The DeLorean DMC-12 of 1981-83, he writes, had an engine "so weak it would struggle to pull a hobo off your sister." Not since Raymond Chandler have I met a metaphor so much more powerful than would do.
Which is not to say that Porter slings figures of speech around indiscriminately. The body of the G.M. EV1 (1996-99), he tells us, resembles "a snake trapped under a rock," and so it does. With regard to performance, Porter turns phrases the way sports cars should take corners. The Chrysler K-Car (l981-89) may have "pulled Chrysler from the depths of financial trouble," he concedes, "but did it have to be such a weedy little griefbox?" The handling of the 1974-78 Datsun B210 was "like trying to steer a wheelbarrow full of logs."
His take on the 1993-2002 Hummer H1 holds up on sociocultural grounds alone: "Imagine if there'd been some sort of hideous Pentagon mess-up and someone had decided that the Army would go into battle driving a fleet of Camrys. . . . So why in the name of all that's holy is it somehow acceptable to cruise down to the mall in a military vehicle?"
We find a "stubby and square" Maserati here, a "bandy-legged" BMW, and a Cadillac Seville that "started in fine Caddy style with a long, flat hood and high, proud passenger cabin and then just fizzled out into an apologetic bustle." I do wish Porter hadn't likened the Suzuki X-90 (1996-98) to "a vomit omelet," because I can't get that epithet out of my head. But judging by the photograph (in which the car is set against a red-rock butte), he is not overstating the case by much. And it's sound advice he gives in connection with the Geo Metro Convertible (l990-93): "Don't buy a car that's smaller, and indeed less comfortable, than your shoes."
Which brings us to the original Volkswagen Beetle, shown here with miniskirted women frolicking around it. In my youth I had a VW Bug, $400 used, and it seemed O.K. at the time. But Porter is right, its heater was "pathetic." And one look at those frolickers should remind us what its interior failed to provide for: legs. This is a function of the critic, to make us realize that something we thought (or assumed) we liked, we really didn't.
Funny. If pushed, we can admit our best friend has a hygiene problem, that the guy we voted for may not be perfect, that our beloved home town had lousy weather.
But damn, it hurts to see in black and white that my VW had an imperfect heater. I mean, of course it did. That's one of the great things about us and VW's. They made us hardy, mobile people and, after all, that's what an American really is.
[This was first posted at Prairie Weather.]