The Monster I4s from Central Asia

My latest obsession is something that succeeds because it finds a way for me to be different within an inherently limited structure. It also succeeds in that it appeals to my weird alternate history sense (i.e, yes, politics are totally different, but what of the cars?)

So, in my latest project in Automation, I struck gold. Monster inline-four engines, by a producer that, in the timeline, has become the biggest foreign brand in the US by market share.

The inspiration started when I looked at World War II Soviet jeeps and saw one powered by a three liter inline-four engine. This engine style was, thanks to its huge size and common block configuration, both build-able and different. (A more exotic engine configuration could be imagined, but would fall victim to Automation’s understandably limited engine types, while I wanted something different from a smaller I4).

There’s a good reason why I4 engines normally aren’t that big. The Super Three, as I nicknamed it, has the bulkiness of a large engine with the inherent limitations of an I4, and has an incredibly low RPM that is spared from being even lower by its rugged parts.

Once the Super Three got built in the engine maker, in 1946, I had to make over a decade worth of later cars that used it. Engine limitations like this are both more realistic and challenging than simply giving each new car a custom-built engine. So far, the cars built only stood out in the “muscle” category-understandably.

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Now for the “background”. This is based on the The Big One timeline, and I make no real claims to total, or even much plausibility. Said timeline would be a total mess regarding cars-Germany is nuked to ruin, which takes out both its car industry and machine-tools that set the rest of the world back, Japan remains economically backwards, and the US hogs all the remaining advanced tooling for its military-industrial complex. Thus its cars are even clunkier, to the point where the author said that to keep gas prices “down”, they have to not tax gasoline.

Also, Russia and Eastern Europe go capitalist far earlier, which could mean something other than old Fiats coming out of their lines.

(Incidentally, the main timeline is such a boring wish-fulfillment pushover that I find thinking about cars much more interesting than the main divergences. TBO was the ‘existing alternate history setting’ I mentioned in this old post.)

Enter the company TAZ. It stands for a Russian translation of “Tashkent Auto Factory” (Tashkent Avto Zavod).

TAZ’s fictional history is such-it starts out as a wartime plant producing military vehicles and/or engines for such in the safety of Central Asia. To survive after the war and privatization, it takes its one product-the Super Three engine, and turns itself into a maker of civilian autos.

The engine is far more suited for utility vehicles than passenger cars. But for whatever reason, TAZ ends up deciding to make such vehicles in addition to light trucks. Stuffing the Super Three into an auto gets you-a proto-muscle car. It’s too big to fit into smaller city cars, and doesn’t match the power of the true monsters, but it has the raw force in a smaller package.

As a niche car, it sells well enough to keep both its parent and said parent’s auto business functional. They begin crossing the oceans (where they become low-end muscle cars), and they give TAZ a foot in the door and a “theme” of power that helps them stay distinct. Although not the sole engine once they expand, the fondness for the Super Three keeps large I4s under the hoods of subsesquent TAZes.

Although technological progression and trends would be far different beyond the initial 1950s period given the previously mentioned differences, I reimagined a more modern TAZ, making a “3-21” three liter, 21st Century inline-four-and am in the process of building the “3-21” series in Automation now.

Question marks for TAZ remain. Their big engines are vulnerable to oil price increases, the inherent limitations of large I4s could work against them, the geography of their initial location isn’t the most efficient, and there’s politics that could harm them.

(Canon TBO reverts the USSR back to a large Russia while glossing over the inevitable awkward politics surrounding the non-Russian republics. Solidarity around an even bloodier Eastern Front and a postwar boom would repress it for a while, but it might very well come back after another bust).

Still, as an exercise, it’s very fun.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: World War III 1946

There exists a particularly egregious timeline that in terms of its actual content is mediocre, but in terms of internet arguments is something else.

Something much like the previous Bad Fiction Spotlight subject, The Big One, but with far less technical knowledge on the part of the author.

That timeline is “World War III 1946“. The plot goes as follows.

-In 1943, a Mary Sue named “Sergo” starts work on super-tech projects for the USSR.

-In 1946, Stalin attacks west.

