Tag Archives: luxury

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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Co-Driver: Track Day Lemonade

Welcome to the brand new Top Dead Center series, Co-Driver. Here, fellow gear heads have an outlet for their automotive passions, whether it’s a exciting story to tell, photos to share, or the retelling of an epic adventure. Co-Driver’s inaugural entry comes from Shawn Pierce, a talented writer and photographer and friend of TDC, who had the chance to shoot a mint track-ready BMW e36 M3 and tell its owner’s unique story. Be sure to check out the Shawn Pierce Photography Facebook page for more of Shawn’s work.

You know the old saying: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade? Well, when life totals your Cadillac, what would be the equivalent of making lemonade? For BMWCCA driving instructor, Laura Fallis, it is made entirely of Bavarian lemons, clad in triple black, and wears an M badge.

Fallis_M3_03 small TDC

On a slick, rain dampened highway in 2006, Laura was involved in an accident that sent her Cadillac ETC off to the scrap yard. While trying to avoid an oncoming car that had veered unexpectedly into her lane, she hit the brakes, swerved off the road, and wound up against a guardrail. “I hit the guardrail hard. I watched the on-coming traffic as the car was launched off its wheels,” recalled Laura. “Only one wheel rode the bottom side of the guardrail, the rest of the car was airborne. I remember the car jolting and I thought it was going to roll. As the car landed sideways in the fast lane, I’m looking at on-coming traffic again and I’m thinking: please stop.” Thankfully they did and Laura Fallis_M3_08 small TDCwalked away from the accident with just bumps, bruises, and minor whiplash. The Cadillac, however, was a wreck and Laura was left with the task of finding a new daily driver.

It was just prior to all this that the track bug had bitten Laura hard. She completed the performance driving course at Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, and after that she was off to the races… literally. “I always wanted to race and I found myself with the opportunity to do so,” Laura explained.

A while later, Laura found a 1997 BMW e36 M3 that would eventually fulfill both her daily driver needs and track day desires. “I happened to drive by this BMW with a for sale sign on it,” said Laura. “For some reason it captured my eye, so I turned around, never suspecting this might be the one. But it was love at first sight. I took it for a test drive and the next thing I know, I have the title in hand and I’m off to get plates to pick her up.”

Fallis_M3_25 smallLaura quickly set about making her new M3 track worthy by asking one of the Northeast’s premier BMW tuners, Turner Motorsports (TMS), to work their magic. Kevin Holmes of TMS gave the car a thorough inspection. He found that overall the car was in good shape (it had been in a minor collision at some point but repairing it was simple), and he set to work on the upgrades to make the M3 the track rat Laura wanted. The car had already been equipped with an AFE cold air intake system, so Laura decided to focus on the suspension. She installed H&R sport springs and a Bilstein sport shock and strut set. She upgraded the front and rear sway bars and added reinforcements all around. They also added a BMW shark injector engine software upgrade which provides an increase in horsepower and torque, quickens throttle response, increases the rev-limits, and removes the top speed limiter. All things you want when pushing the limits on a race track.

After purchasing the M3 she became a member of the BMW Car Club of America (BMWCCA) and began attending numerous track day events with the club. Eventually, her driving prowess got her noticed and she was asked to be an instructor for the club. “I think they felt it an asset I am female,” said Laura. “I could make students comfortable and also give them that sense of instruction that none of the other instructors could.”

Laura has owned her M3 since 2006 and has driven it nearly every single day since. It now has more than 169,000 miles on the odometer, Fallis_M3_11 small TDC109,000 of which Laura put on herself. Over the years she has made upgrades to nearly every major system in the car including further upgrades to the suspension, a new cooling system, a Borla cat back exhaust, and an upgraded transmission with a short shifter out of a BMW Z3. She estimates three to five percent of those miles were put on during track days.

When asked about her unique vanity plate (VIXEN) Laura said, “A number of years ago at a track event there were a number ice racers there. There were a couple of vehicles that had Santa’s reindeer’s names on their plates. I thought… too cool! What better plate for a chick’s M3?”

Maybe LMNADE?

Fallis_M3_17 small TDC

 

– Many thanks and much respect to Shawn Pierce for his time and effort in creating this piece.

Cars in the Wild – Twofer!

