Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 26, 2016

Where Was 2016’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN Filmed?

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Look familiar? “The Magnificent Seven” filmed here? (free4kwallpapers.com)

Where was the 2016 remake of the classic 1960* movie, “The Magnificent Seven“, filmed?

The answer is not that simple. In fact, the exact answer is surprisingly hard to come by.

Would you believe Louisiana?

No way, you say? Well, the Louisiana Film Commission is thanked in the credits. Wikipedia says it was filmed north of Baton Rouge, in the St. Francisville and Zachary areas. And indeed sets were built, casting calls were held and a significant amount filming (see photo below) was done in those areas.

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The Battle of Baton Rouge? (The Advocate)

How about Arizona?

The movie website, International Movie Database (IMDB), adds the San Francisco Peaks and Cononino National Forest in northern Arizona. Those areas are north of Flagstaff, just south of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Despite some scenic similarities, I’m not so sure about that.

In the credits, the New Mexico Film Office is prominently mentioned. And the producers did take advantage of New Mexico’s generous production tax credits for movie filming in the state. Some mention is made of filming north of Sante Fe.

But that’s still not exactly the answer, is it? (Come on, you know it isn’t.)

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Filming at the “State of Enchantment” golden hour

The film gives a big, fat hint: Rose Creek.

That’s not a real place, but it hints at the Santa Rosa de Lima ghost town, near Abiquiu.

Ever hear of Abiquiu?

It’s known for its matchless brilliant blue skies and breathtaking mountains, canyons and rivers. It was where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and created her works of art. The Ghost Ranch is also in that area. Also, the Rio Chama runs through it. (That’s where the photo at the top of the article was taken.) Other signature Abiquiu locations include Vista de Pedernal, Copper Canyon and Abiquiu Lake.

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Mining camp along Rio Chama, snapped by photog Geraint Smith

Dozens of movies have been shot in these areas – westerns, space odysseys, contemporary romances and comedies, etc. It’s a favorite of directors like Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Lawrence Kasdan (Silverado and Wyatt Earp), and the Coen brothers (True Grit and No Country for Old Men).

This is also where “The Magnificent Seven” was filmed – at least those iconic exterior shots that show red rock mountains, sparkling lakes and rivers, and limitless vistas.

Now, that’s magnificent; but it ain’t Lou-zee-anna.

Jerry Garrett

September 26, 2016

* The  magnificent, incomparable 1960 movie was filmed in northern Mexico and near Tucson, Arizona.

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 24, 2016

The Star Of The 2016 Paris Motor Show?

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(GM.com)

PARIS

What will be the star of the 2016 Paris Motor Show*?

Hint: It will come with a cord.

“Opel Ampera-e will be the BEV star of the show, hands down,” predicted Pedro Lima, an electric vehicle expert whose website, PushEVs, extols the virtues of the electric car, and other new environmentally friendly transportation technologies.

Lima predicts the Ampera-e, the European equivalent of the new Chevrolet Bolt in America, will become the standard by which all BEVs (or battery electric vehicles in his dictionary) will become judged.

“Every new BEV will be compared to the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Opel Ampera-e,” he said.

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The Bolt (Chevrolet.com)

The Bolt, which goes on sale in late 2016 in America, is touted by General Motors as having a 238-mile range, in full electric operation. Its electric powerplant produces 204-horsepower, and will propel the vehicle to a top speed of 150 kilometers per hour (93 m.p.h.). It is also advertised as the first “affordable” long-range EV – which is a slap at EV pioneer Tesla, whose long-promised low price model is years late. Tesla currently specializes in luxury EVs with Bolt-like range, but six-figure prices. Chevrolet lists base pricing for the Bolt at $37,495, before deducting possible governmental tax breaks of $7,000 or more. (Though Ampera-e pricing has not been confirmed, the Bolt’s price would be equivalent to 33,400.)

The Ampera-e will make its debut in European dealerships a few months behind the Bolt, in 2017, the company says

(Don’t confuse the all-electric Ampera-e with the Ampera, a gas-electric hybrid which was introduced in 2011 and discontinued in 2014 due to slow sales.)

Lima thinks the Bolt/Ampera-e debut at this time is especially ironic, since EVs fans are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the film, “Who Killed The Electric Car”. General Motors was fingered as the prime suspect, for those who may not remember.

It has also been six years since the EV market pioneer, the Nissan Leaf, made its debut. It blazed a trail for other all-electric vehicles to follow. But the Leaf’s original range of something less than 100 miles seems passe now.

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A Leaf with a face-lift? (Nissan)

However, a face-lifted version of the Leaf, with a more powerful battery pack – up to 45 kilowatt-hours – is being shown here, along with the similar Renault Zoe R400, from Nissan’s Alliance partner. Both of those vehicles could be expected to attempt to undercut the Ampera-e on price, if not range.

Nissan and Renault will also be showing electric vans, the Kangoo and the eNV200, in Paris. Lima is hoping to see an electrified version of the Nissan Micra minicar, which he says has the charisma the Leaf lacks. Renault also will be showing off the tiny Twingo ZE electric, while Smart offers the similar ForFour ED.

Mercedes-Benz is expected to unveil an electric sport utility vehicle here – the harbinger of four planned EVs likely to debut by 2020. BMW will showcase its latest i3 EV, along with a new electric scooter. Kia and Hyundai have their latest hybrids to unwrap, while Toyota previews Prius Prime models with extended electric range. Honda promises new electric and hybrid versions of its Clarity line, which previously only came in limited hydrogen fuel cell iterations.

