The Nexus of Sominex

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The main reason people were more interested in cars, once, was because cars were more interesting, once. 

This does not mean they were better – in the dispassionate sense. They were often not especially well-made or reliable, as most new cars are. Few approached the now-almost-boring performance capabilities of even average-performing new cars. 

And yet, the old stuff was – is – more interesting in spite of all that.

Park an AMC Pacer anywhere in public and it will draw more attention than a new Corvette. Not just because of the Pacer’s wonderfully interesting shape, which resembles an upturned bathtub and looks like nothing else. Unlike the new Corvette, which looks very much like everything else that’s “exotic” today. Unlike the exotics of the past, such as a Lamborghini Countach – which (like the Pacer) also looks like nothing else.

The Pacer was interesting everywhere.

One door (the passenger’s side) was longer than the other – to ease access to the interior. The seats could be covered in the same denim material used to make Levi’s jeans – complete with brass rivets. This was  . . . interesting on a hot, sunny day. The car was originally conceived for rotary engine power but that didn’t work out. Instead, you could choose an inline six or a small V8. Three on the tree and three (pedals) on the floor.

It was unlike anything else. Like the oddball kid in your high school class that everyone remembers. It is part of what made high school memorable.  It is why there are high school reunions. No one goes to a reunion of the “class” from their first cube-farm McJob. It was just a job.

Today, we have just cars. Most of which aren’t even that – cars having given way to crossovers and SUVs, all of which are so similar that they are as uninteresting as the racks of loaves of bread at the supermarket. Most people just grab one. Any one. What difference does it make?

One of the reasons why there is so little difference these days has to do with the design focus, which isn’t on design. That is an afterthought. The blinkered vision is focused on the numbers.

If it is a performance car, like Corvette, then it is the zero-to-60 number. The number indicated by the stopwatch at the end of a run down the Nurburgring. These numbers become all-that-matters and the result is that much is lost – such as the intangibly interesting thing that is being able to shift for yourself. Obsessed by the numbers posted by others, the Corvette’s designers got rid of the unpredictable performance of the manual transmission, in favor of an automatic that shifts by-the-numbers, every single time. The Corvette’s rivals did the same.

It is much more precise and far less . . . interesting.

A kind of Nexus of Sominex is reached when all the numbers are the same. Even if they are zero-to-60 in 2.9 seconds.

A ’67 Corvette couldn’t do that. But have a look at it.

The consequences of this fixation on numbers can be seen everywhere – in the uniform sameness of almost everything that is new. It is why almost every make/model of new vehicle comes standard with the same 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine. It might not be exactly the same, but the layout and displacement are – because that is the layout and displacement that best suits the numbers laid down by government regulators. This is also why the Continuously Variable (CVT) automatic is becoming the same transmission in so many new cars, too. It helps the car companies meet the fuel economy numbers.

You don’t see much difference in shapes anymore, either. Nothing Pacer-like, at any rate. Also because of the numbers. Shapes are constrained by them. A kind of Universal Crossover shape is taking hold because that shape best hews to the numbers as they relate to bumper and side-impact standards, rollover/roof crush and so on. And so we end up with the same overall shapes, with styling differences limited to the shape of the headlight assemblies and grills – some lower and wider, others taller.

It’s not very interesting inside, either.

The newest cars all have a digital-display dash with another digital display off to the right. Soon, they are likely to all have these, with the differences limited to how big one is vs. the other. Which is the difference between a large and a super-sized soft drink.

Back when cars were still interesting, many didn’t have any gauges to speak of. A few did – and that made them very interesting. It is uninteresting when every car has a tachometer (and even less so when almost every car has an automatic transmission, for the sake of the numbers).

They also had interesting steering wheels, specific to the car. Much attention was given to making these different because they were once the centerpiece of the car’s interior. The three-spoke Formula steering wheel that came standard in 1970-81 Pontiac Trans-Ams, for example, helped make them more interesting than the 1970-1981 Chevy Camaro it was related to. Today, all the steering wheels in all cars look pretty much the same because they have to have the same air bag in them, as decreed by the numbers.

Maybe it wasn’t as “safe” before this obsession with making everything the same took hold. But it was a lot more interesting. Like dating a different woman rather than the same Fembot, however perfect she may be, by the numbers.

. . .

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44 COMMENTS

  1. Cars can and should be interesting, but I draw the line at women, as the “interesting” ones have too high a maintenance cost: financial and emotional.

