Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 28, 2015

First Chinese-Made Car Comes To America


2016 Volvo S60 Inscription (Photo by Jerry Garrett)


SAUSALITO, California

The first Chinese-made car, after a decade of fits and starts, false alarms and failed dreams, is finally on sale in America.

This pioneering vehicle is the product of a subsidiary of Geely, a Chinese automotive manufacturing conglomerate. Perhaps you have heard of this subsidiary before: Volvo.

Yes, this is the same Volvo Cars Corporation that was founded in Sweden in 1927. But in 2010, it was bought by Geely from Ford Motor Company.

Geely has only been in existence since 1986, when the company began making refrigerators. It was started by Li Shufu, who early on expressed a desire to enter the auto industry. It started with motorcycle manufacturing in 1998 and moved from there to autos a couple of years later.

In the early 2000s, Geely, along with other Chinese automotive companies such as BYD Auto, Great Wall and Chery, among others, started looking seriously into building cars it could sell in North America and Europe. In 2006, Geely began exhibiting cars at auto shows such as Frankfurt, Paris and Detroit.

Reaction was tepid, at best. The learning curve for aspiring Chinese automakers was steep, and there were other barriers to entry in these markets – not the least of which was the lack of dealer, parts and service networks.

Geely solved the problem by approaching Ford, which had taken over previously independent Volvo a few years earlier, and had soon decided the marriage didn’t work. So Ford didn’t need a lot of convincing to sell Volvo to Geely, even though it meant a fast-track for the Chinese automaker to gain the knowledge, expertise and experience to enter any world market.

Volvo is still nominally independent under the Geely banner, able to design, engineer and market its products pretty much as it wishes. But Volvo is, technically, a Chinese company; this is an advantage, because every other international automaker that wants to enter the Chinese market must do so only through cumbersome “joint ventures” with existing Chinese companies.

While Volvo began building cars in China, designed for Chinese tastes and needs, almost immediately after Geely purchased it, the first Volvo earmarked for export to the U.S. market didn’t get spit out by the assembly line until 2015.

That car, the S60 Inscription, is an interesting product. It is essentially the same S60 sold worldwide (and built in other Volvo plants in Sweden) except that Chinese tastes required that it be stretched by three inches to give it more rear seat legroom. (The Chinese motorist is usually obligated to bring parents or in-laws along, as back seat passengers). Volvo realized the stretched S60 met all the emissions, safety and other marketing needs of the basic S60 – with the added cachet of potentially class-leading back seat room against competition from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and others.

Even parked next to each other, it is difficult to distinguish between a regular S60 and the stretched S60 Inscription – except for the exterior paint. S60 Inscriptions – at least the first batch, which just went on sale in the U.S. – all adorned in a satin-y gray exterior paint. It is not unattractive, but the one-off scheme does signal something is up. The S60 Inscription comes with a number of popular features standard such as 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation, walnut inlays, rear park assist and camera, and a turbocharged engine capable of up to 37 m.p.g. fuel economy.

Its base price starts under $40,000, according to

The S60 Inscription offers all the attributes one associates with a Volvo, as well as a measure of stability that its slightly longer wheelbase gives it, over a standard S60.

“It is the first car made in China, and imported here,” said Dean Case, a Volvo spokesman at a launch event in the San Francisco area this week. “It is also not a product of a joint venture. The 50-50 joint venture requirement for every other automaker is not necessary for Volvo.”

But how much of a “true Volvo” is it?

“A Volvo is a Volvo,” Mr. Case said, “no matter where it is built.”

Jerry Garrett
August 28, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 15, 2015

Volvo’s XC90 Just Won’t Die

Volvo's new 2016 XC90 sport utility vehicles.

Volvo’s new 2016 XC90 sport utility vehicles.


Hard to believe: Volvo’s XC90 SUV has been in production now, without a major re-design, for nearly 14 years.

That’s an eternity for most models in the auto industry, which are typically re-designed every six to seven years (or even sooner, of late). Volvo is finally introducing a new XC90 – a “clean sheet of paper” re-design – for the 2016 model year.

But the sleek new XC90 is not exactly a replacement for the old one. In fact, Volvo can’t seem to bring itself to completely kill off the old model – which still is selling well, and scoring top marks in international crash tests.

“It’s still an IIHS Top Safety Pick – Plus,” pointed out an engineer, at an event here, introducing the new XC90.

So, Volvo has shipped first-generation XC90 tooling to China, where it will continue to be produced, as the “XC Classic”.

The XC90 was Volvo’s first SUV, when it first broke cover in 2001, in concept form at the Detroit auto show. It was the most significant new product to come out after Ford bought Volvo Cars (in business since 1927) in 1999. It soldiered on, continuing as the company’s best-selling model, even through the Volvo’s sale by Ford in 2010 to China’s Geely.

The new, second-generation XC90 is the first all-new model produced under Geely’s stewardship. Even though the company is now owned by a Chinese automaker, Volvo goes out of its way to emphasize that the XC90 is entirely designed and manufactured in Sweden (for now – a new Volvo factory in South Carolina will come online in 2017; another plant in China is also in the works). Little hints of the XC90’s “Swedishness” are scattered around the car like Easter eggs. Notable is the small Swedish flag sewn into the seat seams.

