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Friday
Aug112017

August 2017

We will be on vacation the first week of September, but back in time to report on the Frankfurt Motor Show. See you on September 15.

 

August 25, 2017: With each generation of its M cars, BMW leaves you wondering if it could possibly top its latest creation. And with the debut of the 2018 M5 prior to its launch next month at Frankfurt, it proves once again that it can. However, doing so this time required a technology never before seen on an M car. Meanwhile, over in Monterey, Mercedes introduced a new Maybach concept designed to take everything to the extreme. This electrically powered land yacht is both sleek and nautical, and more than a little reminiscent of the best industrial design and a certain type of laxative. The same can’t be said of the De Tomaso Pantera, a sexy mid-engine Italian sports car built along the lines of a Ford GT40. It was derided in the day for its many faults, and its mongrel status (it has a Ford V8 under the hood) meant it never got the respect it deserved. Until now that is. With the help of Petrolicious and Jay Leno’s Garage, we take a look at what makes the Pantera so desirable. ATS, created out of the Palace Revolt at Ferrari in the early 1960s, is about to introduce a new supercar along the lines of its ill-fated but delicious 2500 GT. We take a look at the history of the marque, and its plans for the future. Audi’s plans include a new numbering system for its vehicles. Scheduled to launch with the new A8, it places two-digit designator after the model name, based on the output of the powertrain. VW’s T-Roc small crossover has broken cover, and it is aimed at the fast-growing small SUV segment. It’s the first Volkswagen ever to offer a contrasting roof panel color, but oddly will not be coming to the U.S. anytime soon. The Passat may never wear a contrasting roof color, but it does carry the mantle for VW’s U.S. assembly plant alongside the Atlas SUV. Though more restrained than some of its competition, it provides comfort and space they lack, with a solidity that could only come from the Germans. Mitsubishi’s Outlander, on the other hand, sits square in the middle of the mid-size SUV segment, and is something of a reset for a company that used to be a tech leader. We evaluate the crossover, and see whether quiet competence is enough in a crowded market. Federal-Mogul has a new valve rotation unit for overhead cam engines. We take a look at a technology designed to control wear and heat build up on the valves and seats. This week’s Virtual Collection digs deep to find the most unusual Jaguar Mark IX you’ll ever see. Built for the former head of a major automotive engineering consultancy, it is up-to-date in everything but looks. JBR Capital not only lends money to those wanting to buy high-end classic cars, it has created an interactive website dedicated to Ferrari’s V12, and the various vehicles it has powered. The site has surprisingly subtle yet trick graphics, and is a go-to resource for those interested in Enzo’s most famous engines.

 

August 11, 2017: As a kid who grew up in Dearborn during the Total Performance era, Kar-Kraft was a subject of constant wonder. Then, one day in the early 1970s, it ceased to exist, and urban legend and innuendo filled the void where secrecy had previously lived. Charlie Henry, who worked at Kar-Kraft while in college, decided to take up the challenge, fill in the blanks, and discover the truth behind the legend. We review his book, and find that it fills a void in the knowledge of every enthusiast of a certain age. Keeping with the project theme, Infiniti has teased a concept set in the golden age of Grand Prix racing, that retroactively seeks to define what makes an Infiniti an Infiniti. Kumho, meanwhile, uses advanced mathematics to design a multi-layer wheel and tire concept that needs no air, and may be more than just a design study. TVR, on the other hand, is ready to step out from the shadows and show its latest car at the Goodwood Revival. We take a look at the clues thus far, outlining the car that the staff at Gordon Murray Design have created. Whatever that might be, it can’t hold a candle to the outrageousness that is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. The 707-hp SUV promises a lot, and costs even more. It undoubtedly will be a pittance compared to the price expected at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction for the Aston Martin DBR1/1. It’s not only the first of a rare breed, but one with a significant competition history. We go along as the folks from Petrolicious go for a drive. BMW’s M30 M3 also was the first of the breed and, to our mind, the best. See why it gets pride of place in the Virtual Collection. Unfortunately, the purity of the original eventually fades, as shown by the latest Audi A4. Bigger and better in so many ways, see why we feel it lacks the soul a sport sedan should possess. And don’t forget to tag along as we go to dinner with the Gore family in a plug-in Prius Prime. You may discover why we prefer the non-prime number. Finally, Mazda has announced a compression ignition gasoline engine family that promises diesel-like efficiency, and EV-level cleanliness. Can this combination of spark and compression ignition do the job?

