Taking the Time . . .

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The most exclusive – and most expensive – watches aren’t digital. They are meticulously hand-assembled mechanical things, with intricate wheels and mechanisms – the workings usually partially visible, so you can see and admire the workings  . . . and the workmanship.

People pay huge money for them – in some cases, more than $50,000 – even though they don’t keep time any better than a $5 Dollar Store digital watch.

Why?

Because they aren’t cheap throwaways. Because they aren’t common. Because it took great craftsmanship to to put them together. As opposed to automated machines in (say it like Orange Man) China – extruding plastic and stamping them out, all the same, in the millions.

Luxury cars were once like that – like the hand-made watch.

Exclusive – but not just because they were expensive; that was part of it. But the essential part was that you got what you paid for. Mile-deep chrome plating rather than extruded “chromed” plastic. Real wood, sometimes hand-fitted, the individual pieces specific to that particular car and unlike the pieces installed in any other car. Machine-turned metal facings; mechanical gauges with the same workings of a fine, hand-made watch.

They have become very much like the $5 Dollar Store watch. Plasticized, baubled and just as disposable as common cars – only a lot more expensive.

You pay for what you don’t get.

This may well prove to be the undoing of luxury cars – as people with money begin to realize that.

What is exclusive or uncommon about an LCD touchscreen or a digitized dashboard? Almost every new car has them now – precisely because electronics and plastic are cheap. There is nothing special about them. But you can charge a lot for them.

Especially when they stop working.

Air conditioning? Climate controlled air conditioning? Every new car – literally, every new car – comes standard with AC. Most have climate-controlled AC or at least, offer it. It is no longer exclusive or special. Same goes for power windows and locks, cruise control and (usually) a pretty good stereo.

It’s all good – for the average car, which is now much more luxurious than the luxury cars of the past were. In terms of amenities.

But this has also served to make today’s luxury cars less special – though more pricey. All of them being equally ephemeral, disposable and more or less the same.

Luxury cars could be made something special again – as opposed to something just expensive. It could be done by undoing what has made them cheap.

Instead of garish plastic “clips” front and rear that are literally clipped in place, like the cheap plastic crap they are – how about the elegance and exclusivity of real chrome bumpers and metal exterior trim? It would cost money, obviously – but isn’t that the point? To get something more for your money than  . . . the same cheap plastic crap used to garishly wrap the noses and tails of every other car?

Aren’t luxury cars supposed to stand out?

And, inside – how about cold air conditioning? All new cars have AC, but the coolant they use just barely cools. It is cheap – and you get what you pay for. Freon is very expensive – because it has been taxed to make it so. But it is still available – and it cools like nothing else you can get in any new car.

A car that costs $50,000 (never mind $100,000) ought to have an AC system that can make you cold. Luxury cars used to have AC systems like that, before they switched to the same cheap coolant used by every other car AC system. There is no reason they couldn’t be cold again.

Which would make it special to drive – or ride – in a car so equipped again.

There is something incredibly sad about a $50,000 luxury sedan with a four cylinder engine under its hood – just like a $20,000 economy car. Never mind the turbo added to make up for what’s not there anymore. Prestigious cars used to have prestigious engines – the kinds of engines ordinary cars didn’t have. V8s, at least.

V12s in some.

They didn’t turn themselves off, either – because that would have been taken as both absurd (people who can afford a $50,000-plus on a car can afford not to worry about what they spend on gas and if they do worry, then they probably can’t afford the car) as well as contrary to the purpose. A luxury car is supposed to be poised and smooth and elegant. A luxury car with an engine that shuts off and comes on and goes off and then turns on again and over-and-over-and over is little different than an ’86 Yugo that stutters at every green light.

Except , of course, for the price. 

A luxury car’s engine should never turn off – and who gives a damn about gas mileage? When Cadillac meant something, it was because Cadillac didn’t care about it. It was the point of the thing, you see.

More precisely, it was beside the point.

Look at the jeweled mechanical gauges and real glass/metal facings used in the luxury cars of once-upon-a-time. Most people have never seen it – and they’re the poorer for it. The Bugattis and Cords and Duesenbergs of the Art Deco era were the Stradivarius violins of their era – and forever.

They are – to use an over-used word – awesome.

