Cars

A Compromised Classic: BMW M5

One of my all-time favorites, an E39 M5, was represented at a wholesale auction near New Hampshire last week.

Upon seeing the vehicle on the offerings list, and in the Avus Blue color I have a strong preference for, I was obviously jacked to check it out.

Heartbreakingly, close inspection revealed that neglect had reduced the car to a piece of garbage.  Albiet, a very pretty one.

Rough idle, dash alight with malfunction inductors, and that Remus exhaust wasn’t doing anything for me either.

Somebody picked it up for around $11,000… reasonable money for the mileage, but they’re going to be in for some serious time on the tools to get this thing sorted.

The E39 M5, build between 1999 and 2003, was the first to be built alongside its “standard 5-Series” cousins, unlike the prior two generations which had been built completely on their own.

That commitment to standardization on BMW’s part may have contributed to the car’s success- this third iteration of the M5 was/is widely held as the gold standard of sport sedans for many automotive journalists and enthusiasts, myself included.

It had the toys; in-dash nav, a color-coded tachometer that illuminated in accordance with the engine’s temperature (a highly underrated BMW M feature), and so forth… plus the flash everyone who drops more than $50k on a car wants.  Huge rims, quad-exit exhaust (at this point indicative of “M” status on BMWs), and a very sexy two-tone interior.

To shut down the haters, BMW sent owners home with a 4.9 liter V8 known as the S62 featuring a variable-timing system and 400 hungry horsepowers.

Paired with a beefed-up Getrag Type-D six-speed from the 540i, this M5 could go from stopped-to-sixty in under five seconds and charge on to a top speed of around 180… once the 155 MPH computer cap is removed.

All this in a somewhat-subtle sedan.  What’s not to love?  Aside from mediocre fuel economy, breathtakingly high cost of ownership and inevitable speeding fines…

Nonetheless, I’ll be keeping my eyes out for a stock standard Avus Blue example, make mine with a caramel interior and factory exhaust please.


Sweet Sighting: BMW 850

I can’t see an 8-Series and not get psyched.  BMW’s E31-coded car might not have been exceptionally economical, collectible, or even fast, but it sure was funky.

The now two-decade+ old shape has aged gracefully, enduring its entire production life (’89 to ’99) without a facelift.  I think it still looks pretty sleek, though I must confess a bias to the “sport-wedge” style that was so popular in the supercars of my formative years.

This particular 850, spotted at the Adesa Auto Auction in Framingham, and was wearing Schnitzer-style wheels and a handicapped parking pass.  The driver might not be able to walk, but seated behind this V12 he sure can fly… up to the electronically-capped top speed of 155 at least.


What We Missed at the Paris Auto Show

Lexus LF-CC Concept

So I missed the Paris Auto Show this year.  I totally got invited, but I was like, really busy.  Besides, I had already scheduled a relaxing trip to New York that weekend.

But after seeing photos from around the blogosphere I bloody well wish I hadn’t, because there were some seriously epic reveals in the land of wine, and cheese, and Johnny Depp.

Look upon these photos screen-scraped from around the internet, bask in their glory, and join me in wishing I had caught this action live.

Lexus LF-CC

Production Status: Concept

A few years ago I would have called bullshit on this Lexus design coming anywhere near production.  But since the LFA was built, powered, and sent down public roadways for all to see, I think elements of this concept car will very likely make their way into the next iteration of the IS.  Obviously the lighting, grille and gigantic front airscoops will be dialed back… but Lexus is committing to that spindle-shaped grille, and that sculpted rear-quarter accentuating the rear wheels has apparently been green-lit by Toyota brass.

I could live without the fully-digital interior but I do hope the hood scoops make it to production; as well as the coupe bodystyle.

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive

Production Status: Ready

Alright we all know what an SLS looks like and we’ve been hearing about the electric version for over a year, but Mercedes is now proud to report that this thing is ready to rock-and-roll (ever so silently) around a track near you.  Or, as it will more likely be used, on “the scenic route” between very nice houses and even nicer office buildings downtown.

The 60kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack can go about 150 miles before returning to a power supply or Starbucks.

The strangely-colored beast (that’s Electricbeam  Magno Matte-Metallic, if your daughter wants her bedroom painted) is now very real and can crush the 0-62 MPH sprint in under four seconds.  Luckily it’s electronically limited to a top speed 155 MPH, so I can still scream past it on my Hayabusa and make the smug prick driving it smell my unfiltered exhaust.

What a beauty and a fantastic idea, I’ll go nuts if I see one of these things in person.

Jaguar F-Type

Production Status: Ready

Journalists are hailing the new F-Type like some kind of motoring godsend; a “return to roots” for the marque and a reprieve from the blandness of modern motor vehicles.

High praise indeed, and I won’t be the one to say otherwise.  The design is truly lovely and as a automotive anglophile, I find the idea of Jaguar returning from its years of waywardness (XK8?) most agreeable indeed.

With a V6 variant for the midlife crisis guys and a supercharged V8 for the over-compensators, it looks like the F-Type will have something for everyone.

Personally, I’ll wait until Summer 2013 to hit the Jaguar shop… when the hardtop is released.

McLaren P1 Design Study

Production Status: Seriously?

McLaren has been bossing the racing car world quite some time… just shy of fifty years, to be less-than-exact.  They’re celebrating by dropping another hypercar on us to coincide with the golden anniversary… and what a car.

Granted, this “design study” does not represent a full commitment to what the final car will look like, but who cares- we’ll probably never get to drive either of them anyway.

But whether your have to admire it from afar or are lucky enough to climb inside the cockpit, this concept vehicle is truly a thing of paralyzing beauty.

Living up to the ridiculously high standards McLaren has set with the F1 and MP4-12C, this promises to be a machine that will occupy that stratospheric realm of automobilia that just wouldn’t look right on a road, but rather would be more at home in the heavens.  Or a race track (which of course, for a gearhead, would be the same place).


Automotive Aftermath: Insurance and Cab Companies Scramble to Resupply

Drowned NYC Cabs

With last week’s weather subsided, residents of the northeast are ready to forgetaboutit and get back on the road.

Sadly, that’s not going happen quite as quickly as anybody wants- hundreds of yellow cabs drowned in the disaster, and since I don’t think Ford made a “Crown Victory diesel” ever, the entire contents of lots like this are now destined to become rusty decorations in giant aquariums.

In case you’re not aware gasoline engines rarely survive submersion (even with an intake snorkel) because there are so many little breathers through which a water ingress could occur.  And as I’m sure you are aware, water puts out fire… which a car needs to run.

The cabs in this Getty Images photo (displayed here via NYT) seem to all have their entire engine bays under water, and will probably be too soggy to turn over.  The fact that this is salt water makes the prognosis far worse- even if Jeff Hattabaugh himself gets down there and coaxes these engines back to life one car at a time, they’ll be consumed by rust in short order.

But while the death of these cabs will make for inconvenienced New Yorkers, far great tragedies have occurred in the autosphere-

A shipment of Fisker Karma electric luxury vehicles was destroyed (you know, those funky fish-shaped things?  Justin Beiber has one?)  having apparently caught fire in a Newark storage yard.

Fisker execs made some spiel about batteries superheating as water caused electrical shorting… either way, it’s a damn shame- the Karma is a very cool machine and I’m sure the buyers on the waiting list will be none too pleased to see these images.

Hagerty Inc, a top insurer of collector cars, is reporting record “Total Loss” claims on $100,000+ vehicles.  Hagerty insures many exceptional and rare vehicles in the northeast, and will now be charged with the task of visiting many of them to find out just how much cash they’ll be expected to pay out.  Such a large-scale drain on their reserves could have major implications on their business, which could shake things up in the collector car world.

Finally, an image I found particularly painful…

Surely this Siberian Silver Metallic LR4 thought it would have no trouble surviving an “adventure” on this city side-street, but alas… not even a stainless roll cage would have protected the vehicle from its doom.  Though it would seem parking ten feet forward or back would have.  I can just picture that Lexus RX up ahead laughing maniacally.  Maybe pay up for the garage next time?


