Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 19, 2014

Bentley Grand Convertible Unveiled At 2014 L.A. Auto Show

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LOS ANGELES

Bentley, the British luxury carmaker, has some holes in its otherwise lavish lineup of sedans and coupes. The new Grand Convertible concept, unveiled at the 2014 L.A. Auto Show, is meant to fill ones of the biggest deficiencies: It needs more convertibles.

The Grand Convertible is, the company says, “the most sophisticated open-top car ever created by Bentley.”

The Grand Convertible was billed as a concept, but the vehicle was all but production-ready. It is based on its Mulsanne luxury flagship, with power and luxury rivaling the company’s most extreme offerings.

Under the hood is a 6.75-liter V8, equipped with twin turbochargers, producing a total of 530 horsepower and 811 pounds-feet of torque. Top speed, while not announced, approached 200 m.p.h.

The concept’s Sequin Blue color was originally created to fulfill a customer’s request to replicate a single sequin from a haute couture gown. Like the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, to which this concept is meant as a competitive answer, the Grand Convertible features a contrasting silver “liquid metal” finish to its hood and windshield frame.

It took 14 naturally tanned, linen-colored leather hides, stitched merged together with progressive-diamond quilting, to craft the four seats seats and door panels.

When the convertible top is stowed, the tonneau cover (ala the RR’s teak rear deck) is hand-crafted of book-matched, mirror-finished, dark-stained Burr Walnut between parallel lines of chromed steel. “It’s the largest piece of wood veneer ever applied to a Bentley,” the company said.

“This concept demonstrates Bentley’s ability to create a pinnacle convertible Grand Tourer,” said Wolfgang Durheimer, the company’s chief executive, in unveiling the car. “It embodies elegance beyond compare.”

He added, “With this car we combine the opulent Mulsanne experience with the full sensory indulgence of open-air touring, continuing to unite luxury and performance in new ways. We are eagerly awaiting the response of our customers to this car. We will ensure that this car – if it reaches the roads – will be a highly exclusive, extremely limited collector’s piece.”

Why the reluctance to confirm the Grand Convertible for production?

Maybe they didn’t want to reveal the price yet!

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 6, 2014

2014 SEMA Show Is An Automotive Idea Factory

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By JERRY GARRETT, Contributor to The New York Times

LAS VEGAS

The Specialty Equipment Market Association’s massive annual trade show here is something of an idea factory for what enterprising innovators can come up with to expand automotive boundaries of performance, appearance and taste.

The show opened Tuesday, spread out over more than a million square feet of space at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

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“Nearly 2,500 exhibitors will bring products for more than 60,000 wholesale buyers looking for the latest parts and accessories,” Chris Kersting, the organization’s chief executive said via email.

Those numbers represent a continuing trend in the aftermarket industry, which continues to bounce back from a rough patch, 2008-2009, when the entire automotive industry weathered an economic storm.

“In 2013 consumers bought more than $33.4 billion in non-repair/replacement parts and accessories to personalize their cars, trucks and SUVs,” noted Kersting, who said that total was almost a seven percent increase over the previous year. “And it was a 19.7 percent increase since the recession ended in 2009.”

He added, “Such growth is a sure sign people still love their cars and are again spending money on improving them.”

What, precisely, is driving the industry’s rebound?IMG_8230

“Two market niches especially stand out: Street Performance and Light Truck,” he said.

The ever-growing Street Performance niche – which actually grew during the recession – includes all products used to modify performance vehicles such as sports and muscle cars – superchargers, suspension, body kits, and so forth. That part of the industry has nearly quadrupled since 2001 and now represents about $9 billion in retail sales, Kersting said.

Some of the growth is being driven by not only continued interest in performance and muscle cars, but also by a growing interest in restoring and modifying older cars.

Light Trucks, which comprise products for modifying performance, appearance and handling of light trucks and utility vehicles, was hit the hardest during the recession, Kersting said, complicated by high unemployment in the construction sector and rising gas prices. But since 2010, it is up 16 percent – although still not above pre-recession levels.

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The largest product segments remain specialty performance tires and custom wheels, which are seen as popular options for quickly and relatively easily improving performance, handling and value of most vehicles.

Many hundreds of customized vehicles will be on display, both inside and outside of the convention center. There will also be a number of displays of performance, handling and capability of modified vehicles.

Most automakers will have displays at the show, as well as the aftermarket companies, as both foreign and domestic manufacturers realize there are profitable opportunities for them as well in this market. Displays will include factory-blessed customized vehicles from Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Hyundai and many others.

The SEMA show, as it is popularly called, runs through Friday. It is closed to the public, although some vehicles on display, or involved in performance activities outside of the convention center, can be seen without special passes or admission charges.

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Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 6, 2014

Please Note: October 8, 2014 Blood Red Moon Eclipse Facts

The Moon turned blood red during a full eclipse April 14/15, 2014 (Jerry Garrett Photo)

The Moon turned blood red during a full eclipse April 14/15, 2014 (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Here we go again. Another lunar eclipse, just like we had last April. And it’s another one of those eerie “blood red” Moons. But this one will be a super-sized Blood Red Moon.

