Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 10, 2015

Dirty Diesels On The Road: NOx Failure Rate 97.5 Percent!

An on-the-road test of some 200 different cars, sold in Europe and equipped with diesel engines, found only five that had real-world nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels the same as levels recorded during regulatory tests in the laboratory.

This is according to test results provided by Emissions Analytics, an independent testing facility based in Winchester, England. EA said it tested 150 diesel models that supposedly complied with Euro 5 emissions requirements, and another 50 that claimed to have met newer, tougher Euro 6 regulations.

That only five were found to get the same emissions results in actual road tests that they achieved in the lab represents a 97.5 percent failure rate.

The test results show the problem with Volkswagen diesels emitting up to 40 times the legal limit of NOx and other pollutants, thanks to “defeat devices” installed to pass tests but shut off pollution controls in on-road driving, is just the tip of an iceberg. The “iceberg” being the rest of the auto industry.

EA did not name and shame individual models, in releasing their test results, but they did note that dirty diesels also come with distressing regularity from Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Honda and Mitsubishi. An earlier study by the UK’s Guardian newspaper claimed dirty diesels also come from Renault, Citroën, Nissan, Hyundai, Fiat Chrysler (including Jeep) and Volvo.

No VW-style “defeat devices” were found, EA stated, and no manufacturer’s emissions came close to those belched out by VW models (VW Group marques include Audi, Skoda, SEAT and others).

Generally speaking, SUVs were exponentially worse polluters than cars (20x vs. 4x).

The response of the few automakers that were willing to reply to EA’s findings could be best summed up as “hey, we passed the lab tests. We never said on-road results would be the same.”

Most manufacturers, it seems, feel the tests are ridiculous, and a poor measure of NOx, as well as other pollutants. Most seem to favor a new test – even an on-road test – as long as regulators would be willing to make the test “reasonable”. The lab test standard now for diesels is virtually un-achievable in real-world driving, they contend.

Lab tests and on-road performance, EA agrees, have an inherent disconnect.

“Emissions Analytics was formed to overcome the challenge of finding accurate fuel consumption and emissions figures for road vehicles,” the company explains on its website. “It is widely recognised that most drivers struggle to get close to the official fuel consumption figures. Furthermore, readings from a car’s onboard computer do not reflect what comes out of the tailpipe. And yet, all fuel reduction and emissions management tools currently on the market are based on manufacturers’ figures or ECU readings.”

The goal, EA feels, is a test that accurately gauges not only NOx, but “the full range of exhaust gases which contribute to the greenhouse effect, reduce air quality and damage human health and the environment.”

Regulators in the European Union say they are working on just such a test, which may be available in 2016.

But don’t expect suddenly cleaner air. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn has been quoted as saying meaningful reduction in diesel pollution is not likely achievable before 2019.

Jerry Garrett

October 10, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 27, 2015

Batman Prevails In Court: No More Batmobile Knockoffs

Batmobile in Las Vegas (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Batmobile in Las Vegas. Real or replica? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Even freelance crime-fighters occasionally have to rely on the courts to get justice.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled last week that the Batmobile, the comic book hero Batman’s primary crime-fighting vehicle, has enough distinct character traits to qualify for copyright protection. The upshot is that a company that makes and sells Batmobile replicas can’t do that without approval (and, we assume, rights fees being paid) from the entity that owns the car’s copyright.

That company is DC Comics, which created the Batman character in 1939.

But it was not so clear what copyright DC Comics owned, to what car.

The Batmobile also first appeared in 1939 as a red car (sometimes seen as a convertible, others times as a sedan) that was merely called Batman’s “car”. The first instance of the Batmobile name being applied to it wasn’t until 1941.

Through the years, the Batmobile has appeared in many iterations – from bulky sedans to streamlined spaceship-type vehicles. In a 1943 Batman film, a Cadillac was used – although it had no superpowers. A sequel in 1949 employed a Mercury.

It wasn’t until 1960 that the first car dubbed a “Batmobile” appeared in public; the car, a customized 1956 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, toured the country in a Batman-inspired advertising campaign for a line of dairy products.

In 1965, customizer Dean Jeffries was commissioned to build a Batmobile for the soon-to-be produced Batman television series (the one with Adam West starring). He started to re-fashion a 1959 Cadillac for the task. But when producers asked for the vehicle sooner than planned, Jeffries backed off and the project was handed to noted stylist George Barris.

Lincoln Futura

Lincoln Futura

Barris, in turn, worked with the Ford Motor Company to re-purpose the ten-year-old Lincoln Futura auto show design study into what most people now recognize as the modern Batmobile.

The original Batmobile was reportedly sold by Barris in 2013, at auction, for $4.2 million. Several authorized replicas of that car are said to exist.