They command respect. One does not dispose of a Cord 810 or V16 Cadillac or Mercedes 300SL. The leaper hood ornament of a Jaguar XJ6 has more enduring value – as art – than the disposable plasticized ephemeral mass-produced electronicized kitsch being sold today – at high cost – to people who have no idea how little they’re getting.

It doesn’t have to be this way. People are spending more than ever on high-end cars. There is no reason they shouldn’t be getting what they’re paying for.

If only someone would offer it to them again.

. . . 

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56 COMMENTS

  1. Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend. One of my highlights for Memorial Day weekend used to be auto racing. I used to be a big fan of NASCAR. But over the past two decades I’ve lost interest to the point I rarely even tune in. It’s sad how far they’ve sunk.

    One of the driving forces behind what made NASCAR so popular was the concept of planned obsolescence. Purposely designing a product to be a piece of shit so that customers have to keep replacing them. Detroit manufacturers bought into this lock, stock, and barrel.

    Back when I was a kid many guys were backyard mechanics as a result. We’d buy our first car. Our pride and joy. Our freedom. The problem was that our pride and joy was a piece of shit. So we learned to repair our own cars. Upgrade them. Make them more reliable. That was the spirit of NASCAR back in the 70s and 80s. It was a competition to see who could turn their piece of shit into the best, fastest, most reliable car on the road.

    Cars are so reliable now that younger generations don’t understand that. That’s why the average age of NASCAR fans increases every year. And why NASCAR keeps resorting to gimmicks to try to change that trend. It isn’t working.

    But that isn’t to say that younger generations aren’t impacted by planned obsolescence. It’s just more subtle now. It isn’t a matter of whether your car will leave you sitting on the side of the road. Now it’s a matter of style. It’s about whether your 2020 smartphone will get you ridiculed by your peers in 2021.

    Think I’ll go watch Six Pack.

    • Hi Anon,

      “Stock” car racing lost me when the cars became as “stock” as Joe Biden is honest. It appealed to me when the cars on the track were modified versions of actual “stock” production cars. It established a connection between what was on the track and what you drove to the track. It also made a difference when a Torino Talladega had a souped-up Ford production engine and a Charger had a souped-up Dodge production engine, very much like the one you had in your Dodge (or the Dodge you could buy).

      Now? There’s a front-engined/V8 Camry running around the ovals. It’s even less “stock” than Joe Biden is honest. All the cars look the sane because they are basically the same. Fake bodies on tube-frame chassis. They are like the steroid-jacked wrestlers of modern WWF wrestling, which is what NASCAR has become – on wheels.

      • Indeed, in the late 60s you could go to your Dodge dealer and buy a nearly race ready Charger Daytona right off the show room floor, and drive it home.
        Now its more “fair” because the engines are strictly regulated so that essentially there’s no difference between them. No big blocks allowed. Now the mechanic’s glory resides not in what they can create, but their speed in the pit fixing it.

      • I got into IMSA for a while for that reason. Also interesting that they have near-stock, supercars, and F1 equivalent in the same race and somehow it just works.

        And related to IMSA, one of the best episodes of Top Gear was the time they did the 24 hours at LeMans in a Golf TDI.

      • Eric,

        I learned everything I know about racing from “Days of Thunder”, wherein Robert Duvall’s character explains “There’s nothing stock about a stock car.”.

  2. Perhaps this is why the used market for Porsche and others is so nuts now. Why spend $100k+ on a toaster? A ’68 911 softwindow targa sold for $460k+ on Bring a Trailer recently. Used luxury cars, in proper condition, are going for stupid money these days. Probably because the new stuff is as inspiring as the $5 Dollar Store watch.

  3. “Freon R-12” was banned because the patent protections ran out. Nothing more. The chlorine molecule is too “heavy” to make it to the upper atmosphere. The scientific “justification” for the banning of Freon R-12 was based on faulty science–not unlike that being pushed by the “global warming climate change” crowd.
    R-12 is still the most efficient refrigerant out there, is still available in limited quantities, but is heavily taxed
    At the present time, the current refrigerant used in automotive air conditioning systems (R-134) will also be banned with the next decade. It too is a victim of greed and faulty science.
    The new refrigerants to take its place will be flammable…get ready for the lawsuits…

    • The current refrigerant used in vehicles is R-1234yf. It’s for the same patent reason you mention. I don’t doubt that R-134a wasn’t also introduced the same way.

