Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 31, 2020

NASCAR Mid-Week Races: Here To Stay?

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Brad Keselowski wins the 2020 Coca Cola 600 (NASCAR)

NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski was asked last year, while watching another sport compete on live television during the week, how he might like NASCAR to schedule mid-week prime-time televised events, answered, “I’m ready, let’s go!”

While that may have seemed like an impossible dream a year ago, it’s now very much a reality as NASCAR is actually experimenting with some mid-week races. This an integral part of NASCAR’s “back to racing” effort to make up for events cancelled during March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic .

“I like this format a lot,” he said after a Thursday night 300-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think it makes sense. I think it makes sense to have long races on weekends and kind of shorter races, disregarding the weather, during the week.”

Keselowski was the winner of the grueling 600-mile Charlotte event that had been run the previous Sunday. Running a shorter race, at the same track a few days later, was surprisingly easy, he noted.

“It feels like I just played one half of a game, rather than a full game. It’s a lot easier, for sure,” the 36-year-old Michigan native said after finishing seventh Thursday.

NASCAR has no official comment on whether the mid-week races might become a fixture on future schedules for its cup series. Officially, the concept is “under study,” but it has yielded some attention-getting television ratings. All the races have been on Fox so far.

“I really like the format NASCAR has here,” he continued. “It’s a good give-and-take. It doesn’t just completely destroy your body, so I think NASCAR has really hit something here.”

Asked if he thought NASCAR might schedule more non-traditional mid-week races, Keselowski answered, “Oh yeah, I think absolutely. NASCAR, in my opinion, has hit gold with this format.”

It would be hard to hear a discouraging word among fellow drivers, even though racers are given no chance for traditional pre-race practice, qualifying or testing.

They show up, race and head on to the next track. An added twist is that half the field is inverted, from one start to the next, to liven the running order up a bit. For example, the winner of one race, would start 20th in the next; the 20th place finisher in one event would start on the pole for the next.

“Inversion from the week before is really good because it mixes the field up and creates some good storylines there,” Keselowski said. “I think it’s fair. It’s compelling.”

He said mid-week, live, televised racing also helps NASCAR stand out in the sports world, during the pandemic shutdown, because “everybody is hungry for content.”

He added, “I think they’ve got gold here. [Coronavirus] or not, I hope we keep this for years to come. I think this is a great little format that’s good for the sport and good for the fans and good for everybody all around. So kudos to them.”

Jerry Garrett

May 31, 2020

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Sean Connery and James Bond’s 1965 Aston Martin DB5 (NYT)

(A version of this story appeared in The New York Times, May 25, 2020)

Public interest in the 1965 Aston Martin DB5 always seems to peak whenever a new James Bond movie appears, since the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, drives one. And a new installment in the long-running movie franchise, “No Time To Die,” is due later in 2020, when 007 will ride again in a classic DB5.

As a tribute to that iconic model, Aston Martin is resurrecting the DB5, which was introduced in the 1964 movie, “Goldfinger,” starring Sean Connery.

A special production run of 25 of what are being called “Goldfinger Continuation” DB5s is being hand-crafted at the same Newport Pagnell facility, where all 898 of the originals were built between 1963 and 1965. These cars are all finished in the same Silver Birch paint scheme, the interior leather is identical color and texture, and the dashboard and gauges are as true to their original appearance as is possible. Aston Martin even called upon the special effects wizard from the Bond films, Chris Corbould, to supervise the re-creation of the Bond movie car’s fantastical gadgets.

“Aston Martin is fastidious about authenticity,” said Paul Spires, head of Aston Martin Works in an interview. “And we have gone to very considerable lengths to ensure the equipment in the Continuation cars is as faithful to that seen in the film as possible.”

He added, “Aston Martin has sourced the cockpit instrumentation from the modern successor to the same supplier who made the original instruments in the 1960s. They appear, essentially, identical.”

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In Goldfinger, the Bond DB5 was equipped with a lethal array of non-standard gadgets, to aid 007 in his crime-fighting efforts. These included oil slick sprayers, smoke screen foggers, a retractable bullet-resistant shield, a passenger ejection seat, nail-spreader, hide-away machine guns in the fenders, and telescoping battering rams.

“The main challenge has been to recreate the gadgets from the film world and transfer them into a consumer product,” explained Mr. Corbould. “We have licence in the film world to ‘cheat’ different aspects under controlled conditions. For instance, we might have four different cars to accommodate four different gadgets. We obviously don’t have that luxury on these DB5’s as all the gadgets have to work in the same car all the time.”

Work underway at Newport Pagnell

There are also concessions to the real rather than “reel” world. The ejection seat will be omitted from the Continuation cars, as no “practical” use could be identified for it. Same with the nail dumper. The oil and smoke sprayers will emit simulated substances. And the machine guns will fire something other than actual slugs.

“That would not be compliant with a very great number of laws and/or safety regulations!” Mr. Spires said. “However, the guns do appear to ‘work’ and have light bursts to indicate them ‘firing’ along with authentic gunshot sound effects amplified through speakers – for a very impressive effect.”

Most other gadgets will be updated behind their dials and exteriors, to function in the modern world.

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Everything is intended to be period-correct (AM)

“The ‘radar’ screen uses modern day satellite navigation mapping to show, as a blinking point of light in the centre of the screen, the position of the car at any given time,” Mr. Spires continued. The original just had a non-moving map of seven southern England counties affixed to it. “It mimics the functionality of the car’s screen in the film. Work is still ongoing on the phone functionality, and we will provide more detail to owners in due course.”

Although the corded handset in the movie car appeared ground-breaking, the carphone was invented in 1946, and unlike the DB5’s phone, actual car phones back then could make actual calls. Bond’s phone had no dial!

The most noticeable difference between the Continuation cars and the originals is the price. A base model 1965 DB5 cost a then-pricey $12,850. The Continuation cars were offered for $3.5 million each. Despite that rather daunting price, and some tough sledding in the luxury car market of late, Aston Martin reports all 25 were pre-sold. All are in the process of being built at this writing, a company spokesman said, and they are expected to be delivered to their owners in the coming months.

