Recapturing that lost childhood

Matchbox Mustang No. 8During the summer, I saw an amazing toy car collection worth thousands of dollars. It was not in a museum – but in a home office. Few people beyond the collector, his wife and daughter ever see these cars.

So why would he invest so many hours and and so much money in that? (One small set alone is worth about $1,000.) My theory is that he is trying to recapture some of his lost childhood. He remembers when he saved up and bought those cars when he was a kid. As a proportion of his income, the little cars might be similar in what they cost him today, maybe.

I collect little cars (in spite of my primary emphasis on collecting digitally). I don’t pay very much for them. I don’t collect very many. But to anyone who visits my home office, they will see probably 6 or 7 little cars lined up, looking at me. Am I trying to recapture some of my lost childhood? Maybe. Mostly I just like cars and it’s fun to see those little cars every day.

What’s the difference between the previously mentioned collector and me? He goes to great lengths to find specific models. He’s willing to pay a ton when he finds the pearl of great price. I just randomly pick up a Trabant when I see it at Walgreens. Or a friend will give me a Mini.

By the way, the model shown is from the amazing collection. (He very kindly let me take several pictures – which are in now my digital collection.) That white Matchbox Mustang is one that I owned when I was a boy. Today on eBay with the box it costs $100. Sadly it won’t regain a place of honor in my collection.


It’s all about context

MangosteenWhen we were in London, we stopped into Harrod’s. My sons loved the food hall that had a large selection of exotic fruit. If you were willing to pay, you could sample all manner of fruits, flown in from very far away.

I had to take a photo of the mangosteen – £32 for a kilo – or about US $ 52, as of this writing. My dear friends in Southeast Asia pay quite a bit less. But sitting on a tropical patio eating mangosteen is a lot different than sitting in a cramped apartment in grey London, enjoying (nearly) the same taste. And maybe to someone who sorely misses their home near the equator, that taste would just about be worth it.

We also saw an unbelievable number of exotic cars. The highlight was a Bugatti Veyron, worth about $1,500,000. Just driving on the street. The guy behind the wheel was maybe on his way to get a litre of olive oil at the nearest supermarket. Driving that car was an ordinary part of his day. For me, it would be an experience to remember for the rest of my life.



Tesla in Colorado

Tesla makes very fast electric cars. Very fast expensive electric cars.

Boulder has had a showroom for a while, but Denver recently got one – in a mall! (Funny enough, the Boulder store is now missing from their dealership listings page.)

The store is small. Just two cars are on the floor. But at $140,000 each, I’m not surprised.

The Roadster is the only model currently available. It’s basically a Lotus Elise at more than double the price. That’s a lot of saving the whales you can do for the difference.


A really really bad car

Nissan recently came out with a two-door convertible SUV – the Murano CrossCabriolet. It gets bad fuel economy, carries little, performs poorly, looks ugly, is hard to see out of and doesn’t do off-road very well. And it looks ugly.

A reflection of how hard this vehicle is to categorize is that Car & Driver magazine and Automobile magazine both gave it really unusual reviews. One was an epic poem – “The Oddity”. The other was a Q & A, in which the reviewers asked, “Does it do this well?” for 4 different categories, and the answer in every case was: “No.”

(My apologies if you just bought one. And also, please know that I have nothing against the regular Murano.)

The photo came from Car & Driver magazine.


Big brother?

Audi’s new A6 uses GPS and Google Maps to anticipate hills – so it knows when to upshift or downshift the transmission at just the right second. (Millisecond.) This increases performance and efficiency.

So the internet is even creeping into your future car’s transmission!

I do not say this in an alarmist manner. Rather, I see it as an exciting thing. This is technology being used well.

I think it’s even cooler when technology like that is used to bring clean water to people who might otherwise die. A friend of a friend, Erik Hersman, is doing stuff like that for Africa.

(By the way, I do have a big brother, in real life. He’s great. And by the way, this version of the A6 will hit US showrooms late in the summer of 2011. Stand in line now… just kidding.)


My dream car, for sale

Yes, I love this car. I’m selling it because we already have two cars. And it’s not our car. (I’m selling it for a family who left the country to live in Southeast Asia.)

Here’s my description in the Craigslist ad: 2.4 liter 5-cylinder. EXCELLENT condition!! Loaded with leather, sunroof, & 3rd-row seat. 178k but VERY well-maintained, many service records, recently new tires, timing belt changed at 108k. Recent work: replaced front struts & bushings, replaced front CV boots, upper engine mount, right front ball joint, new windshield, front brake rotors turned & new pads.

I’m asking $5,400. The only one I could find listed out there in internet-land is one from Washington state with 118k miles – at $8,950!

Update: A family bought it. They love the car. It was a pleasure to see their joy.


Transmission overkill

merc-9spThe 2012 Mercedes S-Class sedans will have 9-speed transmissions. The idea is for them to have the smoothest and quietest shifts you can get.

To me, it’s overkill. Yes, refinement is great, but it is worth the extra expense? Our Honda minivan has a 5-speed transmission, which is wonderful. At highway speeds, it’s purring along at a very low rate of rpm’s. Our Toyota sedan makes do with just a 3-speed. That bothers me a bit, knowing that it would save some fuel if the engine spun at lower rpm’s in top gear.

I remember 10-speed bicycles being an innovation in the USA. My 1972 Gitane road bike came with a 10-speed. I upgraded it to a 12. Today most road bikes have 27 speeds. I’d be happy with 18. (Actually, I am happy with 12 – but I’d appreciate the difference 18 would add to my cycling experience.)


Car design trends

car-design-trendsTop: The forth-coming Audi A8. Notice the resemblance to the front of a train. That design trend started in Europe because their pedestrian safety laws forced vehicle fronts to be more horizontal and less pointy.

Bottom: Matte-finish paint seemed to be popping up in a few places among the cars we saw at the Denver Auto Show. My son Jay and I both liked the visual effect. (Left is a Lamborghini and right is a Lexus.)


Cool cars

crzjag-clockLast weekend, my son Jay, his friend Taylor and I went to the Denver Auto Show. It was great!

A highlight was seeing the Honda CR-Z in real life. It’s a small 2-seater that’s the grandchild of my favorite car that I ever owned, a Honda CRX. They both have a great combination of fun driving and excellent fuel economy. The CR-Z updates the formula by adding hybrid drive. (And of course the cost will be about four times what the CRX was, not adjusted for inflation.)

The lowlight was the new Jaguar XJ. For more than $72,000, it did not deliver anything close to my expectations. Admittedly, I did not get to drive one. But I sat inside and played with all the knobs and controls. I was completely unimpressed at how one of the rear passenger lighted mirrors did not come on like it was supposed to. And from this pic, you can tell that they stylist chose a clock that would have been more at home inside a 1980 Cadillac. It also looked like I could have bought one off a vendor in the streets of Nairobi for about $20.

My only regret about the show was that John could not join us. (He’s in Germany.)