  2. At this last weekend’s “unorganized spirited driving competition that may or may not have happened on public streets”, it was encouraging to note the number of younger observers as well as participants. The interest level in cars is strong among these kids, and may point toward a shift in attitude on the not so distant horizon. It brought a smile to my face to see teenagers that not only knew what my flathead was, but even knew enough to debate on the merits of Stromberg 97’s compared to my Holley 94’s (and the kid was right too).

    There’s plenty of youngsters out there that want to turn the tide of this homogenized/geek squad/evee mentality, and we need to do everything we can to encourage them and support them making their voices heard…..even losing $100 to a squirrely looking SN95 Mustang on a Saturday night.

  3. The 1953 Studebaker Champion and Commander coupes and hardtops have aged very well. They had the lowest drag co-efficient for many years. Eye appeal today versus all of the other crap is striking. ’53/’54 were gloriously missing most of the chromium plated zinc accoutrements. With a decent aluminum V8 and a smooth Tremec with suspension stuff, the things could be a hit excepting the filthy goomint would outlaw them.
    Each day when I awake I blaspheme in cursing the goo. Yes, I know that each event of taking a dump and comparing it to gobmint before it miraculously disappears to go to the sewage works, gets me a longer stay in Purgatory.

  4. Nissan seems to have the corner on unique styling. The Cube is funky as heck. The Rogue is ugly bur, stands out.

    The lack of manual transmissions pretty much castrates whatever unique driving characteristics a car might have. I loaned my ’06 Corolla to a coworker and he went nuts over it. Why? I don’t know if it was the crank windows or the 5-speed…or both. Simple. Efficient. Unique.

  5. Drove a Studebaker Lark in the late early days, it was orange in color, a company car. Painted it a dark metallic green, it was fun while it lasted, then it was gone.

    A radio and a heater, that was it. You’re on your own.

    The wheels were even painted orange. No matter how ugly the beast, wish it was still here. Same with the AMC Rebel and AMC station wagon.

    Those were the days.

  6. Who fucking cares about 0-60 anyway? How many times can you floor it on city streets? (Actually I used to hear street racing almost every night, and all the NPCs were whining on Nextdoor about it lol, so I guess a lot)

    Anyway, the only “legal” situation I could think of is after sitting at a red arrow to get on the freeway? Do 0-60 there…how fun!

    • 0 to 60 is only 5% of the driving experience, EV’s have nothing else to offer…

      Cars that have a great sound track, just like good music, lifts your soul.

      The new EV’s are dead, boring, lifeless, silent like a morgue, the sound of death.

      Driving or buying a car is an emotional thing.

      Hearing the car is 25% of the driving experience, see, hear, feel, smell….connect.

      If you have been to a live car race and have stood by the start line, as the cars are waiting for the flag to drop, the sound of the engines revving goes right through your body, it is a very emotional experience you will never forget. EV races will be dead like a morgue.

      The new ice cars are missing 50% to 75% of the driving experience, you can’t feel them, the driving experience is completly isolated, numb, like a video game, totally disconnected and you almost can’t hear them, a lot of them seeing them is a dead experience too, because they all look the same, are bland, have no emotion, under the hood the same problem, they are just an appliance. Was this done intentionally to kill them off, make EV’s easier to sell?

      EV’s are missing 95% of the driving experience, maybe they are good for dead/near dead people…lol
      At least the Porsche Taycan and Rimac EV have a nice design, are interesting to look at.

      People don’t buy EV’s voluntarily, they must be forced,

      EV manufacturers know there is a problem, now they are piping in fake sound…lol…after 13 years and billions of dollars (tax payer’s dollars) of marketing hype EV’s still only have 3% of the market, a huge failure….lol

      With the expensive EV’s you get good linear acceleration only half of the linear/lateral acceleration experience, so you get half that experience, about 5% of the total driving experience, but miss the other 95%, a one dimensional experience gets boring fast…..a waste of a lot of money.

      Here is some great sounding ice engine cars

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbmkNiCN_YA

  7. Why from this point forward in my life, can’t get common colors or cars.

    No one has a 2dr Rapid Red Bronco, for better or worse, and it won’t be my last vehicle, so I’ll be sure to get something fun, rare and unique next

    #’s aren’t everything, I smile just the same cruising with the top and windows down (And on a sunny week, doors) as I do going fast.

