Cocktail Chatter: April 19, 2013

Disasters, racing, and spring drives.

What cocktails go best with all this car chatter? is here to help with weekly recipes. Remember, this is for talking about cars, not driving — always designate a driver. We were teased with a taste of summer-like temperatures here in Ann Arbor this week, so to fool ourselves into thinking that summer is upon us, we’re drinking the very summery margarita fizz this week. Combine four ounces of brut champagne with one ounce of tequila, two ounces of sweet and sour mix, and a squeeze of lime in a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and enjoy.


From Zero to Hero: Kia has really stepped up its game in the past five years, but sometime a quick ascent meants that the little touches get forgotten. However, it seems that the Korean carmaker is looking to every aspect of vehicle ownership, right down to the key fob in your pocket. For its 2014 models – the 2014 Forte and Sorento are both on sale already – Kia has introduced a sleek new fob that wouldn’t look out of place being used to unlock an Audi or a Jaguar. It has an attractive design that blends black plastic and fake metal buttons; has a great weight, shape, and texture in your hand; and the pictograms are large and clear.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

Renault Wants to be ‘Under the Sea’: I’m pretty sure that the inspiration for Renault’s new concept car, the Twin’z, came directly from “The Little Mermaid” soundtrack: “Just look at the world around you/Right here on the ocean floor/Such wonderful things surround you/What more is you looking’ for?” The car, designed by Welsh biomimicry guru Ross Lovegrove, modeled its bodywork and interiors off of natural patterns and forms. According to Lovegrove, “The car has become a symbol of our progress and civilization, an icon of our technocracy and our ability to transform materials into objects of great precision and physical presence.” To me, it’s a trippy looking smart car, something straight out of “Yellow Submarine.”

John Kalmar, Graphic Designer

“Wins and Losses” is a Winner: Last summer, Lawrence Ulrich took a 427 Corvette convertible on a tour of Detroit, talking to various players in the auto industry about the region’s decline and rebirth. The resulting story, “Wins and Losses,” just won the Ken Purdy award for excellence in automotive journalism; the fifth time a piece in Automobile Magazine has been so honored. You can read Ulrich’s story here.

Joe Lorio, Senior Editor 

Talking Numbers: It’s hard not to talk numbers when discussing the 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429. Eight cylinders, seven liters, four barrels, 735 CFM, 375 hp, 859 cars built. But, when you’re talking about the particular Boss 429 RM Auctions will sell on April 27th, you have to mention one more number.

97. As in 97 original miles.

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that figure. That’s only a mile or two more than a round trip from Dearborn, Michigan, where the Mustang was originally built, to Brighton, Michigan, where Kar Kraft converted it into a full Boss 429. I doubt the Mustang ever even drove that trip, as cars were trucked to/from each facility. According to RM, this car was originally bought to be built into a full-on drag machine, but the project was aborted, the car stored and neglected for years, and ultimately reunited with its original engine and restored decades later.

I suspect we’ll have yet another number to talk about once bidding draw to a close, at least if RM’s estimate is close to reality. The auction house expects the Boss to fetch nearly $300,000-350,000. That’s a princely sum, but it may not be extraordinary. Hagerty suggests 1969 Boss 429s in 1-2 condition are valued between $266,000 – $315,000.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

Winter is Over: Ok, there’s still a decent chance of a final freak snow storm in Michigan, but it’s exciting that our Four Seasons fleet is back on summer rubber. Waterford Hills is even open for a track day this weekend. Unfortunately I won’t be there in my Miata because my car needs a valve cover gasket replacement before I do any spirited driving. Part of my car will be there, though, as a friend is borrowing my hard top so he can take his Miata on the track. Hopefully my gasket arrives this weekend so I don’t miss the next track day. Until then, I’m topping off my oil and enjoying a bit of top-down driving – even if we’re only supposed to see a high of 51 degrees over the weekend. For that, I don’t mind wearing a winter coat in the spring.

Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor

Just Get Me There: Last Thursday, I embarked on a trip to the NCAA men’s college hockey Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, the eighth time I’ve done so in an Automobile Magazine Four Seasons test car. I knew that our long-term Nissan Altima 3.5SL would be an excellent choice because of its comfortable seats, spacious interior, and large trunk. What I didn’t expect is that the three friends who joined me would, only a few miles into the journey, agree that the Altima is the easily least interesting car I’ve provided for the tradition. (See the other cars here.) Can’t say that I disagree. Perhaps that’s why the Altima’s sales are so strong.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

Next Stop, The Sunset: I’m not alone in expressing my sentiment that this week might be the worst one yet this year, between explosions in Boston and Texas. I’m not going to talk about them, because you already know about them, but I’ll say this: now is the time to go for a drive. With gas prices lower now than earlier this spring and this weekend’s weather looking decent in the Midwest and Northeast, the conditions are right. As a nation we’re also just sick, exhausted, depressed, and fed up enough to shut the doors and go.

