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A great Perspective on Modern Life

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    A great Perspective on Modern Life

    For a guy who grew up rebuilding cars in his parent's garage, it was a bit of a shock to find out that Audi once made a vehicle with a hood that didn't open. What kind of sacrilege was this?

    And yet I wasn't really surprised – the sealed hood had a certain historical inevitability to it. Like reality TV, Sarah Palin, and the exportation of jobs to China, it's a sign of the times. Most drivers don't even check the oil any more. So why open the hood?

    With the Europe-only A2 model that was on the market from 1999 to 2005, Audi just took things to their logical conclusion. Want to check the alternator belt tension? Forget it. How about a jump-start? Forget that, too. What about the time-honored tradition of lifting the hood and contemplating the engine? Nope. Access denied.

    This part really stung. For a car nut, an engine compartment is like a shrine. We stare at the motor as a penitent gazes upon the statue of a saint. The physical object itself means little. What matters is the miracle that it represents – an internal-combustion engine is a self-contained mechanical cosmos, a symphony of spinning metal parts that capture the

    energy of an explosion to carry us down the road.

    But the A2's engine was sealed off like the Pope's Vatican chambers, accessible only to the anointed. No gazing allowed. You could dismiss the A2's hood as a minor technical detail. But it's more than that. The sealed hood is a sign of the times.

    We have been gradually disconnected from mechanical reality. We use devices without being required to understand them – and that has profound implications for us all. I don't know anybody who works on their own car any more. Even though I used to be a professional mechanic, I rarely do it myself. It's partly due to time pressure. But it's also because today's cars call for expensive diagnostic equipment that no home mechanic can afford.
    Modern cars are also less needy. If necessary, my family Honda will run for years without a tune-up. (Its fuel and ignition systems self-adjust. So do the hydraulic valve lifters). But I grew up with cars that couldn't live without me. Like my beloved VW Beetles – left to their own devices, their ignition timing drifted, their cylinders heads loosened, and their valves slipped out of adjustment, clattering like cheap castanets.
    “ We have been gradually disconnected from mechanical reality. We use devices without being required to understand them”
    It was up to me to set things right. I'd wake up early on Saturday, break out my Snap-On wrenches, and minister to my little car. I snugged the heads down with a torque wrench, adjusted the valves, then changed the spark plugs, studying the old ones for signs of trouble (white ash meant a lean mixture, black meant too rich, an even brown indicated that all was well). I set the ignition with a timing light, an act that always struck me as magical – under the white pulse of the strobe, the spinning fan pulley stood still, its timing mark revealed.

    The test drive was a celebration – my car no longer clattered, coughed, or pulled to one side. It hummed, and it went straight. And I did it myself. When I was a teenager, my dad taught me how to change the engine oil on our Mercury Comet. We drained the oil into a pan and ran our fingers through it, studying its colour and its constituency. More than once, we found trouble – metal shavings spoke of a bad crank bearing. Streaks of coolant gave away a failing head gasket.

    Knowing how to fix a car used to mean something. In university, I studied the classics. My abiding memory was of Odysseus returning home to slay the suitors who had invaded his house. To me, overhauling an engine was a less dramatic version of the same process – I had driven out the forces of mechanical disorder.

    So how could I imagine that the golden age of the home mechanic was approaching its end?

    When I was in my teens, almost every high school had an auto shop. By the time I was in my late twenties, that had started to change, thanks to budgetary pressures and academic streaming. Today, they have been eradicated – with few exceptions, they are found only in trade schools, which are seen as dumping grounds for kids who aren't smart enough for university.

    I wonder what Leonardo da Vinci would have thought?
    A while back, I walked through Northern Secondary, a huge Toronto school that was built about 80 years ago. It was still a busy operation, with thousands of students, and the air of a well-worn castle. But one part of it had gone dark – the industrial arts wing. A teacher who had set up new auto and welding shops back in the 1960s gave me a sobering tour of his dismantled empire – cobwebs gathered over a collection of rusted machinery.

