MMR Blog

Because I like Black Ferraris

Posted on April 8, 2011 Comments (0)
wasred

In 1996 as part of my negotiations to bring Ferrari owners and their vehicles to the Canadian GP in Montreal, I met with the Vice-Mayor, an ardent Ferraristi, at his office. Strictly by happenstance, there was a parking space right in front of City Hall. At the conclusion of our meeting, knowing I once lived in Montreal, he led me through an adjoining room to a balcony overlooking Place Jacques-Cartier. He asked me if I realized where I was standing and, not wanting to spoil his pleasure, I said no. He walked to the edge of the balcony and put his hands on the rail, turned and said to me, “This is where Charles de Gaulle stood during his official visit of 1967. He turned to the large crowd below, looked out and said… Hey! Is that your Ferrari!? How come it’s not red?”


Driving a Ferrari 308 to Amelia

Posted on March 29, 2011 Comments (0)

For the past several years I have taken a week in March to attend the annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Located just below the Georgia border, Amelia Island quietly manages to accommodate the quaint little working class town of Fernandina Beach, the expensive Ritz hotel and condo apartment complex and a variety of developments and golf courses in between.

Driving a 308 to Amelia

But for one weekend in March, it kicks off the North American Concours season and is inundated by enthusiasts in search of fond memories at a reasonable price.

My company, MMRsite.com, is a website catering to the needs of motorsports enthusiasts, and this is an opportunity to meet our website suppliers and our customer base. My goal is to take a lot of still pictures, and, if possible, shoot video interviews with car owners and motorsports celebrities for our MMRsite on YouTube.

What makes Amelia really special for me is that I drive there and back in my 1978 Ferrari 308. For those not familiar enough with Ferraris to distinguish one from another, this is the Magnum PI TV model. However, mine is black, not red. And it is not driven by Tom Selleck, much to the apparent disappointment of the myriads of drivers who scoot up to its trunk in traffic and then risk their lives and mine to pass it and see if Tom really is driving. Their visible disappointment is matched by mine. For different reasons, we both wish I were Tom Selleck.

As mentioned, I normally spend a week on the 2,500 mile trip and that generally includes a nice three-day period, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, during which I attend the Concours and do little driving.

This year things were different. On the Monday before the Wednesday I was scheduled to leave, I pulled a muscle in my back, a not uncommon occurrence from which I generally recover within one week.

Driving a 308 to Amelia

Day 1: Thursday

Heavily laden with Advil, inside and out, I departed Thursday at mid-morning, in trifling rain, to meet friends for dinner in Baltimore, just 400 or so miles down I-95.

A quick note here about 33-year old Ferrari 308’s. They are 3-liter, 8-cylinder (hence 3.0-8) “sports cars” designed to deliver short bursts of noisy adrenalin to driver and passenger alike. Ferrari also built 12-cylinder models that are iconic “touring cars.” These were designed for comfortable and stylish long distance travel, generally with “madame.” It didn’t take “madame” long to discern the difference, and thus I travel solo.

Fifty miles down the road the rain intensified. Rain poses three problems, the first is that while some new cars with removable “Targa” type roof panels may leak, old cars with such tops ALL leak. At speeds under 50 MPH, intermittent spitting emanates from where the window meets the aforementioned removable top and the windshield frame. That is just several inches above eye level and, with uncanny accuracy, this spray manages to consistently hit me in the face. Next, the windshield wiper mechanism works whimsically at best and sometimes not at all. And then the windshield sometimes fogs up. In the rain, in heavy thruway traffic, this is all quite thrilling and one easily maintains a state of heightened awareness.

I arrived in Baltimore sodden, partially deafened by the exhaust noise and only one hour late. After a highly pleasurable dinner with gracious and entertaining friends, I hit the pillow well contented and relieved that a difficult first day was done. The gentling properties of red wine in quantity should never be underestimated.

Day 1 notes: Rain; 22 MPG; Gas in MA: $3.71; Gas in NY: $4.07. Total gas cost: $70.79. Road food consumption: 4 Advil; 3 Nature Valley bars; 2 Diet Cokes; 1 decaf coffee.