It doesn’t need to be anything crazy, long, or drawn out. Bring a companion (furry or otherwise) if you like. Pop in a CD, turn it up, and roll down the windows/pop the top. Stay away from the freeway and drive around the twistiest road you can find until the CD stops. Then pop in another one and keep going. Repeat until your faith in humanity is back to some semblance of normal. We’ll be here when you get back.

Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor

If You Have The Means, I Highly Recommend Picking One Up: After driving one from New Jersey to Michigan earlier this week, I believe the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is one of the finest vehicles available for a long road trip. It devours highway miles and delivers occupants across state lines with little trouble. The opulent leather seats have a cooling function to keep your back from getting sweaty, and an excellent massage feature — I prefer the “gentle and vigorous” mode. The Distronic Plus cruise control is perhaps the best in the business, smartly decelerating the car behind slow-moving trucks and swiftly picking up speed again when they move over. The surround-sound system turns even the meekest of iPod tracks into a sonic masterpiece. And the fat-rimmed steering wheel is light enough to use with two fingers, yet still imparts feedback and road feel to sate the enthusiastic driver.

But the best part of all? The S350 BlueTec badge on the back meant my Mercedes had a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6. According to the trip computer, I averaged 35.9 mpg, a figure that would be impressive for a compact sedan, let alone a luxury machine that can hit 60 mph in seven seconds and go on to 130 mph. Yes, if you need to cover ground swiftly and in the utmost comfort, allow me to recommend the Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTec. It can be yours from just, um, $93,905.

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

Wins and Tears: The highlight of my week was finding out that contributing writer Lawrence Ulrich won the prestigious Ken Purdy automotive journalism award for a story he did for our November, 2012, issue in which he drove a Corvette through Detroit and other automotive industrial areas of Michigan and Ohio. Although Ulrich now lives in New York City, he is a native son of Detroit and spent most of his life in Motown, so he has a far more interesting perspective on the city and region’s recent troubles than the typical chattering class writer. His piece was so insightful, and so personal, I found myself welling up with tears at the end. Check it out here.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

Storm Chaser: The severe weather that’s whipping through the Midwest got me thinking about storms and, by extension, storm chasers and their storm chaser-mobiles. Without a doubt, a storm chaser’s vehicle plays a vital role not only in their success but also in their safety. What would I pick? A Porsche Cayenne GTS. It’s likely that my choice has been swayed by the fact that there is a stunning Carmine red GTS currently parked outside my window being pummeled by wind and rain, but the more I look at the Porsche sport-utes attributes, the more I think it would be just about ideal. Here’s what tops the list:

  • -Outrageous acceleration and top speed to make quick work of pursuing and escaping storms: zero to 60 in 5.4 seconds with a top speed of 162 mph.
  • -Substantial curb weight to keep it planted on the road in high winds and from getting sucked into a twister: 4600 pounds.
  • -All-wheel drive and three-mode height adjustable suspension to allow for the off-road treks that are inevitable when you are running for your life from a killer storm.
  • -Extra-large panoramic sunroof for maximum storm visibility: a $660 option.
  • -Respectable towing capacity of 7716 pounds to pull around the necessary science gear or to assist those with lesser vehicles.

Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor of Digital Platforms



An Early Silly Season?: It’s another great week for sports fans, with the Bahrain Grand Prix coming up just a week after last Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix. China was a fantastic race, as winner Fernando Alonzo would say (and my wife, a tifosa, would agree). Four lead changes in the first ten laps foreshadows a season that will probably be more about tire strategy as anything else. Hot tracks just tear up Pirelli’s sticky, soft compound tires, the ones best suited for qualifying. But it’s the Bahrain race this Sunday that concerns me. The oil-rich Persian Gulf nation has been criticized for serious human rights issues, especially during race week. The hacker group Anonymous reportedly has threatened Bernie Ecclestone with digital disruptions this weekend. Formula 1 took far too long to cancel the South African GP during the apartheid regime, and I fear the money and influence of Bahrain could have the same effect this time around.

A Good Drive Spoiled: Since I began my Metro Detroit-to-Ann Arbor commute last November, I’ve streamlined the drive a bit. This morning, driving the new Kia Forte sedan, I jumped off the freeway one exit early, as I used to, in order to take the car though a roundabout and a couple of extra curves. Passing a local golf course, I noticed a warning sign that I think was removed for the winter. It warns drivers to watch for errant golf balls. And what, exactly, are we supposed to do if one suddenly breaks through our passenger side windows?