This started off as a scenario set/way to use the advanced planes in Il-2 Sturmovik. Then it became something worse. Rather than just being a narrative whose contents wouldn’t have been examined closely, Hairog [the author’s screen name] viciously defended it. There’s a reason I suspect he was so tough in the defense, but here’s the “what”.

Hairog based the land war off of contemporary worst-case plans by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Justifiably worried about the Eastern Front-winning Red Army but in many ways ignorant of the logistical and political problems said military would face, these plans involved retreating all the way to the Pyrenees and Sicily while conducting a heavy air attack.

(One genuine way to give the Soviets a free boost would be to have the Western Allies spook and retreat far more than they needed to, but Hairog didn’t portray it like that).

With hindsight, in 1946, central Europe was too shattered to support a substantial advance, and the Soviets needed to demobilize to save their economy and secure their new vassal states. Even many of the harshest critics said “give them a few years to catch their breath, and it’s more plausible”. Nope. Gotta be 1946.

The air war was ahistorical and crazy. With the aid of their omniscient spies (that can destroy the US nuclear program and provide essentially real-time updates on air raids), the Soviets foil everything with SAMs and launch a Second Battle of Britain (yes, with an entirely tactical air force). They have German wonder planes-see the inspiration in Il-2, as reenacted by the author:

The prose isn’t good, but it would sit in the forgettable middle of the bad fiction pack-

-if Hairog hadn’t spent hundreds and hundreds of pages across multiple boards defending every last bit of its plausibility. Countless ones, that consisted of him doing everything from simply shoving sources at people without understanding them to declaring that they were simple racist fools that couldn’t bear the thought of the Soviets actually winning.

I found the likely answer when I saw him referring to Sergo as “Hairogski” in an early post. It’s not about criticizing the Soviet plans, it’s about criticizing his plans. Plans that range from using B.F. Skinner’s pigeons as SAM guidance systems to making German midget subs into long-range raiders via mothership submarines.

The Chrysler Yugo

So I was rereading an excellent history of one of the world’s most infamous cars-Jason Vuic’s The Yugo.

One of the things that jumped out at me was a possible sale of the Yugo rights to Chrysler that Malcolm Bricklin refused. From the revealed potential figures, Bricklin would have made a massive profit and Chrysler would get a new low-end car.

Yet he refused, being, as Vuic cited, someone for which business “it wasn’t the money, it was the chase” (The Yugo, p. 112). The book did not paint the auto entrepreneur in a very good light, and he seemed to combine the worst attitudes of a business leader. On one hand, he lived very large on an ornate ranch, on the other he had zero regard for actually maintaining value instead of racing from one stupid scheme to another.

If the Yugo had been Chryslerized, I feel confident in saying that it wouldn’t have the pop-culture impact it did. Being sold as its own standalone brand would give it a standout character that the economy model in an existing company wouldn’t. One does not see many jokes about the Mitsubishi Mirage , the current Thai-built super-econobox in the US market. (Previous-generation Mirages were actually rebadged by Chrysler as the Colt).

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In any case, Chrysler would have lost the Yugo when its native country collapsed, if poor sales hadn’t stopped it already.

One thing that got me reading the Yugo story again was articles about the Eastern European cars that were popular in the United Kingdom for a time. There was indeed a market for ultra-cheap boxes based on previous-gen Fiats. Naturally, my newest projects in Automation have centered around making such cars. The latest model regretfully needs a safety upgrade to be sold in “Western” markets, and I’ll see if I can do that without increasing the price too much.

Fleet Actions, Historical and Otherwise

In June 1961, the USN and JSDF prepare a series of provocative moves into the Sea of Okhotsk. Well, in real life they didn’t, but in my Command scenario “The Okhotsk Bastion”, they did. The Soviet forces there are somewhat historical, save for a hypothetical carrier and its assorted aircraft.

The actual scen is very slow (it is after all, an anti-submarine scenario with very limited equipment), but I went to the editor, rearranged the small JSDF task group and the southernmost fleet of subchasers, and got-the biggest fleet engagement since World War II.

To put this in perspective-it was between three Japanese ships and eight Soviet subchasers. The former’s “fleet” consisted of a recent yet still low-end frigate, an IJN-surplus anti-sub vessel, and a coastal minesweeper with a deck gun. The latter had medium and small ships. No ship in the engagement had more than 1,400 tons displacement. None had anything bigger than a 120mm turret.

