Cocktail Chatter: January 25, 2013

What cocktails go best with all this car chatter? Automobilemag.com is here to help with weekly recipes. Remember, this is for talking about cars, not driving — always designate a driver. We've gotten a good dumping of snow here in Michigan, so we're drinking things that will warm us from the inside out, like this Thermo-sour. Similar to a whiskey sour, combine three ounces of bourbon with one ounce of orange juice, and two ounces of water. Set the liquids aside while caramelizing two teaspoons of white sugar; once the sugar is browned, add in the liquids to the pan. Pour the heated mixture into a mug and add a cinnamon stick as a garnish. We recommend sipping this one in front of an open fire.

Shelling It Out: The Batmobile used in the 1960s Batman TV series sold for $4.6 million at the Barrett Jackson auction last Saturday. Rick Champagne, the buyer in Arizona, told media the car would go in his living room. Originally a 1955 Lincoln Futura built in 15 days for $15,000; this was the first time it has been up for sale since 1965.

Boom On A Shoot: British journalist Mark Hales had a little snafu while driving a vintage Porsche 917 Le Mans race car for a 2009 photo shoot. Hales apparently over revved the engine, ultimately blowing it. Finally, this week, a court ordered him to pay the owner $174,000 in damages and legal costs. That just became quite the expensive photo shoot!

Tweet Of The Week: @Audi: "So today we officially passed @Lexus in followers. Kudos to the fans - though it's really not unusual to pass a Lexus in an Audi."

Kelly Murphy, Creative Director

(s)No(w) Sense: A survey by Brake and Churchill Car Insurance found most drivers still don't understand the dangers of driving in ice and snow. Every year, cold temperatures, ice, and snow reveal the most aggressive and terrible drivers on the road. Yes, please don't keep your distance when you're on the highway and yes, continue to drive above the speed limit in your all-season tires. It's Michigan. Where is all the common sense?

Tom Hang, Graphic Designer

Babies On Board: What's the worst thing about attending the Detroit auto show on public days rather than press days? It's not the lack of free food and drink (thanks for the chocolate bar, Mini!) It's not the fact that some of the hottest new cars are roped off and inaccessible. Nor is it the distinct lack of gimmicky USB flash drives and press kits. No, the worst thing is the way parents let their offspring play and cavort inside brand-new cars. I'm amazed how many people encourage their youngsters to jump up and down in the driver's seat and claw at the steering wheel of luxury cars, just so mom or dad can snap an iPhone photo. It's an Audi, not a jungle gym.

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

Comforts In The Cold: We automotive journalists are a spoiled set. It's rare that we find ourselves behind the wheel of a car that doesn't have heated seats, satellite radio, and a navigation system, let alone one without remote start. However, while our new Four Seasons Dodge Dart may have three of four of those creature comforts, I was miffed getting into a car without heated seats on a below-zero day. What the Dart does have is a remote start system and fabric seats that warm up quickly that make me forget that heated seats even exist. Now all we need is a car that will clear the snow off itself. Some automaker must be working on that, right?

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

Ad Fan: With the announcement that Cars.com will be airing its sixth straight Super Bowl spot (with this year's being a 30-second bit during the first quarter) it got me thinking about my favorite car commercials that take place during the biggest football game of the year. Fortunately for me, there are other people who compile such lists, which makes up for my youth and inexperience when it comes to breaking down car advertisements. This particular compilation offers a good balance of the older, but still memorable, as well as more modern commercials. I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed that Chrysler's 2011 "Imported from Detroit" video only cracked the list at number eight. I'm probably severely biased as a Michigander, but I can't help but get goosebumps every time I see that 200 roll down Woodward Ave. However, I really can't argue with number one: who doesn't love that little kid dressed as Darth Vader trying to use the force on a Volkswagen Passat?

