Tag Archives: Audi

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!

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Cars in the Wild

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The Audi R8 first appeared on the scene back in 2007 and promptly blew everyone’s collective mind. Audi is known for fast cars, but the R8 was their first foray into the savagely competitive supercar market, and its sublime chassis, all-wheel drive grip, sonorous 4.2-liter V8 engine, and striking looks made it an instant classic. To quench the demand for an R8 with even more power, Audi gifted the R8 with a Lamborghini-sourced 5.2-liter V10 to create the stunning R8 V10.

I have nothing but enormously fond memories of the Audi R8 V10. Last summer, I was fortunate/blessed/insanely lucky to spend an entire week with one on an epic road trip from Massachusetts to Tennessee on the Yuppie Rally. (You can check out the chronicles from that ridiculous adventure here.) My dreams are still haunted by the gritty, ripping baritone exhaust note, holding white knuckled onto the steering wheel as I’m hurled towards the 8200 rpm redline. Take that experience, add a fistful more horsepower and a generous helping of carbon fiber and track readiness, and you have the car pictured above – the R8 V10 GT.

Only 333 of these cars were ever produced, and a mere 95 of them made their way to the States. That makes this Teutonic titan rarer than a Ferrari Enzo, at least ten times more scarce than a Lamborghini Murcielago, and nearly as uncommon as the Bugatti Veyron. Its 560 horsepower mid-mounted V10 propels the R8 GT to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds and keeps churning until 199 mph. The normal R8 V10 is by no means a slouch, but the GT brings things to entirely new heights. Along with the bump in power, the GT also benefits from a hefty weight savings and enhanced aerodynamics in the form of winglets on the front bumper and a carbon fiber rear wing. But enough of that: want to hear how it sounds? Thought so.

This particular car was scooped in Manchester, NH. I must find this car. You’ll be the first to know when I do.

Queen City Cars & Coffee

If last year’s Queen City Cars & Coffee was great, the show this August was incredible. Over 80 cars turned out on a glorious Saturday morning against the backdrop of the Merrimack River and downtown ManchVegas.  Hosting a car show has been a tremendous learning experience and seeing a tangible improvement over last year’s show was absolutely fantastic.  The shots here were taken by my dad (way to go, daddio!) and you can also check out more photos courtesy of Raced in Anger and Dagger Slade Media. Stay tuned for the date for the 2014 Queen City Cars & Coffee, that will be one show you do not want to miss!

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.”

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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.

The Torque Tube: Synaptic3 Performance

Synaptic3 Performance is a prime example of what this website was started for. Located in an out-of-the-way, unassuming business park in the fully unassuming town of Candia, NH, brothers Ron and Dana Salb have created a world-class performance shop that is turning out some of the most complete builds to be found on either road or track. Simply pulling into the shop’s parking lot is proof enough that Ron and Dana are for real. A handful of Synaptic3 tuned and customized Mazda RX-7s, RX-8s, and Subaru STIs effortlessly shatter the cloudy, dull gray that permeates this late fall day—deep paint hues, pearlescent carbon fiber hoods, and lithe, aggressive stances make for a striking welcome party.

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The seeds of Synaptic3 Performance have been taking root for years. Ron and Dana starting tinkering with friends’ cars as well as their own, using their parent’s garage as an impromptu shop. Both Ron and Dana have kept their lives and careers woven around the automotive industry and have continued to build Synaptic3 even while pursuing school or other interests. The brother’s diverse skill sets, along with their infectious enthusiasm, is the driving force behind Synaptic3 and its growing success.

The Synaptic3 that exists today began in large part because of the rally scene. The ability of Ron and Dana to fabricate FIA-spec IFrollcages really helped jumpstart the company. The result has been Synaptic3 tuned cars that have not only competed in Rally America, but have won rally championships as well.

“While we have a fair amount of exposure in Rally, it’s actually a pretty small sport and community,” said Dana in an email interview. “We’ve worked on a half a dozen full blown rally cars. Some started out as virgin chassis, other were revamps of previous rally cars that were gutted and rebuilt to bring up to current class specs. We’ve covered everything from building FIA spec roll cages and chassis preparation… to doing motors builds, setting up suspensions, building wiring harnesses, fuel systems, and safety systems, etc.”