The JSDF lost the new frigate. The Soviets lost one large and four small subchasers. There were limited aerial engagements.

Book after book would be written on the engagement.

When you have such a small sample size, the data will be obsessed over.

This explains why so much naval warfare has been theoretical-not just since World War II, but since the development of the steam engine. A combination of rapid technological progress mixed with few samples (thanks to both the high capital costs of ships and Anglo-American naval supremacy) has made wargaming and simulation crucial.

So when looking at alternate history Command scens, it’s interesting to see how influential they might have been in their timelines that never were.

 

Organization Size

So, this began as a post about the types of car companies I was imagining in Automation. They included (with the closest real world analogies there for reference)-

-Standalone/car dominant companies (Ford, Volkswagen)

-The automotive arms of giant conglomerates (Mitsubishi, Hyundai)

-Niche companies (Tesla)

Of course, auto makers in the third category frequently end up as subsidiaries of the first two. This then turned for a way to bring up another post idea I’ve had for a while-it’s easier to make a big organization do small things than the reverse, whether they hunt the supernatural or make cars.

 

 

My struggles and joy with a new PC

I now have a new gaming PC. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s been a mixed blessing.

See, I’ve had nothing but econo-computers (by the standards of the Moore’s Law cycle at the time) for literally my entire life. Getting a luxury computer is new to me, and I have to admit that going from undemanding plodders to a finicky high-performance beast is something that, in hindsight, got me in deeper than I expected.

But, from what has worked, the SSD-fueled tower is displaying great performance. It’s helping me learn about how to handle computers, and I still do not regret the purchase at all. (The musicians in my family have had issues with new electronic instruments that are very similar).

 

Showing and Not Telling

I recently posted a writing sample on Spacebattles, and the critical response consisted of saying it was unsubtly telling rather than showing. I looked again and agreed with it. Showing and not telling is a big problem for all writers, but I think it’s an especially gigantic one for me.

Why? I’m somewhat of an “analytical” writer, who writes histories and psuedo-histories. That sort of style works well for a non-fiction piece, but appears flat and forced when it comes to fiction. So I have to change, and it’s not an easy task. It’s so much easier to say something like this:

“The keiretsu’s auto arm had a reputation for being one of the least efficient carmakers in Japan. Its higher priority on fixing miss-assembled cars than on building them right in the first place stood in contrast to its more innovative rivals, and a look inside one of their plants would show a clumsy, brute-force approach to supply.

With this in mind, some industry commentators considered its planned American plant a poisoned chalice for whoever hosted it.”

-than to show a clunky auto plant in actual practice.

This applies to everything from battles to character descriptions-it’s why I have to keep trying desperately to improve.

The Plant Locations

So, this is a sort of follow-up to my previous post detailing where to put the auto plant that never was. I have three weird locations.

-The first location violates the criteria of “near a large” city, but is unconventional enough- Hagerstown, Maryland. While it’s in a small, remote area, it’s at a major railway hub as well. In fact, one of the “problems” with the Hagerstown plant is that a large Volvo parts factory is already there-showing the location’s appeal to actual car makers.

-The second is even more unusual, to say the least. I only found out about it when I was chatting about the possible auto plant locations. There was a proposal by mayor Robert Wagner to attract a car plant to the Brooklyn Navy Yard when it closed. That’s quite-interesting.

It could technically work, but I still have skepticism. The traffic problem for suppliers is, however close the yard is to an expressway, still something I view as too big an issue. I still can’t see the plant lasting more than one, or if it’s incredibly lucky, two industry downturns.

-The third is in Hartford. The main reasons are the unconventional location, existence in an ultra-urbanized state, and railroad links.

Saltybucks

One effect of my slow, ultra-cautious betting style on Saltybet has been that I’ve accumulated a pile of Saltybucks, the fictional currency used for the fight betting. Aside from bragging rights, Saltybucks can be used to promote “P” (for “Potato”, bottom-tier characters) or change the stats of higher-tier ones.

Whether or not I’d want to spend the money on a few daring bets that could easily go wrong or promote a P tier character who will in all likelihood suffer a small losing streak and then be unceremoniously dumped straight back where they came from is an interesting question.

The answer is-whatever I think would be more fun.