Even though many subsequent versions have appeared, the one protected by the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling relates to the Barris-created model.

“As Batman so sagely told Robin, ‘In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,'” 9th Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote in a lively unanimous opinion issued by a three-judge panel.

The loser, defendent Mark Towle, runs a business called Gotham Garage that was in the business of selling replica Batmobiles for $90,000 or so, depending on how many crime-fighting gadgets a buyer opted for (nail-spewers, oil jets, machine guns, etc).

Inside the Batmobile's cockpit

Inside the Batmobile’s cockpit

DC Comics, owned now by Time Warner’s Warner Brothers unit, sued Towle for copyright infringement in 2011. A lower court judge had ruled in favor of DC Comics, but Towle had appealed.

Batman’s vehicle has consistent character traits that can be protected by copyright, Ikuta noted

“No matter its specific physical appearance, the Batmobile is a ‘crime-fighting’ car with sleek and powerful characteristics that allow Batman to maneuver quickly while he fights villains,” she wrote.

There is no dispute that DC created the Batman character, she continued, and various licenses it has entered into over the years did not transfer its underlying property rights.

Towle’s attorney Larry Zerner contended, “The law specifically states that automobile designs are not subject to copyright. My client just sells cars. The car is not a character. The car is a car.”

That may be, but the Batmobile is a Batmobile.

Jerry Garrett

September 27, 2015

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

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

What, another Blood Red Moon? Yes, it’s occurring the night of September 27-28, 2015!

And doesn’t it seem like we have one of these supposedly “rare” occurrences every few months? Yes, and that’s because this is the fourth one in the last two years.

But this is it, folks, until 2033. Yes, there’s not going to be another Blood Red Moon eclipse like this for another 18 years.

So let’s enjoy this one, if possible!

The Moon, and its partners, the Earth and the Sun have saved the best of this rare “tetrad” of lunar eclipses for last.

That’s because this lunar eclipse involves another rare astronomical event: the Supermoon!

A Supermoon occurs when the Moon’s mostly elliptical orbit brings it closest to Earth’s surface—about 220,000 miles away instead of its average 240,000 miles. So, this means the Moon will appear about 14 percent larger, and nearly 30 percent brighter, than it normally does.



So, late in the evening on September 27 in the Western Hemisphere (in the wee hours of September 28 in the western bits of the Eastern Hemisphere that will see it), when the Earth advances precisely between the Sun and the Moon, it will cast a giant shadow onto the Moon that will create a huge rusty red shadow.

How is the red shadow created? The Earth doesn’t totally shade the moon; some sunlight seeps in from around the edges of the shadow; as the shadow gets filtered through the atmosphere, only light with longer wavelengths gets through. Those are the red-tinged wavelengths of light. Hence, the shadow casts an eerie red glow on our gleaming moon. The effect will be so much more pronounced with the Supermoon.

The last time all these elements came together was 1982, so it indeed is a rare phenomenon. (This Supermoon also coincides with the annual Harvest Moon, which is the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox. No doubt, Pagans will rejoice!)

This eclipse will also be a L-O-N-G one: Total for nearly an hour in peak locations! For comparison’s sake, the one last April 4 lasted just five minutes!

Programming note: Peak eclipse will be at 2:47 am UTC on September 28th—so,  that’s 10:47 pm EDT on Sunday, September 27. If you’re in the eastern United States, you will be in perfect position to see it all! The moon will start darkening at 8:11 pm EDT, and it will start to pass through the Earth’s dark umbral shadow at 9:07 pm. It’ll be completely shaded for about an hour starting around 10 pm.

On America’s West Coast, the Moon will rise fully eclipsed! What a sight!

Astronomers say this is the last so-called “Blood Red Moon” eclipse until 2033. Hope the skies are clear for this one. The next one probably won’t be in my lifetime.

Jerry Garrett

September 25, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 18, 2015

No, This Isn’t The Church in 1960’s “Oceans 11”, But…

Guardian Angel Cathedral (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Guardian Angel Cathedral (Jerry Garrett Photo)


Originally I became interested in the Guardian Angel Cathedral here on the Las Vegas Strip, because I thought it was the one depicted in the final scenes of the 1960 version of “Oceans 11“.

It is not.

This church wasn’t built until 1963. But…

I was onto something. The Guardian Angel church, ironically just a long city block from the old Sands hotel in front of which the movie ends, did have a connection to Frank Sinatra and show business. The cathedral was designed by Paul Revere Williams, a noted Negro* architect who designed homes for Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck and other celebrities and famous people! Williams was quite a trailblazer for his time.



The series of stained glass windows, a fabulous sight to see also, were designed by Edith and Isabel Piczek, Hungarian refugees who became world-renowned artists.