Two things are readily apparent immediately after stepping into Synaptic3’s crowded, but clean, shop. #1, the market for customization is as unique diverse and the people who enjoy it—a customer’s race-prepped Porsche awaits its turn on the lift, several Mazda RX-7s sit in various stages of completion and manage to look fast even while motionless, and a Nissan Sentra Spec-V is getting finishing touches on its crazy custom turbocharger setup. And #2, the guys here are really good at what they do.

“We’re currently working on a forced induction application for a brand new Nissan Sentra Spec-V. The customer is very contentious about the details. It’s going to be quite the sleeper. We have a number of big turbo Subaru’s being built and a host of third generation RX-7s for street, track, and show all leading into the winter.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the things that makes this shop so special is the level of engineering and attention to detail that even the smallest parts receive. Case in point—Ron and Dana stick their heads under the hood of the turbo Spec-V to explain in detail all the time and effort that went into designing a single bracket used to move a part out of the way of the new turbo piping. Beautifully fabricated and covered in crackle finish, it’s a small but perfect example of their work.

“We can build you a tube chassis frame, an award winning stereo system, install and dial-in your track suspension, or turbocharge and tune your daily driver,” said Dana. “Two members of our staff have Bachelor’s degrees in Industrial Design (product design), so we can come up with solutions and execute them in a unique and effective manner.

A range of cars find their way under the wrenches at Synaptic3, but Ron and Dana’s specialty is tuning Japanese cars. They have found that Japanese cars are a preferable platform to work from because they begin life at the factory with a superior level of quality and allow for higher levels of tuning and customization.  This mirrors their own quasi-obsessive standards.

“We adhere to our own best practices that we’ve developed over the years. We sweat the details, and will not cut corners to get a job done quickly. Many customers have told us it is that reputation that has brought them to us. We take the time to make sure aftermarket components not only fit but allow for service in the field should it be necessary.”

IFWhen a car comes into the shop, Ron and Dana’s first mission is to figure out what exactly a customer is looking for. Instead of getting right to work, they start with questions—Do you know what you’re looking for? Are you going racing with the car? What kind of racing? What is the purpose for upgrading? A concerted effort  is made to clearly define what the customer is looking for, and then working to build a solution that meets or exceeds the customer’s end goals.

One of the significant customer service elements that Ron and Dana employ is to take meticulously detailed photos the car in its various build stages. Synaptic3’s website has literally thousands of such photos and they provide a unique glimpse into the kind of work Ron and Dana are capable of.

Next to Synaptic3’s main building is an unassuming steel shed that serves as the company’s dedicated dynamometer room. Inside it has to  2010-09-17_00001be one of the most thorough dyno setups ever put together. Instead of being installed into the floor, the all-wheel-drive Mustang 500SE unit sits above the floor, allowing for easier access to  car’s underside and the dyno’s moving parts. Built directly into the wall facing the dyno are four giant fans capable of pushing 40,000 cfm through the room, while a dedicated exhaust fan sucks fumes out from the back of the building. Like anything Ron and Dana do, this facility was heavily researched and designed to meet their exacting standards, and it’s clear the guys are proud of the setup.

When asked if he could describe what Synaptic3 was all about in one word, Dana paused, let out a deep breath, and thought for a moment. He then looked up and said, “Dedication.” And, after seeing the inner workings of the shop and spending several hours with Ron and Dana, there couldn’t be a better word to describe Synaptic3. To learn more about the company and how they can help you on your next project, be sure to visit the Synaptic3 website at www.Synaptic3.com, and ‘Like’ the Facebook page.

Welcome, Synaptic3 Performance, to The Torque Tube.

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Many thanks and much respect to Dana and Ron for their time and energy for this piece, and for allowing me to poke around their shop.

Photo Extravaganza: Cars & Copters 2012

The boys and girls over at Yuppie Racing definitely know how to put on a car show. The first time I heard the name of the show I said what everyone else says when hearing it for the first time. “Cars and copters? Like, helicopters?” Yeeup. A car show, with helicopters. In the immortal words of the Sauce Boss, Harley Morenstein from EpicMealTime. “Take something next level, and inject it with smart ideas. That’s how you do [Yuppie Racing], player.” Or something like that.