 

Friday
Jul142017

July 2017

July 28, 2017: The drive toward autonomous vehicles is a fait accompli if you listen to pundits, driven by the need to meet the demands of a new generation. But are Millennials driving the move to this technology, or are there other factors? You might be surprised what’s really behind the drive to driverless vehicles.  Speaking of Millennials, Ford introduced the 2018 Mustang this week. It features significant increases in power and performance, as well as pricing that — in most cases — will make your eyes water. Like the Camaro, it continues to chase older, financially well-established buyers, having walked away from its original remit as a sexy, affordable car for young people. Then again, 0-60 in under four seconds does sound fun. Honda’s new Accord ditches the current generation’s naturally aspirated four and V6 for a pair of turbocharged inline fours, and gives the larger engine a 10-speed automatic. (A six-speed manual is available with either motor.) Will this, fresh styling, and a reengineered hybrid model be enough to gain ground in the shrinking sedan market? One segment that’s expanding is the mid-size pickup market, and the latest entrant is Mercedes-Benz. Its version of the Renault Alaskan/Nissan Frontier is decidedly upscale, but is it in keeping with the M-B image or a jaded line extension that won’t be sold in the U.S.?  Of course there’s upmarket and then there’s Upmarket. The new eight generation Rolls-Royce Phantom definitely falls into the latter category. With a bespoke spaceframe that will underpin all future Rolls-Royces, a twin-turbo V12 and an available bespoke art gallery, it is the perfect transport for the well-heeled sybarite. In the 1930s, a young man by the name of E.L. Cord sought to carve out his own corner of the auto industry. He took over Auburn and Duesenberg, and created another brand named for himself. And though it eventually came to tears, the company created the focus of this week’s Virtual Collection, the iconic Cord 812. Our feature car is a unique long-wheelbase sedan that once may have belonged to the man himself, and still turns heads today. Brush Hero sent us its Dynamic Duo car wash outfit, which includes a car wash nozzle and dispenser combination, as well as a water-powered brush head. It sounded a bit over the top at first, but the proof was in the using. The real question, however, is whether or not its good enough to make you forget all the other car washing gadgets cluttering your garage. Once you’re done washing the car, you might want to kick back with a premium dry gin with a difference. The Archaeologist is a bespoke gin brand from Germany that quite literally is built around parts from old Harley-Davidson motorcycles scrounged from around the world. You have to see it to believe it.

 

July 14, 2017: This issue is a little different, featuring only one new production car, and concentrating on automotive dreams. The production vehicle in question isn’t even a car. It’s Jaguar’s 2018 E-Pace small SUV. The E-Pace is based on the underpinnings of the Range Rover Evoque, making it the first Jaguar to feature a transverse-engined all-wheel drive layout since the Ford Mondeo/Contour-based X-Type. For Jaguar’s sake, let’s hope it’s more successful. Our dreamscape starts with the Tucker 48, a rear-engine four-door sedan that promised more than its creator could deliver. Though the “48” stood for the year in which the production version would debut, it was not far off the total number built before lawsuits, recriminations and sensationalism brought the project to a halt. It is joined in our Virtual Collection by a Porsche supercar that doesn’t (yet) get the respect it deserves. The genesis for the Carrera GT started as a Le Mans racer cancelled to make room for the Cayenne SUV, and ended in the creation of the last great analog supercar from Stuttgart. Though actor Paul Walker’s untimely death in one has tainted its image, the Carrera GT is a road going racer every bit as delectable as Ferrari’s Enzo. On the human side, Renault’s F1 team is running a promotion in the UK to celebrate its 40th anniversary. To celebrate, they are putting four lucky folks who test drive a Renault in the coming weeks behind the wheel of a Renault F17 F1 car. And to prove just how simple this can be, it put a 79 year-old woman — Rosemary Smith a former rally champion — behind the wheel and videotaped the results. It’s worth a look. On the more, er, ridiculous side, Cragar has introduced S/S wheels for your golf cart. The 1960s throwbacks add a sense of hot rod-inspired style to the game of golf, and should make buyers the envy of their gated community.  We bookend our dreamscape with another car that promised more than its underdeveloped nature could deliver, the NSU Ro 80.  It had everything from radical bodywork to a semi-automatic gearbox to front-drive and a state-of-the-art engine. Unfortunately, a lack of development meant it fell short of real world expectations, and doomed both the car and the company that made it.