While the new XC90 has big shoes to fill, Volvo believes it will more than measure up. The new XC90 is longer, lower (to the ground – a little taller cabin overall), and lighter than the model it replaces. Gone are a variety of XC90 engine choices (which at one time included a Yamaha-sourced V8); and now the XC90 features only a four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine which is both supercharged and turbocharged for greater efficiency and performance. This engine has a diesel variant (they share 50 percent of their parts) that is initially available in Europe but not the U.S. (It could be certified for U.S. use, if Volvo detects enough sales interest; with greatly increased torque and fuel mileage – 40 plus – over the gasoline variant, it is an appealing possibility.)

A “twin-engine” T8 version will also be available; it is a plug-in hybrid version with more than 400 horsepower from a combination of its gasoline engine and battery-driven electric motor for the rear wheels. Volvo said the T8 will probably rated be rated at something approaching 60 m.p.g. fuel economy. Volvo claims it is the first seven-passenger PHEV SUV.

But it will be a pricey variant: At least $15,000 more than the gasoline engine-only T6 (as Volvo calls it). The new XC90 is already endowed with a significantly higher price than the outgoing XC90, which started at about $40,000. A base 2016 model starts at almost $50,000.

But the new one offers high style, state of the art safety features, all-wheel-drive and prestigious options like a Bowers & Wilkins sound system, huge panoramic sunroof, and napa leather (among a long list of other goodies) that Volvo hopes will offset any sticker shock.

For any first-generation models in the used car market, the rising price for the second-generation version should help boost residual values.

The new XC90 starts to arrive in America later this year; it is already available in Europe.

But please don’t mourn the passing of the original XC90; it’s not like it is completely going to die. It is just re-locating.

Jerry Garrett

May 15, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 2, 2015

Whatever Happened To The Fabulous Maserati Collection?

The fabulous Maserati Collection cars. (Jerry Garrett Photo)

The fabulous Maserati Collection cars. (Jerry Garrett Photo)


Maserati, the Italian sports car maker that just completed celebrating 100 years in existence, doesn’t have a museum. It once had one – a wonderful collection started by the five Maserati brothers themselves. But due to the controversial machinations of former company owner Alejandro de Tomaso, the museum is gone and the company no longer owns any of the historic models that were featured in it.

These days, an engine from its 1939-40 Indianapolis 500-winning race car seems to be the most significant piece of its history that Maserati retains; it is on display in the lobby of the company’s headquarters in Modena, Italy. (The car it was installed in, the Maserati 8CTF driven to back-to-back victories by Wilbur Shaw, resides in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 7.40.36 PMThere are collectors who own large numbers of Maseratis, but many of those vehicles are not available for public viewing. Neither are they particularly important collections.

So, where can a Maserati fan go, to see the best selection of historically significant Maseratis?

“The most beautiful collection of Maseratis,” explains Giorgio Manicardi, a company stalwart since the mid-1960s and a historian of the marque, “is located outside Modena, in a barn – at a dairy farm. There are larger collections of Maseratis, but no collection as significant.”

The private Collezione Umberto Panini museum (open for public viewing via appointment) belongs to the Panini family, and it was the passion of patriarch Umberto Panini, who died a few years back. His sons carry on their father’s memory, by maintaining that wonderful Maserati Collection (as it is officially called), assorted other classic cars, motorcycles and tractors in and around the lavishly appointed converted barn.

Yes, this is the cheese!

Yes, this is the cheese!

The farm also makes a very fine Parmesan cheese!

The Maserati Collection was first established by the five Maserati brothers (a sixth wasn’t part of the automotive business), who started making cars under their own name in 1926; the collection was later expanded to 17 vehicles by Omar Orsi, son of another former Maserati principal who had opened a popular public Maserati museum in Modena. The Collection currently includes 23 Maserati vehicles, which are regularly on display; another three vehicles are undergoing restoration.

“The Collection contains a number of cars of great value for Maserati, partly because of their unique nature: such as the 6CM from 1936, of which only 27 were made and which dominated European races in the ‘vetturette’ category and won the Targa Florio,” according to museum literature. “And the A6GCS Berlinetta Pininfarina, of which only four were made and which won the Mille Miglia for its category three times, with its ‘barchetta’ design.”

Fangio's 250F (Sherry Garrett)

Fangio’s 250F (Sherry Garrett)

Also, of equal importance is a 250F driven to Formula 1 victories in 1954 by Juan Manuel Fangio, a Tipo 61 Birdcage – with its exceptional frame comprised of 200 tubes in special alloy welded together for an overall frame weight of just 80 pounds, and its distinctive Drogo bodywork. There is also the 420M58 – the famed “Eldorado” used in 1958 by Stirling Moss in his battle for one of the top spots during the Monza 500 Miglia. And the enormous “Chubasco” prototype, which sadly never was approved for production.