      That being said, R-134a actually isn’t an inferior refrigerant. You actually use less refrigerant for a given BTU of cooling. Properly designed R-134a systems can freeze you just as well as an R-12 system and usually better. The problem with today’s systems is that they are designed to handle way smaller heat loads. The compressors and lines just don’t have the heat capacity older systems did. Look at the size of a compressor or the lines. High pressure lines today look like brake lines.

      R-1234yf is pretty similar to R-134a other than the exorbitant price for it since Honeywell and DuPont really stuck it to us this time with the patent. It’s particular PAG oil is also very flammable and dangerous. Diamler refused to use it for a long time after some testing. They simulated a leak onto a hot turbo exhaust manifold and found the gas that resulted from the burning the oil to be very caustic. It melted the S-classes windshield in less than a minute and anyone inside would have died. The EU forced them to comply. Now there’s a nitrogen generator under the hood of their cars to hopefully give you enough time to get out of the car.

  4. Man, so much of this rings so true in today’s mentality of mass produced fads that will be dead in six months. I almost lament having sold my old 68′ Sedan deville 20 years ago. It was very uniquely a Cadillac from the motor to trans, and everything else mechanical and cosmetic . Now you couldn’t GIVE me one of these newer plasticized “cadillacs.” Everything is so much more cookie cutter and slam packed full of features and tech it’s as if none of it impresses anybody including me.

    This very much reminds me of seeing these neighborhoods of Mc-mansions. 8,000 square feet of particle board and low grade lumber/craftsmanship underneath, with some Stone counter tops, nice tile and whatever the latest fad on HGTV is, then comparing that to actual mansions in neighborhoods 100+ years old filled with timeless beauty. They really aren’t even the same species at all.

    • I have seen half-a-million dollar houses with the cheapest 80% furnaces and substandard electrical systems. I have seen 3500 sq ft houses with 100 Amp service…not good.

    • Lol at McMansions. I saw 3 “million dollar homes” go up in 2019. 2×4 wood (or whatever the 2 by length is) covered with some plywood, then some other cheap crap. If you have a million to spend, HIRE AN ARCHITECT and get something cool and unique!

      Another thing, is it just me, or are all the “modern” and “revamped” homes all the identical bright white LED, varying shades of gray or on the walls & furniture, with an accent of…brown or black! Soulless. Same lame 1950s wannabe-style “Acme Laundry Co” sign above the laundry room or “Buck’s Flapjacks & Hotcakes” above the stove with the same boring black and white block text (all of which is mass produced in China btw. Lol, the Chinese making and selling these must be so confused). Same “chandeliers” that look like atoms and electrons.

      Flat. Empty. The same. I’d almost rather have the tacky shit from the 70s, at least it’s goofy and had some character, not to mention a little more comfort.

      • I notice a lot of younger women like to hang signs that say something corny in a feminine-looking typeface – very strange. I think it’s part of the virtue signalling religion.

  5. The corporations acting on behalf of their government masters are hellbent in stiffling individuality in society and rplacing it with massive corporate led conformity. Cars are a great analogy for this with all the 4 cylinder turbo blobs and elctrics but also everything used to control us proles besides just transportation – education, media, news, entertainment, housing. All getting coprotaized and comodified. Whens the last time a really good creative movie was made? Why that would be in a long long time. Now its all Michael bay CGI stupidity to watch on the big screen at your house. There are very few exceptions like this article points out such as fine watches and motorcycles but the numbers are so insignicant it doesnt matter. What matters is getting us all looking dressing and thinking the same so we’re easier to control. Whites tend to be more independent as mandatory corporate white guilt training points out so we’re first to be identified as the nember one terrorist threat – al la Joe Biden two days ago. Also importing more low IQ brown people to dilute our influence is important to the psychos. How many muslim immigrants in Israel? None. Sweden – mlllions. Wonder why that is. Everything ties together as long as opur masters who diproportionately come from oine ethnic group – shhh cant say it here – avoid a real crisis and stick to manufacturing fake ones.

