Oh America, How Your Current Car Culture Confuses Me

Usually I go into writing an article with a clear idea of what it is I want to say. Often this comes about thanks to some deep reflection which has led one or two conclusions — this is one of those few times I’m completely at a loss. I simply don’t know how I feel about American car culture right now, having just spent a few weeks over there.

Like a lot of car fans my age, the United States had a huge affect on my upbringing and love of all things automotive. I grew up on a daily dose of Dukes of Hazard, A-Team, the Fall Guy, and Knight Rider with seasonal lashings of Battle of The Monster Trucks and weekend features of Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit, Herbie, and more.

In fact, back then, it feels like everything out of America was sprinkled with car culture like it was the pop equivalent of cinnamon. The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles had their van, the Munsters their kustom coach, and the Monkees rode around in their Monkeemobile. Barbie had a Ferrari, Ken had a Corvette, and each of Charlie’s Angels had car to help define their personality. It was like nobody could ever really feel actualised until they had a car to define their being — it helps explain a lot about my generation’s attitude to modified car culture now.

My first trip to The States was back in 2007 and, in those ten years since, I’ve been back three times. Each time I visit, it seems their car culture has taken another long step in the wrong direction.

We flew out to Phoenix, Arizona this time, via Atlanta. One of my favourite parts of flying to America is landing at the airport, not just because I hate flying but because you’re greeted with F-Series trucks and E-Series vans cruising around airside getting their jobs done. That never seems to change. Blue collar car culture remains as American as concealed carry and barely anymore progressive. When a white F150 eventually dies, it’s replaced with slightly curvier F150 which may or may not have a new generation of engine between the rails of what is in earnest a 70 year old chassis bordering on an institution. You could start a religion there around ladder frames and leaf springs and thousands upon thousands would come to hear you preach. And I like that. Commercial vehicles are the most organic of any country’s automotive portfolio, be it the Transit van of the UK or the Tuk Tuks of Indaa.

However, from the second you walk out those automatic doors and drag your luggage by the taxi rank, you quickly see what American cars have become. They are fat, they are ugly, and many of them are obese. They are a mishmash of vacuous European blandness and crass American hedonism. This is now a world of the have and have-land-yachts. Continue reading Oh America, How Your Current Car Culture Confuses Me

Episode 17 – America! America! America!

So, one of us has strayed a little far from the shed. Thousands of miles afar. Therefore, this is our first international episode via Skype with Andrew sweltering in Staffordshire and Chris sweating it out in Arizona. The topic? Well it’s America for the past, America for the present, and America for the future, HOBVIOUSLY!

Flight Or Fight — Our Human Response When Our Cars Break Down

I’m fortunate enough to write that I’ve only ever suffered two instances where a car of mine has, as Rolls Royce famously put it, failed to proceed. The first was when the coil went on my Mini and the second was when my XR4x4 ripped a tie-rod through a decaying bush.

Now, that’s not to say I’ve never been in a situation where recovery may have been the appropriate fix — I’ve bump-started my own car while having to push and hold the battery cable in place at the same time, I’ve vibrated an hour down the M6 with a driveshaft universal joint failure, and… well… there’s worse I don’t feel too comfortable talking about in the public arena.

I have recovery cover. I keep my card with me on all journeys, and I have the number stored in my phone. I admit I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also been resourceful, hence why these days I carry more stuff in my trunk than a WRC support vehicle. That said, a lot of how we act in these situations comes down to how we operate at our core.

During the last Men In Sheds vlog, a Barn Tune episode where we replaced the turbo in Andrew’s Wagon-R, we ventured out to conduct a road test and collect some pizza. We were far too pre-occupied with the pizza. We left his home with hot tea in our bellies but no fluid checks and barely a once over of the engine bay. We took nothing with us. No oil. No water. No tools. Plus, we of course ventured out into the sticks grinning into the camera like we were invincible. We didn’t realise that our comments celebrating the Wagon-R “Moving under its own steam” would foreshadow what was about to happen. Continue reading Flight Or Fight — Our Human Response When Our Cars Break Down

Barn Tune – Wagon R Turbo Replacement (+ Turbocharging lecture & Road Test Fail)

So, as some of you may know, Andrew’s Wagon-All-The-Rs decided it didn’t want to have a turbo anymore and turned the turbine impeller into a waste disposal unit. In this Barn Tune vlog, we finish up the replacement of the turbo, give a lecture on turbocharging in general, and breakdown during the test drive.

Episode 16 – Good Guy Volvo

Volvo, one of the coolest car brands ever in our opinion. We shine the spotlight on their altruistic pursuit of safety and practical implementation of power. After those niceties, we say our piece about the GT86/BRZ and the constant argument about lacking power for a new segment we’re calling Riddle Me This. We have another new segment for you too, Highway Humbuggery, with the topic of just who is right when it comes to the dreaded lane merge. As for the future, well it’s looking a little bleak as our rights to own and maintain a car may be eroding away faster than an old Rover on a wet salted b-road.

Rant n’ Ride Special – Two Men Went To Mow

This is a new segment we hope to be doing more of. We get angry, you see? We get angry about cars. It’s because we care. And we rant, oh how we rant. And when we rant, we like to go on a little drive to blow off some steam. This coincided with us needing to go pick up Andrew’s latest vehicle – a lawn tractor. What’s got our manties in a twist at the moment? Well, a few things but mainly the Fiat Fullback pickup truck which is a poor showing from the usually creative and exciting FCA.

Fiat’s UK Pickup Truck May Be A Fullback, But It’s Utterly Half Arsed

I don’t need to test drive, buy, or conduct an owner’s report to tell you the Fiat Full Back is a dirty mark on an otherwise remarkable portfolio from FCA — and it’s got nothing to do with how good a truck it actually is. Continue reading Fiat’s UK Pickup Truck May Be A Fullback, But It’s Utterly Half Arsed

Now I Understand The Numbers, I Regret Every Penny I’ve Spent On Cars.

During our last episode of Men In Sheds, we covered the topic of car finance and why, what looks like hedonistic automotive freedom, is actually a horrible trap that locks you into a brand. I have to admit complete ignorance to this world before Andrew and I sat down for a cup of tea the week before and he explained it all to me.

I’m not a foolish man with money, not any more. However, when I left school, I was financially illiterate, and I think many of us are. I left college in 1998, walked into my first job, and was on the initial wave of the easy loans and credit card bombardment phase of that era. I made a lot of terrible financial decisions which I’ll get back to later in this piece.

Continue reading Now I Understand The Numbers, I Regret Every Penny I’ve Spent On Cars.

Episode 15 – Part 3 – Manufacturer Charging Networks; Why We Should Be Very Worried

It’s easy to skip around high-fiving each other about the electric car revolution. We finally get to enjoy driving without feeling like Mr Burns again. Sadly, for every business person who sees a chance to change the world, there’s ten more who spy an opportunity to fleece us. Oil, as environmentally unfriendly as it is, does come with the benefit of effectively being “open source”. Electricity isn’t like that and there’s all kinds of sneaky ways we think car manufacturers can abuse the charging networks they own to further their monopolies.