In either case, the Continuation cars are a veritable bargain compared to the actual Bond DB5, which sold at an RM Sotheby’s Monterey, Calif., auction last August for $6,385,000.

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007’s DB5 patrolling the Scottish Highlands

Aston Martin’s continuation cars may be the most ambitious of several such projects to have been undertaken by auto manufacturers to date. Four years ago, Land Rover embarked upon a project to refurbish a handful of their original Series I sports utility vehicles, which first appeared in 1948. Jaguar has also built XJSS, E-Type Lightweight and D-Type continuations, hand-crafted – like the Aston Martins – from original blueprints. Ford has licensed third parties who offer complete 1965-66 Mustangs, as well as 1930s Model As and other models.

Bentley is also planning a production run of a dozen 1929 “Blower Bentley” continuation models – which has elicited letters of protest from the owners of the four originals still extant (including fashion designer Ralph Lauren). They complain the value of their ownership will be diluted by replicas – even if they are authentic Bentley reproductions.

Controversy aside, the continuation models, like the DB5s, are not actually even road legal; technically, they must be labelled current-year models – the DB5s are 2020s – and as such they fail to meet modern-day safety and emissions regulations.

So, what buyers of these continuation cars will do with them remains an open question. They’re almost too valuable to drive.

Aston Martin, at least, also offers a possible garaging solution:

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Aston Martin Residences in Miami

Jerry Garrett

May 25, 2020

 

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McQueen, McGraw finally make their getaway

 

HOLLYWOOD

At the end of the 1972 movie, “The Getaway“, the lead character Doc McCoy, played by Steve McQueen, and his wife Carol, played by Ali McGraw, drive off down a lonely road in Juarez, Mexico, headed for Chihuahua.

They’ve made it; they pulled off a lucrative bank heist, hijacked an old pickup truck, crossed the border with it from El Paso into Mexico. And the implication is Doc and his wife will go down that road and never be seen again.

Who knew that eight years later, the real-life Steve McQueen would really disappear – literally – down that same road?

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Original lobby poster for “The Getaway”

When he made that hit film, with legendary director Sam Peckinpah, McQueen was – at 42 – the biggest star in Hollywood. He would marry his sultry co-star McGraw the next year. And he could pick and choose what films he wanted to make. His horizon seemed as limitless as the Juarez skyline.

Mostly, McQueen chose to do nothing; he turned down the part that went to Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, the role that went to Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now”, the lead in “Dirty Harry” – the Clint Eastwood classic, Gene Hackman’s character in “The French Connection”, and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. He turned down a personal appeal from Steven Spielberg for that one.

Aside from the obvious career blunders, McQueen’s life fell apart in other areas. He and McGraw quarreled and split up within a few years. He mostly stayed away from the movie world; he became reclusive overall. He mostly wanted to race cars and motorcycles. Once a health and fitness nut, he then drank and used drugs heavily, according to published reports. And his health started to crumble.

As McQueen came to learn later, he had come down with a rare kind of lung cancer – mesothelioma – believed to be caused by asbestos exposure. The only places in his life where he could recall being around asbestos was on ships during his stint in the U.S. Navy, movie sets, and in processing fire retardant coatings for his racing uniforms.

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McQueen at the end

No matter, mesothelioma was – and is – a death sentence. It has no known cure – although McQueen resolved to try to find one. One of the avenues down which he searched was in Mexico, where controversial doctors promised “unconventional” new miracle treatments. The treatments were costly – and they failed.

That brings us again to Juarez, in late October 1980, where McQueen – his body covered with cancerous tumors – made one final trip down that lonesome highway. This time for a desperate, dangerous, last-ditch surgical procedure.

His personal “Getaway” got no farther than Juarez. He was never seen alive again. His death certificate said “heart failure”. His body was cremated; his ashes scattered at sea.

Re-watching “The Getaway” since then has put a whole new meaning on that last scene.

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 6.01.50 PM(Editor’s Note: Watch the final three minutes here.)

Jerry Garrett

May 8, 2020

 

 

 

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Danny Thompson (photo credit) & crew, 448.75 m.p.h., August 2018

 

WENDOVER, Utah

Once upon a time, in the annals of automotive history, the men – and some women – who raced for land speed records were considered gods.

Anymore, however, I wonder who gives a damn?

Oldfield, Lockhart, Cobb, Campbell, Segrave, Eyston, Jenkins, Arfons, Breedlove, Gabelich? How many people today even know who they are?

I do. I grew up on a diet of horsepower. I had a checkered flag in my crib. The first smell I remembered was racing fuel. My first road trip was to the Bonneville Salt Flats. In a stroller.

So it was with a large measure of sadness that I watched the Challenger 2 land speed record streamliner being auctioned off earlier this year at a Mecum event in Florida. Danny Thompson had established the wheel-driven, piston-engine land speed record of 448.75 m.p.h. with that blue beauty at the Bonneville Salt Flats in August 2018.

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Danny Thompson

There is actually quite a back story here. I don’t know if I can do it justice. But I want to try. My apologies to longtime friend Danny Thompson in advance for what I get wrong.

Danny’s father, the so-called “Speed King”, Mickey Thompson, achieved international fame in 1960, when he became the first American to break the 400-m.p.h. barrier; he drove the same car, called Challenger 1 back then and propelled by four blown Pontiac V8s, to a one-way top speed of 406.60 m.p.h. at Bonneville. That surpassed “The Fastest Man Alive” John Cobb’s one-way mark of 402 m.p.h., set at the salt flats in 1947.

Thompson was the first American driver to break 400. But it was not officially recognized in the record books, because a back-up run at similar speeds in the opposite direction required to set a record, was aborted by mechanical difficulties. He had plans to do return and finish the job, especially when Craig Breedlove went faster three years later.

It wasn’t until 1968, however, that Mickey made it back to Bonneville in 1968 with a new twin-engine Challenger II, but rain kept him from running. A loss of sponsorship canceled any 1969 return to the salt.