So there will be differences between this one and the last one. This one could be better ! Here are some reasons why, along with some noteworthy facts, figures, times and places where it can be best seen.

Number 1: It’s, of course, a full moon that night. Check your local almanac for the time when the full Moon will rise in your area. Just after sunset is a good rule of thumb!

Number 2: There is confusion about when you might see it in your area, because all the East Coast-centric writers have extrapolated the viewing times into Eastern Daylight Time zone – where the viewing won’t be all that great because of the arrival of dawn. So convert those East Coast times into what it would be in your time zone.

Number 3: Totality starts at 6:25 a.m. EDT and last nearly an hour – until 7:24 a.m., the National Aeronautics and Space Administration calculates. But that means, for instance, that it will be fully eclipsed from 3:25 a.m. to 4:24 a.m. on America’s West Coast – a couple of hours earlier than that in Hawaii. Earth time doesn’t necessarily align with that of the celestial clock. (Helpful times for the exact moment of “totality”: October 8 10:55 UTC ; 6:55 a.m. EDT; 5:55 a.m. CDT; 4:55 a.m. MDT; 3:55 a.m. PDT.)

Number 4: Because this eclipse will happen two days after a point when the Moon is nearest to the Earth, called a lunar perigee, the Moon will appear 5.3 percent larger than it did during the April 15 eclipse. So maybe we should call this a Blood Red Super Moon!

Number 5: The eclipse will be best seen – i.e., in its entirety – from the western United States, the Pacific Islands and eastern parts of Asia, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. Sorry, Europe, Africa and the Middle East; you are totally out of luck. Areas in between (see map) will be able to see parts of the eclipse but sunrise/moonset will interfere with the viewing experience.

 

NASA’s map of the best areas to see the October 8, 2014 blood red lunar eclipse.

 

Number 6: Why does the moon appear red? It has to do with the bending of light rays in the atmosphere. Eclipses occur when the Earth moves exactly between the Moon and the Sun; the Earth’s shadow covers the Moon. Most light is blocked, but some red bounces past, and seems to project itself, like the colors of a sunrise or sunset, coloring the Moon.

“The exact color that the moon appears depends on the amount of dust and clouds in the atmosphere,” according to NASA scientists. “If there are extra particles in the atmosphere, from say a recent volcanic eruption, the moon will appear a darker shade of red.”

Number 7: This eclipse is the second in a series of four lunar eclipses, known as a tetrad, that are occuring over a period of this year and next. Earth will experience only eight tetrads this century. The next one won’t come around until 2032-2033.

Jerry Garrett

October 6, 2014

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 6, 2014

Please Note: Eiffel Tower Does NOT Have A Glass Floor!

iffel Tower 6 October 2014: Notice anything different? Mind the gap in the middle of the first floor! (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Eiffel Tower 6 October 2014: Notice anything different? Mind the gap in the middle of the first floor! It’s 57 meters down to the ground! (Jerry Garrett Photos)

PARIS

The Eiffel Tower’s first floor is no longer a huge gaping hole, thanks to some new construction that has been completed. The finished work was unveiled to the public Monday. Somewhat disappointingly, despite hype to the contrary, it does not have a glass floor!

What is does have is a narrow transparent walkway around the perimeter of the gaping hole. You can’t venture very far out from the old metal walkway (the one that has been there since the tower was constructed in the late 1880s). But you can go far enough to probably scare the average tourist half to death. For the very brave, the transparent railing around it is canted out even farther over the void.

The opportunity to pay money to be scared half to death was enough to lure thousands of thrill seekers, despite an afternoon rain, to stand in line for a ticket to experience it. (There was some kind of holiday in Germany today, so more than usual in the queue were from there.)

The view remains free!

The view remains free!

Millions (seven-plus in 2013) already come to see it each year, making it the most visited monument in the world – especially of the “admission required” variety. It made 73 million euro (over $95 million) last year alone in admission fees to ride the elevators that go to the top. (Latest rates: 9 euro for adults for the elevator to the second floor; a further 15 euro for the separate elevator to the top; it even costs 5 euro now to take the stairs to the second floors that used to be free – note you can’t climb the stairs all the way.)

Local officials, who presided over the “gala” grand opening (pun intended) today, are hopeful the changes will bring even more visitors – and even more money – to the landmark.

The idea of a completely glassed-over floor on the tour’s first elevated viewing area sounded great. But I wondered how they would pull it off – that’s a huge area to cover. And I could just imagine several tour busloads of morbidly obese Americans cramming themselves onto the plexiglass and making it cave in. That was the apparently dealbreaker for architects Moatti-Riviere for anything more ambitious. A structure made of glass or plexiglass or any transparent material (now known) just does not have the tensile strength for those kinds of loads. But a glass walkway can be (and is) reinforced with steel just enough to make it work.

