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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

BLOWING PAST THE 100 GRAND BAR.
by Editor
23 May 2022 at 3:46pm

Editor's Note: Peter's column talks about industry pricing, complete with an update from James "Jimmy" Fu and S.L. "Sonny" King as the Fu-King Motors boys deal with supply issues like everybody else. "On The Table" features Mercedes-Benz legend Rudolph Uhlenaut's magnificent 1955 300 SLR Coupe, which recently changed hands for the highest price in automotive history. Peter talks about "America's Cathedral of Speed" - the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - in Fumes. And look for extensive coverage in both Fumes and The Line of the run-up to Sunday's running of the Indianapolis 500. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Given that everything is well and truly out of sorts right now (you mean flat-out crazy, right? -WG) or better yet, “Over Under Sideways Down” as The Yardbirds once famously sang, how did we arrive at this point? Yes, there’s the chip “thing,” the lingering supply chain “thing,” the shortage of everything “thing.” And then there’s the burgeoning pricing “thing” as in, how did we arrive at this point in time in the car business, where $60,000 is considered a mid-priced vehicle, and $100,000+ is now the accepted price of admission for the upper end of the market? 

Yes, I get it, time marches on and all that, but wasn’t it less than a decade ago when vehicles priced at $100,000 (and up) were reserved for the Aston Martins, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotica of the auto world? 

Now, the average price of a loaded luxury pickup truck from Chevy, Ford, GMC or Ram is approaching $75,000. If you get a loaded Super Duty version of one of those pickup trucks, you’re easily pushing six figures, and more. Or how about the $75,000 Ford Broncos and V8-powered 392 Jeep Wranglers?

The story is even more so for luxury SUVs in this market. Let’s face it, if a manufacturer doesn’t have a premium SUV that’s 100 Grand or above, it can’t be considered a serious player. The list of players in that arena includes Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Land Rover, Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz, and that’s just for starters. 

But then again, that 100 Grand plateau is quickly becoming a stepping stone situation, as hard as that is to comprehend, because the list of players with SUVs approaching $200,000 and above is growing exponentially. Lamborghini, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are filling that space, with Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and soon-to-be Ferrari (ugh) blowing past $200,000 and pushing $300,000+. As in, are you frickin’ kidding me?

Welcome to the new normal, apparently. Yes, I have seen all of the statistics - the growth of personal wealth and disposable income, along with the desire of affluent consumers to say “WTF?” and spend big money on their personal transportation choices to “cocoon” during and after the pandemic (you know, that pandemic, which never seems to go away). And I applaud people rediscovering the concept of hitting the road and embracing the idea of road trips they never took back in the day, because hitting the road is always a good thing. 

But 100 Grand becoming the new threshold for luxury auto manufacturers from here on out is still a little hard to swallow. Wasn’t it just a couple of years ago when prices in the $80,000 range were eye-opening? Yes, it was. But then again turning back the clock isn’t going to happen either. It seems just a moment ago when the idea of 100 Grand being the price of entry for super premium luxury was radically steep. Now? It’s feeling like a quaint notion at this point, because the market has blown past that. 

Is it sustainable? That’s a different discussion entirely. We are clearly teetering on the edge of a recessionary period, brought on by the continued supply chain chaos and lingering COVID nightmare. Not to mention the systemic pressures being fueled by the “Grand Transition” to BEVs. A giant “We’ll See” as we like to say around here, but I don’t see prices rolling back anytime soon, or ever again for that matter.

I’ve been immersed in all of this because I am in deep talks with my friends Mr. James “Jimmy” Fu and Mr. S. L. “Sonny” King, as they try to determine pricing for their new product line. 

As longtime AE readers may recall from previous columns, Jimmy and Sonny have operated in the shadows of the gigantic Chinese industrial machine for years. But for readers new to AE, I will gladly shed some light on these two flamboyant characters so they can have a more complete picture of who they are. 

Mr. Fu started manufacturing model cars in the late 70s, and it has now been confirmed that he controls every toymaking concern in China through a labyrinthian network of mom-and-pop factories and several other large conglomerates that he lords over. Mr. King became partners with Mr. Fu after initially supplying the elaborate wheels and carefully detailed tires on Mr. Fu's model cars. The two have been partners for a long time; in fact, they’re entering their fifth decade together now.