“In 1968, my dad, the mad scientists at Kar Kraft and an elite group of Southern California gearheads created a vehicle that they believed had the potential to become the world’s fastest hot rod,” Danny recalled, of the demoralizing wash-out.

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A dejected Mickey Thompson at rainy Bonneville, 1968

But Mickey got busy with other things, like racing at the Indianapolis 500, the Baja 1000, drag racing, and a variety of other projects. When he was murdered in 1988, Danny inherited his father’s myriad unfinished businesses and projects.

The one project that maintained his interest, down through the years, was resurrecting the Challenger. He replaced the Challenger’s Ford 427 engines with a pair of Dodge Hemi V8 powerplants, and started the laborious and costly eight-year effort to put all the rest of the 50-year-old components together for an unlikely record run. He hoped for a sponsor to help defray the mounting costs, but when none materialized, Danny, who turned 69 in 2018, pressed on – borrowing money, and living off his monthly Social Security checks.

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Up early to run in optimal conditions

But on a perfect day in the summer of 2018, it all came together for Thompson at Bonneville. Despite some hair-raising fishtailing crossing the 430 m.p.h. barrier, Danny sped through the “flying mile” speed traps at a record clip. The next day, he backed it up.

“It took five decades, a lot of elbow grease, and a few modifications, but I feel like I’ve finally been able to fulfill their dream, as well as my own,” Danny added with a nod to his persistent crew, after his record run.

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“We did it”

“We did it!” he wrote on the team’s website. “On Sunday morning, eight years of hard work culminated in a 450.909 m.p.h. return run. Averaged with yesterday’s speed of 446.605 mph, we achieved a new two-way AA/FS record of 448.757 m.p.h., enough to make us the world’s fastest piston-powered car.”

The story should wrap up there, with a happy ending for realizing a life-long dream.

But it didn’t.

What did Danny Thompson’s achievement net him? Fame? Fortune? A sponsor?

“A hat,” he wisecracked. He also received two cash register receipt-sized pieces of paper with the official printout of his record runs. And that was about it.A0D66471-31DE-4A4B-8986-E1D97F670FE1

“I made the biggest mistake you can make in motorsports,” he continued. “I borrowed money to go racing.”

Then, to pay his creditors, he had to sell the car. It was offered up at the Mecum auction, in early January. He hoped it would fetch up to $1.5 million.

It didn’t. It fell far short of even the reserve price of $900,000 that Danny had calculated as the minimum he would take. He had a tough decision to make when bidding stalled out at barely a half million. A prospective bidder wondered whether Thompson would throw in the Challenger’s trailer, and even the pickup used to pull it.

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Challenger 2 on the Mecum auction block

When Thompson reluctantly agreed, the sale was completed at a hammer price of $510,000, less the buyer-paid sales commission. He professed relief.

“I’ve got debts to pay off,” he sighed. “We’ve been living on Social Security; my wife hasn’t had a reliable car to drive, and we just need to close the books on it.”

Danny Thompson deserved more. Much more. It was the feat of a lifetime for Danny, who often struggled under his flamboyant father’s fame for the recognition he deserved as an accomplished racer in his own right.

But the feat not only didn’t last for a lifetime. It lasted barely a month; Team Vesco’s Turbinator II streamliner turned in a record run at 483 m.p.h. In October of that year, the Turbinator ran an astonishing 503 m.p.h. – although it couldn’t complete a return run to establish the record. (Another attempt in 2019 was rained out; the 2020 season is threatened by a worldwide pandemic.)

The Vesco family, like the Thompson family, had been working up to the record for decades. They were out here in the days I would stand in the seat of my dad’s ’32 Ford “highboy roadster” waiting our turn in the timing lights.

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Danny Thompson at speed

The crowds are small, the sun, wind and rain beat down on you, The expenses mount up, and you begin to wonder, “Does anyone but us still care?”

Yes, for us die-hards. It does matter. When it all comes together, it’s worth every bit of it.

It’s magic.

Jerry Garrett

April 6, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 10, 2020

Bullitt Mustang Auctioned Off For Record $3.74 Million

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“Hammer price” of $3.4 million came to $3.74 million with fees

KISSIMMEE, Florida

The “Mona Lisa of Mustangs,” the Highland Green 1968 GT fastback driven by Steve McQueen in the legendary chase scene in the movie “Bullitt,” sold Friday for a record $3.74 million at a Mecum auction event here.

“It’s a record auction price for any Mustang ever sold,” said Dana Mecum, the auction house’s principal. “It is the Mona Lisa of Mustangs.” He added the final transaction price was about 25 percent higher than his pre-sale estimate had been.

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Massive, SRO crowd at Osceola Heritage Park (David Newhardt)

“Holy smokes!” said seller Sean Kiernan, a Kentucky horse farmer, whose family bought the car in 1974, in response to a classified ad in Road & Track magazine. “This has been in my family for 45 years. It’s only been sold twice before – for $3,500 each time it sold. That’s what my dad bought it for, so that’s what we started the auction off at. And it went from there.”

Kiernan was offering the all original, rusty, banged-up “pony car” for sale with no reserve.

If it seemed like a gamble to offer it on that basis, the concerns were soon dispelled, as bidding quickly climbed to $2.5 million, then slowly after that to its final “hammer” price, before sales commission and other fees were added. Three bidders who telephoned in their bids slugged it out for the right to own arguably the most iconic Mustang of all time.

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Who bought it? Who knows.

The identity of the winning bidder was not immediately disclosed. Mecum said he had no idea what the new owner intended to do with the car. “It’s possible that it may never been seen in public again,” Mecum said.

Kiernan, who said his decision to sell was at least partially motivated by concerns over his family’s medical bills, noted that he was unconcerned what happens next to his family’s beloved grocery-getter.

“I feel really good,” Kiernan said. “It topped every expectation I had for it. That will be a number that will be in the record books for a long time.”

