Category Archives: Dream Cars

My Top 5 motoring dreams

I know I’ve got my arms around a powerful dream when it ignites a kind of desperation in me to have it, own it, hold it before it disappears: I’m learning it’s wise to pay attention to the ideas that steal inside and prick at your heart with such cold, sweet longing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the significance of dreams and felt compelled to write about what moves me. Cars have been a part of my life since I was a little kid pushing Matchbox cars across the carpet, making engine sounds with pursed lips. I stared this blog from that same passionate place – this is the adult equivalent of toy cars and mouthed exhaust notes – and I thought it would be fun to share my Top 5 motoring dreams.

People sometimes ask me what my favorite car of all time is. There is *literally* no way to answer that question because the answer is constantly changing. Same thing here – this list is fluid and flexible and in no particular order. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this list and what your own motorized dreams are, so feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for supporting my passion!

Experiencing the Stelvio Pass

stelvio-pass-sunrise
Sunrise over the Stelvio pass. Photo credit: Colcorsa

There are an unlimited number of incredible driving roads that could/should be included on gearhead’s bucket list – the Blue Ridge Parkway, California’s famous Highway 1, or the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania to name a few. But, it’s the Stelvio Pass that earns a spot in my Top 5. Imagine you’re a kid again and someone hands you a magic marker and tells you to draw the wildest, most wonderful road you can think of. Marker in hand, you concentrate and begin to scribble – crazy hairpin turns, long straights, maybe even a mountain or two to climb. You’d put every cool element you could think of into a single road. The end result would undoubtedly be the Stelvio Pass. I mean, just look at it! It’s gorgeous! Located in the Italian Alps, this breathtaking mountain pass manages to pack 48 switchbacks into 15 winding miles.

Can you imagine what it would be like to hustle this road in a red Ferrari convertible? Sun beaming down amidst snow capped mountains silently stretching skyward? Hairpin after hairpin rushing toward you – brake, turn sharply, jump on the gas and ride it out, brake, turn sharply… Or, what it would be like to throw a leg over a (insert Italian motorcycle brand here – we are in the motherland, after all), and assault the road that way? I struggle to think of any other road that inspires the way the Stelvio Pass does. It’s honestly the stuff of dreams.

Going racing

motogp-rossi-six-races-left
Valentino Rossi, aka -‘The Doctor’, hard at work. Photo credit: Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

Something happens inside me when I get around racing, and I’m not quite sure what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s watching Valentino Rossi hang off the side of his MotoGP bike, or Fernando Alonso sliding into the cockpit of his Formula 1 car, or heck, even when I put on a helmet at a go-kart track. It pulls at something in me to, I don’t know, do things. Be better. Get off my ass. Hustle. It’s that desperation thing I mentioned. I’m acutely aware that all hope is lost for my chances at going pro, but I can still, like, compete in rich gentleman’s leagues and stuff, right?

There are a litany of reasons why going racing won’t work – too expensive, too dangerous, I’m too old, I’ve never been, I don’t own anything to race. I say: screw all that. If you do the work, you’ll find the solution. Besides, other people have done it which means I can too. And why not? I’m starting to understand that if something continues to tug at your heart over and over and over again, it probably feels that way for a reason. It would be the easy, comfortable thing to remain a spectator and not do what it takes to go racing. But when something feels like this, how steep is the price of ignoring it?

Visiting the Ferrari factory

ferrari-250-gt-cabriolet
A 250 GT sits just outside Ferrari’s main entrance. Photo credit: Sports Car Digest

I can only imagine that visiting the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy, is like visiting God’s holy workshop. Mixed in with spare parts of animals still to be discovered and people yet to be born, are the camshafts, piston rings, and crackle-coated intake manifolds for a Ferrari V12. Someone doesn’t even have to be into cars and there’s a great chance they still understand what the name “Ferrari” entails. My earliest car memory is of a red Ferrari Testarossa in Lake George, NY one warm summer night. My sister and I were downtown getting food, and after seeing it drive by, I actually ran out into traffic to stand behind it as it sat at a light. If I focus hard enough, I can still see the wide straked rear-end, still hear it growling, the way the sound reverberated in my chest.

There’s a certain mystique about Ferrari that few other brands can match. Part of it is Ferrari’s racing pedigree, which is nearly peerless. Part of it is the powerful role the brand plays in popular culture. Another is the certainty – the same certainty that the sun will rise again tomorrow – that every new Ferrari road car will continue to raise the performance threshold. And another is just that damn gorgeous shade of red. Whatever it is, consider me hooked. Honestly, I’m not sure if Ferrari even does factory tours for us “regular people” (someone let me know if they do?), but I don’t care. I’m going. Combine this with driving the Stelvio Pass and there’s a good chance I’d never leave Italy again.

Attending the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

0ebd1a11256c38adbb6cb7f10b2cb423
There’s just too much perfection in this picture. Photo credit: Pebble Beach

What is there to say about the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance that hasn’t already been said? It’s crazy, insane. Every year when the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance rolls around (pun!), some of the most valuable cars on earth head to California for a celebration of the automobile which has no equal. You can bet your bottom dollar on seeing the richest of the rich and the rarest of the rare.

Literally situated on the 18th green of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, this event isn’t a mere “car show” (those are for plebeians, my dear). It’s a week-long exhibition whose atmosphere is more akin to The Great Gatsby than anything else, and showcases pristine examples of the automobile from every era and every pedigree. Has it always been your dream to see a 1953 Ferrari 250 MM Vignale Spyder? Pebble Beach has it. Or, what about the insanely rare 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic? This is where you’ll see it. In addition to the primary Concours, there are numerous other shows, historic races at nearby Laguna Seca raceway, and driving excursions along the California coast. In my fantasy, I’m walking around the Concours in a sun hat, Ray-Bans, a white linen suit, sipping a Mint Julep, and wondering if I’d rather take the multi-million dollar Ferrari home, or take the multi-million dollar Rolls Royce home. See how nice it is to dream?