Batting Down The Hatches

Police Riot Control Truck in Quito, Ecuador

Who doesn’t love a good hurricane?  Exciting b-roll for The Weather Channel, potential school/work cancelations, and more people home on the internet to look at my site!

Sadly though, most people do have to go to work and will be extra miserable about it.  Unless your work involves driving one of those kickass “disaster scenario” trucks.

Cops complain on TV about how concerned they are with the safety of their town’s residents and whathaveyou… but how can they not allow themselves just a little excitement- knowing they finally get to fire up that armored Unimog or ARC Wolverine or SWAT-H truck that’s been collecting dust since it was purchased in the bygone era of cash-surplus.

These spectacular land leviathans are usually forced to sulk in the corner of some National Guard motorpool, panned by libertarians and hippies as embodiments of martial law and wastes of taxpayer money.
While there’s some truth to those complaints, let’s focus on the more important truth- armored vehicles are wicked cool.

Whether it’s getting supplies to people stranded in compromised locations, trying to navigate the Market Basket parking lot, or forming a perimeter around Dunkin’ Donuts, our peacekeepers will always find some need to storm around town in a ten-ton war machine bristling with strobe lights.

Here are five of my favorites…

Old-school Inspector Gadget fans will dig this sports-vehicle-to-hauler combo, everyone else will wonder what the hell I’m on about.  In any case the idea behind this contraption is that it could drop off a box of food in a famine, medicine in a plague, or porn in a dry spell and hustle off unencumbered by the weight of the cargo.  Not sure how that’s much different than a regular flatbed other than the fact that this one looks way, way cooler.  But I don’t think we’ll have to worry much about that as I’m sure the budget to build these is never going to exist.

From defense-vehicle modifier Heat Armor comes the SWAT-H, presumably designed to get a rescue or assault team into a place nobody wants to go.  Not sure what those thundersticks on the port fender are, but check out the size of that hitch receiver on the front bumper- solid setup for pulling debris out of the way to clear road when a plow isn’t available.  I also noticed Heat Armor cut their logo out of the headlight protection grilles, nice touch.

Why waste time erecting fences when you can just… put your truck in park?

This Mercedes-Benz Unimog prepared by Carat Defense can plod along unimpeded as trees, street signs and bystandards are blown into its path.  I imagine a line of these moving abreast down I-90 toward the city would be an ominous sight indeed.

When Carat clients complained that those Unimogs were unable to proceed through herds of bovine zombies, the company responded with this.  I’m not sure what it’s based on or what those weapons are mounted on top, but it looks like it gets terrible fuel economy.  For scale reference, the top of that plow is probably around the door handles on a sports car.  Are those front wheels literally steamrollers?

Finally my personal favorite…  This massive armored personel carrier was spotted by a fellow blogger in Quito, Ecuador during some kind of public disgruntlement in 2006.  South American “vida loca” notwithstanding, I don’t think that splatter-paint colorscheme was applied at the factory.  If it’s not blood from zombies, I’d have to guess one of the boys at the station borrowed it to scare the living shit out of his colleagues during the Annual Quito PD Paintball Tournament.  Check out that turret and beast plow.


Acura TL: Long Term Test 1 (5,000 Miles In)

TL in VT 1

Having managed to rack up around 5,000 miles on my UA6 since it joined my squadron this summer, I’m ready to drop a deep report on it’s real-world performance.

Honda’s UA6 (Acura TL) is a tidy, unassuming sport sedan.  That’s right, I said sport sedan.  FWD or no, LSD and big-ass Brembos take this car from mild to… well… let’s say “moderate”.  Anyway, the thing’s got enough gadgets, LEDs, and carbon fiber (albeit, faux) to allow you convince yourself you’re in an M car if you squint hard enough.  Which you should never do while driving.

Whatever your thoughts on car branding, the third-gen TL has a niceness-to-affordability ratio that anyone can get behind; fuel efficient as an Accord and quick enough to keep up with your friend’s M3… as long as you’re both stuck in Newbury Street traffic.

Style

What can I say, it’s the first thing you notice.  And on this car that’s a good thing.  Honda has a great track record of designing handsome vehicles that compliment their overall product, and this might be one of the marquee’s most elegant to date.  Those sharp angles give it the chisled face of a Spartan warrior, while the smooth creases across the back put a suit on him.  The A-Spec body kit on mine give it just enough sass to appeal to my inner Paul Walker, but are subtle enough to remain cool long after those F&F style wings have fallen out of fashion.  As for the wheels, you really can’t argue with the OEM stocky five’s.  Though the gunmetal-colored BBS-style rims featured on the TL Type-S are hot enough to melt tires; even before they start rolling.

Comfort & Convenience

This is where it becomes obvious how poor I am… as I’m blown away by seven-year-old ergonomic technology.  One-touch control for both front windows and the sunroof, not to mention rear windows that go all the way down, was enough for me to brag about to my racecar-driving friends for the first couple weeks.  But then I discovered the voice-command button on the left side of the steering wheel.

Push this button, say something like; “set temperature; sixty nine degrees” and not only does car perform the task, but it repeats the command in a sultry-lady-computer voice.  Which is far and away the coolest part.

The gigantic touch-screen navigation/infotainment screen seemed a little less impressive since my phone is about twice as advanced and ten times more accurate, but it is worth noting that the Acura deck (made by Alpine) absolutely crushes the diminutive interface in my grandfather’s 05 E-Class.  The comparable-era Mercedes-Benz nav screen is much smaller, is not touch screen, and does not have nearly as sexy a voice for driving directions.

The TL’s seating arrangement is more than acceptable, though I have to admit this is one department where the Japanese brands generally fall short of the Germans.  Front seats are heated, easy to adjust and quite aggressive looking.  Back seats have ample room for sex or fatter passengers (hey you want both, get an SUV).

Why, was there something else you needed a back seat for?

As far as road noise and suspension, I’m amazed to report that the shocks and bushings on this 160,000 mile car are more solid than those on my mum’s one-year-old cute ‘ute.

On my last trip to the wildlands of North New England I had an opportunity to get a second opinion on the vehicle’s straight-line stability, so while my friend and I made our way down US-91 I walked the car deep into the third quarter of the big clock and pinned it for about five minutes.  Not only did my passenger not an eyebrow… but she was surprised at our pace when I disclosed it later.

Performance

Drag racer? No.  Canyon carver?  Neither.

While the TL is extremely light for a vehicle in the E-Class/5-Series/A6 size strata (just 3,500 pounds) it’s still massive, and it’s still front-wheel drive.  This is a dangerous pairing when trying to hustle a vehicle off the line or through hairpins.

Mashing the gas off a stoplight quickly overwhelms the tires, and once the rubber finally does hook up; oversteer rears its ugly head and the car tries to put itself into the curb.

Of course, that’s wearing “okay” Nankang tires, and usually wet conditions.

In aggressive cornering this Acura is rigid enough to inspire confidence (with front and rear strut braces, it should be) but the FWD layout lets it down once again.  With the front wheels doing the pulling and steering, it’s difficult to find that prime float-speed at which the weight of the car is exactly where you want it.

Where a skilled pilot could lay out a beautiful and pants-shitting yaw in a BMW, or a razor-sharp assault of the apex in an Audi, the TL just has to back off.  This problem is significantly more apparent on a wet road.

The möbius-strip of nonsense that encircles the Boston Sand & Gravel facility is great for finding the limits of a car’s cornering speed …so I’m told… and apparently the tail of this era of TL only starts to wash out a little shy of twice the speed limit.  Right around the time all but the least squeamish passengers will start to verbalize their terror.

This car comes into its own on the highway, and can be driven extremely aggressively from 2nd through 5th gear with smile-widening results.  Hold VTEC open a little above four-and-a-half grand and the TL can surge through tiny cracks of traffic, or blast your ass into the back of the heated seat in a clear merge situation.

