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

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 6, 2016

The Faraday Conundrum

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Faraday Future’s FFZERO1 concept was unveiled in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS

Faraday Future, at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show here Jan. 4, introduced a bright, shiny object.

Some people, including the Faraday representatives who introduced it, called it a car.

Who knows if it was, or whether it was just a prop.

An object on a stage, as any magician in Las Vegas can tell you, is whatever you tell the audience it is.

If it was a car – it even had a spiffy car-like name: FFZERO1 – it looked futuristic, at best, if not wildly impractical. Techies, who number in the hundreds of thousands at the CES show, feigned starry-eyed wonder. The handful of automotive writers here, who regularly report on the industry, seemed a bit harder to impress.

Faraday folks claimed the FFZERO1 was powered by batteries and electric motors that could propel it by the force of more than 1,000 horsepower. Accordingly, it could travel at over 200 m.p.h. – accelerating from a stop to 60 m.p.h. in less than three seconds, they added.

Those are big numbers – race car numbers – although not ground-breakingly big numbers. A Bugatti Veyron could top that – as far back as 2005. So this is not hot-off-the-presses new news, from a transportation standpoint. The FFZERO1 is allegedly meant to be a race car – it only has a seat for one occupant, after all – but there was no claim it has ever actually achieved such speeds. Or any speed, really. Who knows if it even runs? Was it driven, or pushed, onto the Vegas stage?

That’s the thing about auto show concepts and design studies; they are so often just flights of fancy: Ideas that have leaped off the drawing board (or computer screen). Pick a number – any number – and claim that is its capability. Dream up any powertrain – Ford once touted nuclear reactors in a future filled with flying Ranchero pickups – and promise a transportation revolution.

But what did Faraday really show here? What did Faraday intend to do, besides dazzle a gaggle of credulous tech fan boys? Where was the steak to go with the sizzle? Hard to say. Maybe time will tell. Maybe memory being as faulty and as fleeting as it is, people will soon forget such claims were even made.

Faraday, operating somewhat secretively from Gardena, California at this writing, says it plans to break ground soon on a billion-dollar manufacturing facility on a particularly desolate patch of desert north of Las Vegas. It claims it will hire more than 4,000 new workers and will start building cars there by sometime next year. Exactly when cars – finished cars, federalized to safety and emissions standards, ready for sale – will start rolling off the assembly line is much harder to pin down. The gestation period for competitors – Tesla comes to mind – has been years longer than originally projected.

But Faraday has only been around a couple of years, and already it claims a car like the FFZERO1 is an indication of how fast it can produce something from nothing. Or is it, in the case of the FFZERO1, merely nothing from nothing? That’s why I consider whether the FFZERO1 is really a car, or a merely a carbon fiber rabbit pulled out of a hat.

The FFZERO1 is supposed to showcase the company’s concept of a flat, scale-able platform that could be easily adapted to numerous vehicle types, including luxury sedans, sporty coupes, crossovers, compacts, pickup trucks or even – yes – a race car. The platform, the company said, could also be driven by its front or back wheels, as well as all four.
That concept is meant to facilitate speedier vehicle development than traditional methods, which can require years of refinement and testing to shape many disparate models.
The so-called skateboard platform is not exactly new either; General Motors offered a sneak preview of it more than a decade ago, in its Hy-Wire concept. The world is still waiting, however, for the first vehicle produced on such an architecture.
So, the traditional automotive community might be excused if it is not quite ready to accept Faraday’s claims at face value, especially its rosy projections of a quick entry into the exclusive realm of successful decades-old automakers.
Other red flags: Faraday says the FFZERO1’s pilot benefits from augmented reality technology projected on the road ahead; machine learning skills that help “educate” the car about the driver’s needs in real time and make comfort, convenience, and performance adjustments; a smartphone integrated into the steering wheel; and further electronic aids to minimize driver distraction.
Who knows if any of this tech currently exists, or whether it will make it into any production model – or if some of it did, how long before it might become obsolete?
That’s the thing about high-tech stuff: It becomes obsolete almost as fast as it is developed – sometimes in the matter of months – while a car is expected to last for decades – if not generations. There’s nothing quite as laughable as an older model car with now-passé “high tech features” such as a corded telephone in the center console, a tape deck, or a navigation system with out-dated maps. My 1957 Chrysler came with a .45 record player. How quaint.
In that way – and so many others – cutting edge tech in a car can be a double-edged sword.
That could fuel tech-centric Faraday’s rise, as well as its demise.
Who knows what models, if any, are currently in Faraday’s development pipeline, what they might look like, how well they might harness the lightning-quick pace of technology development? Will eager buyers queue up to buy them?
The only thing we can be sure of, I think, it that the stealthy looking FFZERO1, or anything remotely akin to it, will never appear in your driveway.
Jerry Garrett
January 5, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 2.16.46 PM