Driving cross-country on a motorcycle

cross-country-motorcycle-trip
Be still, my heart. Photo credit: Ultracoolfl.com

One of my greatest fears is becoming stagnant, not fully experiencing all that’s possible from life, so this entry on my list is a must. I can think of no more clear or potent example of the dream than taking a cross-country road trip on a motorcycle. I’ve always felt that driving across the country is almost our duty as Americans – to see and discover those purple mountains and amber waves of grain. And I’m not talking about a frantic sprint that has you constantly checking your watch because the office is beckoning. I mean one of those trips they write books and songs about – where time is fully yours to be savored and measured out in delicious, soulful moments, rather than by what a schedule demands.

Taking the trip in a car works, but a motorcycle brings things to an entirely different level. I won’t even bother explaining it (mainly because I haven’t done it yet), so instead, I’ll let the wildly talented bunch from Manchester, NH’s own Iron & Air do that for me. Like the roads themselves, the dreams you’ll be chasing on a trip like this would be continually moving and flowing, leading you down paths perhaps you didn’t expect and to destinations you never considered. Of all the dreams on this list, this is my most treasured.

Bonus! Visiting Monaco

monaco_2

Oh Monaco, you beautifully ridiculous stereotype, you. This tiny independent city-state on the Mediterranean Sea holds the title of having more millionaires and billionaires per capita than any other place on earth. Consequently, it’s also home to the most prestigious Formula 1 race in the world, more ships and yachts in its harbor than a full blown Navy yard, and enough supercars to make a Saudi prince weak in the knees. It’s the absolutely insane car-spotting that lands Monaco on this list. Roads here, especially in the ward of Monte Carlo, are cramped and usually bungled up with traffic. Clearly, that matters to no one. YouTube is rife with videos with headlines like, “Lamborghini Aventador brutal acceleration and sound!”. Odds are good the video is of a sunglassed, suntanned, sonofa… generic wealthy owner hammering the big Lambo through the tunnel under the famous Monte Carlo casino. Keep an eye out for my fanboy video from Monaco coming soon 🙂

Advertisements

‘Hitting the Apex’ screening is a Go!

We did it!

The screening of ‘Hitting the Apex’ at the Cinemagic in Hooksett, NH on Monday, January 25 at 7:30PM is confirmed! I want to thank everyone for their support – we are going to have a blast. And actually, we sold so many tickets, we got a theatre upgrade! We now have access to 58 more tickets, so spread the word, and lets pack this place to the rafters.

Here’s the link: https://tugg.com/events/79846

Looking forward to seeing everyone on the 25th!

image1

‘Hitting the Apex’ is coming to NH!

HittingTheApex

If you’re unfamiliar with Mark Neale’s work, you’ve been missing out. Neale has been making some of the finest MotoGP documentaries anywhere, and he has recently released a brand new film called ‘Hitting the Apex’. Narrated by Brad Pitt, HTA covers the 2013 into 2014 MotoGP season and follows six of the fastest riders at the peak of the sport: Valentino Rossi, Marco Simoncelli, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, and Casey Stoner.

On Monday, January 25 at 7:30pm,  we are lucky enough to have a screening of HTA at the Cinemagic theatre in Hooksett, NH! Tickets are $12, and they must be reserved by Friday, January 15. We need to meet a ticket threshold in order to make the screening happen and we’re over halfway to our goal! Click on the link to get your tickets:

https://tugg.com/events/79846 

If you like motorcycles and racing, HTA is like getting a glimpse at Valhalla – it’s exciting, the cinematography is incredible, the tension on and off the track is palpable, and it pays beautiful tribute to one of the craziest sports on the planet and the gladiators who battle it out every Sunday. And, even if you don’t like motorcycles or racing, there is more than enough drama and excitement to keep you entertained. In short, everyone needs to see this film. Thank you for your support!

 

 

Queen City Cars & Coffee III

Queen City Cars & Coffee is back! The past two years hosting this show have been absolute blast, and I’m stoked to be putting it on again this year. Last year, over 90 cars attended, about 30 more than the first year. For QC3 (just made that name up right now and I dig it) the goal is set at 125 cars. Let’s rally together and make it happen! Invite your friends, invite their friends, invite people that aren’t your friends, invite your grandma, your neighbor, the guy who cleans your septic tank, it doesn’t matter. Just invite them. I genuinely think we have the chance to create something epic and put the Manchester car scene on the map. This year’s show is on Saturday, September 13 from 8am to 12pm at the Arms Parking Lot in Manchester, NH. Be sure to follow @_DoranD_ and @TopDeadCenter on Twitter for updates. I’m beyond fired up for this, and I can’t wait to see everyone there!

qccc14_print

Wide eyed in The Big Apple: A car show rookie’s ‘Top 5’ from the New York International Auto Show

Over the past few years, I have made the journey to bustling downtown Manhattan and the Jacob Javits Center a number of times for the New York International Auto Show. If you have never been, I highly recommend going, even if you aren’t a car carrying gearhead. Several stories tall, multiple blocks long, and many thousands of square feet, seeing the Javits Center is reason enough to go. I had always gone to simply ogle expensive machinery, but this most recent trip was my first time there for “work” and the media days that precede the show.

Photo Credit: Metropolis Mag
Photo Credit: Metropolis Mag

As I wandered around the show on the first day, waiting for my good friend Daniel Chin to arrive, I might as well have been wearing a sign that said, “Hello! My name is nOOb.” Case in point—most of the manufacturers had coffee, snacks, and water at their booths. As I slowly shuffled past, body racked with cravings for caffeine, my only thought was, “Can I actually have some? Is it ok to take?” Opting to not cause a scene and generally chickening out, I didn’t take any. Later, Danny assured me that it was okay to take as much as I wanted. So I did.

