Car Talk Steele - Part IV
Date: Monday, June 25, 2001
Lauryn Poynor <>

Car Talk Steele - Part IV


Lauryn Poynor

LAURA: Hello? Car Talk? This is Laura from Los Angeles.

TOM: Laura. As in the movie with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews?

LAURA: Oh, God. Not you, too. Movies again.

RAY: Boy that Gene Tierney was one hot number. 'Beautiful,
exotic, dangerous to know.'

TOM: Just like this caller if we don't get to the point. What can we do to help?

LAURA: Honestly, I'm not sure. It's just that I've had this um, relationship problem lately.

RAY: I see. Your significant other, eh? BMW? Datsun Z? Honda Civic?

LAURA: God, I hate that phrase. Significant other. It sounds so superficial. I wasn't just referring to my car. Or maybe I was. I know I sound a little confused.

TOM: That's not unusual. I know I guy once who married his '57 T-Bird. They went through a rough patch when the car threw a rod instead of the bouquet, but they're working things out.

LAURA: If only it were that simple. It all started in the
doctor's office.

RAY: Not a good sign. What happened? A disagreement with a Mack truck? Immovable object meets irresistible force?

LAURA: No, nothing like that. I wasn't in an accident. I was in the waiting room reading a magazine.

TOM: 'Car and Driver?' Or 'Mademoiselle?' Just trying to get the lay of the land here.

LAURA: I don't even remember what it was. Some trendy women's magazine. They had one of those multiple choice personality tests called a Car-O-Scope. You answer a set of revealing questions to determine whether your car is right for you. Well, I'm beginning to think that mine isn't.

RAY: You don't drive a Renault Le Car do you? Because that
would explain it.

LAURA: A Volkswagen Rabbit.

RAY: Ah, I should have guessed.

LAURA: Why do you say that?

RAY: Well, I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but, the Rabbit is what's known in the parlance as a 'chick car.'

LAURA: Oh, really. How enlightening. And what's wrong with it? Just because my car doesn't have a hood more than five feet long, or three times the horsepower that it needs. Men are so shallow. Tack some meaningless letters and numbers after the name and they'd be packing the showrooms to buy one.

TOM: The Rabbit 911. The Rabbit RX7. The Rabbit Boss 302. Nah. It's still a bunny rabbit.

RAY: We know how my brother feels about the car. Let's get back to your feelings for a moment. You say you and the car aren't a perfect match. What kind of questions did they ask in this Car-O-Scope?

LAURA: Oh, the usual things at first, age, income, educational level, then it got more personal.

TOM: Such as?

LAURA: If there were only two jobs in the world: accountants and social workers which would you choose?

RAY: And your choice?

LAURA: Accountant. I was a math major. That's what bothered me. The test was so illogical. They asked you to rate several statements on a sliding scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Like 'anyone who believes in love at first sight is asking for trouble.' What's that got to do with the kind of car I drive? I'll bet they wouldn't ask that question in 'Road and Track.' As if only women allow their emotions to cloud their judgement.

TOM: You have a point. Men are far more emotional about their cars. I read a survey once that said 12% of men bought Valentine's Day gifts for their car or truck, and 53% keep a picture of their car on their dresser. 27% loved their cars more than their in-laws. No surprise there. Except maybe that the number isn't higher.

RAY: Tommy wore a black arm band for weeks when someone stole his Dodge Dart convertible. We saved it from the crusher just before the sentence was carried out. We were leaving for the memorial service when we got the call.

TOM: She almost got reincarnated as a Rubik's cube. Thought she was a goner. I think I have a copy of that eulogy somewhere. It still makes me cry.

RAY: Rod McKuen eat your heart out.

LAURA: I hate to intrude on your moment of grief but can we get back to the questionnaire please? I'm on a tight schedule.

TOM: Sorry about that. I came so close to losing a loved one. Sometimes talking about things can be therapeutic.

LAURA: Then lets take a crack at this Car-O-Scope. For instance, they asked - when I see a dirty dish in the sink, do I usually wash it right away and do I buy brands on sale, even though they aren't my favorites. Who doesn't? What does that prove?

