Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cars & Coffee – 12/25/10

Last show of the year was a rather small one thanks to the weather and the fact that most of the regulars were probably opening gifts at home. Still, a 275 GTB, E-Type, 911 Turbo S, Alpina B7, Viper GTS, 2CV and the new electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV plus a smattering of other cars made it out to share the Holiday with family and friends. Merry Christmas everybody. See you all on New Year's Day.

Link to photos

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

REVIEW: Need for Speed: Shift 2 – Unleashed

It's well past sunset and we're gridded up, awaiting the signal to begin our 1,000 kilometer race through the darkness, the engines pulsing as revs climb and fall in anticipation of the green, the headlights from the field illuminating each other and just a bit of the surroundings – the fencing, billboards and fans, just feet from the track's edge. How thrilling it must be for them, but not nearly as thrilling as it is for me to be sitting in the cockpit, having finally found sponsorship to pay for my ride.

We've qualified near the back of the pack but we're still confident that we have the iron to get us a lower number in the results. Our lack of experience here at Bathurst has us a bit on edge, but a few laps into this marathon and we know we'll have it worked out. The team has been great and if it hadn't been for a couple of small mistakes on my part, we'd have the same view in our rearview that we're facing out the windshield tonight. No matter, we'll just have a bit more work to do to bring home the trophy.

The butterflies in my stomach mirror those in the carburetors, as each stab of the throttle causes a surge of adrenaline. We see the needle on the tach twitch as the car heaves side to side and our chest rises and falls. Keep it cool, rookie. This is a long race and you know you have to stay focused and calm. Still, as the moment approaches, you know that so much is riding on this one event.

Revs build and the tension rises as the start nears. The green flies and we're away. We scramble for traction momentarily, but get away cleanly. A pack of 31 V8 Supercars thunders ahead, tires screeching and fenders banging before we even hit Hell Corner. Our vision is blurred by the speed, the vibrations of the engine and track surface making it even harder to grip the wheel. We take a cautious line into 1, trying to play follow-the-leader until the competitors string out a bit. After all, you can't win a race on the first lap, but you damn sure can lose one. We glance right and see someone trying to pinch us off. We stay focused on our line and keep on the throttle. Whew, that was tight. Still, we manage to get around three other cars and are barreling down on another small cluster as we make the long slow climb up Mountain Straight into Griffins Bend.

We pick the outside around Turn 2, choosing our line carefully as we stay tight to the left edge, just managing to slip past one, then two competitors before we feel it – someone has tried to follow us through and hasn't timed their braking nearly as well as we did. Before we know it we're in a sea of sheetmetal, the wheel and pedals ignoring our commands. We're pushed into one, then two, then three cars as the sickening crunch of metal and glass brings a wave of nausea over us.

Maybe it's not as bad as it sounds. Maybe we can get around to the pits and get it sorted before we lose too much ground. Heck, it might even help us at the end of the day as we'll likely be racing in open ground, and using an alternate pit strategy. As we get back under power and motor away from the melee, the truth of our situation comes crashing over us just as hard as the previous shunt. We've lost our whole front end. Not only are the aerodynamics going to be shit, but we have no lights and can barely make out the tail lamps of our competitors as they steadily pull away into the blackness, completely lost to the night as they round The Cutting. Fuck. This is going to be a lot harder now.

We play back the track layout in our head as the faint illumination from the trackside billboards helps keep us pointed in the general direction of asphalt. We start to feel the track under us and as confidence returns, speed builds. Soon we are clipping along at near race speeds, our muscle memory helping keep us between the curbs. Our eyes follow what we think to be the contours of the track, splitting the distance between the signs.

Maybe this lap won't put us as far back as we thought. We're probably only going to lose twenty or thirty seconds. That'll be easy to make up over 1,000 mile race. We can do it if we just keep focused and don't do anything stupid...like thinking we can drive this unfamiliar track at near race speeds in pitch black surroundings. Before we know it we're back into the gravel and dirt, bounding over mounds of earth feeling like we're at sea during a storm. This is going to be one long night.

We decide to hit reset and try it again. Now that we think of it, maybe we'll try Laguna Seca this time. We know that track a lot better from having run it in just about every other game. For this is a game after all, the next Need for Speed installment, Shift 2. It's much like every other game we've played in that we are using a paddle and a monitor, driving some incredible cars over familiar – and not so familiar – tracks, allowing the computer to control as much of the driving physics as we feel necessary for our skill level. But this game is like no other game we've ever played because of one thing – helmet cam.

