We all love Top Gear’s Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, but the stats end of things can be a bit confusing at times. Not only have there been so many stars, but those of us in North America often don’t have a clue who some of the Brit TV & radio personalities are. This fun infographic from carbuzz.co.uk helps clear things up a bit.
Compared to the day before, waking up at 8:00am was a luxury! While media days continued at Cobo Hall, we would be spending the morning inside Ford. After meeting several of the fellow bloggers invited by Ford, all had told me they had never been to an auto show before. Having met bloggers who focus on car design, art, architecture, tech, and the environment, this is the day they were waiting for.
Bags packed, and finally in casual dress, I hopped the bus to Ford’s design studio. A plain, sprawling two story brick building, from the outside it looks like 1950’s corporate America, with no hint of the innovation going on inside its doors. We’re escorted into a large circular showroom, with breakfast on hand. I’m glancing around, and again, I’m thinking how dated this all looks. I later learn there is a reason for that. Since the 1950’s, this is the room Ford execs have been shown prototypes, concept cars from its design team. I am seated where the original 1964-1/2 Ford Mustang was first seen by Ford management, and the room is the same then as it is in 2012. A lesson in respect is learned, dear readers.
The program kicks off an “Innovation through Design” panel discussion. With all due respect to Ford, it was an utter disaster. For over half an hour I listened to topics that beared no relationship to anything going on at Ford, innovation or design. I just sat and suffered through a few guys blowing hot air, generally feeling how impressed they were with their intellectuality. While pontificating about nothing in particular, the audience duly responded by closing their eyes, working their iPads or smartphones.
With the painful panel discussion now behind us, I’m back on the bus to a nearby Ford laboratory. As a car journalist who has a regular rotation of new cars on a constant basis, I confess I give little thought as to what work and research actually goes in to designing a car-I just review the final product. And for those of you out there who still think American automakers are sloppy and lazy, take note. Ford first ushers us to a laboratory that serves one sole function: measuring how you get into a car. Ford has constructed an easily configurable steel cage to replicate how one would enter and exit any sort of car or truck it builds, taking into consideration door size, steering wheel position, and seating. Ford then uses several people of all body sizes who are hooked up to a computer to monitor their movements, and are asked about how easy or difficult it was to get in or out of the car. If that isn’t attention to detail, then I don’t know what is.
Next, we’re shown a different lab, pictured above. This is where people test current Ford technologies such as Sync and MyTouch, where you drive in a virtual world. While voice command for changing songs, making calls or navigation are available now, Ford let us in that they are testing expanding on voice commands to include seating adjustments. Other notable stops were Ford’s use of sustainable materials and Ford’s Sync technology in action.
But what I was hankering for was back at Ford’s world headquarters design studios. And I was granted access to what no one else can see. I enter the clay studio, and there is a silver colored, full-size clay model of the Ford Mondeo. Surrounding the Modeo are tables of smaller clay models. On the walls, artists renderings of concept cars these craftsmen carefully sculpt. And in the corner, my jaw drops. It is a clay model of the next Ford Mustang. I’m able to chisel and scrape as I wish, but more than anything, I am stunned I am getting a firsthand hint at where Ford is taking the Mustang design. And, I am sorry folks, but cameras were banned, and I cannot tell you any detail of what I saw.
If clay modeling is considered old-fashioned, what lay in store for us next will convince you Ford is on the cutting edge of design. What you see above is akin to a small movie theater, but in 1080p HD. The tech Ford has boggles the mind. With no photos involved, Ford showed us a last generation Fusion, fully computerized. Ford had the ability to set this car in any setting, say, in Las Vegas, or the woods, and see how light reflects off the car in any angle. Dealers can see how the car will look in the showroom.
I met with an interior designer. Seated at a Dell with a 42″ HD monitor, on the fly he could change interior colors on whim-seat color, seat material, wood grain finish. The possibilities were endless. Another programmer had software solely meant to view how the new Fusion looked while driving at different speeds and angles. Again, the investment Ford has made in technology blew my mind.