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Longer-range Prius Prime (Toyota)

Generally speaking, the Paris show will be a big one for electrically powered vehicles and hybrid gas-electric models, while diesel-powered cars – traditionally among the most popular models here – are likely to be pushed to the shadows. Diesel is a dirty word in Paris these days, as the local government moved to ban older diesel-powered cars in the city as of last July; a complete ban may come within a few years. Diesel’s inherently worse (much worse than gasoline engines) tailpipe emissions are blamed for Paris’ smoggy skies. And carmakers further sullied diesel’s name by taking advantage of Europe’s lax testing regimes, to pass off many new models that spew worse-than-allowed particulate pollution into the skies.

Vilified Volkswagen, which was caught with emissions-test cheating equipment on its so-called “clean” diesel-powered vehicles, promises to preview new electric vehicle technologies here. But Lima has nothing but disdain for VW’e efforts.

“Volkswagen will continue to show electric cars for a distant future, to undermine electric cars by stating that the technology isn’t ready yet,” he writes, “so the automaker can continue to sell polluting cars.”

(*The Paris show, officially known as the Mondial de l’Automobile, runs October 1-16 at the Paris Expo.)

Jerry Garrett

September 23, 2016

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 21, 2016

The Incredible Shrinking Auto Show: 2016 Paris Mondial de l’Automobile

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Massive crowds at the 2012 Paris Motor Show (Jerry Garrett)

PARIS

The Paris Motor Show*, officially known as Mondial de l’Automobile, is shrinking.

Incredibly, it is shrinking – and has continued to do so the past decade – while attendance is growing.

This counter-intuitive disconnect is happening because an increasing number of automakers are skipping the 2016 show, for a variety of reasons; chief among them a widening belief among many that auto shows, per se, don’t deliver adequate bang for the corporate bucks. (Auto show displays can be expensive propositions; Audi reputedly spent over $11 million for one particularly over-the-top temporary construct a couple of years back.)

But try telling that to the general public, which continues to buy ever-pricier tickets for the show in eye-popping numbers.

This is not a new phenomenon: I opined about this subject the last time the show was held in 2014.

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(Source: Mondial de l’Automobile)

Organizers of this year’s Paris show, open to the public October 1-16, tout it as the world’s best-attended show, with record attendance of more than 1.25 million in 2014. That was a fractional increase over 1.23 million two years earlier (the show is held every two years).

In 2014, among those automakers who had displays at the 2012 Paris show, McLaren, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Dodge, Exagon, Hemera, Tata, Saab/Spyker and Weismann did not return. Most of those, like Chrysler/Dodge, Tata and Chevrolet, were retreating from the European market. Others, like Saab and Weisman, went out of business. Exagon and Hemera seem to have vanished.

This year the missing include key players, like Ford. A mainstay at this show almost since its inception 118 years ago, Ford now thinks it can better reach prospective European buyers by hosting one-on-one clinics; indeed, Ford is conducting customer ride-and-drives across France even while the show is going on.

Volkswagen Group is trying to save some money by leaving two of its brands, Bentley and Lamborghini, at home. Group Night, VW’s lavish pre-show party, was also cancelled. Some belt-tightening was to be expected, however, after the financial catastrophe around its still-unfolding emissions-cheating scandal.

British carmakers had, until recent years, looked upon Paris as the next best show to display at, after the demise of its own British Motor Show a few years back. But Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and McLaren join Bentley on the sidelines this year.

With its Chinese ownership, Volvo had been the closest thing to a representative of that country’s burgeoning auto industry at Paris. But Volvo is also among the missing this year.

Organizers are quick add that there will still be many hundreds of new cars on display; dozens of world premieres for new production cars, design concepts and prototypes are scheduled for the press preview September 29-30.

Although exact figures are hard to come by, the amount of square footage taken up by exhibit space for the show seems to have dropped from a high of 1.7 million to less than half of that this time. Exhibits will be limited to five of Paris Expo’s eight halls (one hall contains exhibits of famous movie cars this year).

Despite all this, organizers say pre-show ticket sales are again on a record pace. It would seem, then, even as journalists like me whine about how the show is shrinking faster than the Arctic ice cap, show-goers seem more than content to pay more for less.

Jerry Garrett

September 21, 2016

(*For another take on the 2016 Paris Motor Show, check out my New York Times preview.)

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 19, 2016

The Most Successful Race Car Of All Time? The Answer May Surprise You.

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An inauspicious debut

The most successful race car in history? It came from a bankrupt Italian company. It had a broken engine. And its first race was almost its last.

In motorsports, drivers cheat death in every race, hoping to achieve immortality in a dangerous sport. With luck, a great driver can have a career lasting decades. The cars they race, meanwhile, are disposable. They have a shelf life that barely lasts a season. Advancements in technology can soon render them obsolete. They break. They crash. Their useful lives quickly end – on a scrap heap, in a collector’s garage, or in the best-case scenario, a museum.

But one race car stands out in the history of the sport, for the longest, most successful career anyone can recall: Its successes spanned parts of three decades! And it was a threat to win, just about every time it raced.

But started out as a flop.

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Ettore, Bindo, Ernesto, Alfieri Maserati

For the 1938 Grand Prix season, German juggernauts Mercedes and Auto Union came out with new cars so powerful they crushed the competition.  In Italy, the cash-strapped Maserati brothers turned out the 8CTF, a straight-8 roadster they hoped could at least serve as a placeholder until they could answer the Germans with a much more powerful model for the 1939 season.

The 8CTF was promisingly quick, but at its debut in the 1938 Tripoli Grand Prix, it broke. The disappointed, nearly broke Maserati brothers saw no choice but to park it. The failure nearly bankrupted them. Again.