 

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona

The 2012 Dallara-Honda race car, driven to victory in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 by Ryan Hunter-Reay, can be yours – if the price is right.

Here’s the deal: Andretti Autosport, which currently owns the car – chassis number DW12-057, is offering it for sale January 29 at the Gooding & Company classic car auction, adjacent to the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall.

David Gooding, the auction house’s president, estimates the car might fetch $600,000-$750,000 – or more, plus a 10 percent sales commission.

“The sale of this lot,” says Mr. Gooding, “is unprecedented in modern motorsports.” Indeed, this unusual opportunity is believed to be without parallel in classic car auction history. Gooding says he was approached recently with the idea, by representatives of the Andretti Autosport team. “It’s not something I would have thought of,” he adds, “but it’s a very exciting idea.”

Michael Andretti, the team’s chief executive, agrees, “I’m excited to team up with Gooding & Company on this really unique collaboration.” He plans to personally present the car to the winning bidder.

The catch is this: The new owner must allow Andretti Autosport to retain the car, and continue racing it, through the 2018 season. After that, the new owner can take delivery of the car – or what is left of it.

The rough-and-tumble sport of Indycar racing is generally not too kind to the machines that race in it. Most end up crashed before the projected end of their useful lives, or in a dark, dusty corner of a garage after becoming too obsolete to be competitive anymore. An Indy-winning car, however, is highly unlikely to be relegated to such an ignominious end.

“Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car would always have a place of honor in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum,” says Donald Davidson, the facility’s historian, “assuming its owner wanted to display it here.” The speedway museum showcases a number of past 500-winning cars, dating back to the inaugural 1911 race’s triumphant Marmon Wasp. The most recent former winner on display is the late Dan Wheldon’s rebuilt 2011 Dallara-Honda.

After the 2018 Indy campaign, Andretti Autosport is promising to “restore and repair” Hunter-Reay’s car in its period-correct 2014 livery, the Gooding auction prospectus states; with one exception: “This lot does not include the Honda race engine, as it is owned and retained by the manufacturer.”

Since the engine is an integral component of the car’s structure, the owner could receive the car in pieces; if the idea of receiving a box of parts is not appealing, Andretti says a “spacer” could be installed where the engine originally went, to hang the various parts off of it, and facilitate a rolling presentation of the Indy winner. (That’s pretty much how the car will be presented at the auction, as it cannot be displayed with its real engine, to avoid any confusion over what is actually being sold.)

To assuage any disappointment over that, or of having to wait such a relatively long time to receive the inoperable, engine-less, obsolete chassis, the team will throw in two season-long participant credentials for the Indycar series races at which the team enters the car through 2018, In addition, the package also includes VIP passes for up to four guests, although some exclusions apply.

“The opportunity to auction off our 2014 Indy 500 winning – and still active – race car and provide the winning bidder with an immersive ownership experience with our team,” Andretti adds, “delivers a great way to celebrate an iconic moment in our team’s history as we prepare for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.” That race is scheduled May 29.

Hunter-Reay is scheduled to appear with the car at various promotional events in Arizona, in the week leading up to the sale.

Gooding says he expects the auctioneer’s hammer could fall at a price much higher than the pre-sale estimate; however, an undisclosed “reserve price” below $600,000 could prevent the sale from being consummated if bids do not exceed that price.

Finally, just to be clear: Although a measure of fame is an unspoken part of the deal, the car’s new owner is not its sponsor. But such requests undoubtedly could be accommodated for additional consideration.

Please note, however, major sponsorships in Indycar racing can run into the many millions of dollars.

Jerry Garrett

January 5, 2016 (Note: An earlier version of this story appeared a day earlier in The New York Times)

 

 

 

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.

(Space.com)

(Space.com)

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

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