A Stitch In Time?

Is fabric automotive upholstery finally ready for a triumphant return after decades of leather fetishism? I recently received word that the new BMW 7-Series is available with woven textile upholstery; not just any fabric, but cashmere.

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Jettisoning the By-Products of Combustion, Then and Now

1966 Ford Mustang GT.

It’s hard not to notice how exhaust tips have evolved into fetish items over the past decade-and-a-half. Overly stylized and comically oversized, they have become carbuncles defacing the stern of the majority of mid and upper-range vehicles currently on offer.

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Whenever I hear the term dated, I release the safety on my Browning.

James Kraus

Essayist and art critic Clement Greenberg. Arnold Newman photo, 1972.

… Datedness is not a valid aesthetic judgment. It doesn’t say whether art is good or bad. Dated art can be as good as up-to-date art. – Clement Greenberg

Over the last several years, the term “dated” has been tossed around ad nauseam by hacks, buffoons, and others who wish to appear hip and knowledgeable, but in reality have trouble discerning their backsides from deep depressions in the earth. Continue reading

The Germans Aren’t Just Cutting Corners On Emissions…

James Kraus

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U.S.-spec 718 Boxster. Is the driver braking? Turning? Who knows? Who cares? Porsche doesn’t; but you should.

Everywhere outside of North America, rear turn indicators are required to be amber in colour. This is due to extensive research going back decades demonstrating amber conclusively outperforming red in terms of recognition time. The latest studies by the NHTSA in 2008 and 2009 show a significant reduction in collisions when vehicles are equipped with amber rear indicators (assuming of course that drivers actually use them.)   Continue reading

New Crop of “Luxury” SUVs Miss the Mark

James Kraus

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Bentley Bentayga

The staff ensconced here atop Auto Universum Tower has no love for SUVs; they are clunky, ill-proportioned and have to be climbed into. Once ensconced, one’s melon is tossed left and right, forward and back like a bobblehead doll due to the vertiginous seating position. When parked, they block pedestrian sightlines, turning sidewalks into tunnels. Nevertheless, when we gaze down upon the busy streets far below, they seem quite common now, and have recently been cause for mirth here at the office.  Continue reading

The People’s Car. Then and Now.

James Kraus

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Wolfsburg Crest, 1962 Volkswagen

On Sunday, the Auto Universum Board of Governors attended the Greystone Mansion Concours d’Elegance in Beverly Hills. This grand affair entailed a $120 admittance fee and boasted a splendid field including a Ferrari 250 SWB, a pair of 300 SLs, a Porsche 356 America Roadster, Alfa 6C 2500, Bugatti Type 57, 1930 V16 Cadillac and many other pedigreed swells.   Continue reading

The 1960s: Halcyon Days For Hommes d’un Certain Âge

James Kraus

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1965 Mercury Monterey with a trio of distinguished gentlemen and their consorts

According to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 51% of consumer spending is now done by people over 50, yet this group is the target for a mere 10% of marketing activity; this according to Bob Hoffman of the always entertaining Ad Contrarian blog. Bob further points out that millennials, who buy barely 12% of new cars, are featured in about 99.9% of new car advertising, even though consumers over 50 are the ones that have all the money.   Continue reading

How the Damper Became a Shock Absorber

by James Kraus

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Koni adjustable damper at the front of a Porsche 356C

One of the disparities in the automotive lexicon is the term bestowed upon the damper/shock absorber. In Germany and the majority of the English speaking world, it’s a damper. In the U.S., France, Italy and Spain, it’s a shock absorber. Deciding which is the more correct designation depends to a large degree on the era under discussion.  Continue reading

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: Don Draper’s 1962 Cadillac

by James Kraus

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Don slides behind the wheel of a Newport Blue Coupe de Ville with Olympic White roof and blue Chelsea Cloth interior. He purchases it days later.

The other day I was discussing season two of the television drama Mad Men with a friend and not surprisingly, talk soon turned to Don’s new Cadillac. Prototypical of what a successful New York executive would have purchased in the 1960’s, it was quiet, smooth and comfortable; equipped with a full measure of the latest developments in convenience features and driving aids.

