Cocktail Chatter: June 7, 2013

Autonomous driving, French cars, and carbon fiber.

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. For a refreshing start to summer, we’re drinking a cucumber margarita. Combine three slices of cucumber, 3/4th ounce of agave nectar, and half an ounce of Triple Sec in a mixing glass and muddle together. Add two ounces of silver tequila, an ounce of fresh lime juice, and ice, and then shake. Strain into rocks glasses over ice and garnish with a lime wedge.


Key Change: Volkswagen, like most automakers, is headed inexorably toward homogenization. To save development costs, it will build as many cars as possible off common platforms — the MQB chassis under the new Golf, for instance, will also be used for the next Tiguan, Audi A3, and several other cars. One area in which Volkswagen has yet to standardize things, however, is its keys. We discovered no fewer than three different types of keys for contemporary Volkswagen cars in our office last. Almost all models have the flip-out key that debuted by the late 1990s (rightmost one in the adjacent photo). The Volkswagen CC has the blocky key fob pictured at left, which must be plugged into a slot in the dashboard. Finally, there’s the big pebble-like rounded unit pictured in the middle, which is exclusive to the Volkswagen Touareg. Why does one specific car have a unique type of key? A Volkswagen representative surmises it’s because the Touareg is shared with Audi and Porsche (the Q7 and Cayenne, respectively). Regardless, it sure seems like a lot of different keys to keep track of at the factory.

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

Litter and Get Your Car Impounded: All litterbugs in Chicago better take notice: if you throw trash out of your car’s window, you could face a pretty hefty fine in addition to getting your car towed and impounded. A new proposal being introduced at Chicago’s City Council meeting earlier this week would increase the fines for littering out of a car window, stationary or moving, to $1,500 from the current $50 to $200. And if that person is 16 or older, the car would be impounded. “We have put out garbage cans, to no avail,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), the sponsor of the measure. “We need to do something to get their attention, and if we take their cars, we think that will get their attention.” When in Chicago, it pays (and saves you a trip to the impound lot) not to litter and drive.

John Kalmar, Graphic Designer

L’Hoonage: Love weird French vehicles? Vintage 60s promo films? Vehicular hoonage? Answer yes to any (or all) of those questions, and you might like this launch video for the 1965 Berliet Stradair, whose avant-garde styling, luxurious cabin, and full air-suspension essentially rendered it the Citroen DS of the medium-duty truck segment. Berliet was hot to show off the (then) revolutionary air suspension on film. How best to do that? Apparently, the answer was to jump it at high speeds and let an aerobatic daredevil climb behind the wheel and powerslide a bare chassis around a track. Vaughn Gitten Jr, eat your heart out.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor 

Show Time: With the arrival of the warm weather—or, in the northeast, the sweltering hot weather—comes auto show season. This past weekend I donned the blue blazer to judge at the Greenwich Concours, in Connecticut. The two-day event is especially interesting because there is an entirely different field of cars on each day: domestics on Saturday and imports on Sunday. Sunday’s best-of-show winner was a 1947 Ferrari 159S Spyder Corsa, said to be the oldest known Ferrari. Saturday’s winner was a 1914 Locomobile Model 48 Speedster, which happened to be in a category I judged; we were particularly impressed that the owner had driven it down from Bedford, New York to the show.

Joe Lorio, Senior Editor

Carbon-Fiber Everything: I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Roger Penske has a carbon-fiber toothbrush. While perusing the pits last Sunday prior to the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, I was surprised to discover that not only are Penske Racing’s Indy cars constructed largely of carbon fiber, but so is much of the team’s equipment. Some of the most remarkable carbon-fiber stuff: the pit-box control station’s canopy and its poles (pictured) as well as the shroud for the toolbox-embedded video monitor. These lightweight carbon-fiber pieces probably save several gallons of fuel for the race haulers over the course of a travel-intensive season, but there’s no doubt that they look cool.

Unfortunately for Mr. Penske, the don of the Belle Isle event, Helio Castroneves’ fifth-place finish on Saturday was the best result among Penske Racing’s three IRL cars in the Detroit twin bill. Penske’s engine supplier, race sponsor Chevrolet, also had a disappointing weekend, as Honda-powered cars captured five out of the six available podium positions in the two feature events in Detroit.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

Peter Perfect and a Peugeot: I was elated earlier this week when I came across this Brazilian-market ad for Peugeot’s new 208 hatchback. Not only does it prominently feature the stylish 208, it also has real-life-versions of much of the cast from Hannah Barbera’s “Wacky Races” cartoon of the 1960s. I remember spending weekends lying on the floor of our family room choosing to watch “Wacky Races” over other cartoons, realizing that, no matter how wacky, cars would always be my first love.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

“Driving” the Future: I told the automotive technology, parts supplier and tire company Continental I wanted to be the first to “drive” its automated car when they showed it to a small group of journalists in Brimley, Michigan back in February 2012. This week, I finally got my wish. Though a journalist for a German magazine got behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Passat Monday and I didn’t drive it until the second wave of the company’s event near Hanover, Germany, on Tuesday, I think I might be the first to have posted driving impressions. My impressions? It’s easy, intuitive and boring. That’s what Continental intends. Though we should be concerned for how far the future may take autonomous driving, the company sees the technology as a way of making driving safer and more pleasant, because you’ll use it to travel through traffic jams, construction zones and long, straight, boring stretches of freeway while safely reading, phone-calling or texting. Be aware, though, that Google, which also has been testing autonomous cars for several years, wants to be able to track each driver’s car trip in order to sell more information to companies that want to sell you more stuff.

Todd Lassa, Executive Editor

Light, (Not So) Fantastic: If you thought that OEM LED exterior accent lighting had reached its zenith, Mercedes-Benz has taken it even further—or hit rock-bottom—with the recent announcement of its latest accessory: an illuminated star for the grille of your Benz. The MBUSA YouTube channel deems it “subtle, but sophisticated” and refers to it as “your opportunity to announce to the world: ‘This is my Mercedes-Benz.'” Unfortunately, it also announces to the world that you have more money than taste. Let’s hope that other automakers don’t follow their lead.

Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor of Digital Platforms

From Zero to Hero: Yesterday I drove to a meeting with some folks at Kia Motors America. I’d never been to their new headquarters, which is a modernist glass and steel structure designed by the famous American architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, the same firm that did such famous skyscrapers as the John Hancock Center and Sears Tower in Chicago, where they are based. The Kia building is a stunning testament to the Korean brand’s rapid success in the American marketplace, with a soaring atrium lobby, where the entire lineup of 2013 Kia models is on display, a reflecting pool, and perfectly manicured grounds. Kia might have built a reputation in America by selling affordable, mass-market cars, but its headquarters building is first class all the way.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

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