, the new 911 Turbo S Coupe accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. Its top track speed of 205 miles per hour has increased by 7 miles per hour. No, thanks. I'll keep my money and live with a slower top speed. (I don't think I've ever driven faster than 120 mph in my life.)
Yawn: Motor Trend magazine named the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro as its 2016 Car of the Year. There were other finalists but GM coughed up the most bribe money, I guess.
This award used to get me somewhat excited until I read a revealing 2003 posting by Peter De Lorenzo, which detailed how this 'award' is "for sale" to the manufacturer that showers Motor Trend with the most ad/promo money.
Industry insider De Lorenzo's comment shed light a lot of previous COTY choices to me. The 2001 award went to the meretricious and underpowered PT Cruiser. In 1997, the perennial Rental Car Queen Chevy Malibu, a vehicle more boring than either 'Dune' the book or 'Dune' the movie, was presented with MT's top prize.
In 1983, the still-unloved Renault Alliance won the coveted prize. The deplorable Chevrolet Citation was named the Car of the Year in 1980 by MT. The Citation was one of GM's X-body horrors, which seemed to Motor Trend like a great idea at the time, in the same way that everything seems 'profound' after a lot of drinking or serious head trauma. In 1976, the twin rattletraps known as the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare shared the prize. Since most of them rusted away and/or fell apart, they are now seen less often than a Higgs boson particle.
Back in 1974, you could listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd perform 'Sweet Home Alabama' using the eight-track player inside the miserable Mustang II. This muffin stump of the 1970s automotive universe, whose only saving grace was that, as a junkyard resident, it donated many a subframed front-end for late '30s and early '40s street rods, won MT's COTY in '74.
It Won't Affect Me ... I'll Be Dead By Then: The ZEV Alliance wants to completely ban the sale of non-zero-emissions vehicles in its members' constituencies by 2050.
ZEV Alliance members include California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, British Columbia, Québec, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
We Are, Indeed, At War: Larry Kudlow, someone I've always considered to be a calm, reasonable guy, recently wrote, "I know this is not my usual position. But this is a war. Therefore I have come to believe there should be no immigration or visa waivers until the U.S. adopts a completely new system to stop radical Islamic terrorists from entering the country. A wartime lockdown. And a big change in my thinking. ISIS and related Islamic terrorists are already here. More are coming. We must stop them. Until FBI director James Comey gives us the green light, I say seal the borders."
Holiday Fact: The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.
Wednesday December 16, 2015
Black Beauties: My wife's cousin is married to Jim, a consummate car guy. Recently, he acquired a new toy - a 1932 full-fendered Ford rumble-seat roadster, done up as an early 1950s street rod:
The flathead engine is hopped up with dual carbs and other goodies. The original wire wheels are painted a bright red, contrasting with the black paint.
It's a beauty. The Ford will spend its winters in Arizona and summers in Montana. I wish Jim many happy miles of rides. He also has another black beauty ... (more >>>)
Mega Millions: A 1956 Ferrari 290 MM driven by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, was sold at auction for a remarkable $28.05 million.
"The speedster was built for Fangio to drive in the 1956 Mille Miglia the last time the Argentinian would enter the race, which was shut down as a competitive event the following year. But before chassis number 0626 was retired, it was driven by such legends as Phil Hill, Alfonso de Portago, and Wolfgang von Trips. Ferrari only made four examples, and between its provenance and its pristine condition it never crashed this 290 managed to exceed its pre-sale estimate."
Book Review: 'Car: The Evolution of the Automobile' by Rod Green
Too many compilation books disappoint because they are cranked out on short deadlines with dull, inaccurate writing and poor illustrations. They are made to a price and sold by discounters as inexpensive gifts. I am pleased to report that Rod Green's well-written book is an exception.
The 160-page compilation covers ... (more >>>)
Las Vegas Republican Debate: I suspect that few minds will be changed by this debate, although 18 million people tuned in to watch it.