The new installations should help improve the tourist experience up there. It will still be drafty and cold – even on a warm day. But the wind flow has been altered and lessened.

Tourists who braved the first day view didn't stay there long!

Tourists who braved the first day view didn’t stay there long!

Still, even the tourists who made it up there today seemed daunted – and few stayed out on the see-through portion very long. It is 57 meters (187 feet) to the ground below. (Tip: Ladies are advised no to wear skirts; there are plenty of photographers with very high power telephoto lens camped out below!)

The changes are all part of a 30 million euro facelift of the dowdy first floor, which took two years to complete. The sparkling area now includes glassed-in shops, restaurants and a museum with seven screens. A film detailing the history of the 125-year-old, 325-meter-high tower will be shown on them. (Did you know the tower was best known for many years as a revolutionary lighted outdoor billboard – for Citroen cars?)

No more major work is planned on the tower for the foreseeable future. But the ongoing maintenance here never ends. The whole structure needs a 60-ton coat of new paint every seven years.

Jerry Garrett

October 6, 2014

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 1, 2014

FURY: The Problem With Brad Pitt’s Tank

What kind of tank is this?

What kind of tank is this?

HOLLYWOOD

In the movie, “Fury“, U. S. Army Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) commands a tank with a five-man crew in the storied 66th Armored Regiment in the 2nd Armored Division, as it is invading the heart of Germany in April 1945 – just days before the Nazi surrender.

Trivia question: What kind of tank is Pitt commanding?

In the movie, it was a Sherman M4A3E8, more commonly known as an “Easy Eight”.

If the movie was based on a real character – and supposedly it is not – Collier would not have been driving an Easy Eight. And he wouldn’t have been fighting a German Tiger TI – but we digress.

In the film, since a point is made in the movie that Collier loves his tank, and he and the crew have named it “Fury” – the name they’ve painted on its 76 mm gun barrel. Supposedly, they’ve all been fighting together – in Fury – since the North Africa campaign in 1942. If that was so, Fury would have probably been a much earlier model M4 Sherman, like an M2 or M4A3, each of which went into production in 1942. But with a 50 percent casualty rate in most mid-WWII tank battles, an earlier M2 or M4 model that survived 3+ years of combat would have been unheard of. (In fact, only one Sherman tank – a Canadian one – is known to have survived as long as from June 1944′s D-Day all the way to May 1945′s V-E Day.)

In real life, the Easy Eight, equipped with its 76 mm gun, was a relatively late addition to the war effort – only in production since late 1944. The Easy Eight featured a bigger gun and a better suspension. And they were not completely at the mercy of German tanks.

Production notes mention that Fury was designed and built by Henry Ford, and the German tanks were masterminded by Ferdinand Porsche. (Ergo, it was not a fair fight!) Yeah, okay, kinda sorta. Ford Motor Company didn’t design the Sherman, but it did build them – but only 1,690 M4A3s from June 1942 to September 1943. In all, about 50,000 were built for the war – and the vast majority of Shermans were built by General Motors and Chrysler.

The comparatively rare Ford-built Shermans were equipped with Ford’s 450-horsepower, 18-liter GAA V8 engine – originally a V12 knock-off of Rolls-Royce Merlin and Allison aviation engines that were supposed to be used in American planes. When the Navy turned the Ford V12 down – because they decided to use radial engines – Ford lopped off four cylinders and converted it into a tank engine.

I believe the tank used in the movie had a Ford engine, but it was not a battle-scared M4 from the North Africa campaign.

So why use (possibly) the wrong tank in a movie that insisted so much on realism and authenticity (okay, other than the men’s haircuts)? Probably because there aren’t many surviving WWII tanks available to today’s filmmakers.

The American tanks in the movie – ten were used – were all M4A3E8s and all came from the Bovington Tank Museum in southern England (if you go, “Fury” is the one with serial # T224875) where the movie was principally filmed.

The last WWII Tiger tank?

That’s also where the filmmakers got the movie’s nearly indestructible German Tiger I tank (a.k.a. “Panzers”) – a relic that was out of production by 1945. But the one at the tank museum is reputed to be the only surviving Tiger 131 tank still in working order.

The Tiger was a feared fighting machine, but among the criticisms leveled at it was that it was heavy, cumbersome and over-engineered – you know, just like today’s German cars! (Just kidding. Sort of.) America’s Shermans, to their credit, were considered manueverable, reliable and quick on the draw (like a gunfighter – another relevant comparison).

But, the point is – regardless of some of the plot disconnects in Fury – by that time in World War II, Germany had far superior tanks (albeit fewer of them), and could blow most of the American tanks to smithereens. Earlier in the war, it was a much more even fight; but the Germans continued to improve their tanks, while the Americans stupidly did little in that regard. And the tank crews, like those in Fury, paid a terrible price.

Jerry Garrett

November 1, 2014

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 30, 2014

Moto Guzzi California: Italian Cooking for American Tastes

Moto Guzzi California: Now That's Italian! Kind of.

