Writing About Cars: Listen, this Blog is Cool, but…..

October 2, 2013 at 11:26 am

I haven’t really discussed this before, but I really need to find a way to write about cars, motorsports, and the hobby for a living. Like, a good, healthy living that doesn’t involve living hand-to-mouth and selling off my collection of mismatched BMW parts. A living that ensures the E30 receives the restoration it deserves and the M3 lives to see 250,000 miles on its original bottom end. That kind of living.

Long ago, I interviewed with Grassroots Motorsports magazine for a job as a reporter/writer. I was offered said job, which prompted a near nervous breakdown of deciding to invest in what I saw as a valuable relationship, or throwing caution to the wind (and said relationship) and moving to Florida to essentially live at Daytona. Did I mention that I would later be fired from the job I was considering giving the gigantic middle finger to while I relocated to Daytona Beach in the middle of a vicious New England winter? Yes, that happened. But the pay was low – really low – and I believed the relationship I had found was far more significant than the opportunity presented by the editorial staff. This decision was validated by my marriage not two weeks ago to an absolutely wonderful woman, but the scars of regret haven’t fully healed.

So what do you do? Well, if you’re like me, you dust off your Linkedin profile and see who might know who in the automotive world. You discover that a native Rhode Islander – right down the road, in fact – is a PR consultant for Porsche’s North American Motorsports team. You get him on the phone, in which he proceeds to tell you that the industry is a barren wasteland and that you better really enjoy making just enough to cover travel expenses while never earning what’s needed to support that restoration three years in the works for your 1987 325is. I don’t doubt the man, but in my phone-call fantasy, he was supposed to tell me he needed an extra set of hands to punch out press releases, set up interviews, and travel to Road Atlanta in a support role. Mere table scraps, and I’d take them. Truth be told, even table scraps are hard to come by, according to him. I’m a realist, but that was hard to digest.

And then you do the sit and wait thing, where you feel like a drug addict coming off of buzzy highs and hope-swallowing lows. After discovering a potential connection worked for one of the major media conglomerates with multiple automotive properties, I sent him my resume at his urging. Grateful, I am, but the excitement of this close connection was quickly subdued by the realization that my information is a mere email – a speck – in a inbox that is as vast as the universe itself, with unknown depths and myriad possibilities for when, if ever, my deets are viewed.  I’m not naive. I hate entitlements. Don’t feel like my profile deserves viewing any more or less than the next guy. But holy God, getting noticed and having a conversation seems like its light-years away after witnessing the effort involved in just finding someone with an email address that doesn’t begin with “info@…..” True, it’s half the battle – and for that, I am grateful – but when most of your mojo is locked up until an in-person meeting is proposed, you begin to understand how a third-string quarterback might feel. If you gave me the ball, you might just see that I can chuck that thing out of the stadium. Sure, my face will get stomped on a few times. But until you get that chance, how will anyone know?

I love writing. I do. I believe I’m good at it. That’s not to say a trip to J-School isn’t required, but I’d be willing to make that leap if someone gave me a sign that the investment is worth it, and that my life won’t turn into that of a starving artist. I look at why my subscription to Car & Driver will never lapse, and that’s because I love reading the columns penned by John Phillips and Peter Egan. Good writing does sell products, and I am hungry to prove my worth at any number of publications. I’m not picky. I’ll bring my own computer, and jump on a plane without hesitation. You want me reviewing a Nissan Versa in South Dakota? Done. Analyzing vinyl seating surface durability in New York City cabs after years of carting millions of gross, disgusting asses? Where are my latex gloves? Interview members of the Green Party about their hatred of horsepower? Heck, I’ll even wear a Prius button just to set the mood.

I’m sure there are thousands of gearheads and writers who would answer yes to those questions as well. But you’ve got to respect the guy who came up with them in the first place.

It’s Time for a Volkswagen BRZ

June 26, 2013 at 8:02 am

For the past few weeks, I cannot keep my mind off of oddball Volkswagens, especially those with a track record for being as reliable as often as a Kardashian is mistaken for an intelligent person. I’m talking about Vanagons, Sciroccos, and anything that came from the factory with a VR6. In particular, I have dedicated my search to a clean B3 Passat – yes, the one that looks like its perpetually frightened, thanks to its wide-eyed face and ticking timebomb of a motor.