Todd Lassa, Executive Editor

Race Time: If you’re a sporty car guy in Los Angeles, the racing season really begins every year with the annual press conference held by Mazda Motorsports. It takes place in the week before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and it’s one of the best events of the week if you’re a journalist, much like the banquet with the Road Racing Drivers Club and the party hosted by Racer magazine.

We showed up, as always, and this time Mazda presented a terrific technical briefing about the racing version of its SkyActive diesel engine, which SpeedSource has developed for the three Mazda 6s that are racing in the GX class of the Rolex Grand-Am series. It is quite something to see pictures of this 400-hp Mazda 6 leading the Brumos Porsche 911 on the race track. Actually the engine is so stout that it twisted off its driveshaft at the most recent Grand-Am event at Barber Motorsports Park, as the instantaneous torque loads are huge. We’re hoping to get Preston Lerner, contributing editor and a racer, behind the wheel of this Mazda 6 racing car at the end of the season, as the idea of a racing diesel is pretty interesting, as Audi has proven at Le Mans.

Also Mazda presented its most recent crop of young racers that it sponsors in various forms of road racing (there are a lot of them). Mazda has been doing this with great success for some time now, and Indy car racer James Hildebrand made a little presentation about the number of pro racers like him that share a background with Mazda (there are a lot of them, too).

And finally, Mazda concluded the press conference by displaying a picture of the Mazda 787B that won the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans, As Mazda vice-president Robert Davis notes, “When another Japanese car manufacturer wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we’ll stop showing this picture.”

Michael Jordan, Senior Editor

Better Birthday Ideas: Land Rover is honoring its upcoming 65th anniversary with a slew of cool, retro-like advertisements, but they’re solely for social media. Why, Land Rover? Is it too easy or too “Mad Men” to publish traditional long-form ads with renderings instead of photography? I say remind consumers that you have a heritage, and that your first car wasn’t the Evoque. Get yourself a billboard and celebrate 65 years the right way.

Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor

Steering of the Ageing Rock Star: I’m totally “over” heavy steering. Yes, BMW, I’m talking to you. The otherwise wonderful M6 coupe I drove earlier in the week had a “sport plus” mode wherein it felt like the power steering was going out. Most sporty BMWs are the same way. Perhaps at one point this heft lent authority to the “Ultimate Driving Machine” tag, now it just serves as a constant reminder of how big and heavy BMWs have become (4300 pounds, in the M6’s case). It reminds me a bit of aging rock stars who persist in wearing spiked hair and tight leather pants. Who do they think they’re fooling? The Bavarians should drive a few Jaguars to see how light yet communicative steering can make even a very large car feel nimble.

On a note completely unrelated to my petty whining, our thoughts are with the people of Boston and West, Texas. In truth, this is what we are talking about at Automobile this week, just like every other office across the United States. May the injured recover speedily and the mourners find comfort in the fact that we all mourn with them.

David Zenlea, Associate Editor

Racing Tribute: Sports are part of the fiber of the American experience, so when a tragedy like Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon occurs, the sporting world rallies to show its support. All three major sports leagues that had games scheduled – Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL – observed moments of silence on Tuesday. The New York Yankees, the fiercest rival of Boston’s beloved Red Sox, played Sweet Caroline—a staple of major-league ball games in Boston for years—over the PA system at the end of the third inning of Wednesday’s game. And this weekend, NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner and driver Michael Waltrip, who ran the Boston Marathon in 2000, will pay tribute to the victims on all three of his team’s cars. The numbers on the Toyota Camry race cars of Mark Martin (55), Clint Bowyer (15), and Martin Truex, Jr. (56) will replicate the bibs worn by the runners in the Boston Marathon. Waltrip is reportedly the only Sprint Cup driver or owner who has run in the Boston Marathon, so this is very personal tribute.

Said Waltrip: “When I ran the Boston Marathon in 2000, I remember thinking about what a privilege it was to be able to participate and all the hard work it took to be there. When you can see those international flags flying in Copley Square, you know you are about to complete your journey. I know the joy those runners were feeling at that moment when their worlds changed.”

“It was a great moment of pride when they pinned the Boston Marathon bib on me, so I thought it would be great to pin bib numbers on our race cars this week in Kansas. I want to thank our sponsors, NAPA Auto Parts, 5-Hour Energy and Aaron’s, as well as NASCAR, for giving us permission to show our support. We just want the victims of the attack, the brave men and women who helped after the explosions and the city of Boston to know that we are thinking of them and we will support them anyway we can.”

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor 

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