There is quite a cliffhanger story about how Panini, who made his fortune selling stickers and collectible sports cards, acquired the Collection.

The company was on the verge of liquidating (not for the first time) in 1993, when de Tomaso decided to sell out; at risk was not only the company, but, critically, the firm’s collection of 17 rare and historically significant vehicles. Although de Tomaso sold his stake in the company to Fiat, “De Tomaso had one sting left in his tail,” according to Maserati’s official company history. He disclosed that the Maserati Collection cars, on display in the museum that Orsi had started in the early 1960s, were not included in the sale.

“It was discovered that he planned to sell them at an auction in London,” Manicardi said. “This was very unpopular, of course, in Modena. So Mr. Panini stepped forward to buy them. Ultimately, he had to pay not only a very inflated price for the cars, but also the commission to the auction company.”

“He bought the whole collection,” the company history confirms, “perhaps more for the city than for himself. But the cars stayed in Modena, where they have remained to this day.”

Maserati's terrors of the Targa Florio!

Maserati’s terrors of the Targa Florio

(If any other car company has a better museum story, I’d like to hear it.)

Jerry Garrett

May 1, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | April 29, 2015

Motorcycles and Furniture: When Worlds Collide

Who made that?

Who made that?


IMG_9015It is not often that the paths of furniture making and motorcycling cross, but they did for me this week.

In hunting for some new (“old”) furniture pieces for our bedroom…we found a spectacular pair of dressers – actually a dresser and a “chest on chest” – from a company called Joerns Brothers in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. A slip of paper inside said they were purchased in 1938.

These were marvelous art deco pieces with glorious inlaid and book-matched woods that glowed with a three-dimensional depth. The drawer pulls were brass and the knobs were tiger-eye. We did some research online to see what kinds of woods were used. But, initially, we only found information about a Joerns Cyclone motorcycle. We adjusted our search.

Finally, we found a furniture expert, who said the veneers were principally tulipwood. Another said selano wood, with burl walnut, sweet gum and tulip poplar. But there was more to the story. Much more.

Here is the expert’s explanation:

IMG_9039“These are beautiful pieces made of tulipwood (with) beautiful carved feet and capitals,” he said. “What makes these pieces truly magnificent is the inlaid book-matched tulipwood veneered surface – beautifully crafted. The drawers are dove-tailed front and back and slide easily. The carvings are exquisite. In fact, they are so well made that the secondary woods are bird’s eye maple — that’s virtually unheard of!”

He added, “If you pull the drawers out, you’ll see bird’s eye maple underneath the tulipwood – usually bird’s eye maple is so precious that it’s used as veneer itself … but rarely as a base for veneer” – and, in the case of the pieces we found, the drawer bottoms too.

As we had believed from the labels inside the drawers, they were made by Joerns Bros. Furniture of Stevens Point.

More Joerns masterpieces

More Joerns masterpieces

“This company was in business from 1889 until the 1950s, making high quality bedroom and dining room furniture,” he said. “Joerns furniture is considered to be of the quality of the Grand Rapids furniture of this era and is highly sought after and heavily collected. The value of Joerns furniture is accelerating rapidly.”

I wanted to find out more about the company, which was started by three brothers – Fred, Paul and Charles – of German descent, from St. Paul, Minnesota (by way of Sheboygan, Wisconsin). Their high-end furniture featured German marquetry styles, Louis XV (and XVI), art deco and more.

Their pieces sold well – at one time they claimed their four plants were turning out more furniture than any other company in America. Even during the Depression, sets like our bedroom combo were selling well – for over $1,000.

The company is still in business today, but its focus has shifted more to making school furniture, hospital beds and medical equipment (more on that later).

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.45.11 PMThe company history seemed a bit incomplete, and in digging a little more, I kept coming across references to the Cyclone motorcycle made 1913-1916 by the “Joerns Motor Manufacturing Co.” of St. Paul.

These motorcycles were recently in the news, particularly around a Mecum sale here in Las Vegas (in March) of a 1915 Cyclone board track racer once owned by Steve McQueen (most recently a part of the E.J. Cole collection). It was auctioned for a record $775,000!

Neat bike – it should have sold for more than a million, but it was presented in rather shabby condition.

A marvel of its age

A marvel of its age

The auction house provided rich details about the technical aspects of the bike – it had a one-liter engine, making a stout 45 horsepower, and capable of a 115 mph top speed – but scant details about the company that made it.

But a little more digging, I was finally able to establish the connection – the president of the furniture company, Fred Joerns, was apparently a little bored and decided to get together with a Minnesota motorcycle mechanic/racer named Andrew Strand who had designed a powerful new overhead camshaft V-twin racing engine, and an engineer named Edward Thiems who had come up with a revolutionary two-speed transmission. They decided to make bikes, with plans to later expand into passenger cars and commercial trucks.Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.55.02 PM (A grainy B&W photo exists of a mysterious “Joerns” truck driving around, but there is no record of any such truck being made.)