Tuesday
Jul042017

A medical emergency cropped up, which means there will be no new edition this week. We hope to be able to get back to it next week. Thanks for your understanding and patience.

Friday
Jun092017

June 2017

June 23, 2017: We preview a number of new or revised cars this week as the 2018 model year kicks off in earnest. First up is the BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo. It replaces the ungainly 5 Series GT with a sleeker new car that is in line with BMW’s revised naming convention. But while the name might be more rational, this Photo © Duncan Hamilton & Co. Ltd.unholy offspring of a crossover and sedan still elicits the same response: Why? It’s followed by the mildly updated Cadillac XTS, a vehicle that, like the Escalade, is more in line with Cadillac’s family tree than the wannabe German sport sedans that populate the rest of the lineup. It gets a number of useful upgrades that should continue to entice a broad swath of Middle America and keep sales strong. VW, meanwhile, has released pricing and model details for the new Tiguan crossover. Nearly a foot longer than its predecessor, the new crossover fills the gap below the full-size Atlas, while leaving room for a smaller, sportier model to follow. It’ll be interesting to see how American buyers respond to the new three-row, almost mid-size, keenly priced crossover from Germany. Similar things could be said of the 2018 Toyota Camry, which adopts Toyota’s new modular structure, wild new styling, and new powertrains to retain the top sales slot in North America. The LE Hybrid has near-Prius fuel economy numbers, thanks to its lithium-ion battery pack, while the XLE goes full luxe and the SE and XSE channel sportiness. But will it be enough to keep buyers in sedans when buyers seem obsessed with crossovers? On the technology front, Audi pulls the wraps off the 48-volt hybrid system that will be standard in every A8 model.  This mild hybrid system improves start/stop operation, increases coasting opportunities, and increases fuel efficiency. But will it be enough to blunt interest in Tesla’s Model S from those still on the fence about EV ownership? Just about one year ago we opened the Virtual Collection, a gathering of vehicles, things and people that make our automotive obsession fun. The latest installment highlights an American F1 team that had everything going for it, except luck. With backing from a conglomerate, a factory engine program, and a chassis from the fertile minds of Neil Oatley, Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey what could possibly go wrong? In a word, everything, and now you can own the American super team whose promise never was fulfilled. Finally, we take a look at one of the more ridiculous high-end branding exercises ever to involve an automotive marque. Not only has Aston Martin tied up with luxury apparel company Hogan to make a limited edition run of sneakers, it has lent its name and design talent to the creation of an ultra luxury residential tower in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. It’s exclusivity and excess on a grand scale that’s almost impossible to believe.

 

June 9, 2017: There was a sense of déjà vu when a Silk Blue 2017 Golf SportWagen was dropped off at the office recently. Except for the wheel size and design, it looked exactly like the SportWagen we tested nearly two years ago. Perplexed by the striking similarity, we were surprised to discover this entry trim level wagon had all-wheel drive and a reasonable price tag. But is that enough to make it stand out from its predecessor, which impressed with its character and capability? You’ll have to read the review to find out. Hyundai and Kia teased a pair of new small crossovers, the Kona and Stonic. Aimed at the fast-growing B-class utility market staked out by the likes of the Nissan Juke and Buick Encore, these two promise to be like every Hyundai and Kia sibling before them, the same but different. Mecum’s vintage motorcycle auction in Las Vegas pulled in more than four million dollars, and showed that the vintage motorcycle market is still strong. Check out our list of the top 10 bikes over the auction block. Speaking of motorcycles, former world champion Barry Sheene was recently elected into the Motor Sport hall of Fame, a gala that included a run around the auditorium by his 1976 championship winning Suzuki. Thanks to Motul, we have a pair of videos that follow the restoration of Sheene’s bike, from start to finish. Unlike Barry Sheene, it’s unlikely that many folks will recognize the name of Oliver Winterbottom. Yet this designer created a number of designs for Jaguar, Lotus, TVR and others, and expanded well beyond drawing pretty pictures to also engineering and packaging his designs. His is a fascinating life told in a flawed but nonetheless fascinating book that’s well worth the read. At the other end of the scale from the practical, handsome and sporty designs that came from Winterbottom’s pen is the Porsche 911 Turbo S Exclusive Series. Just 500 of this special model will be made, and each includes a number of exclusive features to go along with the hefty price tag.