The helmet cam view is the default view for gameplay in Shift 2 and will distance this game from any other the same way Sebastien Vettel would distance himself from you at the local kart track. The level of realism you get from actually looking through the visor of the driver is amazing. You're not having to wait for the car to rotate before you can see what awaits you as you exit. No, you are looking past the apex into the next straight, out the windshield or even the side window if needs be. This angle alone makes Shift 2 a must buy. But there's more...much, much more.

Vaughn Gittin Jr, Chris Rado and Tommy Milner

We were treated to a sneak preview of this game at the 2010 SEMA Show in Las Vegas in November. In a small room high above the Central Hall show floor, a group of journalists gathered with Tommy Milner, Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chris Rado, three young drivers from different racing disciplines that had lent a hand in making this game the most realistic one ever. The NFS folks told us that they had decided to drop out of the race to make the best driving simulator ever. They saw that as a losing proposition. What they did instead was build the first and best racing simulator for a mass market console. By applying the physics of racing instead of trying to duplicate simple driving dynamics, they've raised the bar by an order of magnitude. The feel from inside the cockpit is as close to the real thing as any of us is likely to get.

Drift Champion Gittin helped design a special car for this game that the folks behind it decided to build for the real world too in some funky cross-dimensional, cross-promotion. It's the Mustang RTR-X that debuted at SEMA and took home a trophy or two. Vaughn told us that he was really pleased when he first saw the photos of the car because it looked exactly like he had hoped. While looking at the 4X6 prints, something occurred to him: he didn't remember bringing the car to VIR yet. He called the guys and asked when they had brought it out to Virginia for the photos. After a lengthy pause they burst out laughing. It was a rendering from the game, not an actual photo. Vaughn had been duped, but it was entirely understandable. This game is so realistic in detail that you might think you're looking at in-car race footage off of SPEED when you see the trailers. Seriously. It's at least as good as any pure racing simulator we've ever played before, including those $100,000 jobs they rent for parties.

 The Mustang RTR-X

The NFS designers have chosen to focus on hyper realism and exacting physics for the game, necessarily having to limit driving conditions in the process. No rain or snow here, no – just daytime, dusk or night racing, with speedometers that blur with speed, drifting action that has you looking out the passenger window to see smoke and rubber cascading through the air, and real damage that will have you trying to drive around Bathurst with no lights at three hours past nightfall. It is insane.

 Tommy Milner demonstrates Need For Speed: Drift 2 - Unleashed

While the version of the game we got to see and sample was an early development program, we have no doubt this will be the best racing game ever when it finally reaches stores sometime in early 2011. We'll put it this way – when Vaughn and Chris Rado flinch watching Milner bang a curb during his demonstration run, you know it's realistic. Even us jaded journalists and gamers we're cringing at the impending impacts once we saw the first brush with the wall. Need For Speed: Shift 2 should come with a health advisory warning for those that are weak of heart.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cars & Coffee – 12/11/10

Foggy morning but a great turnout today. It looked like a lot of groups showed up with a good sized cluster of Miatas, BMWs, British roadsters, T-Rexes, Ariel Atoms...and of course the usual Porsches, Corvettes, etc. The gang from Edmunds.com was even there this morning with their long-term fleet.

Two V12 Vantages, a DBS and a Vanquish were joined by the old Virage in representing Aston Martin. A Turbo S coupe and cab, GT3 RS, GT3 RSR and GT2 highlighted the newer Porsche contingent, although an eggplant Panamera captured our attention with the smell of burning plastic. A couple of undercar photos showed nothing obvious – probably just skipped a step in the PDI and we were smelling the exhaust tip coating that should burn off pretty quickly.

Another Panamera was parked alongside an old Rolls Royce, showing the evolution of 4-door luxury sedans. In fact there were several interesting pairings this morning – The Hennessey Ford GT next to the 599, a Pantera and another Ford GT, a 412 and a Maranello, a giant old Bentley Continental R and the Virage, a Super Duty Trans-Am and a late-model GTO, a 356 and the GT3 RS, and so forth.

With such slick roads from the fog, it was a bit surprising to see so many cool bikes today as well – everything from Rob's French military Indian to Frank's Ducati 999. But as usual, thankfully, the sun came out just as it was time to go.

If you've been wanting to make it down to Cars & Coffee but haven't been able to drag yourself out of bed lately, try to make it next week. Although they were tight-lipped about it, those in the know said we might get an early Christmas present.

Link to photos

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010 Holiday Gift Guide For Gearheads

In this line of work we get to play with a lot of neat gadgets. Sure the cars are great, but sometimes the gadgets are just as fun. Companies are always sending us info on electronics, tools, chargers, clothes, parts, accessories and the like that promise to make motoring safer, more enjoyable, more efficient or more expressive. At trade shows like SEMA and CES we actually get to play around with many of these items to see whether or not they do what they promise to, and more importantly, whether they are worth plunking down our hard earned dollars for. Some are, some aren't.