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Seller Sean Kiernan gets congratulations (Matt Avery)

More than 10 million Mustangs have been produced since the model’s introduction in 1964. By the way, the average value for a ’68 Mustang – in good condition – is about $40,000, according to the Hagerty Price Guide.

But in this case, the value was turbocharged by McQueen himself, who along with three other professional stuntmen, piloted the car in the 10-minute chase sequence through the hilly streets of San Francisco. McQueen crunched the left front fender when he plowed, unscripted, into a parked car during filming. The fender still bears the scars. (The shot stayed in the movie, along with another gaffe, when he missed a turn and had to back up.)

Kiernan’s father happily bought the car with all the dings and dents that were left unrepaired after the movie wrapped. “He just wanted a ’68 fastback,” Sean Kiernan explained.

It also still sported a spate of performance modifications that McQueen had commissioned, to help its 390-cubic inch V8 keep up with a more powerful 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 that it dueled with in the chase.Screen Shot 2020-01-09 at 3.33.30 PM

McQueen, who died of cancer in 1980, tried to re-acquire the car; in 1977, he tracked the Bob Kiernan down and wrote him a plaintive personal letter, pleading to buy it back. But the family retained it and used it as an errand-runner until its clutch gave out a few years later. It had mostly been in storage, and out of public view, since then.

Its recent “discovery” had initiated a groundswell of interest in the collecting car world. Ford Motor Company had proudly put the car on display the past year or so, alongside modern “Bullitt Mustang” homage models it had produced, that were inspired by the original.

An example of the “McQueen factor” in pushing the battered half-century-old Mustang’s sales price to record levels came a few lots after the Bullitt “hero car”was sold: That’s when the actual 1957 Plymouth Fury from the movie “Christine” was rolled onto the auction stage. This is a bonafide star car, in its own right. But bidding only made it to $250,000 for the immaculate red convertible, before the owner gave up and decided to cancel the sale.

Jerry Garrett

January 10, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McQueen himself, along with three other professional stuntmen, had piloted the car in the 10-minute chase sequence through the hilly streets of San Francisco. McQueen crunched the left front fender when he plowed, unscripted, into a parked car during filming. The fender still bears the scars.

 

Kiernan’s father happily bought the car with all the dings and dents that were left unrepaired after the movie wrapped. “He just wanted a ’68 fastback,” Sean Kiernan explained.

 

It still featured a spate of performance modifications that McQueen commissioned, to help its 390-cubic inch V8 keep up with a more powerful 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 that it dueled with in the chase.

 

McQueen, who died of cancer in 1980, tried to re-acquire the car in 1977, when he tracked the Bob Kiernan down. Despite a personal letter from McQueen, pleading for Kiernan to sell it, the family retained it and used it as an errand-runner until its clutch gave out a few years later. It had mostly been in storage, and out of public view, since then.

 

Its recent “discovery” had initiated a groundswell of interest in the collecting car world. Ford Motor Company had proudly put the car on display the past year or so, alongside modern “Bullitt Mustang” homage models it had produced, that were inspired by the original.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 9, 2020

Were There THREE Bullitt Mustangs? THREE Dodge Chargers?

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Together Forever (Warner Bros.)

HOLLYWOOD

In the celebrated 10-minute car chase in the 1968 movie, “Bullitt”, it has been generally accepted that two Ford Mustang fastbacks and two Dodge Charger R/Ts were used – and used up – in the filming.Screen Shot 2020-01-09 at 3.33.30 PM

In the 50 years since, car collectors and the legions of fans of the cult-fave movie, and its star Steve McQueen, have been trying to figure out what happened to those cars. Even McQueen himself tried to track down one of the Mustangs, in the years prior to his death from mesothelioma-caused lung cancer in 1980.

Initially, it seemed as though the cars were junked. But information has come out in recent years that at least a couple may still be around. And it has also come out that more of them once existed than previously known.

In fact, a stuntman who worked on the movie, Loren Janes, said in a 2011 interview that there were originally three Mustangs and three Chargers purchased for the filming of the legendary chase.

“We had three identical green 1968 Ford Mustang fastbacks and three black Dodge Chargers in the movie,” Janes told Marc Myers, a Wall Street Journal reporter. “Many writers have said two, but there were three of each. We needed the extra cars in case one was damaged. The movie’s shooting schedule can’t be slowed for dents and things like that.”

Janes, the last living Bullitt stuntman, died in 2017 at age 85. He told Myers that he, McQueen and Bud Ekins, who died in 2007, took turns driving the Mustangs (Ekins also had duty crashing a motorcycle in the sequence); Bill Hickman, who passed in 1986, drove the Chargers.

“Fortunately we only had to use a second Mustang once when the first Mustang had to go in to be fixed up,” Janes recalled.

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Loren Janes at the wheel of Bullitt No. 2

So, that means there was a third Mustang that was never used?

Janes said that was his understanding. “Ford Motor Company had supplied them,” he said. “There were three of them. The second one didn’t get wrecked, so the third one didn’t have to be used.”

McQueen’s company, Solar Productions, sold two of the Mustangs, according to recollections of others and paperwork that has survived. But there is no other information on a third Mustang.

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Ekins slides motorcycle past Hickman (Charger) & Janes

A heavily damaged Mustang turned up, incredibly, in a Mexican junkyard a few years ago. It was verified by its serial number on Solar paperwork. Someone acquired it who promised to restore it.

The best-known vehicle in the chase sequence was the so-called “hero car” driven by McQueen. It had largely disappeared until recently, when a Kentucky horse farmer revealed he had it – having inherited it from his father, who had acquired it (via a Road & Track magazine classified ad) in 1974.

That’s the Bullitt Mustang auctioned by Mecum on Jan. 10.

What about the Chargers? Janes believed two of the Chargers were junked; there’s no doubt at least one of them was: It was intentionally blown up in a gas station at the end of the chase sequence.

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Here’s hoping they took the CDW option.

