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Posted on January 31, 2014 Comments (0)

Nearly Everyone can Read… Many can Type… Fewer can Write

Denise

People who depend on words for a living—writers, editors, teachers, and lawyers, know when something is written well. We, the general reading public, first begin reading for education and sooner or later for entertainment. We only gradually become aware of the differences in style and flow. And then one day you read a book or an article that is written in such a way that makes you notice that you enjoyed the way the story was told as much as the story itself. That is exactly how I felt when I read my first story by Denise McCluggage. My eagerness to read her Autoweek column has never subsided. In this issue of the MMR Newsletter, we are thrilled to announce that, with the gracious help of Hagerty Insurance, Denise will be writing a semi monthly column in our MMR Newsletter entitled My Word.

This week’s column, entitled Auto-Auto, is her vision of the future of transportation. It is certainly a dramatic departure from the past and we look forward to your comments.

A Happy Day in Detroit

There was joy in Mudville on this past Monday morning! Detroit hit a mighty homerun! What a month for Chevrolet! First they are named North American Car and Truck of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show and then they take the top four places in the Daytona 24 Hour race. Quite spectacular really. For those who do not follow sports car racing in America, and they are legion, the winning Corvette was a Daytona Prototype, A Chevy powered full race car, not the enhanced street version of the Stingray which ran in the GTLM class and finished fifth in class . The new C7-R did not fare as well in the GTLM class finishing 13 laps down to the winning Porsche. In its defense, it was its first outing and… it is damned good looking.

Corvette

It is obvious and expected that the rules will require continued tweaking to allow the ALMS prototypes to be more competitive. The fastest of these was three laps behind the winning car. These constant changes will unquestionably incur pushback from competitors who see their hard earned advantages disappear. If the end product is better racing, everybody wins. The road ahead is rocky indeed. The next round is in Sebring in Mid-March. You can read Motorsports Magazine’s Gordon Kirby’s take on the events prior to the race.

GM

Accountants be Damned!

So here’s to the bright bean counters who came in with government money and turned GM around, then had the good sense to turn it over to smart young car people. As for the bean counters who thought GM should die, they cannot be anything but disappointed. Pity.

Have a great weekend.

Peter Bourassa


My Word: Auto-Auto

Posted on January 29, 2014 Comments (7)
Denise

By Denise McCluggage

It’s closer than you think. What to call it isn’t quite so certain. Some say “driverless cars”, others “self-driving cars”. I have decided on Auto-Auto which is short for “autonomous automobile”. That may well be my own private whimsy, but I like it.

The technology has flown on the wings of bright minds and bounding curiosity. And a lot of striking the forehead with the heel of the hand. One of the most critical such strikes came when the idea of smart highways—buried wires like those that change our traffic lights, sensors on fence posts etc. and similar ideas which were making headway in Europe—suddenly gave way to: “Not the road, stupid—the car, the car.” Strike away.

So arrived the challenge in the Mojave. The slightly skewed thinking (a near-requirement for such ventures) was in evidence at the first prize-supported robot car challenge (with a military spin) in the Mojave Desert a decade ago. Laughably inept machines were struggling to dodge shadows and the leading contenders ended beached on boulders, bobbing awkwardly. None completed the full course. No prize- money awarded.

But be careful what you sniggle at. The very thinkers and tinkerers involved in that adventure and the far more successful one the next year have now put thousands of accident-free miles on the likes of Google do-it-without-you vehicles and an Auto-Auto world is here! Just not obviously yet. (Four states so far have authorized on-the-road testing.)

What we are really waiting for are the lawyers. Americans have to know who to sue. Well, agreed, liability is important so pardon my facetiousness. And impatience. But do get on with it. Besides the liability matters, some mind-tossing refinements are needed for cityscapes and crowded scenes where varied objects and people interact randomly. But right now the Interstate highway system with little more than the “nanny” aids available on new cars could be navigated safely over long distances without a human’s driverly input. Uh, maybe because of that absence. The only accidents any Google cars came near were those that happened while humans were in control.

Sorry, but you are no longer necessary.

