It sounds preposterous, and it is—just look at this thing! This striking Volkswagen GTI concept features a host of performance upgrades and some dramatic design modifications to accommodate them. Most notable are the flared wheel wells to house the really big tires, necessary to manage the 650 horsepower being delivered by a six-liter W-12 engine. Zero-to-60 in 3.7 seconds. Top speed: 202 mph. Ferrari F430: dusted. —Eric Adams
In our December 2006 issue, we featured an innovatively designed, biodiesel-powered speedboat called Earthrace that was going to attempt to set an around-the-world nautical speed record of 65 days. Skipper Pete Bethunes intent was to raise awareness of the environmental benefits—and raw power—of biodiesel fuel. That effort came to a tragic end last week when, only nine days into the attempt, Earthrace crashed into a fishing vessel off Guatemala, killing one fisherman and seriously injuring a second (the third member of the boat's crew suffered only minor injuries). Bethune and his crew did everything they could to rescue the fishermen and treat their injuries while the boat limped back to shore, likely saving the lives of the two injured sailors they were able to recover. The mission, of course, was terminated, and the crew remains in Guatemala pending an investigation. For a riveting account of the accident, see Bethune's Captain's blog . —Eric Adams
The region of Aries before (left) and after (right) the explosion, with the pinpoint of light created clearly visible. Courtesy NASA.
Scientists are in the midst of observing a supernova that's in the act of exploding. GRB060218 is cooking right now in the constellation Aries. Its quite exciting, but it helps underscore what is to me one of the eeriest aspects of astronomy: the fact that it's essentially looking back in time. GRB060218 is 440 million light-years away. That means this explosion actually happened 440 million years ago and is only now getting to us. This thing started waaay before the Internet. It even preceded the dinosaurs. Back then, all the continents were still shoved together in a giant Pangaea. Makes you wonder what other amazing—or horrible—things are racing toward us at light speed right now. If, for example, our sun went prematurely bust, we wouldnt know it for a full seven minutes! —Eric Adams
Writer David Axe, who reported from Iraq for our June feature about networked warfare, has penned an amazing, haunting graphic novel about his experiences covering the war. Illustrated by Steven Olexa, the semi-autobiographical War-Fix follows small-town reporter Axe as he gradually realizes that the war is calling him. With no experience in combat journalism and only scant preparation, he leaves his distraught girlfriend and makes his way to Iraq, where he becomes both a participant and voyeur in the horrifying action that unfolds there. The carnage consumes his consciousness and becomes something like a drug to him—a fix. It's by far the most unique and compelling narrative I've yet seen of this entire dismal affair and an honest, self-effacing personal journey. The black-and-white illustrations are dark, violent and undoubtedly all too real. Amazon link. —Eric Adams
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Last weekend, during a trip north from Washington, D.C., my family and I pulled into one of the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike. While wife and daughter #1 went inside, 18-month-old daughter #2 and I stretched our legs. An older gentleman approached me somewhat sheepishly and asked if I could help him. "I have this rental car," he explained, "and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to open the trunk!" I assumed he was just not particularly car-savvy, but I quickly learned that he was in no way to blame for this. I contorted myself into the car—little Alice hanging on like a koala—and was able to figure out in fairly short order (mainly because I happen to be an auto writer) that the Buick's trunk release was way down low on the door and was part of a two-mode rocker switch that also popped the gas door. The cryptic, practically microscopic icons were barely discernable to my eyes, and probably much harder to grasp for older drivers. There was no trunk-release button on the key fob, making it utterly impossible for him to get into his trunk from the outside and put luggage in. I was perplexed, but the nice man was delighted that I'd helped him. "One more thing—I'm so embarrassed—but I can't find the odometer, either," he pleaded, throwing his hands in the air. It's a useful device, given that this was a rental car and all, and I felt terrible for him. I found the thing on a multifunction display on the center console, nowhere near the speedometer and buried on some tiny, random LCD screen. Lord knows whether or not he was able to operate the radio or the climate-control system. My ever-optimistic hope is that technology makes people's lives easier, no matter how conversant they are with it, but clearly that wasn't the case here. Why would Buick—favored carmaker of grandpas everywhere—make a vehicle that would befuddle this fellow so thoroughly? —Eric Adams
As this story on CNN notes, since 2003, 46 people have died in accidents—one airplane, two boat—partially attributed to overweight Americans. It seems that the standards used by regulators to determine how many people can occupy a vessel are based on an average passenger's weight from 1942: 140 pounds. When the Lady D water taxi sank in Baltimore's Inner Harbor in 2004, killing five people, "the average weight among the 25 passengers when the accident happened was 168 pounds, making it 700 pounds overweight, investigators said."
It would be nice if our corrective action was to get our national average weight back down to 140 pounds to match up with the standards—and get more people onto boats and airplanes. Instead, of course, regulators are simply going to adjust the weight estimates to match our appalling girth. —Eric Adams
Driving in northern New Jersey on Sunday, I came upon this Kia Sedona minivan. Its driver was clearly very unhappy with the mileage he was getting in the thing and was advertising it on the rear windshield and side glass. I tried taking a shot of it with my Treo cellphone camera, but the results were disappointing. Anyway, the back glass says Kia says 12 mpg is normal! The side windows say Kia Gas Hog. He had evidently tried to sort out with Kia why he wasnt getting the 17 city, 25 highway that's advertised for the vehicle, to no avail. I wanted to chat with him to see what his experience has been and whether his driving style might be a factor, but he got on the highway right after I took this shot. Its a pity, though—people dont buy Kias because they look awesome and handle like sports cars. They buy them because theyre supposed to be economical, both to purchase and operate. Now hes stuck with a bland minivan that gets the gas mileage of a Lamborghini. —Eric Adams
The E55 AMG--A station wagon that gets to the grocery store before you do
By Scott Mowbray
Some of my fellow editors hold the station wagon in special contempt, and it's true that the basic wagon is sexy like elastic-waistband pants. But I like the wagon because it is a car, not a car pretending to be an after-school bus (i.e., a minivan) or a truck pretending to be a Bradley Fighting Vehicle (any full-size SUV).