“The art work seen here is the kind of art which does not want to exist for its own sake,” the sisters said.  “It wants to draw you into a passionately and deeply inner existence, step by step, from the dark original creation into the monumentally recreated world of Man’s Super nature. The Destiny of Man is to unfold in front of your eyes, an unfolding which ends in Happiness-your happiness.  The real artwork is not made from glass, paint or tile.”

The sisters, who did this work when they were in their 20, are still alive (I believe) and living in the L.A. area. Williams, also from SoCal, died in 1980 at age 86.

This is a unique and lovely cathedral, nestled between the Wynn-Encore and the Riviera hotels in a tacky section of the Las Vegas Strip.

The church and its grounds create this peaceful oasis in the middle of all the schlock. Beautiful!

But this leaves my original question unanswered: What was that church at the end of “Oceans 11”? Anyone know?

Jerry Garrett

September 18, 2015

* This is how he referred to himself.

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 11, 2015

Prius 4.0: What Does It Mean?

The 2016 Toyota Prius is lifted high in the air, at its debut in Las Vegas on Sept, 8. Why? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

The 2016 Toyota Prius is lifted high in the air, at its debut in Las Vegas on Sept, 8. Why? (Jerry Garrett Photo)


Toyota unveiled the fourth generation of its Prius hybrid gas-electric car here Tuesday night, with a crowd of 300 media representatives and an Australian rock band on hand to commemorate its arrival. The car was hoisted a 100 feet or so in the air, and then lowered onto a stage.

What did it all mean?

Hard to tell.

Toyota only showed off the car. Not much was revealed in the way of technical specifications. That seemed a bit odd, since nobody (okay, let’s say almost nobody) ever bought a Prius for its looks. The charisma-challenged Prius is, and always has been, about fuel mileage. And bravo for that. Kudos well earned, for a fuel economy pioneer.

Will Prius always be the industry's mileage maestro?

Will Prius always be the industry’s mileage maestro?

But will that always be the case?

The new Prius is supposed to get about 10 percent better mileage than the outgoing model, which was rated right around 50 miles per gallon (city and highway). If that means the new model (designated a 2016) is rated at 55 m.p.g. when it arrives in dealer showrooms in early 2016, that will be a welcome improvement.

But it is not a dazzling improvement. And frankly, 17 years after the original Prius appeared in America, 55 m.p.g. is far short of where I thought the 2016 model would be. But I hasten to add that I do not consider the Prius a failure. My daughter, who owns and adores a Prius 3.0 with bullet-proof reliability to go along with budget-friendly fuel economy, would probably object violently (as only she can) to any such characterization!

But the fact is, version 4.0 hits the market as Prius’ lead is dwindling in the national m.p.g. sweepstakes for hybrids. The competition is snapping at its heels (or, rather, its steeply angled flanks, more aptly). By the time Prius 4.0 is re-designed again and becomes Prius 5.0, in six to seven years, unless mid-cycle changes surprise us, whatever edge Prius 4.0 might start with could be long gone.

2001 Toyota Prius: Only the homely.

2001 Toyota Prius: Only the homely.

The original Prius, a 2001 model that actually arrived in 1999, was over-rated at 52 m.p.g. city and 45 highway under the Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy formula in effect at the time; under a new test, the mileage figure was adjusted significantly downward to 42/41.

In an interview with a high-ranking Toyota executive at the time, I was told the company’s internal goal, with each successive generation of the car, would be a 50 percent reduction in the footprint of the battery pack, and a double-digit improvement (was I told 25 percent? I can’t recall precisely) in fuel economy. But, of course, such percentage-based targets tend to become ever harder to attain as each incremental improvement is made.

By that initial reckoning, I had expected Prius 3.0 would have seen mid-60s fuel economy (after all, the original 2000 Honda Insight could hit that number), and so, the 4.0 would have been well into the 70s. The reality, however, was that those original goals were too lofty, and the process of finding fuel economy gains proved has much more difficult than Toyota’s top brass had initially hoped. And today, the race for fuel economy gains seems to be hitting the proverbial wall.

Prius 3.0: 50 m.p.g., millions sold. (Toyota)

Prius 3.0: 50 m.p.g., millions sold. (Toyota)

The reality: The second generation Prius, which made its debut as a 2004 model, improved to 48/45, 46 combined. It wasn’t until the third generation model appeared as a 2010 model that Prius managed to break the magic 50 m.p.g. barrier, with a 51/48 EPA rating.

So, in reviewing the combined m.p.g. ratings, and assigning a percentage to each generation’s incremental fuel mileage gain, here are the hard numbers:

Prius 1.0 to Prius 2.0: 12.2 percent (41 m.p.g. combined to 46 m.p.g. combined)
Prius 2.0 to 3.0: 8.7 percent (46 m.p.g. to 50 combined)
Prius 3.0 to 4.0: 10 percent (50 m.p.g. to 55 estimated)

Where will the auto industry be, in terms of fuel economy, by 2022 or so when Prius 4.0 might be replaced? By then, will 4.0’s m.p.g. rating of 55 be considered passe?