Acura claims the car’s good for up to 150 MPH, which is righteous, though I wouldn’t attempt it with anything less than exceptional tires and fresh brake pads.

Practicality

FWD finally starts to redeem itself with weight savings, and as a result fuel economy.  I track my MPG everyday, and on a normal first-on to last-off (about 3.5 hours on the road, averaging speeds in the mid 30’s) I see between 25 and 28 depending on how many Bimmers I’ve antagonized on the Pike.

Overall Satisfaction

The TL may get left looking at taillights in dogfights with the German Armada, but for the difference in ownership costs and real-world useable performance, the Acura decidedly earns its seat at the table of premium sport sedans.  And when you consider how many times an M5 would get keyed in my neighborhood, this Japanese four-slammer is really the only viable option in this market.

When I can afford a few garage bays in Belmont I may switch my DD to something a little more pretentious, overpriced, and RWD.  Until then, it’s Acura all the way.


Good News Bad News: The Defender Returns

Since Land Rover’s announcement of a “Global Redesign” on the iconic Defender at the Paris Auto Show, forums have been alight with discussion on the vehicle’s return to the USDM.

But whoever’s running the show over there better be careful- because the 4×4 crowd is a conservative lot; it’s hardly uncommon to see leaf springs and carburators at on an off-road course.  And most enthusiasts, including myself, are cynical and wary that this “re-imagining” of a classic will simply translate to “castrating” since nobody with the money to buy a 2012+ Land Rover is going anywhere they might get it dirty.

Jalopnik released this older photo of the Defender concept, to a nearly unanimous “boo” from its commentators.

“There will be a new Defender, and it will be tough as nails,” says Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern.

Hmm, galvanized burly-man city-building nails or the kind of nails that get done at a salon?

Frankly, I don’t much care what the new Defender looks like because when I buy my next Land Rover it’s going to be old enough to be my dad.  Or an RRC.

But I do think this illustrative vehicle is pretty close to what we’ll see in the desert/Newbury Street when it gets dropped.  Land Rover drew a wacky concept with the Evoque- then built it.  So now… we wait.


I Convince Myself It’s Hip To Be Square As A New Build Begins

TL in Boston Seaport 1

There’s a reason parents don’t give their kids multiple dinner options… choice is overwhelming.

Such was my problem in searching for a new vehicle.

Between the four auctions I attend almost every week to source vehicles for my company’s clients, I have about 10,000 cars waved under my nose between any given Monday and Friday.

I had been living off the vehicular charity of others, borrowing vehicles wherever I could to defer the cost and inconvenience of getting my own, but when the owner of the Ford Focus I had been using returned from his tour of duty in the Alaskan fishing industry, my hand was forced and I no choice but to step up my shopping efforts.

I poured over auction run lists, Craigslist postings, eBay, and enthusiast forums.  Test drove about forty cars, from a 2010 Honda Civic to a 1974 BMW 2002 (the latter of which I desperately wanted, but couldn’t set up to survive my commute).

Finally I picked up an E46 BMW 3-Series from an auction in Quincy that I thought would serve my purposes well.

Slick manual gearbox, cool color, fresh interior, under book value.  Boom.

So I closed the deal and had it shipped to one of my reconditioning facilities.  Where it promptly exploded.

When I stopped by the shop to have a look, one of the techs was just standing under it shaking his head.  “Is very es’pensive for fix” was the backbone of his report, so we dragged the car back to auction and pawned it off on someone better equipped to deal with it’s issues.  Presumably.

And thus the search continued.

By this point I had an idea of what I wanted; a sleekly-styled luxury rocket ship that would be just douchey enough to gain the acceptance of my BMW/Mercedes/Porsche-driving colleagues but subtle enough to not get keyed if I left it downtown over night.

I was also pretty set on a silver exterior on black leather and had always had an affinity for in-dash navigation.  An automatic gearbox was of course out of the question.

And then one faithful Monday night, destiny was manifest.   Cruising the website of Manheim, one of America’s biggest automotive wholesalers, I happened across the car I had been creating in my wildest lower-middle class dreams.  Just writing the lane and run number down on my clipboard, my excitement was palpable.

It was a flawless-looking Honda UA6, known to the American public as an ’05 Acura TL.  Silver paint, perfect black leather, massive infotainment screen and probably the best six-speed gear box in the price range.

I had already accepted that the RWD sport-lux options in my price range were inefficient, difficult to work on, and generally in a poor state of repair.

I’ll just have wait ‘til the S1000RR gets cheap to have my first BMW.

In my search had test-driven several TSX’s and been happy with the result, but remained unable to find one in the colors I wanted for what I was willing to pay.

I had not, however, driven a full-sized TL.

For those outside the Hondasphere; an Acura TSX, or Accord Euro R as it’s called in Japan, is a little sedan like a 3-Series or a C-Class.  The TL is adult-sized, like a 5-series or an E-Class.

I got to the auction in an apocalypse-level downpour.  As I walked around evaluating cars, I’d duck inside something comfortable looking every few minutes to avoid becoming completely saturated with water.

But I was determined to evaluate this TL, so using my clipboard as a (piss poor) umbrella I encircled it, inspected everything, scanned it, and took it for a “ten-foot test drive”; between the space it was parked in and the one behind it.

Auction lanes don’t typically permit driving any further before you’ve bought the car- a rule I learned after being scolded for whipping an SL55 around the yard under on a slow day.

In any case, this Acura was a beast.   Worn paint on the front bumper, but other than that as flawless as a car could be with 160k on the clock.  Even the engine bay was clean enough to host a dinner party.  Whoever owned it was obviously on a maintenance-nut level of Jason Statham in The Transporter.  And that’s exactly who you want to buy a car from.

Despite my certified Honda-fanboy status, I had originally resisted their offerings because I didn’t want another FWD car.  One my best friends grew up with an EM1 and we loved it to death, but I knew all too well that hell (and the front tires) broke loose should the driver dare redline acceleration.

My own first car had been a DC2 Integra, and before completely destroying it in a street race I had my shares of close-calls and single-car wipeouts due to the effect of accelerative forces on the drive/steering wheels.

Of course I have no choice but to admit I didn’t know a about driving at that point… they don’t teach you apexing, heel-toe shifting and drifting in Driver’s Ed, you have to figure that stuff out yourself.

Regardless of the drivetrain layout, I was smitten but this FWD sport sedan and made the call to pay whatever it took to get it to my garage.

I’m pleased to report I was successful without overstepping the limits of reason, and after a little documentation runaround I was motorized once again.

And finally, another build begins in earnest.  As soon as I can afford to put gas in this thing…


Secret Supercar: Marussia Motors

MaRussia Motors B1 vs B2

Are these guys^ sharing an arm?

The only reason you might have heard of MaRussia’s supercar efforts would be in F1 news… when they bought out Richard Branson for control of Virgin’s F1 racing team.

That in itself gives them some credibility, and it doesn’t hurt that racing driver Nikolay Fomenko helped found the company in 2007 (along with brand strategist Efim Ostrovsky and tech entrepreneur Andrey Cheglakov).

These wildmen got together with supercar dreams like so many others- wanting to build the baddest, bestest, beastest supercar experience for a select few buyers with very deep pockets.

Production limited to 2999 units, MaRussia’s two models (the B1 and B2) can be powered by either an N/A 3.5 liter V6 or a boosted 2.8 liter six, the latter developed by Cosworth.

Either way, power output is conservative by supercar standards in the neighborhood of 400 horses.

The styling however, is quite interesting.  Especially on the B2, pictured here in blue.  I see some hints of Gumpert Apollo influence.  The B1 (purple) has me thinking “Lotus Evora meets Pagani”.

Check out the company’s site if you’d like to study the cars further, and scroll down for a few images.

Dual GPS in case… your passenger wants to go somewhere else?