While it’s not G60 levels of self-implosion, the first-generation of any motor is usually somewhat of a moving testbed, a prototype that you get the privilege of paying full price for without the pleasure of destroying when its mule-ish reliability wears thin. The factory gets to experience that joy, while you just find a way to live with it. However, it seems like the B3 is dying like it lived – quickly, and forgotten behind a mechanic’s service bay.


The reason I love this early Passat so much is because it was the most modern answer Volkswagen was willing to give to the windswept movement that has made most new cars look like a snow drift with headlamps. Instead, they took essentially the same rectangle-with-a-glass-bunker design language that defined every one of their cars and smoothed out the still-square headlights while rounding the very edges of the fenders. It was as if you could imagine ol’ Wolfgang screaming bloody murder that the suits wanted shapes that didn’t resemble a refrigerator and, after months of indifference, this is what he came up with. A gigantic brick of a middle finger to management, with a howling VR6 in the nose. God love ol’ Wolfgang.

My underlying affinity for cars like this is because they are no longer made, especially by the Germans. Congress began discussions recently that cars in the future will feature some sort of wi-fi labyrinth that will determine if a driver is using their phone when moving. Certainly we can all agree that distracted driving is a problem, but instead of improving drivers so they don’t kill themselves or each other behind the wheel, we once again further neuter the car from any sense of engagement because, well – most Americans have no interest in actually improving their response times or making the car the central focus of driving. From a styling standpoint, these amorphous blobs we now call “new cars” (I’m looking at you, Hyundai Elantra) are so lacking in design character that they’ve become both anonymous and identical to every other car on the road – all in the name of small improvements in fuel efficiency. I drive a boxy ’95 M3 that still gets 22 m.p.g. on the highway, a scant 6-8 miles difference (estimate) from today’s compacts. Big loss in the name of incremental efficiency gains.

I have to give the Japanese credit: they had the stones to see the BRZ asd FRS through to production, and they’ve been praised handsomely for it. It’s time for ze Germans – and who better than Volkswagen – to sell a stripped-down, rear or all-wheel drive platform with a nose-heavy VR6 and boxy styling. Otherwise, I’m going to keep looking for a Passat (like this one!), or a Vanagon, or Scirocco…or maybe a Quantum with Syncro….


The Forever Car

June 5, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Recently, my brother shared an article that discussed how a Porsche 911 was the author’s “Forever Car”  – a car that he would never sell unless it was physically impossible to retain it. As some of you may know, I recently acquired a 1995 E36 M3 coupe on a bit of a whim, and I can say this: it has the stuff forever cars are made of.


I don’t know what it is, but older vehicles for me capture a mixture of qualities that today’s new cars and trucks can’t re-create, features that appeal to the senses and slip further and further out of grasp with each platform change or model update. I suppose people from every era say the same thing about how generational shifts aren’t moving us forward, whether it’s the type of service you receive in a restaurant to the price of a good pair of shoes. As I grow older, I find myself somewhat ambivalent about most of the changes we’re experiencing.  I can appreciate a good mobile phone, and eating organics can only serve to improve my health. But throwing down $30 large for a soulless rolling technology convention just isn’t going to happen.

The M3 is full of instant sensory gratification, from the way it just makes noise – it sounds fast when you’re creeping out of a parking space. It is eerily silent when you’re sitting in traffic, save for a rich mixture giving it a pulse at idle. The exhaust is bassy, full of bumps and pops when coasting down a hill. The intake noises, from the whine in first gear to the air horn-like blat it gives at full throttle, is nothing any new car can offer without acoustical support from some electronically manufactured soundwave. Kids today think all car movies are filmed with CGI, thanks to Fast & The Furious. The M3 is Ronin compared to Tokyo Drift. 

It looks natural. It’s a normal 3-Series coupe, from the side skirts to the trunk lid, yet a set of chunky wheels and aero kit transform it, with the 235-series rubber poking out from the fender. It’s as if the designers knew all along the ordinary E36 would accommodate such enhancements, even when there were no plans to bring the M3 to the U.S. Today’s  performance variants need lowered suspensions, 19 inch wheels with tire monitors, LED lighting and 500-watt stereos to convey performance; the M3 accomplishes the same without a bumping system and Von Dutch pinstripes.