Once I figured things out, I had an absolute blast at the show. I met terrific people, connected with old friends, and came away with a greater understanding about how  major auto shows work and what they mean to the industry. Car wise, NYIAS didn’t disappoint. There were a number of exciting global reveals, plenty of exotic machinery to drool over, and enough free food and drink to keep me satiated, if only momentarily. Now, without any further ado, here are my top five most significant cars from the show. Enjoy!

1.) 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Photo Credit: Danny Chin
Photo Credit: Daniel Chin

As Danny and I took our seats for the Chevrolet press conference, a Chevy employee walked around handing out small black rubber boxes. I looked up at her quizzically. Seeing my confusion, she handed me one and said, “Earplugs.” Oh, silly me, of course we need earplugs for a press conference, that just makes sense. A minute later and it all became clear—the intro videos, sound effects, and music were absolutely deafening. Despite that, what happened next was rather special.

The utter saturation of the internet with automotive rumors, spy photos, and speculation, makes it nigh on impossible for manufacturer’s to keep anything a secret. Generally, the media has a solid idea of what each manufacturer will be revealing before the auto show even begins. All the other cars Chevy revealed during their press conference—the new SS, the 2014 Camaro, and the C7 Corvette convertible—were known beforehand. What we didn’t expect was to see the rebirth of one of the most famous nameplates in Chevrolet’s history: the Z/28.

Here to give you a bit of backstory behind the famous moniker is Stephen Rust, a life-long car enthusiast and former Chrysler Competitive Intelligence Specialist.

“Even a vision-impaired genealogist could easily track the lineage of the 2014 Z/28 back to the original 1967edition. Chevrolet produced the first-gen Z/28 in order to homologate the car so it could compete in SCCA’s Trans Am competition, easily one of the most competitive racing series in the world at that time. The stock 1967 Z/28… came with a 302 cubic-inch mill that was (under) rated at 290 horsepower. That engine, along with the standard Corvette-derived LT-1 engine, were said to be some of the closest to pure racing engines that Chevrolet had ever released to the public. Though I still feel that the Jeep Cherokee is/was the most significant vehicle of the show, it was the debut of the new Z/28 that moved me the most.”

2014-Chevrolet-CamaroZ28-003-medium
Photo Credit: TrackHQ

All the exterior modifications on the Z/28 are functional and very badass. It comes with a honkin’ front splitter, a rear diffuser out back, lightweight wheels, carbon ceramic brakes, and sticky tires to name a few. And please, Chevy, whatever you do, offer this car with the glorious pearlescent matte white paint that the show car was adorned in.

Under the hood, the Z/28 is equipped with a naturally aspirated 7.0-liter V-8 engine that produces 500 horsepower and 470 pound feet of torque. The car also weighs some 300 pounds less than the beastly supercharged Camaro ZL1, the same car the Z/28 will replace as king of the Camaro heap. Befitting the Z/28’s track-focused nature, Chevrolet deleted the car’s sound deadening, made air conditioning an optional extra, took out the carpeting in the trunk, and deleted six of the standard Camaro’s seven speakers. They kept one speaker so occupants could hear the seatbelt chime. Awesome.

2.) Subaru WRX Concept

WRX concept
Photo Credit: Daniel Chin

Of all the cars show at NYIAS, this is the one I was most excited about. Turbochargers and Subarus are about as famous as hotdogs and ketchup. When I heard the rumors that Subaru would be unveiling a concept of what is arguably the company’s most famous vehicle, I found myself dreaming of forced induction and tube shaped processed meat products.

When the fog machines stopped and the strobe lights from the introduction ceremony dimmed, it was clear Subaru had taken an entirely new tact when it came to styling. Gone were the droopy, awkward features of the current WRX and STi, and in their place were sharp, muscular lines and flares and scoops in all the right places. I especially loved the green accents around the tailpipes. Again, cue Stephen Rust:

Photo Credit: Automobile
Photo Credit: Automobile

“Judging by crowd reaction in New York, I suspect that the design study that Subaru displayed will carry over fairly closely to production. Subaru has a styling and performance hit on its hands if the production car closely follows the concept that was shown; a more-than-worthy successor to the current gen car.”

In talking with some of the Subaru brass, I learned that the next WRX wasn’t years away from production, but it was only a matter of months before we would learn more about the final product. They remained mum on details like the interior (we couldn’t see inside), performance (it will likely be fantastic), and horsepower (rumor has it that the production car will make between 275 and 300 horsepower), but we do know that some kind of turbocharged powerplant will find its way under the hood. Long live tradition.

3.) 2014 Cadillac CTS

Photo Credit: Danny Chin
Photo Credit: Daniel Chin

The CTS is a big deal for Cadillac. When it was launched back in 2002, it marked the beginning of Cadillac’s now familiar “art & science” design theme, and heralded a major perception shift within the company that resulted in the General Motors rescuing the Cadillac brand from the pit of woeful mediocrity that it had steeped in for so long.

When I first saw the new CTS, sitting all pretty on its rotating pedestal, I actually mistook it for the Cadillac’s smaller sedan, the ATS. That upright grille, those headlights that arch up onto the front fenders, the character line that runs from the front wheels to the taillights are all deeply reminiscent of the ATS’s softer styling language. And I have to admit, I’m a little unsure of the end result. While the ATS is certainly an attractive car, I feel the CTS draws one-too-many visual cues from its baby brother.

Marc Urbano is a renowned automotive photographer who currently shoots for Road & Track magazine. I first met Marc when I was an intern at R&T during the summer of 2006, and was psyched to run into him at the show. Certainly a man with a better eye for car styling than mine, Marc was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts on the new CTS’s looks.