The motorcycle was a sensation and broke all kinds of speed records. For a time it was considered the world’s fastest vehicle. It even beat an airplane and the legendary Barney Oldfield, driving an Indy car, in an exhibition. One effort at a speed record was disallowed after timing officials questioned the accuracy of their clocks – because they said there was no way the bike could go that fast.

The company set up a dealer network that stretched from L.A. to N.Y.

Then the whole thing kind of fizzled. Development stopped, and after no more than 300 bikes were made (and possibly much less), production ceased.

Fred apparently went on to something else and faded from the public eye; his brother Charles took over the reigns of the furniture company.

The bikes were maintenance-intensive, and with no parts available, many were junked.

Also, as many of the bikes were board track racers, they had no brakes; when board track racing died, so did any real use for the Cyclone. Some standard, road-going versions were made also.

This 1915 Cyclone set a world motorcycle auction record of $550,000 when it sold in 2008. (Mecum)

This 1915 Cyclone set a world motorcycle auction record of $550,000 when it sold in 2008. (Mecum)

Now they are as rare as unicorns. McQueen’s is one of six known to exist today. The only other one anyone remembers (in recent memory) selling was one in 2008 that went for a record sum of $550,000. I believe I took a picture of it at the last Ritz-Carlton motorcycle concours in Half Moon Bay, California.

As promised, some further news about the furniture company: It was announced last month that after 126 years, the investors who now own the company are getting out of the business entirely, and shifting its furniture products to a company named Akin. The money guys, who as you might imagine aren’t very popular with the locals of Stevens Point, ticked off the whole town a couple of years back by closing the plant there and putting 200 people out of work – including some folks named Joerns.

Oddly, folks expert in Joerns Brothers furniture lore seem to know nothing about a motorcycling connection; those well versed in the Joerns Cyclone are clueless about the high-end furniture tie-in.

Anyway, what this all adds up to, I don’t know. But I now look at my furniture with greater appreciation. And I’ve added a vintage tin sign advertising the Joerns Cyclone to my bedroom motif. Somehow it all seems to match.

(Editor’s Note: If anyone can fill in the blanks about what happened to the Joerns brothers, please use the comment section.)

Jerry Garrett

April 29, 2015

The 2014 Lykan Hypersport being being introduced at the 2013 Dubai auto show. (Shmee150)

The 2014 Lykan HyperSport being being introduced at the 2013 Dubai auto show. (Shmee150)

In the movie, “Furious7” (or “Seven”, the filmmakers can’t seem to make up their minds), the latest installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, a car identified as a Lykan Hypersport is crashed from one skyscraper in the 70+-story Etihad Towers complex in Abu Dhabi to another (and another).

What’s a Lykan HyperSport? And is it really worth $3.4 million? Were only seven ever built? And did the filmmakers really destroy one?

Yes, yes and yes.

The car is real, and so is its price tag. Why so much? It has something to do with the 420 diamonds in the headlights! Indeed, only seven were built for public sale, and yes, one really was destroyed in the film.

But it wasn’t one of the seven.


Some background: The Lykan HyperSport is the first creation of W Motors, which bills itself as the first Arab maker of automobiles. W Motors was formed in 2012 in Lebanon, but in 2013 re-located to Dubai.

The Lykan Hypersport was unveiled in Monaco in January of that year, and has been making the rounds at various high-end auto salons, boat shows and art installations ever since. W Motors says it has plans for a second car, the SuperSport, somewhere down the road.

Despite its “all-Arab” origins, the Lykan Hypersport has some interesting genes. The design had major input from StudioTorino, an Italian firm based in Turin. Its flat six 3.7-liter twin turbo engine descends from Porsche via Ruf Automobile, a German tuner and manufacturer of its own sports cars. In fact, the specs closely relate to those in Ruf’s GTR3, which has been around since 2007 (also at least partially styled by StudioTorino). Ruf also has a manufacturing facility in the Middle East. The chassis is said to be similar to ones used in certain Porsche race cars.

Even at a suggested retail price of $3.4 million, a Lykan HyperSport is not the world’s most expensive car (as some have touted it), but it is right up there with those that are, such as the $4 million Lamborghini Veneño and some special edition Bugatti models ($3.3 million-plus). Part of the tab is driven by the diamond-encrusted headlights; rubies, sapphires and other precious gems are options that could drive the “drive-off” cost higher.

From a performance standpoint, the Lykan HyperSport is relatively modestly powered: 740 horsepower puts it in the realm of the Lambo Murcielago and Veneño, and the Aston Martin One-77. It is slightly more powerful than a Pagani Huayra or a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. It is a little down on power to some Gumpert Apollo models and Porsche’s 918. Way down the list, compared to Koenigsegg and Bugatti models.

Its top speed is calculated at 245 m.p.h., but it is doubtful anyone outside of a computer lab has ever driven it that fast.