Chris Christie had some very good moments. Trump and Bush traded insults. At one point, Jeb said, "Donald, you're not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency." Trump ended the exchange with a good put down, saying essentially, "I'm winning and you're not." I think his actual words were, "I'm at 42 (in the polls) and you're at 3." On the other hand, The Donald does not seem to understand what our nuclear triad is.
Ted Cruz bickered with Rubio and, in my opinion, bested him. Carly and Ben Carson had a few memorable things to say. Ron Paul and John Kasich came in last, in my view.
According to the Drudge instant poll, Trump and Cruz won this debate.
Straight Talk About Islam: Muslim commentator Amir Tahiri wrote, "Never mind if Islamic theology is all but dead. To say so would be a sign of Islamophobia.
Never mind that God makes only a cameo appearance in mosque sermons almost entirely obsessed with political issues.
All that Western intellectuals or leaders need to do is stop flattering Islam, as President Obama has been doing for the past seven years, claiming that virtually anything worthwhile under the sun has its origin in Islam.
Many Muslims resent that kind of flattery, which takes them for idiots at a time that Islam and Muslims badly need to be criticized. The world needs to wake from its slumber and ask: What is going on?"
Quote Of The Day is from Jay Leno: "The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a Nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin."
There was no problem, however, finding enough asses to fill the stable.
Monday December 14, 2015
Killer Ride: Bill B., one of my car buddies, took a test drive in a Tesla P85D "with the Ludicrous Speed Upgrade (a $10,000.00 option) and it had Auto Pilot (a $2500.00 option).
Acceleration is reported as 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds. I believe Tesla markets it as the fastest 4-door production sedan in the world. A very impressive car. Very fast. I was told that all 791 horsepower and torque 713 ft-lbs. is available at zero rpm. (Getting used to the Auto Pilot requires you to have a lot of faith in the car to keep from touching the steering wheel or the brakes.) The web site shows the range of this car fully charged is 279 miles with 19 inch wheels and 267 miles with 21 inch wheels.
One interesting note is that Tesla "year dates" their cars on the day they are produced. A car made on December 31st is titled as a 2015 model. A car produced on January 4, 2016 will be a 2016 model."
Since Bill is a few years older than me, he remembers the 1950s very well. So I sent him an e-mail and called him a murderer. "Don't you realize that every time someone test drives a Tesla, one of the Men of Texaco from Milton Berle's 'Texaco Star Theatre' television show dies?!"
Arriving Sooner Than You Think: Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, offered a logical argument for self-driving cars and wrote "the more I learn, the more I am convinced that the first self-driving cars will be for sale by 2020 and that they will be the dominant form of travel within not much more than a decade after that."
"Based on this, I find it completely reasonable to think that, by 2020, you'll be able to buy a car that is completely self-driving on many roads and streets, but that may require you to take over on some little-used roads. Moreover, I think these cars will penetrate the market much faster than pessimists think, both because companies like Uber will make them available for-hire at rates of about 25 cents a mile, and because many cars built between now and 2020 will be easily upgradable to be self-driving cars. And, contrary to some expectations, such self-driving cars should almost completely replace transit (at least, outside of New York City) within a few years after they are introduced."
I dunno about 2020 - it's just around the corner - but I think that self-driving vehicles will arrive well before 2025. We've already got vehicles with lane change warning devices and 'smart' cruise control. Mercedes has demonstrated a self-braking car. Self-driving cars are the logical extension of these technologies.
Frankly, that's fine with me. I certainly enjoy driving on near-empty back roads but take no pleasure ... (more >>>)
Safe & Sound: Last Thursday morning, there was a tornado in Battle Ground. It ripped the roof off the iQ Mini-Mart convenience store which is about a mile away from our house. Thirty-six homes were damaged by wind and/or trees falling on them. The tornado was rated EF-1 with maximum winds of 104 mph. Tornados are a rare occurrence around here; this is only the second one in 30+ years.