“The ATS is a handsome car so the CTS is pulling from a solid design already. The current CTS is nicely designed car already and this evolution continues in that trend.  I love the updated front end styling…. the lower nose of the CTS as opposed to the ATS really makes the car look more muscular.  All the lines flow nicely into the front end and the headlight treatment is clean and unique, not following Audi’s design nor adding LEDs just to have them. You can really visually tell that the car has gained length and wheelbase as compared to the current car. The rear end treatment is also clean… but the rear wheel arches seem less pronounced than the current CTS. It makes for a less dramatic and muscular rear profile. While I’m a big fan of the current CTS’s styling, it was time for a design refresh. I think Cadillac stuck to BMW’s design philosophy that it has with the 3-Series—evolutionary changes. Why drastically change a good thing?”

Photo Credit: Cadillac
Photo Credit: Cadillac

Regardless of how it looks, it is exciting to see Cadillac seriously bringing the heat to the established players in this market segment. It was fully Cadillac’s intent with the 2014 CTS to bring it closer to the stalwart sport sedans from Germany, the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E Class. To bring it more in line with the competition, the CTS gets two inches added to its wheelbase and another five inches added to its overall length. In base-model form, the CTS also weighs an impressive 200 pounds lighter than a BMW 528i.

Customers will have the choice of three engine options, at least until the fire breathing CTS-V hits (no definitely word yet on when that will be). The base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 272 horsepower. Next in line is a naturally aspirated 3.6 V-6 engine that makes 321 horsepower. But honestly, you can forget all that. What you really want is the new Vsport performance package. Tick the ‘Vsport’ option box, and you get Brembo brakes, a limited slip differential, a heavy duty cooling package designed for track use, aggressive tires, and a absolute beast of an engine—a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, the Vsport should rip to 60 miles per hour in about 4.6 seconds. There is nothing a healthy dose of  prodigious horsepower can’t fix.

4.) 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz
Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz

I was at the gym the other day and NBC aired a segment that perfectly described the new CLA. The program was all about how luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW are reaching further and further downmarket by creating cars that are substantially less expensive than what the brands normally produce. And as someone who doesn’t have 100k in their car budget (yet), the idea of a fast, four door, all-wheel drive German sedan that costs under $50,000 makes me tingly all over. The base CLA starts at under $30,000, and the CLA  45 AMG begins at $47,450; puny numbers when compared with the rest of the Three Pointed Star’s range.

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz
Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz

To create the CLA 45 AMG, MB hands a standard CLA sedan over to the wizards at their AMG tuning division. They start by shoving a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood—an engine MB claims is the most powerful series-production four-cylinder engine in the world. This diminutive powerplant cranks out an outrageous 360 horsepower 332 pound feet of torque, enough to propel the car to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds. Normally, the crown jewel of any AMG model is the volcanically powerful V-8 engine shoehorned into the engine bay, but not with the CLA.

To make things even more interesting, the CLA 45 also comes with MB’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. It also receives the full compliment of AMG upgrades including more aggressive suspension, model specific wheels, carbon fiber exterior, and interior enhancements. Visually, the CLA 45 AMG is a knockout. I’m a big fan of the twin sweeping lines on the doors, the incuts underneath the taillights, and the deep, aggressive air intakes up front. On the inside, it is all luscious dark leather, brushed aluminum, and carbon fiber. The only questionable element was the fixed screen above the air vents. Why no retract, MB? While MBs have never really been my idea of a dream car, I think I could make room for the CLA 45 AMG.

5.) 2014 LandRoverRange Rover Sport

Range Rover sport
Photo Credit: Daniel Chin

I had reservations about including the Range Rover Sport in this article for two reasons. First, the new Jeep Cherokee made a compelling argument for being on this list as it, like the Camaro Z/28, revives a storied nameplate from the annals of history. And secondly, for all intents and purposes, this appears to be just another Range Rover. I decided to include it because Land Rover is currently in the midst of a total brand refresh and I think this new Range Rover Sport is a guaranteed blockbuster.

The Land Rover press conference was all loud music, flashing lights, and Daniel Craig cameos (he was there the night before at the invite-only reveal). Being a rookie, I got to the press conference late and had to stand at the back of the throng of journos who surrounded the Land Rover booth. I had to make do with hoisting my camera up in the air and shooting blindly. The pictures were, predictably, crap. But because car journalists have car ADD, they lose interest in a vehicle rather quickly and you can go take pictures unmolested. Lesson learned.

Photo Credit: Land Rover
Photo Credit: Land Rover

The Range Rover Sport is known for its on- and off-road prowess, incredible luxury, and utter disregard for cost. It is also an absolute pig when it comes to weight and fuel economy. Part of the shift happening at Land Rover is a move towards greater fuel economy and lighter weight vehicles. For the 2014 Sport, Land Rover managed to shed some 800 pounds over the previous model, thanks in large part to a new aluminum structure. The benefits of the diet will surely be seen in fuel mileage (the company hasn’t released those figures yet) and a significant bump in performance. Speaking of performance, opt for the supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 engine, and 60 miles per hour will be crushed in under five seconds.

Like all Land Rovers, when the pavement ends, the Sport should be just as capable as it is dominating the glittering boulevard. It comes with a host of off-road equipment like locking differentials, Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system, and a ridiculous wading depth of 33.5 inches. For reference, that’s nearly the average height of a four-year old child.

Visually, the new Range Rover Sport benefits from the same styling elements that we first saw on the Evoque and are currently in use on the recently refreshed Range Rover. In person, the Sport looks terrific—more lithe and compact than the full fat Range Rover, but it still carries that undeniably imposing  presence that made the first gen car such a hit. And who can’t love those LED headlights? I’d say it is worthy member of this list.