Here’s a look at how filmmakers used it:

Is it lightweight enough that Vin Diesel could pick up the nose and hold the front of the car in the air? Probably not, although its mid-engine design helps keep its balance more toward the rear. Curb weight, an unpublished number, could be an issue for the Lykan HyperSport. The future SuperSport promises a lighter weight – in the area of 3,300 pounds (as well as a lower price tag, and 1000+ horsepower engine). So, we know the Lykan HyperSport probably tips the scales at hundreds of pounds more.

As we mentioned above, the movie car – which really was destroyed filming the stunts depicted – was not one of the planned production run of seven vehicles. It was actually built by W Motors, strictly for movie use (and it sounds like there may have been more than one built).

“Though the cars that we had in the film weren’t the actual production model Lykan HyperSport, they’re basically a movie version that W Motors created for us or built for us,” Dennis McCarthy, the movie franchise’s Picture Car Coordinator explained in an interview with The Verge (see it all here). “Still very pricey, but not $3.4 million like the actual car would cost.”

McCarthy, who has worked on all but two of the seven Fast & Furious movies, explained the process: “What W Motors did is they used the exact same molds they use for their actual production car, but they built the car out of fiberglass as opposed to carbon fiber. The chassis, instead of being basically a Porsche race car, is a Porsche Boxster with the wheelbase stretched on it. So yeah, we basically built a car that looks 100 percent correct, or is as close to it as we possibly can, and doesn’t wipe my budget out with just one vehicle.”

It is difficult to confirm how many Lykan HyperSports may have been sold. But the filmmakers paid for theirs. The old you-break-it, you-buy-it rule of retail, I guess!

(A footnote: A stunt man really did crash the Lykan HyperSport replica out of one glass tower into the next, but it was on a 40-foot high re-creation at a sound stage in Atlanta. For argument’s sake, however, a mathematician consulted by an Abu Dhabi newspaper calculated that the stunt could be done, “but I would not volunteer to be the one driving the car.”)

Jerry Garrett
April 6, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 31, 2015

In Arizona, Does 2003 Chevy Truck Mean “Mexican Drug Runner”?



Driving along Interstate 15 the other night in my 2003 Chevrolet S10 pickup, laden down with furniture and household belongings, I was pulled out of a line of traffic slowly wending its way through a 45 mph construction zone by an Arizona state trooper.
“You were speeding, and weaving across the fog line,” the trooper greeted me, before I could say anything.
“What?!?” I answered. “What’s the ‘fog line’?”
“The white line along the side of the road,” he said.
“First time I’ve ever of that,” I responded. “I wasn’t aware I was weaving. The road is pretty messed up through the construction zone, and this truck is loaded down pretty good.”
“Your rear wheels touched it a couple of times,” he said, making sure to shine his light squarely in my blue eyes.
“First time I ever heard that term,” I said. “Also, I didn’t think I was speeding. I was in the middle of a line of about ten cars. I wasn’t passing anybody. Nobody was passing me. I was just keeping up with traffic.”
“Look, I was just going to give you a warning,” he said. “But if you are going to give me attitude, I will write you up.”
“I wasn’t trying to give you attitude,” I said. “I was just trying to understand why you thought I was speeding and the others around me weren’t.”
“I’m just one guy out here, stopping one car for speeding,” he said. “I can’t say what the others were doing.”
Bad answer, I thought. He was picking on me. But I didn’t yet understand why. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Everyone makes fun my four-cylinder 2003 Chevy – as too slow to get out of its own way. Now I was being accused of speeding with it. How was that possible?
“Okay, I’m not going to write you up for speeding,” he said. He also wasn’t going to write me up for touching the ‘fog line’ – both of which he knew were bogus charges. But he wasn’t going to let me off, without teaching me a lesson for questioning him, his authority and his judgment. He cited me for failing to have a printed copy of my current insurance card – having it on an app on my smartphone apparently wasn’t good enough for him. He also didn’t like the report he got back on my Florida license. But he wasn’t going to run me in over that. At that point, he just wanted to get rid of me, and teach me a little lesson, for being cheeky.
The court, if I want to fight any of this, he said, is in Colorado City, Arizona – which is probably 70-80 miles away, back up through Utah and out the road toward Kanab. If you’ve heard of Colorado City before you might know that its twin city just across the border in Utah is Hildale – two cities best known for their overwhelming polygamist populations. It’s fairly weird place that I usually steer clear of.
The officer who cited me doesn’t actually live there himself. He lives in St. George, Utah – which I think is an even weirder deal.
After handing me my citation, he zoomed off and was soon pulling someone else over. I couldn’t tell exactly what kind of vehicle they were driving. Something like a white van.
Later, my daughter. who also lives in the St. George area, gave me an answer what was going on: “You were being profiled. You were driving the ‘cholo truck’. He thought you were Mexican, and probably a drug runner.”
That is the kids’ way of describing my little blue Chevy. It seems to be a popular truck with landscapers, construction workers and pool service guys.
Now I know what it feels like to be profiled, I guess. Not good, amigo.

Jerry Garrett
March 31, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 26, 2015

Irwindale Speedway Demolition Approved

IRWINDALE, California

Irwindale city council last night approved plans to demolish Irwindale Speedway & replace it with a 700,000-sq ft outlet mall.