There are a lot of great car shows out there, but none quite like this. Over 1,000 cars turned out for Cars & Copters, now in its fourth year. Everything from exotics to muscle cars to savagely tuned Subarus, Mitsubishis and Nissans turned showed up this past Sunday at the Plymouth Municipal Airport in Plymouth, Mass. This is quickly turning into the premiere car show in New England, and for good reason. Cars & Copters isn’t just about cars and having a good time – money raised from the event was donated to the Jimmy Fund, so keep an eye on the Cars & Copters Facebook event page to find out exactly how much was raised. If this year’s event was anything to go by, the 2013 Cars & Copters show will likely blow your mind. Check out the slideshow of photos below, and get yourself to next year’s show!

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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.

The Torque Tube: Scott McIver and Kaizen Tuning

Contrary to popular belief, forward progress isn’t achieved in one quantum leap; success isn’t born overnight. Our society is obsessed with the idea that some people simply get lucky, that successful people were at the right place at the right time and that circumstances swept them up and away to success. But, in reality, that’s not how it works.

Author and Success magazine editor Darren Hardy’s book The Compound Effect talks about how small positive actions compounded over time lead to massive results. “It’s the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices. Success is earned in the moment to moment decisions that in themselves make no visible difference whatsoever, but the accumulated compounding effect is profound.” Success isn’t like flipping on a light switch, it’s built over time on the backs of these small, smart choices.

Massachusetts-based aftermarket tuning shop Kaizen Tuning believes so much in this idea that it’s at the core of who they are—’kaizen’ is actually Japanese for ‘improvement’ and represents and entire philosophy based around continually improving processes and the ongoing refinement of a business’s functions.

Kaizen Tuning was started two-and-a-half years ago by owner Scott McIver whose has a background in manufacturing, with the ideal of creating a shop that could fill a sorely neglected market in New England: high end aftermarket tuning. “New England is worthy of the investment of a high end shop, and we are looking to fill that,” said McIver. Kaizen can do everything from oil changes to dyno testing, full engine builds to getting your race car prepped for the track. Kaizen’s partnerships with other performance companies allows it to provide a wide range of tuning services and performance parts to meet any enthusiast’s go-fast goals.

What McIver set out to create is probably best summarized by this description on the company’s website: “Kaizen Tuning was born out of the need for a true enthusiast destination shop in the Northeast… After seeing first hand the mistreatment of many of our own cars… Kaizen Tuning was formed to offer a different voice. Operated and owned by car fanatics, Kaizen Tuning offers customer service for an enthusiast, by enthusiasts… Kaizen Tuning was started so that we could bring improvement not only to the performance of our customer’s vehicles, but to the customer experience in the Northeast.”

The car most closely associated with Kaizen Tuning is the sensational Nissan GT-R—a car with staggering levels of performance at a price that undercuts nearly every performance car on the market. And the GT-R represents more than just a platform for Kaizen to work on—McIver actually drew inspiration for starting Kaizen after seeing the incredible level of service that Japanese GT-R customers would receive when he visited Japan. And, after seeing how desperately that level of customer service was lacking back home, McIver set out to create a tuning shop that provided levels of customer service not seen anywhere else.

After Kaizen established a market tuning the GT-R—check out one of Kaizen’s finest GT-Rs HERE—McIver turned his attention to tuning the Mitsubishi Evolution—a formidable all-wheel-drive turbocharged sedan that was born on the dusty, sinewy roads of the world’s rally stages. To see just what Kaizen is capable of, be sure to check out the race-prepped Evo nicknamed ‘Mothra’ that Kaizen runs in the Real Timeattack series HERE. Over the last six months or so, McIver has been expanding Kaizen’s reach into the Subaru market which, like the market for Mitsubishi, has a distinctly dedicated following and is flush with enthusiasts looking to wring more performance from their car. Even more recently, Kaizen has begun tuning European cars, specifically VW, Audi, and Porsche.

Because of its fastidious adherence to the idea of continuous improvement and its core values, Kaizen Tuning has established itself as something of a destination shop for some of the best technicians in the area. Learning the backgrounds of the guys in the shop reveals the truth behind the Kaizen’s mission—each member of the Kaizen staff is an enthusiast to the core and brings a wealth of experience and specialized knowledge to the table.

As Kaizen Tuning has continued to grow and expand, the need for a new shop arose. McIver spent over a year looking for the correct location, and he found what he was looking for with a site not far from Kaizen’s current location in Acton. When it is completed in early August this year, the new shop will feature eight lifts, a showroom, on site manufacturing facilities, full tuning and dyno facilities, and the ability to store plenty of inventory on site.

