Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cars & Coffee – 4/30/11

Oftentimes Cars & Coffee is more of a get-together than a car show. There might not be anything too unusual in the lot so it's a chance to catch up with friends. This wasn't one of those weekends.

T3 Motion, the folks who make the Segway-like chariots that law enforcement uses in some areas brought out for the first time a little project they've been working on - the GT3. At first glance it's a three-wheeler, but a second look shows four tires. A third look shows it is actually a novel three-wheeler with four tires - designed over twelve years to give the vehicle more stability and low rolling resistance but still allowing it to qualify as a motorcycle. That means that it can be cheaper and lighter because it doesn't have to meet automobile regulations that are much harder and expensive to meet.

Not that they are trying to get around having to make a safe vehicle, but this makes it possible to sell an inexpensive little runabout like this that is fun and economical. In this case, the vehicle borrows some motorcycle parts, some automotive parts and an electric motor powering the front tires to create an open-top sporty car that seats two in style. The company hopes to be selling this soon, at a range of $12,000-$30,000 depending on whether it has the electric motor or the "big-ass engine" the T3 rep promised. He also mentioned a possible titanium-bodied version that could sell for as much as $100,000. That's quite a price range.

As bizarrely fun as that thing was, it was trumped by the TVR Tuscan S that pulled in alongside it. In the States through a special connection for a two year period, it looked like it had just dropped from another planet. We never see those things here. The last one I remember seeing was in the movie Swordfish, although I had to have it pointed out as the only thing I really remebered from that movie were Halle Barry's naughty bits.

As if those two marvels weren't enough, a Lamborghini Jarama pulled in right across from them, followed by an eggplant-colored Lusso. That original looking car was facing a Shelby Cobra which was next to Tom's 375 MM and a Siata V8, which was staring down the tail end of a Ferrari 250GT Pini Farina Cabriolet. In front of that was a 1937 Cadillac which was parked a few spots over from a 1920's Ford that looked like it was from the Grapes of Wrath.

It was that kind of day. And the rest of the lot was just as eclectic. The Tucker was back, as was the black Enzo, that gorgeous red Ferrari 512 BB, a CLK Black Series, stepnose Alfa GT, 1933 Rolls, Boss 302s, LS6 Chevelles, green Dino, '66 VW Crewcab, RHD Mini, Studebaker custom, Fiat 500, Jaguar E-Type 2+2, Dodge Power Wagon, 1959 Volvo 442 Station Wagon (!), and a fleet of Nissan 300ZXes, a few sporting StopTechs.

Plenty more to see as well in the full gallery. So check it out.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cars & Coffee – 4/23/11

Short and sweet write-up this week. VARA vintage racers were featured along with Alois Ruf and a few of his RUF Porsches. It was another full house in the rest of the lot too, with a lot of Fiats and Alfas on hand to welcome Fiat back to America. Although it looked the roughest from far away, a careful eye would have spotted that one of those Alfa GTs was actually a GTA, the aluminum factory hot rod.

Some classic BMWs, Mercedes and Jaguars nicely balanced the great American muscle cars from Pontiac, Buick and Chevrolet. A lot of Ferraris ended up in the auxiliary lot, as did a new 392 Hemi Challenger, a stripped out VW Cabriolet and an ex-Bondurant school Crown Vic with Audi wheels.

Major highlights included Jeff Zwart's belly-tank speedster, the Mercedes 190E 2.3-16, Citroen SM, Lynx E-Type racer, white and off-white Ferrari 458 Italias, a sweet green pro-touring Nova SS, the modded CLK Black, the big black Pontiac Catalina 421 HO, the Iron Butt BMW, TdF Ferrari Challenge Stradale with lipstick red interior and that gorgeous red Mangusta!

