I suppose one of the true measures of lasting fame is the posthumous publication of private correspondence. No one has arrived in the pantheon of all-time greats until a fevered academic has probed through years of intimate letter-writing and produced an anthology such as The Secret Love Letters of Oswald Spengler. Being a realist, I am aware that I will miss the cut when some future PhD candidate seeks out an archive from which to glean confidential scribblings.
Nevertheless, I am an active letter writer and receiver, and one who deals with cosmic issues on an everyday basis. After all, how many claimants to celebrity get letters inquiring whether one can stuff a small-block Chevy V-8 into a 1959 Nash Rambler? Or what size tires to buy for a Yugo? Yes, I get letters, lots of letters. Some are brilliantly composed and packed with lucid reasoning. Others are, well, less coherent.
For example: I am looking at a packet of papers on my desk from a guy who has written a 6,000-word folk-poem titled "Ode to Big Mo," written in seven cantos and 311 verses. The seventh verse reads: A young blood's stiletto contumacy in petto its redline false to soundtrack of the ghetto along with supe graffito part of cruise libretto. At this point, I've only got 304 more verses to go.
Then again, I get some serious letters. For example, a fellow from Alexandria writes: "Shouldn't The Post provide its readers with another viewpoint less enthralled with car speed and more concerned with car safety, such as Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety or Jack Gillis of the bestselling Car Book, to write an auto column?"
In reply, I say that is a terrific idea, and if I had a say in such policy matters, I would welcome other points of view. Ditlow and Gillis would be ideal candidates -- if only they didn't espouse that ridiculous, Pavlovian, paranoid, post-Luddite, anti-car fear and loathing that blurs their every observation. Sometimes I have to wonder: Do those guys ever leave their offices and actually drive cars?
A man from Annapolis writes to report that he has just spent a vacation in France and Spain traveling more than 4,000 miles on a motorcycle. He says, "I particularly liked the combination of attractive rural roads and high-speed tollways. On the former, I found myself putting along fairly slowly, stopping frequently, and on the toll roads I liked the thrill of making time and exercising my high-speed driving skills. My first impression on returning home was of people not enjoying driving, droning along inattentively in clusters at 55 mph and in fear of the giant semis." As I have written before, the European driving environment generally makes more sense than ours. As for fear-laden motorists droning along at 55, talk to Ditlow and Gillis.
A gentleman who describes his address as "fashionable McLean" writes to challenge me: "Come on, the man who champions exotics that are typically beaucoup bucks and with limited availability and always slams Detroit, why don't you tell us what you drive? And pray tell, not an American car?" To fashionable McLean I say: My present scuderia is composed of a 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E with five-speed manual gearbox and a lowered Bilstein suspension, a 1987 Dodge Caravan, a 1983 GMC crew-cab dualie pickup and a 1971 Dodge Challenger (used to run in the notorious Cannonballs of yore). Also in the stable are two Honda Civic Sis. Read into that motley collection any inferences you like.
A D.C. motorist writes to take issue with my enthusiasm for the new Acura line: "The car is vastly overrated . . . The car has many serious drawbacks, not the least of which is a lack of adequate leg, seat and headroom for anyone over six feet. The car has an anemic powerplant under 3,000 rpm. The transmission has a most annoying habit in city traffic of shifting up and down. The air conditioning is also very anemic. The power windows are the slowest I have ever encountered. The leather seats are insufferably hot." It always makes me wonder: Don't people like this bother to even sit for a while in a car before purchasing it? That would have revealed any lack of interior space (though, as a fellow six-footer, I find it perfectly adequate). A test drive would have enlightened this reader about the car's performance, though no one should expect decent acceleration from any car with an automatic transmission and an engine smaller than two liters. I still think the Acura Integra (the model to which I assume the writer is referring) is a splendid machine, but it should only be purchased in five-speed manual form by those who know how to use a small-displacement engine to its maximum.
Another reader queries: "Would you consider doing an article on Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car? I've read about this auto and would like to hear your thoughts about it. I'd especially like to hear how you think it stacks up to the cars of today." Bucky Fuller, in case you've spent the last 50 years on Baffin Island, is the architect/avant-garde engineer whose best-known invention was the geodesic dome, a unique stressed structure made from triangulated tubes for which no one has ever figured out much use.
Fuller created the aforementioned Dymaxion automobile in 1933-34 as part of his vision of reforming the human environment through radical industrial design. Only three of the machines were built, all with bulbous, aerodynamic bodies (seating for 11, no less), a rear-mounted flathead Ford V-8 engine, three wheels and front drive. It was, by all rational measurements, an eminently stupid design and yet another example of how easily visionary art and practical engineering can make for a ludicrous marriage. Regardless, the Dymaxion remains a darling of certain naive intellectuals who view Fuller's ravings on social and applied engineering as those of a prophet.
I have several other letters on my desk, but they are entirely too rational and responsible for comment here. And besides, I need to spend some time looking for my copy of The Unexpurgated Correspondence of Ettore Bugatti and Isadora Duncan. ::