    Hopefully in the future, this electric/utilitarian craze ends and a future generation go back to how things were

  8. In my particular area of interest, high quality audio, the numbers matter, but only up to a point. Beyond what is audible to a human ear, numbers are not relevant. Yet some people (and ‘science’ based web sites) deify the inaudible numbers and shit on any piece of gear that merely sounds fantastic to human ears.
    The best example is in tube amplification.
    The numbers (e.g., %THD) of tube amps and preamps just don’t compare to the latest solid state gear. BUT when you listen to music the tube sound is often much better and solid state gear, while having much better numbers, can be hard to listen to for very long. The brain just gets tired of it. Some distortion is a part of music reproduction and it sounds good to human ears, regardless of the numbers.

    • Mr. Galt,

      RE: Tube amps. As a guitarist, I think most guitarists know that solid state amps produce a better dynamic range and are more efficient (if that matters). But it’s precisely because the tubes AREN’T so perfect in their reproduction of sound that many prefer them. That warm, soothing sound just FEELS better, though strictly speaking, tube amps are sonically inferior.

  9. **”And yet, the old stuff was – is – more interesting in spite of all that.”**

    As “Curious Cars” Youtuber Bill Pahl remarked in several recent videos reviewing some old cars and comparing them to Teslas: [Paraphrasing]. “Yeah, the Tesla has phenomenal acceleration- it can do zero to 70 in 2 seconds, which seems cool the first time or two that you do it- but who cares?- The cars [Teslas] are boring! They have great acceleration, but that’s the only thing they’ve got going for them, and it doesn’t matter, because they are just boring!”.

  10. Eric, great analogy to HS reunions.
    I’ve been to most of mine and I’ve noticed once we got past 20 yrs that all the pretty boys/girls stopped showing up, I guess cause they aren’t anymore.
    And it was really cool to see the homely girls/boys who grew into amazing people.
    And of course the oddballs, some remained that, but some aged so well you can’t believe it.
    I really enjoy going to them. Even some old teachers show up to ours, very cool.

    • Mike, that’s a great article on the JD EV crap. I already knew the answer, but I’m surprised someone printed it. Also surprised it has not been censored (yet). Good for them.
      We need Anon1 to do his magic math on a 400HP diesel running full bore 24hrs and see how big a battery it would take, and then how much that battery would take to charge even assuming the farmer can get an 800v service which he probably can. My guess is even 800v charger won’t come close to working and they would need medium voltage chargers of 1300 to 2100v systems. Wow.
      But I also believe they won’t be able to fit a big enough battery in a big tractor to make it 24hrs.
      I think JD would be better off investing in tiny nuke powerplants like we read about in science fiction. Now they would work, but I guess the utility power and oil cabal wouldn’t take to highly to that? A tractor that never needs refueling for 30 years!!!

        • Mike, I’ve always been intrigued with decentralized utilities. I know why we did centralized water-sewer-power in the past century, but it’s now possible to decentralize due to advancement in technology/efficiencies.
          For example, one small nuke in every town or county solves a lot of problems.
          Same with water-sewer. We built mega centralized treatment plants, but the problem is they all discharge almost clean water into our rivers and then oceans. How about doing it per town, and putting it back into the ground/aquafer? It really has to and should be done. The problem is the huge investment into the mega plant, and then mega service areas that you are not allowed to build a new plant to bypass the central system. ad all the mega water that came out of the ground is now going to the ocean depleting aquafers. It’s time to fix this.

          • Hi Chris, I totally agree. Small nukes spread around the country would increase reliability, since if one or two go offline it wouldn’t be as big a power loss as a 650 MW plant going out. It also negates the need for the giant transmission towers so many people object to. Good luck getting it by the nimbys though.

    • The leftist/globalists are going to starve you out.

      US Rancher Reveals Planned Food Shortages the Real Goal of Carbon Agenda; Bill Gates, CCP Buying Up Farmland

      “In 1900, it took ten acres of land to produce enough food to feed one person per year. In 2021, it takes less than a third of an acre.”

      That’s all thanks to diesel power.

      And five of those ten acres went toward feeding mules and horses. Today, one gallon of diesel replaces 500 man-hours of labor. And that, says Loos, is the real reason for the attack on fossil fuels. “With fuel, we can continually get through the efficiency of producing more food with fewer inputs,” he said. “Without fuel, we go back to the horse-and-buggy days, which is a regression of 100 years.”