But, all good things must come to an and. We were escorted back to the room we started off in, and treated to lunch. Enjoying one last meal with my new daddy blogger friends, I enjoyed Chilean sea bass with none other than J Mays, Chief Creative Designer of Ford as a speaker. His speech was brief, and took few questions, but he’s rightfully proud of the new Fusion, and has indicated the focus is now on restoring Lincoln to its former glory, an effort he feels will take at least a decade. On parting with us, J Mays remarked on how positive us bloggers were, unlike the ‘cynical auto press’. Guess he didn’t know there was an auto journo in the crowd.
And that was basically it. Ford herded us onto buses straight to the Detroit airport. I had a couple hours to kill, and I observed film crews and other auto journos make there way back home. Once boarded on my flight, we were stuck on the tarmac for a half hour. Finally underway, our flight was pleasant. I arrived back in Bradley International, which was a ghost town save for a delayed flight to Baltimore. Sitting in the parking garage was my trusty Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited, ready to whisk me back home to my family.
With media days behind us and the 2012 North American International Auto Show now open to the public at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, there is much to be said about the show itself, and what The Garage was able to see. While we’ll get to what happened on my day at the show when it opened to the press on Monday, my visit to Cobo was just one part of my journey to Michigan. This year, The Garage was honored to have been asked by Ford to be their guest for the show, and much more. Ride shotgun with me as I share my experience in Dearborn and Detroit.
On a clear, and actually comfortable January morning here on the Connecticut coast I left in my current test car, a 2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited. Exciting it is not, but in just over an hour I was at Bradley International Airport just north of Hartford, the Highlander providing a quiet, comfortable ride and a good stereo and always easy to use navigation. Check in was a breeze and a two hour flight later, there I was in Detroit. Ford chauffeured me to The Henry in Dearborn where I would be staying.
It being the NFL playoffs, I wandered down the the hotel bar to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Denver Broncos. I sized up a fellow a couple seats down, who turned out to be a fellow blogger out of London, UK, who specialized in writing about auto design. Not a car journalist, but having visited Aston Martin and Bentley’s facilities, I could see why he was here. After enjoying a local micro-brew, we had to quit the game and prepare for our dinner.
Having been able to relax a bit, I was invigorated and excited to have our dinner at the Henry Ford Museum, a major tourist attraction for the area. This evening, as guests of Ford, we were treated to a sneak preview of the Driving America Exhibition that opens to the public on January 29. The Henry Ford Museum is absolutely massive, with too much to describe here. The building we were in is just a small part of the complex. Taking up 60,000 square feet with 100 vehicles of all sorts, this is a car museum like none other. This is the automobile, and automobile culture as generations have experienced or watched. While a first generation Prius or Dodge Omni may seem odd additions to a museum collection, these were significant cars for what they were. There is a little bit of everything here, race cars, Ford GT40 (seen above), icons like the Willy’s Jeep, even a fully restored diner and a train. Check the image gallery below for more.
Most impressive, and what awestruck many of us the most was the presence of two extremely historically significant cars, the Lincoln Continental that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in, and the Lincoln Continental President Ronald Reagan was shot while attempting to enter. You will note JFK’s car was fitted with a fixed hardtop before it was returned to service for President Johnson. While the car was originally painted Navy Blue, this Continental was been black ever since the car was rebuilt after the assassination. It’s a powerful part of American history to behold.
After admiring the cars, and impressive interactive stations visitors will be able to use, it was time to hear from the man at the head of this gathering of bloggers for Ford-Scott Monty, Head of Social Media. Gathered together this evening were 146 bloggers assembled from 16 countries. It would be a hectic few days together, we were told. Following dinner, I met up with a unique, small group of men whose blogs focused on parenting from a dad’s perspective. Interesting, I thought, but when I pressed to see if they reviewed cars, they did not. I confess, I was confused-why has Ford flown out all these people to a car show, but aren’t auto journalists?
I’d have time to consider that later. Our dinner broke up quickly afterwards, which left me just enough time to jump a cab ride to join The Man In Charge, our own Gary Grant who was holding court at The Volt Lounge in GM’s Renaissance Center in Detroit. Though we both work hard to bring you the content here at The Garage, I usually only see Gary once a year, if that, so it was a pleasure to spend some time together and talk with other auto journalists and photographers.
But the guests of us at Ford had a very early morning ahead of us, leaving for Cobo at 6:30am to be ready for the 2013 Ford Fusion world debut. Stay tuned for the next chapter!