And that irreversible fact is going to change things over time as much as the arrival of the driver-driven car more than a century ago. Just what changes will there be in that new world coming to a reality near you? Futurists are making their PHD-ish noises about it. And I, unburdened by credentials, will, in the paragraphs following, indulge my own fantasy of what a part of that future might be like—particularly for those of us who like being Drivers.

My take? Cheer up, you guys. As I see it the era of the Auto-Auto will be a boon to us. Driving will be less of that tiresome wheel-holding in crowded flocks and more actual driving. More fun, less anxiety. Oh, not in the Auto-Auto things but in the real cars of history, of fantasy, of dreams. With Auto-Auto the real cars (they don’t vaporize you know) become the new horse.

Consider this: when the clop-clop beasts were no longer needed for bearing burdens or pulling plows and coal wagons they did not—as a species anyway—disappear. Indeed horses became even more numerous than they’d ever been. But their raison d’etre was no longer utilitarian. It was recreation, joy, entertainment. A collected canter through the park; competitive jumping in tanbark arenas; extended cross-country trials; high-stepping, tail-streaming gaits in the show ring.

Marshall McLuhan has the idea. When a way of doing something is replaced by a new way the old way becomes free to reinvent itself. To become, in effect, an art form. (Anyway as I simplistically interpret him.) Thus, say, with the advent of TV then movies became “film”. Cinema.

Just you wait. You think fancy car shows are popular now, when the Auto-Auto becomes the norm for getting to work, covering necessary ground, doing whatever may be the tedium in using a car, then a concours will blossom on every main street every weekend and autocrosses on every parking lot of appropriate size. Fun. Games. Driving is so cool!

And you, dear Driver, will use the Auto-Auto to get where you have to go allowing its robotic perfection to whisk you hither and thither while you thumb through emails, make phone calls, order stuff on the internet, read a book, nap. Or gaze at the new world passing by. Nothing more is needed from you apart from your initial instructions that you input when you ordered up your Auto-Auto. What size vehicle is wanted, what amenities, when you want it to wheel up to your door. When you plan to send it home. All arranged by smart phone or computer and credit card. Tap. Tap.

I think it’s unlikely you’ll actually own an Auto-Auto. They’ll be like the late lamented Lincoln Town Cars. Available on demand, they’ll exist in fleets, only in varied sizes and with specialized purposes. And no liveried drivers. Indeed no drivers at all. Unless special circumstances call for a biped to use the Auto-Auto to, say, hand-deliver some things or interact with other bipeds in some way. At least that’s how I imagine it. (I even see these minions in dark red and green patterned uniforms and odd knit caps. Don’t ask.)

As for the Auto-Auto, I see it as fully robotic. No human oversight except in special circumstances and more for appearances. Just as there were those that envisioned the smart highway as the road to the future, some see the Auto-Auto in the watchful care of an overseer driver. Silly, I say. I think more troubles are created in that interface between complete automation and the intervention of a human. I say a driver is either totally involved with the driving of a car or totally out of it. And the present day problems with so-called “distractions” demonstrate that too many drivers are half in, half out of attention.

Anyway, there is really no such thing as a “distraction”; there are only drivers attracted to something not relevant to their immediate task. A text message on their phone. The Coke that needs to go back in the cup holder. The out-of-the-loop drivers who are suddenly alerted to pay attention to driving are more apt to over-react, respond inappropriately or goof up the scene in a unique and disastrous fashion. It must be all-robot for the Auto-Auto, say I. The Google driverless cars—testing, testing—have done more than half a million miles without an error while in driverless mode. Yes, there was one present to satisfy laws but so far never needed.

The “driver aids” in the modern car seem to add to a driver’s ability to luck through a lot of inattentive driving. (You’re out of your lane; you’re following too closely.) But that is not safety; that is chance. I believe for 100% error-free driving—which is Google’s goal and which has so far been realized—it takes the removal of the human factor. Ah, dear humans, there is much appealing about you but unerring judgment and repeatable precision in execution are not two of them. (However—pat, pat—your sort did program the computer! And tested it and corrected it and tested further. (Yes—eyes to the skies—man is still the astronomer.)