Clark Public Utilities reported nearly 3,500 customers lost power in Battle Ground, centered around where the storm cell was reported. We were untouched, although we had two brief power outages, each lasting less than 30 seconds.
O-Gauge Train Report: This year, help from my son-in-law, I put up two loops of track around our Christmas tree. The large outer floor loop is for my Lionel Hiawatha passenger set, while the smaller loop is for the MTH Philadelphia PTC trolley car.
It wouldn't be Christmas without trains of some sort, even though I wasn't up to erecting my large three-level train layout this year. Maybe next year.
Quote Of The Day is from Frank J. Fleming: "Due to rising energy costs, Santa will no longer leave a lump of coal in your stocking if you're naughty and instead just punch you while you sleep."
Thursday December 10, 2015
Wickedly Fast And Expensive: Weighing just 1,650 pounds and packing 500 horsepower, the Rezvani Beast already demanded to be taken seriously. Now the company, Saber Automotive LLC, is taking the Beast to the next level with the more powerful 'X' model.
The 2.4-liter four has been cranked up to 700 horsepower (almost 5 horsepower per cubic inch), thanks to a pair of Borg Warner turbochargers, forged pistons and valves, and other beefed-up internal components. All that power is transmitted to the rear wheels alone through a six-speed manual transmission or an optional sequential with paddle shifters.
The changes have added a bit to the curb weight. But as we're essentially dealing with an Ariel Atom with carbon-fiber bodywork, it still only tips the scales at 1,850 pounds. Fortunately the manufacturer has imbued it with additional downforce to help it stay on the ground. According to Rezvani, the Beast X is good for a 0-60 time of just 2.5 seconds.
This model is the first from the new Rezvani X division - based in Santa Ana, CA - that's dedicated towards producing "the most extreme and exclusive high-performance tuning of Rezvani vehicles and motorsport." Additional models are promised for the future but the manufacturer says it will only make five Beast Xs, each priced at $325,000 or nearly double what it charges for the "base" Beast.
Bad Prediction: "I do believe in the horse. The automobile is no more than a transitory phenomenon." So said Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor, in 1886.
More bad predictions can be found here.
Book Review: 'Adios, America' by Ann Coulter
In this fact-filled book, Coulter attacks the immigration mess head-on, pointing out numerous and shocking cases of system abuses and suggesting that the only way to solve the immigration problem is to temporarily halt all immigration while we build a solid fence with our southern border.
She also names names, pointing out the politicians who cannot be trusted ... (more >>>)
Pray For Harry: A very good friend and former coworker is seriously ill and could use the prayers you'd care to send his way.
Dr. Henry J. Gambino (he goes by the nickname Harry), underwent surgery for a brain tumor in 2011. In time, he fully recovered but, two weeks ago, he suffered a major stroke. He also went into renal failure. Harry is now awake and is able to talk a little and can move his legs. Nevertheless, the prognosis is not good according to his doctors. Harry is 75 years old.
Harry is the author of numerous textbooks on beauty care. He is also a camera buff and wrote 'Argomania', the definitive reference work on the Argus Camera Co. and its products.
During his days at Rohm & Haas, Harry traveled extensively to interview customers and gather stories for R&H's house magazine, the 'Rohm & Haas Reporter', which Harry edited. He took a lot of photos during these trips and published them in 'Waters of the World' - a beautiful large-format coffee table book.
The gorgeous images in the book cover a period of over 50 years and are amazingly sharp with rich color. The photos span every continent except Antarctica.
Get well soon, Harry.
This Merger May Cost 20,000 Jobs: Dow Chemical is in late-stage talks to merge with DuPont in what would be the largest deal in the chemicals industry.
"DuPont employs 62,000 people, while Dow Chemical employs 51,000. One major reason for mergers is to cut costs. The two companies have enough overlapping businesses that a lot of people will lose jobs. The question is how many.