This entry of ‘Cars in the Wild’ is a little different for a couple of reasons. First, two particularly significant cars with deep connections to the future of the automobile were recently spotted prowling the streets. And secondly, the automotive landscape is in the beginning stages of several major changes. One of these cars is a great example of how change can be executed correctly, while the other should just be executed.

CTW #1 – Tesla Model S

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The Tesla Model S is arguably the most exciting to come from America for generations. While it is not a hypercar, a track slaying racer, or a rival for a Rolls-Royce in terms of opulence, what the Model S is, is a the first fully electric vehicle that could be a viable substitute for an internal combustion engined car. Considering the dismal fate of the great majority of electric cars that came before the Model S, that is a significant accomplishment. The reason for that is many-fold, and one of the major differences in the man behind the Model S and Tesla itself.

Elon Musk is an interesting dude and the very definition of an entrepreneur. He made his first gazillion or so dollars by founding PayPal and since then, has gone on to start a private space exploration company (SpaceX), create the largest provider of solar systems in the country (SolarCity), and Tesla, a California-based car company whose mission is nothing less than to revolutionize the way the world moves. Tesla’s first car, the Roadster, was a low volume electric sportscar based on the Lotus Elise. Its price tag of over $100,000 meant that it was well out of reach of most people, but it served a greater purpose of proving to the world that an EV could be just as fast, if not faster, than many traditionally powered sportscars.

Photo Credit: Autoblog.com
Photo Credit: Autoblog.com

The second phase in Tesla’s plan for Ultimate Global Revolution is the Model S. This particular example was spotted in sunny San Diego, California and was the very first Model S I saw in person. Under the stunning exterior is a 100% electric powertrain and an 85 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that makes 420 horsepower and is good for an EPA estimated 265 miles. The consternation over usable mileage—a.k.a. range anxiety—has always been the Achilles heel of the electric car, but the Model S is the first EV to have a driving range nearly comparable to gas powered cars. And not only does it have great range, the Model S is also properly fast. Like, 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph fast. The Model S Signature Performance edition (best range, most power) rings in at about $100K, but unlike the Tesla Roadster, will be built in significantly larger quantities and is playing ball in the luxury sedan segment where prices like that aren’t uncommon. While the Model S can perform and make sense in the real world, it’s by no means perfect. But, it is likely the best electric car ever made, is a benchmark for future EV efforts, and will impact the future of the automobile in powerful ways. Proof? Watch THIS, THIS, and THIS.

CTW #2 – Fisker Karma

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And then there is the Fisker Karma. These two cars really couldn’t be any more different. Where the Model S is a pure EV, the Karma’s electrification is similar to the one found in the Chevrolet Volt. Under the sculpted hood resides two power plants—a pair of 161 horsepower electric motors that are responsible for the car’s primary propulsion, and a General Motors sourced 2.0-liter 260 horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine. The normal gas engine is engaged when either the battery pack is depleted or when the ‘Sport’ mode is selected. Instead of driving the wheels itself, the four-banger actaully charges a generator that electrically powers the drivetrain. On the road, the Karma achieves a 52 mpg equivalent which is good, but not great. Fully juiced up, the Karma only has a range of 230 miles, which is also a bit disappointing.ResizedImage_1365874414752

But undoubtedly the most disappointing thing about the Fisker Karma is the way the entire project has been executed. Since it’s launch, the Karma has been plagued by recalls, poor reviews, and instances of literally bursting into flames. All the while, Fisker has had to deal with lawsuits, being on the brink of bankruptcy for what seems like forever, and having the brand’s namesake, Henrik Fisker, leave the company. To top it off, for each Karma the company sells (they retail for about $110,000), it costs roughly $600,000 to make. It doesn’t take Warren Buffet to figure out that’s not exactly what you would call a “sustainable business model.” Karma’s are being sold on eBay right now for barely $50,000. Oh, and one more thing—Justin Beiber owns one and it’s chrome. *gags*

The automotive landscape is changing quickly—you know big things are afoot when Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche all cook up hybrid hypercars. It’s a shame about the Karma, it had such potential. But, it’s the success that is the Tesla Model S that’s the even bigger story. Bring on the electric revolution.

Many thanks and much respect to Dave Tracy for the shots of the Karma!