    • The film industry isn’t making movies for the Americas. They’re targeting Asia because that’s where the money is. Even with an out-of-control Chinese copyright nightmare they still make money.

      Next up: Africa. I have no idea what passes for entertainment there but I’ll bet anyone $10 that it won’t appeal to me in the least.

      • Nailed it.

        The US population of 330 million is just 4% of the world population. When Nike made a commercial with Kapernick a few years ago, half the US population boycotted them. Umm, Nike isn’t going to sweat what 2% of their customer base thinks.

      • The truly pitiful part is that some of the Chinese produced films are superior to the majority of US product. And US actors are getting on the train. “The Flowers of War”, for example.

  6. 2022 Rolls Royce Boat Tail. Don’t know about the engine, but at least behind the wheel looks fairly analog (analogue?) to me. Maybe Eric will get one for review…

    https://youtu.be/qTPDbWIjC4I

    American brands were always about high tech and gadgets. The old 60s Cadillacs had all sorts of power accessories, climate control, dashboard gimmicks, automatic hi-beam dimmers. The late 70s and 80s brought adjustable suspensions, digital dash, stupid failures like V8-6-4 and other add-ons that usually quit working long before the body rusted out. Technology in general tends to swing down-market fairly quickly thanks to mass manufacturing. Once someone proves something is possible, there’s plenty of innovation to make it cheap for everyone.

    The amazing thing about Elon’s opus to insanity is that it comes standard with the ultimate luxury: the ability to waste your time. If you have the time to waste at a recharging station you’ve obviously made it. People wait for you, not the other way around. If you’re delayed or late for your dinner reservation, a few dollars palmed to the maître d’ will get you seated in time to still make the curtain. You’re never late for work because work doesn’t begin until you arrive. Oh sure, you might have to suppress your internal rage over your own tardiness, but thanks to your status you are the only one who’s impatient (at least openly) with yourself.

  7. If you go to old newspapers on micro-fiche film, you’ll see ads for cars for sale for 576 dollars, or approximately 55,000 USD in 2021 fiat clownbux.

    A classic like an original Packard sells for anywhere from 180,000 to 395,000 USD and more. Gold at 1900 clownbux, 576/20 gold standard dollars per double-eagle, ~29 ounces of gold.

    Must have a been a nice car back then.

    Al Capone’s Cadillac had a sixteen cylinder engine. Bulletproof too. Still exists and drive-able.

    He had to be paranoid, Robert Stack was out to get him.

    Al didn’t care much if the car had good gas mileage or not, he was selling 20,000 gallons of beer each day in Chicago and raking in dough hand over fist. Knew how to use a baseball bat.

    Al’s Cadillac happens to be for sale for one million dollars.

    Al wasn’t going to ride around in a Model A.

  8. ALSO, as an aside. I went to watch “Wrath of Man” yesterday at the theater. No diapers required, finally!

    In the movie, one of the villains buys a motorcycle, or is said to have bought a motorcycle. We never see it actually running.

    Guess which motorcycle?! Why, none other than what Eric calls “The Deadwire”. Too bad it wasn’t featured in a chase scene. Guess it was recharging?

  9. Regarding bumpers…

    Yesterday, I bent a crow bar. Never even seen that before. I was trying to bend back the frame where mounts the rear bumper on my Ranger, as it was rear ended by some ignorant broad a while back.

    Apparently, she hit largely the tow-hitch (receptacle), and thus leveraged it in an unexpected way. The bumper itself it largely unbent, unscathed.

    Anyway, I’m always wondering, how about REACTIVE bumpers? Say with shocks and springs? Why none of those around?

    Regarding luxury cars. The Cadillac V-16. Wow. I just wonder how sounds that engine. Maybe it’s documented somewhere on screw-tube.

    As I’ve said before, why not return to that era? You can give the car some sort of computing/navigation ability, but how about returning all of the mechanical dials and gadgets? All mechanical switches? Return that Swiss watch, or especially, 1960s James Bond feel.

    • I was driving an 82 escort & someone drove a k car across the front bumper

      only damage to the escort was some of their paint got on it
      it had spring bumpers

      best things ever

      • Someone in a VW once pulled out in front of mom. She explained the cracked grill of the Charger Daytona (which in ’76 was plastic, a harbinger of things to come) was due to “a rabbit” jumping out in front of her. The VW Rabbit was totaled.