The Auto Auction Experience

Nissan GT-R Auctioned Off in Framingham, MA

Having been contracted to pick up vehicles for a few Massachusetts car dealers, I’ve been given the opportunity (or “charge” depending on who you ask) to attend dealer-only vehicle remarketing auctions.

I was pretty stoked at the prospect of being paid to wander around a car show, even if I’d be looking at Muranos and Civics instead of E-Type Jags.  And what auto-industry enthusiast wouldn’t be interested in seeing how the proverbial sausage of the car remarketing business was made?

Well, as soon as I strode in to my first warehouse auto auction I remembered why that “origin-of-sausage” saying was meant to have rather negative connotations.

As I stepped out of the summer heat into the city-sized facility I was met with a wicked amalgamation of exhaust, cigarettes and bad cologne launching a full-blow assault on my olfactory senses.

I could feel years falling off the back end of my life with each breath I took in, and another saying altogether came to mind- Obi-Wan Kenobi’s righteous line to Luke Skywalker as they enter that sketchy desert neighborhood in a galaxy far, far away…

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  We must be cautious.”

So it would seem.

No more than two paces deeper into the building I’m met with a second barrage, this time on the ears.

_

The cacophony of a hundred engines revving, weezing, and coughing their way around a metal-walled building makes listening to Gilbert Gottfried sing “Call Me Maybe” through a fan sound like a solid alternative.

_

The auctioneers, masters in their craft of attention-getting, yell over each other in an attempt to drive up prices and generate excitement.

As for the bidders, they span the range of ethnic minorities, but one thing they seem to share is a disagreeable attitude and a penchant for Ed Hardy t-shirts.

I was… right at home?

I gave up trying to make my friends after being told to fuck off for the third time and focused my attention on the cars.

The cars drive, limp, and sometimes are pushed around the facility in front of the various auction blocks- dragging their feet (tires) like they’re heading to interment camps.

The auction sells about ten vehicles simultaneously, every ninety seconds or so, with each lane having a per-determined order so buyers can theoretically time when to be where to scope out their targets.  Reality is that the times and order answer to no one, including basic numerical logic.  Getting in front of a car you read about on the pre-sale runlist is as much a game of luck as one of being able to read a schedule.

This ceaseless stream of cars marches through the warehouse like a torpid caterpillar of steel and plastic.

And what an assortment of cars.

Literally everything from 200,000 mile Honda Odysseys to Nissan GT-Rs to telephone-pole reaching crane trucks are trotted out for an audience of hundreds of car dealers vying for deals in a seemingly endless contest of machismo and wits… such as they are.

Since car values proclaimed by sanctioning bodies like NADA and Manheim are accepted across the industry, one would think auction prices would be easy to predict.  But they aren’t.

Sometimes a great car can roll across the block when everyone who can afford it is off eating soup (which is sold from a vendor within the facility and is surprisingly popular).  Conversely, two bidders can get caught up in egos and send the price of a Pontiac Aztek through the roof.

When a buyer and seller can’t agree on a price, an auction official might even step in and reduce their fees to expedite a transaction.

The business is run on turn, not margin.  A given auction house will hustle 2,000 cars across its blocks in a day, and in the scheme of their operation $100, even $1,000, is hardly a blip in their ledger.

If I thought the auction environment was calamitous, the bidding process is literally unbelievable.

You probably have an idea in your head of what an auctioneer sounds like from cartoons or movies.  That rapid-fire “Foghorn Leghorn” voice is exactly what you think it is.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s just say it’s nothing like the creepily-deliberate voice from the auction at end of Taken.

The abstract and disorganized nature of the world’s largest retail market is enough to make an MBA shake his head, but I find it hilariously endearing.

Wrought with corruption, underhandedness, bad manners, and worse smells it takes a stalwart stomach indeed to wheel and deal in the auction environment.  That, or somebody who loves cars and can tune out the anger of a thousand anxious immigrants.  Such as myself.

Now if only my employers would pay me enough to take advantage of a great deal on a third-gen RX-7, I’d be the happiest guy in the place.

In the meantime, next time you buy a used car from your neighborhood dealer… however it ended up on their lot, you can rest assured that it had quite an adventure getting there.


“Sweet” Sighting: …What IS that?

Found this gem parked outside of the ADESA Auto Auction in Framingham, MA.

It caught my eye from across the parking lot because, I mean, come on.

At first I thought it was the failed abortion of a GM concept (the Monte Carlo taillights) or maybe it was “bring your kid to work day” at the design studio and somebody hit “send” instead of “save” on this beauty.

But closer inspection revealed that this could not possibly have come from anywhere that was anything more advanced than what we in the industry call a “shade-tree” mechanic.

I’d venture a guess that this vehicle was literally constructed under a tree.  And probably in the dark.

Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer works for a car company and builds a one-off called “The Homer”?

I mean, right?

Aside from the taillights the only thing that’s really identifiable are the wheels.  They look a little early-911 to me, but I imagine they’re from something far less prestigious.  What chassis, suspension and driveline setup this wildman is running is anybody’s guess.  As badly as I wanted to meet the creator of this creature it was about 105 degrees outside and sadly I had to prioritize a Dunkin Donuts run.

Okay, as tempting as it is to just shit on this thing with its bumpy hand-fiberglassed body panels, mismatched gauge faces and what I’m pretty sure is hand-rolled paintjob, let’s take a step back and think about what this guy’s done.

He had an idea for his own car design, and he fucking went for it.  Sure it probably didn’t come out as sleek as he had imagined, but if I had attempted this I guarantee it would look ten times worse.  Fiberglass is really hard to work with, and custom-making an interior is no cakewalk either, even if it is rudimentary.

As goofy as it looks we can’t discount what he has accomplished- the body fits (pretty much), and presumably the car works.  I mean, it was wearing license plates and sitting in a day-use parking lot.  So hey, he’s not going to win a Concourse show anytime soon but for all intents and purposes; “Mission Accomplished” and bravo for giving a pretty insane project the old college try.

That said, the idiot who approved this car for an inspection sticker I’d like to have a few words with.


Sweet Sighting: W111

image

Spotted this W111 on Craigslist and upon realizing it was just down the street, I couldn’t help but have a look. Huge bench seat, accented fintails, lovely curved glass and a grille that says “pull over, peasant” make this chassis one of my all-time favoritie Mercs, and high on my list of next potential projects.

Though the body on this one looks decent from ten feet away, those ominous freckles of rust hint at substantial rot underneath. The blacktop on which the car was parked was too hot to crawl on and properly inspect the underbody, but just a glance at the front arches revealed some pretty gnarly through-body deterioration. But even the holes in the floor (which I found after lifting up the carpet) wouldn’t have deterred me off this car completely… it fired up without much coaxing and was probably tidy enough to pass state inspection with a minimal palm-greasing.

The problem lied in the paperwork. From the look of the license plate sticker the car hadn’t been registered since 1972, and as there was no title present getting a fresh set of plates from the death-grip clutches of the heinous Mass DMV would be almost as difficult as completing the restoration. So alas, this car may be condemned to RIP (Rot In Place) unless somebody can brave the bureaucratic bastion and get some tags on this lovely car. Or hey, maybe the seller will just find the damn title…


British Car Day 2012

Jaguar XK150

Being in Boston for Larz Anderson’s British Car Day I couldn’t resist making the pilgrimage to the event, despite having sold my Land Rover years ago.

Conveniently I was able to convince Matt Weaver of Bootleg Racing to give me a lift in his Cooper S provided that I paid his registration fee and brought the beeahs.

The event would be a good chance for Matt to gain some exposure for his car- the Cooper is currently being prepared for Auto-X and RallyCross events and he’s gathering sponsors to make it all happen.

And of course, the event would be an even better chance for me to sit under my car show awning, crush PBRs in the middle of the world’s prettiest parking lot and nerd out on cars for four hours.

So, solid weekend.

We managed to pack all my tailgating gear into the aptly-named MINI and get ourselves in the front seats for the journey across Boston in 100-degree heat.  My new roommate Abby was wedged in the back, and had been surprisingly willing to to take part in this despite being both apathetic about cars and a woman.