– Many thanks and much respect to Danny Chin for being my tour guide, Stephen Rust for his time and energy for this interview, and to Danny Choy, Diego Rosenberg, Johnathan Li, Marc Urbano, and Chris Cantle for putting up with me being a complete nOOb.

Cars in the Wild

I understand if you don’t know what car this is. This is undoubtedly the rarest and most interesting car yet featured on Cars  in the Wild. Some cars are so transcendent that you don’t have to know a single thing about them but the minute you see one, you know it is something special. When a Rolls-Royce or a Lamborghini drives by, people without a shred of car geek in them turn to gaze longingly then quickly text their car obsessed buddies. And, there are some cars that being seen driving in them is one of their primary purposes (I’m looking at you Rolls and Lambo). This is not one of those cars. Yes, the giant wing will cause deep boy-racer envy and every cop on the road will do a double-take when the see the flashy red paint, but the Noble M400 is about as far from a poser performance car as you can get.

Google ‘Noble’ and you have to scroll for several pages before you reach the company’s homepage at NobleCars.com. Based in Leicester, England, Noble has been producing cars in small batches since 1999 with only a handful of different models since its inception. The M400—the track oriented version of the Noble M12—features a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 that puts out 425 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. What’s most significant about this car, and rings true of Noble’s in general, is the staggering level of performance it delivers for a comparatively small fee. Brand new during its production run from 2004 to 2007, the M400 would run you about $70,000. It may not have the swagger of an Italian exotic, but in return for your hard earned money it will obliterate the run to 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds (as fast as a Ferrari Enzo), and pull well over 1.0G on the skidpad. Check out a fun Fifth Gear comparison test with the M400 HERE, and a 2007 review from Car & Driver HERE.

The thing I like most about the M400, however, is that you have to know what this car is in order to buy one. This is not a car you cruise around in to pick up chicks or flaunt your wealth in—although the ride is reportedly very good, which should bode well for delicate female bottoms. Whoever owns this car must understand cars on a different level than someone who buys, say, a Lamborghini Gallardo. While the Lambo is a ridiculously capable performance car, there is a certain brain wave pattern a person must exhibit to purchase one that I don’t think exists for the M400—call it a mix of vanity/bravado/macho. I’d like to assume that the owner of this car (I must meet them!) enjoys track days, knows the Formula 1 champions for the past decade, relishes replacing the M400’s clutch and sipping aged classic Scotch. If I see this car on the road, you can bet I’m going to do everything I can to get them to pull over so I can find out if my assumptions are correct. Is that sketchy? Whatev.

Kicking The Bucket List: Yuppie Rally 2012 and driving the Tail of the Dragon

If you’ve spent any time around me at all for the past few months, you’ve heard me talk (with great vigor) about the Yuppie Rally. Put together by the great team over at Yuppie Racing, the 2012 Yuppie Rally ran from the Aston Martin of New England dealership in Waltham, Massachusetts, down to The Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, up to Atlantic City and back, all the while raising money to support Guardian Angel Motorsports and the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton, MA. Be sure to check out Yuppie Racing’s website HERE, and the TDC Facebook page for more photos and video from the Rally.

You think your trunk is small?

Day 1 – So It Begins: Sometimes in life you’re presented with moments and opportunities that cause you to stop abruptly, take a wide-eyed look around, and say to yourself, “How the heck did I end up here?” I had one of those moments earlier this month as I slid into the passenger seat of a new cherry red Audi R8 V10, getting ready to embark on the five day, 2500 mile Yuppie Rally. As I closed the bank vault-like door and listened to the R8’s Lamborghini-derived V10 engine snarled to life, I still couldn’t  figure out what divine intervention landed me here. Those thoughts, along with the rest of my brain, were reduced to the consistency of scrambled eggs as I experienced the full fury of the R8 for the first time. It was going to be a good week.

I met Pete Ladas and Chris Benvie, the masterminds behind Yuppie Racing, through Steve Oldford and Guardian Angel Motorsports. After several months of figuring out sponsorship parameters, what I could bring to the table, and finalizing the details, I found myself the recipient of a seat on the Yuppie Rally with only food and gas bills ahead of me. For what felt like years I had imagined being on the Rally and carving up smooth Southern roads behind the wheel of some exotic machine, partying in Atlantic City, and spending a week with card carrying gearheads. Scott Marberblatt, the owner of the R8, was gracious enough to offer me his passenger seat and for that I am eternally grateful. A huge shout out to the Team O’Neil Rally School for donating a multi-day Rally School to the Rally—they were primary reason I was able to attend this year! Be sure to visit their website HERE, and read the ‘Chasing Racing Dreams’ feature I previously wrote on the school HERE.

Just after five pm, all 18 cars rolled out of Aston Martin with our first destination being a hotel right outside Philadelphia, PA. The two hours before we departed were spent mingling, swapping stories about previous rallies, and getting the pre-rally briefing from Chris and Pete on the days that lay ahead. To the untrained eye, a Rally may appear to simply be an excuse for people to get together and drive like lunatics. Watching videos on YouTube of the infamous Gumball or Bullrun rallies can create a skewed perception of what an event like this is. To some degree, yes, it is about having a blast on the road with your buddies, but it’s also about raising money for a great cause and being a brand ambassador for what the Yuppie Rally is all about. And having epic adventures.

This is the way other cars look in an R8.

The trip from Mass to our hotel in Philly was relatively uneventful (if you can call an exotic car rally uneventful) and we somehow managed to squeak across the George Washington Bridge outside New York City with essentially no traffic. We arrived at the first hotel around 10pm. My original plan was to put a post up on TDC each day of the Rally, but as soon as I caught sight of the hotel bed’s deep pillows and crisp sheets, I knew that idea was a goner. Day 1 Highlight: Hitting the first of many tunnels we would see in the R8 (Did I mention it had a Tubi aftermarket exhaust? It sounded like… God). A car like the R8 turns average driving experiences into sheer bliss.