Link to pics

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Favorite Pics

Wow, what a weekend! After two exhausting days of shooting on Friday and Saturday, Sunday was just a short stop to take in the Mothers Supercar paddock before heading over to Cie Studios for a viewing party. Cie is the company responsible for Car Town, the most popular car game on Facebook. They have something like 8.5 million registered users spending time washing cars and street racing to earn enough virtual coinage to buy anything from an AMC Pacer to a Pagani Zonda Cinque.

Their office happens to be right across the street from the Grand Prix course and it offers great views of the track as well as a fun environment to watch the race on the numerous screens throughout the massive space. And speaking of that space, these guys know how to keep their workers happy and motivated. There are whiteboard cabinet doors for doodling over lunch, a putting green, a reception desk fashioned from a jet engine nacelle and conference room sliding doors that happened to have been the side of a jet fuselage at some point in its history. Great people too and they sure know how to throw a party.

After sorting through my photos, I found 45 that I think are really extraordinary. I've put them in their own album so you can just get to the good stuff if you don't have the time or patience to see the full album or even the highlight album and its 290 entries. I also have some video I shot this weekend as well. I hope you enjoy them.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

2011 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Inside the action

Wow, what an exhausting weekend...and I haven't even covered Sunday yet. Attending the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is always a lot of fun. The racing action, the venue, the people...and the cars. Oh, what great cars. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feeling of being close to these burly beasts and refined rocketships is like the best kind of buffet to a petrol-head. Covering the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, on the other hand, requires a bit of work.

A mandatory safety meeting on Friday at 6:15 am usually requires a pre-5:00 wake-up call. The drive down to the track for locals can take anywhere from half an hour to twice that depending on road closures and traffic. Parking can take another half hour if you try to find one of the prized free parking spots on the surrounding neighborhood streets or you can just cough up the $15-$30 to park in one of the nearby lots and save yourself the aggravation.

After finding an open admission gate you get to schlep your photo gear around the 2-plus mile long track, through tight passages between the concrete barriers, chain link fences and random other roadblocks, carefully avoiding obstacles like the thousands of miles of cables stretched around the perimeter of the course, all over uneven terrain that includes grass, dirt, mud, concrete, asphalt and groundcover, up and down hills, stairs and bridges, in and out of the blazing sun, through the various clouds of cigarette smoke, grilling food aromas and car emissions that are not limited to exhaust fumes, but also include clutch, brake and tire cast-offs. That last one makes for an interesting hair additive and is also quite fetching on the face.

Access points to the trackside photo areas are necessarily limited but also apparently planned by the Marquis de Sade. When you get into position at one of the various cutouts that the officials have provided, you're not allowed to sit, lean or rest anything on the walls. You can carry along a monopod to hold your ten-pound camera/lens combo, or you can save yourself the extra weight in your pack and bring water instead. It does get hot out there and the corner workers justifiably want to keep every drop they've brought to themselves.

Because the best angles for shooting the on-track action are low ones, you either stoop all day, squat in an unnaturally elongated position to clear the barriers or kneel on the broken ground that can also be strewn with broken glass, fence clippings, random hardware, prickly ground cover and ant colonies, just to name a few hazards. You have to share the shooting windows with your fellow photogs so you frequently have to react to taps on your shoulder to switch positions - usually just as the driver you were waiting for leaves the pits. They do give you water, sodas and lunch kits in the media center, and there are chairs as well, so you try to get over there when you can to get revived.

There are six classes of racing this weekend in Long Beach - Indy, Indy Lights, ALMS, Toyota Pro/Celebrity, World Challenge and Drifting. The sessions vary in length and are typically broken up by numerous yellow flags. When everything is green, capturing that great background blur that gives you a sense of speed requires that you pan along with cars traveling up to 180 mph, twisting your body back and forth in a manner that would make Chubby Checker smile - while hunched over, supporting a three foot long camera and lens combo.