I first got to know Mr. Fu and Mr. King after they approached me at the Los Angeles Auto Show years ago. Apparently, they had stumbled upon Autoextremist.com after they first became familiar with the Internet, and they regaled me with the fact that they both learned English by having my ‘Rants’ columns translated for them. 

When I first met them, it turned into an uproarious encounter as they blurted out some of my patented phrases that they had learned phonetically, like ‘notgonnahappen.com,’ ‘halle-frickin'-luja' and 'the Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking.' (How they learned that last one remains a mystery to me.)

Mr. Fu and Mr. King have remained in close contact with me ever since. As I’ve gotten to know Jimmy and Sonny, their frenetic pace and boundless energy never cease to amaze me. The Zoom calls I receive at 3:00 p.m. my time are usually booze-filled stream-of-consciousness rants by Jimmy with Sonny yelling things over his shoulder, accompanied by stylish model types dancing to disco music in the background at their secretive Shanghai lair. And their appetites appear to be even more boundless. In fact, Jimmy is still fond of aspiring female pop stars, while Sonny is a very generous sponsor of a female gymnastic academy. 

As you might imagine, with their insatiable appetites for, well, everything, their underground garage is in a constant state of flux. Let’s just say they go through about a half-dozen cars per year, each. Fast American muscle cars are overflowing in their fleet, which is an enthusiast's cornucopia of greatest hits, including a mélange of Challengers (each modified to deliver 1100HP); an original “narrow-hipped” 427 street Cobra; a L88 Corvette; two new Corvette C8s (one black, one white); and a couple of custom-built Willys Gasser replicas from the 60s powered by race-prepared Chevy 502 big-blocks reserved for terrorizing the neighbors in the middle of the night. I have noticed that their fondness for Bourbon has progressed from Knob Creek through Basil Hayden’s to now Woodford Reserve, but that seems to change about every three months or so. 

One big change for Jimmy and Sonny is that they sold one of their twin Gulfstream G650s. Since they absolutely loved their jets, this is a huge deal. Jimmy explained that “We had to cut back, business is not so good right now. (They kept Jimmy’s, which is Jet Black and sold Sonny’s, which was Chaparral White.)

The last time I talked with Jimmy and Sonny, I was able to piece together some salient details of the Fu-King Motors future product portfolio (although it took three, lengthy, Woodford Reserve-fueled Zoom calls to do so, with much yelling – always the yelling – and the incessant disco pop playing LOUDLY in the background). Since then, I have been counseling Jimmy and Sunny about the pricing of their upcoming products.

So, as best as I can tell, here is the latest timeline – everything has been pushed back several years (“Chip Hell,” as Jimmy and Sonny said in unison) – and the projected pricing for what Fu-King Motors has coming:

2025 (pushed back from 2021): The long-awaited debut of the Fu-King Gargantuan, the six-wheeled, all-electric SUV is designed to embarrass “anything else in the market,” according to Jimmy. Flaunting some incredible numbers: 2000HP; 10,000 lbs., electric step ladders (“not steps, ladders,” Jimmy insists) and “a look that will humiliate all that other crap out there,” added Sonny. When I asked about the price, Jimmy and Sonny answered in unison: “Enough to make grown men cry!” So, what, exactly, is “enough to make grown men cry?” Jimmy laughed heartily at my hand-wringing over the new $100,000 threshold and said – with not a nanosecond's hesitation – that the Gargantuan would have a base price of $599,999. Gulp. (But, as Sonny pointed out, that’s a $100,000 price cut from where they were.)

2025 (pushed back from 2021): Another highly anticipated debut – The Fu-King Motors KickBoxer – is the boys’ answer to the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco with “unequaled” off-road performance. Boasting a carbon-fiber unibody and a kaleidoscope of different versions, including a pickup and one cryptically referred to as the “RumRunner Edition” (“it can conceal forty gallons of Bourbon!” Sonny chimed in), the KickBoxer will be powered by an all-aluminum, 2.0-liter, fuel-injected, Twin-Turbo, flat eight-cylinder motor that delivers 700HP. When asked if this could possibly be construed as overkill, Sonny quickly replied: “We will introduce our competitors to the concept of getting their asses kicked!” So, how much will it cost to kick your neighbors’ asses in their precious Wranglers and Broncos? Sonny, who was the driving force behind this program, priced it at $199,000 saying, “There is so much technology in this beast that enthusiasts will beg to get on the waiting list. You want to make a splash at cars and coffee? We got your splash right here!" (Trying to counsel the boys about pricing discipline has proved to be a futile exercise.)