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Germans rule

The cash-strapped Maserati brothers had already sold the company to a local businessman, Adolfo Orsi; they stayed on as consultants.

The struggling company ultimately scraped plans for the 1939 model. (Compounding their bad luck, the 1940 8CL came out two weeks before Italy entered World War II; the dozen cars that were produced were hidden near Milan until after the war, when they re-appeared as “1946” models.)

But fate intervened. The Maserati brothers received an order from colorful Indy car team owner Mike Boyle for a new car. Gloom turned to joy when the Maserati brothers hatched a plan to sell him the 8CTF – essentially, emptying their trash can – and they were unspeakably happy when Boyle agreed to the staggering sum of $15,000 for the car. That was about three times the going rate for a top Indy car then.

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The 8CTF engine

They crated up their unloved 8CTF and shipped it off to America so quickly, then didn’t even drain its fluids.

This would prove to be a near-fatal error.

During the wintry voyage, the water in the radiator froze, and the straight-8’s cylinder walls split. That should have been the end of it. There was (then) no spare engine.

But Boyle’s clever chief mechanic, Cotton Henning, saved the day. He took the engine completely apart and figured out how to make a repair he hoped would hold.

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Umbrella Mike

Umbrella Mike, who earned his nickname as a Chicago labor boss who collected “tribute” cash in an umbrella, had bought the car for 1937 Indianapolis 500 winner Wilbur Shaw. He was taking Shaw up on his boast that he could win Indy again, if only someone would buy him a Maserati like the one he had raced in the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup. (He had passed 30 cars with it, to finish ninth.)

Though Boyle wildly overpaid for the 8CTF, shed no tears for him. The Maserati would earn back in prize money many, many times what he had paid for it. It became a cash register on wheels.

And the Maserati brothers would become forever proud – if not completely incredulous – when the 8CTF went on to rule Indianapolis. This misbegotten machine became, by far, the most storied Maserati ever.

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1939 Indy 500, Shaw at left

Though the car mechanically was poorly suited to the demands of on-off-the-throttle grand prix races on road courses, it was uniquely well designed for wide-open, full-throttle racing on big ovals.

The 8CTF’s 8-cylinder engine was actually two straight-4s bolted nose to tail, with separate superchargers for each. Reliability was such a concern for the 350-horsepower setup, the heads were cast right into the top of the block, eliminating the need for a head gasket – an area of feared weakness. Equipped with Roots-type blowers, which were effective at any speed, the 8CTF was also able to keep accelerating through corners – where other Indy racers were slowing down.

The Maserati also had big brakes, purpose-built for grand prix racing. Wilbur Shaw quickly learned how to use them to great advantage in traffic and cornering. Other Indy cars had passenger car brakes that were so bad, the racers could barely use them; they just slowed down dramatically for the corners.

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Shaw in Victory Lane, 1939

Shaw ran away with the 1939 Indianapolis 500. He came back in 1940, and won it again. It was unheard of that the same car could win twice!

The Maserati was on its way to winning its third consecutive Indy 500 in 1941 when Shaw crashed, while leading in the late going, under mysterious circumstances. The explanation, which some find dubious (to this day), was a failure of a defective wheel had been put on during what was to be Shaw’s last pit stop. The wheel supposedly had been found to be defective before the race; to keep it from being used, it was marked with chalk. But a fire on race morning had destroyed much of the speedway’s garage area; when the firemen were hosing the burning buildings, it was said the chalk mark on the wheel was washed off.

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Shaw at center, Indy 1941

Shaw suffered a broken back in the crash, and that essentially ended his driving career. (He went on to become the track’s president.)

When World War II came around, racing at the speedway stopped until 1946; that year the Maserati was brought back out to race again, with Ted Horn, who finished third. Horn came in third with it again in 1947, and fourth in 1948. It broke again while leading in 1949, with Lee Wallard at the wheel. Bill Vukovich passed his rookie test with it in 1950. The car was still being raced competitively in 1953, when it was 15 years old.

Correct me if I’m wrong, dear readers, but apparently only three 8CTFs were built; oddly all three ended up in America. At least two still exist. Louie Unser won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb twice in one of them.

In its latter days, the Maserati had an Offenhauser installed, but its original engine (and a backup) was retained, and reinstalled in the car when it was placed into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum. (An “Indianapolis” engine on display at Maserati headquarters in Modena, Italy, is actually from an 8CL, I’m told.)

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Original speedway museum; Maserati at right (IndyRacingMuseum.org)

The 8CTF was the crown jewel of the speedway’s collection of just six cars when it opened in 1956. (Wilbur Shaw, who was instrumental in acquiring the Maserati for the speedway’s collection of winning cars, had died in a 1954 plane crash).

The maroon Boyle Special roadster, emblazoned appropriately with the number “1”, still occupies a place of honor there, even though the speedway’s collection has grown to more than 400 vehicles.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-51-04-pm“It was, without a doubt, the most successful race car in the history of the track, says Donald Davidson, the speedway’s historian.

Asked specifically if he could remember any car in racing history that had as long a career, or greater success, Davidson answered, “Nothing that I know of.”

Jerry Garrett

September 19, 2016

(For more on this amazing race car, check out my previous post.)

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 18, 2016

What Is The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s Crown Jewel?