The speedway operator’s lease, however, can continue until the developers have 70% of its planned shops pre-leased to tenants.

Ground-breaking for “Phase I” is scheduled to begin in 2016. So it’s possible the speedway could survive into 2016. (Phase II mall construction is slated to begin in 2018. 

The racing facility, which features a half-mile oval and one-eighth mile dragstrip, was built in the late 1990s at a cost of about $20 million. 

Jerry Garrett

March 29, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 28, 2014

THE IMITATION GAME: Where Is Bletchley Park?

Bletchley Park complex & huts aerial view (


Where – and what – is Bletchley Park, that top-secret strategic location in the film, “The Imitation Game” ?

In general terms, it is a 130-year-old mansion house, converted for use by code-breakers during World War II, and it is about 50 miles north of London. Specifically, it is on the south side of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, a burgeoning commercial and industrial center that has really only come into being since the 1950s. If you’ve heard of MK heretofore, it may have only been because it is central to where a lot of Formula 1 racing teams, such as Red Bull (nee Jaguar, nee Stewart Racing) are headquartered.

During WWII, the area was largely farmland. The Bletchley Park site, comprised of about 58 acres, was originally part of a larger estate of 581 acres that dates to at least the early 1700s. A mansion of some kind existed there in 1711, but it was demolished sometime after the property changed hands in 1793. A subsequent farmhouse constructed there was expanded in the 1880s into the sprawling mish-mash of Victorian, Gothic, Tudor and Baroque architecture we know today.

The mansion and surrounding land was bought in 1938 by a developer, who planned a housing estate there. But he was overruled later that year by Britain’s MI6 secret service, which decided to acquire B.P., as it is nicknamed, for secret intelligence work in case war broke out.

The site was a mixed blessing, from a strategic standpoint. It was right next to a railway station on the “Varsity Line” that ran between Oxford and Cambridge, the universities from which many of the intelligence workers were recruited. And it also connected to the main line that ran from London in the south, all the way to Liverpool (and Scotland) in the north. Likewise, it was close to the main highway (now the A5) that connected London and Birmingham. High-volume telegraph and telephone lines also were strung through the area.

But it turned out to be not beyond the range of German bombs, which was proven one night in 1940 when three bombs – probably meant for the railway station – dropped squarely on one of the huts. The damage was quickly repaired, and no one was hurt.

After the war, the site was largely abandoned, and various developers again tried to re-purpose the property. But in the early 1990s, Milton Keynes elected officials recognized it for its wartime strategic importance, and designated it as a park. It has been open for tours.

Alan Turing & early computing equipment.

Since 2007, Bletchley Park has been the site of the National Museum of Computing. It features, among other things, reconstructed versions of the pioneering Colossus computer devised in large part by the genius mathematician Alan Turing, around whom the movie revolves.

In 2014, the museum, which is undergoing ongoing restoration, was officially “re-opened.”

The site was, by the way, used as an actual filming location for the movie, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

Jerry Garrett

December 28, 2014



Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 25, 2014

THE INTERVIEW: Who Is Responsible? Sony? The CIA? How About Canada!

Who is responsible for making “The Interview” – and where and when was it filmed?

Of course, the comedy about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wasn’t filmed in North Korea. So, where was it filmed?

How about Vancouver, British Columbia?


The entire movie was filmed in and around Vancouver last October to December. (We’ll note some of the exact locations below.) O, Canada!

North Korea actually believes the United States government made the film. In fact, it was largely made by Canadian tax payers, who footed most of the bill! Ha!

As Canada’s Global News notes, “‘The Interview’ was made in Canada by Canadians with the help of Canadian tax credits.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 9.25.01 AMThat strikes Canadians pretty funny, since they feel at least 90 percent responsible for the controversial movie; it’s funny as long as all those threats to strike the White House, Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland and target President Barack Obama are just blarney.

Perhaps none of this is amusing, however, to Sony Pictures, which was victimized by a damaging cyber-attack on its computer archives, supposedly because it green-lighted the film and planned to show it in theaters starting Christmas Day.

Somehow, Canada’s name didn’t come up in any of the statements from North Korea or the hackers, the self-proclaimed Guardians of Peace.

Just how Canadian is “The Interview”?

Among the film’s executive producers are Canadians Shawn Williamson and Ariel Shaffir. It was co-produced by Point Grey Pictures, a company founded by Vancouver natives Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (and named for the Vancouver high school at which they became friends). They co-directed, and filmed it with largely local crews, dozens of local extras, and a supporting cast of Canadians like Reese Alexander, Diana Bang, Geoff Gustafson and Dominique Lalonde.

Since the film, made on a budget of $44 million, was essentially “home-grown” Canadian box office fare, it was eligible for British Columbia tax credits of up to 33 per cent and Canadian federal tax credits of nearly 16 per cent. And don’t forget that favorable exchange rate between American and Canadian dollars. Cast and crew could be housed pretty economically for two months of location work.

Exact locations?