Day 2: Friday

Friday dawned bright and clear, two more Advil, a Nature Valley bar, and I was on the road by 7:00 AM well prepared for a feisty 800 mile drive. I encountered no problems leaving the Baltimore area and heartily endorse the Maryland rest stops. They are recipients of this the 2011 BBI95 Award. Best Bathrooms on I-95 award. Trust me, while judging process is daunting, the competition is hardly fierce.

Soon came Washington, our nation’s capital. If you think the Congress is gridlocked, just step outside. Construction and accidents caused a forty-mile stretch to take well over two hours to traverse. In one case, a bread van crashed into a cement highway divider. How often do you see that?! A CRASHED BREAD VAN!?

I-95 through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina is purgatory. Local radio is simply depressing. Fortunately I have a stack of CD’s and an aftermarket radio/CD player that can drown out road and engine noise. At the cost of your hearing of course. There are no state-sponsored rest stops here and some roadside service vendors see hygiene as an option sacrificed to the Recession Gods. Stops for food, fuel and personal relief become adventures; some more pleasant than others. Over time I have learned to eat Nature Valley bars and drink some form of bottled caffeine. Having said all that about the highway institutions, let me also say that driving the Ferrari off the highway introduces one to the very nicest of local people. They are curious and polite and really seem to get a kick out of seeing a Ferrari. It is almost embarrassing. A lesson learned: Never judge locals by their radio stations or their nearby public restrooms.

The highway speed limits are at times as high as 70 MPH, and, as best I can judge from the information supplied by timing roadside mileage markers, we are averaging about 75 MPH. My Italian Ferrari speedometer indicates we are doing 90 MPH. Ah those Italians! So optimistic!

By the time I hit Georgia it has been dark for a while, and the highway is poorly lit. I keep remembering that song, “A Rainy Night in Georgia.”  I don’t remember the words, but I do remember that it isn’t a song people sing at birthday parties.  And, even though I finally found the Chocolate & Oats versions, I am fed up with Nature Valley bars!

Eight hundred plus miles in a noisy sports car singing along to Peter, Paul and Mary can make a man think strange thoughts. At 9:30 PM, PP&M, strange thoughts and I have all arrived at Amelia Island.

As I turn off the pop-up headlights, I notice that one doesn’t go all the way down. That has been happening for some time now, and I must attend to it. At some point in the night, it closes all the way down. Always does. BTW, no more back pain. Only slightly deaf. Seems a fair trade.

Checking in at the Days Inn: $149.95 per night. This is probably three times the normal rate. Pity.

I drive in to Fernandina Beach for dinner at a little Italian restaurant where I have eaten on previous trips. Once again, they surprise me with the quality and pricing of their food and wine. On the way back to the hotel I stop by a coin car wash and put a half-pound of quarters into the machine. The Ferrari looks much better clean. We both drift off to a well-earned rest.

Day’s total: 843 miles; 8 Nature Valley bars. Total gas cost: $159.38.

Driving a 308 to Amelia

Days 3 and 4: Saturday and Sunday

The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is anchored at The Ritz Hotel. It’s a huge complex built on a beach and a golf course with a number of beach-front, 20-stories high condo apartments, some of which can be rented for the week. It is a lovely setting and well suited to the event activities. Saturday is given over to auctions and Concours sponsored lectures in various hotel ballrooms.  Outside, manufacturers of all the high -end cars have their wares on display and are allowing prospective customers to try them out. Driving the Ferrari 308 in this crowd is like showing up at Prince William’s wedding with a blow-up doll. No one wants to look you in the eye. Makes you long for the folks of rural Georgia where a Ferrari means something. Once away from the site of the Concours, the Ferrari again is something special. People stop to look closely at it wherever it is parked, and everyone has questions about it.

Driving a 308 to Amelia

Sunday is the day of the Concours. I am on the field at 6:30 AM to catch the early morning light on the arriving cars. As for the Concours, once again I am amazed at how “right” the judges are. The two winning Duesenbergs are truly deserving. See our report elsewhere on the Concours.