John Kalmar, Graphic Designer

Ranger Love: One day on my way in to work this week, I followed a train of three (count 'em!) Ford Rangers for several miles. It reminded me of how popular these trucks once were and, to many people, still are. Yes, the Ranger was dated, but there are still plenty of consumers who want a truck but prefer one that's easier to park and doesn't have such heavy-duty capabilities and thirst for fuel. 2012 was the first model year without a compact Ford Ranger since 1983; surely it's no coincidence that sales of the top remaining small pickups leapt in 2012 (Toyota Tacoma up 28 percent, Chevy Colorado up 19 percent, Nissan Frontier up 7 percent). Your loss, Ford.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

Van Man: A funny thing happened while perusing some Japanese-market used car classified ads: I stumbled upon a Dodge Ram full-size van. Actually, I stumbled upon many Dodge Ram full-size vans. Over eighty of them, in fact (this one’s my favorite). Subsequently, I've also stumbled upon Japan’s “Dajiban” movement. The goal? Slam your short-wheelbase Ram B150’s suspension, throw on a number of Mopar performance parts, bolt on some American Racing AR767 rims, and have some fun with the exterior. Some apply pseudo-rat rod patina, others vintage American performance stickers. I personally love the carbon-fiber hoods (they’re so short!), especially the ones with twin NACA ducts.

Yes, I’m aware I’m possibly the last person in the world to have discovered this. And yes, I’m aware it’s quite weird – but it’s also damn cool, thundering around a circuit. Oh, I didn't mention? Owners frequently exercise them at club track days. The sight is hilarious, as it looks like someone organized a spec race for plumbers, electricians, and ice cream vendors.

If only Dajiban caught on here in the states. It wouldn’t be the first Japanese fad to gain traction here, and it would more than make up for the fact we’ve had to suffer through crappy fads like Pokémon, Tamagachi, and Harajuku. Ugh.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

On The Fritz: General Motors’ interim chairman and CEO in 2010, Ed Whitacre, has a new book coming out with the modest title, “American Turnaround.” In an excerpt published by CNN Money/Fortune, Whitacre describes how he and the board fired the previous CEO, the incompetent Fritz Henderson, in December 2009. In one conversation, Whitacre interprets Henderson’s body language as saying; “You don’t know how this place runs, Ed, and you don’t know the car business, either. You basically don’t get it.” Whitacre also reveals that he liked Mark Reuss as his replacement in August of ’10, though he and the board thought the president for North American operations didn’t have enough experience on the business side of things. Whitacre writes that Reuss “went from a midlevel engineer to the number two position in the company in the space of a year, more or less.” Actually, Reuss spent 2008 and ’09 turning around GM’s Holden operations in Australia. Instead, we got Dan Akerson, yet another non-car guy, as Whitacre’s replacement. Smart money has Akerson replacing himself with Mary Barra after the federal government sells off its GM stock this year.

Car Dealers Love A Cash Customer: Remember how Elwood Blues picked up his paroled brother, "Joliet” Jake, from prison in a used Dodge Polara cop car? Detroit’s “hip-hop” ex-mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was having none of that when he was released from Wayne County Jail in 2009, where he served 99 days in connection with his text messaging scandal. Days after his release, Kilpatrick spent $35,000 to lease a red Cadillac Escalade with custom wheels and extra chrome trim. Kilpatrick, his father, and a friend are being tried in U.S. District Court on charges they conspired to enrich themselves from the Detroit mayor’s office. The Detroit Free Press says that federal prosecutors tried to show the ex-mayor spending ill-gotten gains, allegedly from fraud and kickback schemes. Kilpatrick’s defense attorney responded that Detroit-based Compuware had just hired his client, so he had money. Court evidence shows Kilpatrick paid $35k for the Escalade lease in cash and cashier’s checks, including $4,000 from his mother, former U.S. Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick. His cash included “79 hundred-dollar bills,” Caddy dealer Doug Dalgleish testified.

