When Did SUVs Start Looking Like Apologetic Creek Rocks?

My first car was a 1987 Bronco II. It was awful. The rear hatch was broken and it overheated regularly, probably because it spewed coolant at random intervals like a freshman on his first weekend at college. But I was allowed to drive it. Well, I was if my dad didn’t want to that day. It was great.

I must say, though, that the Bronco II had pretty horrible flight characteristics, in my experience. It tended to want to nose over if you got it airborne. I think we can forgive Ford that oversight. And also let’s not tell my dad.

Those grievances aside, at least it looked more or less purposeful.

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You young whippersnappers today, though, are forced to drive mid-size SUVs that look like they’re terribly, terribly sorry for being so big and so utilitarian. Or, at least, utilitarianish.

This is the Chevy Traverse ($30,995). Look how round it is. In the white paint scheme, it looks like a marshmallow that’s been flash frozen in the midst of being microwaved.

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You have to step up to the Tahoe ($45,550) or Suburban ($48,250) to get an SUV that looks anything like a utility vehicle.

It’s the same story with the descendant of my coolant-spewing Bronco II, the Explorer ($30,700). Why are you so round, Explorer? Did someone put you in a creek for a long time? And why is one man in the photo attempting to fornicate your driver’s side while another tilts at you Quixote-style?

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Ford’s got the Expedition which has actual corners, but they want $43,390 to start for it. Why can’t there be vehicles like the Land Rover Defender 90 anymore? Look at this thing! I want one so bad, but used models from 1997 still run over $35k. That’s a chunk to spend on a British vehicle with a ton of miles on it. Still, they are gorgeous.

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The Brits still bring the sweet boxy goodness with the LR4, but it runs north of fifty grand at $50,400.

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Of course, Jeeps still look boxy and utilitarian, and they don’t gouge you for it. A 4 door Wrangler starts at just $26,495. Looks pretty swanky too, although as pictured here I’m sure it’s a buck or two north of the starting price.

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Toyota, at least, still makes a capable mid-size SUV with the 4-runner. But it isn’t immune to the shame of looking like a proper boxy utility vehicle. You can see here that the front is styled to look like the vehicle is crying, with two teardrops descending from the headlights.

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If I’m going to spend money on a 4×4 vehicle, I want it to look like an ammunition box with wheels on it and some lights bolted to the front. Maybe even forego the lights. Who needs ‘em? If you have a badass enough vehicle you’ll just bash right over or through anything that makes the mistake of getting in the way.

You kids today with your heated seats and your navigation systems. Feh! In my day, we begged for the use of a vehicle that was as likely to squirt poisonous antifreeze in our mouths as actually drive anywhere. And we liked it. Loved it!

But ohhhh no.

My Failed Bring a Trailer Application: The Spongebob Caprice

Trolling through Craigslist or eBay looking for weird classic cars is a treasured car guy pastime, and there’s a site called Bring A Trailer where people post choice finds. It’s a great site. Cuts out a lot of the chaff of trolling on your own.

A few weeks ago, Bring A Trailer put out a call for writers. As a writer and a car guy, I leapt at the chance to apply. I trolled our local Atlanta listings for a classic car, and located an absolute gem: a Spongebob-themed 1983 Chevrolet Caprice.

Here’s what I sent Bring a Trailer:

If Nautical Nonsense is Something You Wish…

By James Hodgson, jim@jimhodgson.com, @jimhodgson

Rapper Rich Boy blew the doors off 2007 with the RIAA certified platinum hit “Throw Some D’s,” but no one knew at the time just how prophetic the song would prove to be. In the lyrics, Mr. Boy muses:

Haters wish they could feel the wood in my 83,
Ridin’ with no tint so the [muppet fathers] know it’s me.

Unquestionably, Rich Boy was heralding the arrival of this tint-free Spongebob Squarepants themed 1983 Chevrolet Caprice Classic from Chattanooga, TN.

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Versed hip hop fans may quibble that Rich Boy was in fact musing about an 83 Cadillac, which is precisely (probably) why the Spongemobile’s Caprice Classic grille has been replaced with one from a Cadillac Fleetwood from the mid eighties era.

The Fleetwood may have sported a bangin’ grille, but Car and Driver’s 1983 Ten Best list tells the real story. The Caprice Classic was on that list alongside mainstays like the 5.0L Fox body Mustang, the Porsche 944, and the Rabbit GTI. It is your correspondent’s most dear wish for Spongebob themed versions of all of those. Please!

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The Caprice’s hood ornament has been tastefully removed, giving undisturbed sight lines and better aerodynamic flow. Note also the patina atop the grille’s leading edge, as well as the theme-matched front license plate reading “Neal’s Caprice” with a depiction of a marching Spongebob Squarepants himself. The seller doesn’t say whether he intends to keep the tag, but we assume it comes with the car.

He does note that there are “four 12” speaker in the trunk,” [sic] though whether they are installed or just rolling about loose back there is anyone’s guess. Let’s not forget that the 83 Caprice Classic boasted a cavernous 20.9 cubic feet. You could easily lose four 12” speaker in that kind of space.