Will 55 m.p.g. one day be considered passe?

Will 55 m.p.g. one day be considered passe?

It is something to ponder. Maybe that’s what version 4.0’s splashy Vegas coming-out party was meant to convey. Maybe engineers have worked extra hard on the fourth-generation model to improve its looks – angles, corners, and origami-inspired shapes have been thrown at it like confetti. Maybe looks will prove to be more of a purchase consideration than they were for the three previous generations.

Or will time reveal to us that Prius is really only about the numbers?

Jerry Garrett
September 9, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 9, 2015

Jeep’s Wagoneer Making Fake Wood Grain Fashionable Again?

Fake wood grain! Stylish again? (Jeep archives)

Fake wood grain! Stylish again? (Jeep archives)

Did you ever think fake-wood grain paneling would be a must-have adornment for one of the hottest models in today’s collectible car market? It seems tacky is back.

Hagerty, the classic vehicle insurance and valuation experts, report a 164 percent increase in the past five years of the classic Jeep Wagoneer, arguably the world’s first luxury sports utility vehicle. Hagerty also says beyond the increase of the number of people insuring Wagoneers as collectibles, the average prices for these vehicles have also increased during the same period by 35 percent.

The average prices are pushing $20,000 now, with extreme valuations two to three times that not uncommon. Some pristine examples have reportedly turned up at fancy collectible car auctions, where they’ve fetched more than $65,000. Those are, generally speaking, low-mileage, in showroom condition (or better), and extensively reworked under the hood. A shop in Texas that specializes in Wagoneer restorations claims it can make them run better than new. (Not hard to believe, as the original vehicles had a pretty atrocious reliablity record.)

The Wagoneer was, in some form or other, in production from 1963 to 1991. It was largely unchanged during that time, except for modest refinements and heaps of options and luxury features piled on. Unbelievably (for me), the fake-wood paneling along the sides of the later models is the hottest option (and probably hardest to restore).

I had a Wagoneer, but it was a rare two-door model – a 1982 Laredo – that eschewed the wood-grain option. I thought it was the Jeep equivalent of a Chevy Nomad wagon. I thought it looked great then, and still does now. Probably just my taste! I sold it after blowing up the transmission, the radiator, several tires (off-roading with it) and a few other major components.

Hmmm, there’s a used one on eBay right now for $6,000! No, I learned my lesson on that one.

Maybe I’ll wait for the rumored Wagoneer revival for the 2018 model year!

Jerry Garrett
September 9, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 8, 2015

FCA: The World’s Most Interesting Car Company

A "What's New for 2016" event recently in Chelsea, Michigan, for FCA's next top models. (FCANA Blog)

A “What’s New for 2016” event recently in Chelsea, Michigan, for FCA’s next top models. (FCANA Blog)

CHELSEA, Michigan

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, with apologies to that Dos Equis guy, is the most interesting car company in the world.

I mean, it’s not even close. Consider the vehicles the combined companies make, like the Dodge Challenger (and Charger) Hellcat, the Jeep Wrangler, the SRT Viper, the Alfa Romeo 4C, the Fiat 500, and the Maserati Ghibli. And don’t even get me started on all the Ferrari models.

Its Ram pickups are huge sellers, as is the whole Jeep lineup. They smash sales records every month.

But therein lies the trouble – and the key reason why the company’s leader Sergio Marchionne keeps trying to find another automaker, General Motors in particular, to merge with FCA. Aside from the trucks and SUVs, FCA doesn’t really have enough big, high-volume brands. No Chevrolet, no Ford, no Toyota, for example.

Quarter-mile commute: Dodge Hellcat at dragstrip.

Quarter-mile commute: Dodge Hellcat at dragstrip.

Most of their vehicles, like the 707-horsepower Hellcat models, appeal to niche audiences. The $60,000+ vehicles are money-makers, in and of themselves, but they aren’t selling in big enough volumes to generate the billions that an automaker needs to develop future models.

“You can put lipstick on the pig for a while by doing things like the Hellcat,” former GM executive Bob Lutz said in an Automotive News article this week. “That’s great; it probably makes a lot of money. But that isn’t the future.”

The future, therefore, for FCA, needs to hold a merger. Merely being interesting may not be enough to pay the bills.

Jerry Garrett
September 8, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 28, 2015

First Chinese-Made Car Comes To America

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 5.50.23 PM


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.

IMG_9523Even 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 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 Shaw, 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. Shaw 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

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