Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cars & Coffee – 10/23/10

Lots of rain all week and this morning was no exception. Still, several clusters of cool cars made it down for the show today. There was a cluster of Lambos including a white Countach and Versace Murcielago, a handful of classic Mercedes accompanied by a rare-in-the-States B-Class, several Aston Martins including a Vanquish and a DB9 Volante, a gaggle of Beetles, a pair of X1/9s, Corvettes old and new and sinister too, Porsches ranging from 356 to Boxster Spyder, R8, E-Type, a Ferrari TdF and a skull bike and Alien sculpture from a real monster garage. Like I said last week - never assume that the drive down won't be worth it, even in the rain.

Direct link to pics

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 Art Center Car Classic

We can't say anything else about this wonderful show until we mention the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe that recently sold for a rumored $38 million, making it the most expensive single vehicle purchase in history. One of just three ever built, and one of two original survivors, it is considered one of the most beautiful automotive shapes of all time.

That car currently resides at The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California. Peter Mullin and his team have transformed the former Otis Chandler Collection building into an Art Deco wonderland of coachbuilt classics, and this Bugatti is the crown jewel. On Sunday it was in Pasadena, weathering the rain with about 150 other vehicles of similar interest if not value.

After a year off, the Art Center Car Classic was back in 2010, with a new October date and a few other notable changes. Chief among them the new tent that helped shield some of the cars - and guests - from the elements. Typically it's the heat that presents the biggest threat but this year it was rain. Although it never came down hard, it did come down fairly steadily for a good portion of the morning.

Those who braved the storm - and coughed up the $50-$60 ticket price - were rewarded with up close glimpses of some of the rarest and most interesting vehicles from throughout automotive history, often accompanied by the very people who brought them to life. We spent a fair amount of time taking in the cars, bikes and planes, but also made sure to visit with some of the legends on hand. On in particular made a lasting impression.

By way of background, my father owned a 1964 Pontiac GTO. It was a white hardtop with a black vinyl roof, a 389 with single 4-barrel as opposed to the more noted tri-power setup, a Hurst 4-speed, lake pipes and a lot of impromptu street racing wins under its belt, my father being a regular at Skip's Drive-In in Chicago as a teen. Skip's was the place to be if you had a fast car or fancied yourself a hot shoe.

The '64 GTO stood out in those days because it was one of the first factory performance cars that married a midsize body with big car power. GM tried to put the kibosh on this type of car in 1963, but John De Lorean and a few others managed to get the GTO built, launching the muscle car era in Detroit. One of the guys working under De Lorean was Jim Wangers.

Jim and his team were perhaps even more important to the success of the GTO than even John Z. himself. You see, Jim had a hand in one of the most infamous comparison tests ever conducted, one that cemented the reputation of the GTO - and the entire American muscle car genre - in the minds of the world by establishing the dragstrip prowess of these cars.

When Car and Driver Magazine came calling with a proposition to feature the then-new Pontiac GTO in a comparison test with the legendary Ferrari GTO of the same era...Wangers knew how important the results could be. His group knew they couldn't get the little sedan to handle like the Ferrari, but they knew they could take the Prancing Horse in the quarter. One reason they knew they could do it was that they had secretly stuffed an even larger 421 in the engine bay of the test car and had local Detroit dealer Royal tune the car for the test.

That '64 GTO went on to whomp the Ferrari in the quarter although it lost the overall comparison by a good margin. Still, Wangers and his team had accomplished exactly what they had set out to do. They showed the world that an inexpensive midsize car with a big motor could be a very fun car to own - and even a threat to the high-priced European sports cars should they dare venture onto the dragstrip.

That very same '64 that featured in the story was at the Art Center on Sunday - along with Jim Wangers himself. Listening to Jim tell the story - and a few others - was well worth the ticket price alone. The fact that there were another 100 cars with similar stories on hand was practically overkill. Throw in the 30 motorcycles and vintage bicycles, the seagoing jet bike, the Icon personal airplane, the McLaren MP4-12C unveiling and the rest, and you have the makings of a truly epic gathering.

Check out the full gallery and you will see everything from a Porsche 906 owned by legendary photographer and racer, Jeff Zwart, to a Myers Manx Plus driven by Dune Buggy inventor Bruce Meyers himself. The 1890 High Wheel Bicycle was one of the oldest modes of transportation at the show, while some of the newest included a Bugatti Veyron and the new Ferrari 599 GTO. With the recent demise of Pontiac, maybe it's Ford's turn to introduce a midsized Fusion with the powerplant from, say, the Shelby GT500 to truly revive the muscle car segment by taking on Maranello's latest at the strip.

Direct link to pics

Cars & Coffee – 10/16/10

You know, this always seems to happen. On the mornings you feel like not going to Cars & Coffee, something amazing turns up. In this case, it was rain that almost kept us away. We would have missed the first Ferrari 599 GTO to make it to the show. A beautiful black GTO with a few custom touches was parked near the back of the lot. A more than half full lot, I might add. Up front in the corral there were a gaggle of Woodies and another Aston Martin V12 Vantage parked across from them by the refreshment tables.

As if that wasn't enough for a drizzly morning, there were a couple of Panameras, a Ferrari Daytona, a Scuderia, a beautiful blue Boxer, a cluster of great-looking Datsun Z cars, an orange Evora, the chicken couple in their cracked egg Isetta, a Pro Touring 'Cuda, a couple Fast and Furious cars, an old Mirage, a Suan G. Koman sponsored Gallardo Spyder driven up by Spencer from Symbolic, an old Great American Race entrant and a bunch of other fun stuff. Ford even had their pre-release 2011 Explorer parked in one corner. Oh, and the GMG guys drove a World Challenge GT3 Cup car in for good measure.