Once we reached the park we nabbed a spot square in the middle of the lower show field and I proceeded to build our encampment.

No matter how many car shows I go to, I’m always surprised I’m one of the only exhibitors who brings his own shade and comestibles.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of space at these things… why get sunburned and eat the park’s gnarly $9 hot dogs?  Anyway, seeing as I’m about thirty years younger than your average auto show exhibitor I don’t think their habits are going to change anytime soon.  I expect I’ll continue to see old farts toddling over and making the same goofy “in my day we didn’t have coolers” comments for the rest of my car show career.  Ha, these events are always crawling with characters as wacky as the V8-swapped TR6′S or single-seat XK150′s they roll up in.

Check out some photos of the beautiful iron in attendance this year, courtesy of Abby and her fancy Nikon DSLR.


Show Up For The Champagne, Stay For The Supercars

Lamborghini Herb Chambers Grand Opening

Herb Chambers is a legend in the Boston business world.  Originally hailing from the notorious D-O-T (Dorchester, MA) he built one empire after another and is now best known for running one what might be the largest network of car dealers in the region.

His personal vehicle collection includes a McLaren F1 and a helicopter, so when he wanted to amend his Bentley/Rolls-Royce shop in Wayland by adding a full-fledged Lamborghini dealership- he picked up the phone and made it happen.  Recession be damned, Bostonians need access to $100,000+ supercars.

To smash a proverbial bottle over the bow of the building, Herb and Lamborghini’s PR company Centigrade threw a semi-formal gala on location where enthusiasts, members of the press and the not-so-general public could rub shoulders and taken in the cars.  I managed to score an invite and wedged the cute-ute I borrowed from mum between a Ferrari 458 Italia and a DeTomaso Pantera in the parking lot.

As soon as I rolled up I was reminded of how much old money Bostonians love to dress like easter eggs.  I’d never seen as many suits with pink, lime green, and powder blue utilized as the primary color.  If The Hunger Games was set in a dystopian New England this is how the freaky rich people would have looked.

The automotive celebrities in attendance- Michael Lock of Lamborghini, the head men of Bentley and Rolls Royce as well as Herb Chambers himself, were easy to spot in more traditional business attire.

But naturally it was the machines on display that I was here to see.  The showroom housed two Bentley Mulsannes, a Continental GT, three Lamborghini Gallardos, an Aventador, an three Rolls Royces- a Ghost, a massive drophead (convertible) and the their newest version of the flagship Phantom which was unveiled at the event by the one of the company’s top men himself.

The parking lot was looking lively as well where a few Ferraris, two Murciélagos, and an ancient Rolls Royce Ghost were hanging out with Herb’s surplus of Bentleys waiting to be collected by their future owners.  Of particular interest was a Jaguar XKR-S in that “French Racing Blue” paintwork it’s always wearing in the commercial.

I made my way over to the service area which was just as immaculate as the show floor- complete with red velvet rope.  A far cry from the shack my bike shares with a family of squirrels, but I’m still confident I could beat any of these preps in a race from the beach to the polo field on my Gixxer.

The car I wanted to see most was Lamborghini’s new 700 horsepower animal- the Aventador.  They had one plopped square in the middle of the new room in a fittingly-ostentatious orange color.

Although they declined my request to fire it up, the car’s presence was still impossible to ignore.

The first thing I noticed was its size.  Those who have only seen Lamborghinis in pictures and video games don’t realize how massive they are.  Despite only having room for two people and a briefcase I’m pretty sure the Aventador was about twice as wide and a third as long as my sister’s ML320.

The car’s drama continues with crisp chiseled lines- even the taillights look sharp enough to cut yourself on- and the side air intakes behind the door could swallow a condor.

But just in case you manage to see all this, open the car’s signature scissor door, and climb in the fighter jet cockpit without realizing the machine’s intensity, the start button is covered by a red flap like- well, like a fighter jet.  That’s some Tony Stark shit right there.

The Gallardos looked rather tame in comparison, so I guess the band set up between them?

I had seen and sampled just about everything by the time Mr. Chambers made his speech, singing his praises of the impressive vehicular designs and hor d’vours we had all been enjoying.  But the most interesting comment he made was that every car we were looking at had already been sold.

Wow, either new money is starting to gain traction around here or god had been answering a whole lot of Janis Joplin-esque prayers.  Because I did not see too many people in this room that would have looked comfortable strapped in to an asphalt-eating Aventador for their commute to the office or weekend ride to Cape Cod.

Next up was the new Phantom unveiling.  After the cover had been lifted, the Rolls representative watched nervously as old ladies plopped themselves on the crisp-white passenger seats with glasses of merlot shaking in their hands.

Once I had seen everything a couple times I caught site of Lamborghini COO Michael Lock making a phone call outside.  When he finished and made his way to the champagne table, I bellied up next to him and asked for a brief interview.

He was kind enough to oblige, and I hustled through my mind-gears to think of something halfway articulate to ask him as we made our way to a couch next to a dark blue Gallardo.

Mr. Lock is an adept businessman and motor vehicle enthusiast from London.  Before working at Lamborghini he was in charge of marketing at THINK Electric Vehicles and had spent time as Ducati’s North America CEO.  He was very well spoken and I must say, easier to understand than most Londoners I’d met.  I couldn’t help but notice how well he connected quick bursts of thoughts with pauses for accentuation, he was a great conversationalist.

Here’s an excerpt of our meeting and yes, he knew he was being recorded.

[RoadRoving] So how long in the making has Lamborghini coming to Boston been for you guys?

[Michael Lock] Well we’ve been with Herb Chambers for, must have been around eighteen months but, this is the launch of our own dedicated showroom.  And this project has taken about twelve months.

We have quite exacting standards when it comes to the fit-out and the floor tiles, and the whole décor- all up it’s been about a twelve month project.

[RR] …Now, you’ve worked for Ducati as well haven’t you?

[ML] Yes.

[RR] So, if you can speak candidly- four wheels or two?

[ML]  Ah, well it depends what mood you’re in!  I can tell you if I lived up here in Boston I would have to have four and two.  I lived in California for ten years where two wheels was just fine.

…the thing about Italian brands, whether it’s Ducati or Lamborghini, is there’s this kind of mechanical adrenaline flowing through them that’s really unique… I think if you like Ducati you’ll like Lamborghini and vice versa.  I can’t imagine that you’d love the cars and not love the bikes.  Really.

[RR]  Sure.  Is there a favorite feature you have on any of the vehicles in Lamborghini’s latest lineup?

[ML]  You know, the thing I’m reminded of every time I drive them is- that it looks exotic, it sounds exotic, it’s superfast, and yet, you could drive it all day.

…I think that’s the big thing about the latest line of our cars.  With the partnership [between] Audi and Lamborghini- Audi’s a name you can trust for quality, fit and finish, and for ease of use- they’re kind of a household name for all of that.  For them to be able to assist and advise and consult for Lamborghini, to make what we do something that’s not intimidating anymore…

…You go back to the big  hairy-chested Lamborghinis of two years ago, and they were extraordinary, but you had to relearn everything you knew about driving.

You really did, and the cars were scary.  The cars were fantastic, but they were scary.  The cars were for professionals only.  The beauty of what we produce now, whether it’s a Gallardo… or even an Aventador, a 700 horsepower carbon fiber car, you could drive it to the grocery store and park it in the parking lot!

And that’s a big deal about modern Lamborghinis- you can drive them.

[RR]  …Eloquent indeed, now if you could answer one thing without thinking, and I can never resist asking anybody this; your favorite car?

[ML] Of all time?

[RR] All time.

[ML] A couple different Alfa Romeos, a couple Lancias, the original Porsche 911, I can think of a lot cars I like.  A lot.

[RR]  Well thanks so much for speaking with me,  I really appreciate you time and have a good night!