Editors Note: Ford Motor Company paid for my travel, food, and accommodations, but I was not compensated in any manner for my time. The opinions expressed here are my own.
It’s the end of September, which always signals a special two day event sponsored by the International Motor Press Association (IMPA) known as Test Days. This year was notable not only for IMPA’s 50th birthday, but Test Days was held in a new location. Leaving familiar grounds at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, this year Monticello Motor Club in Monticello, New York would be our hosts this year. On a crisp but comfortable September evening, my duffel and suit taking every square inch of my Fiat 500C’s diminutive trunk, I peeled back the roof, tuned to Real Jazz on XM Radio, and carved my way up Connecticut’s Route 25, a twisting, turning two lane road which would lead me to picturesque Newtown.
Once in Newtown, I would hook up with I-84. At highway speed, in a northern, higher elevation the temps were dropping and with the touch of a button the Fiat’s roof was closed, tight as a button. You would think the 1.4L 500C would make for a lousy highway cruiser, but once on the interstate I settled into the decently supported leather seat, the Fiat’s cabin alight with its orange glow from the instruments and controls. After about 70 miles of being an interstate drone, it’s time to break off to Route 17 in New York, which will take me to the Catskill Mountains. It’s pitch dark, and by the time I reach my exit, I know I’m out in the middle of nowhere, as I have another ten miles before I reach my hotel.
On a dark, desolate road I am the only car I see the entire ride. Without GPS navigation in the Fiat, I rely on help from a local gas station, about the only business I saw open. Then, turning off the road, stood Honor’s Haven Resort & Spa. Wearily, I rolled up to the security booth, gave my credentials, and put my little Fiat to bed for the night, and carted my luggage up to the lobby. Honor’s Haven is under new ownership, who have invested millions in updates and renovations, but the bones of an older hotel, recalling a different time are there, and you can feel it-in a good way.
After a solid night’s sleep, I awoke, and for the first time in my life I saw the Catskills in daylight. Wishing my wife and son a good day at work and school on my phone, I gazed upon the lake and golf course. The mountains were stunning, the grounds immaculate. As lovely as the surroundings were, there was driving to be done, and it was time to climb back into the Fiat for the 35 mile trip to Monticello Motor Club. Driving back to Route 17, seeing the area in the daylight was an eyeopener. Beautiful countryside all around, maybe a couple scattered cottage rentals, but little else.
In stark contrast lays Monticello Motor Club. A relatively new facility, MMC is a private club where drivers can wring out their own cars-basic, exotic, race car, you name it-on a 4.1 mile race track that can be configured twelve different ways. MMC is 90 miles north of New York City, and boasts a heliport, clubhouse, storage for your car and service. In the future, MMC hopes to build a hotel and eventually host a race at their track. In an upper parking lot, all the assembled manufacturers had their cars available for us to drive. We were given a route to drive that would take us through the outlying area on some challenging roads that would give us a chance to enjoy the cars on hand.
I decided to divide my day in two-in the morning, nothing but American muscle. I started off with a Dodge Challenger SRT8 392. And man, I love Challengers. I’ve gotten a Challenger SRT8 on the banking at Pocono Raceway up to 130mph+ with that Hemi sounding exactly like the stock cars you see on the track. My affinity for this car was confirmed with the Challenger R/T I reviewed, and during that week the Challenger became my favorite modern muscle car. Sadly, the SRT8 392 on hand was an automatic, which took a lot of the fun out of the equation. Next up was a Ford Mustang GT convertible. Smaller and much lighter than the Challenger, and blessed with a six-speed manual, the Mustang was hands down the better car for the undulating roads around Monticello.
After lunch-it was all imports. And it was time for me to drive what is known as Godzilla-the Nissan GTR. And I have a serious problem with this car, since Nissan claims the GTR will whip a Porsche 911 Turbo on the Nurburgring. With a Porsche 911 parked in my garage at home, it was time to drive the Enemy. I have to say, everything you have read about the GTR is true. It is without question one of the most brutally fast cars I have ever sampled. You want 60mph from a standing start? Do you have 2.9 seconds to spare? On abandoned roads I’d come to a complete stop just for the thrill of standing on the throttle, no lifting, banging the paddle shifters with the tach wildly hitting redline. I’ve driven plenty of fast cars in my time, but the GTR is at once serial killer violent yet can be as placid as a Nissan Versa. But you don’t want that. Yes, I texted our founder, Gary Grant about what speed I hit on the backroads of the Catskills in the GTR, but for fear of ever being allowed in the state of New York again, I’m not saying. An impossibly fast car, but I’m sorry Nissan, a little lacking in the ‘soul’ department.