A survey by an insurance company, in an effort to determine what would be the trigger to prompt a driver to consider buying an Auto-Auto, found that only 25% of those asked thought a computer would drive better than they could. That proves how inattentive and limited in judgment drivers are. At least those who take surveys. What did kick the “would-consider-buying” answer to 90% positive? An offer to reduce insurance costs by 80%. Guess what matters most in our world.

But survey answers are not going to matter. These bargain-seeking drivers will be amazed how nick and dent free they will be, how little Auto-Auto driving will cost. How much discretionary income they’ll have for playing with cars.

Which brings me up sharply to that other kind of driving. The “horse” part.

You’ve just returned home from a three day road trip in a mid-sized Auto-Auto. One other colleague went with you. You’ve used the trip back to prepare your joint report, make plans for next week and even natter about sports. Then you dropped him at the office and selected your home on the Auto-Auto menu. Quickly you make sure all of your stuff is out of the Auto-Auto and punch its home station on the menu. (The Auto-Auto will be serviced, cleaned and automatically stored until another electronic alert summons it.)

Your trip is forgotten as your thoughts and smiles rush to your personal garage. Your finger has set the door in motion. And what is revealed?

Ah. Yours is a moderate version of what Drivers of the Auto-Auto age will have to call their own. There’s a charming low-mileage Miata; a 250 GT Ferrari SWB that your great aunt raced “in the day”; an 8C Alfa of dubious provenance but you love it anyway; an early Mercedes Gelandewagen, and a genuine garage-find Dietrich-bodied Packard.

That’s nothing. Collectors with hundreds of exquisite cars are spread across the country, some in secret underground garages beneath landscaped roadways and race courses, some with semi-public museums. And many Drivers with space or budget for only one vintage, antique or classic automobile make the most of that and love it. Some Drivers belong to exchanges in which cars circulate among the members. They claim that serial collections are simpler to deal with and just as satisfying. “We all drive one at a time,” they say.

You have several hours before your family gets home. You’ve heard that the new off-road addition to the city’s hilly Drive Park is challenging so you decide to take the G-Wagen and try a section of that. You’ll be back in time to ready the Packard for a top-down evening spin to the drive-in with roller-skating waitresses. That’s in the Drive Park by the lake. You’ll decide over sweet-potato fries which concours to attend that weekend. You’re leaning toward the all-Italian one because they’ve scheduled some races as well and the Ferrari could use some speed work outs. And you too of course.

Then the driving lessons in the Miata for the kids. Everyone should start on a manual shift before they’re twelve. If you decide to visit the in-laws you’ll order up a commercial-van-sized Auto-Auto so homework can be faced as well as that movie you want to see. Next Friday you’ll order an Auto-Auto with a trailer and take the Alfa to the national convention. The kids will come the next day in another mini Auto-Auto, ordered for one-way so you can all go home together with the Alfa.

The worst thing about a car is what to do with it once you get where you’re going. Why don’t they fold up? Or deflate? How nice you can “tap” them off when you want and “tap” them back if they’re needed. Welcome to the Auto-Auto world. You suspected they’d be great for transport from Point A to Point B—and on up the alphabet—safely and conveniently. But admit it: you’d no idea how truly excellent the advent of the Auto-Auto would be for Drivers.

Ah, but not everyone will own a cache of vintage cars—or any car at all. They’ll have their account with an Auto-Auto company and want no more. The myth of America’s love affair with the car is just that—a myth. The relationship is more a long-time marriage—dependency, need, habit. But even that is changing. Surveys show that the next generation—Millennials—reportedly find cars too expensive and ownership not particularly attractive to them. Auto-Auto fits them better. Maybe cars have reached their zenith.

One thing is certain, changes will be extreme. The auto industry will be reinvented, a subject well beyond this piece. My intention today is to reassure Drivers.

And to encourage them, like snowed-in gardeners, to plan for spring. What will be in your garage?