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(Indianapolis Motor Speedway Official Photo)

In researching a story on famous Maserati race cars*, I came across a treasure trove of information about the most famous Maserati of them all, the 1938 Maserati 8CTF, which twice won the Indianapolis 500. It is now the crown jewel of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway‘s museum. Here is how its fame came to be:

The 1937 Vanderbilt Cup, America’s premier road race, drew a glamorous crowd to Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island. The drivers lineup included Tazio Nuvolari, Rudolf Caracciola, Richard Seaman and Bernd Rosemeyer from Europe’s Grand Prix circuit; Rex Mays, Mauri Rose, Bill Cummings and Wilbur Shaw from America. The crowd attending was like the guest list at a Jay Gatsby party.

Among the qualifiers for the race was a handsome Italian boxer and aspiring actor, Enzo Fiermonte (screen name: William Bird), who had charmed a wealthy widow, Madeleine Force Astor, into a) marrying him despite a great age difference (he was 25, she was 40 for their 1933 wedding), and then b) bankrolling him in various ventures, including the purchase of a Maserati sports car he intended to race. Fiermonte proved to have more bravery than talent; he had qualified dead last. (His wife must have been unimpressed; she divorced him soon afterward.)

Mrs. Astor had been the rather notorious teenaged bride of John Jacob Astor IV, who drowned in the Titanic disaster in 1912 at age 47. Mrs. Astor, who survived the shipwreck, inherited a considerable fortune, which helped fuel her generosity.

Anyway, when Wilbur Shaw’s entry broke in practice, the race’s organizers sought to find him an alternative ride; he was, after all, as the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, and a considerable draw. The organizers found a solution by deeming Fiermonte too inexperienced to race, disqualifying him, and replacing him in the Maserati with Shaw.

Shaw put on a dazzling driving display in the event, and passed 30 other entrants to finish ninth (Rosemeyer won). After the event, Shaw effusively told Indy car owner “Umbrella Mike” Boyle, “If I had a car like that, I’d win the next 500 in it.”

Boyle obliged and bought him one (two, actually, as the first model sent to him by the Maserati brothers was the wrong car) for $15,000; Shaw made good on his boast and won the 1939 Indy 500 in it; for good measure he also won the 1940 race in it. Shaw was leading the 1941 race when a defective wheel – accidentally put on the car during a late pit stop – failed and caused him to crash. He suffered a broken back that effectively ended his racing career.

But the car did return; it was repaired – and successfully campaigned for another decade. It won races and accolades unequaled by another car in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history. The Ernesto Maserati-designed 8CTF, a 1938 model with the chassis number 3032, was subsequently designated by the National Historic Vehicle Register as one of America’s most historically significant vehicles.

It was such a storied race car, it had a lot to do with the speedway’s management (which then included Shaw) deciding to open a museum on the grounds. And in 1956, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum finally opened, it was the crown jewel in the rather modest collection of just six cars. The Maserati remains a cornerstone among the museum’s displays to this day, even though the speedway’s collection now has grown to more than 400 vehicles.

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(VanderbiltCupRaces.org)

“It was, without a doubt, the most successful race car in the history of the track; it finished first twice, it broke while leading another two times, finished third in 1946 and 1947, and fourth in 1948,” said Donald Davidson, the speedway’s historian. “Bill Vukovich passed his rookie test in it, in 1950. It was still being raced competitively as late as 1953 – when it was 15 years old.”

Davidson added, “Someone once remarked to me – and isn’t this a remarkable way of looking at it? – that this incredible success story would never have been possible without the sinking of the Titanic.”

Jerry Garrett

September 18, 2016

* For more interesting facts about the 1938 Maserati 8CTF itself, check out my next post.

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 8, 2016

2016 Perseid Meteor Shower Among Best In 100 Years

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The 2016 Perseid Meteor Shower, which peaks late Thursday, August 11, and during the early morning hours of Friday, August 12, is expected to rank among the best of the annual Perseid displays in the last 100 years.

Although the peak night coincides with a moon that will be almost two-thirds full – and the brightness of the moon usually washes out all the but the brightest shooting stars – the moon does set about 1 o’clock in the morning Friday, and the skies will be pitch-black for at least three-hours after that, before dawn starts to lighten the skies.

But another big reason the Perseids could put on an epic show this year is that the position of Jupiter when the Perseids passed it (some months ago) was such that the huge planet’s field of gravity tweaked the normal path of the bits of comet debris that make up the Perseids. This “tweak” has resulted in sending the Perseids much closer to Earth this year. In fact, they will pass almost a million miles closer. (But not to worry, the Perseids will still be a good 160 million miles away from us.)

But every 12 years or so – that’s how long it takes Jupiter to do one orbit of the sun – the Perseids pass close enough to the big planet to get a significant tug of its gravity. And that’s when Earth usually experiences is a noticeably brighter and stronger Perseid display, that produces more than the usual complement of meteors.

Combine that with the dark skies after the moon sets this year, and sky-watchers are expecting a Perseid event of epic proportions.

Looking back over the last century, among the brightest and busiest Perseid displays were ones in the years 1921, 1945, 1968, 1980 and 2004 – years when Jupiter has had an influence on the Perseid orbit, and the moon was missing from the sky.

So, find a spot to watch the meteors which is well away from bright city lights, look toward the constellation Perseus, and enjoy the show!

(Editor’s Note: For a more technical explanation of the Perseids, maps, a livestream of the big event, and lots of amateur and professional photos check out space.com.)

Jerry Garrett

August 8, 2016

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | June 25, 2016

Did Hackers Cost Toyota The 2016 Le Mans Victory?

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The #5 Toyota stops just short of a 2016 Le Mans victory

 

LE MANS, France

Did hackers cost Toyota the victory in the 2016 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race?

That’s the question a lot of insiders in the sport were asking, as the Toyota team tried to figure out what caused its #5 TS050 Hybrid to conk out while leading, with one lap to go.