    There was no money for the shop program. None of the kids wanted to take auto repair or welding any more. Why would they? The age of do-it-yourself had been dismantled. The mechanic had been relegated to the role of repairman, the guy who toiled in a grease pit so rich people could drive somewhere without thinking about how their car worked.
    I called up Pete Brock, a legendary car designer who now lives in Redmond, Wash. (He designed the Shelby Cobra coupe and helped shape the original Corvette Stingray) “No one wants to make stuff themselves any more,” Brock said. “Everything's virtual. You do things on a computer screen, not in metal.”

    If ever there was a renaissance man, it is Brock, whose career has been defined by a combination of mechanical ingenuity, artistry and an intellectual appreciation of machinery. Among Brock's accomplishments are the creation of a famous auto racing team, helping Carroll Shelby beat Ferrari at Le Mans, and designing a series of gliders that reshaped the world of ultralight aviation. Now Brock designs and builds racing accessories at a new company he founded with his wife. Generations of car nuts consider him a guru.

    To Brock, a good machine is the elegant, real-world expression of an idea, not just something to be used and cast aside when it breaks. Machines are philosophies, expressed in metal.
    Brock sees the closed car hoods and the darkened school shops as an omen. “We used to make stuff, and we were the best in the world at it,” he said. “Now they do everything in China, and we have all these kids staring at computer screens. It's the greatest loss we've ever had.”
    Amen.


    "I go slow, cause;Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."

    #2
    good read, and i can relate. i spend my whole day making old, worn out "junkers" work like they did when they were new. i love it.
    Originally posted by Dozyproductions
    You know why you're drinking that Pabst? No its probably not because it was the first beer you grabbed. It's because you're a winner.

    Comment


      #3
      Great read really, I can't think of a day where I don't find making things out of metal enjoyable. Just the other day, I was helping my friend on a welding project and I hadn't welded in a long time, and that smell and the sound just brought back good thoughts of past failed and completed projects.

      Sorry for the personal rant.

      Comment


        #4
        the past is always better in the future.
        Originally posted by z31maniac
        I just hate everyone.

        No need for discretion.

        Comment


          #5
          I haven't read a truer statement in a long time. Sometimes I just can't stand the throwaway world we are living in.

          '89 Alpine S52 with goodies

          Comment


            #6
            Originally posted by kylekrueger View Post
            Great read really, I can't think of a day where I don't find making things out of metal enjoyable. Just the other day, I was helping my friend on a welding project and I hadn't welded in a long time, and that smell and the sound just brought back good thoughts of past failed and completed projects.

            Sorry for the personal rant.

            No reason to apologize.

            this was the reason I posted this, so we can reflect on the fact that so many of us can see ourselves in this story.


            "I go slow, cause;Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."

            Comment


              #7
              Audi A2 was (thank God) a complete failure. I only saw a couple in my whole life. In case you don't know this model:



              But how about a different approach?

              Jay Leno, when asked (in top gear I think) what is his view on future of cars in general with all the hybrids, non-self-maintenance, electro- or hydrogen-powered cars appearing, he said something quite interesting.

              According to his point of view, it will be just like with horses. People used to use horses for agriculture works, transport, mining etc. And when machines pushed the horses out of these areas, these animals prevailed, becoming a part of an elite sport an social events. Leno thinks it will be just the same with cars. Old cars will always find their enthusiasts and will gain the position of a symbol of elite lifestyle.

              I must say - Leno's words make sense to me. I see more and more people choosing and old and restored Jag or Masserati over a new Benz S-class.

              Picture this - driving your E30 in ten years from now - a true car with a soul among all those shapeless molds that look more and more like toys...

              Comment


                #8
                This is why I want my dad to teach me how to weld before he gets too 'up there' in years. That's a REAL skill.
                -Geno

                '87 325is (s52'd)
                '95 525iT
                '02 Range Rover 4.6 HSE

                Comment


                  #9
                  I'm at school right now; Purdue for Mechanical Engineering. You'd think this would be a good place to meet people who actually want to learn how to or already have some experience in doing physical work. That couldn't be further from the truth. I had a nerf gun apart modding it just for the heck of it, and a friend walked in and said "how the hell did you get that apart? What if you break it!?" I showed him how it all worked and some of the design issues I was fixing or improving, and he just looked at me and said "that's cool and all, but why don't you just go buy a better one?