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on January 24, 2014 Comments (2)

“My Maserati goes 185… I lost my license and now I don’t drive.”
Joe Walsh – Eagles

This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Maserati. To a now aging segment of the general public, the word Maserati means Italian speed and racing sports cars. The word Maserati has stuck in the minds of today’s senior generation, just as Lamborghini is the first Italian car name on the lips of the subsequent generation and Alfa Romeo of the generation that preceded Maserati. Each generation is reasonably ignorant of the one before. To many readers, the Alfa Romeos of the sixties and Dustin Hoffman’s ride in The Graduate are their points of reference for this historic marque. Unfortunately for us, in their day, North America was never exposed to the classic Alfa racers and the beautiful road cars that dominated the European motoring scene before WW2. Alfa came to America long after they had abandoned Grand Prix racing. Their offering was aimed at entry level post-war buyers and competed with the British MGs and Austin Healeys.

Ferrari, heir to the Alfa race team, competed with Maserati on the tracks of Europe and both came to America to sell luxury sports cars at the highest level of an emerging market for European automobiles. Maserati more than held its own against Ferrari and in its day was synonymous with fast and stylish Italian cars. At its introduction in 1967, the straight six Maserati 3500 GT competed for customers against the then three-year-old Ferrari 275 V-12 and was more expensive. Ferrari manufactured 650 of the 275 GTB coupes and 10 convertibles; Maserati produced 245 convertibles and 2000 coupes. The company also produced a series of stunning and very capable road racing and street cars. The A6GCS, the 300S, and Tipo 65 Birdcage sports cars were icons in their day. So it was with good reason that for several decades, after their departure from Grand Prix racing, the name Maserati continued to be synonymous with Italian exotics. Also, the name Maserati, like Gina Lollobrigida, Alfa Romeo, and so many more Italian words, is laden with vowels and actually sounds like a fast car when you say it. And so it must be, because Eagles singer Joe Walsh, who should know, never sang “My Lamborghini goes 185…”

Maserati

Daytona 24 Hours – Tomorrow!

Tudor United

For those of you who, like me, shiver when you hear people describe anything as “very unique”, (since the word means “absolutely without equal”), we promise that the Tudor United Sports Car Championship Series or TUSC for short will be “unique”. The United in the title is the key word. This is the first race in which the former Daytona Prototypes will race against the former LMP2 cars. Both have been “adjusted” for equivalency. This being the biggest race of the season for the new TUSC series, everyone has pressure on them to win. I would say that by the end of 10 laps we will know which of the two types of cars is more “equivalent”. Incidentally, the Ganassi Team is the big dog at this track and they have switched from BMW power to Ford. Chevrolet is also running in the prototype class with their factory team. Chevy vs. Ford. C’mon Ford, build a car. It’s time.

Tommy Kendall

The GT field will be most interesting. These are race cars most similar to street models. Corvette, BMW, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, and Viper will be competing. Where are McLaren and Audi R8 we ask? Where also is our official MMR Hero Tommy Kendall? Cast aside like an old shoe? This will not go down well with the MMR tifosi. C’mon Mr. Ford, phone TK and have him field a team for you! He’s smart, fast, and speaks English properly. What more could you want? MMR readers, what do you think?

In this issue we preview the February MMR Motorsports calendar which includes this weekend’s races.

The 2014 Scottsdale Auctions are now history. And yes, we did watch a portion of the televised Barrett-Jackson Salon segment. Other than a Ferrari F1 car once driven by Eddie Irvine making $1.7M and bringing a huge sigh of relief to the 50 or so owners of other virtually useless F1 Ferraris, not much was accomplished. We predict that as a result of this, more such garden ornaments will come to auction this year. The bidders appeared uninterested in the other European classic cars offered.

Ferrari

Peter Bourassa


Bernie Debates Going to Hell…
the Green One

Posted on January 23, 2014 Comments (0)

Nurburgring

There was a time in the sixties when the original Nurburgring was 17.6 miles long and still on the F1 calendar. That is when the iconic image of Jim Clark cresting one of its many steep hills and flying his Lotus a foot off the ground was taken. The place was tough on cars and on drivers and, considering the safety standards of the day, exceptionally dangerous. Niki Lauda’s accident, as recently recreated in the film RUSH, put an end to F1 on that circuit.