“Think about it,” said a source from another team. “They were running fine – flawlessly the whole race – and suddenly, with about six minutes to go, the car stopped.”

At first no one could figure out what happened to the Toyota. It just lost power in the waning minutes of the twice-around-the-clock timed event. Driver Kazuki Nakajima pulled over and tried to get the car going again.

After a couple of minutes, he was able to restore enough power to limp back around the race track. But he stopped just after crossing the start-finish line on what would have been his victory lap. The archrival Porsche team swept by, and went on to claim victory after taking the lead for the last lap.

Speculation was that something failed in the Toyota’s turbocharger, or a system related to it. But there was no official confirmation of that until many days later, when Toyota issued a statement:

“Car #5 suffered a technical defect on a connector on the air line between the turbo charger and the intercooler, causing a loss of turbo charger control,” the statement read. “The team attempted to modify the control settings to restore power and this was eventually achieved, allowing the car to complete the final lap. However, it was achieved too late to complete that lap within the required six minutes.” That resulted in the car being excluded from the running order at the finish.

But identifying the problem was the easiest part of solving the problem. Understanding why it happened proved maddeningly inexplicable.

The part didn’t fail. It just stopped working. The team was able to reboot its computer systems and restore function to the part. What, however, had caused it to malfunction in the first place?

“Currently it is not clear exactly why this failure occurred, as we have verified the process used to produce the part here in Cologne,” said a team spokesperson at its headquarters in Germany. “Further analysis is required to determine the root cause. It is clear that the issue has no link whatsoever to the engine issues experienced at Spa earlier this season. Comprehensive investigations are underway at [team headquarters] to determine the precise reason for this issue with the aim of establishing countermeasures to avoid any repeat in the future.”

A Toyota representative contacted about the hacking theory had no comment.

But it is theoretically possible to hack computer systems in vehicles. This has been dramatically demonstrated recently in road cars. But there has been no publicly acknowledged case of computers on a race car being hacked – especially during an event.

So what happened? There are only questions; not answers.

The mystery remains unsolved.

Jerry Garrett

June 24, 2016

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | June 14, 2016

Did The Fastest Guy Win The 100th Indy 500?

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Alexander Rossi, 98, leads the 100th Indy 500. (NYTimes)

INDIANAPOLIS

Did the fastest guy win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016?

Yes. Alexander Rossi won the 100th running of the Indy 500, and he was the fastest driver in the race.

That he was also the fastest driver might surprise some people, because Rossi was barely running freeway speeds when he took the checkered flag. Rossi’s final lap average of barely 179 m.p.h. was more than 50 m.p.h. slower than the speed James Hinchcliffe averaged in winning the No. 1 starting position for the race.

But the tortoise did not beat 32 other “hares” in the race.

During the race itself, no one was faster than Rossi. In fact, he logged the race’s fastest lap – averaging 225.228 m.p.h. – on lap 106 of the 200-lap event. (Laps in the race are usually a bit slower than laps turned with special setups during qualifying.)

The interesting thing about Rossi’s fast lap: He was running in last place, when he turned it!

That’s when Rossi’s team owner Bryan Herta had decided to put Rossi, who had been running competitively in the first half of the race but well down in the order, on a different strategy: He would pit later, strive to save fuel, and run as long as possible between fuel stops. The hope was that Rossi could make fewer stops than the other guys the rest of the way. The idea worked.

In fact, here is how it worked: After Rossi topped off with fuel on lap 101, he dropped to last. But he was able to work his way to the front within 28 laps, as every other driver pitted before he did. He went into the race lead from lap 129 to 137; that’s when he finally had to stop for fuel.

But – this is important – that stint of 36 laps on one tank of fuel proved to Herta and Rossi something vital: They could go that far on a tankful of ethanol, if they had to. So the die was cast.

The pit stop on lap 138 dropped Rossi to last again among the cars still running on the lead lap. But once again, he was again able to work his way back up through the field, especially as drivers who were “fuelish” – not as obsessed about saving fuel as Rossi – began having to pit again (and again).

Another value in Rossi’s strategy of pitting out of sequence: The pits were usually not so crowded when he did have to come in for service. His rivals tended to pit all at once; Indy’s pit lane is narrow – and often overcrowded. And several of his rivals either lost time getting blocked, hitting other cars, or getting penalized for reckless driving during the pit melees.

Rossi did pit with a fairly large group of leaders when he stopped on lap 164, for what would turn out to be his final service; but Rossi’s crew was more concerned with filling his car with every last drop of fuel than rushing to finish the service stop. (He came in running in eighth place, and left in tenth.) At that point, his strategy was to run to the finish – or run out, trying.

The unanswered question was: Could he again squeeze 36 laps out of his tank?

Rossi also needed the unwitting help of every other driver still running to make his strategy work; there could be no caution periods (yellow flags for on-track incidents) for the remainder of the race. (That incident-free scenario seldom has been the way the final 36 laps of the previous 99 Indy 500s have played out.)

Rossi also needed to do his part to conserve fuel: Keep a steady accelerator pedal, back off when he could coast and not lose positions, and to not race people he knew would have to stop for fuel.

“Not many drivers could have done what I was asking him to do,” Herta said, in complimenting not only Rossi’s speed, and error-free driving, but also the rookie’s ability to maintain discipline under a tricky fuel-saving strategy that he had never before been asked to try.

With 10 laps to go, Rossi had worked his way back up to sixth. That’s when drivers ahead of him, who had been getting worse fuel mileage than Rossi, started peeling off to the pits for a final splash of ethanol: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Josef Newgarden, Hinchcliffe, and finally Carlos Muñoz.