In 2013, a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440, purported to be one of those used in the movie, turned up on the Bring-A-Trailer online auction site (asking price: $1 million). The seller, Arnold Welch, claimed he found it in rough condition in Arizona about a decade ago. It was partially authenticated by production photos that showed cameras had been mounted in spots that this Charger had holes, or repaired holes, under the carpets, in door panels, and in the trunk.

It is harder to determine the provenance of the Chargers, because it doesn’t seem like anyone kept track of their vehicle identification numbers (VINs), as had been done with two of the Mustangs.

Anecdotally, the real Bullitt Chargers all may have been purchased by Hickman from a Dodge dealer in Glendale, California. One was blue (blown up in the gas station), another was yellow; both were re-painted black. Was the mysterious third one black already? Not sure.

The yellow Charger apparently was repainted yellow; it reportedly ended up going back to the dealership it originally came from, and was sold to an unsuspecting customer. That’s the car – painted a third time in gold – that supposedly ended up in Arizona.

The unrestored Mustang hero car and the restored Arizona Charger were invited to appear together at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2018, which turned out to be a rather cool photo op, even if the cars were never driven as fast as they had been in the film.

So, that leaves the car collecting community to wonder: Is there another “Bullitt” Mustang somewhere out there? If there is, it might be difficult to prove its authenticity; no one seems to have a record of its serial number.

Jerry Garrett

January 9, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 1, 2019

Indianapolis Motor Speedway: A Question of Stewardship

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway: 660+ acres

INDIANAPOLIS

So the family business that owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is selling it, at this time, over its stated concern about “stewardship”. The dictionary definition of that term is “overseeing and protecting something considered worth caring for and preserving.” The speedway certainly fits that description.

But what has the concept of “stewardship” looked like, over the 110 years the speedway has been in existence? The burden of running the place has previously been borne on the shoulders of young, ambitious men.

To wit:

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Carl Fisher

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Eddie Rickenbacker

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Tony Hulman

Carl Fisher was 35 when he opened the speedway, He owned it 18 years, until he was 53.

Eddie Rickenbacker was 37 when he bought the property from Fisher. Rickenbacker kept it for 19 years, until he was 56.

In 1945, when he was 44, Tony Hulman bought it. He kept it going until his death in 1977, at age 76, at which time it passed to his heirs. All told, the Hulman George family held on to the speedway for 75 years.

Enter Roger Penske, who is 82.

In passing the torch of leadership to a new owner, Tony George, head of the Hulman George ownership group, says the question of “stewardship” going forward is now settled.

Really?

For how long? Something to think about.

Jerry Garrett

December 1, 2019

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 9, 2019

Infiniti, the Luxury Brand, Celebrates Its 30th Birthday

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The first Infiniti, the Q45, went on sale 30 years ago today

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona

Infiniti, the luxury brand of the Japanese automaker Nissan, celebrated its 30th birthday here, with look back at its past, a summation of its present state, and a glimpse into its future.

“It was November 8, 1989 that Infiniti was born,” said Mike Colleran, its global leader. “Today is the day the brand opened its showroom doors and sold the first Q45.”

Colleran, who just took over the reins at Infiniti earlier this year, said he was working for another automaker then. “I wasn’t exactly sure what Infiniti was,” he noted, “but I was pretty sure they were spelling it wrong.”

Infiniti was intended to re-define the concept of automotive luxury, but frankly, Infiniti couldn’t even really define itself back then.

An advertising campaign meant to grab attention was instead roundly mocked for showing images of flowing water, raindrops, plants and birds – but not the car itself.

“We still hear about those ads,” Colleran said. “But they must have worked, because people are still talking about them 30 years later.”

The Q45’s simple styling also came in for some criticism as bland, generic and odd – particularly in regards to its grille-less front end treatment. It was rather hurriedly redesigned to include a grille – although it had no purpose (most grilles at the time facilitated engine cooling, but the Q45 was designed not to need that).

Its 4.5-liter V8 should have been a selling point, especially since its 278-horsepower output made it the fastest sedan on the market at the time. But the company decided it was too powerful, and dialed back its performance in subsequent models.

For a time, Infiniti seemed to struggle to find its niche, even as Lexus, the Toyota luxury equivalent, had been launched at the same time to immediate success.

The model line was slowly fleshed out with smaller M-Class siblings, and the QX4 sports utility vehicle (a gussied-up Nissan Pathfinder). And little by little, Infiniti caught on.

Today, Infiniti has strengthened its identity, and distinguished itself further apart from Nissan. Its sedans and sports coupes are known for their sleek styling, powerful performance and refined luxury. Their SUVs pack power and all-terrain capability into a commanding road presence. Technologically, Infiniti separates itself from its competitors with innovations such as its unique variable-compression ratio engine, which maximizes performance and fuel economy as needed.

The company, however, seems to be in constant motion – it moved its global headquarters to Hong Kong under one leader, but now is moving it back to Yokohama under another. It tries to distance itself from Nissan, only to realize the synergies that are beneficial with closer integration. It launched in markets, like Europe, it has now withdrawn from.

For the foreseeable future, Infiniti sees its strengths in North America, the Middle East and China.

For the future, Infiniti faces more change and re-definition.

Colleran said electrification will transform Infiniti in the near future, into a brand that leverages hybrid gasoline and electric technologies.

In showing off some of the future concepts Infiniti is considering, it was pointed out the electric vehicles don’t have front grilles – just like the original Q45.

Maybe, like the strange ads that people haven’t forgotten, Infiniti was on to something.

Jerry Garrett

November 8, 2019

 

 

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS Museum)

INDIANAPOLIS

Roger Penske, the former racer turned billionaire entrepreneur, stunned the sporting world today when

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Roger Penske

he bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IndyCar Racing series, which includes the famed Indianapolis 500-mile race, and related businesses.

The purchase price was not announced.

The speedway, the famed “Brickyard”, had been owned since 1946 by the family of Anton “Tony” Hulman, a Terre Haute, Indiana, businessman who rescued the dormant property after World War II. The Hulmans, and later the George family which is related by marriage, have also been involved in sanctioning the IndyCar Racing series since the 1990s. The Hulman heirs recently sold the family’s other core business, Clabber Girl Baking Powder, for $80 million.