RAY: Our mother would love to meet you. She used to comb the shelves at the supermarket looking for 'Brand X,'
you know, that cheap bargain brand in the commercials.

LAURA: There were more questions but I can't remember them. When I looked up my results they said I was a frugal, colorless, drudge - doomed to a life of driving cheap, nasty, brutish and short economy cars. Don't you think that's pretty harsh? We can't all drive a Mercedes. That's no reason to be judgmental.

TOM: Sure. What do they know? If I were you I'd forget about it. Auto psychology is not an exact science. We're proof of that.

LAURA: I have a practical, analytical side but I still know how to have fun. I was driving through the canyons just the other day with the top down and the radio tuned to KROT.


LAURA: It's an AM radio station.

RAY: You listen to AM radio? For fun?

LAURA: What's that supposed to mean?

TOM: Oh, nothing. AM listeners are a dying breed.

RAY: Yeah, they're just not dying fast enough.

TOM: Ignore him. Keep the faith. Don't follow the crowd.

LAURA: I don't usually. I mean, when I bought the Rabbit I knew it wasn't unique, there were a lot of them on the road. It's economical, easy to handle, but it doesn't exactly stand out. Maybe it's a self fulfilling prophecy. My career hasn't exactly been making headlines lately. Unidentified woman driving mild mannered sub-compact car. That's me. When I bought it I knew it was short on horsepower and short on charisma but I thought I could live with it.

RAY: Maybe that's the problem. You're living with it, but you're not exactly thrilled. Maybe somewhere inside of that frugal accountant's soul of yours is a spendthrift waiting to get out.

LAURA: You sound just like my um, significant other. Always trying to teach me the art of being irresponsible. Frivolous. Reckless.

TOM: Has it worked? Or did you make him trade in the Ferrari?

LAURA: Oh, sometimes it works. You'd be surprised how well it works. Irresponsibility is seductive. Until my better judgement kicks in and I start to analyze. Risks and benefits. Debits and credits. Checks and balances. It's a game we play. He likes the curves. I like the straight and narrow. He accelerates. I put on the brakes.

RAY: Remind me never to get behind you in traffic.

LAURA: Sorry. I know it sounds crazy. Sometimes I enjoy the ride but it never goes anywhere. I wish I knew why. I'm so confused lately I agonize over the smallest decision. I can't even decide whether to drive with the top down. By the way, the top seems to be coming down unevenly on one side. On the right, I think. Maybe I'm just wearing the thing out.

TOM: Probably one of your side cables is out of tension, or a connecting spring. Easy to fix. Cheap, too. Not that I was inferring, um..

LAURA: It can be so soothing to have the wind blowing through your hair and the road rushing by. I always think better when I can relax. Everything falls into place, if only for a while. But sometimes with the top down, an uneasy feeling comes over me, almost without warning. I feel mortal, exposed, unprotected. Does that make sense?

TOM: It does if you've seen the crash test data for the
Volkswagen Rabbit.

LAURA: That's just it. I never used to be a 'safety first' kind of driver. One of my ex boyfriends used to hide my keys. Hard to tell, though. Wilson was always a nervous passenger no matter who was behind the wheel. He called my driving 'exuberant.' Well, among other things. That was the kindest term he used.

RAY: 'Exuberant,' eh? As in, 'This ticket really isn't
necessary, officer, I'm just feeling a bit exuberant this

LAURA: That line didn't work on the Santa Monica freeway in the summer of '81.

TOM: I'll bet the cop told that story around the water cooler. 'I busted a woman for unlawful exuberance on the freeway yesterday.'

RAY: What's the penalty for that, by the way?

LAURA: $75.00. And six weeks of driving school in a room full of horny sixteen year olds.

TOM: Look on the bright side. As long as you're driving a
Rabbit you won't attract much police attention, unless you do something daring and unexpected like get involved in a high speed chase with Willie Nelson's tour bus.

LAURA: I'll try to keep the high speed chases to a minumum. Speaking of speed, is there some way for me to get more horsepower out of my car? Any fairly simple modifications? I'm in a rather rough and tumble trade for a woman and sometimes a quick getaway is essential. You never know when you might have to fend off undesirable characters. Or desirable ones for that matter.