That is when, with four laps to go, Rossi finally inherited the race lead. Close behind Rossi, challengers Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves and Sebastian Bourdais also began to run out; and they had to pit. Rossi became the last driver to dare to stretch his fuel to the finish.

After their quick final stops, Muñoz and Newgarden were closing fast on Rossi – another lap might have been enough for them to overtake him – but the checkered flag waved on Rossi’s sputtering .

The fastest man in the Indy 500 had won the race – on his slowest lap.

“I have no idea how we pulled that off,” Rossi said, incredulous, in Victory Circle. Then he poured cold milk over his head.

Jerry Garrett

May 31, 2016

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 19, 2016

Maserati Levante: Fashionably Late

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2017 Maserati Levante (Jerry Garrett Photos)

MODENA, Italy

Maserati has been in the car business for more than 100 years. That’s quite a feat in the automobile industry. Only a handful of other carmakers can claim that distinction. But Maserati’s accomplishment has a unique aspect to it: It has stayed in business all that time while only building cars.

Not anymore.

Now Maserati, heretofore a maker of only sexy sports cars, is offering its first sports utility vehicle. What this means is that Maserati’s next 100 years holds a lot more promise than its often-difficult first century.

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Coupe-like profile, with a utilitarian tail

The SUV means volume sales – a new concept for Maserati – because every carmaker who offers an SUV finds it quickly becomes their biggest seller. The Cayenne, for instance, transformed Porsche from a niche player to a fabulously wealthy, high-volume juggernaut. Maserati is hoping for the same kind of lightning to strike.

“Hard to believe, ” a company exec told me, “that as recently as a couple of years ago, we were a company that really only offered two cars – a coupe and a sedan – and we were selling barely 3,000 units a year.”

The SUV could increase the company’s sales six-fold by 2018, he added. And of course, success like that would help Maserati raise the capital needed to expand into other models such as high-end two-seaters and even hybrids.

So the decision to offer an SUV would seem like a no-brainer. But it was a decision not lightly taken at Maserati; execs have been dithering around about it since at least 2003. That’s when Maserati first unveiled an SUV concept, the Kubang, at various auto shows; the response to it was positive, but the project was DOA from the standpoint of Maserati rank-and-file because it was designed by Giugiaro. An internally designed version of the Kubang concept finally broke cover in 2011.

The actual production model, the Levante, sprang from that.

The Levante, which is named for an Italian word for wind, starts at a modest $72,000 and tops out near $83,000; it finally goes on sale this fall. Online pre-orders, the company said, were strong. In fact, in China it only took mere seconds for online shoppers to put dibs on the initial production run.

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Lago di Garda test run

I got a preview test drive of the Levante around Italy’s Lake Garda, an hour or so up the road from the company’s headquarters in Modena.

So, how was it?

I must say I was impressed. The car performed and handled admirably, looked great, and sounded terrific thanks to its finely tuned exhaust notes from its twin-turbo V6. It is very plush and comfortable inside. Adequate room for five.

Ermenegildo Zegna has designed and supplied materials that include Italian leather and – in what is said to be a first in an automotive interior – fine silk (like that used, for instance, in a Zegna business suit). The fabric has been fortified, however, for rugged every day use – much like the rest of the Levante.

Technically speaking, the Levante is offered with either a 345-horsepower engine, or a 424-hp upgrade. Both engines come mated to an eight speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive.

The Levante immediately went to the top of Car and Driver’s ratings of luxury SUVs, just behind the Porsche Cayenne – and ahead of all the various offerings from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Infiniti, Cadillac, Lexus, etc. That’s high praise.

Indeed, there is something captivating about the Levante. Something that could make even an SUV hater fall in love.

In that sense, the Levante has been worth waiting for.

Jerry Garrett

May 19, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 4, 2016

When Chrysler Ruled The Waves

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Miss Chrysler Crew unlimited hydroplane

Mad Magazine had a parody of Reader’s Digest, as I recall, back in the 1950s with a fake cover headline that read, “We Drove Our Chrysler To Hawaii”. Sadly, there was no story inside (apropos of Mad’s sick humor); because I wanted to see how that turned out.

I have always considered Chrysler a land yacht, not an aquatic one. But I was wrong! Theoretically, it might have been possible to take a Chrysler to Hawaii (although I doubt anyone ever tried); but it probably could have been done – because there was a time when Chrysler ruled the waves.

Almost from its inception in the 1920s, Chrysler, the automotive giant, had an interest in boating. Its founder, Walter P. Chrysler, was keen on boat racing and a fan of the storied Gold Cup event on the Detroit River.

So it was not a complete surprise to see two 100-horsepower, 289-cubic-inch Chrysler Imperial “Red Head” L-6s powering an entry in the 1926 Gold Cup events. A second place finish only whetted Chrysler’s interest; more horsepower, more engines and more successes followed apace. Competitors such as Chris-Craft, Garwood and Sea Lyon were soon vying for Chrysler engine contracts.

Chrysler’s vaunted engineering expertise, quality construction, assembly line methods and volume pricing provided a stimulus that had been lacking to a nascent industry of pleasure boaters. Over the next several decades, Chrysler Marine products would come not only to fuel the birth of that industry, but to dominate it.

But by the 1960s, Chrysler saw it was something of a victim of its own successes: Its engines were better – particularly from a durability standpoint – than most of the boats they were being installed in.