I doubt I'll ever skip a Saturday after this one...even if it's snowing.

Direct link to pics

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

2010 OC Auto Show

I stopped by the Anaheim Convention Center to check out the 2010 Orange County Auto Show on Thursday. Sponsored by Motor Trend, this has always been a dealer show, not one generally supported by the manufacturers. What that means for consumers is that there are fewer debuts and fewer concept cars, and most of the cars you see in the two massive halls are cars you can walk into a dealership and purchase right now.

Mostly 2010 models, but quite a few 2011 editions as well, we counted about 300 vehicles overall. And that's the best part of an auto show – shoppers can check out dozens of competitors all in one spot at the same time. No sales reps to hassle them and no rush to make a decision, folks can kick the tires and get in and out of anything on their shopping list...or something they've always dreamed of.

Sitting in the back seat of the new Jaguar XK-L Supercharged – with its rear seat tray tables, vanity mirrors, heated and air conditioned seats – swaddled in Alcantara and leather, you realize that that gorgeous sloping roofline is deceptive. The interior is humongous and you don't even have to dip your head to get in and out.

The Jag was definitely a highlight, but there were several others as well – across every price level and market segment. On the low end, the new Mazda2 is truly Zoom-Zoom concentrated. With its spunky exterior and surprisingly capacious interior, the car looks like a lot of fun on a budget.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were Lamborghinis, Porsches and Ferraris that were sadly cordoned off, but still highly visible. The Rosso Dino 458 Italia made the word "visible" the understatement of the decade. Rosso Dino, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a fairly rare Ferrari color. Rather than the blood red you might usually associate with the Maranello brand, it more closely matches the orange shorts of the Hooters girls that were signing posters at the show last weekend.

There was something for everyone. Adults could even try out the new Nissan Leaf electric car on a small test track out back or one of several GM vehicles out front. More details are available at : http://www.motortrendautoshows.com/Orange_County/

Direct link to photos

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cars & Coffee – 10/2/10

Good Things Always Come in Threes

With uncharacteristic thunderstorms in the area, we were thinking about skipping Cars & Coffee this go-around. Cloudy skies and damp roads generally produce small turnouts so why bother driving all the way down there to see an empty damp parking lot? Thank goodness we changed our mind. It was a pretty full house, with the main lot just about filled to capacity.

Jeff Zwart brought the very same Porsche GT3 Cup car he recently blasted up Pike's Peak in. A handful of Mercedes SLs brought the company's heritage to life with everything from a pair of Gullwings to a new SL65 Black Series. Someone actually brought a Bristol...and thankfully it didn't come with a Sarah Palin or a Levi Johnston. So much for these priceless cars melting in the rain.

Aside from the usual eclectic mix of hot rods, muscle cars, sports cars and exotics, the weather actually improved. The clouds eventually parted and a rainbow appeared. In fact, it was a double rainbow...high above the show lot. At the base of that rainbow we found our own pot of gold – three separate clusters of smile-inducing make and model gatherings.

The loudest cars in the show were also among the smallest. A healthy gathering of Sunbeam Tigers took up one whole row of the corral. There were Mk I, 1a, II and even Le Mans versions of these British-American hybrids on hand. Just like with the AC Cobra, Carroll Shelby was part of the Sunbeam Tiger's history. Sunbeam had a bit of a reputation for being more of a GT cruiser than a proper sports car, so the crew came up with the idea to get Shelby to do a Cobra-like makeover of their little Alpine roadster.

Just like in the case of the AC Ace's transformation into the Shelby Cobra, Shelby America found that the Ford 260 fit fairly well between the wheelwells – and using a name plucked from Sunbeam's 1926 land speed record car – the Sunbeam Tiger was re-born. Just 7,085 of these spunky little terrors made it out the factory doors – and only 3 of those were Le Mans editions. That made this particular gathering even more special. The capper was when they fired the whole group up for a short cacklefest. What a great racket!

Across from the Tigers were another batch of British vehicles that at times have had more of a rep as grand touring vehicles than all-out sports cars. Nine Aston Martins (top) were lined up with an old Virage at one end and the new V12 Vantage RS at the other. There were V8 Vantage, DB9, DBS and Rapide models as well, but the V12 Vantage was definitely the star of the row, if not the show. Light blue with carbon fiber hood vents – and a giant 6.0L V12 stuffed under the bonnet – it certainly looked like it meant business. The dark grey Rapide next to it looked elegant in comparison, but still sporty...and sexy.

The final club turnout was a group of rear-engine vehicles from the '60s powered by air-cooled aluminum boxer engines. Coupes and convertibles, street cars and race cars, naturally aspirated and turbocharged models with names like Spyder, Monza, Corsa, 500 and Lakewood station wagon. Wait...what? These aren't Porsches? Nope – we're talking about Corvairs here. The late, great Chevy Corvair.

At Cars and Coffee there was a pretty good variety of Corvair models including the aforementioned Corsa, Monza and Monza Spyder, a Corvan 95 Loadside pickup...even a couple of Greenbrier vans. There's just something so endearing about these cars that have the infamous, if ill-founded, reputation for being "Unsafe at any Speed," at least according to Ralph Nader.

The metallic green one with the chromed out 300-horsepower naturally aspirated engine was a good example of what people can do with them if originality isn't a concern and you want to spit in Nader's eye.

It's fun to show up to C & C and find that someone has reserved the featured lot. It's usually a surprise and nine times out of ten it's a good one. But to show up and find three distinct veins of the car hobby, each pulsing with enthusiasm, well that's what makes this show so special to all of us who go.

Direct link to photos from C&C 10/02/10