The 113,000 workforce of the combined company would operate one of the world's largest suppliers of chemicals for agriculture. Both companies provide industrial chemicals and make plastic products. Both provide electrical products as well."
It should be noted that Dow snapped up chemical giant Rohm & Haas in 2008 and eliminated thousands of duplicate jobs.
Chicken Little With A Pointy Hat: In his most apocalyptic language to date, Pope Francis told reporters aboard the papal plane returning from Africa that the current climate change conference in Paris is the last chance for humanity to avert environmental destruction.
Asked whether he believes that the leaders gathered in Paris will take important steps to combat climate change, Francis said, "I'm not sure, but I can say that it is now or never."
In my opinion, the only person qualified to say (or sing) 'It's Now Or Never' was Elvis. And the Global Warming I worry about is the extreme heat generated by a nuclear device set off by terrorists or a rogue nation.
Quote Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "I didn't get a toy train for Christmas like the other kids, I got a toy subway instead; you couldn't see anything but every now and then you'd hear this rumbling noise go by."
Tuesday December 8, 2015
Sometimes, There's Just No Accounting For Taste: Dan Neil has pointed out that the butt-ugly Lexus RX premium crossover "sells about 100,000 copies a year, every year? Really? This plush, pas de balles, early-Cubist nightmare with a smile like Dick Cheney will sell 100 grand in the next 12 months?"
"So, about the styling. Is it in pain? Should somebody help it?
No, it's just very focused on being exciting. These stylistic exertions are, as near as I can tell from the media briefing, the direct result and marching orders from Toyota president Akio Toyoda, who has publicly expressed his desire to raise the Lexus brand's emotional temperature. The RX is practically a nervous wreck.
The Lexus' spindle grille - in F Sport trim comprising a warped field of black plastic webbing, outlined in lustrous alloy lips - is the brand singularity, drawing us toward a Lexus badge with arrows pointing to it from all sides, including the LED headlamps and arrowhead pointed bezels of the cornering lamps. At night it looks like its own dealership."
I've already given my opinion on Lexus' current style direction and that spindle grille: "Open wide, George."
It's just not my cup of tea.
What Useta Be: James Lileks wrote about the Good Old Days and how it was reflected in television shows of the period. Until it changed.
"I'll tell you this: whenever I watched the old black and white shows, I had the feeling I was looking at something better. Not the shows themselves, necessarily, but what was behind it. If nothing else they had a sense of comportment, and that meant something I couldn't quite explain.
There were rules. We didn't have rules any more because everything was rotten and rules were for suckers and hey, Watergate and Nam. There was a certain sense of self-satisfaction in knowing you were no longer bound to old codes, because we had evolved, or been granted special knowledge by the apostles of Haight-Ashbury, or both. But there was no sense of what was coming next, except that it wasn't good. God, what a curdled era."
I blame oversized muttonchop sideburns, which appeared in the late 1960s. And poisoned the 1970s, which explains everything you didn't like about that era. You can be sure that it was someone with muttonchops who promulgated 5 mph bumpers. And cars that wouldn't start or run right due to crude, flawed pollution controls.
Then there were those awful muttonchop songs: 'Feelings', 'Billy, Don't be A Hero', 'Seasons In The Sun', 'You're Having My Baby', 'You Light Up My Life' and 'Muskrat Love'. And you can be sure that someone with muttonchops came up with lime-colored, doubleknit leisure suits.
A Holy Day Celebrating A Blessed Event: Today, Catholics throughout the world celebrate The Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived free from original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son, Jesus.
Although the belief that Mary was sinless and conceived immaculate has been widely held since before the Middle Ages, the doctrine was dogmatically defined in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.
Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. (permalink)
It's Always Something: In September - a time of chemotherapy and radiation, I fell flat on my face numerous times. Eventually, I figured out that it was caused by two different medical issues - dehydration and foot drop (both are side effects of chemo).