Moto Guzzi California: Now That’s Italian! Kind of.

MANDELLO DEL LARIO, Italy

Imagine an authentic Italian pizza, made by Italians, but meant for consumption by Americans. While it might be delicious, would it appeal also to Italian tastes?

Possibly not, but would it be any less Italian?

That’s the dilemma of the Moto Guzzi California motorcycle. It’s made by Italians, in Italy, with thoroughly Italian ingredients. It is, from the standpoints of styling and performance, meant for Americans. And it is delicious. But so far, Italians aren’t buying it.

That is not surprising, actually – least of all to the people at Moto Guzzi who are responsible for creating it. They knew going in that the California is bested suited for America’s more expansive tastes (and roads).

Moto Guzzi, Italy’s (and Europe’s) oldest motorcycle manufacturer, has long had an international cult following. Often its appeal outside of Italy exceeded its appeal to home audiences. Italians, nevertheless, adore Moto Guzzi and – even if they don’t own one – they probably wish they did.IMG_4412

Since its beginning in 1921 in the idyllic village of Mandello del Lario on the shores of Lake Como, Moto Guzzi has sought to prove itself on an international stage. Guiseppe Guzzi, brother of co-founder Carlo, rode one of its early models that would become known as the Norge a fabled 1,000 miles to the Arctic Circle in Norway in 1928. Moto Guzzi raced internationally, winning World Championships and such grueling events as the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy nine times, 1935-1955 (there were no races during World War II). In the U.S., its big cruiser-style models – progenitors of the California – gained fame as police bikes.

Down through the years, Moto Guzzi revolutionized motorcycle suspension construction and geometry, perfected aerodynamics of two-wheeled vehicles with its industry-first wind tunnel, and pushed the envelope of performance with motorcycling’s first V8 engine (fitted into a bike so scary-fast that no one dared ride it).

It is arguably, along with Harley Davidson and Indian, one of motorcycling’s most storied brands – with cachet to match.

The California traces its origins to 1971, when the Los Angeles Police Department helped with the design and performance characteristics of what was then officially known as the V7 – and at least a half dozen other iterations since.

Would Californians buy a bike called the California?

Would Californians buy a bike called the California?

“We were going to call it the California back then, but an executive at the company at that time questioned, ‘Why anyone from California would buy an Italian bike named the California?’,” said Nello Mariotti, Moto Guzzi’s production manager.

The suitability of the model to police work, particularly in California, led other law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, to order their own.

The latest California, reborn in 2013, is Moto Guzzi’s first really all-new motorcycle in many years, and it reflects a new attention to design, style and performance. Head designer Miguel Galluzzi (who works in Pasadena, California – now you know the “rest of the story”) came up with proportions that match his imposing 6-foot-5 height. So the motorcycle no longer seems cramped in its riding position. Its proportions also seem more harmonious.

It has the dimensions and frame of an all-American cruiser, unlike the original California, which was tailored from a sportbike chassis (a more traditional Italian recipe).

The 2015 California Touring model – with hard saddlebags, a windshield, cushy seating and an updated suite of electronic riding aids – is nearly as posh as a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic, or Indian Road Master. The California Touring may be the biggest Italian motorcycle ever made. (A Custom model eschews the touring accessories.)

Riding it is like climbing on a horse. At close to 750 pounds, it weighs in at nearly as much. But that mass is propelled more than adequately by a thundering 1,400cc 90-degree V-Twin that produces 96 horsepower and 87 pounds-feet of torque.

A unique thing about the California is that its engine is mounted sideways, or transversely. This means the rider is straddling the engine, with the insides of his knees against the protruding cylinder heads. This can be a pretty toasty riding arrangement.

In Italy, the California seemed larger - perhaps because the roads were smaller! (Jerry Garrett)

In Italy, the California Touring seemed larger – perhaps because the roads were smaller! (Jerry Garrett)

When I rode the bike in Italy, everywhere I went – no matter what the ambient temperature was – the insides of my knees would get lightly roasted (pink, like a sunburn). When I subsequently rode the bike in California, the heat was still there, but it wasn’t quite as noticeable and I didn’t need aloe lotion after the ride. A Moto Guzzi engineer attributed any difference to engine tuning.

The Italian version also seemed larger – perhaps because the roads were smaller. It’s almost as wide as a Fiat!

“The only visual difference between the two models is that the California for America has 19 legal warning stickers,” Mr. Mariotti said. “On the Italian bike, you see only one. There are too many lawyers in America, I suppose.”

No white-lining in Italy, please!

No white-lining in Italy, please!

A major difference is to be found in the sales numbers. In Italy, where the California is considered a two-wheeled behemoth, it sells in the dozens. In America, where it fits right in with the super cruiser crowd, it sells in the hundreds. While neither number, nor both numbers added together, represents a significant percentage of worldwide cruiser sales, the Moto Guzzi’s charm, charisma and sex appeal make it a desirable addition to the genre.