I've put together this buyers guide aimed at enthusiasts, with some practical and some whimsical gift ideas. The list below is not an exhaustive one, but it represents some of the items I got to try out in 2010 that I truly felt were worth the money. Consider this a starting point for creating a shopping list for the gadget-focused gearhead in your life this Holiday Season. Have a Happy Holiday and may 2011 bring you and yours many miles of happy motoring.

Bossco: Luma Lite - A go-anywhere light for mechanics and hobbyists 
The all-in-one light that replaces the wall light, flashlight, lantern and headlamp. • 4 LED lights featuring a wide beam and super bright illumination • Bulbs that last 100,000 hours and enough battery power for 100 hours • Sticky Velcro to adhere to any surface • Magnets in every light for sticking to metal surfaces • Water and shock resistant
Available at: Ace Hardware and Amazon Price: $7.59 Website: www.bosscointernational.com

ClingBlings: Pole Girls Air Freshener - A bit of cheeky fun
This is not your grandfather's hula girl
• She Spins As You Drive • Mounts instantly to your dashboard with supplied double-sided foam tape • She rotates, spins and changes position as you accelerate or brake • Insert optional Air Freshener accessories into base in seconds • Pole Girls can also be used on your desktop. Flick her with your finger and watch her spin.
Available at: ClingBlings.com Price: $8.99 Website: www.clingblings.com

Joby: Gorillatorch Flare - Most versatile flashlight around
Powerful 100 Lumen flashlight with red LEDs and strobe option for emergency situations
• One ultra-bright white CREE LED and three red LEDs can illuminate any target or send a hands free emergency signal
• Users can choose between low, medium, high and flashing white light or between steady and flash- ing red light
• Flexible, wrappable legs and magnetic feet allow Gorillatorch Flare to be attached to any surface • Compact, lightweight design allow it to be stowed in a car or backpack • Three AA batteries provide 20 - 240 hours of operation depending on power setting
Available at: Joby.com, Amazon REI Price: $34.95 Website: www.joby.com

Lemur Monitors: EconoDriver - Easy to use reminder of how economically you're driving 
Driving feedback accessory displays real-time fuel consumption to help you drive greener and save money
• Program in the current cost of gas and it will indicate how much money you are wasting by accelerating and braking too quickly or idling too often
• Installs within minutes and requires no additional tools or computer connection • Simply plug the sensor into your vehicle’s Data Port which then wirelessly relays the pertinent info
to the display on the pocket-sized key fob
Available at: Brookstone and The Sharper Image, Amazon Price: $79.95 Website: www.lemurmonitors.com/EconoDriver.html

Lemur Monitors: SafeDriver - Easy to use monitor of how safely you're teen is driving 
Driving feedback accessory provides peace of mind to parents of teen drivers
• From the moment your teen backs out of the driveway it will record real-time information of your teen’s driving habits
• Displays maximum speed, distance traveled and any sudden brakes • Installs within minutes and requires no additional tools or computer connection • Simply plug the sensor into your vehicle’s Data Port which then wirelessly relays the pertinent info
to the display on the pocket-sized key fob
Available at: Brookstone and The Sharper Image, Amazon Price: $79.95 Website: www.lemurmonitors.com/SafeDriver.html

Linear-Logic: ScanGauge II - Auxiliary gauges for the techie  
Ultra Compact 3-in-one Automotive Computer
• Trip Computer - Digital Gauges - Scan Tool • The integrated Trip Computer provides realtime feedback while simultaneously tracking three sets of trip data. The Digital Gauges give you realtime data for your vehicle and the built-in Scan Tool allows you to read trouble codes and diagnose potentially expensive problems before they get out of hand.
• All this in a small and simple to install unit that can be easily moved from vehicle to vehicle.
Available at: AutoZone, Amazon Price: $169.99 Website: www.scangauge.com/

Moshi: Voice Control Bluetooth Car Speakerphone - A Godsend for California's hands-free scofflaws 
Hands-free car speakerphone allows you to activate 13 commands by your voice alone
• Activated by user saying “Hello Moshi”, voice control works right out of the box with no programming or buttons needed
• Responds to 13 voice activated commands including setting up to five speed dial faves, call back last incoming call, check battery and cancel call
• Features include removable visor clip, ambient noise suppression, echo cancellation and 7 hours of talk time
Available at: MoshiLifestyle.com Price: $79.99 MSRP Website: www.moshilifestyle.com

