Tuesday, September 20, 2011

the perfect car for New York's roads?

As much as I'd like to live in Germany, the reality is pretty far from the truth. Potholes the size of a bus, cobblestones from the 19th century, and ruts that can turn your car into a life-size slot car all conspire to make driving in New York City and the surrounding environment a harrowing experience. The French had a solution to this about a half-centry ago and atleast one smart New Yorker has figured it out:

The Citroen DS was introduced in 1955 and came with a hydropneumatic  self-leveling suspension. Sure, a Mercedes 600 had a full air suspension as well, but Citroen was targeting a less rarefied audience than dictators and rock stars. Not only that, but Citroen offered driving lights that turned with the steering (something BMW has advertised heavily as of late), but it's suspension allowed you to quickly change a tire without a jack (and without runflat tires!).

I've had a soft spot for French cars since riding around in a childhood friend's Peugeot 505. It was  quite different than the big Buick wagons and Volvos that everyone else's moms drove, and aside from being supremely comfortable, it smelled great too! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cars and Coffee anyone?

New York City has everything right?  If you're a film nut, a foodie or an art buff this city has a lot to offer. But if your interests tend toward pistons and valves, there's not much out there. Sure, the Guggenheim has the occasional motorcycle exhibit, and the MOMA had an E-type on display but there's not many places you can go to just chat about cars.  And it's not like people in NY aren't into cars; on my way home tonight I saw a nice 70s 911 with racing numbers on the side, a pimped out e92 M3 and a Mercedes W114 coupe on the same block! We need something like the "Cars and Coffee" events they have in the LA area. Sure, there's the "Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society", but I'm thinking of something much younger and more casual.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A solution to my New York City parking dilemma?

Someone on Craiglist has come up with a brilliant idea for getting free parking in Brooklyn. He'll allow the proud owner of a driveway-equipped house to display his "brand new shiny 3 series" for all to see:

Unfortunately, anyone wealthy enough to have their own piece of ashpalt in Manhattan has enough money to buy 10 of whatever car they want. And in Park Slope, a Prius would be way more desirable as a driveway trophy.  All in all, if someone is impressed with you for having a new 3 series in your driveway, they'll probably be asking you for money very soon. I think most people look at 3 series BMWs and their drivers in one of the following ways:
-Could care less cars
-Obnoxious yuppie/frat boy/spoiled teenager
-Already has one or has something he likes more

As good a car as it may be, I think you'd get more bang for your status buck by spending your lease money on a night of bottle service at a club, walking around the neighborhood with a private bodyguard for a day or signing up for a high end yoga class.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Audi S4

First up was the Audi. The dealer had a black S4 on the showroom floor with a black/aluminum interior. It was stunning to look at with a great stance, nice wheels, perfect paintwork, and great fit/finish.  Even the trunk is nicer than most car's interiors. I get in, and shut the door. It has that classic Cherman thunk that I associate with 80s Mercedes. Yes, all of the details that Audi gets right add up to make a great first impression.  And if this were an iphone I'd probably have my credit card out by now. At this point, a salesman spots my lustful gaze, and asks if I'd like to drive one.   You think? Getting older has its privileges; I was usually summarily ignored when I was stalking cars in my 20s.

After an interminable 20 minute wait, the sales dude pulls up in a fresh-off-the-boat blue S4 with most of its shrink wrap still on. I have to admit that all of the foam and plastic did make me think twice about the abuse I plan to inflict.  He tells me to get in, and that he'll be right back.

Like a partially trained monkey, I start pressing buttons and turnings knobs, quickly landing on  "ze MMI Kontroller". The nav system has one of those center-console mounted controllers beloved by all German carmakers. BMW made them infamous with the "iDrive," and by all accounts, Audi did  a great job refining the concept with their "MMI".  I came away with the impression that it was a nice system to impress your friends with  lots of flashy graphics and animations. Even the seat heating adjustments are animated in shades of red and gray!  But the positionining of the controller seemed a bit off, and the context sensitive buttons that surround the controller didn't seem like they'd be easy to use with the car in motion.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I was already having second thoughts. What's with the feather-light steering?!  Being speed-sensitive it did firm up as the car got above 20mph, but there was something abrupt about the transition that I didn't like.  And for such a fast and schporty car, it was a bit TOO quiet. Where was the exhaust note, or even supercharger whine?  It seemed like the perfect car to commute between Munich and Ingolstadt at 130mph, or even humiliate Porsches with at a track but for everyday driving it was just too damn serious. Great car though.