Interiors – bars, bedrooms, etc. – were shot on a soundstage at The Bridge Studios in Burnaby, B.C. Scenes in which James Franco’s character hosts his fictional interview show “Skylark Tonight” were shot in a studio at the CBC Vancouver Broadcast Centre.

Downtown Vancouver was used for the film’s “New York City” exterior scenes.

The glorious Canadian Rockies that stand like sentinels around Vancouver doubled as both China and North Korea.

Vancouver’s Robson Square doubled as Pyongyang, the North Korean capital — complete with a giant statue of Kim Jong-un. (I’m waiting for that to turn up on eBay.)

Other locations include:

Vancouver Art Gallery on Hornby St.

The Ascot Lounge on West Pender St.

A street corner at West Hastings and Hornby streets.

A stretch of West 1st Ave. near the Burrard Bridge.

The movie’s final scenes, in the life boat, I believe were shot on what the Canadians call the Salish Sea (Americans think of it as a northern part of Puget Sound, I suppose); specifically in an area that looks to me like Horseshoe Bay – kind of on the way up to Whistler (where the 2010 Olympic ski events were held). A construction yard along the bay, off Highway 99, looks like the area where the tank and aerial scenes were filmed.

Pretty country. Much prettier than North Korea. Everybody loves Canada. Everybody loves Canadians. In fact, Americans, if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation overseas, try shouting, “Don’t shoot! I’m Canadian.” It works.

It seems to be working – so far – for the makers of “The Interview”.

Jerry Garrett

December 24, 2014


Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 22, 2014

Monday Motorsports 12/22/2014: Cash Piñata Ecclestone Sued Again


Bernie Ecclestone's 2014 Christmas card

Bernie Ecclestone’s 2014 Christmas card


(Please note: This weekly column by The New York Times contributor is now moving to this blog.)

BayernLB, the German state bank, is suing Bernie Ecclestone and his family’s Bambino trust for €345 million ($422 million) over the Formula 1 major domo’s role in the controversial 2005 sale of the bank’s share of the series.

Ecclestone, in response, has counter-sued the bank for an undisclosed amount.

The Bayern suit, announced in Munich on Friday, is the latest in a string of lawsuits over F1’s sale to an investment group. A Bayern executive went to jail for 8+ years in connection with the sale, over charges he solicited a $44 million bribe from Ecclestone (who paid it).

Ecclestone agreed to pay the Bavarian government a $100 million “settlement fee” last summer to make fraud charges against him in connection with the matter “go away.” He faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Ecclestone lampooned that payment as a form of highway robbery in his annual Christmas card (shown above).

Bayern and Ecclestone have been engaged in settlement talks over the matter; Ecclestone reportedly offered the bank €25 million in cash last August. The bank said it refused the offer, then filed its suit.

In other motorsports news of note from the previous week:

Ford GT40 winning 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ford GT40 winning 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ford Motor Company is reportedly planning to resurrect its GT supercar for production, and to also commission racing versions that would compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016.

The GT, evocative of Ford’s legendary 1960s GT40 sports car that won Le Mans four times 1966-69, was a limited edition model that was produced in the 2005 and 2006 model years. The car, plagued by initial quality issues and a $150,000 price tag, was discontinued after that, although it reportedly took some dealers into 2007 and 2008 to clear their lots of unsold models. Since then, however, the GT has become something of a cult collectible.

While details remain hard to pin down, a press conference has been scheduled by the FIA’s World Endurance Championship, a series affiliated with the Le Mans race, for Jan. 13 in Detroit in connection with the North American International Auto Show.

Ford may or may not announce its GT plans at that time.

(Rhys MIllen Racing)

(Rhys Millen Racing)

Meanwhile, Hyundai is apparently ending its North American motorsports program, after withdrawing from its six-year partnership with Rhys Millen Racing. The partnership had fielded entries for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Global Rallycross and Formula Drift.





Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 16, 2014

Is This The 2016 Toyota Prius?

Does this look like a Toyota Prius? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Does this look like a Toyota Prius? (Jerry Garrett Photo)


Is this the next Toyota Prius?

News reports coming out this week suggest it is. But what exactly are we looking at here, and where – and when – was this picture taken?

This is Toyota’s “C-HR Concept” which was shown last October at the Paris Motor Show. Toyota said little in introducing it, and just sort of tossed it off as a design study of a “compact crossover.” Most automotive journalists, if they mentioned it at all in their dispatches from the show, described the C-HR as apparently Toyota’s attempt to come up with something of a competitor to Nissan’s Juke.

In my report for The New York Times, I wrote the C-HR, was “not exactly a surprise — because Toyota hinted it was coming.” But, I added, the “C-HR proved compelling, and it was said to be the first example of a new ‘diamond’ styling architecture.”

Toyota said, vaguely, the C-HR “will deliver significantly enhanced efficiency.”

Not much to go on there. But it was obvious Toyota had spent a lot of time on this interesting, and rather appealing, little car. Why weren’t they saying much about it?

Rear view

Rear 3/4 view

Apparently it was a trial balloon for a controversial, and highly unusual, styling re-do – of the Prius – inarguably one of Toyota’s most important models.