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The interior is every bit as tastefully appointed as the exterior, boasting what appears to be a peacock leather dash, theme matching floor mats, and a security-enhancing detachable steering wheel.

The nature of the wired device at right of the above photo is a matter of some question, but there can be no question that the interior of this rolling (probably) masterpiece is an olfactory delight thanks to a brave string-mounted scented pine.

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Like big rims? You’re all set. And you won’t have any unsightly braking devices cluttering up your appreciation thereof, either, thanks to yellow discs obscuring them. We defy our readership to find rims more tasteful than these. Please don’t send photos. We’re defying you rhetorically.

Perhaps the best feature of this car, if it is possible to pick one, is that you don’t have to be a rich boy, let alone Rich Boy, to own it. It is advertised here on Craigslist for a mere $4500, with title marked “clean” and condition marked as an optimistic “new.”

 

As is unfortunately typical for my writing job applications, I received no response. Not “Thanks.” Not “No thanks.” Not “go pound sand.” Just no reply. Oh well. No accounting for taste, I guess.

 

How I Mostly Stopped Coveting the Porsche 911

The 911SC Targa (boo) in Guards Red.

The 911SC Targa (boo, Targa) in Guards Red.

Since I was a kid, I have wanted a Porsche 911. I became aware of them during the mid eighties when I was ten and the great 911SC was enjoying popularity. My parents had split up a few years before. My mom moved from our Alabama home to the big city of Atlanta, where the streets were more or less choked with 911s.

Her calls from the great metropolis were greatly anticipated, but her ability to report on spotted cars was lacking.

“I saw a 911 today!” she’d say.

“Really? Cool! What was it?” Cabriolet? Turbo? Possibly a revolting slant nose?

Slant nose, you are an abomination.

Slant nose, you are an abomination.

“It was white!”

White? White?! Come on, mom! What level trim was it? Did it have a sunroof (boo) or no (yay)? And what factory white are we talking here? Grand Prix white? Titan White? Chitton White? Alpine White? Bah.

Mom tried, but she just wasn’t an enthusiast. I was a ten year old enthusiast, and part of being an enthusiast is knowing which trim levels of your favorite car are acceptable and which are not. If you’re thinking right now that you can’t wait to email me and let me know you’re also an enthusiast and you’ve purchased a 911 Cabriolet, let me let you know that you should take that car and drive it into a lake.

Why so acrimonious? Because 911s are expensive. But hating on certain models and the people far more successful than I who can afford to purchase those models is free.

The dreaded whale shit interior.

The dreaded whale shit interior.

In that spirit, let me learn you something. You see, the only acceptable 911 is a coupe. Air cooled. Preferably sunroof free from the factory. Preferably naturally aspirated. In German racing silver. Black interior. You can add some of those Rennline metal floors that Magnus puts in his cars, but don’t be coming around with your whale shit colored interior 996.

I knew when I was ten years old that I would someday have the money to purchase a 911. And I knew that I would. When I finally got my first real job in the late 90’s, I looked at my finances, looked at the available 911s for sale, and said “Shit.” They were still out of reach. Even if I scraped together enough cash for a 911SC from the mid eighties, the running costs would sink me.

But I was dying to own one. So, I investigated compromises. Eventually I settled on the poor man’s Porsche, the predecessor to the Boxter, the 914. I had a 1973 2.0L, which was the engine to have barring the 914 with a 6 cylinder engine out of a 911. Those were hard to come by and three times the price.

I got my car for just under $5000 with the Fuchs alloys as pictured, the sail panels still intact as pictured, and the factory fuel injection still working. Lots of people converted these cars to Weber carburetors, but mine was still FI.

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Technically, the 914 is a dual marque car, a joint effort between VW and Porsche. It only had about 90 horsepower, but it had the same VDO gauges of a 911. It was a really fun car. But soon I lost my job, so I sold it.

Since then I haven’t had the disposable money to even think about buying a car for fun. I’ve been living the life of an artist, which is to say, if I may employ financial jargon, broke. Things have gotten a bit better recently, and I once again began daydreaming about finally buying that 911 I’ve always wanted.

Unfortunately for me, those thoughts resurfaced at the same time as the 911’s 50th anniversary. The price of used 911’s has skyrocketed. And for what? It’s not like they’re rare. Here’s the Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah and some other dudes on the 911 bubble.

 

Farah makes a point. And a small piece of me as a child and a budding car enthusiast maybe feels a twinge as it gasps its last. But that’s okay. Because there’s plenty of fun to be had in the car I do have. It’s not a 911, but Sweetie and I can drive it, work on it, and compete in it. And it cost less two years ago than the 914 I bought cost ten years ago.

Auf widersehen, Herr 911. Konichiwa, Miata-san.