Most of all, it’s a giant middle finger to our throwaway society. It’s got 153,000 miles of memories, and is testament to a proactive maintenance schedule and passionate owners. Today’s gadget-hounds and window shoppers find contentment knowing they’ve purchased the latest and the greatest, and tremble with the realization that newer and better will be here in six months – or worse yet, next door. Good for them, I suppose. Hope that new infotainment system keeps them occupied – God forbid they actually find driving engaging enough.

And that might be the bottom line of all of this. If you enjoy driving, you find pleasure in the tactile sensations of older vehicles, from the smell of fuel wafting through weathered gaskets and the rough leather patches of a worn steering wheel with hand-stitched M colors. If you just want to ensure your ego can keep up with the Joneses, your driveway will become a revolving door. If you want a forever car, you buy an M3.

Sons of Taki Fantasy Garage Godzilla Edition – Jonathan’s picks

April 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

When Matt announced the Fantasy challenge Godzilla edition my first though was to find an R32 Skyline but that would either break the bank or I’d end up with something illegal. Instead I picked a solid threesome that would serve me well.

The Japanese Driver – 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R V Spec (Price – $5,950)


The V Spec will chirp third as I haul away from what ever monster a Japanese film studio has created. I wanted to find a B13 SE-R but one was nowhere to be found. I prefer the B13 as it reminds of a 510 (sigh) and doesn’t have the fast and furious look this V Spec has. This however does have the 3.5 V6 and a nice NISMO exhaust system.


The Vehicle for Mowing Down Zombies – M548/M548A1 Tracked Cargo Carrier (Price – $30,000)


Military Camo? Check! Tracked? Check! Potential to mount a big honkin gun? Check! Ability to run over zombies? You betcha!

I was thinking of a loaded up truck /SUV or a retired military truck but when I saw this I said to myself this is it. This is the vehicle I want when the rapture arrives. I can throw a gun on it, run anything over and save some people at the same time


The Bike – 2010 MV Agusta F4 (Price – $10,00)


I have a thing for bikes, if I wasn’t such a car guy, I would definitely be a bike guy. I have a thing for dirt bikes or sportbikes. I love my supercross/motocross and World Superbikes, TT, and MotoGP. I think the MV is a work of art. When I wasn’t riding it, I would have it in the middle of my living room just so I could look at it when I’m at home. As for the sound, don’t get me started; if Ferrari made a bike, this is what it would sound like.


Fantasy Garage: Godzilla Edition- Matt’s Picks

April 16, 2013 at 3:02 am

Well, it is now my turn to pick the criteria for the latest Fantasy Garage.  As I drove around in a 2000 Nissan Xterra, I thought very hard as to what I could propose for our latest challenge.  That’s when the idea hit to do a Godzilla edition, aimed towards foreign cars.  The criteria: 1. a Japanese brand vehicle, 2. a “zombie apocalypse”  vehicle, and 3. a “rice rocket”- a sports/racing bike, just to throw a curve ball into the equation.  The price cap: $54,000.   Why such a strange number? Well the original Godzilla movie was debuted in 1954, so I just tacked a few zero’s on to the year.  So enjoy my picks for this latest edition of Fantasy Garage.

– Japanese-brand vehicle: 2002 Nissan Altima 2.5S – $3500

SoT Altima

This vehicle is small enough to be able to cruise around in the city without any issues.  It comes complete with power windows, power door locks, air conditioning, and cruise control.  It’s valued at $4393, according to Kelly Blue Book, but as a price like this, it’s a decent deal.  Not to mention the other Nissan sedan choices were either a tan/gray color that has seen better days, or a green/blue which just looks horrendous!