TDC Drives: The 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish

I’m quite certain everyone already knows this, but the new Aston Martin Vanquish is great. Through some mysterious combination of luck and knowing the right people at Aston Martin of New England in Waltham, Massachusetts, I was lucky enough to drive one recently. After spending some time behind the wheel, it became clear that the Vanquish is like most modern supercars—an object of intense and oftentimes irrational desire/a supremely effective instrument for redefining perceptions—and a worthy successor to Aston’s venerable DBS. Really, the only negative with the whole thing is that I don’t yet have the $300,000+ to buy one..

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Visually, the Vanquish is a study in lines—vivid, sensual lines that appear to have been coaxed from carbon fiber to coalesce into a scintillating whole. Much of the Vanquish’s visual panache is derived from elements originally seen on the One-77, Aston’s multi-million dollar hypercar. Look deeper, and the Vanquish continues the visual feast—twin lines that track up the hood and echo and reverse on the roof, the flared rocker panels, the character line that runs from the top of the headlights, over those stunning hips, and around to the integrated rear wing. I even like the carbon fiber mustache-thing below the grille. This is a gorgeous car..

DSC_0109Aston Martins have always been a different breed, preferring to arrive at the party in an impeccably tailored suit over a sleeveless tee and Ray-Bans (*cough* Lamborghini Aventador *cough*). Beneath the Vanquish’s beautiful exterior resides Aston Martin’s Generation 4 VH architecture which, in conjunction with an extensive use of lightweight materials, means the Vanquish is both stiffer and lighter than Aston’s previous halo car, the DBS. And, while the two cars share the same basic engine—a 6.0-liter V-12—in Vanquish-guise, the V-12 mill makes 565 horsepower (up from 510 in the DBS) and 457 pound-feet of torque (up from 420 pound-feet). Putting that power to the ground is a six-speed automatic transmission with column mounted paddles. The increased grunt means the dash to 60 miles per hour is politely dispensed with in about four seconds, and this English gentleman will keep on hustling to 183 miles per hour.

Photo Credit: Aston Martin
Photo Credit: Aston Martin

Aston Martin again turned to the One-77 for inspiration for the Vanquish’s interior: the sweeping central stack with touchscreen controls and curvaceous dashboard all hearken to Aston’s flagship. While attractive, the cabin is far from perfect—the rear seats are comically tiny, the buttons on the dash can be difficult to see, and the pop-up navigation system looks like an early ’90s Garmin GPS. The display looked genuinely antiquated and spoils the otherwise gorgeous center stack. I found it best to just leave it off and tucked away. Those things aside, the end result is still a beautifully bespoke cabin from which to command the miles. And hey, if you don’t like the ridiculous rear seats, they are an optional delete.

But enough of that, it’s time to drive. I slid the crystal key fob into a slot on the center stack and the big V-12 ignited with a bark which slowly settled into a delicious, brassy throb. I was curious to see what the Vanquish would be like at low speeds and in traffic on the route I was taking, and it was soon clear after a few minutes in rush hour mayhem that it was no harder to drive than your grandmother’s LeSabre. Hit the button marked “D” on the dash to keep the transmission in automatic and the suspension and engine mapping in their most vanilla settings, and the big Aston easily becomes a willing commuter companion.

DSC_0112But, to stunt the Vanquish’s abilities to grocery-gettting and sitting in traffic should be up for consideration as a criminal offense. The car’s real place is outside of downtown, where the traffic disappears and stretches of open pavement unfurl invitingly. The red mist descended. I switched things into Sport mode, knocked down a few gears, and let the engine hover anxiously near 4000 rpm. The engine strained and yowled in a gritty baritone. Cue Han Solo and Chewbacca trying to outrun Imperial Star Destroyers and make the jump to lightspeed: Punch it.

With the throttle buried, the Vanquish pulled like a fully stoked locomotive and ignited primal areas in my brain I didn’t even know existed. The suburban areas in southern Massachusetts were no place to fully exploit the Vanquish, but after a few rips up to, ahem, vigorous speeds, it was clear the car’s breadth of talent is deep and intoxicating. Like any great power, the Vanquish’s was absolutely addicting—the way it piled on speed, all I wanted was to do pin the throttle at everything that even resembled a straightaway. And if the power was addicting, what about the sound? It would be easy to get all misty-eyed and let my language go purple trying to convey what it was like, but trust me when I say it is something you simply need to experience. Aston Martin reportedly made an effort to insulate the cabin from outside noise, but (thankfully) they utterly failed at keeping the V-12 bellow from penetrating all the way to your core.

