Wednesday, August 7, 2013


So I sit here, and in front of me is a little piece of paper with two rows of computer-selected numbers, and so I (and many other people across the nation) wait.

Yes, I know. If I never write another entry after this one, it's much more likely that I was clocked by a drunk driver or suffered acute food poisoning or something else than because I've gone into hiding to avoid the inevitable attention that comes with scoring such an absurd amount of money.

Still, the alluring siren song of OH MY GOD FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE MILLION DOLLARS - well, actually, let's take about 40% or so off for taxes and we're really looking at OH MY GOD TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FIVE MILLION DOLLARS - is hard to ignore, even if...I mean, seriously: a quarter of a billion dollars?

What the hell does someone do with two hundred and fifty-some million dollars? Besides the obvious like how I'd never having to worry about paying the rent again in my life and ensuring that all my nieces and nephews can go to Yale or wherever and getting Wonderful One an engagement ring with a rock the size of an apricot, sure, but that's just a staggering amount of money available to be spent on...well, something.

Other than buying the Washington Post, I suppose.

[Addendum: I've been informed/reminded - thank you, Mr. Smith - that the OMG $425,000,000 is really about OMG $245,000,000 if you went for the cash option, so take 40% off of that and you're still left with OH MY GOD ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS, although I now wonder if I mentioned the cash-value part when I got my tix. Hmm.]

This goes beyond the inevitable Wish List, although that is definitely still there. And this in itself is no small enjoyment. Comparing notes on lists is always good fun, both for reminders of potential overlooked gems and the personality insights such things sometimes allow. (Ask Matt Hardigree about buying all the Volvos.)

That inevitability among gearheads serves mostly to highlight the pernicious reality that cars are expensive, and great cars are often painfully expensive. Yes, if you have the skills and resources you can lash together a Locost-style speedster and have a ridiculous amount of fun, but a person of refined tastes and aspirations requires mad bank to attain fulfillment. It remains one of the regrettable facts of gearhead reality that this is not a meritocratic situation; devotion and knowledge and enthusiasm are great, and separate the true believers from the poseurs, but the folks that probably deserve to experience something grand rarely do.

But in this case, any realistic Wish List is at most a fraction of the total amount under consideration. Given this much financial juice, I mean, seriously: what are you going to do, buy eight five 250 GTOs? You gotta go bigger with something like this. There starts to be something of a moral imperative when you have enough cash to literally fill a swimming pool. Extraordinary human being and occasional killjoy Mohandas Gandhi once railed against the evil of unearned money, so perhaps it's right to consider productive ends for your now-impressive means.

Sure, there are non-vehicular options aplenty out there in a world that can always use help in needy places. Endow a chair at your alma mater to keep other kids from turning out as messed up as you did, fund social programs in Appalachia or on the reservations, do Good Things. But for right now let's stick with ideas about making speed. Stimulate the economy, create some well-paying jobs, leave a bit of that old-fashioned industrial legacy in the face of too many modern financial con artists.

$255,000,000 $150,000,000 is not enough to start a car company from the ground up. It might be enough to acquire a smallish one - Lotus? Saab? - and have a go at making it into a real company again. It may be enough to get a motorcycle company started and into viable shape, which could be compelling. Peter Sauber would definitely love to hear from you if it means he doesn't have to deal with that Russian teenager running around making his team look ridiculous.

Or go bigger. Would that be enough to engineer and build, like, a rail-launched multipassenger space plane? That would be a statement.

I suppose that's the fun of going in for a monster lottery win. For some multiple of $2 in this case, you get a few hours or maybe a day or two of completely liberated daydreaming and what-if games. Yeah, if I won this I'd probably spend the next few days in a completely catatonic state, to be honest. But until then, somehow, it's a blissful little hope of escape. And even in the face of absurdist odds it's okay.


For what it's worth, the Wish List (arbitrarily capped at ten), at least for tonight:

1. 2014 Mercedes E350. Literally the first car, maybe the first thing, I'd buy. No, not an S-Class. Someone recently noted this as the official ride of America's old-money types, and I won't argue with their sense of these matters. Diesel? Maybe. With that out of the way, in no particular order:

2. 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS.

3. Bugatti Type 55.

4. Alfa Romeo TZ2. (Caveat: Have to make sure I fit in it.)

5. Maserati A6 Zagato coupe.

6. Shelby Cobra 427 S/C.

7. 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish.

8. 1972 Ferrari 312 PB.

9. Watson-Offenhauser Indianapolis roadster.

10. A good pickup. Not a huge one. Enough to function as an effective tow/utility vehicle. A Ram 1500 would work, the new GMC Sierra is nice.

That sounds about right for now.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Notes in the margins

Photo: Croakx
A few random things on the mind, none of which really make for serious contemplation but still worth a few words as I sit here and deal with some kind of minor but persistent summertime illness (cough):
A subtle point about the GT-R: It's endlessly interesting to see how engineers deal with certain problems and pursue certain goals. In this case, the ability of the big, bulky GT-R to launch as hard as it does has a lot to do with gearing. First gear is super-short, something like 15:1 effective and good for all of 36 mph before redline. It's essentially a dedicated launch ratio - it exists to get the car out of the blocks and makes sure the motor doesn't go off-boost in the process. The launch control is programmed to do the first-second upshift automatically, which makes all kinds of sense given that you'll be at that shift point in well under two seconds from a full-throttle go.
Photo: Dougtone
Between interviews in various boroughs and a test-prep course I'm teaching towards the other side of Queens, I've been doing a good bit of commuter-pod-style driving these last few weeks. It's been interesting to consider just how minimalist a car could be and still function well in such usage, or how well something like a hardcore purist sports car would work in general intersection-and-freeway driving. (General conclusion: Just fine for me, at least, depending on spring stiffness and maybe clutch weight.) I know modern cars sell in large part on the sheer length of their standard equipment lists, but I still long for an enlightened simplicity somewhere. Would not be averse to trying a few good nav systems, though.

Speaking of simple, it's always a good feeling when you can fix a mechanical issue on the spot with a few tools and pure improvisation, like was necessary when the throttle linkage on Raphael's Baja Bug snapped while driving through Westchester on Sunday. A pair of pliers, a wire cut from the business side of the radio (which wasn't even plugged in correctly), a bit of twisting and looping and one square knot and we're on the road. Try doing that on a modern Jetta when your pedal position sensor gets grumpy.

The reason we were up in Westchester in the first was the fourth annual Domenico Spadaro Memorial Drive, a quasi-rally/charity event which attracted almost a hundred machines, most of them Italian, all of them glorious. I had no idea that so many Lancias existed in the greater New York era, although I assume Signor Spadaro had a lot to do with making their existence here viable. Advice: If you don't already, get out and go to things like this. Especially ones for older cars, where the participants are less about money and more about the camaraderie and good cheer.
Speaking of wire, the bicycle wheel is back in service and holding together well (so far, knock on wood, etc.). Will probably fiddle with retruing the spokes sometime soon, but am really happy with how it turned out. The secret to completing a project: After you've spent way too much time thinking things through and getting professional opinions and so on, sometimes if you just go for it things work really well and turn into something very satisfying.

Time to make more tea and find a good book and kick back in bed. At least the weather is blissful.