You don't want all of your shots to look the same, so you have to set up, shoot and repack to walk to another window every ten minutes or so. Sometimes you are shooting from a position that requires you wait until a break in the action to enter or leave, in which case you may have to sprint across the track when the marshals signal it's all clear, cameras and backpacks bouncing away. If you decide to shoot the paddocks or inside the expo center you get to change lenses and/or settings and now also get to contend with the crowds.

By the end of the day, you've been doing this for nearly twelve hours, with a few short breaks to grab some grub and hit the head. Fighting through the crowds and traffic on the way home just adds the cherry on top. When you finally get home, you get to sort through about 1,500 photos, discarding well more than half of them in the first pass. If you are working on deadline, this typically has to be done between sessions from the media center, or as soon as you get back to your hotel room or home, adding just one more element to the stressful mix. Getting everything processed and posted can take you til late into the night most days, giving you just a few hours to eat, shower and sleep. It is truly exhausting and when the Southern California weather lives up to its reputation, you can also count on scorching sun to dry you out faster.

You want to dress light, but also want to be covered for safety and sun-protection. On top of your clothes you get to wear a tiny blue vest, a credential on a lanyard, cameras around your neck, earplugs, a hat, sunglasses and your pack. The clumsy need not apply. While it might seem that this job requires super humans, with strength, stamina, flexibility and quick reflexes, the truth of the matter is that there are a lot of old guys and gals, a lot of two- and three-hundred pounders, and even a few diff-abled folks out there in the corps. Not everybody produces the same level of product, but almost all of them have to follow this same routine.

While this might sound like a long and proper whine, it is actually an explanation of why covering a race is more work than people realize. I can't tell you how often people ask how they can get a credential so they can get the good shots. They have no idea. Most folks just want to sit down in the grandstands, drink a beer, down a King Taco and watch the action. For those who can't be there in person, they might be able to watch it on TV - if they are particularly adept with a DVR. For the rest they get to experience the races through the photos we produce.

Whether it's in the local paper or the buff books or on the thousands of automotive related websites out there, these photos are the only way some people get to see what went down. The small sacrifices we make to get those photos to you are well worth it. There is the occasional paycheck, we get to get closer to the action than just about anyone not wearing Nomex, and we even get to bring home parts of the cars in our hair. Enjoy the pics, and remember to tip your writer. ;)

Link to highlight gallery

Link to full gallery

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cars & Coffee – 4/9/11

Another gloomy weekend, but the rain held off thankfully. The featured marque corral was filled with some big burly Cadillacs, from the previous gen CTS-V sedans to a pair of XLR-Vs and a bunch of current generation CTS-V sedans, coupes and wagons. Some nice looking cars in there, and some mean sounding ones too.

Mercedes brought a couple of show cars today including a new SLS Gullwing, a new CL63 and one of their promotional Fashion Force fleet cars that just happened to be a new CLS63. I hear they've been driving these around different cities issuing "tickets" to aesthetically offensive vehicles.

The first row of the main lot, which is usually filled with Porsches, was instead populated with Mustangs. A lot of Mustangs. Many are in town for tomorrow's Fabulous Fords Forever show at Knott's Berry Farm.

The rest of the lot was the usual mixed bag of exotics, classics, rods, muscle and oddities. How about that AMC Pacer? Parked between a 2CV and a Beetle it looked like an early Concours de Lemons. There were a lot of other interesting pairings today too.

Like the Audi R8? Do you prefer the V8 or the V10? Coupe or cab? There was something for everyone. Fans of the Nissan GTR had their pick of R35s including the updated 2012 model in white, silver, black and blue. An old Ford Focus stood next to a similarly sized new Fiesta. A Mustang and a Challenger were looking for a Camaro to complete the triumvirate. The funky future-ride known as the Monotracer made quite a splash, as did the matte red M3.