– Zombie Apocalypse Escape Vehicle: 2013 Nissan Xterra PRO-4X – $31,131 (accessories included)

Sot Xterra Pro4x

I’m a big fan of the Nissan Xterra. I own a 2000 Nissan Xterra which I purchased pre-owned in 2005 and I have had no major complaints since.  However, it is riding at around 154K miles, so the complaint list is beginning to grow- but that’s expected.  Regardless of these issues, I still chose the Xterra as my escape vehicle.  After pricing it out to fit my needs, including side steps, rain guards, and a tow hitch, this vehicle runs for a little more than $31,000.  Not a bad deal.  I’ll probably toss in another $1000 in strobe lights and police scanner installation, which would bring me up to my $54,000 goal.   This vehicle is needed to drive over debris and anything else that may be lying in the road post- apocalypse.  In addition to all of this, motor trend picked the Xterra to be one vehicle which would excel during an apocalypse.


Rice Rocket: 2012 Ducati with 848 EVO – $13,995

SoT Ducati 2012

I’ll be honest and say I’m not a big fan of bikes.  They’re very unsafe and do not leave much room for error.  Whether it’s an inexperienced operator, or the other idiots on the road, I could never see myself on any motorcycle.  However, this is a sharp looking bike, and if I didn’t care about anything, and didn’t live in New England where you can ride a bike for only one third of the year (might be an overestimate), then I would be seen on this.

Well, this puts my total to roughly $48,626.  I’ll probably spend the remainder adding strobes and police scanners, like I said earlier on the Xterra.  With the Altima, I’ll probably have to throw money into maintenance.  And finally, with the Ducati, the remainder will be spent on hospital bills since I don’t even know how to ride a motorcycle.  Well, those are my picks! I hope you enjoyed them!

Lav’s Fantasy Garage: “Monsters In My Yard” Edition

April 15, 2013 at 11:00 pm

So, today’s news in Boston leaves me full of venom, spit and skunky beer aftertaste. Just when it seemed life has achieved some level of normalcy on a national scale – the stock market is coming back, unemployment is at least stable, spring is returning to New England – some shithead has to go and take a colossal dump in everyone’s breakfast cereal of choice. It’s enough to make me say, “Thanks world, but I’m becoming a hermit. I want my cars, my woman, some ammunition and a house in the woods.”

But we can’t do that. That’s not what Americans do. Instead, let’s inject some levity into an otherwise dark day and look at how another nation dealt with terror: the Japanese. Gigantic monsters, and fire-breathing ones at that. Captured in movies that similarly captured Americans’ attention, it seems ironic now that our own entertainment used to be terror in countries besides our own. However, if we’re taught anything, it’s that you should be well-equipped to bust out of dodge and have several vehicles to do so.

Big, black and bad-ass Japanese sedan ($5,000): Infiniti Q45

The original Japanese Q-ship. I have little doubt this brute could power through anything resembling a zombie apocalypse or Godzilla attack. Little to no protruding edges to get caught on reptilian skin or narrow alley-ways. A 4.5L V8 capable of vaulting the heavy-hitter to 60 in 6.7 seconds was no slouch by 1990’s standards, and the viscous limited-slip differential will certainly come in handy when dodging infidels.


Big Bird – or, winner-takes-all mobile ($45,000): 1978 Toyota Landcruiser FJ40

If I need a rig that can take months of abuse and unpaved roads, I’d want the motoring equivalent to a cockroach: the original FJ40 – fully restored and galvanized,  of course. I’m pretty sure they still drive these in Chernobyl, and until zombies start fighting with rust particles that can be injected into sheetmetal, the FJ40 will go anywhere and with little care or attention to the oily bits. Plus, throw a winch on the front end and it will take you over hill and dale to safety – or onto the next town in search of non-decomposing countrymen.



The Gentleman’s Express ($5,000): 1986 Honda VFR F2 Interceptor 

If all else fails, you’re going to need a bike. Jump over obstacles, squeeze between traffic, and outgun your assailants. The VFR isn’t the quickest bike around, but it’s well-suited for looking the part with its quintessential “We must go now” Japanese graphics. Used as Honda’s homologation racing platform with a raucous V4 engine, I can’t think of a better bike for leaving the end of the world behind and in style. Preferably, one would exit the island of fire-breathing monsters on one of these crotch-rockets while wearing a suit, wingtips, and with the emperor’s daughter clutching his waist.


Now, back to the reality of not being able to distract ourselves from what ails us; instead, we’ll face it – or them – with an unflinching gaze and the confidence of knowing we still possess the freedom to drive with joy and away from fear.