Why a 3 series?

In any major city (especially LA and NYC), you see them all over. Driven by  everyone from NYU students to bankers, they seem more common than yellow cabs at times.  The BMW 3 series; it's not just a car, it's a cliche.   After all, I  could probably list enough cars to fill Jay Leno's garage  off the top of my head,  so why go with such a boring choice?

Most of the cars I'd like to own aren't affordable or practical as an only car (even if you don't need  to drive  every day). Owning a classic 911, Mercedes 190SL, '69  Mustang fastback, or maybe an MGB would be fun, but not as my only car. And as much as I'd love an Aston Martin DB9 or Maserati Gran Turismo I'd need to make them my primary residence to afford them.  Plus, I like gadgets and the cool features that come with newer cars. So, the following list began forming in my head based loosely on  a few key criteria: Decent looking, fun to drive, good automatic or DCT-type transmission, decent gas mileage and enough room for family/friends/road trips/storage trips/etc.
  • Audi S4 and S5 
  • Chevrolet Camaro
  • BMW 135i
  • BMW 335i and 335is coupes
  • BMW M3
  • Mustang GT  5.0
  • Volkswagen GTI

Despite all the BMWs listed above, I had a bit of a car-crush on the Audis. They were sleek, beautifully made, roomy and fast. Every review raved about them. Plus, my wife has always wanted an Audi convertible, so that probably biased me as well.

But I've had a "thing" for BMWs since I  was 13 and got a ride in our neighbors '85 325e. It just seemed so solid, with lively handling and a great exhaust note.  In my 13 year old mind it was simply "cool" and a car that my parents would never buy (10 year old Volvo wagons with vinyl seats were more their speed).  Come to think of it, that same neighbor owned a string of interesting cars that I'd still like to own: Audi 5000CS Quattro, Saab 900 SPG, early 70s Datsun 240Z, Alfa Romeo Milano, BMW 325e, and a BMW 325i.  Nothing too crazy, but enough to spark quite a bit of unrequited car love in my teenage mind.  BMWs have gone through an awkward stage in the past 7 years, but the latest 3 series coupe has caught my eye since it came out in 2007. And the 135i brought me back to the classic upright  lines of the e30 that I had gotten a ride in back in the 80s. Plus it's just fun to say "twin turbo".

As for the Mustang and Camaro, I'd never been that into American muscle as a kid. Too bad as  I probably could've bought a 70s muscle car for allowance money back then. But the latest iterations of the Camaro and Mustang had caught my attention. Great proportions, lots of power and interiors that don't look like McDonald's Happy Meal toys.

And finally, the Volkswagen. There's just something I've always found pleasing about nearly every iteration of the Golf/Rabbit/GTI.  By being practical, stylish, affordable and fun to drive the new GTI could be the perfect car for me....

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ford Exploder

No one ever said parking in Manhattan was going to be easy (or cheap). I had hoped to have both in my new building, but the waiting list turned out to be longer than expected. But while I was scouring the city's garages, I came across this 90s gem:

The Jesus-fish above is an interesting touch as well. Well done.  

Unfortunately, it was not a sign from God. The best they could do at this garage was $350/month. Maybe I'll suck it up and pay, but for now I'll continue my search. Anyone have experience with the lot on Pier 40? It looks like kind of place mob bosses go to interrogate their victims, but at $250, it's tempting.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Yes, it's crazy.  I live in one of the few places in the U.S. where you don't actually need a car. Want to get something to eat? Walk a block. Commute to work? Hop on the subway.  Go upstate for the weekend? Rent a car.   And yet I've gone and done it. After a bit of inspiration from this article and some encouragement from my ever-suffering wife, I ordered brand-new BMW 335i coupe through BMW's European Delivery program (more details to follow in later posts!).

Ever since I was 4  and demanded to go with my father to pick up the new family car (A Volvo 144) I've been a car nut. From spending my allowance on car magazines to being the de-facto automotive expert for family and friends,  it's been a life-long passion.  But living and working in Manhattan provides few opportunities to indulge in this hobby of mine. Sure, I can ogle all manner of exotica on a daily basis, but actually having my own car to wash, wax, drive on weekends has been a craving of mine for quite some time now.

So by creating this blog, I hope to connect with other car-crazy people in the New York area and share my experiences owning a car in the big city...