Price-wise, its $18,490 sticker is comparable to its Harley and Indian rivals, but similarly equipped Japanese models can be had for considerably less.

That may prove to be the deciding factor – if your tastes run more to brats and beer, or sushi, than to pizza.

Jerry Garrett

September 8, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 26, 2014

2014 Paris Motor Show: Ford Mustang Invades Europe

PARIS

Hide the baguettes!

The Americans are coming. Driving Fords. And, like Mustang racing driver Vaughn Gittin Jr., thinking of new uses for the venerable baguette.

The Ford Mustang has been around nearly 50 years now. But Ford says it has never really tried to sell it in Europe. That is about to end early next year, when a European-spec Mustang is due to go on sale.

The EuroStang will make its official public debut at the 2014 Paris Motor Show (October 2).

But Gittin arrived in France a bit early, to introduce the Mustang to some locals, to test its precision handling in a unique setting, and to sample some of the local cuisine (don’t try this at home). See the video above.

We will have a full report on the EuroStang soon from Ford display at the Paris show.

Jerry Garrett

September 26, 2014

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 8, 2014

CHEF: What Model Food Truck Was That?

Jon Favreau's Restaurant on Wheels in the movie "Chef"

Jon Favreau’s Meals on Wheels in the movie “Chef”

LOS ANGELES

The movie “Chef” is Jon Favreau’s paean to food – with a twist: A famous chef walks away from the frou-frou restaurant business to become a vagabond food truck operator.

Any idea what kind of truck that was?

There’s a passing reference in the script to a ’78 Chevy, and sure enough, if you look it up, you’ll find the proper model nomenclature was a 1978 Chevrolet P30 Walk-In Van. The government classified it as a truck. P-Series trucks had all kinds of uses – motorhomes, delivery trucks, airport shuttles, etc – and most of them had custom box bodies. The food trucks generally did, anyway.

Manual for P-Series Chevy Step Vans.

Manual for P-Series Chevy Step Vans.

The specs?

Made in P10, P20 and P30 configurations, they came equipped with one of three powerplants: a 292 cubic inch six, a 350 V8 and a 454 V8. I would guess the movie truck had the smaller V8, as the P30 was a lot of truck to push around with a six. The 454 was such a gas guzzler, they would have gone broke trying to keep gas in it on a road trip from Miami to Los Angeles.

The truck in the movie looked to be about a 17-footer. Some other random specs: GVWR: 9000, GAWR front: 40000, with 8×19.5D tires and 19.5×6.00 wheels, GAWR rear: 6200 with dual 8×19.5D tires and 19.5×6.00 rims. Some of the restaurant gear it was equipped with: a flat-top grill, deep fryer, hot box, freezer, prep table and fridge with ice bin for cold drinks.

You could probably pick up a decent used one for $15,000-$30,000.

People actually make much pricier, more sophisticated, brand new food trucks now, using Fords, Chevys, GMCs, Dodges and even Mercedes-Benz Sprinters. They are wildly popular in the southern California area, despite onerous regulations and punitive fees.

Food trucks seem like a trendy new phenomenon, but I know I’ve been eating at them in SoCal since the 1960s. We used to also call them “roach coaches,” “taco tanks”, “lunchboxes”, “garbage wagons” and worse.

To eat at one, you have to have a sense of humor, spirit of adventure and tolerance for some quirks. The quality of the food is probably better now than it was in the ‘60s, but even way back then, it was actually quite tasty – not to mention fresh and inexpensive – hence their enduring popularity.

I once found a shiny two-inch screw inside my burrito, served by my favorite lunch truck in Monrovia, California. When I showed it to the chef, he said, “Hey at least it’s a brand new screw, not an old rusty one. Nothing is too good for you, my friend.”

The rest of the burrito was screw-free and pretty satisfying overall.

Jerry Garrett

September 8, 2014

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 5, 2014

Road Trip: A Boy, A Beetle Convertible & A Dutch Apple Pie

The objective: The pie counter at a certain Virginia farm market. (SometimesMarthaAlwaysMary.files.wordpress.com)

HILLSBORO, Virginia

A road trip, I’ve learned after test-driving new cars for a few years (decades, actually), goes better when you have an objective in mind.

“Pie, anyone?” I asked of a group of colleagues, preparing for a day of driving 2015 Volkswagen of America offerings. Of late, I have been looking for roadside attractions that offer tasty homemade treats – tragically, a vanishing commodity in fastfood-obsessed America. I scored big earlier this year with a stop near Petaluma, California, where homemade jams, jellies and pies were on the menu; hence, the inauguration of the “pie run” (much more leisurely than, say, a Cannonball Run).

“If it’s pie you want,” one helpful fellow offered, “I know a place.”

“Terrific!” I said.

“Trouble is, I can’t really tell you how to get there from here,” he said. “Plus, I can’t recall the name of the place.”

Okay, that would make it a little more challenging. But I was still all in. After some discussion, we decided it was about 30 minutes off the beaten path, down several lonesome roads, across a couple of creeks, through a village or two, near a crossroads. We didn’t know the names of all the roads, but at some point, if I drove through a town called Purcellville, I would be generally headed in the right direction.