It has been a long, busy and very satisfying day. I finish shooting the winners by 5:30 PM and am on the road by 6:00. Dinner will be by Nature Valley and caffeinated liquid. Once on I-95, I realize that the end of the Amelia Concours coincides with the end of Bike Week in Daytona, which is about 90 miles further down I-95. The Concours traffic is swelled by bikers towing their Harley-laden trailers back up north. Oh joy! They travel at a quicker pace and while the forward part of their rigs appear stable, the back end of the trailer is often swaying back and forth a good 15 inches. Negotiating a pass in a small black car can be daunting. We are all travelling at over 80 MPH (100 MPH on the Ferrari speedometer) and there is no need for caffeine here.

In Georgia I pull off for gas at an exit that promises a BP station. The BP is closed, and the one across the road has no indentifying oil company signs. I have no choice. One look and you know that you wouldn’t want to ask for the bathroom here. The pump cuts off at $50. Trusting souls. That is just over 13 gallons and good enough for me. The Ferrari only holds 18 gallons.  I am good to go. “A Rainy Night in Georgia.”

At midnight I stop in Fayetteville, North Carolina and the odometer says I have gone another 300 miles since I left Amelia Island.

Summary: A full and satisfying day. Note to self: The Ferrari headlights need adjustment. I have been meaning to do that since I bought the car 16 years ago.

Driving a 308 to Amelia

Day 5: Monday

As I am checking the engine oil level, I break the rear deck lift mechanism. My fault. In some ways this car is so tough and in some ways it is so fragile. There is one constant in owning a Ferrari—it never is boring. My black horse and I leave Fayetteville, North Carolina at 9:00 AM, and we are in NYC at 6:00 PM for dinner. It was a relatively fast and light traffic drive. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Somewhere between the entrance to the Holland Tunnel to New York City and home I am in for two more surprises. First, on exiting the Tunnel, I look for the exit that will take me to West Street and the West Side Highway. The 150 yards from the Tunnel exit and the side street is a virtual minefield of unavoidable of deep potholes and hump-back mounds. The car bottoms twice, and a front wheel hits a hole so hard I am convinced it will be torn off. The misery I wished on the Commissioner of Roads for the City of New York cannot be printed. At best he can’t have children.

Driving a 308 to Amelia

After a two-hour respite for dinner in Manhattan, I happily climb back into the Ferrari for the final drive to Boston. Gas in the City is difficult to find, and I make it to the first Connecticut service area on I-95. As I am fueling the car, I spot the pricing. My hand involuntarily releases the filler nozzle—$4.27 per gallon! That is my second surprise! I put enough in to get us home and do just that. I arrive at 11:00 PM having driven over 800 miles again. I am tired, and the ringing in my ears will stay with me for several days, but, none-the-less, I am well pleased. My back has healed, I know all the words to “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and the 33-year old Ferrari with well over 120K on the clock has once again delivered fun, reliability and relative comfort. Not to mention Ferrari style.

Total (Ferrari Speedo) mileage: 2,508 miles Fuel costs: $492.84 Nature Valley bars: 18.

The Compleat Man's Kit:

  • 1 1978 Ferrari 308. Well used.
  • 1 Video camera and tripod.
  • 1 Digital still camera—still better than its operator.
  • 1 Wine cooler bag: 4 reds, 2 whites, all excellent (within their price range).
  • 1 Personal luggage and French leather tuxedo carrier: prepare for anything—expect the best.
  • 1 Backpack containing: Computer, 18 Nature Valley bars and 6 cokes. Breakfast of Champions!

Day 5: Monday (image # 037)

 

As I am checking the engine oil level, I break the rear deck lift mechanism. My fault. In some ways this car is so tough and in some ways it is so fragile. There is one constant in owning a Ferrari--it never is boring.  My black horse and I leave Fayetteville, North Carolina at 9:00 AM, and we are in NYC at 6:00 PM for dinner. It was a relatively fast and light traffic drive. Sometimes you just get lucky.