Photo Credit: Aston Martin
Photo Credit: Aston Martin

The steering is well weighted and precise, and the slightly squared off steering wheel felt strong and confident in hand. Toggling between the different suspension and power delivery settings produced a noticeable difference in the way the Vanquish drove. Sport mode felt crisp and responsive and produced the biggest grins. There was a reassuring sense of solidity in the way the Vanquish carved up winding back roads and remained composed over rough pavement. When it came time to slow things up, the carbon ceramic brakes firmly hauled the Vanquish’s portly 3800 pounds down from speed. This car was made for effortlessly loping across the miles in serene comfort, with that glorious V-12 ever willing and ready to hunt down the horizon.

After a long drive, gently guiding the Vanquish back into it’s parking spot at the dealership was about the last thing on earth I wanted to be doing. With a seemingly endless reserve of power on tap and character and personality in spades, the Vanquish is one special car. What the Aston Martin has manage to accomplish with this car is twofold: while it isn’t as dynamically superior as the Ferrari F12 or all-conqueringly powerful like the Bentley Continental GT Speed, it asserts itself in the marketplace as a tremendously capable and heartstoppingly lovely grand tourer that maintains the elegance and charisma inherent in Aston Martin DNA. It also takes the family halo car crown previously worn by the DBS and adds a few more precious stones. Now, about that $300,000…

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– Opportunities to drive cars like the Vanquish are special ones. Many thanks and much respect to Steve Oldford and Matt Nolan at Aston Martin of New England for the chance to review this car. Be sure to check out AMNE’s website at www.AstonMartin-Lotus.com and ‘Like’ the Facebook page.

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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.

Cars in the Wild

Oh, irony, how I love thee. While out hooning an ATV around Wisconsin cornfields with my cousin Jared, we stumbled across this fifth generation Dodge Coronet—produced between 1965 and 1970—abandoned in the woods, tire well deep in sand and dirt. Literally, a car in the wild. My first reaction upon seeing the Coronet was sadness—who would abandon such a vehicle to the relentless clutches of time and decay? My second thought was, “Could  there possibly be a more perfect candidate for a Cars in the Wild post?”

I’d like to think that this particular Coronet ended up fading peacefully into the Wisconsin landscape because its former owner would rather keep it than ship it out for scrap metal. It’s still a sad ending for such a classic car, but it certainly did make for an interesting find. As I’ve discussed before, I’m not a huge fan of older cars, but I do appreciate them and know that many paved the way for the current generation of machines that I deeply adore.

Back in the mid-60’s, you could have ordered your Dodge Coronet in range of different flavors. There was this four-door iteration, and it was also available as a two-door coupe and a station wagon. In 1968, Dodge completely overhauled the Coronet and also released the Coronet Super Bee as a compliment to the Plymouth Road Runner. The addition of the famous Super Bee name to the Coronet gave the car special visual upgrades, as well as a 390 horsepower 440 V-8, upgraded suspension, special wheels, and a fiberglass hood. In 1965 when the fifth generation was introduced, the Coronet became the best selling model in Dodge’s lineup, and the Coronet soldiered on until 1976 when it was renamed the Monaco.

But enough of that learning and factual nonsense, here’s a video of a Coronet Super Bee doing a burnout. That’s better.

I salute you, abandoned Dodge Coronet. May your journey to the great drag strip in the sky be filled with wide open roads, new paint and primer, and shiny memories of your glory days. And no mouse nests.

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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The Torque Tube: Peter Ladas and Yuppie Racing

Peter Ladas from Yuppie Racing is a self-proclaimed gearhead of the highest order—a diehard fan of the mad vehicles created by  Mercedes-Benz’s AMG tuning division and owner of brilliant cars like the BMW E46 M3 and Toyota Supra. Ladas’ mission with Yuppie Racing was to create a close knit automotive community and re-create the public’s  perception of car enthusiasts in a positive way by raising money for different charities. Ladas spent some time talking to TDC about Yuppie Racing and the upcoming Yuppie Rally.

What is Yuppie Racing?

“Yuppie Racing was founded about 10 years ago by two guys who weren’t able to find a car community in New England to fit their lifestyles… it evolved into an online car enthusiast community of similar minded individuals but from very different backgrounds.”

Yuppie’s website is dominated by forums with thousands of threads on everything from drag strip events to fine cigars to detailing and car care.