  10. Thanks Eric, your article of new vs. old is apropos to my conversation I had with my financial advisor I am about to fire. This guy is 2-yrs younger than me however advised my grandfather then father on investments. My grandfather warned me to say *no* to this guy if what he is telling you doesn’t sound right.
    So he calls me and tells me he sitting in his house in Walnut Creek CA with the power off due to power outage going on. He gets into some non-sense about this *Apple- Eco Environment* and keeps saying this over and over to the point I had to stop him and ask what is he talking about. He prattles on about how Apple is going to create a complete environment of everything you own will be connected to Apple: Phone, house, TV, Computer, and he even got excited about an Apple electric car. I said how is that working for you sitting there with the power off? This guy drunk the Koolaid and I have nothing in common with him. There will be nothing of value or worth having in the *Apple Eco Environment* everything will be a disposable device. Convenient maybe, but pawning your information off for free so you can have your freedom and privacy sold by Apple. I own some Apple stock but I am not buying more because of this.
    As in your article, things worth having are hard to accomplish. Luxury cars of old were works of art. The Apple Eco Environment is not but a work of tyranny to come.

    • *Apple- Eco Environment* — Hans G

      AAPL stock hasn’t hit a new high since Jan 26th. Something *might* just be wrong there.

      Think different — imagine a remake of Apple’s iconic 1984 commercial … but with Tim Cook as the yammering grey-faced overlord on the giant screen.

      ‘We shall prevail …’ KA-POOM!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIE-5hg7FoA

    • Hans,

      I absolutely despise Apple: it’s marketing, most of its fans, and most viscerally its business model. What he said there reminded me of Terminator: Genisys. Everything will be connected (to Skynet).

  11. Gaze into the steampunk second hand mechanism at six o’clock on the Vacheron Constantin watch, and what do you see?

    A Maltese cross, brazenly sporting exposed mounting screws.

    Indeed, there’s another one embossed on the face of the crown — a part whose function would be as mystifying to millennials as a three-on-the-tree shifter.

    And another tiny one, at ten o’clock.

    It’s all terribly arcane, symbolic and medieval … and probably cryptically white supremacist to boot, as the Maltese cross could so easily be mistaken for the Iron Cross of Kaiser Wilhelm and contemporary biker gangs.

    In a world of digital proles, analog tech signifies radical defiance.

    Remember January 6th!

  12. the era of well apportioned yet affordable cars is over

    that $ is being spent on engineering to comply with federal dictats

    true, current cars have lots of options, but the quality has been sacrificed and to recover that would cost too much at this point to sell any vehicles

  13. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again! A four cylinder engine in an Audi A6 is a crime against humanity! The Audi salesmen will look you straight in the face and lie their assess off about it. A six cylinder in an A8, maybe not quite as egregious, is still bullshit… the cars start around $100K.

    And Audi won’t shut up about their e-Tron and now fully electric GT. Once Audi is done with gazzuline, and my existing vehicles are no longer serviceable, then I will be done with Audi.

    I’ve said nearly the same terms as your article with different language to my wife, i.e., once it’s all plastic and electric what is Audi bringing for all that money that I can’t get in a Toyota? Or Ford?

    For that matter, since Audi refuses to bring back the proper wagons (the “Avant”), and when everything goes EV, then maybe those Volvo wagons or even a Ford wagon (oh the humanity!) will better suit my needs?!

    It pisses me off so bad! I worked so hard to have something nice. And now they’re gonna make everybody drive glorified golf carts. FML

    • My brief experience with Audi is that they are essentially a Volkswagen with leather. Much like Volvo is to Ford.
      German engineering is excellent. They just don’t know when to quit. They will continue to engineer a machine until it becomes near useless. Wipers on the headlights? Really? Have to take apart some of the front suspension to change the oil? The one I owned was used. It had less than 100k on it. It was worn out. largely due to their claim that the transmission fluid NEVER needed to be changed. BS. There is no such animal. I’ve the same complaints from BMW owners. I didn’t keep it long. Traded it even up for a Mazda a few years older. No regret.

      • Well, as an “Audi” guy (that likes VW well enough), I think there are (at least *were*) significant tangible benefits to the Audis in which I was interested over the similar offerings from VW. Things that I really dig too.