I was glad to have driven the GTR, but my loyalty is still with Porsche. That said, I would never turn down a chance to drive Godzilla again. The rest of my afternoon was more low key-which sounds ridiculous, considering my next car was a Jaguar XKR. Definitely more of a Grand Tourer than the GTR, the XKR is deceptively fast, with a glorious V-8 soundtrack when you step on it. To close out the day, my last ride was in the revised BMW 650i. I have a soft spot for 6-series BMW’s, as my college roommate owned a heavily modified 633CSi which he let me drive. For a big, heavy coupe, the twin turbo V-8 pulls like a freight train, but not nearly as emotional as the Jag. But the steering feel is possibly the best I have ever experienced in any car, all other BMW’s included. Simply unbelievable.
It had been a terrific, but busy day, and I was ready to pack it in. Getting back into the Fiat, I made my way back to Ellenville. Returning to my hotel, I noticed something of particular interest-an abandoned resort adjacent to the property. The Nevele Grande Resort was calling like a siren to me. At the gated entrance sat two security guards-I asked if I could walk the grounds, but was given a firm ‘No’. I parked my Fiat at Honor’s Haven, with decrepit Nevele looking right back at me. Just 15′ of brush and I’m there. With security guards on hand, I wasn’t taking any chances, and kicked off my shoes in my hotel room.
After resting up for a couple hours, it was time to dress up and head to the reception. Once there, I noticed a laptop computer showing pics of old, abandoned cars. I walked over to take in the pics, where I see next to me is Tom Cotter, a frequent contributor to Road & Track, and author of my favorite ‘barn find’ books like “The Cobra in the Barn” and “The Hemi in the Barn”. Automotive archeology is Mr. Cotter’s passion, and I share that, and it was a thrill to meet this man. I introduce myself, and standing over the laptop, looking at beautiful vintage cars of all makes and vintages, Mr. Cotter turns to me and says: “All of these cars you see, I shot within five miles of where we spent out day today.” Damn.
As always, I enjoyed the company of Kevin ‘Crash’ Corrigan of Carkeys.ca for dinner, as well as members of Auto123, a French/Canadian site. A pleasure was our keynote speaker, none other than Brian Redman, famous British road racer. Following dinner, there was an outdoor reception of new 2012 vehicles, but with rain falling, I decided to call it a night. Did I walk back to the edge of Nevele? Yes. The lure of this abandoned resort was strong, but once again, I used better judgement.
The next morning, it was still raining. Undaunted, I crammed my luggage back into the Fiat and made my way back to Monticello Motor Club. Today, we would have access to the race track. Following a driver’s meeting, a fleet of Cadillac CTS-V’s descended onto pit lane. In order for us to be able to drive the track, we were required to first ride shotgun with a member of MMC staff. My pilot would be Ari Strauss, COO of Monticello Motor Club. The staff at MMC had configured a track with an exciting mix of straights and tight, sweeping turns-a little bit of everything. Since no one here needed to be a grad of Skip Barber racing school, nor were any of us wearing helmets, cones were set up around the track to keep speed down.
Yes, it’s true. A Korean auto journalist banged up the Lexus ISF seen here. And a lot of people who weren’t there had a lot to say about that. Well, I just so happened to be there. While it had stopped raining, the track was wet. The track was now open to us, and we were free to pick out our car to drive. I figured a Honda CRZ would be the perfect choice to learn firsthand what the track was like. I’m waiting at the pit lane exit, and nothing is happening. No one is going anywhere. Rumors start up, and it turns out that as soon as the track opened, a guy put a Lexus ISF into the wall. Unlike me, this person deemed the 414hp V-8 ISF the ideal car to ‘learn’ the track. Well, he never even finished the lap.
