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The setting is Oxford, 1936. A gently smiling man is pouring a veritable cornucopia of gold into the academic caps of ecstatic scientists and medical researchers, equivalent to about 50 million dollars in today’s money. This is flashy philanthropy, big time, in a reserved and proper England far closer to the times and attitudes of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs than to our own. The horn of plenty is the cartoon’s visual joke: it’s a squeeze-bulb horn, the kind we use on bicycles, but back then it was an old-fashioned symbol of early motoring. For the square-jawed, middle-aged benefactor is multimillionaire British auto tycoon William Morris, soon to be ennobled as Lord Nuffield. Morris was no aristocrat. A former mechanic who founded an industrial empire, he didn’t inherit that money. He earned every shilling of it.
“Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile”, by Lewis Siegelbaum is one of the rare English language histories of that country’s motor industry, and it’s really more of a Soviet story than a car book.
The central paradox that gives the tale its drama is Communism’s ambiguous, and ultimately changing official attitude, towards the car. Evidently “auto” in early Russian parlance includes a range of rugged large vehicles that include all but the largest overland trucks. If there’s one country whose ex-urban areas justify the use of SUVs and similarly tall, hulking vehicles it surely is Russia.
In 1948, the first self-serve gas station was opened in the United States. The station was in Los Angeles, the car capital of the country, on Beverly Boulevard just past Fairfax Avenue and was operated by Gilmore Oil. Gilmore Oil was a large, local oil and gas company well known in southern California. Gilmore called these self-service stations “Gas-a-Teria’s”. The Gas-a-Teria was a massive station for the time featuring eight islands with three pumps per island. The self-serve gas saved the customer five cents per gallon and the attendants at the station were young women.
Well, here we are just a few days from the start of this year’s Indianapolis 500, and the delivery of the famous exhortation to begin. From 1977 to 2017, the phrase was amended to include “Ladies” as well, if there was one or more competing. Such a rational response in this day and age that it almost boggles the mind. However, in 2017 political correctness and inclusivity caught up with Indy, and the phrase is now an anodyne “Drivers, start your engines!” I have no idea what they’ll do when the first self-driving car muscles itself into the pole position. No doubt their highly-paid consultants and lawyers will think of something.
But since it seems that the actual wording of the phrase is fluid and can be altered at will, and because this is May:
O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!–Thomas Dekker, 1572-1632
The Left: A woman can do whatever she wants to with her own body. Also the left: A woman should not be allowed to use her body to model at car shows. Eliminating women as display props isn’t new for some carmakers like French Peugeot maker PSA Group. “Visitors to the Geneva auto show will […]
Ford is bringing back the Ranger line of pick-ups. It looks like it will be a very handsome vehicle indeed. I had been waiting for the new Jeep Wrangler pick-up to come out, but something more than nostalgia will have me looking at the new Ranger. The first vehicle I ever bought for myself (about […]
Bob Lutz is a former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors. And in this essay for Automotive News, he declares the end of the auto industry as we know it:
It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era. The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve. For hundreds of years, the horse was the prime mover of humans and for the past 120 years it has been the automobile. Now we are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardized modules. The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway. . . .
Most of these standardized modules will be purchased and owned by the Ubers and Lyfts and God knows what other companies that will enter the transportation business in the future. A minority of individuals may elect to have personalized modules sitting at home so they can leave their vacation stuff and the kids’ soccer gear in them. They’ll still want that convenience. The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways. The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents. . . .
While you good folks continue to talk about stuff that matters, let me again turn to something that doesn’t. The Trumpathon will be waiting for you on the other end. Preview Open
Is EPA evil or merely incompetent? You decide. And beware if your car is older than 2012. Preview Open
About twice a year, I decry how conservatives are conceding an important and powerful demographic and cultural change to liberals. It’s sometimes called the New Urbanism. To conservatives, though, its just the Evil City all over again. And anything good that may be happening is “yuppification,” “gentrification,” or — even worse — “hiptserfication.” I don’t see the problem: all three words mean revitalization, which means the creation of fine, safe, productive, and interesting places for people to live and work. In other words, it means bringing back downtown and main street which, once upon a time, were natural homes for conservatives. But, as I’m wont to say, conservatives are used to what they are used to and skeptical of all else. Many modern conservatives are simply not used to downtown and main street.
But that’s not totally true. My last foray into this arena was a four–part history of transportation in America. The responses to that thread made it clear that there is a solid core of potential, budding, and already-arrived conservative urbanists. Today, I’m here with some good news for conservative urbanists and to announce a fine discovery in the form of a blog: Market Urbanism, whose motto is “Urbanism for Capitalists / Capitalism for Urbanists.”
Hayek and Bastiat (and of course, Jane Jacobs, she of Spontaneous Order) are displayed prominently in their bookstore. A few quotes I’ve so far gleaned from a brief perusal of some of the site. About the website’s founder, Adam Hengels:
Here is a brief description of disruptive innovation theory, via the Clayton Christensen Institute:
The theory explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the status quo. Initially, a disruptive innovation is formed in a niche market that may appear unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents, but eventually the new product or idea completely redefines the industry.
In Cuba, every automobile owner is stuck with a vehicle from the 1940s or 1950s. Imagine that person’s delight at witnessing modern vehicles, even without any hope of affording one. And imagine the delight of American car enthusiasts at obtaining access to this vast hoard of vintage vehicles. Cubans call them clunkers. We call them classics. […]