At the heart of it all, Kaizen Tuning is about providing enthusiasts with top quality customized tuning and helping fulfill their performance goals, whatever those may be. From the Kaizen website: “Wheels and body kits fade into obscurity one year to the next, but speed never goes out of style. Talk to us today about how we can move you forward.”

Welcome, Kaizen Tuning, to The Torque Tube.

Many thanks and much respect to Scott McIver for his time, and to everyone at Kaizen Tuning for letting me poke around the shop. Be sure to to check out Kaizen Tuning’s website at www.KaizenTuning.com, as well as their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kaizen.tuning.

Cars in the Wild

One of my all time favorite automotive quotes comes from freelance auto journo Andrew Frankel (@Andrew_Frankel). His experience  driving the almighty Bugatti Veyron for the first time is still the best I’ve ever read: “When I finally stopped accelerating I had to slow down and do it all over again, just to make sure I hadn’t been dreaming. Whatever your definition of fast, be it defined by Porsche 911, Ferrari F430 or Mercedes SLR McLaren, the Veyron will take it and, in one instant, burn it before your eyes. Time and distance fuse into one unintelligible fog in your head. In the public road environment, there has never been anything like this.”

I would be so bold as to take that one step further and rewrite it for this week’s Car in the Wild, the Nissan R35 GT-R. “… Whatever your definition of fast, be it defined by a Porsche 911 Turbo/GT2/GT3, Ferrari 430/458/FF, or pretty much anything else you can think of, the GT-R will take it and, in one instant, burn it before your eyes… In the public road environment, nothing can touch the GT-R’s shattering performance for such a bargain-basement price. Supercars costing three times more than the GT-R are robbed blind.”

Like the Veyron, there are few superlatives left to describe the GT-R; they’ve all be consumed ad naseum by anyone who has ever driven one. Its world crushing performance continues to baffle even the most seasoned automotive journalists years after its launch. One of the most interesting things about the GT-R is when you look at it on paper, it doesn’t seem like it would eat some of the best cars on the planet for lunch. A twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-6 under the hood produces “only” 480 horsepower and is responsible for hauling around a rather portly 3,800 pounds. The end result, however, is quite frankly a little ridiculous — this $85,000-ish car sprints to 60 miles per hour in the mid 3-second range, and continues running onto a top speed of 193 miles per hour. Those figures embarrass some of the finest thoroughbreds from anywhere in the world. Subsequent updates to the GT-R increased horsepower to 540, and dropped the 0-60 mph time to a stunning 2.9 seconds. There are only a handful of cars you can buy that are capable of cracking the 3-second barrier, and this incredible performance comes from the same company that produces the Leaf electric car and the Titan pickup truck.

The GT-R certainly isn’t the prettiest car on the road, but it definitely does pack a deadly punch. Since it’s introduction in 2007, the GT-R has been a champion both on and off the track winning multiple racing titles as well as the 2009 International Car of the Year award, and Car of the Year awards from magazines like Top Gear, Motor Trend, and Evo. Admittedly, a lot of Top Gear videos get posted on TDC, but it’s usually for a good reason. Following that tradition, here is yet another hilarious Jeremy Clarkson segment, this time reviewing the GT-R. Enjoy.

In the TDC Dream Garage, there will be a plethora of precious machinery from all over the world — gleaming red Ferraris, bombastic yellow Lamborghinis and naked carbon fiber Paganis from Italy, decadent Bentleys and Rolls-Royces from England, and savagely purposeful BMWs and Porsches from Germany. Amongst them will be an alpine white Nissan GT-R from Japan, bristling with technology and an insatiable Napoleon complex, always looking to land a knockout punch on cars far above its pay grade.

Photo Extravaganza! – Boston Cars & Coffee

I was originally going to wait until Thursday to put this post up, but I’m so fired up about these photos I didn’t feel like waiting any longer. These were taken while I was down at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Mass for YuppieRacing’s first Cars & Coffee event of the season on April 7th. Over 300 cars ended up turning out on a gorgeous but chilly morning, and spectators were treated to several spectacular automotive rarities – half-a-dozen Nissan GT-Rs, a shatteringly yellow Ferrari 430 Scuderia, a pack of Audi RS4s, and a RAUH-Welt Begriff 930 Wide Body Porsche, which was hands down the coolest car there. If you’re not familiar with RWB, visit their website HERE. While you’re at it, visit YuppieRacing’s website HERE and their Facebook page HERE, too. Enjoy the photos, and I’ll see you at the next YR Cars & Coffee on May 12th!

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