Cocktail Chatter: March 8, 2013
What cocktails go best with all this car chatter? Automobilemag.com is here to help with weekly recipes. Remember, this is for talking about cars, not driving — always designate a driver. With the impending arrival of spring (and some spring-like weather here in Michigan) we’re driving a sweet cocktail called The Bee’s Knees. Combine two ounces of gin with 3/4 ounces of honey syrup and half an ounce of fresh lemon juice in a shaker over ice. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.
Anti-Veyron: Ignore the supercars that were shown in Geneva earlier this week. By far, the most interesting car on the show floor was the humble Volkswagen XL1. It takes almost 13 seconds to hit 60 mph, but that helps it record an incredible 261 mpg. I drove a prototype version of this car two years ago and was incredibly impressed by it. Now VW will offer a minimum of 250 units to buyers or lessees in Europe. It’s more amazing that VW can build a 261-mpg car that passes crash tests than it is the same group can build the Veyron, Aventador, et al.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Italy’s Drag Race: This week’s Geneva Motor Show heralded in the debuts of two new Italian hypercars – the Ferrari LaFerrari and the Lamborghini Veneno. While these two models are outrageous in both design and power figures (the Ferrari produces 951 hp, while the Lambo gets by with “just” 740 hp), there’s been much talk about the names. As per the norm for Lamborghini, Veneno is the name of a fighting bull, this time an aggressive one killed by a Spanish matador in 1914; Ferrari’s redundant nomenclature is supposed to represent the pinnacle of Ferrari, which makes sense given that LaFerrari literally translates to “The Ferrari.”
However, some friends and I couldn’t help but to note just how catchy, outlandish, and silly these names are – they’re exactly the kind of names the contestants on the Logo reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” would have. Who would win: Veneno Lamborghini or Madame LaFerrari? We’ll have to have Stephan Winkelmann and Amedeo Felisa lip synch for their lives to find out.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Sprinter, I Am Your Father: Geneva’s not the only vehicular trade show going on this week. Although it lacks supercars and wacky tuner vehicles, the NTEA’s Work Truck Show opened its doors in Indianapolis on Wednesday. Yes, I know; I am the only one on staff who still suffers from Tonka-itis, so I can’t help but be interested in seeing Ford’s new chassis-cab Transit, Mack’s “baby” Granite, International’s four-wheel-drive TerraStar – but by far, the highlight of the show appears to be an immaculate Mercedes-Benz L319 delivery van dating back to the late 1950s. Think of it as the Ur-Sprinter, if you will.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
Space for 16: I use to pass this 1919 federal-style brick building daily en route to my former job in Dallas. I recall it being neglected and for sale, and I feared, like many other Dallas properties, it would be leveled and some ugly structure would replace it. However, it was saved by someone with a big pocketbook who valued architecture and automobiles (Seriously! It has a 16 car garage!). The Manhattan-style, six-bedroom, 11 bath, 21,000-sq ft pad is on the market for the first time. Just shy of $10 Million, my friend and area real estate expert, Candy Evans, says it’s worth every penny.
Kelly Murphy, Creative Director
Sécurité Routière: France is not a place for driving fast. The country has long been plagued by speed cameras and mobile speed traps, and in recent years the government has also banned any type of device intended to detect or reveal the location of a radar gun or camera. Now there’s an even more oppressive attempt to catch speeders: starting in March, the flics will use unmarked cars equipped with cameras and radar equipment. The unmarked cars will drive on highways and freeways to automatically dole out tickets to anyone speeding. The idea is to scare drivers into following the speed limit at all times: why ever risk speeding when there could be a hidden speed camera around any corner?
The upshot is that a crackdown on speed has resulted in extremely safe roads: last year only 3700 fatalities were recorded on French roads, an astoundingly low figure for a country of nearly 66 million people. Meanwhile the U.S., with a population about nearly five times larger, reported eight times more road deaths in 2011.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Collecting Corvettes: The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles celebrated the West Coast debut of the new C7 Corvette Stingray with the unveiling of a special display of historic Corvettes and a weekend of activities for Corvette owners. A key part of the display is the 1956 Corvette SR-2, which was designed by our own Robert Cumberford. The son of GM design chief Harley Earl told his father that he was going sports car racing with a Ferrari, so the GM executive built his boy something more politically correct. Cumberford designed the car with his friend, body engineer Tony Lapine, later chief designer at Porsche in the 1970s and 1980s. Earl frequently encouraged them, and as the GM design chief had learned his vocabulary from his father, who had built wagons for mule-skinners in Los Angeles in the 1890s, Cumberford reports that the language was quite colorful.