                  Or a friend who said he wanted to get a new car becuase the brakes were squeaky and the engine made "bad noises." so his parents bought him a new Civic. I don't know what happened to that old XJ12, with barely any rust and needing really only belts and brakes...

                  Or ipods. I've never spent more than $50 on an ipod. Buy them all broken and fix them. Its ridiculously easy to do, most of the time, but even the ECE guys here seem like they're too afraid of breaking it or something. All we learn seems to be the theory.

                  I'm a part of the Baja team here, which is really cool, and in the conceptual stages of everything, we has some really good ideas come up, and models produced and such. We get down to the shop, and less than half the people know how to turn a wrench. Its ridiculous.

                  Some of what I have found is that there are a lot of people who have a real interest in learning to do their own work, but they just don't know where to gain the knowledge, or they expect someone else to tell them how to do it, because that's how a lot of school is. You don't learn by experience anymore. I have countless stories from working on stage sets and at a shop and in my own garage, working with others. Its really kinda sad.

                  And as far as the shop classes go, I would have loved to take welding or something. But that is not academically sound anymore. Instead, I took tons of AP and Honors classes, to learn all the theory. That push, more than anything, seems to be what's causing the throwaway generation more than anything.

                  Sorry for the rant and such. Just not really a fan of where this country seems to be headed...

                  Project M42 Turbo

                  Comment


                    #10
                    I feel you man.

                    I have two friends. Both used to know nothing of an automobile, and its functions. I had asked, "what are you gonna do when your car breaks down? Do you know how to check the oil? Change a tire? Do you guys even know how to drive?"

                    They knew nothing of what I was asking, and from that point promised to school my friends in the art of tuurning a wrench. From that point on, any time there was a need to work on their cars, they would ask for help, and since have learned quite well, and are fairly knowledgeable in diagnosing issues. It gives me a good feeling that I can give my know-how, and expierence to others.

                    I feel that the passion, and drive, have left america, and its up to us gearheads to help this country. I know its a tall order, but just think of how many wrench turners there are on this site, and other automotive forums.

                    What it boils down to, is that some people have gotten so lazy, that the would rather pay through the nose for a working car, rather then getting dirty and feeling the rush of excitement from returning a piece of art to its former glory.

                    sigpic

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Single page:
                      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/ma...pagewanted=all

                      Printable:
                      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/ma...gewanted=print

                      That article goes hand in hand with that excerpt. I agree with what everyone has said here...it can be directly applied to our blind love for these cars.

                      My friends/family (you've all heard this before) think that I'm crazy for pouring so much money and time into this car...everyone always says, "you could have bought yourself a brand new car by now." But thats not the point, and people..erhmm normal people have lost touch with that.
                      IG: deniso_nsi Leave me feedback here

                      Comment


                        #12
                        I work for AAA road side assistance and every day i see this.

                        People who dont even know how to open the hood to their car, people who dont know how to jumpstart a car, people who dont know where the dip stick is, people who dont know where the spare tire is, people who dont even know how to get their key out of their ignition if the steering wheel is locked. I cant even tell you how many times I've gotten a car started just by putting it from drive to park. People dont know anything about what they drive, how it works, or even the simplest things we do drunk and half asleep.

                        We've gone from a "Do-it-yourself" era to a "Do-it-for-me" era. People want everything done for them so they dont have to get dirty or think. It's just the changing of times.

                        Comment


                          #13
                          nothing to add here...great read...great discussion...mature thread.

                          remember this article is much more than just "cars", it's really about the "changing of the times", with so much automation nowadays people are forgetting what life is all about. this idea can be applied to everything we do today, including communication on this forum.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            I'd like to suggest a book I read last year.


                            http://www.amazon.com/Shop-Class-Sou.../dp/1594202230

                            It really talks about the heart of the matter.

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by gearheadE30 View Post
                              I'm a part of the Baja team here, which is really cool, and in the conceptual stages of everything, we has some really good ideas come up, and models produced and such. We get down to the shop, and less than half the people know how to turn a wrench. Its ridiculous.
                              That's how a lot of Baja and Formula programs are. I was on the Formula team at FIT 2 years ago, along with 13 other guys. When it came time to build the car, there were only 5 of us actually in the machine shop.

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