IMPA officials did finally make an announcement that there was an accident, and that no one was hurt. The track eventually reopened and it was back to business. What ensued was some of the most juvenile journalism I can recall. Before our lunch is served, Jalopnik had already posted about the crash. And Matt Hardigree who posted the article, was not at Test Days, was pissed. Mr. Hardigree is pissed off because the Lexus was banged up, and while that car is being repaired or replaced, other journalists will not be driving said ISF. I’m unclear if Mr. Hardigree, who isn’t even a member of IMPA, had a loan arranged with ESI’s New York office for that particular car, which would justify his anger. But the fact is, cars get banged up, or are recalled by the manufacturer all the time in this business. And I don’t report that to you, dear readers, because I know it would bore you to tears.
But the icing on the cake goes to The Truth About Cars. Writer jack Baruth is also very angry, even though he was not in attendance that day. Apparently the indignity of Monticello’s race track having cones on it infuriates Mr. Baruth. At the end of the day, I was hanging out with Kevin ‘Crash’ Corrigan, talking about our day on the track. I should point out that Crash is an experienced driver, having competed in the grueling Targa Newfoundland rally. We actually appreciated the placement of the cones-it showed us just right where to hit the apex to help achieve faster times around the track. And, Mr. Baruth, I assure you that while you cautioned your readers about watching ‘painful’ a lap at Monticello, I personally felt no pain while hitting 130mph in a Jaguar XKR. There was no speed limit, as you attest in your post. But, you wouldn’t know that since you were not there.
At lunch, IMPA officials asked us to be respectful, and use restraint regarding the crash of the ISF. But the damage was already done. They did not want the crash to define the event, but it was already too late. Ironically, Jalopnik broke the story, and our IMPA president is the head editor at Jalopnik. Still, I found it strange that IMPA wanted us to stay quiet about this, yet they park the damaged Lexus on pit lane for a couple hours in front of a group of auto journalists armed with cameras and smart phones. Go figure.
That said, it was a great day at the track. the Honda CRZ was great in getting a feel for the track itself, and as the day progressed, my confidence increased and was definitely getting quicker each time out. I can’t say enough about how easy it was to push the Jaguar XKR around the track, and push it hard. It is deceptively quick in spite of its size and weight, but was an absolute terror on the track. A radically fast GT on the streets as I’d discovered the day before, yet totally adept on the track as well. The Jetta GLI was also a much improved car over the new car I’d tested earlier this year. The all-new Beetle Turbo was a let down on the track, but more aggressive rubber might have made a difference. However, the Golf R was built for this track, and was an absolute revelation. I was shocked to see 125mph on the faster section of the track from a car with half the power of the Jag. And while I love the BMW Z4, it’s long nose was a hindrance as I tried to point the car through the race track.
After a rewarding day of lapping Monticello, the day was coming to an end. As always, IMPA holds a classic car concours, and I am chuffed to say that Crash’s VW Transporter-his father’s car he imported from the UK, right hand drive, took top honors. I had volunteered to help clean up once the event was over, and I connected with Test Days organizer Paul Licata. Paul was generally pleased with how everything went, and was grateful the Lexus crash was the only casualty of the event. Test Days is an enormous undertaking, and I thanked Paul for his hard work, and I look forward to coming back next year.
It was time to hand over the keys to the Fiat, and prepare for my drive home. I was picking up a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Putting my luggage in the Jeep, I summoned the nav to point me to a restaurant where I could unwind before making the drive back home. I wound up at The Old Homestead in Bridgeville. A stately restaurant, and clearly a fixture in the Catskills, I entered a tidy, immaculate and clearly old school. And completely empty. I took my weary feet and sat down at the mahogany bar for a Yeungling Lager, and watched the NY Mets play some terrible baseball. Terry was my bartender, a man in his late 40’s, and my conversation with him completed my first experience of the Catskills, circa 2011. Terry said they have good and bad days, but he recalls days where the line to get a table ran out the door. The bar three deep. The resorts keep closing, and it’s killing the business. It was clear Terry had made his career as a bartender in the Catskills.
Before I went to New York, I watched ‘Cars’ with my son. A story of how a town became forgotten. Leaving The Old Homestead, and talking to Terry, I recalled watching Cars and hearing “Our Town: by James Taylor.