As part of the Petersen’s gathering of Corvettes and Corvette people, a special seminar of experts discussed the current state of values for collectible Corvettes. They all agreed that the values of perfect, historically authentic cars are still going up, and said the Corvette is the most affordable investment-grade car on the market. At the same time, they acknowledged that values of hobby-style Corvettes are increasing only slowly and worried about the aging of the Corvette owner body and the retirement of Corvette restoration experts. They said C1, C2, and C3 Corvettes are the heart of the hobby, but also said people are afraid of the expensive electronic systems in the Corvette C4, which leaves these cars dramatically undervalued considering their collectible potential. They note that the Corvette ZR1 C4 has the most potential for an increase in value among collectible Corvettes.
Michael Jordan, Senior Editor
Penny-Pinching Car Owners: People will do just about anything to save a buck. And when it comes to lowering rates for car insurance, CarInsurance.com polled 500 drivers to see how far they’d go to save. Among those, the one that surprised me the most was that 37 percent would allow the insurer to disable their cell phone while in the car. I don’t buy that for a second. Not only does my phone function as my GPS, but I’m also partial to making phone calls during long road trips through less than scenic midwest states (I’m looking at you, Ohio). I’d gladly take another alternative to cut my car insurance, like get married, than lose the use of my phone in the car.
John Kalmar, Graphic Designer
Shifting out of Neutral: As big and as wonderful the Detroit show is, the Geneva International Auto Show, in an automobile-brand neutral country, stands as the favorite of most auto journos, including me. Among the Mercedes-Benz Viano shuttles I used to the PalExpo from the Inter-Continental, fleets of Bentley Mulsannes pulled in and out of the hotel’s parking entrance. You’ll see more Mulsannes there than Volkswagen Eoses in the U.S. The parking lot had more McLaren MP4-12Cs than I’ve seen Corvette ZR-1s in Detroit. Super-exotics ruled in the PalExpo, too, where the Ferrari stand had the kind of waiting line that would make any nightclub owner envious, and it extended two full press days. Thanks to Ferrari PR, I got in on the second day for a full walk around of the impressive car with the silly name, the 951-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-12 with KERS-powered LaFerrari. My regret is I didn’t have time to sit behind the wheel of one of the new production Alfa Romeo 4Cs parked on the show floor, where there were lines, too. On a more down-to-earth level, the Alfa is the car that most piqued my interest.
Todd Lassa, Executive Editor
Breaktime: I got an e-mail from Delta Airlines last week. That’s not unusual, since I’m a member of their frequent flyer program and I get e-mails from them weekly. Usually I just hit the delete button without looking at them. But I opened this e-mail because the subject line said “Take a Break with Your 206,184 Miles,” and I was feeling like I really did need to take a break. It looked like a standard e-mail about redeeming miles, really nothing special, and then I noticed something in the bottom right corner of the screen. Instead of using miles for a flight (how boring is that?), I could use them to bid in an online auction for a two-day class at the Porsche Driving School at Barber Motorsports Park in Atlanta. Alas, when I clicked on the link the bid was already up to 301,000 miles. I never had a chance.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Love/Hate Relationship: I don’t like our Instagram, yet I want to take pictures for the page nonstop. I enjoy using Instagram because it’s an easy way to appease fellow car lovers with snapshots. In a world chock full of fancy, hot, and unique sheet metal, it’s great to quickly share something you pass by on the street or see at a show. I strongly dislike Instagram, though, because it prioritizes content, not atmosphere and emotion. To me, photography is a tool that can transport people somewhere, make them feel something, and look at a subject in a way they haven’t before. Instagram, however, prioritizes minimalism, close crops, and clear-and-simple subject matter. I like the art of photography, and it’s easy to forget that photography is indeed art when you’re snapping pictures left and right. So while I enjoy using Instagram and putting out content to fellow gearheads, I will never think that any of my posts are artistic or emotional. That’s where real photography is needed.
Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor
Well, That Explains Why They Kept the Name a Secret for so Long: As everyone knows, at the Geneva auto show this week Ferrari finally took the wraps off its new supercar. And as great as looks—which is great indeed—it is to the same degree shamed by its idiotic moniker: LaFerrari. The Ferrari LaFerrari.
One imagines that the name was not released sooner because forces within the company were desperately trying to head off such stupidity. Or maybe they were just embarrassed. On its web site, Ferrari attempts to explain: “The name stands for the essence of the manufacturer from Maranello: working like a team.” Oh, OK then.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
Rock Stars: Geneva Motor Show. Late Tuesday afternoon. Associate editor David Zenlea and I have gained admittance to the Ferrari stand, which is guarded and roped off, just like an exclusive nightclub. Crowds of people are pressed against the low glass wall that rings the stand, trying to get a better look at the new LaFerrari supercar. Suddenly there is a commotion, and Fiat Group supremo Sergio Marchionne, wearing his trademark black sweater, comes bounding by me with some unknown VIP (perhaps a trade minister or other politician) and an entourage. Marchionne and his guest open and close LaFerrari’s doors, peer in, circle the car, all while photographers circle them, snapping away. The stand is tingling with excitement at the presence of the second most important man in Italian industry. Then the most important man, Marchionne’s boss, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, strides onto the stand and ends up next to Zenlea (see photo). I’ve been in this Ferrari inner sanctum at various auto shows many times when Montezemolo appears, and I never cease to get a thrill out of it. After all, he’s the equivalent of a rock star in Italy. Last fall at the Paris show, I was just a few feet away from him when he and McLaren boss (and fierce rival) Ron Dennis embraced next to the carbon-fiber tub that now underpins LaFerrari. McLaren, of course, introduced its own hybrid supercar, the P1, at Geneva this year, but I didn’t see any sign of him near the LaFerrari. I wonder what he thinks of it. And I wonder what Montezemolo thinks of the P1.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
My Head Hurts: The EPA estimates that the Ford C-Max Energi achieves 100 MPGe thanks to its plug-in hybrid system; however, without using the on-board plug-in battery, it achieves 43 mpg combined. The 43 sounds about right—I drove the car for two days and plugged it in three times (roughly 2.5 full charges) and the trip computer showed roughly 43.5 total mpg—but that doesn’t make sense: 43.5 mpg doesn’t factor in the amount of electricity I used, just the amount of gas that was burned. Surely I should be able to achieve something like 70 or 80 MPGe—or perhaps I did, and didn’t know because the Ford’s calculators didn’t account for those variables? As our cars mix electricity and gasoline in new and increasingly creative ways, the numbers we put on our fuel economy stickers are becoming less and less relevant, or even understandable.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
Kill the Manettinos: The other day I drove a Lexus LS 460 F Sport and was incredulous to find, on this large luxury sedan, a drive-mode selector that adjusts throttle response, power steering, and the suspension. I don’t know why I was surprised. Ferrari Manettino-style adjusters have proliferated everywhere from Audis to Kias. I hate almost all of them.
Most of these systems make changes that are impossible to detect if you’re not on a racetrack, which is to say “never” for most cars and owners. Indeed, I’m convinced that some of these systems do nothing at all and are included only so engineers can laugh at us auto journalists as we prattle on about the “discernible differences” between the “Sport” and “Sport ++” settings. Even when the changes are noticeable, they’re often annoying and unsatisfactory. In the BMW 3 Series, for instance, one has to toggle the drive controller into “sport” in order to get higher steering efforts. In other words, you need to flip through menus to get your BMW to feel like a BMW. You need to do this every time you start the car.
In some respects, this fad is merely the latest sports car tic to trickle down to the masses. If the Ferrari 458 Italia has computer-adjustable dynamic settings then a Kia Sorento with adjustable steering effort must be Ferrari-like. More insidious, though, is the false allure of “no compromises.” There are always compromises. A Nissan GT-R in its most comfortable setting is still punishing, and a 3 Series in its most dynamic setting is still a bit more remote than its predecessor.
My suggestion is thus that engineers stop trying to appease every possible owner and instead take a stand. Optimize a car for one setting and leave it there.
David Zenlea, Associate Editor