Day 2 – Perceptions Redefined: Day two dawned bright and gorgeous. Walking around back of the hotel and seeing all our cars lined up in private parking spots, gently sprinkled with morning mist, was an excellent way to start the day. So was seeing the looks of disbelief on all the faces of the hotel staff. (Sidenote: two of my favorite parts about hotels are 1.) Not having to clean anything, and 2.) Free continental breakfast. Pretty sure endless free breakfast is actually heaven).

We headed out of the hotel and pointed our caravan south towards Virginia, the location of our next checkpoint. After several exciting hours, we pulled into a rest area for the requisite stretch/bathroom break/gas fill up. As we got ready to hit the road again, Scott asked me if I wanted to drive and handed me the keys. I’m pretty sure that had I looked up, I would have seen a soft celestial light caressing my brow.

Climbing into the driver’s seat of the R8 for the first time was strangely serene—I had expected to feel overwhelming excitement, verging on delirium, at the prospect of driving the car, but that wasn’t what I felt at all. Pulling the door closed with a satisfying thunk, sliding the key into the ignition and starting the breathlessly rampant V10 behind me simply felt natural, correct. Instead of a blinding excitement, I felt a sense of calm definiteness that this was where I needed to be.

When people ask me what driving the R8 was like I tell them this—it’s exactly as good as you think it is. Comfortable, spacious, and a bit like driving a 520 horsepower slab of granite. Regardless of the speed you’re traveling at, the R8 tracks exactly where you point it and is easy enough to drive at speed as your mom’s Corolla. Fortunately, Scott ordered his car with the gated manual transmission which only added to the drama and excitement of the experience. Direct, communicative steering, confidence inspiring brakes, and enough power to whip your head back and exploit positively any gap in traffic with ease. The Tubi exhaust elevated the R8’s soundtrack from Heavenly Exhaust Note to Shattering Sonic Eargasm. And just below the surface of the R8’s crisp Germanic perfection, is a frantic sense of barely contained rage. The car felt gritty and raw, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the joy you would receive from caning it around a track. Check out this video I recorded from the R8 while we stormed through a tunnel on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge HERE. Bottom line: I love this car.

Several hours later we made it to Virginia, one of my favorite places in the world. Beautiful farmlands, incredible weather, rich history, “southern” enough to be interesting, and “northern” enough to not make one start whistling the theme from “Deliverance”. We cruised through lush rolling hills, past dozens of Civil War monuments, surrounded by the sweet late spring air on our way to Blenheim Vineyards, a gorgeous vineyard owned by THE Dave Mathews. As it turned out, the roads around Blenheim were absolutely incredible and we, ahem, enjoyed them to the fullest. We arrived at Blenheim and were treated to a wine tasting and a short tour of the winery. Afterwards, we were anxious to get back on the road and onto the night’s hotel located in Knoxville, TN, so we jumped back in and headed out. Day 2 Highlight: Driving the R8. Duh.

Day 3 – Dragon Slayer: For me, one of the best parts of the Rally was seeing the looks on people’s faces when our entire convoy would roll through their neighborhood—a hilarious concoction of disbelief, followed by awe, topped off with either confusion or uncontrollable excitement, generally depending on the person’s age. It was also hugely entertaining to talk to the people who approached us whenever we stopped. Walking down to hotel parking garage on Wednesday morning, we met the manager who secured all the private parking spaces we were occupying. This normally reserved older woman babbled excitedly about how much she loved Chris’s Shelby GT500, the fun we must all be having and how great it was we were raising money for charity. I thought she was going to keel over when all the cars started up and revved their engines. As we rolled out of the garage into the morning sun, we were all thinking about only one thing: The Tail of the Dragon.

If you’re into cars or motorcycles, you’re bound to hear about the infamous Tail of the Dragon sooner or later. If you haven’t, allow me to be the first to welcome you to Higher Knowledge. The Dragon is a slithering ribbon of tarmac that boasts 318 curves in 11 miles—technically called US Route 129—that crosses the Tennessee/North Carolina border on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The drive to the Dragon is pretty tame and unassuming, but the excitement in our group was absolutely palpable as we closed in on what’s generally regarded as the best driving road in the country. It was mid-morning when we arrived at the start of the Dragon on the Tennessee side and we pulled over for a quick photo shoot against the backdrop of beautiful Chilhowee Lake.

From the Tennessee side, the Dragon begins as flowing and graceful as it follow Chilhowee Lake and  weaves around the bottoms of thickly wooded hills. When the road departs from the lake and deep banks of trees fill the edges of the windshield, the Dragon surges uphill and begins its savagely winding path. There was an ear-to-ear grin permanently plastered on my face as Scott and I enjoyed what was very likely the best road either of us had been on. (Accelerate, hard on the brakes, navigate the hairpin, feel the banking of the turn push you down into the seat, back on the power, hard on the brakes, around the next hairpin, on the power again). Sitting in the passenger seat of the R8, it felt like I should be wearing a helmet and reading course notes to Travis Pastrana.

The Tree of Shame at Deal’s Gap, NC

The main thing that struck me about the Dragon is that nothing can really prepare you for how technical it is. Pull up videos on YouTube or listen to someone try and explain how the off camber banked corners come at you mile after mile, and you’ll still have your mind blown the first time you drive it. You just can’t believe how severe the turns are and how demanding it is to drive it quickly. In the words of the eternal Jeremy Clarkson, “You need to be awake to drive this fast!” It was undoubtedly one of the best driving experiences I’ve ever had.

The day we were there, several car clubs and hordes of motorcycles were running on the Dragon. The Dragon is perhaps more a motorcycling mecca than anything else. It’s ideally suited for hard riding on a motorcycle, though having so many bikes on the road makes driving with caution and awareness even more important. If you’re going to make the pilgrimage to the Dragon, read up on it as much as possible first and treat it with the respect it deserves.