2015 VW Beetle Convertible - supermodels not included. (C&D)

2015 VW Beetle Convertible – supermodels not included. (C&D)

On a postcard-perfect day, I set off in a 2015 VW Beetle Convertible.

I could look up all the specs, if you want. But suffice it to say, it had the one feature that I cared about: No roof.

I love to drive convertibles, and I love to drive them with the top down. Otherwise, I mean, what’s the freakin’ point!?! (I must confess, even after my substantial test drive, I don’t know how to raise or lower the Bug’s top – because I didn’t care. So sue me.)

How fast does it go? How many horsepower does it have? What’s the zero to 60 time?

No clue, friends. But if you are worried about those things, you are – again – missing the point of driving a convertible. I would have driven it in slow motion, if I could have, slowly waving to the envious passers-by, palm inverted, like British royalty.

The whole idea was to enjoy the ride.

Beetle Convertible interior (beach not included) (VW)

Beetle Convertible interior (beach not included) (VW)

I wasn’t completely oblivious, as I have been wanting to drive the latest Beetle Convertible for awhile now. I drove the previous generation model a few years back, and enjoyed it – especially its high-style interior and nonpareil color combinations. I vaguely remember that it had a smooth six-speed transmission, and a reasonably peppy gasoline engine. (Diesels are now available too.)

The 2015 model seemed better in all regards. And one additional thing I noticed: Not all convertibles are created with the same doses of fun engineered in. A few I’ve driven have made life miserable for the occupants, with excessive wind buffeting and swirling, poorly placed windshields and seats, and a generally excruciating ergonomic experience.

The Beetle convertible was guilty of none of that. The driving position was nigh-well perfect, you never wanted to put the top up, and you didn’t need the side windows up – or a wind baffle. The cabin was an oasis of calm. It was just decadent, delicious, topless fun.

To those who say the Beetle convertible is a chick car, I say rubbish. It’s perfect for all genders, races, religions, or creeds (as far as I can tell) – and especially perfect for a backroad pie run on a sun-drenched afternoon.

Stoneybrook Farm - this is THE place! (twelvetribes.com)

Stoneybrook Farm – this is THE place! (twelvetribes.com)

To make a long story somewhat shorter, the pie restaurant was indeed located! It’s called Stoneybrook Farm (and you could look it up on TripAdvisor if you want more mouth-watering information). And it was a stupendous find.

It’s an organic restaurant and market, with a real farm right out its back door. How fresh and natural was everything? When I asked if the cheese was local, the clerk said, “Do you want to meet the cow? She’s right out back.”

So were the apple trees that supplied the key ingredient in the Dutch Apple Pie!

Here it was, not quite noon, and the only fresh pie left in the safe was Dutch Apple. I greedily took it, only slightly elbowing a few pensioners out of the way.

The clerk assured me that a new batch of pies was in the oven – pecan, berry, apple and more Dutch Apple – but they wouldn’t be ready for 30 minutes.

I wouldn’t be denied; I grabbed the last pie, and made my getaway. The drive back to the starting point seemed to take much too long, despite the wonders of the afternoon in the convertible. Upon arriving, I proudly shared my find with my colleagues.

Sadly, I only ended up getting about a quarter of my pie. The rest was scarfed down by those with whom I shared it.

Yeah - kinda like this!

Yeah – kinda like this!

Was I too generous? I think not.

My rationale was this: The sooner the pie was gone, the sooner I could take off on another test drive – to get more pie to take home.

And that’s just what I did. Great excuse to put more miles on the Beetle convertible.

Just for the record: The TSA doesn’t not consider a fresh berry pie “liquid.”

(Editor’s Note: 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible, MSRP $25,170-$28,895, EPA 24-28 city, 32-41 highway depending upon optional engines, transmissions. For complete info, go here)

Jerry Garrett

September 5, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 3, 2014

Road Trip: London to Brussels With a Wacky Sat-Nav

A UK-spec Infiniti Q50 Hybrid with right hand drive

A UK-spec Infiniti Q50 Hybrid with right hand drive

BRUSSELS

Recently, I participated in a test drive of a new Infiniti Q50 Hybrid, from London to Brussels, via the Chunnel train. The object of the test, conducted along with crews driving three other Q50 hybrids, was to gauge what kind of fuel economy we might get on such a route. We were all supposed to meet up for dinner that evening in Belgium, to compare notes.

The Q50s were all nicely equipped, with most every option, including the latest satellite navigation system, with “real-time” traffic bulletins.

As I informed by co-driver, Matt, upon setting out, “I just read about a sav-nav system that a family on vacation in Italy said directed them down a set of stone steps in front of a church.”

The driver actually drove down the steps, with predictable consequences, except for the added bonus of having the story go viral worldwide on social media. The photos he posted were rather amusing.