A row of modded modern VWs was nicely complimented by a row of early BMW sports sedans and coupes that included a 2002ttii and a 3.0 CSL. A row over sat a pair of red convertibles, one German and one Italian. The 190SL is beautiful, but I'll take the Alfa. A black R8 and equally ebony Porsche Turbo sat side-by-side. And speaking of Porsches...do you prefer the big-bore 968 or the classic 944? And what color do you want your Carrera GT painted? Black and Seal Gray examples were on hand to help you decide.

Ferrari fans wouldn't have been disappointed today either. Practically every V8 model was represented: 308, 348, 355, 360, 430 and 458. V12 fans had their choice of a 575 or 612. And speaking of stallions...how about those Great Danes? At least four foot at the shoulder, the smaller of the two was big enough to pull a beer truck. My favorite comment was, "did you bring the saddles?"

Direct link to full photo set

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cars & Coffee – 4/2/11

While there wasn't really a call for rain today, the early morning drizzle made me feel like somebody upstairs must hate cars. Thankfully it held off and restored my faith in the benevolent car nut in the sky. Even better, the first car I saw when I pulled in today was a Porsche GT2. Not a bad way to start any day, but this one was in the spectator lot so it had to make you wonder what the show lot had in store for me. The Group 4 BMW M1 I spotted when I reached the corral made it clear that this was going to be another great show.

The BMW M1 was a bold stab at a genuine supercar from the driving excitement folks in the late '70s. The body was designed by Giugiaro, building on the 1972 BMW Turbo show car. The M1 was developed and built in partial collaboration with Lamborghini from 1978 to 1981. This was the company's first mid engine car, so BMW turned to the Italian firm for help with the chassis and even tabbed them to handle prototype construction and some of the manufacturing, namely the spaceframes. In the end, Lamborghini provided little more than seven prototypes before the relationship ended.

Power was provided by a four-valve, twin-cam M88/1 3.5-liter straight-six with Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection and six separate throttle butterflies. It produced a then-impressive 277 hp in road-going tune, but turbocharged race-tuned variations pumped out as much as 850 hp. Versions of the street engine ended up under the hood of some 209 BMW 735i sedans built between 1984 and 1986, as well as the E24 BMW M6/M635CSi and E28 BMW M5. At least that's what Wiki says.

The M1 that showed up today was one of around 50 Group 4 models built during the run. It is also one of just two built with this particular bodywork. Andy Warhol used the other one when he ran out of canvas. From the get-go the M1 was designed to be a purpose-built sportscar to replace the aging 3.0 CSL as BMW's representative in racing. Group 4 and eventually Group 5 racing were the goal and although the company never succeeded in meeting the homologation numbers, BMW was able to race the M1 in its own single-make series, dubbed Procar.

The Procar models had numerous mechanical changes as well as deep front spoilers, wide wheel arches to cover massive tires and most had a large integrated rear wing. Under the rear decklid the inline-six was pumped up to 470-490 hp, raising the top speed from around 160 to over 190 mph. A couple of the cars were prepared by Osella in Italy, with the rest being handled by Project Four, a British outfit run by a young Ron Dennis.

The Procar Championship was held in 1979 and 1980 as a support series for Formula 1, and besides the privateer teams involved, BMW Motorsports ran a team as well, providing five cars to the top five GP qualifiers on any F1 race weekend. None of the F1 drivers ever passed up a chance to participate in the series. In fact Niki Lauda and then Nelson Piquet were the two series champions.

Like the Lotus Esprit, Lamborghini Countach, DeTomaso Pantera and only a few others, this is one of those wedgy '70s designs that still looks awesome today.

As cool as the M1 was, there were plenty of other highlights at the meet today – The custom Dodge A-100 pickup that looks like hard braking will result in an ollie, Toyota 2000GT, Audi Quattro, Diablo 6.0, Citroen 2CV, Volvo 1800ES, a real Gullwing Mercedes, a Wraptivo'd Honda CR-Z hybrid, two-tone Bentley Brooklands, new Boss 302 Mustang and, for the laughs alone, some of the wildest suspension settings I've ever seen on the street.

Direct link to photos