"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 2 February 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.


[we would like to thank khunsaker for his fine skills at the video box]

While it may seem like our

appetite for automobiles knows

no season, it's a truism in the

car biz that January is the time

for the hard sell. Undoubtedly

you've noticed that car

campaigns are suddenly and

inexplicably everywhere. And

when it comes to the fine art of

advertising, auto ads aren't so

much the measuring stick as the

unit of measurement.


It's a cliché of biblical

proportions to say this

country's identity is wrapped

like a steel-belted radial

around the automobile. The

simple fact of the matter is

that Americans buy 15 million

new cars each year. Fifteen

million. Now you begin to

understand how there can be more

cars than licensed drivers in

the US. Hell, there are more

cars than indoor toilets -

although there's undoubtedly

some overlap in Southern



The good news out of automotive

circle-jerks like the recent

North American International

Auto Show in Detroit is actually

pretty old news: American cars

have made a rousing comeback

since the dog days of the early

'80s. It was a time when

"American car" may as well have

been a "kick me" sign stuck on

the whole industry's ass. Things

have certainly made a U-turn;

and while Chrysler has been

blowing a lot of hot air, and

Ford keeps tooting its own horn,

GM is still the world's largest

car manufacturer. Still, those

cursed foreigners have found

more than one way to take our

stick away and beat us with it.


(In the drive for global

domination, the French and the

Italians are out of the picture.

Last we heard, Renault and Fiat had sunk so far as to be

accepted into the official

Scrabble dictionary. The Swedes

and Finns were never a serious

threat; the Japanese are a

perennial rival, and the Germans

just won't stay down. Whether

it's war or car exports, seems

history just keeps banging away

on the same six cylinders.)


[joey for feeling bad about leaving at 10:30pm]

The industry recently announced

that the Toyota Camry passed the

Honda Accord last year as the

bestselling automobile right

here on our own home turf. The

Accord had enjoyed that dubious

distinction (the bestselling car

is also, not coincidentally, the

most frequently stolen one) for

the better part of a decade,

with a brief reign of the

estimable Ford Taurus. Still,

half a million units sold in one

year is small potatoes indeed,

on the eight-lane interstate of

history. Believe it or not, the

Ford Model-T was the bestselling

car ever, up until 1968. That

year, the world's bestseller

became - and remains - the

Volkswagen Beetle.


Despite discontinuing sales in

the United States in 1974, the

diminutive krautburner has stuck

around. And not because it was

the only car besides Chitty

Chitty Bang Bang to star in its

own film. The Beetle is

especially stalwart in the

second and third worlds, not so

much because it doesn't break

down, or even because it's easy

to repair, but because one

person can simultaneously push

it and steer it - a lesson

American baby boomers learned

when they were too stoned to

notice the funny little fuel

gauge had gone empty.


[terry for his talent, humor, and neat-o tvs]

For 50 years, the Bug has been a

foil for the state of the

American car industry. The first

time around, it was the only

affordable, economical vehicle

on the road otherwise crowded

with oversized, overpowered

American land yachts. Thirty

years before the first auto was

designed to strict "punk rock"

specs, the Bug became the first

commercial appropriation of the

"Small Is Beautiful" mantra -

and one of the reasons

Volkswagen, despite being

saddled with its ominous Third

Reich moniker and origin, has

enjoyed a legion of karmically

correct, countercultural nitwits

as loyal drivers. One hand on

the wheel and the other rolling

a joint. Or keeping the window



If the Germans are good at one

thing, it's eternal recurrence.

So it should come as no surprise

that they're rolling out a new

generation of the Beetle this

spring, at precisely the moment

when the subcompact economy car

has all but vanished from

American show rooms, left on the

shoulder by gas-guzzling SUVs

and opulent executive sedans.

Still, while the new-old Beetle

is as much about marketing the

past as anything, some things

have changed for good. If you're

too baked to wrap your head

around the new Beetle's

"affordable" US$15,000 price

tag, don't go looking for the

engine again; this time, they

put it in the front.


[and the cat for welcoming me home and spooning under the covers all night]

But of course, this time

potential VW owners are a

smarter, hipper, more sober

crowd. Judging from Volkswagen's

current line of high-octane,

hipster advertising, their

aggressive post-graduate leasing

grifts, and their bizarre

roof-top cross-promotions, the

baby boomers' kids are not only

cooler than their parents ever

were - we're a lot more solvent.

Our music makes more overt

references to coprophilia, we're

more interested in the corner

office at an earlier age, and we

can parse the details of a

three-year lease faster than you

can say Country Joe and the



Since we have the honor of

selling out without ever

striking any of those silly

idealistic poses of the '60s

generation, we say let those

Volkswagens roll. Small may be

beautiful, but more is better,

especially when it comes to new

cars. Why not sell the new

Beetle with an oversized

American sedan on top? Now that would be


courtesy of E. L. Skinner