After Mr. Lock and I parted ways I took one last lap around the show floor, hoping to spot a moneyed older woman who might buy me a car… but alas, the only people who would talk to me wanted to tell me about how well their lime green pants matched their wives enormous hats.

Maybe next time I’ll bring my bike to one of these and see if I can stir anybody up for a race.


Exclusive Interview with Mate Rimac- Creator of Croatian Electric Supercar “Concept One”

Mate Rimac in eM3 electric E30

You’ve always trusted RoadRoving.com to deliver timely and accurate news from the world of motorsport and our beloved auto industry.

Hah, did I getcha?
Seriously though, one new vehicle that we’re watching develop with particular interest is the “Concept One” from Rimac Automobili.

If that name doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry… we’re putting it on blast in our next installment of the Secret Supercars Series.

For now I’ll just give you the essentials- it’s an unbelievably sexy full-electric supercar designed and built in Croatia.  If there aren’t enough kickers in there already, at the helm of the company is 23-year-old visionary entrepreneur Mate Rimac with swagger in spades, great taste in sunglasses and a penchant for car racing.

When I saw this image of him lighting up the tarmac in an E30 on slicks, I was impressed… but once I realized that this car had been retrofitted by Rimac and his engineers to be a test mule for their electric propulsion technology, I knew I had to talk to him.

Rimac Automobili’s PR department was kind enough to get me in touch with the Mr. Rimac last week, here’s the exchange.

[ROADROVING] I’ve watched some videos of you drifting your e-M3 test mule, and it’s pretty clear you’ve got great driving skills.  How long have you been participating in motorsports?

[RIMAC] Thanks. I have never driven in any professional motorsport competition but I have used every opportunity to participate in drift and drag races and track-day events. Those races are not really professional – in my country it is more on an amateur level. Unfortunately my family couldn’t give me the opportunity to start a motorsport career when I was a kid (you have to start very young).

[RR] Off the top of your head, what’s your own favorite car from any era?

[RIMAC] I own an 2007 BMW M6 for 5 years and I’m very pleased with it. It’s very fast, comfortable but it still not screaming “look at me” like Lamborghinis or Ferraris do – that’s one of the things I like most about it. For most people it’s just another BMW so it doesn’t draw too much attention. I like the Veyron from an engineering standpoint and the Paganis for their attention to details. I believe that the Tesla S will be a pretty good car too.

[RR]Was there one particular moment when you became interested in electric vehicles, or has it always been something that’s intrigued you?

[RIMAC] I was always into electronics, technology and fast cars. A fast EV combines all of my interests into one package. As most little boys, I dreamed of making my own car. When I really started to do it, the decision to make an electric car was pretty easy since I believe that electric motors are simply much better machines compared to internal combustion engines, especially for a sports car.

[RR] Being such a young entrepreneur, what have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as you bring your vision to life?

[RIMAC] Hmm, where to start? Almost anyone can make a car. What I wanted to do is something completely new so we had to develop the entire car and thousands of parts from scratch. I have set the quality and performance standards very high so the project was far from a garage project from the very beginning. We have developed the powertrain and the car with the latest technology and tools, in the same way big car manufacturers develop their vehicles. The difference is that we had a tiny budget and team compared to the big OEMs. We didn’t have any kind of government support (unlike GM, Tesla, Fisker and many others) so funding was and still is the biggest problem. It is also hard to make a high-end vehicle in a country where no automotive industry ever existed so we had no access to suppliers and we had to build the know-how how to produce a car from the ground up. But hey, if it was easy, everyone would do it…

[RR] Do you have a favorite feature of the Concept One?

[RIMAC] The adjustable Torque Vectoring system is my favorite feature. When it is in “oversteer” mode and the other systems are in “race” mode, it is a blast to drive – in this mode the car helps the driver to drift through the corners. The R-AWTV system, combined with the enormous torque available from 0 RPM and instantaneous throttle response  is a completely new experience.

[RR] Do you plan to sell the Concept One for road use in the United States?

[RIMAC] We do plan to homologate the Concept_One in the US but after we have started to sell it in Europe.

[RR] Do you plan on someday making mass-market cars using the technology you’ve developed, or will you stick with hypercars like the Concept One?

[RIMAC] Besides the production of vehicles for end-customers, Rimac Automobili provides engineering services and prototyping for other companies. Our technology will be used in a much wider vehicle range, not only in high-performance cars. We have currently no plans to produce mass-market cars under the Rimac Automobili brand, but you never know… “

•••

Thanks so much for rapping with us Mr. Rimac, RoadRoving.com wishes you and the Concept One the best of luck.  For our readers, here’s one more glory shot of that electric M3 tearing up tarmac.  For images of the Concept One, you’ll just have to stay tuned…


Gumball 3000 Kicks Off in NYC

TWR Jaguar XJ220 unloads from jet

The infamous cross-country hoonfest known as the Gumball 3000 begins today from the glorious City of New York.

Attracting a host of C+/B List celebrities and some of the most outlandish paintjobs you’ll ever see on supercars, the Gumball is basically the ultimate celebration of four-wheeled flamboyance and stage for shenanigans unleashed on America’s unsuspecting highways.

I know… it sounds amazing.

So why doesn’t RoadRoving have a car in the grid?

Well, even if I could convince one of my buddies to lend me a sports car I’d still be a few bucks short of the entry fee- a cool £25,000 (just shy of 40 g’s).  And that’s before you pay for the t-shirt.

The Gumball crew basically hauls ass from “sea to shining sea” (see map below) throwing wild parties at each overnight point and filming themselves ripping donuts every time they have to stop for a refuel.

The rally was never popular with police, but the reputation of the event soured significantly a few years ago when a couple rich thrill-seekers collided with civilians in oncoming traffic.  The ralliers walked away unscathed, but the bystanders were killed instantly.

As a result, the Gumball 3000 now bills itself as “ambassadors of road safety” and will, apparently, be playing by the road rules and behaving themselves for the duration of the trip.

How a flotilla of attention-craving maniacs driving high powered sports cars is ever going to accomplish such a thing over a 3,000 mile journey is a mystery to me, but who knows.  Maybe they’re just driving Lamborghinis for the great gas mileage.

Whatever their true intentions, we can be sure there will be a steady stream of awesome images snapped between NY and LA.  The Gumball has its own host of Instagram, Flickr, and every other type of feed, but you might want to watch the accounts of your favorite Gumball celebrity for first-person action.

Here’s the list.  If you don’t recognize somebody, don’t feel guilty.  They probably don’t know you either.

The car list isn’t published quite as conveniently, but I’ve seen Lamborghini Gallardos, at least one Aventador, Camaro, M3, SLS, various Ferraris, a few of the perennial favorite statement-maker- the Bugatti Veyron.

This particularly awesome image features a TWR-modified Jaguar XJ220 being unloaded from a jet, I can’t guarantee it’s from this year but I’ll keep our hopes up.  If so, this would probably be the coolest vehicle of the event.

Otherwise, check out this wide-angle from Times Square last night, and a few subsequent images of the 2012 Gumball 3000 lineup.


Three Favorites, From The Late Great Carroll Shelby

[1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe (CSX2601)]

By now the news of Carroll Shelby’s passing has reached everyone in the automotive community.  As an icon on the track as well as in the engineering lab, Shelby had a huge impact on the sports car world- his work and accomplishments will live on as the stuff of legend.  In honor of Mr. Shelby, here’s a quick rundown of our three favorite automotive creations that will help immortalize him.

Shelby began his professional life as a chicken farmer, selling cars on the side.  Like many of us, he had dream for a little-car big-engine combination that would blow the doors off the supercars of Italy.

Those dreams started to materialize when Shelby found the failing British sports car company “AC”- which was willing to unload their “Ace” roadster, as long as somebody could find a suitable engine to pair with the body.

Enter Ford, a big-budget automaker with a surplus of V8s kicking around.