$10K Fantasy Garage- Matt’s Rat Boxes

April 2, 2013 at 2:01 am

I really thought this would be easier than it actually was.  I started this out with a few cars and trucks I would like and picked them.  Then when I was left with about $200, I knew I had to revamp my choices. So sit back, and enjoy my collection of rat boxes for under $10,000.

1964 Chevrolet C10 Custom Cab: $2,950

1964ChevyC10Cust Everyone needs a pick up truck, and this was the best one I could find with in this price range.  The seller says this truck runs, but the only catch is that seller bolted on fenders and put in a ’61 GMC V6 engine along with a 4 speed transmission, which only makes this truck “Yard Driveable” (for now).  This truck is a 1/2 ton, which means you’d be able to haul a lot of hay, dirt, and tractor parts in your hick truck.


1984 Pontiac Grand Prix: $3500

1984GP This is my fun beater- something that I can spin the tires with and impress the ladies, as long as they like old beaters whose hoods don’t latch on completely.  Pontiac has always made great vehicles, but unfortunately, due to the economy, the ceased production and this company shut down a few years ago.  Here are some vehicle specifics from the seller: recent V6 231 motor and TCI 200-4R transmission, polyurethane bushings and recent front end work.


1970 International Fire Truck: $2,795

1970 IntFT Of course, I would need to find an emergency beater!  This was taken out of service from a fire department in 2007.  According to the seller, it starts right up, and drives well.  In addition to this, the lights siren work, and this truck is capable of spraying foam.  The only downfall is that a warranty is not included.  If you can get over that, then you will definitely enjoy cruising down the back roads with your 5 speed manual transmission.  Surprisingly, this truck only has 2,433 miles on it, which means the call volume for this department must be extremely low.

I believe this leaves me with approximately $700 left over, which will probably be used for towing expenses when all of these break down in the middle of no where.



10K Fantasy Garage – Jonathan’s picks

March 30, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m not a beater guy. I like my cars new or fairly new and if it’s old, it better something somewhat nice. On top of that I’m a bit of a germaphobe, who knows who and what has been done in some vehicle that has 100K miles on it. I was expecting this to be very difficult for me, finding three cars for 10K when I’d probably have a tough time looking for one at 10K. So decided to have laugh and “buy” things that would give me some stories to tell

The Daily Driver ( I go home to my pipe and slippers buy) – 1990 Jaguar XJ6 Sovereign – $3,000

The most class you can get for three grand, so what if it’s very thirsty and the electrical system acts like coke-fuelled Lindsey Lohan. You’re going to look great when the wipers don’t work or the windows go down in the middle of  rainstorm.  When you drive a car like this, no matter how crappy it is under the hood, people are going to think you’re from old money, went to an elite private school and you or a fellow male family member is named Nigel.

This car was found on Craigslist in North Andover, MA with the contact being a guy named Damien. He either fits the description above or someone looking to upgrade their baller status. The car is clean outside and the interior shows no marks from the last fox hunt.

The Weekend Ride (Only because I have the best AAA membership and a mechanic named Ralf is eternally indebted to me) – 1988 VW Scirocco 16v – $4,200


The rule of thumb on VW’s, especially old ones is that they’re fantastic cars…when they work. Whatever you pay for car, double the cost and that’s at least your yearly maintenance cost . Scirocco’s are your typical German: great ideas but poor execution/not being able to complete the job. This one (found on ebay) is said to have a rebuilt engine, new fuel injectors, new clutch, new brakes, new water pump. What the seller didn’t say was he’s now seeing a mental health professional and had to sell a kidney to cover the costs of the repairs.

The Can’t Be Killed Rust Warrior – 1985 Toyota Land Crusier – $2990

Land Cruiser

The true definition of a beater, this SUV refuses to die; rust, zombie apocalypse  and one or two nuclear holocausts couldn’t kill this Land Crusier. It looks like hell but so bad ass at the same time. Who cares if your feet might fall through the floor and you need to make sure your shots are up to date. Take this anywhere and you get respect.