RAY: Well before you take on any rough and tumble situations you need to make absolutely sure everything's in tip top shape. Do you get it serviced regularly?

LAURA: Serviced? The car? I guess it could do with a bit more, uh, servicing. I haven't been keeping track lately.

RAY: If the basics aren't working performance enhancements are a waste of time.

LAURA: Oh, I agree completely.

RAY: You need your engine thoroughly checked. Have your
mechanic do a leakdown test and a compression test. Then you need to have the engine, the block, and the crankshaft cleaned.

TOM: While the engine is apart you should consider getting it 'blueprinted.'

LAURA: Blueprinted? My significant oth -, um, partner knows a lot about blueprints. In a manner of speaking.

TOM: We're not talking blueprints like you see for a building. Having it 'blueprinted' means taking the original specifications of the engine and making your engine match them exactly.

LAURA: I know just what can happen when you have exact
specifications and the real thing doesn't quite match up.

TOM: Blueprinting eliminates the variances.

LAURA: Can it be that simple? It's those variances that drive me crazy. Keep me awake at night. If only I had the blueprints, I could solve the mystery that's baffled me ever since he walked through that door.

TOM: I sense a bit of hidden subtext here beyond the scope of a factory trained Volkswagen specialist.

LAURA: It's nothing really. Just that life would be a lot easier if I knew all the angles. Hmm. A few days under the care of a blueprint specialist... The measurements we two could share. Stroke and bore. Rod length.... Oh, my, that was way off track. Lets talk RPM's, shall we?

RAY: The easiest and cheapest way is increase horsepower is to install a 2.0 liter VW short block. Or you could shave the head and install pistons made for higher compression engines. Or you can have the head ported and polished. The ultimate solution is to do all three. It just depends on how much oomph you need and how much you're willing to spend.

TOM: How long have you had the car? If there's a lot of miles on the engine already you could be looking at some major bucks after it's all done.

LAURA: It sounds like I might be better off just buying a new car. Or taking an anger management class so that I can deal with getting cut off on the highway by someone's grandmother in an Oldsmobile.

RAY: If you would like to take a step up in your driving image and gain a little horsepower in the bargain you might want to consider a Volkswagen Jetta GLI. It's a VW so you can keep your brand loyalty and it's really a nice performance sedan. You could get a BMW 318i but why pay the extra eight grand?

TOM: Why indeed. The Jetta is an outstanding car for the price. From 0-60 it's faster than the Beemer, the handling is comparable, and it's stylish inside and out. What's not to like?

LAURA: You're right. Maybe it's time to leave the 'unidentified woman' behind. To stand out from the crowd. I'm feeling more exuberant already.

RAY: You might be disappointed that it doesn't come in a ragtop, at least not yet, but that will happily free you from life's little ups and downs. Just remember, you won't get dusted by an Oldsmobile and no one will call you a cheapskate again.

TOM: You'll show those trendy Car-O-Scope folks a thing or two.

RAY: They should leave auto psychology to experienced field personnel. To guys named 'Morty' and 'Al' with grease under their fingernails and tool calendars with half naked women on their garage walls.

LAURA: Wait a minute. It doesn't come in a convertible? That is disappointing. Despite the ups and downs I'm a ragtop kind of gal.

TOM: Well you can always try those engine modifications on your bunny Rabbit. Just make sure your mechanic knows what he's doing. We wouldn't want your engine to melt down like a popsicle in July.

RAY: If you get stranded, just signal us with the Car Talk Click and Clack Decoder Ring. Available for just $25.00 from WBUR, Boston. Call in to our show with your secret message and win a prize. That is, if you can decipher the Click and Clack code manual. So far only my eight year old son and his school friends have worked it out.

LAURA: I still have a few decoding skills from childhood. I was always good at ciphers. I wrote the operations code book for the Atomic Man convention last year. Lifkin, schlot, grob. Phlift, melmin, glim. Bye now.

TOM: I think something got lost in the translation.

RAY: Atomic Man? Doesn't ring a bell. Must be a local show. Speaking of signals, our assistant producer is frantically sending us a coded message. It must be time for a musical moment.

TOM: Or else his shorts are on fire.

[{Song selection} White Rabbit by the Jefferson Airplane 2:34]_
To Part V