Hands were shaken, papers were signed and in 1962 the AC Ace was impregnated with a massive V8 engine; effectively giving birth to the now-iconic Shelby Cobra.

Original Cobras from this era now carry stratospheric values, with one example known to have sold for $5.5M a few years ago.  But fans of the concept needn’t lament, because there are a few companies building reproductions for much, much less money.  Replicas might not have the same historic value, wouldn’t you feel just a little guilty ripping donuts in a seven-figure investment?

[1965 Shelby Cobra Roadster (CSX2557)]

My personal favorite Shelby creation is the Daytona coupe, a machine of Leila Lopes-beauty with legs to match; versions of this vehicle won the epic races of Sebring, Le Mans, Daytona, and the Nürburgring… right before it claimed 23 speed records at Bonneville in 1965.

Only six renditions of the original Daytona coupe were ever produced, five in Italy and one in California.  There’s quite a dramatic tale on Wikipedia about that sixth car involving a horrific suicide and the band “The Monkeess”, but I’ll let you follow the link and decide the truth of that one for yourself.

[1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe (CSX2601)]

While the Cobra and Shelby’s Mustangs are famous enough to earn instant recognition by enthusiasts, what less people realize is that Shelby’s magic reached the Hot Hatch market as well.

In 1984 Dodge teamed up with him to create the “GLH” version of their supermini, the quintessentially-80′s Omni.  Two years later, the further-improved GLH-S was released representing America’s real contender in the supermini segment at the time.  The nomenclature allegedly stood for “Goes Like Hell”, which would make sense because the dorky little hatchback was boosted to 175 horsepower and sitting on Koni adjustable shocks.

Novel, if not competitive.  It was quicker than the Volkswagen GTI of the day; basically the only competitor.  Though it was a few years ahead of its time it’s just a little too ugly for anyone to pay what it’s worth, so you’ll be hard pressed to see one in the wild these days.

[1986 Dodge Omni GLH-S [L-Body])

Shelby was also well-recognized for making the Ford GT40 the legendary racer that it was, putting his touch on the original Dodge Viper, and of course developing many fantastic incarnations of the Mustang.

Share your favorite Shelby car with us on Tumblr and help immortalize a legend.


Sunday Drive: Retro Ragtops Star in FIAT vs BMW

BMW vs FIAT 1

After a long day brainstorming business ideas, the call of the road became too great to resist.  By mid afternoon my associates and I gave into temptation and took to the streets a pair of retro ragtops.

There’s only so much inspiration you can gather in front of a computer, after all.

I sniped mum’s DSLR on the way out and got a few good images of my father’s FIAT Spider 2000 dueling with my good friend Ben’s E30 convertible around Cape Ann.

If you didn’t get a chance to hit the tarmac this weekend, we hope these frames will inspire you to get that winter project wrapped up and get on the road!

Even an E30 looks big parked next to Pininfarina’s tiny Italian.


Secret Supercar: GTA Spano

For those who haven’t discovered Tumblr yet- you gotta get on that.

Once you set “supercars”, “suicide girls”, “military vehicles” and “bell & ross” as the tags you want to track you’ve got yourself a steady stream of sweet stuff to scroll through… forever.  The picture supply of our ever-expanding internet is quite literally endless, and Tumblr has effectively established itself as the go-to procrastination station for those who don’t want to be bothered with status updates or promotional Tweets.

Now that I’ve dialed in my account to pretty well reflect whatever’s cruising through my mind at any given moment, I’ve been shamelessly enjoying all the visual distractions the site has to offer every time I’m waiting for a Workaholics episode to buffer.

All the pictures of awesome watches and drifting E30′s are great, but I never realized the endless scroll of sexiness Tumblr delivers could also be educational.

Just the other day I was mindlessly pawing through the site when I had my first digital encounter with the GTA Spano.

Wedged between a wide-angle of two Ferraris street racing in Dubai and a black-and-white of Kate Upton was a high-res snapshot at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix of a spectacular modern sports car that I had never seen.

And what a sports car.  The face is big; less-angular than a Murciélago but tougher than an MP4-12C.  Tracing the body back reveals sweeping, but subtle lines- like a more tasteful rendition of a Saleen S7.  Think Daisy Duke in a dinner gown instead of jean cutoffs.  (How many comparative metaphors are you trying to stack here? -Ed.)

On top of all that the Spano features a panoramic sunroof that blends the windshield with the roof to complete the beautiful-simplicity vibe that the car commands.  Hell, even the GTA Motor badge is tight.

Why had I never heard of this car?  I thought I was on top of the scene, and yet here was unbelievable machine that I didn’t even recognize.

So how many great new microbrew automakers are out there that you haven’t heard of?

There’s a massive treasure-trove of sports cars, SUVs, and luxury vehicles built in super-limited quantities that most of us will never see and some we’ll never even here of.  And that just ain’t right.  These cars need to be experienced by the masses, if not in person then at least online.  Like full speed on an SS1000R or Sasha Grey.

In an effort to educate the masses on the exceptional machines of obscurity, I’m taking it upon myself to seek out the cars and motorcycles that even us auto enthusiasts might not have heard of- then and bring them to you with stats and a healthy dose of high res photos.

I’m not talking about the Paganis or Koenigseggs you can drive in Need For Speed.  I’ll be shining light on cars from companies like the Zenvo, Oullim, and Rimac that are unbelievably cool and you will probably never, ever see in real life in our new “Secret Supercars” series.

You’re welcome.

For now, back to the first vehicle in the series- the Spano.

Spanish F1 R&D lab GTA Motor has decided to bless the world with 99 examples of the supercar I started to describe in the top of this story.  You can see how sexy it is easily enough, but how well does it go?

Oh, don’t worry.  It goes.

Powered by a house-made 8.3 liter supercharged monster of a V10, the Spano belches out 820 horsepower that propels the 1350 kilogram car to 100 KPH (62 MPH) in less than three seconds and on top a top speed of over 217 MPH.

Those numbers will leave the pilots of Ferraris, Porsches and even plenty of motorcycles in the Spano’s rearview, scratching their helmets and wondering “since when the hell does Spain make supercars?”

Actually, that’s a pretty good question.

The Spano project began three years ago, when GTA Motor team manager Domingo Ochoa had a dream of his F1 team putting their design and development skills to work on a road car.  I mean, yeah.  Obviously that’s an awesome idea.

Apparently I’m not the only one who agreed, because the car’s launch in 2009 was a cosmopolitan affair in the city of Valencia attended by the region’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Innovation (how’s that for a title?) along with a some local motorsport celebs.

“I think we are before an automobile that will mark a ‘before and an after’ in the Spanish automobile history” said Ochoa, in a statement that I’m sure sounded sexier en Español.

Though not everyone left of the Atlantic knows this Spain actually does make quite a few cars, mostly sporty compacts that are popular in Europe but they have cooked up their share of sweet sports cars as well.  But that of course, is a story for another time.

GTA Motor has been in the racing game for about fifteen years, and pondering a road car for five.  With the finished product finally fired up and rolling out it’s pretty clear that they’ve taken the time to build something that will do their nation proud, and sure poses well for photos.

 


Scrape No’ Mo’

With the “Fast & Furious” bodykit craze pretty well receded into the depths of dead automotive style trends, The “Stance” scene has moved in to take its place.

For the uninitiated, “stanced” cars are fitted with wheels so gigantic that the camber has to be adjusted, usually to quite a dramatic degree, making the bottom of the wheels appear to poke out.

The result is vehicles that ride so low to the ground you’d be hard pressed to slide a credit card under them, let alone a jack.  Good luck changing the oil.

That splayed-out camber setup first made an appearance in drifting, because it forces weird traction properties on the drive wheels.  For that reason you’ll primarily see Japanese imports used as stanced cars, though older BMWs and Volkswagens seem popular candidates as well.

The setup is not ideal for handling, acceleration or fuel economy but it sure does look funky.

Now, American roads aren’t all perfect strips of glass-smooth concrete so this low clearance setup errs on the side of impractical.