 

Somewhere between the entrance to the Holland Tunnel to New York City and home I am in for two more surprises. First, on exiting the Tunnel, I look for the exit that will take me to West Street and the West Side Highway. The 150 yards from the Tunnel exit and the side street is a virtual minefield of unavoidable of deep potholes and hump-back mounds. The car bottoms twice, and a front wheel hits a hole so hard I am convinced it will be torn off. The misery I wished on the Commissioner of Roads for the City of New York cannot be printed. At best he can’t have children.

 

After a two-hour respite for dinner in Manhattan, I happily climb back into the Ferrari for the final drive to Boston. Gas in the City is difficult to find, and I make it to the first Connecticut service area on I-95. As I am fueling the car, I spot the pricing. My hand involuntarily releases the filler nozzle--$4.27 per gallon! That is my second surprise! I put enough in to get us home and do just that. I arrive at 11:00 PM having driven over 800 miles again. I am tired, and the ringing in my ears will stay with me for several days, but, none-the-less, I am well pleased. My back has healed, I know all the words to “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and the 33-year old Ferrari with well over 120K on the clock has once again has delivered fun, reliability and relative comfort. Not to mention Ferrari style.

 

Total (Ferrari Speedo) mileage: 2,508 miles; Fuel costs: $492.84; Nature Valley bars: 18.   (IMAGE 6026)


An Electric Car in Your Future… Now

Posted on June 7, 2010 Comments (0)

2010 Tesla Roadster Sport at Larz Anderson Auto Museum (photo credit: Greg PC)

It’s no longer a question of whether or not you’ll have an electric car.  The question now is:  When? and what color will it be?

A small company in California has made the strongest effort yet to end your recurring nightmare about battery operated cars:  It’s a dark rainy night and you’re muttering bleakly to yourself as you guide the slowing little electric “econobox” to the side of a dimly lit highway.  The battery is dying, the lights are dimming, and the wipers are slowing. And your heart is sinking because you know there are no electrical outlets or clean bathrooms for miles.  Not a pretty picture.

Tesla Motors, maker of a new breed of high performance electric cars, has addressed your three major concerns. One, Tesla calms I'll-never-make-it-home fears with a mileage range of between 240 and 300 miles per charge.  Far beyond the mileage required for the average daily commute. Two, Teslas perform exceptionally well against what are considered current standards of comfort, safety and speed. And three, rather than looking like mobile meat lockers, both sport and sedan Teslas are unquestionably among the most handsome of cars.

So how does this happen?  Well, for one thing the evolution of the current modern car has laid the groundwork for Tesla’s acceptance.  Cars have changed dramatically from the finned behemoths of the ‘50’s. But our continued demand for greater efficiency in transportation, combined with the volatile politics of fossil fuels and the myriad finicky computers that control every aspect of the modern car, have created a huge opportunity for a simple and innovative solution. Mass transit systems, high speed rail, even bicycles, hold little appeal in this huge country as they are often deemed transport for students, the poor, or the environmentally awestruck.

Enter the Tesla. Forgetting for a moment that coal fired generators supply the electrical charge, this car is attractive, comfortable and environmentally friendly. Surprisingly, the Tesla Roadster Sport model, the only flavor available at this point, can trace its roots to the innovative Lotus Car Company of the Sixties and their popular Elan model. When the Lotus Elan first hit the roads and tracks of America, it had as disruptive an impact on the dinosaurs of its day as the Tesla is having on accepted technology today. At that time, the Elan’s nimble handling, great brakes and Ford Cosworth 1.55 liter twin cam engine pitted it against the likes of Corvettes, M-B 300Sl's, Porsche Carreras, anf Ferrari 250Gt's in SCCA B-Production racing.  It proved to be a very competitive car, setting a standard for small car speed and agility for years to come.

Today, the Tesla’s rolling chassis is built in the original Lotus Cars plant in Hethel, England.  The body is 4” longer than today’s Lotus Elise model, successor in spirit to the Elan. The Tesla is styled after the Elise but its body is made of carbon fiber rather than fiberglass. This adds great structural rigidity and lightens the car by 200 lbs. The “glider”, as it is called at that point, is then shipped to California where battery power components are added and the car is finished to the customer’s specifications.  Customers spec their car on the Tesla website.