      With every turn, governments globally—via carbon taxes, banning pipelines, making drilling impracticable, or sending tankers of fuel reserves to China—are driving fuel costs up, making sustainable farming less viable. The flipside of the burning candle is land. Biden’s Executive Order 14008—or “30 by 30” initiative—aims at removing 30 percent of land from food production by 2030.

      Food security is a grave national security danger, he warns. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—China’s big brother administrative state—has been buying up enormous tracts of land in the United States, along with billionaires such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, marching in lockstep with Klaus Schwab and the WEF. “China is buying our resources at an alarming rate,” he said. “So much of our medicine, so much of our vitamins and trace minerals, and things that we rely on [are] from China. And [they] are the only source in the world. They could hold us and are holding us hostage.”

      “They’re demonizing the cow because the cow is the most important animal in God’s creation for planet health,” he said. “The cow consumes [from] 74 percent of the United States’ landmass—the world’s landmass. Seventy-four percent is not suitable for growing a crop to feed a human, but a ruminant animal with four chambers in its stomach can take cellulose material that you and I can’t eat and upcycle it into the most nutrient-dense food substance on the planet.”

      He added, “With the cow, we can feed the world like we’ve never seen before. They’re trying to demonize the cow, saying that the cow is the contributor to climate change [through methane emissions], and you need to eat crickets. And who’s the largest investor in crickets in the world? A guy name Bill Gates.”

      https://www.theepochtimes.com/us-rancher-reveals-planned-food-shortages-the-real-goal-of-carbon-agenda-bill-gates-ccp-buying-up-farmland_4695205.html?utm_source=ai&utm_medium=search

    • @ Confederate :

      Please tell me you have a Bocephus sticker on it.

      “Jerry was a race car driver
      He’d say “El Sob number one”
      With a Bocephus sticker
      On his 442 he’d light ’em up
      Just for fun”

      Jerry was a Race Car Driver – Primus

      • HA! watched the, ‘Primus – Jerry Was A Race Car Driver (Official Music Video)’ not tooo bad.

        However; I thought about this one the whole time while listening to it, cracks me up every time:

        ‘Primus – Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver’

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYDfwUJzYQg

        I never saw the video until today. Double-HA!

        [BTW, Eric. That photo at the top of this article is something else, now. I dunno: super creepy, mixed with mega Sci-Fi and a dash of I-don’t-know-what, exactly. Bizzare3]

            • On second thought about Primus/Claypool, my memories of them have a 1990-something handle. Pork Soda, Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Memory being jogged, I was looking around at their more recent stuff today and came across the latest EP from 4/22 called “Conspiranoid.” It’s a little hard to tell from just the lyrics of 2/3 songs if it’s tongue in cheek or they’re some serious narrative suckers. Scarily, I think it’s the latter. This is what Claypool had to say about the song “Conspiranoia”:

              “‘Conspiranoia’ was sprouted from a seed I had planted in my notebook a year or so ago — a few lines commenting on the mental state of the contemporary world,” explained frontman Les Claypool. “I watched the distrust and divide grow between friends, colleagues, relatives, and the general population because of the consumption and digesting of disinformation, misinformation, warped information, and flat-out fairy tales being perpetuated by anyone with a slight hint of web design aptitude.”

              It’s so much easier for me these days to listen to music from the guys who’ve been dead at least 20-30 years.

  11. The super 7 was the ultimate anti nanny state car, (that is why the prisoner drove one in “The Prisoner” series), give the finger to the nanny state buy one.

    they are small, very light (1200 lb.), tube frame construction, the frame weighs 100 lb., no air bags, ABS, no safety features of any kind, mechanical art made for one purpose to go fast, the closest thing to an old F2 car for the street, very fast, more fun then any other car.

    The super 7 gets more attention, more thumbs up, gets photographed more, then any other car, partly because it looks so different plus it gives a finger to the nanny state.

    (a super 7 clone a Donkervoort had the record lap time for street legal cars at the Nurburgring in 2003, 2004). 50/50 weight balance, some had engines with no computer, just points and condensor,

    no power steering or power brakes, some no heater, no doors, some had no windshield, no roof (some had a convertible top), the ultimate analog driving experience, buy one. You are the prisoner now.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAwNfgvF_Ww

  12. One of the reasons I drove Miatas for the last 20 years, until I could no longer drive a manual last year. Their 0-60 numbers have always been far from impressive, but going from 0-60 in one is.