Penske, 82, developed an interest in sports car racing as a young man in the 1960s, and made quite a name for himself, winning races and a championship in 1962. But he suddenly retired from his promising driving career – his invitation to race at Indy was taken instead by a young Mario Andretti – to operate the business end of his racing pursuits.

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Penske at speed, 1962

From there, Penske built a racing empire that has enjoyed unparalleled success; today Team Penske includes competitors in IndyCar Racing, NASCAR, sports cars and even Australian stock cars. In the 1970s, he even fielded a rare American entry in Formula 1.

He also acquired stakes in Hertz truck rental (now Penske truck rental), a vast auto dealership group, Detroit Diesel, and, at one time, a collection of speedways – in Michigan, California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania – which he sold in 1999 to International Speedway Corp. He has served as a director and/or board member of General Electric, The Home Depot, and Delphi Automotive, to name but a few hats he has worn in his business career.

A native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, got his start in business selling aluminum chicken coop roofs.

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Receiving presidential medal

Most recently, Penske was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Despite his steady climb to success in the business world, Penske never lost his love for racing, and he could dependably be found most every weekend calling the shots on his IndyCar and NASCAR teams from the pits.

But with his purchase of the Brickyard, Penske says those days are ending. “I will personally walk the facility tomorrow morning,” he said at a news conference at the speedway, announcing his purchase. “I will sit down with current leadership and get a top-10 to do list, and get to work.”

Although Penske’s announcement took even some in speedway management by surprise – I thought, “It’s too early for April Fool’s” said one when he first heard the news this morning – there had been rumors the speedway might change hands since the death of Hulman’s daughter, Mari George exactly one year ago. Her son Tony George had been actively involved in speedway and racing series management off and on the past 25 years – a turbulent time in the sport.

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Penske driver Simon Pagenaud wins 2019 Indy 500 (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Penske said he was committed to keeping and nurturing the core events at the speedway, including the 108-year-old 500-mile race, and the newer Brickyard 400 for NASCAR cars. But he was also open to exploring new racing opportunities, and perhaps even bringing back Formula 1 cars. The speedway underwent a $30 million upgrade to add a Formula 1 road course two decades ago.

“Hopefully I have enough credibility with everyone to understand that this is not a conflict,” Penske said of his continuing interest in entering his racing teams at Indy, where he had won a record 18 500s. “If there is, I know you guys will tell me pretty quick.”

Jerry Garrett

November 4, 2019

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 23, 2019

Driving My Mercedes To Italy – The End Of The Road

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My classic Mercedes-Benz 450SL in Italy

VENTIMIGLIA, Italy

Two years ago, I shipped my 1973 Mercedes-Benz 450SL from Las Vegas to Italy. The whole process took months – almost five weeks longer than I expected. I chronicled the journey daily in a series of more than 30 blog posts (starting here).

The original idea had been for it to arrive by late May for the Monaco Grand Prix, the ultimate place to show and shine. It didn’t show up until mid-June. I stopped writing about it, after picking it up at the port of Genoa and driving it 110 miles home. It ran flawlessly.

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Sitting at the port of Genoa customs depot

So then what happened? (Thanks for asking!)

Plan B was just to drive it around the Italian and French Rivieras and enjoy it as much as possible, even though the original motivation (i.e., Monaco posing) for going through this rather expensive and laborious process was gone. In the back of my mind, I had been hoping I could sell it to some rich racing fan or Monagasque millionaire.

The car was perfect for a Riviera poseur; it was a flashy bright red, with black leather interior and in very nice shape for its age. It evoked scenes in my mind of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly driving around the same roads in 1954 in a Sunbeam Alpine convertible for the movie “To Catch A Thief”.

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Screen grab: My Riviera dream, like Grace Kelly & Cary Grant

But my fairy tale was not as enduring.

Ventimiglia is only eight miles down the beach from Monaco. I was worried about the corrosive damage of salt air. So, I rented a space in a two-place garage in the basement of the building where I was living. The property manager assured me that the other space in that garage belonged to a neighbor who “only comes once a year, in August, for a few days.” (Beware of Italians who exaggerate – which is all of them!)

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Space Invaders?

Of course, as it turned out the neighbor was around much more than that. All summer, in fact. And he complained – in an anguished note left on my windshield – that my little Mercedes was “troppo largo”. Compared to say a Fiat 500, okay, the Mercedes is rather huge.

Although I moved my car as close to the wall as I could, and worked with the property manager to paint a blue line down the middle of the garage to delineate our respective spaces, that was not good enough for the neighbor. He (or she) continued to complain to the manager, even though I never saw him (or her) or their car.

I didn’t know what else I could do. I tried ignoring the unpleasant situation.

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On my side of the blue line

A short while later, the Mercedes started running oddly. Black or brown smoke trailed from it, at times. It became harder and harder to start, until it finally wouldn’t. The garage was too cold and too dark to do any work on the car. Getting a battery charger to it was a chore. I tried pushing it out of the garage to the street, but it was a nightmare negotiating such a heavy car (with no power steering) out of the tight basement and up the ramp. Outside, it was almost impossible to work on, parked on the street. Street parking is vigilantly regulated, and now it was also exposed to the dreaded elements.

Knowing something about cars mechanically, I nevertheless tried to troubleshoot it. With only a few tools, I cleaned the fuel lines, and ordered a new fuel pump and fuel filter online – because it didn’t seem like fuel was getting from the tank to the engine. All that helped me get it started long enough to get it around the corner, into a parking spot, off the street. But it went no farther.

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“Il motore è morto”

In Italy, if there’s an off-street parking spot, you can bet somebody claims to own it. And someone did. It took quite a bit of negotiating, and several translators to get the owner (who didn’t actually even own a car) to agree to let me leave the car until I could find a mechanic to help me get it running again.