Information coming out of Toyota recently indicates that the much anticipated 2016 Prius re-design – originally due in early 2015 – didn’t pass muster when it came up for its final review by Toyota’s top brass late last year. A complete re-do was demanded. At conservative Toyota, that dramatic of a turn of events almost never happens.

Back to the drawing board, and styling room, the chastened design team went. Six months passed.

The results were shown to the same execs in April. This time the design got a thumbs-up. Whew! Design team careers saved!

To the outside world, the design of the next Prius is still a closely regarded secret. But a Toyota source tipped an Automotive News correspondent recently that the next Prius is “closely” related to the C-HR Concept shown in Paris.

If true, the next Prius might not be as boring as its predecessors. What a concept! The C-HR features a sporty stance, pronounced wedge shape, prominent wheel arches, aggressive grille and tapered greenhouse. About the same size as the outgoing model on the outside, the next version will offer more interior space by optimizing the size and placement of components such as the dash, the seats and door panels.

Because buyers expect each successive generation of the Prius to get better and better fuel mileage, Toyota will implement many new lightweight body parts. The lighter the weight, the higher the fuel economy (generally speaking).

The standard Prius’ styling will also be different from the next plug-in version of the car; right now, they look almost exactly the same.

Some had speculated the next Prius would look something like the recently introduced Mirai fuel cell car; but when Prius designers asked about using similar design cues, they were told “no!” The Mirai is supposed to look like the Mirai only, and nothing else in the Toyota lineup.

All the changes to the next Prius came at a price, however. Instead of coming out in the first half of 2015, it is not likely to appear until late in 2015.

Jerry Garrett

December 15, 2014




Isn't this what auto shows are all about? (Lexus photo)

Isn’t this what auto shows are all about? (Lexus photo)


The Lexus LF-C2 concept, introduced here at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, is the ultimate in topless motoring.

No, seriously. It has no top.

That’s because, Lexus announced, it’s a “roadster concept.” So, as a result – in Lexus’ thinking – it doesn’t deserve a top.

Okay, so we had our fun – me and my colleagues in the motoring press.

Youabian Puma (Jerry Garrett)

Youabian Puma (Jerry Garrett)

It seems we have to find something we can jump on at each auto show. Last year at L.A., it was the Youabian Puma (deservedly so). This year, it seems to be the LF-C2 concept. Except for the Dyson-like nose, I thought the LF-C2 looked pretty cool (it would look especially cool with me and my date in it!).

In its own defense, Lexus revealed surprisingly little about the LF-C2 concept at its introduction. In fact, in prepared remarks, Jeff Bracken, the Lexus executive who introduced it, devoted just four short, vague sentences to the car.

“Today we’re here to share with you what happens when we take our signature look, which is critical to our identity in the luxury market, and incorporate it into a fun ‘what if’ concept,” he said. “The result is the LF-C2.”

He added, “This concept celebrates our design identity and kicks it up a notch – actually, make that several notches! Open top, gorgeous at a glance, and just plain fun, this concept gives you a hint into what the future of Lexus design holds.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 3.51.43 PMThe topless Lexus – LF-C2 apparently is short for “Lexus Future – Coupe 2” – appears to be nominally related to the RC-F coupe, which is headed into production. If that is true, the LF-C2 could theoretically be powered by the same sort of 400-plus horsepower V8.

Or, like its non-existent top, it could be powered by nothing – not an uncommon form of motive power among pie-in-the-sky auto show concepts.

But here’s my point: Isn’t that what makes auto shows great? Or at least worthwhile? Isn’t it the flights of fancy – the more extreme the better – that make an auto show worth going to? Otherwise, an auto show is just like a trip to the auto mall.

So I congratulate Lexus for even going to the trouble of preparing the LF-C2 and bringing it to the L.A. show. I remember many years when Toyota and Lexus had nothing to introduce at L.A. – even though it’s right in the backyard of the company’s American operations (in Torrance, California).

If more manufacturers brought concepts to auto shows, think how much better auto shows would be! I’ll never forget the Ford Nucleon of the late 1950s – even if the idea of a nuclear-powered flying car (especially one based on a Ranchero pickup) now seems ridiculous.

So bring on the topless roadsters, the flying cars, gas-free electric cars, the armored SUVs – that’s why I go to auto shows.

(Postscript: All that said, Lexus, and its parent Toyota, need to get serious and build some real convertibles. The company has always seemed to have a tortured relationship with opening the tops of their cars. It barely tolerated a “Sunchaser” open-top version of its Celica, and only because it didn’t really make it – a third-party vendor did the conversion. The Lexus SC-430 coupe, with its folding hardtop, was beautiful on the inside but disproportionately styled on the outside; still, it hung around in the marketplace for almost 10 years without a redesign before finally being put out of its misery. Lexus’ neglect of the SC-430 was so extreme that, at the time of its demise in 2010, it was the last automobile sold in America with a cassette tape deck.)

Jerry Garrett
November 30, 2014

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