After we had our faces melted off on the Dragon, we headed to the Cherohola Skyway, another incredible piece of mountain road and the sister road to the Dragon. A driving mecca in-and-of itself, the Skyway’s sweeping turns and scenic vistas were the perfect way to wrap up what had been an incredible day. Our convoy lined up and headed Northeast towards the night’s hotel in Johnson City, TN. Day 3 Highlight: Taming the Dragon and running the gorgeous Cherohola Skyway.

Day 4 – Disturbing The Peace: A convoy of 18 exotic sports cars charging through sleepy rural Appalachian towns gives new meaning to the phrase disturbing the peace. It’s likely that not one of the people we passed on our way out of Johnson City or the other tiny towns we drove through had ever seen anything quite like it. I have a snapshot memory of a young boy standing on a dilapidated porch holding a dirty comforter (why?), eyes wide and mouth open as we passed by. Probably what I would look like if I was 10 and saw us, though hopefully minus the comforter. We left that part of the South seeing things quite unlike we’d seen before as well. Example—in the outskirts of some small town near Johnson City, we passed a low concrete block building that featured French maid outfits and fishnet stockings in their front window under a sign that read “The Fuzzy Hole stripclub”. While Drake and Lil’ Wayne have indeed given us the moto (YOLO!), that’s one experience I’m totally okay with never having.

Our journey was not without peril, however. Both Porsche 911 Turbos on the trip had their share of mechanical troubles—the “Team Bath Salts” Porsche driven by Sam Laurie and Alex Jarvie experienced major steering pump issues and had to be driven to a shop for repairs, and Fedele Cacia and his wife Ivana in the yellow Porsche had such severe transmission problems, the car ended up on a U-Haul trailer for the final leg of the trip. Considering we drove a combined 45,000 miles over the course of six days, it’s amazing there wasn’t more mechanical fallout. Both Porsche’s ended far behind the rest of the group and made it to the hotel well after the rest of us had dug into our delicious buffet dinner.

Our next hotel was in the historic and beautiful Williamsburg, VA. The drive there flowed by in a blur of sunshine, beef jerky, prodigious horsepower, and hilarious two-way radio banter (each of the cars was given a two-way at the start of the trip). I was especially excited to be staying in Williamsburg. As a kid, my sister and I would spend several weeks in the summer visiting grandparents who live in Newport News. We often went to Williamsburg and the neighboring Busch Gardens theme park, so it definitely holds a special place in my heart. As the sun began to set behind the hotel and bathe our bug splattered convoy in soft evening light, the only sound was the soft tickticktick of gently cooling Porsches. Day 4 Highlight: Blowing minds in rural Tennessee with our awesomeness.
Day 5 – YR Invades AC: Saturday morning followed the tradition of the previous mornings on our trip by dawning sunny and glorious. Fortunately, we were able to cash in on some extra sleep as we were leaving out a little later than usual. Several of the guys used the extra time to make use of a nearby car wash. I jumped in the Lotus of “Team Elise” with its owner, Mat, and we were followed there by Tom in the electric blue Lotus Exige 240 S. Mat and I pulled up at the car wash and were immediately greeted by what may have been the most stereotypical redneck ever. He leaned way down (keep in mind a Lotus Elise is really small—we’re sitting about six inches off the ground), stuck his head in the window, and asked us if the doors on the car went up like on a Lamborghini. Mat looked up from his vantage point about eye level with the guy’s sagging pant line, in a car that weighs as much as a shoe, and said, “No. They don’t go up.”

Back at the hotel, we tuned our navigation systems for Atlantic City, NJ and headed out. I jumped back into the R8 with Scott for the run to Atlantic City (did I mention how much I love this car?) Our first checkpoint was a restaurant just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Virginia. If you’ve never been across this bridge, find some excuse to get down there and drive it because it is awesome. Seemingly endless stretches of bridge spear through unbroken miles of shimmering water. The bridge is interrupted by tunnels that dive beneath the Bay, while off in the distance, aircraft carriers and warships dock at a nearby naval base. The restaurant we stopped at was right on the beach and we ate and chilled under a perfect late spring day and watched the waves roll in.

Aside from our entire convoy uncorking their respective throttles in the tunnels and reveling in the full glory of performance exhaust notes in an enclosed space, it was a long and relatively boring drive from Virginia to Atlantic City. At least we had the anticipation of partying it up on the Jersey Shore like Snooki to console the boredom. Arriving at the hotel, however, threw those plans for a bit of a loop. We were supposed to get to the hotel and park our cars right in the valet lot, simple and easy. However, a misunderstanding somewhere in hotel management resulted in all the cars being stuck out front of the hotel for hours and several of the guys having to stay with them until the problem was solved. Not a great way to kick off the final night of the Rally, but the suitably epic amount of mayhem that took place that evening was enough to make up for it. Day 5 Highlight: Pinning the throttle in the R8… under water.

Day 6 – Homeward Bound: Part of me was sad to see the last day of the Rally. The previous five days had convinced me that I could very likely drive the Audi R8 everyday for the rest of time. The other part of me, however, was definitely looking forward to getting back home. For the final leg of the trip, I jumped in “Team Re-Pete’s” Audi S4 with Pete Ladas and Pete Gochis (yes, two Pete’s in the same car). Several of the guys had already headed out so the remaining cars made for the highway together and headed north. At a fuel stop somewhere (forgive me for not remembering where we were, all the fuel stops started to blend together), we spotted a wildly modified Suzuki GSX-R 1000 with potentially the longest swingarm in history and an enormous bottle of nitrous strapped to the back. The owner, who had to be more no more than 23, said even without the nitrous he could lift the front wheel of the bike off the ground, and that he hadn’t fully used the nitrous because he was afraid to. Good times.