Todd Lassa, Executive Editor

Baby, It's Cold Outside: Really, really cold weather landed here in Ann Arbor this week. We're talking single digits and below-zero wind chill factors. So my number-one concern with test cars has been whether they have seat heaters. Luckily, the two cars I've driven this week not only have 'em, but they're especially good. First I was in the new 2013 Toyota Avalon, which has spring-loaded knobs in the center console with multiple settings that range from warm, all the way to the left on the knob's rotation, to super-hot, all the way to the right. Next was our Four Seasons Range Rover Evoque, which has two round buttons on the center stack to turn on the seat heaters. Hit the button once, and three little vertical bars illuminate, indicating the heaters are on their highest of three settings. Hit the button again and one of the bars goes dark, indicating the medium setting, and so on. The Evoque also has a heated steering wheel, which is almost as wonderful as heated seats, plus a quick-defrost windshield like most Range Rover, Land Rover, and Jaguar products have. Throw in a set of Pirelli Scorpion winter tires, and the Evoque is so well-equipped for winter, I can almost stand this frigid weather. Almost.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

Dreams Really Can Come True: Jay Leno’s ability to remember names is stellar. You’d forgive a guy that meets thousands of people a year for a slip-up—but nope. Not once during my weekend with Jay did he forget my name.

It’s an impressive skill, yes, but not nearly as impressive as his car collection. You walk in and are greeted by: an Ariel Atom, a Lotus Elan, a Cadillac CTS-V coupe, a Lamborghini Countach, two Lamborghini Miuras, a Lamborghini Espada, a McLaren F1, and a McLaren MP4-12C, just to name a few. Keep walking, and you’ll be lost in a sea of cars and motorcycles you never knew existed. What’s most charming about the collection is its lack of organization. While it's clean and kept, the cars aren’t sorted in any discernible way, the way a guy who actually drove his cars would do (and Jay definitely does that). And while the collection made me giggle like a sissy, the garage melted my heart.

I fell in love with a race-prepped Elan chassis, with a 225-hp engine and a 6-speed sequential manual transmission that will be tucked under a fiberglass body. On a four-post lift sat Jay’s 1962 Maserati 3500 GTi. Next to it, a pristine XKE—he’s only the second owner. Every tool you’d ever want or need, and don’t get me started on the full kitchen. I ate Dino’s pizza and pasta with Jay and his master mechanic, George, before going on my way. No grand goodbyes, just a solid handshake—the best nod you can get from a couple of guys with grease-soaked knuckles.

Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor

Best Frenemies?: Acura and I seem to be having a strange couple of months. I’ve stuck up for our Four Seasons ILX 2.4 at times, saying it’s “the Civic Honda should have built,” but the truth is, the model is strangely priced and optioned, the steering is too light on all-season tires and downright jittery on winter tires, and the ILX Hybrid is ghastly to drive. I’m pretty sure I had some unkind words for the 2014 RLX on the 2013 NAIAS stand, too: the car will feature some amazing new technologies like passive all-wheel steering and a torque-vectoring hybrid AWD system, but all most buyers will see is its hum-drum exterior punctuated by a handful of coked-out LED headlights.

But the MDX is another story. The current version won my 2012 comparison of four three-row SUVs, and just days ago I wrote that “the 2014 MDX Prototype is just as slick as it ever was.” I just wish Acura would do more of what it's done with the MDX and less of the ILX and RLX.

Ben TimminsAssociate Web Editor

Old Versus New Is Getting Old: Former GM CEO Ed Whitacre is the latest to take some credit for GM's turnaround with a tell-all book, excerpts of which appear in Fortune Magazine. Not surprisingly, he has some harsh words for the company's old management, including interim CEO Fritz Henderson and former vice chairman Bob Lutz.

GM North America president Mark Reuss, a proud GM lifer, presents a pointedly different view in our upcoming (April) issue: "Enough already, with people taking credit for our achievements...Everyone talks about the old GM and the new GM. But the old guys, the good guys, made sure GM had the right stuff. They are the real mothers and fathers of the new GM.”

Who's right? The car guy in me sides with Reuss. Whitacre and his successor, Dan Akerson, concern themselves almost exclusively with org charts and balance sheets. At the same time, there's little doubt the company Whitacre describes needed some fresh perspective. A dysfunctional, cash-starved organization such as the old GM probably wouldn't have been able to compete no matter how talented its car guy contingent.

Above all, I find it amusing that so many people want to take credit for something that, in reality, hasn't yet happened. The "new" GM has introduced relatively few new vehicles. As Reuss is quick to point out, we are just now seeing products developed after bankruptcy. Only when we see and drive these new cars and trucks can we really assess whether GM is functioning properly and if the turnaround really succeeded.

David Zenlea, Associate Editor

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