2026 (I’ll believe this one when I see it): The all-electric semi-truck that looks eerily like the Bison advanced long-haul trucking concept that GM Styling created for the 1964 World’s Fair is “a definite go” for late in ’26, according to Jimmy. When I was shown photos of the concept, I thought they had resurrected the designers who did the original Bison, it looked so close to the original (see below). But this truck will be a hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric heavy truck with a range of “700+ miles,” according to Sonny. The name? “Convoy.” (It seems that Jimmy and Sonny are huge fans of the original “Smokey and The Bandit” movie and the whole C.B. radio era in the U.S.) How much? $600,000, all-in.

(GM)

The Bison heavy truck concept from GM Styling was designed for the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

2030 (If it happens at all): It’s clear that the development of the Fu-King Motors supercar has been fraught with problems from the beginning. That it has taken its toll on Jimmy and Sonny is obvious, as whenever I mention it their usual exuberant dispositions turn decidedly glum. First envisioned as a high-performance, hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric hypercar, the machine – code named “Bandini” – has been reimagined as a BEV aimed to eclipse Gordon Murray’s T.50. Said to have 1+2 seating and a curb weight of 1900 lbs., Jimmy and Sunny are still mum – and decidedly glum – on any further information, which is unusual for them, although I know they’re constantly bickering about the details. Which means you can bet that even the 2030 time-frame is a pipedream and not even close to happening. And they haven’t stopped bickering long enough to even talk about the pricing yet. Although from what I’ve seen so far, it will cost $4 million, minimum.

When I asked about products beyond 2030, the boys mimicked what I often say, chiming in again in unison, “It’s a giant we’ll see!” And, when asked if they had any plans to import their products to the U.S., the answer was a resounding, “Never!” Asked why, they answered again in unison, “Too much bullshit, too much aggravation. We’re getting too old for this shit!” 

At that point all I could say was, “I concur.”

And I am reminded of those immortal words of The Wicked Witch of the West: 

“Oh, what a world! What a world!” 

What a world, indeed.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.


MORE DELUSIONAL THINKING BROUGHT TO YOU BY VW.
by Editor
16 May 2022 at 1:34pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Every time this business seems to be lulling itself into a tedious holding pattern of waiting for “The Grand Transition” (or is it Waiting for Godot?) to EVs – with the mind-numbing cadence, predictability and years this will entail – blundering controversy always seems to be never far away. This week, it’s those rumbling, bumbling and stumbling executives from Volkswagen AG who have come to the front of the line, broadcasting their thought balloons out loud much to the consternation of everyone, especially their long-suffering U.S. dealers.

What have those preening – “we’re geniuses, just ask us” – VW executives unleashed on their unsuspecting U.S. dealers this time? VW dropped the news – totally out of the blue, of course – that the company would produce a pickup and off-road-oriented SUV for the U.S. market under the Scout name, not VW, beginning in the year 2026. 

There was very little substance to the announcement beyond that, which made VW dealers crazy and highly suspicious as to what VW’s CEO, Herbert Diess, was really up to. Was Diess aiming to cut U.S. VW dealers out of the equation and sell directly to consumers? That is a distinct possibility, as it’s commonly known that Diess is a huge, unabashed fan of St. Elon. And the fact that there were basically no other details – as in zero – about the plan forthcoming pretty much confirmed those suspicions. No plant details, no initial marketing strategy, no nothin’. Just, “Ya, we’re gonna have them in-market by 2026.”

Do the U.S. VW dealers have good reason to be suspicious? Absolutely. The German-based VW executives have a long history of abusing U.S. dealers. The abuses include: 1. Failing to acquire even a modicum of understanding of the U.S. market, let alone care. 2. Dim-bulb marketing and strategic decisions based on these same executives’ “gut feel” for what the U.S. market needed, rather than listening to direct feedback from the people who actually knew the market, aka the VW dealers. I could add several more points, like shoving unpronounceable (and nonsensical) names on VW vehicles bound for the U.S., based on the fundamental assumption made by those same German VW executives that they knew what was best, and besides, the dealers would make it work somehow. And the Germans’ steadfast refusal to listen to their U.S. dealers about the need for a larger, competitive SUV for this market to the point that it was almost too late by the time the Atlas arrived on the scene. (The Atlas has proved to be a profitable lifesaver for the brand here.) 