We landed at the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown, CT for one final load of carbs, salt and sugar (thank you french fries, fried chicken and milkshakes) before we split up and headed our separate ways. One by one, the cars peeled off and headed for home, but not before throwing a  final fist pump out the window, or making promises to connect up again for the next Yuppie Racing event. The Petes and I pulled into Aston Martin of New England tired, but excited to be so close to home. While I was happy to be back and sincerely looking forward to not driving and/or moving for as long as possible, even now it’s still hard to forget the unearthly howl of the Audi R8, the chilling supercharger whine from the Lotus Exige, and remembering that the only thing I needed to do each day was love every moment of driving. I can’t wait for my next rally.

Many thanks and much respect to all the guys on this year’s Yuppie Rally. Special thanks to Chris Benvie and Pete Ladas from Yuppie Racing, Matt Nolan and Steve Oldford at Aston Martin of New England, the Team O’Neil Rally School for their incredibly generous donation, and to Scott Marberblatt for letting me drive his spectacular car.

Buckle up, it’s about to get crazy!

Ladies and gentlemen, can I please have your attention. I’ve just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story. I need all of you to stop what you’re doing, and listen. CANNONBALL! – Ron Burgundy, Anchorman

It’s about to get crazy here at TDC. Want to know why? Let me break it down for you – Tomorrow begins the Yuppie Rally!!! A 2200 mile road trip of epic proportions down to the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, back up to Atlantic City for a post-Rally shindig, then back home. 20 cars are running this year, and your esteemed author will be riding shotgun in several, including a Stasis Engineering tuned Audi R8 (yes, that’s awesome). I’ll be blogging on the website each day, posting up photos and video both here and on the TDC Facebook page HERE, tweeting like a fiend (@Top_DeadCenter), and generally causing as much mayhem as possible. (see below photo)

So stay tuned to TDC this week, it’s going to be AWESOME!

So, I have this idea…

One thing I’ve learned through the process of putting this site together is that, A.) Networking is the best possible way to get things done, and B.) Giving back and supporting causes you believe in comes hand in hand with creating success. With this in mind, TDC is working with New England Blast (check out their website HERE) to put together a properly badass event to support  the fantastic folks at Guardian Angel Motorports (their website HERE). What’s the event you say? Oh nothin’, just a LUXURY CAR SHOW GALA! *cue fireworks, party streamers, and a leaping killer whale*

That’s right. We’re working on putting together the most epic car show the city of Manchester has ever seen. And the best part is, it’s going to be a charity event for Guardian Angel Motorsports! The idea is in it’s infant stages and there is much work to be done, but we wanted to make people aware this was in the works. We also wanted to get reactions to this and see what everyone thought. So, uhh, whaddaya think? The tentative date for the show is the Friday before Memorial day (May 25th) and will have a wide range of cars, featuring everything from exotics, to muscle cars, to luxo-barges, and maybe a few racecars. We’re also trying to pull in as many cool local vendors and companies as possible to add more excitement to the event. Would this be something you’d attend? Do you have suggestions for companies/organizations that might be interested in participating? Is there anything in particular you’d like to see represented at the show? Feedback, comments and suggestions are welcome and appreciated so hit us up!

The goal is to give back to the community, raise money for Guardian Angel and the children they support, and have a freakin’ BLAST doing it. Let us know what you think!

Cars in the Wild

The Germans aren’t typically known for their passionate expressions of emotion. And this attitude especially applies to their cars. A standard German vehicle is sensible, built like a bank vault, understated, and is happy to drive by unnoticed. There must be something in the drinking water however, around the part of Mercedes-Benz factory that builds the G-Class, and there are definitely particles of nuclear waste floating in the coffee at MB’s tuning division, AMG. The proof of contamination? The maniacal G55 AMG, an environmentalist’s worst nightmare.

It may be their worst nightmare (it gets 9 MPG in the city), but if you’re an auto enthusiast or a star of Real Housewives of New Jersey, the G55 AMG is a divine machine, capable of making all your dreams come true. The recipe for this distinctly Germanic brand of success starts with the standard G-Class, which is then handed over to the lunatics at AMG. They proceed to drop a supercharged version of MB’s famous 5.5 liter V8 into the engine bay to the tune of 507 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. This titanic grunt annihilates the blitz to 60 mph in a shade over 5 seconds. This, plus its low slung exhausts and stiff suspension, make the G55 more of a pavement pounder and less an off-road conqueror, though it is still vastly more capable than machines like the Porsche Cayenne or BMW X6 when the road gets rugged.

Weighing in at a dainty (haha!) 5,700 pounds, the G55’s roots lay on the field of battle. It was purpose built as a military vehicle and has a service record like that of General Patton. It was first offered as a civilian model back in 1979. Since then, the recipe hasn’t changed much: boxy styling, body-on-frame construction, four-wheel-drive, three locking differentials, and a host of other off road goodies. In civilian guise, the G-Class is a tremendously fluent machine for tackling a wide range of wild terrain. The G55 AMG on the other hand, its natural habitat is the main drag and it rules the land with unparalleled street cred. When this thing cruises down the boulevard, window tinted and side exit exhausts rumbling, your brain triggers one of two responses: “Hot damn, I gotta get me one of those,” or “Susie, grab the kids and run, the Mafia hitmen are here.”

Check out Richard Hammond from Top Gear and his review of the G55. Watch the video HERE.

This blacked out G55 was spotted parked in the South Willow Plaza in Manchester. Speckled with rain drops and rockin’ a near full tint on its windows, it looked especially menacing. The G55 AMG is good for two things: Making tree-huggers wring their hands in fury, and putting a leather-gloved smack down on the art of ridin’ dirty. And handing other pansy SUVs their eviction notice.