That proved to be a tough task. First, this was Italy, not Germany, and virtually no one works on Mercedes in Italy. (Mercedes parts are equally tough to find, especially for classics). Second, good luck finding anyone still active as a mechanic who works on 45-year-old cars of any kind; vintage cars are a very rare luxury in Italy. Third, if you could find a mechanic – which I did! – the logistics of getting it there would prove too much.

The mechanic had a shop in Monaco. Although only eight miles away, it would take three tow trucks, stopping, unloading and loading with a carefully choreographed rendevous at each border to get it there. Plus, there are language barriers as formible as the physical ones. And, anything that involves Monaco is going to be a big-ticket tab.

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“Nessun parcheggio qui”

I explored the idea of just shipping it back home; but, surprise, surprise, the cost of shipping it back was three times what it cost to ship to Italy in the first place.

“There is a lot more stuff coming from Italy to the U.S. than vice versa,” said the shipping supervisor. “We can bring cargo back much more cheaply, because the U.S. doesn’t ship as much out of the country anymore.” (Thanks Trump?)

With my year in Italy rapidly coming to a close, and no solution in sight, I was becoming desperate. I was about ready to leave the keys in it, with the doors unlocked and a note on the windshield, “Free to a good home.” (Insurance fraud was suggested to me, but I couldn’t go through with such a thing!) I was leaving for America in a matter of days.

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Ready to be abandoned, under the parasol pines

But then a friend in the classic car auction business came to my rescue. He lived in northern Italy, near Milan.

“I will send someone to pick it up,” he said. “We will get it running, and offer it for sale at one of our auctions, and give your proceeds to you after we take out our commission, and the cost of any repairs.”

Of course, I gratefully said, “Si, grazie mille!”

I left the keys with my property manager and departed.

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Last look: Farewell, My Lovely

The problems were not solved. Weeks passed before anyone could pick it up. I wondered if it was still there. My friend finally contacted me with quite a bit of complicated paperwork that needed to be completed before he could sell it. More time passed.

“We cannot make the car run,” he notified me, some months later. “Do you have any idea what has happened to it?”

My hunch had always been that the neighbor had done something to it. But there was no evidence; I couldn’t prove anything.

“Maybe someone has put something in the gas tank?” I suggested.

“Sabbotaggio?” he answered incredulously. I told him the story, and he said he would check.

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Heading to an uncertain fate

More months went by, and finally the friend contacted me and said the car still could not be started. But he had found a buyer. The man was from Germany and he thought he could fix it; he had spare parts that he could try – including a new gas tank, which he figured was the culprit.

Good news, all things considered, but the bad news was the amount of money I would gain was basically the price of my beloved classic rendered as scrap.

This was a better deal than abandoning it, for sure. So I took the money. The story ends.

Lesson learned? Ship only myself to Italy from now on!

(P.S. I never heard if the car ever got running again.)

Jerry Garrett

October 22, 2019

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 20, 2019

“Armchair Archaeology” To Infiniti And Beyond

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The ruins of Petra, a city carved into the rocks. (Jerry Garrett Photos)

PETRA, Jordan

Petra is an area of spectacular ruins of a 4,000-year-old civilization that has since vanished. It has been designated as one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world. Archaeologists have been swarming over the area for nearly 200 years, since its re-discovery by the outside world, trying to unlock its mysteries and unearth its lost secrets.

Archaeologists now believe they have already discovered most everything there is to find at Petra; the last major find came in the 1990s. The site also has been heavily looted, over the centuries since its original inhabitants cleared out.

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Ancient Petra at right, modern Petra left background

But we think we may have found something, even though none of us has ever set foot here before.

“We” is a small group of explorers, adventurers and a noted archaeologist invited here by Infiniti, the luxury car maker. Infiniti’s interest in activities like this comes from an enthusiastic bunch of its executives, who belong to The Explorers Club, a society formed in 1904 to further responsible scientific exploration and field study. Explorers of historical note include the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Prince Albert of Monaco, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Sir Edmund Hillary, Charles Lindbergh and Indiana Jones (just kidding about that last one, but you get the idea).

The Infiniti folks think their vehicles are an especially good fit for explorers, or wannabes like our group, with a sense of adventure. Last year, Infiniti sponsored an expedition to Mongolia’s Gobi Desert to look for dinosaur bones (which they found). This does not seem like an unreasonable niche for Infiniti’s 4-wheel-drive vehicles like its QX50 and QX80 SUVs.

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Exploring in style

Our group has something of an ace in the hole: Archaeologist Dr. Sarah Parcak, a National Geographic Explorer from the University of Alabama-Birmingham (alma mater of Infiniti exec Trevor Hale), who is pioneering a new field of study using satellite images to scour historic sites for overlooked treasures. She is the author of a new book on the subject, “Archaeology From Space”.

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An archaeologist’s satellite “treasure map”

Dr. Parcak thinks she has spotted something, via satellite images, in the hills away from Petra’s tourist-infested, combed over main archaeological sites. Something that may have eluded notice by earlier explorers because of its relative inaccessibility.

“It may be a temple, it may be nothing,” Dr. Parcak says. “But the satellite images show some kind of area of interest.”

“It has right angles, and archaeologists know right angles like that don’t occur naturally,” Mr. Hale notes.

As we trek past the world-famous tombs and ruins carved into Petra’s distinctive red rock cliffs, the temperature is increasing rapidly toward a forecast high of 105.

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Up early, sharing the commute with local traffic.

Good thing we started before dawn. Now, only a handful of tourists are present, but later, the hordes will arrive – on foot, on horses, mules, camels and quads.

The SUVs were only allowed to bring us to within about two miles of our goal; the site is heavily regulated these days, to protect what few artifacts besides the empty structures remain.

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Open concept: Caves, thousands of years old, still lived in.

We hike up and down rugged hills which are crisscrossed with trails traversed by modern Bedouin tribesmen and their donkeys. As remote as this location is, in one of the most foreboding deserts on Earth, there is a disturbing amount of trash: plastic bottles, aluminum cans, snack wrappers and the like. Maybe we aren’t the first visitors.