So, over the next 15 years, Chrysler began to augment its extensive lines of inboard and outboard motors, with a full array of Chrysler-branded boats, and even its own trailers. They offered a wide range of small fishing boats, large cabin cruisers and speedboats like the Conqueror. Models often shared the names – not to mention parts, like steering wheels and upholstery – of its cars, such as Fury, Charger, and Valiant. The boats featured industry-leading streamline designs said to ride “atop the water” and foam-filled spaces between decks and hulls that made them almost unsinkable.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.13.06 PMChrysler offered dozens of different engines, from tiny trollers to big displacement racers; “Miss Chrysler Crew”, powered by dual 1,000-horsepower Keith Black-built 426 Hemi V8s, was a terror on the late 1960s unlimited hydroplane tour. For a time, it was possible to buy a Chrysler vehicle, boat and trailer all painted in matching racing team livery.

Chrysler even produced a very popular line of sailboats.

But it all came to an end – for Chrysler anyway – by the early 1980s when Chrysler had to divest itself of its entire marine operation – as a condition of a government bailout needed by its automotive operations. Its engine and boat designs have lived on, in a number of other manufacturers’ products.

But these days, despite thousands of boats sold during its heyday, you would be hard-pressed to find a Chrysler-branded boat. Only a handful still exist.

“Chrysler-branded boats were once No. 1 in the marine industry,” noted David Kain, a boating enthusiast from Saginaw, Mich., who has become something of a keeper of the flame for Chrysler’s once hugely popular branded boats of the 1960s-70s.

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Brochure cover for inboard- and outboard-powered Chrysler boats of the early 1970s.

Kain never could find anyone specializing in the field. So, he took the task on himself. He also has a burgeoning business now – Hurrikain’s Marine Products – he calls the one “true source” for Chrysler Marine parts, restoration work, maintenance and memorabilia.

Time “and the elements” are the enemies of these boats, he says. Most all were early fiberglass – which struggles to stand the test of time. Original molds are long gone, so a viable hull is a “must-have” starting point. The floors, stringers, bulkheads and whatnot can be replaced with modern wood and hand-formed resin. But it is a labor-intensive job, with modest rewards. Even the most collectible boats, like his V8-powered S-III Conqueror, only sell for about $6,000 – fully restored.

But he says traces of Chrysler’s marine heritage can still be found. The V10 engine in the Viper sports car had its origins in the architecture of the 360-cubic-inch (5.9-liter) V8 that powered the last Chrysler speedboats. An enthusiastic, but sadly dwindling community of “old Chrysler car guys who also loved the boats” still show up at Chrysler events like the Mopar Nationals to hawk and collect marine memorabilia, Kain notes. And Chrysler products, like the Miss Chrysler Crew, still hold records in boating industry speed trials – including one as the only unlimited hydroplane to win a race with an automotive engine.

That led me to ask Kain whatever happened to the also-vanished Miss Chrysler Crew? Kain said he’s not sure, but he heard a story that the guy who owned and drove it, Bill Sterett, eventually dug a huge hole on his property in Owensboro, Kentucky, and buried the whole thing in there when its racing days were over. No one seems to know exactly where its final resting place is; Sterett died in 1992. His son, Bill Jr., was killed in 2004, piloting a replica of his father’s boat on the Ohio River near Owensboro.

Jerry Garrett

May 4, 2016

[Editor’s Note: For more information and a different take on this story, see here: https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/Articles/2016/04/28/Chrysler-Marine ]

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 31, 2016

How To Rent a Car in NICE France – And Not Get Screwed

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Nice, France – the crown jewel of the Cote d’Azur (Jerry Garrett Photo)

NICE, France

Standing in the line to rent a car at the Nice/Cote d’Azur airport, I heard the woman behind me telling a man, “Yes, I rented the car for a week, so I could get a special rate.”

“What is it?” asked the man.

“$900,” she said. “Unlimited mileage.”

“What kind of car?”

“A mid-size.”

Holy crap, I thought. Did she ever get screwed. I was paying less than $20 a day.

It’s fairly easy to get screwed – and badly – if you’re a tourist on the French Riviera. Comes with the territory, doesn’t it?

Actually, no. Not if you’re a savvy traveler. Nice can be downright affordable! (For me, it’s cheaper than being at home in California.)

Here are some tips, for the savvy traveler to save money renting cars in Nice:

  1. Book ahead. I use Kayak.com for most of my rentals, and I book 2-3 weeks in advance. But no more than that. Rentals booked a month or more in advance seem to carry higher rates, and more gotcha stuff – like requests to pre-pay for the whole rental to get that “special rate.” No dice. The rental companies have almost no idea what kind of demand there will be that far out; at 2-3 weeks, they know whether they will have too many, or not enough cars, and price them more reasonably.
  2. If you are a member of frequent renter club, like Hertz #1, you might qualify for even deeper discounts. Or added perks like bonus miles on partner airlines.
  3. Understand that airport rentals in Nice are subject to steep facility use taxes meant to gouge unsuspecting tourists – to the tune of $40 or more per rental. (So, if you are renting at the airport, renting for more days can help you “amortize” those tourist taxes over more days, for less of a bite. For instance, if I had rented a car for one day at $20, the $40 tourist tax would have tripled the cost of my one-day rental.)
  4. Rent at an off-airport location to beat the tax. Right in downtown Nice, there are several major car rental companies (Avis, Budget, Sixt, Europcar, etc.) with very competitive rates – and no airport facility use fee taxes. (Some taxes are charged, however, no matter where you rent.) It’s easy to get from the airport to downtown, via city buses that leave right from both terminals (1 & 2); these cost $7-$9 per person, though. If you walk 50 meters out to the main road (Promenade des Anglais) in front of the airport, and catch a regular city bus (like locals and airport employees do) it’s only $1.50 or so.
  5. Use a credit card that gives you rental car coverage, like my American Express card (which eliminates the need for me to take the Collision Damage Waiver – a ripoff insurance the rental car companies want to sell you for $35 or so per day).
  6. Avoid the extras, like the onboard GPS, for which you can substitute your cellphone. The cellphone probably has better maps. (Note: My most recent last three rentals featured cars with factory-installed GPS systems; so even though I declined to pay for them, I subsequently ended up getting them for free.)
  7. Don’t take the fuel option, unless you know how much fuel you’re going to use and/or need – you need to travel at least 400 kilometers, most likely, to make the Fuel Option pay for itself. And unless you know exactly how much fuel the car holds. Otherwise, you’re going to be returning a tank still sloshing around with a lot of very expensive gas ($7+ a gallon) you paid for, and didn’t use. Also, if you are taking care of your own fuel, fill up before you return the car; there are several stations close by on the Promenade des Anglais, or even the A8 Autoroute or E40.
  8. Reserve a smaller car than you think you need. Usually, you’ll end up with a larger car, as a no-cost upgrade (especially at the downtown rental locations). Even if you don’t get the upgrade, you’ll probably be glad you didn’t. The smaller the car you have in Europe, the easier it will be to get around, maneuver, park, etc. (Parking spots are tiny!) Most cars in Europe have folding rear seats, so jamming in all your over-packed luggage for a traveling party of one or two people is not likely to be a problem (having four people, and all their luggage, in a Fiat 500 – well, that could be a problem).
  9. If you rent at a non-airport location, make sure you know their opening hours. The ones in downtown Nice are probably closed a couple of hours in the early afternoon for lunch; closed on Sunday; and closed after 7 p.m. most days. (The airport’s central rental car location seems to be open all the time.)
  10. If you don’t want to be bothered returning your car downtown at the end of your rental (if for instance the downtown location is closed, or you are worried about missing your flight) you can just drop it at the airport, and they will have you pay a $17 drop off fee/penalty. No big deal.

Follow these simple suggestions and the cost of a rental – like that woman’s $900 weekly rate mentioned above – could drop to a fraction of the full rack rate. In fact, my next weekly rental in Nice is going to be $142 – about $20 a day, all taxes included.

Jerry Garrett

March 31, 2016

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 20, 2016

THE REVENANT: The Rest of The Story

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The movie “The Revenant” is billed as a story of survival.

Yeah, kinda sorta. But before you celebrate the “survival” of Hugh Glass, read on.

The Revenant is inspired by an episode in the life of Glass, a pioneering mountain man in the 1800s in the wildest wilds of the American West.

In movie version of The Revenant – the word refers to a ghost-like character who returns from the dead to exact revenge – Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a member of trapping party collecting pelts on the upper Missouri River, in what is modern-day South Dakota. They are attacked by Indians, who are looking for a kidnapped daughter of an Indian chief (she’s not there). The Indians, from the blood-thirsty Arikara (a.k.a. the Ree) tribe also aren’t too happy, in general, about white men encroaching on their lands and slaughtering the wildlife.

A few trappers escaped the Arikara and tried to get back down the river to the safety of a fort. Along the way, Glass is attacked by a bear, and severely mauled. It appears he is likely to die, so two fellow survivors of the trading party agree to stay behind to give him a decent burial, while the others hurry to the safety of the fort with their remaining pelts. Glass’ sitters instead try to bury him (a bit prematurely, as it turned out) and skedaddle a little too soon.

While all this supposedly did happen, some embellishments in the movie aren’t really part of Glass’ actual story, i.e., his half-Pawnee son, the snowy terrain and bitter cold (the actual episode took place in August-September), close calls with other mercenaries and Indians, etc. (The movie was also principally filmed in Argentina and Canada – with some Arizona and Montana thrown in.)

As raw as the movie was in depicting Glass’ ordeal, his real travails were even worse: in real life, maggots feasted on his rotting skin, and his bearskin cloak was actually sewed to his back by sympathetic Indians, to cover where his skin was missing and his ribs were exposed.

Glass did drag himself through the wilderness more than two hundred miles to the fort, to confront his faithless companions. But the younger man, Jim Bridger (who would become a real-life legend among mountain men), was excused from Glass’ retribution, because of his youth. And the other man, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), had enlisted in the U.S. Army; which, as it turned out, prevented Glass from confronting and killing him – because a civilian couldn’t kill a soldier.

After all this, Glass didn’t exactly live happily ever after. He went back to the brutal life of a mountain man, trapping and trading, exploring the headwaters of the Missouri, Grand and Yellowstone rivers, and out-running vengeful Indians. But in 1833, his luck ran out and the Arikara finally caught up with him one final time, and hacked him to death.

So, how do you accurately characterize the tale of “The Revenant”? It is not, in the final analysis, a Homeric tale of survival, because Glass did not, ultimately, survive. It is not a tale of revenge, because the real Glass never got his revenge. The movie, in fact, is not a factual account of Glass’ travails; it is based on a 2002 novel by Michael Punke. Glass did not come back from the dead (like a true revenant); he was not “un-killable” or immortal, although his story has become the stuff of legend.

Although this may be the first time a lot of people have heard of Hugh Glass, it is possible to have heard or read about him previously without perhaps knowing it; elements of his life have been immortalized in poems, songs, non-fiction accounts, television shows and at least two movies (including Richard Harris’ 1971 portrayal of him in “Man In The Wilderness”). A statue in Glass’ honor has been erected near the site where he was mauled.

Jerry Garrett

January 20, 2016

 

 

 

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