Lav’s $10K Beater Corral

March 28, 2013 at 11:40 pm

As a follow-up to this week’s $150K bundle of joy, I’ve now struck out for a lineup that’s near and dear to my heart: beaters. Except, like a comfy sweater with a few holes or an old beach towel that’s bleached by the sun, beaters don’t necessarily have to be beaters. In fact, most of my selections are just the affordable versions of some once kick-ass cars.

Daily driver: 1990 Ford Taurus SHO – $4,000

I spend too much time making up bad puns involving the word “show” to not thoroughly enjoy driving this piece of 80’s goodness. Take a mundane family sedan, call up a few Asian pals who normally make sportbikes and outboard motors, and then ask them to build you a hotrod. I’ve always heard cocaine flowed like a river in the big hair era, but it must have been squirted out of air fresheners at Ford’s headquarters. And then to give it a manual transmission? Mercy. I’ll take mine with the slicer alloys.


Track rat: 1987 Isuzu Impulse Turbo – $3,000

Oh, yeah. I went there. A damn ISUZU. Actually, think of it as the fairer twin of the VW Scirocco, except it’s rear wheel drive, came factory turbocharged, Lotus breathed on it (or in its general direction) and it’s an ISUZU. I have loved these things for as long as I can remember, and it’s frightening to think that someday I will likely chase someone down, screaming “HERE, TAKE MY MONEY!” should I find one with all the trimmings and most of its sheet metal still intact. It also is the epitome of 80’s logic, of which there was very little. Might explain why Isuzu doesn’t sell cars here anymore.


Rock hopper: 1991 Jeep Wrangler Renegade – $3,000

Oftentimes, I wish I born a few years sooner. The early 90’s seemingly captured everything I love in a car today, from mesh wheels to fender flares and average vehicles becoming a little less average. Best of all, that even included monstrosities like the Jeep Wrangler Renegade. LOOK AT IT. It’s got a factory wide body, kick-ass moniker WITH its own pinstripe, monster fog lamps, multi-hole alloys, inline six, five-speed – oh yeah, and it’s four wheel drive because it’s a FREAKIN’ JEEP. When’s the last time you heard “Jeep” and “body kit” in the same sentence that you didn’t convulse with fear, anger, or likely, both? Well, the 90’s called and left a message saying thanks, you’re welcome, and have a nice day.



That does it, kids. The SHO and Renegade are on eBay right now – just need to get an “Impulse” to say bye-bye to the E46.


What I did there, do you see it?

Lav’s $150K picks – non-beater edition

March 25, 2013 at 1:19 pm

This is not easy. $150K to spend on three vehicles when most of what I want to own can be found for $20K or less. But, like any addict, those afflicted with the disease of gearhead can always find new ways to enhance their addiction.

Everyday car – 1998 Porsche 911 C4S ($50,000 + $10,000 annual maintenance):

This, to me, is the epitome of the enthusiast car. Collectible for being the last of the air-cooled 911s; classic for its strict adherence to the original design; useful for its four-wheel drive configuration, aided by the rear-mounted engine for additional traction; and just plain awesome for numerous other reasons, from its classic interior to its performance to its (relative) reliability. To drive one of these every day is to have truly made it in life, and is deserving of respect from gearheads everywhere.


Utilitarian transport – Land Rover Defender 90 ($45,000 + $5,000 annual maintenance)

If the snowfall renders the 993 useless, this is the next best thing – a classic Defender 90. Anything that looks good wearing big, honkin’ Hella fog lamps is usually going to find a warm place in my heart, and the limited-production Defender 90 is the ultimate paradox of barely warmed over military-grade transport that you can still drive while wearing your best suit. Obviously, its off-road prowess precedes it, but the abstract qualities it possesses – looking as good parked on Newbury Street as it does up at Killington – make it a must-have for me.



Classic – E28 BMW M5 ($35,000 + $5,000 annual maintenance) 

Some might say this should be reversed, with the M5 taking the honors as the every day vehicle. But really, if this is a fantasy, I’d want to drive the 911 daily after so many years of using sedans for commuting purposes. The E28 is one of my favorite generations of the BMW family, and the legendary qualities of the M5, from its limited production to the Ronin-esque images it conjures every time you slip behind the wheel, deserves to be treated with classic status sooner than later. The 993 is not far behind in that department, but at this moment, the original Q-ship is already there.


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