        And you know, I’m not a super affluent guy. I traded up from the junkiest old A6 Avants that you could imagine. Traded up, traded up, until now where 2 of 3 of my Audis have full warranty coverage (but I still didn’t buy new).

        My dream was to save-up and trade-up to the point where I could finally buy one new. And not *just* new but custom order from the factory. Well, I’m still not “there” (financially) and, by the looks of things, by the time I am… there probably won’t be anything but EVs available.

        And I don’t even want their flagship (or supercar), I want the midrange A6 Avant. Or, I would settle for the A6 Allroad. I want a V6-powered luxury wagon. Every day that goes by, that dream dies a little bit more.

        My dream is being slowly murdered by delusional liberals that have stolen their way into power. On the bright side, yes, I do feel blessed to have been able to have any of it while it lasted.

        • My first clue they were a dead end was when I learned that Audi mechanics are the best paid of any. If you have to pay top dollar to those who fix them, it doesn’t encourage confidence. Kind of like why Jaguar never succeeded in the sports car market. Because there was no back seat for the mechanic to ride in.
          My experience was many years ago, with a 1998 A6 with 98k miles on it. It drove beautifully, and was quite nice inside. But the mechanics really sucked.

    • Amen, Eure –

      If I ever have the means, I would love to get a restored ’67 Eldo or perhaps a Jensen Interceptor… that’s the ticket (for me)!

    • They really lost out when they ended the TDI program. Even gelded it would probably outperform any turbo’d four gasoline by leaps and bounds. An A7 TDI is a great thing. An A7 gasser, ‘eh, just an other car with nice seats. I’ll go back to my A3 TDI vs the Golf. Sure the golf got better milage, but even in the Type-R trim it didn’t come with the same suspension. And don’t ever speak of the A5…

      As for the wagons, if the Allroad were available in the US as a TDI I’d still be driving one today. Heck, if they wouldn’t have screwed up the Jetta Sports Wagon (and offered it in a TDI), same thing. But Audi America is retarded, always listening to their dealers instead of their customers. So we get more crossovers and boring sedans. Maybe that battery tech breakthrough tech will fix it.

  14. Why do luxury car builders care about CAFE standards? Why do they care about gas guzzler taxes? Someone in the market for a car like that doesn’t care about gas mileage, nor do they care about what they pay for gas. Why can’t they offer the big engines again?

    • I don’t know about that. There are people that spend a lot of money on cars–like Cadillac’s, Audi’s, etc.–that want to tell you about the great gas mileage. People looking at pickup trucks will buy based on the mpg. So much so, that they will pay more–sometimes $10 grand more–for 2-4 mpg.

      Whether they really care about mpg or not, they definitely like to look as if they do. If you don’t notice, they will bring it up like a vegan brings up their “superior” diet.

    • “Someone in the market for a car like that doesn’t care about gas mileage, nor do they care about what they pay for gas.”

      Yeah, they do. Look how many average people are in Benzes thanks to long-term financing and cheap lease deals. I’ll go out on a limb and say the truly affluent account for only 25% of their transactions. The rest is fleet and poser sales.

  15. Eric – this sort of thing is still available. Its just not in 50k or even 100k cars most of us can aspire to buy at some point. Have you seen the new rolls cars and the kind of options available? Many of these cars can reach the 7 figures. Then you get into the say Bugattis or others which start in the millions. I guess this must be that 2% inflation they talk about…. Infact when the Veyron was launched about 20 years ago it was the only car that was over a million – now there are probably at least half a dozen cars that are easily over a million (infact I understand Rolls even launched something that costs 20 mil – which actually looks as luxurious as the rolls of the past).

    • I have read that a Rolls block and head machining is so precise they don’t need a head gasket. I once read a story in which a Rolls in South Africa suffered a broken axle. Roll dispatched a mechanic, and new axle, fling first class, to make the repair, because “Rolls Royces don’t break axles.”

  16. They don’t have the time or resources to even consider pursuing a re-introduction of real luxury in a car. They are too busy trying to make EVs workable per the tyrant’s diktat. Which is no more likely to be successful than trying to stuff a pound of butter up a cats rearmost orifice with a hot awl.

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