Jim Clark

Map

Jackie Stewart gave the circuit the name that stuck. The track was bankrupt in 2012. Locals were divided over rescue plans; the amusement park and shopping mall built to revitalize the area failed miserably. In 2013, it was put up for sale and last week Bernie Ecclestone was reportedly negotiating to buy it. This is not his first attempt to purchase the Nurburgring. Tough to negotiate with a man who has the time to wait, the power to make it successful, and the money to make it all happen. Time will tell if they can come to an agreement but either way, the thought of Bernie Ecclestone being in a position to own his own hell, green or otherwise, is amusing.

Nurburgring 600

Nurburgring-nordschleife

We’ll follow that. Meanwhile, this week’s video is a promotional piece by McLaren Cars. It is another in a long line of manufacturer made in-car and overhead shots of their cars breaking mythical lap records. This one, as you might expect from McLaren, is both high quality and slightly different. Tell us what you think.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on January 17, 2014 Comments (0)

Ah Paris!

Our images this week evoke Paris from two of our past issues. Sandy Cotterman’s images from last year’s Salon Retromobile reminds us all of this year’s show to be held on February 7-8. And in the summer of 2011, Tony Singer took these shots of the L’Art de L’Automobile exhibit which featured a selection of Ralph Lauren automobiles. Enjoy.

Scottsdale, We Miss You!

If I am the prototypical motorhead, then you, like me, aren’t going to Scottsdale and don’t want to talk about auctions anymore. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t want to be in Scottsdale because I would. And the reason I would want to be there is to be around cars and car people, several of whom are friends, live there, and are great company. I want to walk on warm grass, smell the fresh wax, and take pictures of beautiful cars. I want to wear summer clothing and maybe even play a round of golf. And as attractions like Automobilia and the Arizona Concours get bigger and better, and perhaps a track event is thrown in nearby, I will be there. But it is not yet there and neither am I.

Detroit Auto Show, Looking Good

Corvette

For the immediate moment, the Car Show season has begun and the Detroit Auto Show has stolen some attention from auctions. Not too surprisingly, the Corvette Stingray was named North American Car of the Year and it is tough to think of an American car that garnered as much attention since its introduction almost a year ago. The new 625HP Corvette Z06 was introduced and, as you would expect, it has all the muscular boy racer qualities a Z06 should have. The display model was in Corvette Racing yellow which serves to highlight all the track day winglets, vents, and attachments which are black. Oddly enough, the car, in another color, could actually be more attractive than the Stingray. It has a brutish excitement to it that is reminiscent of the first Vipers and the 427 Cobra. Mikey likes it!

Lambo

On another note, mea culpa, I confess I don’t really care much for Lamborghinis. With the exception of the early GTs, the serenely lovely Miura and the groundbreaking Countach, the remainder is simply design dreck with attitude. There is little joy about these beasts. The odd thing is, I suspect, Lamborghini designers would actually be pleased to hear this from all traditionalists. Lambos have always been the anti car. The car that thrives on negative achievement: it doesn’t go racing; it doesn’t come in red; it doesn’t care to be round and smooth; it doesn’t have rearview vision; and, other than its founder and test driver, it doesn’t have a hero or a champion. It simply doesn’t care whether you like it or not. Or… didn’t. And then one day the little Kingdom of Sant’Agata Bolognese, received a short message from a powerful king in a neighboring land. The message was simple. Fix your attitude. Design a pretty car or you will be an R8 assembly line. Have a nice day! And, behold, the Huracan was born. It is more stunning than beautiful but unlike its predecessors, it doesn’t need explaining and is a huge leap forward. What do you think?


This week’s video is a collage of the better racing scenes from Steve McQueen’s Le Mans.


We still have tickets for the Denise McCluggage driver’s workshop, The Centered Driver, to be held on January 28th. Join us for a wonderful evening of motorsports camaraderie and learning.

Peter Bourassa