That’s right, no local dealerships. This transaction is all done online and you are always a single keystroke from canceling the whole deal. But if you don’t, your local UPS delivery truck will bring your brand new Tesla to your doorstep in somewhere between 90 and 120 days. And your neighbors will all deem you to be either an eco-weenie or a visionary.  Comfort yourself, at some point, whether in reality or in their dreams, you will silently glide by them all at the local Mobil, a spot you wont have visited in months.

While Tesla is currently assembled in the United States from parts made elsewhere, a government subsidy to encourage further electric vehicle development will change all that.  But Tesla Motors’ fate will not be determined by politics and environmental demands alone. This company will also need to succeed on the merits of its products, and its first offerings bode very well indeed for that to happen.


Turkish Grand Prix: Sunday Morning in Turkey

Posted on June 7, 2010 Comments (1)

Sunday, I was watching a parade and a F1 race broke out.

Turkishf1

F1 Grand Prix of Istanbul - Race

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing leads from Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes at the start of the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Malcolm Griffiths/Getty Images)

On Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon two very different races, one in Turkey and the other in Indianapolis, left many questions unanswered.

The F1 race in Turkey was run for the benefit of only four cars. McLaren and Red Bull teams ran away from everyone else. As usual, qualifying well was the advantage that was needed to lead the first lap and the Red Bull cars, while not as quick as the McLarens in a straight line, had a distinct advantage in the twisty bits.

So Mark Webber who sat on pole, got away cleanly, his partner, Sebastian Vettel , slotted into second when Lewis Hamilton was held unexpectedly in the pits on lap 15 and it looked very much like a one-two for Red Bull and a three- four for McLaren.

redbullwaving

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing reacts as he crashes out after colliding with his team mate Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing during the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

At that point the cars were too evenly matched to expect a change and no passing had taken place among them on the track. But there were still technical unpredictables. The possibility of tires “going off” or “graining” and the ultimate F1 equalizer, rain, loomed.

Neither happened.

However, the human unpredictable did. The irrepressible Vettel in second place, due to different car set-up and team tactics, at one point had a slightly quicker car than his teammate, the repressible Mark Webber. On lap 40 of a 58 lap race he attempted to pass in a tight spot. In the process they both went off the track, the McLarens passed, Vettel was out and Webber finished third. It might have been stupid, but it was unexpected and entertaining.

Sebastian

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing reacts as he crashes out after colliding with his team mate Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing during the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

So now the McLarens were one-two with Hamilton in the lead when “vettelism” seized Jenson Button, the now in second place McLaren driver. He decided, on lap 48, to pass his teammate and race leader Lewis Hamilton. Well, that lasted for about five corners and then, once they had banged into each other, they were told by their pits they could have a fuel problem, so they should settle down to a parade formation to the finish.

“Conserve fuel! We have calculated that you are running out.” is code for “If you stupid bastards don’t cut this out we are going to trade you both for Kimi and you can learn to drive Renaults around elephant dung for the next ten years.”

The fact that these four guys actually raced each other was quite novel and great fun to watch. What it also gave us was a glimpse of what racing could be like without team orders. And while we are dreaming, suppose the whole track could be used instead of half of it being covered in rubber “marbles"?

And then TV witnessed the cleverness of the Red Bull engineers and managers when confronted with a management and PR situation. This is leadership! Vettel comes by the pits while the race is still on and they all hug him.

Turkishending

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes leads from team mate Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes on his way to winning the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The poor little boy, he broke his toy.

If that was my car that he had damned near destroyed trying to pass his teammate who was the pole sitter and leading the race, I would have grabbed him by his cute little ear and marched him straight down to the Lotus pit and told him to help them win a championship for the next few years.

And I would have had a word with Webber about doing something stupid like not moving over when my teammate does something stupid like trying to pass me in a tight spot that could have taken both cars out.

That’s a management point of view.

From a fan’s point of view it was unpredictably refreshing and I’ll bet we never see that again from these four.

So what did you think of the show?

pb