Until now(?).  Enter “SlammedNavigator.com” …a by-enthusiasts for-enthusiasts website designed to allow people with insanely low cars to get around without scraping their undercarriage components and custom front bumpers.

The concept will be hilarious to some, unbelievably useful to others.

Either way the site has a ton of sponsors, so the scene is obviously gaining traction (ha, get it?).  Makes me wish mum still had her four-door Odyssey minivan… I could see that thing toddling around from one drive-thru to another with the help of Slammed Navigator.

In case the Urban Dictionary definition wasn’t clear, this chick seems to have the right idea-


Across The Finish Line (ML Across America Stage 10)

...added 20 horsepower at least.

The last leg of the ride, New York to Boston, was a well-worn path I had driven many times living in the Northeast.  Compared to the nation-spanning conquest we had just completed, it felt like a ride up the block.

I took the wheel with my knees as I wolfed a breakfast sandwich from one hand and sipped lava-hot coffee from the other after a Dunkin’ Donuts stop I demanded.  I delegated horn-honking and finger-giving to Birdie who was reading me the GPS’s instructions from the passenger seat.

We stopped on the Massachusetts South Shore to catch up with my friend Matt and see his new racecar; a MINI Cooper S. 

Try as I might to convince him the drive wheels were in the wrong place he seemed happy with it.  I asked him how awesome a light bar would look on Birdie’s ML and he shrugged as she rolled her eyes.  Maybe they’ll be convinced when I get that Jurassic Park paintscheme on there…

The last stop before our final destination was Mike’s Pastry- an exceptional canoli purveyor and Boston institution.  Bringing home a take from Mike’s for my family would win me some points right off the bat.

Just over an hour later we were pulling into my parent’s lawn.  I had been dreaming of ripping a big, ignorant donut to announce my arrival but I aborted when I realized dad had just put down grass seed.  I’d need to stay in his good graces a little longer if I expected him to let me use his tools.

A couple days of showing Jess around the North Shore and she was on a plane back to LA.  I was left with a very tired SUV that was clamoring for a detailing and an oil change.

Thus concluded the longest and somehow most incident-free land expedition I’d accomplished yet.  I don’t care if it was build in ‘Bama or Bremen, those boys at Benz know what they’re doing.  Forget selling this rig, I’m adding it to the fleet!

The End • ML Across America


Mountain Mammas, Police Occupy West Virginia (ML Across America Stage 9)

Maps

In stark contrast to the lively beat of Nashville and whimsical sleaze of New Orleans, we rolled through Charleston, West Virginia thinking there must have been more police than people in residence.

My friend Molly works at an animal ER in town, and met up with us around midnight to show us a few bars.  I didn’t expect much on a Sunday night, but the local law enforcement certainly did.  As we made our way back to the cars after last call we must have passed twenty Interceptors holding down Capitol Street containing what could only have been an invisible riot.

Molly was kind enough to put us up on an air mattress (a substantial improvement over the previous night’s accommodation) and we powered on to NYC the next day.

Talk about a sea change- it doesn’t get much more American than waking up in West Virginia and wrapping up in a Jersey City highrise overlooking New York’s skyline.

Birdie’s friend Brad brought us over the river (actually under it, on a subterranean commuter train) and to a kickass place in the East Village simply called “Frank Restaurant.”

The $4 ATM charge was well worth the experience of great food, stylish atmosphere and a surprisingly impressive wine list.

Actually, I shouldn’t have been surprised because rich hipsters love places like this.

Back at Brad’s apartment the nighttime view from the living room was downright inspiring.  In the garage the car once again got to rub shoulders (er, fenders) with M3’s and AMG Merc’s… all of which were undoubtedly jealous of our humble ML’s epic expedition.

Even though we still had a couple hundred miles ahead of us, seeing the Atlantic meant we pretty well had this trip in the bag.  And despite a few trying moments on those empty highways, we had had smooth sailing from one ocean to another.


Country Music And Our ML320- Cut From The Same Cloth? (ML Across America Stage 8)

Do those buskers have an NSX?

On our last morning in Louisiana we got breakfast at an apparently famous joint called “Mother’s” which was conveniently located about a hundred yards from our hotel.  Stoked.

We enjoyed some grits and pancakes while we left our Benz to regale other cars in the Lowes garage with tales of its adventure so far.

Mother’s certainly had the motif and waiting time you’d expect from a famous establishment, but Jess and I had to agree that it might have poured the worst.  Coffee.  Ever.

Including that time Austin Powers drank poop thinking it was coffee.

Imagine brewing a gallon of coffee, letting it sit for a day, microwaving it, letting it sit for another week, draining the waste oil out of a New York Taxi into it, microwaving it again, and serving it a week later.  Unfortunately for Jess, the milk had gone off as well so she was in for an even more trying experience.

Needless to say, we hit Starbucks as soon as we crossed the Alabama state line.

Not long after that we passed a sign for “Mercedes Drive.”

“That’d be a cool photo op,” I thought to myself, but I quickly became distracted as my phone reminded me it was someone’s birthday.

Before I could finish the obligatory wall post a giant Mercedes-Benz emblem rose out of the horizon, foreshadowing the enormous facility it was mounted atop of.

I almost suggested we stop, but Birdie was at the helm and therefore we were WOT in the left lane.

I shifted from Facebook to Google and discovered that not only was there a Mercedes factory here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama- it was where the M-Class was built!

We had inadvertently driven right past the very birthplace of the car we were riding in.  Awesome.

At this point I had no idea the car was built in America, although I had my suspicions as multiple door panels had already fallen off.

We took advantage of the last Bo’Jangles restaurant we would see on a trip (heartbreaking) and proceeded to arrive at the Nashville Econolodge around 10:00PM.

“It’s $42 for a double bed or $47 for a king,” said the surprisingly cheerful dude behind the counter.

“Meeeeeehhhhhhhhhh we’ll take the double.”

Boom, that’s a beer right there.

Like New Orleans, Nashville had three standout qualities that happened to be alliterative.  Those being- bands, buskers, and babes.

The last time I passed through Nashville I left with a favorable impression.  And that was on mid-week night right after a catastrophic flood.

Tonight was a Saturday, in the throes of college basketball finals, and the scene was unbelievable.

Live music poured out of every door, and when we weren’t in earshot of a bar the street musicians were out in force.  And not just your typical gutter punk with an upside-down bucket and two spoons, these were full-fledge rock bands occupying the sidewalk.

I don’t know if there was a convention in town or if the local population is just well-presented, but the women of Nashville are flatout jaw-droppers.  What is it about a dress and cowboy boots?


Self-Driving Cars Licensed In Nevada

Ah, Sin City.  Famous for gambling, hookers, and now of course, Google’s fleet of self-driving Pruii.

Google’s autonomus vehicle program has been in the news for awhile, but until now was confined to closed airports and other test locations removed from the public.  But after today they’ll be at large in traffic, possibly including the Vegas Strip.

So far Nevada is the only state authorizing Google (and reportedly, “a number” of other companies looking to follow suit) to interject these autonomous-autos into the wild.

From PCWorld-

“To be approved for road travel, autonomous cars must have a combined minimum driving time of 10,000 miles. Nevada also requires autonomous car operators to submit a complete description of their self-driving technology, a detailed safety plan, and a plan for hiring and training test drivers. The state requires a $100 licensing fee plus $13 for each set of license plates, but companies must also purchase a surety bond of $1 million to put up to 5 vehicles on the road. Nevada says a number of other unnamed companies are looking to follow Google and test self-driving cars on the state’s public roads.”

Even in its fledgling state, such technology is pretty fascinating.

The Pros?  Well, a serious reduction of drunk driving incidents that’s for sure.  And honestly, I’d bet my safety on a robot driving over most of the motorists with licenses in this country.

But in twenty years, will this mean I’ll have to race through autonomic traffic to uncover a secret robot conspiracy as the only one left on a motorcycle?

Awesome.


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