I was left with a bunch of bumps and bruises which eventually healed, except for a large hematoma on my upper right leg. Because it was becoming more painful, I went to my primary care physician who diagnosed it as infected. I had surgery last Friday to clean out the infection. I am now healing up but ... (more >>>)
Requiescat In Pace: They never gave a yearbook award for 'Everybody's Pal' at St. Joe's Prep, but if they had, Ed 'Tank' Devlin would have been a contender. He was a genuinely nice guy.
He had a great attitude and a beaming smile that lit up a room. Tank always made you feel that he was truly delighted to see you - a gift that I'll miss. We were classmates, graduating in 1961.
Ave Atque Vale. (permalink)
Actor/director Robert Loggia has died at age 85 from complications of Alzheimers Disease from which he suffered for 5 years. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for 'Jagged Edge'.
Robert had a very memorable part playing a violent mobster named Feech La Manna in several episodes of 'The Sopranos'. RIP.
Actions, Especially Regulations, Have Consequences: "In June of last year, the Seattle city council passed a $15 an hour minimum wage law that will be phased in over time, with the first increase to $11 an hour taking effect on April 1, 2015." So, what happened?
"At the same time that Seattle area food services employment has declined this year by 900 (and by -0.67%), restaurant jobs in the rest of the state have increased by a whopping 6,200 new positions (and by 7.1%). Nationally, restaurant employment has increased by 2.4% this year since January."
Quote Of The Day: Politicians are like Christmas lights. They all hang together, half of the suckers don't work and the ones that do aren't that bright.
Friday December 4, 2015
November Auto Sales: Light vehicle sales were at a 18.2 million SAAR (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate) in November - up about 7% from November 2014 and up slightly from the 18.1 million annual sales rate last month. This was the third consecutive month over 18 million SAAR and the best November since 2001. Black Friday deals and an expanding economy helped lift a traditionally sluggish month, along with cheap gas and easy credit. It appears that 2015 will be the one of the best years ever for light vehicle sales.
Nice numbers - great for trucks - but things were not so good for passenger cars. A whopping "22% decline in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' passenger car volume and the automaker's overall 3% year-over-year sales increase sets the stage for a day in which we'll learn about the overall U.S. auto industry's rude health in November 2015, and the number of consumers who didn't buy traditional cars."
At Fiat-Chrysler, Jeep, Ram, minivans, and Dodge utilities accounted for 80% of the automaker's November 2015 U.S. auto sales volume. Sales of the Dodge brand continued to drop - falling 8% to 38,938 units for November, adding to speculation that Dodge may not be around for the long haul. The Chrysler brand fared worse - sales of 23,953 vehicles, a drop of 12% year-over-year.
"At Ford, the highest-volume auto brand in America, sales increased modestly in November despite a 13% drop in car volume. The F-Series' 10% uptick provided the big boost, even as SUV/crossover sales slid 10%. Lincoln, despite a raft of new product, slid 2%.
General Motors, America's largest manufacturer of automobiles, posted a modest 1.5% improvement in November. Buick tumbled 17% and GMC slid 2%, but Chevrolet sales rose 5% and Cadillac volume was up 2%.
Toyota produced 3% gains across the board with increases from Scion, Lexus, and the Toyota brand. The Camry once again finished November as America's best-selling car, and preliminary figures suggest the RAV4 was America's top-selling SUV/crossover."
Proving once again that Actions Have Consequences, car shoppers took notice of Volkswagen's flagrant emissions cheating and doled out punishment. In November, Volkswagen sales plunged nearly 25% in the U.S. There continues to be a sales freeze on diesel-powered VW vehicles. Analysts are estimating that more than 400 lawsuits (for now) pending against Volkswagen for fraudulent "clean diesel" claims could cost the automaker billions in court - if they even go that far. Estimates range from $1.5 to $8.9 billion. Ouch.
Acura sales fell 18%, while Jaguar sales dropped 15%. On the other hand, Volvo sales had a 91% leap to 6,902 vehicles. A major part of the Volvo improvement is that it is selling models in November that it did not have a year ago, such as the new XC90. The vehicle was the 2016 Motor Trend SUV of the Year, which gives it a level of visibility that large sums of advertising cannot buy.
