Back In the Berkshires!

Longtime readers of The Garage may recall that the month of October is not complete for me without our annual trip to the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. It is an autumn rite of passage for me and my family, and this year was no exception. Thanks to our friends at Lexus, we were provided with a Lexus HS250h for our annual pilgrimage this year. An easy two hour drive from our home in Connecticut, the Berks are one of the most popular fall destinations in New England, and is an easy drive for those of you in southern Canada as well, so put it on your bucket list.

Foodees that we are, we do not skimp when it comes to eating. Once there, we always start out with lunch at the historic, and reportedly haunted Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. The Red Lion is the cornerstone of the Norman Rockwell, post card perfect town, and has served visitors since 1773. After a satisfying lunch at Widow Bingham’s Tavern, one of my greatest pleasures is to grab a Steel Rail Ale by Berkshire Brewing Company and enjoy it on the expansive porch at the Red Lion Inn and people watch. Pure bliss. On a gorgeous and unseasonably warm day, watching my son play on the enormous pumpkins outside the entrance, it was paradise. Once finished, I hit an indie record shop, and picked up an Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong CD, which would prove to be the perfect music companion for the rest of the trip.

As lovely as Stockbridge is, we were eager to head off to Great Barrington, but before we hit downtown, we had to check in at Windy Hill Farm, who arguably makes the best apple cider ever made. I came to know Great Barrington back when I was a teenager, and staying at the local church with my choir. The town’s beatnik style has always held a strong appeal to me, and I truly feel at home each time I visit. Though my son would argue the toy stores are the talk of the town, for us it is Rubiner’s, the town’s famous cheesemonger. Housed in a former bank, vault still intact, Rubiner’s is a must visit. Out back is Rubi’s, a bar/coffeehouse that also makes gourmet sandwiches. Guests can eat/drink outdoors or in the converted bank’s boardroom, complete with fireplace and wood-paneled walls. The ambience is nothing short of spectacular.

But, you came for the cars, and I hope I did not disappoint. As always, Alfa’s Unlimited, just south of the Massachusetts border was a must-see. It’s my few minutes of the year to reconnect with Alfa Romeo’s, one of my favorite cars I ever owned. New for this year was another stop outside Sheffield, MA, with an eclectic collection of Euro and American iron in various states of restoration or decay. I sincerely hope you enjoy the pics as much as I.

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2011 VARAC Festival is in the books

It was a busy weekend here in The Garage, as Jay Tomchuck headed to MIS to cover the NASCAR race, while I stayed closer to home and shot bits and pieces of the VARAC Festival at Mosport. Saturday morning I even took in a preview screening of Cars 2! As a result of the busy weekend, I only got to shoot a bit on Friday afternoon and then most of the afternoon on Sunday. This meant that I spent next to no time socializing in the paddock and didn’t get any stories from the racers. I did however get some great shots of the on track action.
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Coming to America: Fiat 500 Cabrio

In case you didn’t know, The Garage is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Fiat 500. Our enthusiasm for the charismatic Italian subcompact was kicked up another notch at the announcement that Fiat will be offering the 500 Cabrio, in addition to the hardtop. The Cabrio recalls the original 500 with a full canvas roof to let the sun in, but with a modern take on the concept. The 2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio will feature a dual layer power-operated cloth top that can be retracted at speeds up to 60mph. Fiat says the Cabrio is arriving ‘just in time for Spring’ but no release date or pricing has been announced. We expect more details on the Cabrio to come at the upcoming New York Auto Show, so watch this space.

Fiat Showcases US Market 500

Thanks to the Fiat 500, the subcompact car market in North America is about to get a whole lot spicier, and here at The Garage we could not be more excited. North American 500s will be built at a Chrysler plant in Mexico, while engines will be built in Detroit. To start, all 500s will share the same drivetrain, a 1.4L four rated at 101hp, coupled to either a five-speed manual or an all-new six-speed automatic. For fuel mileage, exxpect 30mpg city and 38mpg on the highway with the manual, while those figures drop to 27/34mpg, respectively, with automatic equipped cars.

So, is North America ready for the return of Fiat? I believe so. At $192,000, a Ferrari California is currently Italy’s cheapest import, so the Fiat 500, with a starting price of $15,500 will be a breath of fresh air. Fiat is seeking a youthful market with the 500, a generation who will dismiss the old farts with the “Fix It Again Tony” jokes. When Fiat pulled out of North America in the early 1980′s, even the oldest Generation X’ers were too young to drive, so the demons (rust and reliability) that drove Fiat away from these shores so long ago should be a non-issue. Even so, Fiat is not taking chances, indicating that the 500 underwent “quality and refinement adaptations for the US market.”

If Fiat has the right dealer network and the right car, there is the potential for a hit. The individuality and spirit of the MINI at a lower starting price, coupled with the funk factor of the Smart ForTwo in a far more practical package should bode well for for the 500 in North America. Hit continue for the 2012 Fiat 500 models and pricing.

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More Fiat Fun

Yesterday’s post about the ex George Comacchio Fiat 124 Special had some wondering if that car is the same 124 Special that is currently racing with VARAC. For those who aren’t able to visit races in Ontario, I thought that I should maybe put up a shot of the car so you know what we’re talking about.

This shot was taken from the bottom of Mosport’s corner 4 at the 2010 VARAC Festival. Good friend of The Garage, Andre Rousseau in the Spider is trying to get up alongside Andrew Celovsky in his sweet 124 Special. These cars are quite rare in Ontario, so it is great to see this car out on track. Gotta love the flower child look!

A bit of Fiat history in The Garage

Alongside the great Porsche discussion on the Canadian Motorsport History group on Yahoo, there has been another thread about some early racing Alfa’s in Ontario. Our old friend George Commachio’s Alfa was brought up, as was the Fiat 124 he raced prior to the Alfa.

The car was a late Sixties (George thought ’67 but wasn’t sure) Fiat 124 Special. Twin cam, 5 speed, 4 wheel discs. A neat machine that did indeed later become the Lada, but missing a cam, a gear and had drums in the back. George eventually sold his 124 to Lloyd Service who then raced the car. There is a tale that perhaps he had a major crash with the car in turn 3 at Mosport.

I can’t remember the name of the guy Lloyd sold the car to, but I think the next guy only raced it once. It was then sold to a guy named Neil Burns. In fact, we met because of the car, when as a teenager I poked my head into the shop where he kept it.

Years later, I convinced Neil to finish the car up and race it. I don’t recall any evidence of heavy crash damage at that time so I’m not sure about Lloyd crashing it. Neil was on a tight (ie none) budget and struggled to get the car to keep running without blowing head gaskets. Even then the car ran in the high 1:50′s.
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Ridin’ with Rousseau

One of the coolest thing about publishing The Garage over the years is that we’ve had the opportunity to make some great friends from all over the world. Fortunately, some of those friends are closer than others. We first met Andre Rousseau through The Garage, while he was publishing a build blog that followed the restoration of his rather stunning Triumph GT6. A trip to the vintage festival at Watkins Glen, driving the Triumph, sealed his fate: he had become hooked on racing. The GT6 was far to pretty to be turned into a race car, so the hunt for a race car began.
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Editorial: To All the Mopar Haters…

I spent a good amount of time reading about the Detroit auto show, especially about Chrysler. With nothing new to show, Chrysler arrived in Detroit tooting about revised model lines, new standard equipment, etc. Hardly exciting stuff. Checking out the responses from readers at various auto-related blogs, a good deal of the general public seems certain that Chrysler is still going down. A strong opinion indeed, especially since no one has seen how the merger with Fiat will work out.

Personally, given the awful year they suffered through, and a long-neglected product portfolio, I thought it took guts and courage for Chrysler to set up a booth in the first place. The easy thing to do would have been to bury their head in the sand, and claim  for cost-cutting reasons, they couldn’t show. But they did, and Chrysler did the best they could with what limited resources they had. Facing the media could not have been a simple task, but I applaud Chrysler.

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Name that Mopar

If the curves behind the lovely lady don’t look familiar, you would not be unlike many of the journalists at the Detroit auto show over the past couple of days. The car is clearly not a traditional Chrysler, yet it is wearing Chrysler badging. There are no signs anywhere near it and no nameplate.Curiously, there are also no Chrysler people anywhere near it to answer the “What is it” question that seems to be asked constantly.
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