Did Don care about how much power it had? How fast it was? No; these were more the concerns of men further down the totem pole. They amused themselves with lower-cost, larger-engined Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths. All of which could easily out-power Don’s posh new Cadillac. No matter; Don had no need for mere demonstrations of power; he possessed power. Continue reading

The Dark Black Secret: Your Neighbor’s New Plug-In Electric Car is Coal-Fired

by James Kraus

Coal-burning power station, Gelsenkirchen, Germany

The new plug-in vehicles, such as the Mini E, Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf are being touted by many as emission-free (or nearly so in the case of the Chevrolet.) In fact, these new high-tech wonder cars are to a large extent coal-powered. In the United States, by far the largest share of power generation is provided by coal-burning powerplants at approximately 50%, its closest rivals being nuclear and natural gas at a roughly 20% share each. In Europe, coal and natural gas are the largest sources of power, each having about a 30% share.

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Music from Modena: The Melodic Ferrari V8

by James Kraus

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Jean-Claude Andruet and Michèle “Biche” Espinosi-Petit on their way to overall victory at the 1982 Tour de France in a Ferrari 308 GTB

Why do Ferrari’s V8’s sound so delicious, almost as enticing and melodious as a V12? It comes from the use of a single-plane “flat” crankshaft in lieu of the typical cross-plane (two-plane) crankshaft. Workaday V8 engines utilize the cross-plane crank to optimize mechanical smoothness; an admittedly important consideration when transporting a hedge fund manager and his mistress to a performance of Die Walküre in a Mercedes-Benz S 450, or a load of sensitive electronic test equipment behind a MAN TGX in route to the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

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Volkswagen Revisited

by James Kraus

When Volkswagens were unique. This VW 1500, introduced in September of 1966, is one of the most coveted among collectors with its unique blend of big motor and disc brakes combined with the final appearance of the Beetle’s original svelte bumpers and sloping headlamps.

When Volkswagens were unique. This VW 1500, introduced in September of 1966, is one of the most coveted among collectors with its unique blend of big motor and disc brakes combined with the final appearance of the Beetle’s original svelte bumpers and sloping headlamps.

Bloomberg has picked up a story line that Auto Universum explored back in May 2009. The issue is the risks that lurk behind the continuing brand proliferation and commodification at Volkswagen. Apparently people are getting wise to the fact that many of the overlapping Skoda, SEAT, VW and Audi models are distressingly similar under the skin. This phenomenon is worsening as time goes on and even affects VW’s higher-line models.

If you buy a new Audi TT, your car is riding on a platform shared with the Škoda Yeti and powered by a generic VW Group engine. If your wallet allows you to buy a new Lamborghini Gallardo, you end up with a very nice VW Group 5.2 litre V10 purring away out back, but the same motor is also found (with a different crankshaft, sump and tuning) under the hood of the Audi S6 Sedan, a car that sells for a third of the price of the Lamborghini.

Read the Bloomberg piece here.

Terroir and Contemporary Automotive Design Trends

by James Kraus Bad Design

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Ominous, malevolent and sinister front ends of the 1950’s. Source: Design Quarterly

Automobiles have become more and more aggressive looking of late. A number of them, with their snarling grilles and squinting headlamps, have in fact crossed the line to surly and repulsive, displaying an unpleasantness last seen in the 1950’s.

This may have something to do with the fact that most of the world’s automobile manufacturers established design studios in Southern California some years ago.

Wine aficionados frequently discuss the effects of terroir on their favourite cuvées. The concept of terroir is that the local environment in which the vines grow (weather, soil, etc.) significantly affects the final product. In the same vein, could it not be that the local environment (architecture, clothing styles, attitudes, etc.) affects designers and their output?

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A Possible Future Direction for Saab

by J Kraus

1947 Saab 92. Form following function

Saab could find a ready market today by becoming what German cars used to be. The upscale German cars of today are more like the American cars of yore rather than the German cars of just a few decades ago. Too often overly styled, overweight and overwrought, they are in many ways the polar opposite of the handsome, understated and functional German machinery of days past.

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The State of Formula One

by J Kraus


2010 Ferrari F10

I am somewhat amused by the vast rumblings of discontent over the Bahrain GP. Everyone is complaining about the lack of passing. My first thought was that many of the voices complaining most voraciously about seeing only a few passing manoeuvers will happily spend a hour and a half watching a football (soccer) match in which only one or two goals are scored.

Viewing a pass on the racetrack is really not all that exciting in and of itself (unless you have a wager on!) It is how the pass is executed that can make it exciting for the fans.

There are two major problems with today’s F1 cars from a spectator standpoint: too much tire and too much downforce. The result is a car with a very small window between in control and out of control. That is why, when a driver makes the tiniest error he as often as not ends up completely off the track.

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