  13. ‘The blinkered vision is focused on the numbers.’ — eric

    Yep. The CO2 numbers, in the case of EeeVees and EeeEmCees (electric motorcycles). Today, you can get in on the ground floor:

    ‘Harley-Davidson and special purpose acquisition company AEA-Bridges Impact Corp. announced the closing of their merger on Tuesday, making electric motorcycle maker LiveWire a separately traded public company under the stock symbol LVWR.

    ‘Harley sold 95,604 Harley and LiveWire bikes in the first half of 2022, down from 109,509 bikes sold in the same period of 2021. LiveWire isn’t broken out separately yet. LiveWire projected $56 million in 2022 sales back when the merger was announced on Dec. 13. — Al Root, Barron’s

    Why would Harley Davidson not break out the sales of EeeEmCees from real Harleys? Ford, to take one example, reports F-150 Lightning sales separately from real F-150s (and Lightning’s share is quite small).

    How can punters value LVWR when they have no clue what it units volumes are? Unless they have an insider friend at H-D, they can’t.

    ‘A sucker is born every minute.’ — P T Barnum

    • Hi Jim, just read an article on a guy that tried to do 1000 miles on an electric adventure motorcycle, through relative remoteness in the West, where you bring your camping gear with you, etc….
      He did not have a good time, reading between the lines, because he was given the bikes for the run and had to spin it the best he could. He did admit that range and range anxiety were the biggest issues.
      On my middle weight 2-cyl adventure bike, I can get 250mile range, and would have filled up 4 times with ease and zero concern, in other words, enjoying the ride which is what it’s all about.
      What a disaster waiting to happen.

  14. “You canna change the laws of physics” – Lt Montgomery Scott

    If form follows function then this is the natural outcome of design. Cars as utilitarian devices don’t need style, they need optimization. Vehicles are no longer kinetic art, they’re transportation. This is mostly due to fatwas but also due to changing sales techniques. Features and benefits selling, overcoming objections, etc require a different vehicle than “selling paint” and “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Selling by the numbers is just an appeal to the logical mind instead of the emotions. Shame that, because cars aren’t an aspirational buy anymore (like the Ford Falcon and Corvair were in the 1960s), everyone owns one. So why not make something interesting?

  15. So now I know why new cars suck. Scotty Kilmer used this bullfrog open mouth meme to show what so many new cars look like from the front end, and now whenever I see one on the road it is stuck in my mind. The front grill looks like a frog’s open mouth.

    Another thing, the badge on the front keeps getting bigger, it is like the movie Idiocracy, the front badge of a Mercedes is really big, same for VW and Acura, and it makes me laugh, these idiots want the badge to be extra BIG.

  16. ‘It was a lot more interesting. Like dating a different woman rather than the same Fembot’ — eric

    People who lease cars for three years don’t usually plan to keep them. Sort of like having an interchangeable, endlessly-renewed, forever-blonde series of trophy wives.

    Then there are the bitter clingers, who get hitched to a vehicle till death (or drivetrain failure) do us part.

    Why do I fall for the dangerous ones?
    The ones that never learned to let go
    And why do I lie to myself
    And pretend that I can break her
    When she’s already been so
    Beautifully broken

    — Warren Haynes, Beautifully Broken

  17. One potential side effect of all cars looking the same is that it lessens one’s desire to replace what you already own. For example the changes to the Bel Air from 57-58, Monte Carlo from 72-73 and many other styling changes made you think your car was old because it looked older. But now with the trend to universal styling due to factors mentioned above a 20 year old car won’t look radically different so there might be less reason to replace it if it is running well.

    • Landru,
      I’m driving an 05 Accord, and I have a hard time finding it in the parking lot after grocery shopping. Because all silver cars, a very popular color, look much the same now as they did in 05. I’ve resorted to parking near a cart corral.

    • Mike, When I was a teenager I had a Black 1972 Gremlin X, V-8 3 speed on the floor. 14in aluminum slots front 15in back. True dual-cherry bomb exhaust out the back.
      That car had a pretty mean presence, even had a seriously evil looking gremlin character on the large exposed rear gas cap.. and got a lot of compliments!
      Also got a ton of tail in roomy back end of that thing. Not all gremlins were equal. 😉

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