Moshi: Voice Control (VC) Digital Clock Radio - You can tell it to shut up 
Compact ‘listening clock’ that allows you set the time, alarm and play the radio by your voice alone
• Activated by user saying “Hello Moshi”, voice control works right out of the box with no programming or buttons needed
• Responds to 12 voice activated commands including setting dual alarms, play radio, set alarm, today’s date and snooze
• Features high quality stereo sound, 6 station presets, 3 alarm and 3 sleep sounds and AUX-IN to play any MP3 player such as iPod
Available at: MoshiLifestyle.com, Amazon Price: $69.99 MSRP Website: www.moshilifestyle.com

PLX Devices: Kiwi Bluetooth - Data recorder for your Android 
Turns your Droid mobile device into a powerful automotive monitoring tool
• Works with your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch via the Wi-Fi Signal • Features include: Check Engine scan tool, MPG Gauges, Engine Sensors, Real time Dyno, Data Log-
ging, GPS Tracking and Skid Pad • Easily installs via your car’s OBDII plug located underneath your steering column • Downloadable apps available on iTunes include Rev, Dash Command and Fuzzy Car
Available at: www.PLXKiwi.com, Amazon Price: $99.95 Website: www.plxkiwi.com

PLX Devices: Kiwi Wi-Fi - Data recorder for your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch 
Turns your iPhone/iPad into a powerful automotive monitoring tool
• Works with your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch via the Wi-Fi Signal • Features include: Check Engine scan tool, MPG Gauges, Engine Sensors, Real time Dyno,
Data Logging, GPS Tracking and Skid Pad • Easily installs via your car’s OBDII plug located underneath your steering column • Downloadable
Available at: www.PLXKiwi.com, Amazon Price: $149.95 Website: www.plxkiwi.com

Roadside Safety Supply: Duro Flash - Fireless flare replacements are reusable and indestructible 
Indestructible, Convenient and Safe LED Road Flare Kit
• Used worldwide as a flare replacement • Made with longevity in mind • No moving parts to break off or become damaged • Water and weather proof • Available in Blue or Red
Available at: Public Safety Sites Price: $199.95 Website: www.roadsidesafetysupply.com

Scosche: flipSYNC II - Keychain fob guarantees you'll always have your iPhone adapter handy 
Keychain with full-size USB charger and sync cables for Blackberry & iPhone/iPod
• Attaches to a keychain so users always have a convenient way to charge and sync their phone or MP3 player
• Features USB 2.0 for fastest data transfer possible • USBMM model features both Mini and Micro USB connections • IPUSBM model features iPhone/iPod connection
Available at: Scosche.com, Apple.com, Amazon Price: $19.99 Website: www.scosche.com

Swann: PenCam Mini Video Camera & Recorder - Pen camera for the 007 or Maxwell Smart wannabe 
Real working pen conceals color camera and DVR shoots video & still images
• Captures color AVI videos in 640 x 480 & still images in 1280 x 960 resolution • Footage recorded on 2GB internal memory; 1 hour of video & 9,000 still images • Integrated USB connector allows for easy video/image back-up • Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery lasts 90 minutes on a full charge
Available at: RadioShack.com, HomeDepot.com, Amazon Price: $99.99 Website: www.swannsecurity.com

Swann: RemoteCam- Keychain spy cam isn't just for pervs 
Mini video camera & DVR housed inside a car remote control for covert surveillance
• Captures color videos in AVI format and color still images in JPEG format • Includes a 2GB MicroSD card capable of recording up to 25 minutes of video • Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery can record for 60 minutes per charge • Easily upload pictures/videos to social networking sites via USB port
Available at: B&H Photo, NextDayPC, Amazon Price: $99 Website: www.swannsecurity.com

Thrustmaster: Ferrari Wireless GT Cockpit 430 Scuderia - Not perfect, but still awesome 
Unleash real racing power with the ultimate drivers cockpit from your living room
• Adjustable and foldable cockpit for any size user, multiple positions and easy storage • Wireless cockpit ensemble with range of 10 meters and a 50 hour battery life • Features HallEffect Accurate Technology system for absolute precision • Programmable wheel Ferrari 430 replica with internal memory
• Magnetic resistance pedals provide a real long distance travel effect • Wide solid base provides optimal stability
Available at: Amazon Price: $249.99 Website: www.thrustmaster.com