“We have members who are just getting their licenses and other members who have been national champion club racers, we have Ferrari owners, and we have Prius owners. We are a very diverse group… it’s not uncommon to see members grabbing a bite to eat, hitting up a car show, going for a drive near the coast or buzzing around a track. In 2009 when I took over, I wanted to make it a point to change public opinion of car enthusiasts.  In 2011, we made just over $10k in donations to various charities through our events as a way to give back. It’s amazing to see how the car community rallies when it comes time to help a worthy cause.”

Last year marked the first year of the Yuppie Rally, an epic road trip involving over a dozen high performance cars and some sensational driving. This year’s Rally promises to be even bigger and better, and all for a good cause—part of the money raised will benefit Bruce and Linda Ledoux over at Guardian Angel Motorsports.

What is the Yuppie Rally? How did it start and what was the inspiration behind it?

“Yuppie Rally was the next logical step for Yuppie Racing… I presented the idea of a multi-day rally to a small group of folks back in 2009, but never really had time to put it together. Finally in October of 2010, [we] looked at the route I had and we started retooling it. I think the only things that were left from the original route were the destination and the starting point.”

How many cars took part in last year’s Rally? What cars where there?

“Last year we had just under 20 cars… It’s tough to not mention every car on the rally, because they were all cool cars. We had some Porsche Turbos, a supercharged Audi R8, Shelby Mustang, several M3s, an M6, Lotus Exige S, a Noble, an RS4, a Maserati Coupe… I am forgetting a whole bunch, but none I would kick out of my garage.”

The guest list of vehicles registered this year reads like an A-list Hollywood event: GT500, supercharged R8, E55 AMG, turbocharged 350Z, and a pair of 911 Turbos to name a few.

Most epic moment from the 2011 Yuppie Rally?

“Pulling in to the first hotel (which was a castle) and getting directed in to a private gated underground parking garage for rally cars only… The last night in Quebec City, being noticed by a club owner… and [having him set] up a table for Rally participants like a scene out of a mob movie… Another that I think everyone loved – after disembarking from Nova Scotia and being back on the main land, there was a very open road with no traffic where everyone got to hit some Autobahn like speeds for over an hour straight. There was also the night Chris got engaged… but the response on that was a mixed bag.”

The 2012 Rally heads for the infamous southern road nicknamed the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, then up to Atlantic City for a special celebratory bash, then back to Aston Martin of New England in Massachusetts. Interested in driving this year? Visit the registration website HERE for all the details.

How does the Rally compare to something like the Gumball 3000? Did that play a part in inspiring the Yuppie Rally?

For the uninitiated, the Gumball 3000 is basically the daddy of all rallys. Several have featured cross country blasts, some have run the roads of Europe, and all feature some of the most exotic machinery on earth. And some of the most ridiculous parties. And speeding tickets.

“I think everyone that puts together a rally like this would be lying if they didn’t say the Gumball gave them inspiration. It’s stuff like the Gumball and Alex Roy’s Team Polizei 144 that has spawned those ideas for us. While it would be cool to take part in an event like that, the police attention and astronomical entry fees make it only a dream for many. We take the Gumball 3000 spirit and make it an affordable trip for most while still doing our part to help the community.”

What is something you learned from last year that you’ve applied to making the 2012 Rally even better?  

“Last year we put the event together quickly and didn’t think about all the small details. We found ourselves getting hammered with… a lot of unaccounted for costs and some sponsors that promised and didn’t deliver. It didn’t change anyone’s experience, but it also made it hard for us to do that little bit extra that folks have come to expect from [Yuppie Racing] events. For 2012 we have certainly pulled out all the stops partnering up with a ton of quality companies and organizations. I know what’s packed in to the 2,200 mile journey and still have a hard time believing it.”

What does the future of the Yuppie Rally look like?

“It’s tough to say what the future has in store for Yuppie Rally but… we are hoping to become one of those events that people look forward to every year. We would certainly love to branch out to include more folks from New York and New Jersey as the culture and cars of that area are so different than what we have in New England. We have spent a lot of time and energy this year building a secure foundation for the event for years to come. Maybe we’ll be taking a page out of Gumball’s book and start flying cars around? Only time will tell.”

Many thanks and much respect to Peter Ladas for his time and energy on this interview. Be sure to check out Yuppie Racing’s Facebook page HERE, as well as their website HERE.