Despite the arid, treeless terrain, people still live in these rocks – in caves and cliff dwellings they’ve carved out. They eye us suspiciously, as they make small fires with twigs to heat up samovars for morning tea.

This is a tough climb for an automotive journalist, who is usually hard-pressed to hike from one free buffet to the next. But, after an hour, exhausted, we reach the site Dr. Parcak is seeing in person for the first time. It is on a hilltop, raked by parching desert winds.

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Foundations remain of a temple thousands of years old.

“Yes, this could have been a small temple of some kind,” she says with a sense of accomplishment. She takes measurements, and makes notes. An extensive stone floor is visible, but whatever walls and roof there might have been seem to be long gone. “There were pillars,” she points out. It appears remnants of at least two of them are still around.

The nomadic Nabataen people probably built this place between 2,000-4,000 years ago. They’re long gone – probably conquered by and assimilated into legions of Greco-Roman invaders – but they’ve left a rich archaeological history in Jordan, and Saudi Arabia (we are just a few miles from the border) to explore and learn from. Archaeologists consider the Nabataens “one of the most gifted people of the ancient world.”

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Dr. Sarah Parcak surveys the site.

Dr. Parcak’s work has just begun here, as she will map and catalog everything she can identify in the area. She and others are likely to return and continue their work on later expeditions, now that she has confirmed something of historical value has been located. I found a small pottery shard, which might be a Nabataen artifact thousands of years old, or just a piece of a broken Bedouin clay pot from last week.

Except for Dr. Parcak, the adventure is ending for the rest of our group, as our goal has been attained. We are lucky; generations of archaeologists may scour this area without finding anything of historical interest. We came, we saw, we left in air-conditioned vehicles.

It was one of the more interesting adventures I can recall for people in our profession, who usually are usually entertained with fuel mileage calculations, 0-60 times, and skid pad g-forces. This is an intriguing new idea for positioning Infiniti in a genre that might have once been the sole purview of long-storied off-roaders like Land Rover.

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Treasure? Or trash?

(The vehicles we used here have been souped up for the Middle Eastern market, where they are driven at higher speeds, on miserable roads, in brutal heat and through sandstorms of Biblical proportions.)

It feels like cheating, in a way, to use satellites, apps like Google Earth, airplanes and drones to do some of the hard work of identifying lost sites, and sophisticated vehicles like the posh QX80 to get to them. But Dr. Parcak says it opens the scientific community to whole new possibilities of discovery.

“Armchair archaeology” some people call it. I say, “To Infiniti and beyond!”

Jerry Garrett

October 20, 2019

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 19, 2019

Jeep Gladiator – Automatic or Manual ?

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 2.01.34 PMCEDAR CITY, Utah

We recently spent a very enjoyable week test-driving a box-stock 2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport 4X4 around the colorful countryside in southern Utah.

This is an area where the paved roads don’t always lead to where you want them to go, so improvisation is often in order. In other words: Jeep Country.

When we headed off-road, I was reminded of something the late Mickey Thompson, who once raced a Cadillac in Baja, told me: “The longer the wheelbase, the flatter the bumps become.” The Gladiator, with its 137.3-inch wheelbase, did an admirable job of flattening the bumps – off-road and on.

One of the best features of the Gladiator is its base price: $33,545. Of course, it is very easy to content-up that amount considerably with all the options available. But with the base model, the essentials are there: the 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 with 260 pound-feet of torque, air conditioning, 17-inch wheels and all-season tires, full-size spare, part-time four-wheel-drive, etc. The list also includes some welcome amenities such as a backup camera, tilt wheel and a full suite of safety and stability aids. A cloth top is standard; it’s a lot of fun to play with all the open-air options, and even romp around with the removable doors off.

What you also get on the base model are old-school hand-crank windows, manual door locks and a six-speed manual transmission.

Normally I would award plus points for the manual – my preferred way to motor – but, man was this one a lot of work. I can’t imagine coping with this setup in traffic, or any kind of urban driving.

The Aisin D478 manual helps make the truck faster 0-to-60 mph (but so does nearly 500 pounds less curb weight in this configuration). I also briefly drove an early production Gladiator with an eight-speed automatic, with much closer ratios; I thought that was a much more harmonious marriage for the V6’s horsepower and torque.

In layman’s terms, the manual has more gears than it needs (I once said this about the six-speed 208-mph Dodge Viper too). You spend most of your time in first, second and third – wondering why you need the other three gears. That’s largely because first is good up to 31 mph, second handles speeds up to 60, and third can top out at 103 – which is probably faster than you want to drive this trucklet on the road. Much less off of it.

It is possible to opt for a 4.10:1 axle ratio (available in higher-priced trim packages), which lowers shift top speeds by about 10 percent over the stock 3.73:1 gearing. But even then, it seemed the gear spacing didn’t seem natural, and the truck often seemed to bog down, especially between second and third. And because of the way this setup is geared, those are your go-to gears.

The clutch travel also drove me to distraction; you keep letting it out, and out, and…until it finally engages. The shifter needs long, industrial-strength throws, reminiscent of a school bus I once drove, to row through the gears. I stalled it an embarrassing number of times during the week I had it; perhaps with more time, I would become more used to it.

If you have passengers, you often find yourself assuring them, “I actually do know how to drive a stick.”

So, between the wearying operation of the clutch, the shifter and the number of gears, I found myself longing for the idiot-proof eight-speed automatic.

The automatic would seem to be the better choice, even for trailer towing. Torque is skewed more toward top end speeds, than low end, which seems counter-intuitive. In fact, the as-tested acceleration times, with a 4,000-pound trailer, more than doubles, 0-60, from 7.9 to 15.9 seconds.

For early buyers of the Gladiator, the gas-powered V6 was the only choice. But the much-anticipated 3.0-liter EcoDiesel, and even a 2.0-liter turbo-four, were due to be later options.

The added oomph from the torquey diesel might be worth the wait.

Overall: If you love the Wrangler, despite these caveats, you’ll easily find room in your heart for the Gladiator.

Jerry Garrett

October 19, 2019

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