The Hodgson Racing #69 Miata

The Hodgson Racing #69 Miata

If I ever do manage to make a bunch of money, I’ll probably still buy a 911, but it won’t be as I imagined it. That’s a little sad. But that’s also growing up. And I like being a writer, so I’m likely to remain fairly broke. Thankfully, hating on people wealthier than me is still free. Screw you, 911 owners who made better choices than I did and realized their dreams! Jerks!

Bob and Emily’s Best Man Speech

PHOTO: San Smith

PHOTO: San Smith


I had the immense pleasure this weekend of serving as Robert Donlan’s best man at his wedding to Emily Dolezal. We had excellent crisp fall weather and lots of good friends. It was great fun, and I even got to give a speech, one of my favorite things.

Here’s the text of said speech, (PDF version at this link).

Hello, good evening. I am your best man, Jim Hodgson. My function in this weekend’s festivities is to add a bit of levity and give you all a close bystander’s insight into the relationship that has strengthened and begun anew today. I’m speaking, of course, about my relationship with an open bar.

When Bob announced to me that Emily would be moving in with him in his old condo in Virginia-Highland, I knew it was love. I knew that, not because Emily would be moving all the way into town from a foreign land known as Kennesaw, but because Bob’s old condo was only 100sqft.

That condo was so small, there’s no way two people could live there without love and a deep respect for one another. Just to shoehorn themselves inside for the night, Emily and Bob each had to wear one of the dogs on their heads like a hat.

Bob has a few strange habits. For one thing, he loves his computer. He watches professional video gaming, a pastime so boring that the competitors chug energy drinks even though they never move. If you’re having trouble sleeping later, just call Bob up and ask him about something called DOTA2. He’ll start talking and you’ll be out like a light.

Actually, on second thought, maybe don’t call him tonight.

As you may know, Bob and our friends and I spend a lot of time riding bikes. We’ve ridden thousands of miles in every kind of weather. We rode on the hottest day in Georgia history. 106 degrees. We’ve ridden in snow, at altitude, through deserts, and even in the streets of Atlanta, where cyclists are about as welcome as political jokes in a best man speech, or a woman’s opinion in the Republican Party.

[Aw, come on, GOPers, I’m a straight white male. You love me!]

I have seen Bob when he’s absolutely exhausted. When every ounce of energy is gone and his blood sugar is so low he can barely move. I can tell you, no matter how rough things get, the man does not complain. I believe this will help him be an excellent husband.

Once, Bob and I rode mountain bikes 30 miles up over the Wasatch Range near Park City, Utah. It snowed that weekend, and neither of us had enough warm gear. Many hours later, we emerged from the woods. We were shivering so hard a passing motorcyclist tossed a couple of bucks at us because he thought it was a dance number.

But as we descended through the foothills and I exited hypothermia, it became apparent I had screwed up. We were meant to take a right hand turn up on that ridge, sending us back down into Park City to join our friends Marc, Chris, Paul, and Jason. I saw the turn, and I thought, is that… naah! Hours later, when we got down the mountain, it became clear that we were not in Park City, but on the far side of the range in Salt Lake.

“Bob,” I said. “I think I screwed up. We were supposed to turn up there on the ridge.” Bob, exhausted, just smiled. “Huh,” he said. “Well, let’s get some pizza.”

So, Emily. If you should see that he’s reaching his breaking point. If he appears cold, tired, near the absolute limit of endurance, just chuck some pizza at him. He’ll be fine.

But, in truth, I shouldn’t presume to tell Emily a single thing about Robert Donlan. She already knows him pretty well. Over dinner one night, I mentioned to her that I’d known she and Bob were going to eventually be married as soon as she’d moved into Virginia-Highland. She gave me a look.

“Aw come on,” she said. “I knew I had him when he moved his computer up to Kennesaw.”

The Martian’s Deleted Log Entry: Sol 113

urlI recently read “The Martian,” Andy Weir’s novel about an astronaut trying to survive and ultimately leave the red planet.

It’s a good book that doesn’t insult the reader by glossing over technical details. But it also doesn’t get so technical that it’s boring. I recommend checking it out, here on Amazon.

I also Facebook messaged Mr. Weir about his book when I found out he’d originally been a self pubber. With a self published novel release of my novel “Dangerous Dan” looming in my near future, I wanted to ask him a few technical questions about “The Martian.” He very kindly obliged.

I also noticed on his FB page that he’s a fan of “Ready Player One,” by Earnest Cline. I also liked “Ready Player One,” but I didn’t love it. See a conversation on Twitter about it here. To summarize, I thought it suffered a bit under the weight of its references.

But Weir loved it. So much so that he wrote a piece of fan fiction for Cline and “Ready Player One,” which you can find here.

I’m continuing the chain of complementary fiction writing by writing a day in the life of Weir’s “Martian” character Mark Watney, in which he makes a racy and unprecidented request of JPL. Oh yeah. I’m talkin’ bout porn.

So, if you’ve read “The Martian,” (copyright 2011, 2014 Andy Weir) check out some fan fic.

This is “The Martian’s Deleted Log Entry Sol 113” (PDF format).