Cars in the Wild

There is something commanding and empowering about driving a luxury sedan. And, when your luxury sedan is a Teutonic titan like the freshly redesigned BMW 7-Series pictured, lesser peoples will actually fall over themselves trying to get out of the way. Cars like the 7-Series look and feel more at home shuttling dictators, monarchs, or pop stars to and fro, and if that’s the look you are going for (which would be a lot of fun, even if you’re not a plutocrat), then this may be the car for you.

In the hierarchy of uber-sedans, which interestingly seems to come mainly from Germany, the 7-Series has always wound up playing second fiddle to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the car that practically created the big luxury sedan market, and continues to set the standard for the rest of the luxury sedan world. In the mid 2000’s, BMW fell short primarily because of its hideous iDrive computer system. Confusing menus and incomprehensible commands made the system the bane of every car reviewer’s existence. Fortunately, BMW heeded the hate mail and totally revamped the system. For the 2012 model year, BMW’s flagship also features four wheel steering, a higher use of aluminum to reduce weight, more tech than Bill Gates’ server room, and a night vision camera system that would make SEAL Team Six jealous. Should you wish to have prodigious power reserves to go with your prodigious amounts of class, you can order up your BMW in 760Li-guise that uses Bimmer’s colossal twin-turbo V12 which, besides using the tears of the poor as fuel, makes 535 horsepower, and 550 lb-ft. of torque.

One of the things that BMW focuses on in differentiating the 7-Series from its competitors is “sport.” Normally, sportiness and superior luxury are mutually exclusive terms, but BMW continues to work hard to dispel that notion. Great steaming loads of technology go into the driving experience such as active body roll stabilization, and Driving Dynamics Control, which allows the driver to adjust several driving parameters like suspension setup and steering feedback.

So does the 7-Series finally unseat the S-Class as the superior, superior luxury sedan? Every review you read says the big Bimmer comes close, but once again, it’s no cigar. However, if you’re looking to purchase a car in this class that’s been bred with a little more athleticism in its genes, perhaps the big 7-Series will be your superior choice.

Cars in the Wild

At an undisclosed warehouse somewhere in New Hampshire, I’m lead through a smeared and smudged glass door, then through a curtain of blue plastic sheeting who’s function is to deter prying eyes. There’s a musty smell in here, something like damp concrete, dust and age. I flip the lightswitch and several overhead fluorescent lights snap on with the classic tink-tinktink-tink sound. The long room I’m standing in contains a partially restored antique truck, a white 1970’s Porsche Carrera, a jet ski, and judging its the sheer size, something clearly very special underneath a tan car cover.

Resting under that cover is an absolutely mint Packard Carribean. Long acres of hoods and gleaming yards of chrome reflect the long bands of sharp flourescent light as the cover is gently rolled back. In the ’50’s, the Caribbean was Packard’s halo vehicle and was only produced from 1953 to 1956. This car, a 1955, has a great hunk of American iron under it’s sculpted hood – two sets of Rochester four-barrel carburetors on it’s 352 cubic-inch V8 help make 275 antique horsepower. Even today, the Caribbean’s proportions feel right and there is something truly attractive about its design. But don’t take my word for it, click HERE to check out a video from someone who knows a thing or two about classic cars – Jay Leno. It runs a little long, but it’s worth it to watch it to the end.

Cars from this era have a unique “something” in their character and design that seems to have been lost in the few decades since the Caribbean first hit the road. Case-in-point, the sensational “cathedral” taillights on the Caribbean: styling cues like those just don’t translate into most modern cars. You take a look at those epic taillights, then you see the supremely bland-tastic new Toyota Camry or the mind numbingly dull Nissan Sentra, and you can’t help but wonder where that gusto all went. Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t a nostalgic appeal for cars to be made “like they used to”, just an observance that you have to swing way, way above the Caribbean’s pay grade and into an entirely different class of vehicle to find anything with this much style.

While older cars don’t normally make their way onto the pages of TDC, it seemed appropriate to feature the Caribbean as it is such a special machine. If given a choice between choosing a classic car or a modern vehicle, the majority of the time, the newer car would make the cut and end up in the TDC garage. However, with a car that looks this fantastic and has this much style, I’d make an exception for the Caribbean. All I saw in that musty warehouse when I first looked at the car was riding low and slow down a sun soaked boulevard, one hand on the wheel and the other resting on the door. Someone hand me my Ray Ban’s, let’s go for a ride.