Time goes by, time brings changes, you change, too
Nothing comes that you can’t handle, so on you go
Never see it coming, the world caves in on you
On your town
Nothing you can do.
I came for the cars, but fell in love with the Catskills. And it breaks my heart that this beautiful piece of America is in decline, that majestic resorts now sit empty. Not far from where I stayed, Grossinger’s Resort in Liberty, New York, a resort that once hosted 150,000 guests a year shut down. Watch the video-it’s utterly amazing that such a hot spot could become a ghost town. As for me the Jeep Grand Cherokee was the perfect companion for my trip home.Till next year!
Famous automotive journalist David E. Davis Jr. died on Sunday, March 27, 2011 from complications of bladder cancer surgery at the age of 80. Davis, or David E, as his friends called him, was once called by TIME Magazine the ‘Dean of automotive journalism’. The description fit the man whose career in writing about cars spanned decades. Davis shaped the look and tone of car magazines as we know them today. Ã‚Â While Davis will best be remembered for his role as Editor at Car and Driver and foundedr of Automobile, his work at the digital auto magazine Winding Road shows that even late in his career, he was always on the leading edge of automotive journalism.
Back in my college days, I wanted more than anything to be able to write about cars, but had no idea how to break into the business. On a whim, I e-mailed David E. Davis Jr while he was still at Automobile. To my amazement, he actually took the time to respond to me, encouraging me to seek opportunity where I found them, and not to give up. I saw Mr. Davis at a Greenwich Concours d’Elegance a few years ago. He was a judge at the event, and I was speechless at the sight of him-dashing and dressed to the nines. Standing next to this titan of automotive journalism, I froze, but marveled at the man whose beautiful writing I had enjoyed for more than half my life.
Mr. Davis’ work will live on for others to see how automotive journalism was raised to art form. He is survived by his wife and three children. The Garage offers their deepest sympathies to Mr. Davis’ family. I thank him for the indelible mark he made on automotive journalism, and the affect he had on all of us who write about, and read about our shared passion, the automobile.
And finally, I thank him for the advice he offered me.
The Super Bowl is in the history books, and by now reporters at ESPN and NFL Network have discussed every minute detail of the game. For those who spend money-and I mean a LOT of money to advertise during the Super Bowl, the stakes are enormous. Expectations are sky high, the challenge is great. You need to grab the viewer, hold his attention, and, most important-make him remember what the product is, while competing for this urge to a) Go to the bathroom, b) Grab a drink, c) Grab some food, or d) All of the above.
Come Monday morning, a clear victor emerged (to me at least). Chrysler ran a full two-minute commercial titled “Born of Fire” featuring movie-quality scenes of Detroit, and a narrator telling the viewer, essentially, what hasn’t killed Detroit, or Chrysler, only makes them stronger. Night falls, cue Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, with said Eminem driving the streets of Detroit in the new Chrysler 200. “That’s nice” you might think, but how does that make Chrysler the victor, when Audi and VW ran interesting ads as well? Simple. According to CNN, ‘Chrysler 200 ‘was the top search on Google Monday morning.
The automobile industry has been mired by the recession for so long, it is difficult to recall happier times when money-and creativity flowed in the marketing of cars. BMW broke barriers in automobile advertising in a way no other automaker had done in ages. Between 2001 and 2002, BMW released eight short films straight via their internet site, directed by the most renowned movie directors in the business. There were two commonalities between all the films-first, all the feature cars, were obviously BMWs, and second, the driver, Clive Owen, whose dashing good looks and steely demeanor are on a James Bond level.
The art of the films were impressive, but the purpose was to sell cars. And BMW reaped the benefits. After the first films went online, there were eleven million viewings in the first four months. Two million people registered to get more information from BMW. Sales of BMW cars increased 12% from the previous year.
This series on The Garage features some of my personal favorite films from the series. We will start with “Hostage”. Click to view, and there is more information about the film after the jump.
Knowing that many of our readers are driving game enthusiasts, EA Games invited us to the Los Angeles launch of the newest version of Need For Speed. Since none of our team lives in LA, we thought it might be cool to invite our readers and EA agreed!
It is an all night Hollywood party, with video games, hot cars and hip hop. Of course with hot cars and hip hop, you know there is going to be hot girls. Did I mention the complimentary cocktails?
Here is their description on the event: