January 20, 2013

George Barris GTO

The original George Barris Batmobile sold for 4.2 million dollars at Barrett-Jackson on Saturday.  4.2 million.  Wow.

I’ve driven a George Barris designed car.  It was a “Look at me” orange GTO and, boy, did everyone look at me.  This car caused other drivers on the highway to slow down and move around me to get a good look at the whole car.   

Price: $90,000 at auction
Engine: 5.7L V8, 350hp
Transmission: 6 speed manual
Wheelbase: 109.8in
MPG rating: 15 city/20 hwy

Barris’ website declares him the “King of Kustomizers.”  Sorry, kids, you weren’t the first to misspell words on purpose to be cool or alternative.

Barris and his brother, Sam, began kustomizing cars in the 30’s.  They have a long history of taking cars, kustomizing them, and selling them.  Eventually Hollywood had them build some cars.  Their shop is still located in the LA area today.  Sam has passed away, though…

Barris’ name is attached to a number of famous movie cars.  The Batmobile is his creation and there are some others, but his website claims a lot of cars that he didn’t design, but made modifications to.  He did not design the “General Lee”, but his website lists it as one of his many TV & Movie cars.  This practice has not endeared George to many in the car customizing world.  Needless to say, the original Batmobile is still iconic.

In 2004 Pontiac (Remember Pontiac?) redesigned the GTO.  GM based it off another GM product; a Holden Monaro.  Holden’s are what GM sells down under.  G’day, mate (How many Aussies did I just offend?).  The Monaro is general thought of as a simple, powerful, and fun to drive sideways muscle car.  The new GTO was generally regarded as an underwhelming flop.  It did have a great powertrain and that’s about it…

The Barris GTO was built in 31 days.  The contract to build it was written on a napkin.  At least that’s the story that comes up the most when you Google “George Barris GTO.”  The design is supposed to be “if the GTO kept evolving.”  To me; it’s birdlike with a close cropped hair cut…

My first impression seeing the car is that, “This is not a car for me.  It doesn’t have a roof.”  There is no roof and there isn’t a frame to the top of the wind shield.  Without the frame, the wind shield buffets in the wind.  It moves.  A lot.

The doors are the next major feature.  Vertical Doors, Inc. installed them.  They open slightly to the side, but then go vertical.  The doors look great, like a Lambo, but functionally they’re a pain in the ass.    The unlock button on the key fob opens the driver’s door and the lock button opens the passenger door. There are no door handles.   I was in and out of the doors quite a bit while reviewing the car and eventually I was “Dukes of Hazarding” in and out.  

I was very careful not to step on the Ostrich leather covered seats.  You could see the elastic straps that hold the seat covers in place.  It was a very warm day and the A/C still worked perfectly, but the Ostrich radiated heat like an oven.  With no roof, the sun came streaming into the interior and you could smell the ostrich burgers simmering.  

The orange wheels are also not my cup of tea and make the GTO ride like you’re getting punched in the kidneys by every pot hole.  It is not a comfortable ride.  The whole car rattles.  The tweeters for the stereo were popping out of the doors when you closed them too hard.  The interior is sketch (not good).

The best part of this car is that they didn’t touch the powertrain.  It’s GM LS power and sounds fantastic.  That’s the best part of no roof; the exhaust sound comes straight into the cockpit.  Tunnels turn the exhaust into a symphony that sounds like it’s literally in your ear canals.  Literally.

I have driven a piece of George Barris’ history.  It’s not the piece I would have picked, but it is still a part of car history.  He’s modified some other contemporary cars (some Dodge Challengers and a Smart Car), but they don’t amaze like the hot rods from the 30’s-60’s.  Personally I wish they would stick to the hot rods and leave the new stuff to the younger customizing shops.  

The whole project started when people complained about the GTO’s redesign in 2004.  Barris thought he could do a better job.  He ruined it.  I really hope whoever bought the Batmobile for 4.2 million does not find out that he spent that much money on a piece of s#!&.

Tune in next week.  Will the Joker finally finish off the Caped Crusader?  Will Robin ever admit to being gay for Batman?  Will I ever make a joke that isn’t inappropriate? 

Probably not.

*Update: The Batmobile sold for 4.6 million, not 4.2...

January 18, 2013

2013 Range Rover Launch at Land Rover Merriam

I was invited to the 2013 Range Rover Launch Party.  I cleared my scheduled, arranged for my boys to get picked up, and headed over to Land Rover Merriam.

I was slightly intimidated pulling up to the event in my wife’s 2005 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4x4.  It’s not that the truck is anything to be ashamed of; it’s that the lot was full of Range Rovers that didn’t have dealer tags.  They’d all been purchased or at least leased by the other attendees of the launch.

I heard the words “tax write off” literally two minutes in the door. 

I was being silly though because everyone at the launch was delightful.  The sales staff at Land Rover Merriam are professional and courteous.  The other attendees of the launch were curious and really scoured the 2013 Range Rover for flaws and new features.  I like that.

It was stressed by the sales staff that the 2013 Range Rover is 700 pounds lighter than the 2012 model, which will help with fuel economy.  The supercharged V8 engine is still making 510 horsepower, which I will always approve.  

The keystone side engine vents have been eliminated.  The actual vents are in under the hood now, but the location directly in front of the driver and front passenger’s door no longer has vents…  They’ve replaced them with accent lines, but it’s just not the same… *sadface*

The front end has been ever so carefully rounded.  The overall shape of the SUV hasn’t changed, but the edges have been softened.  It will have to grow on me.

I like the new tail lights. There have been a couple of commenters on Instagram and Twitter who referenced the Ford Explorer while looking at the 2013 taillights.  I don’t care.  I like them, especially the illuminated line down the side.

The rear lift gate is now fully powered, while keeping the top/bottom split that is classic Range Rover.  You press the handle to start the automated top portion.  Be sure to duck as it goes by and then press a button that looks the same as the button to close the top to open the bottom.  Jeremy Clarkson tweeted some pictures of a Top Gear camera guy trying to get into the back of the 2012 and the 2013.  There might be less cargo space, but the rear seats do recline seven to nine degrees and none of us have to fit cameramen in the trunk.

The interior is still gorgeous.  The front two seats now have massagers installed and can be set to begin 30 minutes after beginning your trip.  There is an optional 29 speaker stereo.  It sounds like Chingy is in the car with you.  Do people still reference Chingy?  

The gauges are fully digital.  There are no analog gauges anywhere in the Range Rover.  It’s almost 2013 on the calendar.  Manufacturers should be able to pull this off with no complications.  But I remember hearing something about the “Ghosts in the machines.”  Not that that will happen in your brand new 2013 Range Rover, but I just wanted to reference Isaac Asimov.

I can’t wait to drive the 2013 Range Rover.  It is still the vehicle that I see most often between on the road and the parking lots of professional athletes.  There are always a lot of full sized Ford, Chevy, and Dodges, but if the guys want to show off, then they drive a Range Rover.

Here's a quick video of the launch: I'm the white sweater with shaggy hair in the back. :)

January 17, 2013

2013 Cadillac ATS 4 Luxury

I’ve been watching ATS commercials on YouTube for eons, or at least three months.  The commercials have followed me over to network TV, specifically the NFL playoffs.  I’m over the commercials because I want to be able to do everything in those commercials, but I want to be like those guys and get paid to do it.  

Base Price: $33,095
As Driven: $46,980
Engine: 3.6L V6, 321hp
Transmission: 6-Speed Shiftable Automatic
Curb Weight: 3,629 lbs.
Wheelbase: 109.3 in
MPG Rating: 18 city/26 highway

A V6-powered Cadillac sedan seemed underwhelming.  I drove a V6 CTS-4 last year and was less than awed.  

The ATS is listed as a compact sedan.  Makes sense because the CTS is a regular sedan and the XTS (Grandpa’s car) is a large sedan, so the ATS has to be a compact.  This is the most hyped compact sedan I’ve encountered in quite a while.

The ATS handles like a dream.  This car was tested and developed at the Nurburgring.  Normally that’s the butt of a James May joke, but the ATS whips.  It has the same magnetic ride control as the CTS-V and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.  The ATS destroys corners.  I was disappointed when the roads were straight. 

The V6 power plant is robust.  The 3.6L V6 engine produces 321 horsepower.  This is the most athletic naturally aspirated V6 I’ve ever driven.  Most V6’s have some power, but are boring and okay on the mpgs.  The ATS six cylinder motor is great.  You get over 300 horsepower, a great exhaust note, and the feeling that this motor wants to go.  I found myself hammering the ATS, not because I wanted to, but that’s when the car felt the most in the sweet spot between handling and speed.  Maybe there’s something to developing a car at the Nurburgring.  

I can still smell the engine...
The Cue system was easy to use, but the buttons on the center console are touch-sensitive.  Car Manufacturers, please don’t take away the analog buttons (Get off my lawn).  Having to hit the button and then hammer it a second time to make sure it works is frustrating and dangerous.  Taking your eyes off the road to make sure that the button you just pressed worked is unsafe.  I liked the Cue system, which was easy to navigate.  I didn’t use the Navigation or sync my phone, but overall the system seemed pretty simple and straight forward.  I know one ATS owner and he’s pretty content with Cue.  Based on my statistical data, Cue is the best infotainment system EVER. 

The interior is equipped.  The seats are supportive and comfortable.  There is a heated steering wheel, which came in handy for the cool windy day.  The backseat isn’t large.  The rear legroom measurement on the ATS is smaller than the Audi A4 and the BMW 335i, but is .1 inch larger than the Mercedes C350, so there’s that.  

The noise that comes out of the V6 is amazing.  Most V6’s sound like the usual minivans and Honda Accords; lame.  This motor and exhaust sound fantastic and the noise only gets better the more revs you give it.  I continually found myself getting into the throttle just to hear more of the exhaust noise.  I was driving with the windows down on an unseasonably cool day.  This is where the heated steering wheel came in handy.  With the windows up in the tranquil cabin; the exhaust note is relegated to just another background noise.  

I’ve seen all the ATS ads: from Patagonia to the China cave road to the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo. The cave road looks gnarly, but I really think the ATS could take it.  Before driving this car I thought it was a wasted effort on Cadillac’s part.  Turns out, that the V6 ATS is actually a fun car to drive.

January 5, 2013

Race 2 Recovery- US Servicemen

It begins today.  The Dakar Rally begins today.  This is an excerpt from the documentary about the whole team.  It's a segment on just the US Servicemen involved with Race 2 Recovery.

Good Luck to every one competing in the rally.  #staysafe

January 3, 2013

Race 2 Recovery

We all have obstacles in our lives.  Some seem large, but in actuality are quite small...  I've been struggling with some of these in my life recently.  Time and financial restrictions have been slowing what I want can do right now.  I was having a had time seeing them as small obstacles, but a group of determined, spectacular people have helped give me some perspective.

Race 2 Recovery is a non-profit charity based in the UK.  They are taking on the Dakar rally with a team of rookies drivers and navigators.

This rally is the most difficult endurance race in the world.  Historically it began as a race from Paris to the capital of Senegal.  Props if you already knew that Dakar is the capital of Senegal.  This year's race is based in South America.  It begins in Lima, Peru then heads to somewhere in Argentina, and finishes in Santiago, Chile. Basically they're racing down the spine of South America through some of the most rugged terrain in the world.

R2R is tackling the Dakar with a team of rookies, but these are some special first timers.  A majority of the team members are UK & US serviceman who have been injured; most losing limbs.  I have been following them on Facebook and on Twitter.  My favorite R2R Twitter follow is @Tom_R2R.  He's the first triple amputee to compete in the Dakar and is an all around decent dude.  It's amazing what they are doing.

These are men of action.  R2R gives them a purpose, drive, and an adrenaline rush.  I think most of them would say they're living fuller lives now.  This team makes me want to live my life better.

Thank you to all of the R2R drivers, co-drivers, and service personnel.  It's an enormous effort and I hope nothing but good things for you on this year's rally.

It all begins on January 5th!  Good luck and Godspeed!

R2R is a charity and they have a donate button on their website.  If you're in the UK or Europe you can use their site.  If you're in the US, you can donate to The Heroes Project, which is linked from Race 2 Recovery.

I included a trailer for a documentary series about R2R's preparations for Dakar that aired in the UK, the promo for this year's Dakar Rally, and the Top Gear segment of Richard Hammond driving a Wildcat, R2R's vehicle of choice.  Watch, enjoy, and just be in awe of the human spirit at work/play.

Disclaimer:  I posted this myself.  No one asked me to do this.  I believe in this.  

Race 2 Recovery Documentary Series Trailer:

2013 Dakar Rally Promo:
I forgot to mention Unimog's.  The flat-faced trucks that sit three across and look like Transformers erupting out of the desert!  Those are cool too.  Don't forgot the 8x8 Service Vehicles which will be following the racers.

This is the only decent looking and sounding Bowler Wildcat video I could find.  Driving one is on my Bucket List...

January 2, 2013

Inside Koenigsegg Teaser

The Drive network on YouTube is a place where I spend a lot of time.  The shows are well filmed, edited, and presented.  I've talked about the show line up on Drive before.  There's Tuned, Big Muscle, Chris Harris on Cars, Shakedown, Road Testament, and more; all are different and wonderful.

There's a new series beginning on January 8th.  It is an in depth look behind the scenes at Koenigsegg.  The series is hosted by Koenigsegg CEO Christian Von Koenigsegg and will take you throughout the manufacturing process to examine their latest super car, the Agera R.  This car holds the world record for 0-300-0 kph.  That's from zero to 300 kilometers a hour (or 186mph) and then back to zero.  It did it in 21.19 seconds.  I heat up burritos longer than that.

Watch the teaser for the series.

If the teaser didn't work, watch this pass of an Agera R (180mph) passing a camera van (40mph).  That's 140mph closing speed.  Math is fun!
Watch this series.  It will be good.