Thrustmaster: Ferrari Licensed GamePads - Guaranteed to cut 3 seconds off your lap times 
Symbolizing the most prestigious Ferrari cars, each controller features a unique personality
• Optical wheel with an automatic centering feature offers unrivalled precision • Dual progressive triggers for acceleration and breaking power • Fully programmable, equipped with internal memories and offers PS3TM and PC compatibility • Extremely comfortable grip with “peach skin” texture
Available at: Buy,com, NewEgg.com, Walmart.com, Amazon, Microcenter and Electronics Expo Price: $39.99 - $49.99 Website: www.thrustmaster.com

Tunebug: Shake - Lets you "wear" a tweeter, midrange or woofer helmet depending on the size of your head 
An ultra-portable “surfacesound” speaker for bike, ski and skate helmets
• When mounted on a helmet, the Shake creates a great listening experience • Enables bikers, skateboarders and skiers to enjoy their favorite music while still being aware
of their surroundings • Can be connected to iPods, MP3 players & mobile phones wirelessly via Bluetooth technology • Has a LiPoly battery with about 5 hours of playtime and charges via the included USB cord
Available at: Amazon Price: $99.99 Website: www.tunebug.com

Urbanears: Medis Headphones - Best stay-put earbuds made 
Sleek & fashionable earphones with EarClick technology provides maximum comfort and fit
• EarClick technology anchors the ear-piece securely in place to provide ultimate comfort • Features custom microphone and remote compatible with the iPhone and Nokia, HTC and
Blackberry phones • Includes 4 interchangeable inserts to ensure a secure fit on any ear • Available in 12 fashionable colors like Army, Ocean and Chocolate
Available at: Bloomingdales, Rock and Soul, Turntable Lab and Amazon Price: $50 Website: www.urbanears.com

XtremeMac: InCharge line - Great line of adapters and chargers 
Charge iPod, iPhone or iPad while at home or on the go
• InCharge Duo compact dual docking station can charge iPad and/or any combination of iPod and iPhone simultaneously
• InCharge Home dual USB wall charger for iPad, iPhone or iPod features compact, low-profile design allowing access to a second wall outlet and 2.1 amps of power to ensure rapid and efficient charging
• InCharge Auto mobile charging solution for iPad, iPhone or iPod features integrated safety fuse to protect device while charging
Available at: Amazon, XtremeMac.com and Apple stores (InCharge Duo) Price: $59.99, $34.99 and $24.99, respectively Website: www.xtrememac.com

Even more Holiday gift ideas in my end-of-summer road trip gift guide.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Toys for Tots and Motor4Toys Weekend

Now that's how you get car lovers in the Holiday spirit! After a fun Cars & Coffee on Saturday where the Marines were on hand to collect the hundreds of toys brought in by the Pantera club, Woodie club and the rest of the CnC regulars, Sunday was twice as fun. Motor4Toys 2010 was huge. An early morning drive up to the Topanga Mall with some Porsche guys went by quicker than anticipated so we got to spend a good two hours there before heading back down to HB for the annual Schnuerer Toys for Tots drive.

Dusty and the gang outdid themselves up at M4T, with somewhere north of 30,000 toys being collected  to help those less fortunate celebrate the season. Besides the massive piles of toys for the needy kids, there were thousands of cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, helicopters, boats, and other random vehicles on hand – proving that grown men (and women) still play with toys as well. It was great to see everybody, however briefly. After a couple of hours at M4T, we were back on the road for the OC.

Gerhard and Rosemarie Schnuerer have been doing a Toys for Tots drive at their Huntington Beach facility for several years now, and it's funny how a year can pass without seeing these folks and their cars, and it still feels like it was just yesterday that we were all together. This really feels like a family gathering, with Gerhard's collection of classic German machinery spilling out of the museum to allow everyone a chance to ride in these amazing bits of history. And let me tell you...you haven't lived until you've eaten Gulasch out of a Gulaschkanone - an actual German field kitchen trailer.

With silent auctions, raffles and live auctions, both events are more than mere car shows and toy drop offs. The Schnuerer event has a live band, free photos of partygoers during the day, TV car guy Dave Kunz as auctioneer, and everything from a chance to ride in a Patent-Motorwagen replica to an opportunity to take a new AMG Mercedes around the track if you're the high bidder.

The Motor4Toys event has numbers. Seeing a line of thirty, forty, even fifty Corvettes, 911s or Ferraris is breathtaking. Seeing the same thing repeated row after row after row for maybe thirty rows is amazing. And with that big of a crowd and the media attention it attracts, there are also quite a few celebrity cars and stars. Leno, Bruce Meyer, Fireball Tim, Dave Kunz and many others are always at this event, the single largest donator of toys from one group year after year.

A long day that sadly passed too soon, it's a great way to kick the Holidays into high gear.

Motor4Toys pics
Toys for Tots pics