“I hope we have better luck with this system, since I have had similar experiences with sav-navs – being directed through orchards, down bicycle paths, across railroad yards, over cliffs, etc.” I said.

Our luck would not, in fact, be better.

London's infamous motorway queues

London’s infamous motorway queues

Soon after our caravan of four vehicles left the starting point, the sav-nav systems, which had been programmed with the same destination information in each car, directed two of the vehicles around the motorways west of London. The other two inexplicably directed their cars to the east.

Despite having “real-time” travel info, the sat-nav did not warn any of the four vehicles of the constipated traffic ahead on each route. After sitting in a seemingly endless traffic tie-up for nearly an hour, I decided – since it was my turn to drive – to pioneer a new route through central London. At rush hour.

My admittedly foolhardy improvisation was meant to keep us moving – anything was better than sitting – and to avoid the inevitable stoppages around Heathrow to the west, and the nightmare of the Dartford toll crossing to the east. After some ignoring of the incessant “Please make a u-turn” warnings, the sat-nav eventually did re-calculate the route through London. Except for a couple of belated “Turn left NOW” warnings that we couldn’t heed quickly enough, we made reasonably good time, all things considered.

We wondered whether our mates were having an easier time of it on their respective routes. We tried to hurry along as best we could to the Chunnel train, mindful of the speed cameras every – oh – ten feet or so.

Arriving at the loading dock for the train, we were directed away from a train that was leaving immediately – despite our pricy “Easy Pass Plus” window tag – and herded onto one that wouldn’t leave for another 25 minutes.

“So much for our plan to make up a little time here,” I told Matt.

He pointed out that, to this point, we had been on the road almost four hours – at least 90 minutes longer than the organizers of this trip had budgeted.

Fine in Britain, not so much in Europe

Fine in Britain, not so much in Europe

“We will just have to make up as much time as possible on the other side,” Matt said. The odds looked to be in our favor, as Matt, from the Netherlands, would be driving roads with which he was entirely familiar. One handicap: Our Q50 was right hand drive – which was fine for me in the U.K. – but unnatural for him on European roads.

But upon unloading after the crossing, and speeding onto the A16 motorway toward Brussels, we almost immediately got into another traffic jam. Once again, we received no warning of this from the “real time traffic” function. We did, however, receive numerous false alarms for problems on other roads that either had already cleared by the time we reached them, or for apparently non-existent issues.

After sitting for quite a few minutes, I told Matt we should do as others were doing: leaving the queue and going backward on the autoroute to the last exit. Matt was a little reluctant, but finally joined in when the trickle of cars reversing turned into a torrent.

We followed signs for Paris and Reims, with the voice of the sat-nav begging once more to make a u-turn. We didn’t really know where we were going, but at least we were making good time! By now, though, it was getting dark.

After a while, we started seeing exits ahead for Brussels. We turned off, but weren’t long on that route when the navigation system started warning us of a major traffic alert ahead. It advised us to take a lengthy detour.

“Let’s assume she is wrong again, and keep going,” I said. I guessed the warning was another out-of-date one, and that at this time of night, traffic problems would be greatly reduced.

At least we ended up better off than these Italian tourists!

At least we fared better than these Italian tourists!

Despite constant – annoyingly constant – warnings to turn back, take a detour, or be prepared to sit in a queue for hours, we breezed right through. There were construction zones, and earlier in the day these areas might have been congested, but at this time of night there was hardly any traffic at all.

We made up a little time on this last stretch, but we were still hours late. The Q50 performed, aside from the sat-nav, flawlessly; but we completely lost track of our fuel economy.

As we finally rolled in to the dinner stop we were informed, sadly, the restaurant had closed a few minutes earlier at 10:30 p.m.

“Where are the others?” I asked our greeter.

“Oh,” he said, “we are very glad to see you. No one else has yet arrived.”

This was stunning news. One team had phoned the restaurant earlier and reported they would not arrive before midnight. The two other teams had not been heard from at all.

Matt and I were incredulous. We decided to celebrate at an adjacent bar, and wait for the others. No one else arrived for an hour. Then the rest straggled in. The last team arrived shortly after midnight. They told tales of being stuck near Heathrow for hours, or in the queue for the Dartford toll bridge kiosks for hours more. In France, they too became stuck on the A16 tie-up, but they waited it out. In Belgium they hit a violent rainstorm that we had missed.

“How did you guys get here so early?” they asked.

“Thankfully we stopped listening.” I said, “to that wacky sat-nav.”

Jerry Garrett

September 2, 2014

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 31, 2014

Whatever Happened To Bart Maverick?

The original Maverick Brothers! (Warner Bros)

The original Maverick Brothers! (Warner Bros)

The hit 1950s television show, “Maverick,” was back in the news recently, with the news of the death of James Garner, the charismatic actor who first rose to fame playing “Bret Maverick”.

But, for anyone at all familiar with the show, Bret had a brother Bart – both uncannily successful card sharps in the Old West. Bart was played by Jack Kelly, a droll, cerebral alternative to the playful Garner.