Sales of Land Rover were up 79% to 6,539 luxury utility vehicles. Scion sales, which had been dismal for quite some time, increased 33% to 5,183 units. Lexus sales were up 7% to 29,340 vehicles, including 534 examples of its LS luxury sedan.
Nissan reported record November group-wide sales thanks to record from both of the automaker's brands: Nissan and Infiniti. Nissan car sales slipped 4% but light truck volume jumped 15%, including a 50% Rogue improvement. The restyled Murano did well, too.
188 Bentleys were sold in November - a decline of 42% from last November.
Pontiff Likes Little Cars: Arriving in Kenya last week, Pope Francis rode from the airport in a small gray Honda Civic with the windows rolled down. When he visited Philadelphia in September, he traveled in a small black Fiat 500.
Worst President Ever: Peter Wehner captures the attitude of Barack Obama perfectly. In an article titled 'Our Bitter and graceless President', Wehner wrote, "We all know people of towering arrogance and we all know people of staggering incompetence, but Barack Obama is quite possibly the perfect package. No one on the scene today combines these two qualities in quite the same way as Mr. Obama.
On the incompetence side, and sticking just with the president's policies and record in the greater Middle East, there is Mr. Obama's mishandling of the rise of the Islamic State, which just last year he referred to as the 'jayvee team' and just last week declared was 'contained'."
The entire article is worth a read.
Depends On Who's Holding The Gun: Clark County (WA) blogger Lew Waters has succinctly expressed the dissonance of present-day America. Lew wrote, "Watching the last couple days as news of the Colorado Springs shooting comes out, it occurred to me that whenever a shooting happens and the shooter yells "Alluah Akbar: while shooting, we are quickly told to not jump to conclusions or that not all Muslims to blame.
Yet, if it is a White person shooting, we instantly hear it must be a Right wing extremist of some sort and a Republican, long before the shooters name is even known and that all conservatives are itching to do the same, so the public must be disarmed and the NRA abolished.
If the shooter is a Black person in Chicago shooting other Black people, we hear nothing at all!"
And that brings me to Wednesday's San Bernardino massacre. A Muslim couple, highly trained and armed to the teeth, with an IED factory in their house, with GoPro cameras on board, murdered 14 and wounded 21 people and yet, a day later, no one in the media will say it was definitely a terrorist attack. So, I'll say it: This was a definitely terrorist attack.
Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two killers in the San Bernardino shooting, was apparently radicalized and in touch with international terrorism suspects, law enforcement officials said on Thursday. The San Bernardino killers had been viewing Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) propaganda online, had built more than a dozen pipe bombs and stockpiled thousands of rounds of ammunition. The wife/fellow terrorist, Tashfeen Malik, was a Pakistani-born immigrant who lived in Saudi Arabia before marrying Farook.
I'll give the last word to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said: "You can come to one clear conclusion with the information they have right now. This is an act of terror. The question was motivation … The question here is not, is it an act of terror. We're beyond that. When you got two assault weapons, two handguns, you're in body armor, you got a home that's boobytrapped. You've been practicing to do this … If you can't come to a conclusion at this point that this was an act of terror, you should find something else to do for a living besides law enforcement. I mean, you're a moron."
Quote of the Day is from Victor Borge: "Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year."
Wednesday December 2, 2015
The American Icon That Won't Die: The Jeep was invented by American Bantam. But the little car company didn't have the resources to produce the quantities required for World War II, so most of the Jeep contracts went to Ford and Willys.
After the war, Willys decided to produce a civilian model, despite the tens of thousands of surplus military Jeeps which were available at cheap prices. The civilian CJ-2A was a success and made more money for Willys than its undistinguished line of passenger cars.
Kaiser bought Willys in 1953, continued making the Jeep even after it stopped making passenger cars. In 1970, American Motors purchased Kaiser's money-losing Jeep operations and improved the product and profits. In 1987, Chrysler bought AMC and its Jeep operations. Then Chrysler was bought by Daimler-Benz in 1998. Chrysler was sold to Cerberus in 2007, went bankrupt in 2009 and was acquired at a fire-sale price by Fiat.
Despite shaky finances, multiple owners, gross mismanagement and neglect over many decades, Jeep refused to die. Its sales improved almost every year and it is now the best-selling and probably most profitable offering in the Fiat-Chrysler stable.
Nevertheless, Fiat, the latest owner, seems determined to kill Jeep by choking off development money for new models. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne plans to use the money to develop a full line of Alfa Romeo vehicles which he believes is the future of the company. He sees China as a big potential market for Alfa Romeo and expects to sell over 400,000 Alfas worldwide by 2018. Fewer than 80,000 units were sold last year. In November, only 44 Alfas found buyers in the U.S.
Alfa Romeo? Are you kidding? Alfa began life as ... (more >>>)
Towncarski: The Russian government plans to launch production of new limousines and premium cars in 2017 as part of the Cortege project at NAMI, the country's central automobile and engine R&D institute in Moscow. The $500 million project envisions production of 30,000 vehicles a year.
"Sources close to the administration of President Vladimir Putin say that total includes a limited number of limousines to be manufactured under special orders, mostly from the state."
Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade analysts say the country has lacked premium-vehicle production capability since the closing of ZIL, a major automobile, truck, military-vehicle and heavy-equipment manufacturer based in Moscow.
The first ZIL looked like a '41 Packard. This one seems to have been inspired by the now-defunct Lincoln Town Car.
Pessimist Pope: Does Pope Francis have a 'Bah, Humbug!' attitude toward Christmas? Judi McLeod wrote, "We've been hearing it from the atheists for decades. We've been hearing it from the legions of the hypocritical politically correct, but how many of us ever thought we'd ever hear these words from a Bishop of Rome: "Christmas is a charade"."
That is what Pope Francis preached to an audience recently.
"We can image the loud cheers being sent up from the secular world at the pontiff's bullseye shot at the heart at Christmas, because it comes from a source that was least expected on the eve of Advent 2015. The pope, who claims that Christmas is a "charade" due to continued war across the globe, has said that the lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes of the season are a charade with so much "war and hate."
"During all of World War II, which claimed more lives than any other conflict in modern history, Pope Pius XII never claimed Christmas was only a "charade." No pontiff ever cast a shadow on "lights, parties, Christmas trees and Nativity Scenes." And Pius XII had a reputation as a pretty somber fellow. They never called him ... (more >>>)
Look Out! Iceberg Lettuce Ahead: Perfect for those rich, gut-busting holiday meals, it's the Titanic Gravy Boat from Archie McPhee:
I didn't buy one, only because I couldn't justify paying 48 bucks for it. But maybe someone on your Christmas list is worth the expense.
Go Ted! In an interview, presidential candidate Ted Cruz said, "Now listen, here's the simple and undeniable fact: The overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats. The media doesn't report that."
Shop Till Your Keyboard Drops: Total online sales for the weekend have been reported to increase anywhere from 10% to 20%, while traffic and sales in brick-and-mortar stores have declined. Thanksgiving weekend sales at brick-and-mortar stores dropped 10.4% year over year, according to retail research firm ShopperTrak.
Holiday online sales have now surpassed brick-and-mortar sales. I'm not surprised. I hate crowds and waiting in line - I always have. These days, I do almost all my Christmas shopping online.
Book Review: 'The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal' by David E. Hoffman
Set in the period from the late 1970s through the '80s, this should have been an exciting book. During that period, lots of technological and political changes were happening and the Cold War was still being fiercely waged between the U.S. and USSR. Unfortunately ... (more >>>)
Bad Pun of the Day: Sign at a nudist camp: 'Sorry - Clothed for Winter'.
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