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5 Automotive Brands That Came Back from the Dead

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It’s hard enough to start—or restart—an entire automotive company these days. A hundred years ago, car companies would come into being and fade away with the frequency of app design firms and cupcake shops today. But there’s an easy way to give a new car company some instant gravitas: pick up one of those old names and bolt it to a shiny new car.

Sometimes a company just needs break with its own recent past. Sometimes it needs an old name for its new ambition. And sometimes a guy just needs some instant history to attach to the car of his dreams. Read on to see which second chances lived—and which were DOA.

1. Lincoln Motor Company (1920-1950s, 2012-present)

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The Lincoln Motor Company was founded by Henry LeLand in 1920, but it didn’t operate on its own for long. The more famous Henry in American autos, Henry Ford, snapped it up in 1922, and the marque has served as the Ford company’s luxury nameplate ever since. Eventually, in the 1950s, the name was shortened to Lincoln, and over the years, it lost some of its luster. In the latter part of the twentieth century, Lincolns were regarded by many (and not incorrectly) as gussied-up Fords, not luxury cars in their own right.

In 2012, as part of Ford’s overhaul in the wake of the automotive crisis of 2008, it resurrected the full Lincoln Motor Company name for its 2013 models. Even Abraham Lincoln, for whom the company was originally named, was trotted out in ads for the rebranded cars. It helped that there was an Oscar-nominated Stephen Spielberg movie that autumn called Lincoln—and who doesn’t love a tie-in?—but the new Lincoln Motor Company cars will have to prove their luxurious chops if they want buyers to take the rebranding seriously.

2. Bugatti (1900-1995, 1998-present)

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Bugatti has always meant speed, power, and luxury, as well as the wads of cash required to pay for those things. Its French blue race cars were unstoppable in the early days of automotive history, and its oval nameplate and EB logo (for founder Ettore Bugatti) crossed the finish line first repeatedly in the first decades of automotive racing.

But World War II did a number on the Bugatti company, as it did for so many exclusive car makers. The company loped along for decades before it was finally sold to fellow old-timey carmaker Hispano-Suiza in 1963. There was an attempted revival in the late 1980s, and even a new model in the early '90s called the EB110, but the company went completely bankrupt in the 1990s.

Luckily, none other than the Volkswagen company (which also owns Lamborghini and Bentley) swooped in with money and a mission: to bring back Bugatti in all its nearly unobtainable, checkbook-breaking glory. Since 1998, when VW reestablished Bugatti at Molsheim, the company has made one amazing car: the Bugatti Veyron. It comes in many guises, from convertible to Hermes-clad, but each is bespoke and unique. What else would you expect for a million bucks—minimum?

3. Maybach (1921-WWII, 2002-2012)

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Wilhelm Maybach and Gottfried Daimler were besties in the early days of the automobile, working together in the late 1800s to build engines and cars—until Daimler maneuvered Maybach out of the partnership picture. So Maybach started his own company in 1909 with his son Karl, affixing the curious name “Luftfahrzeug-Moterenbau,” which translates as “aircraft engine.” (There was a lot of crossover in the early days of autos and airplanes.)

In 1921, the name was changed to the more melodious Maybach Moterenbau, and the factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany, built exclusive, expensive luxury cars. During World War II, the Maybach factory was pressed into service to turn out military engines (not for the good guys) and, as with so many manufacturers after the war, Maybach never resumed making cars.

But Daimler wasn’t done with Maybach yet. In 2002, Mercedes-Benz, which is part of the Daimler group, rolled out the Maybach 57 and 62. And then Daimler was done with them again, for real this time. The 2012 models would be the last of the line, as the Maybach brand had cost Daimler $1 billion over its decade-long resurrection. Maybe they’ll give it another go next century.

4. Spyker (1898-1925, 2000-present, fingers crossed)

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Like Maybach and Bugatti, the Spijker brothers were in the automotive game early, building their first car in 1898 in the Netherlands—not a country renowned for its supercars, then or now. In 1907, a Spyker (the brothers had changed the company name so it would be pronounceable by the rest of the world) finished second in the Peking to Paris race. And in 1914, Spyker merged with the Dutch Aircraft Factory, taking the motto “Nulla tenaci invia est via,” or “For the tenacious, no road is impassable.”

Except, of course, the road to long-term viability. Spyker didn’t even make it to World War II; it was belly up by 1925, the heyday of the Jazz Age and big, expensive cars. There may have been a lesson to learn there.

It took 75 years for the brand to see the light of day again. This time, a European fashion magnate with his dream car in mind dusted off the old wheel-and-propeller insignia and debuted the Spyker C8. That seemed to go pretty well for a first supercar, so in 2006 Spyker fielded a Formula 1 team for one expensive season.

Not content to merely leak money all over the track, Spyker took over struggling Swedish passenger car maker Saab in 2010—or tried to, anyway. Saab went bankrupt in 2011, and Spyker sued Saab’s former owner GM for $3 billion in damages in 2012. The Dutch carmaker is hanging by a thread while it awaits the outcome of the suit.

5. Detroit Electric (1907-1939, 2009-present, maybe)

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Back in the early days of the automobile, electric cars were really popular—as popular as gasoline-powered cars in Northeastern metro areas. One of the best-known electric car builders at the time was Detroit Electric, and it lasted a surprisingly long time, thanks to its ability to build cars that could go over 200 miles on a charge (the Nissan Leaf of today gets about 100 miles per charge). But even in Detroit, the economic effects of World War II took their toll, and gasoline had long before won the fuel war in America. Electric cars had become a novelty, and then a nothing.

But by the twenty-first century, electric cars were starting to make sense again. Fuel prices were up, the phrase “peak oil” was being tossed around, and Americans were tired of fighting wars for oil. Mainstream manufacturers like Ford, Chevy, Nissan, Toyota, and others quickly electrified a small percentage of their fleets while new companies started from scratch. One company decided if it was going to start from scratch, it would at least start with a name people might know: Detroit Electric.

In 2009, the new Detroit Electric emerged. Sort of. There’s a web site, and a concept, and some proprietary technology, but as of 2013, there is not yet an actual, drivable car.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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