With the news of Garner’s death (July 19, 2014 at age 86), I wondered whatever happened to Kelly?

How shocked I was to learn that Kelly, after his acting career had wound down, had gone into politics. Doubly shocked to find out that he had served three terms as a city councilman and several years as the mayor – of the town I lived in!

Mayor Jack Kelly (Huntington Beach archives)

Mayor Jack Kelly (Huntington Beach archives)

Yes, our Mayor Kelly was that Jack Kelly! I remember him as a fairly popular local politician, although his tenure, 1980-1992, principally came during a period in between intervals that I was actually a resident. (Note to self: Pay a little closer attention to local politics.) For a time, he also owned the local newspaper. Kelly was midway through serving his third four-year term on the council in 1992, when his health started to deteriorate. He seemed to rally after open heart surgery, but a few months later suffered a stroke that finished him. He was only 65. A biographer, Linda Alexander, credits a life of hard drinking as a contributing factor to his rather early demise.

Kelly and Garner were almost the same age. Kelly, born in September 1927, was just seven months older. Although Garner originated the role of Maverick, producers quickly realized the shooting schedule was too grueling for one lead. So several episodes into the initial season, in 1957, Kelly was introduced. Although the episodes in which they appeared together, and played expertly off of each other, were some of the series’ most memorable, they usually appeared in separate episodes.

Garner bailed out on the series during its third season in 1960, in a dispute with the studio Warner Brothers. Producers attempted to fill the void with a “cousin” they created called “Beau Maverick”, played by future James Bond portrayer Roger Moore. Moore didn’t quite last to the end of the series in 1962; he walked out complaining his scripts were not up to the (surprisingly) high level of quality that Garner had enjoyed.

When the series finally signed off in April 1962, Kelly had appeared in 83 episodes, compared to 65 for Garner and just 14 for Moore.

(Warner Bros)

(Warner Bros)

Though the television program left him looking for new work, Kelly never completely left the role of Bart Maverick behind. In fact, he was still portraying him in cameo appearances up until 1991, the year before his death. In fact, he and Garner might have been playing their old roles opposite each other if a 1981 attempt to revive the Maverick franchise had been renewed. It wasn’t.

But Kelly, who was also a successful game show host for a time, had invested wisely in real estate during his salad days. Garner once quipped, “Jack owns half of Orange County.” A bit of an exaggeration, but the point was well taken. Kelly was an influential presence in Huntington Beach and his outspoken advocacy for things such as affordable housing (of which there is, sadly, no more of in Huntington Beach) eventually led him to public office.

Although a native of New York City, Kelly never lost the folksy manner he adopted as Bart Maverick; in fact, he would often draw upon metaphors of the Old West and lines from Maverick scripts in addressing some issue or other. The Los Angeles Times, in its obituary of Kelly, said he would be remembered fondly in his adopted city.

Sorry I missed sitting in on some of those council meetings.

Jerry Garrett

August 31, 2014

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | July 29, 2014

Please Note: Dodge’s Hellcat Is Not A Car

Dodge's Hellcat is not a car.

Dodge’s Hellcat is not a car.

 

Appearances can be deceiving.

Dodge’s 707-horsepower Hellcat is not a car.

It’s an engine.

It just happens that, right now, the only place you can buy one is in a $60,000 Dodge Challenger muscle car.

The introduction of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat generated a lot of press, and new buzz around the retro-themed Challenger. Rightly so. No muscle car has ever been blessed with so much horsepower.

But an engine is a module that is transportable.

So, the question is: What other installations might be possible for the Hellcat?

The "naked" Hellcat

The “naked” Hellcat

The Dodge Charger was expected to be the next recipient. A Hellcat in a Charger would make it the most powerful sedan ever built. (That would easily top the current crop of speedy sedans from the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-AMG, which all consigned to the “mere” 600-horsepower realm.)

The Los Angeles Auto Show in November would probably be an apropos venue for introducing such a car, which would carry a 2015 model year designation.

What would such a car would look like?  Very much like the 2015 Charger sedan, which was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January.

A hint this was in the cards for the Charger? Earlier in 2014, Chrysler included a “2015 Dodge Charger 6.2L SC SRT” when it participated in a third-party engine rating test with the Society of Automotive Engineers. No, the word “Hellcat” was not specifically used, the engine’s specifications match those of the Hellcat.

And what specifications they are: A 6.2-liter V8 engine with the company’s first use of a production supercharger, which results in 707 horsepower and 621 pounds-feet of torque. For a good explanation of the Hellcat’s internals and how it does what it does, check out this article on Chrysler’s media site.

(The Challenger Hellcat is not the first instance of a 700-plus horsepower version; aftermarket tuners have been installing superchargers on Hemi engines, and squeezing 700 and more horsepower out of them, since at least 2009.)

So what other installations might we speculate about, that might receive Hellcat heart transplants? Well, don’t expect one in the Viper. It doesn’t fit.

Jerry Garrett

 

 

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