You’re damn right VW dealers here in the U.S. have every reason to be wary of Herbert Diess and his longing to be considered a futurist and an EV visionary when it comes to cementing VW’s future status in the “Grand Transition.” Diess’ delusional thinking is no real surprise, either, considering it has been a trademark of every German auto executive over the last 40 years, at least (see Dieter Zetsche’s “Smart car” folly, for just one glaring example). 

The train of thought for these German auto executives goes something like this: 

“I am a genius, and it will be better for all of us if you just accept that fact.” (To be fair, this applies to certain notorious U.S. auto executives too.)

“My gut feelings are far better and more accurate than any research, in-market dealer input or other reasoned advice, especially from the denizens of our U.S. market outposts.” (Ditto, see above.)

“Anyone who questions my directives or orders will be exiled to an inconsequential position, never to be heard from again.” 

But then again, none of this is surprising to any German brand dealer here in the U.S. It’s all the same refrain whether it’s Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Porsche. The horror stories from these dealers are eerily similar, and they all revolve around the fact that there has never been a more miserable lot of so-called “executives” who have done less with more than your typical German auto executive. Paraphrasing what Joe Pesci famously said in Casino: “These guys could fuck-up a cup of coffee.”

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Remember when BMW’s German executives adopted the simple word “Joy” for a global redirect of its advertising? And then they proceeded to try to shove it down the throats of its U.S. dealers? The same dealers who had been living, breathing and nurturing “The Ultimate Driving Machine” - one of the most iconic auto advertising themes of all time – for over 30 years? Yes, BMW executives in Germany actually tried to get the U.S. dealers to adopt “Joy.” And needless to say, it did not go well. BMW’s German overlords backed down, and “Joy” was never heard from or seen again here in the U.S., and “The Ultimate Driving Machine” lives on.

And then there’s Mercedes-Benz. M-B executives are the acknowledged Kings and Queens of doing less with more. They have botched model launches, tried to pawn-off faux Mercedes as real Mercedes, tried to convince the American consumer that the Smart car was actually worth considering, squandered decades of a once-glorious brand history by unleashing innumerable marketing screwups, unloaded too many models in this market by creating niches upon niches that only served to confuse buyers, while conveniently ignoring the fact that their dealers weren’t asking for them. I could go on, but you get the idea.

That’s why this latest Diess-led VW initiative has all the signs of yet another German auto executive directive based on “We know what’s best for you, even though you’re too stupid to figure it out for yourselves” kind of a play. Except this initiative stinks to high heaven, and if I were a VW dealer, I wouldn’t let Diess and his minions get away with it. 

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

(VW)

The Scout renderings released by VW last week.

 


Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG


IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY.
by Editor
9 May 2022 at 2:06pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. After watching the documentary about Sheryl Crow on Showtime – which is well worth your time by the way – one of her most famous songs stood out to me: “If It Makes You Happy.” It seems to resonate even more so than it did back in 1996, when it was first released.

Since we’re living in this era of constant rancor and seemingly relentless hatred for anything and everything – including each other – it might be a good time to step back and let things cool a bit. Or at least count to three before lashing out at the outrage du jour, because the hair-trigger overreactions are debilitating and beyond tedious at this point.

Clearly, I’m not just talking about the car business here. This so-called life we’re dealing with seems to be mired in an out-of-control series of events and hostilities that make our stomachs churn and our blood boil. That this has become an unhealthy existence is the understatement of this or any other year.

In automotive terms, the world is flat-out out of control. Cars are not only becoming prohibitively expensive, they’re in painfully short supply. (Honda dealers on average have a 3-day supply. Think about that.) And the combination of the unrelenting chip shortage and the “Grand Transition” to BEV production is compounding the problem. Do you want more? According to a report in the latest edition of Automotive News dealers are selling used cars with over 150,000 miles on them, or more, because of the shortage of vehicles overall. Yes, I know cars are better built these days, but wow. Are people really signing up for that kind of commitment to the unknown? Apparently so.

But then again, if it makes you happy, who am I to suggest otherwise? I look at the stupid money being thrown around when it comes to high-profile cars these days – both used (and new) on Bring A Trailer and in new car showrooms around the country where rapidly ascending price points know no bounds – and it is simply staggering to contemplate.  

Just one example? Once upon a time not too long ago, a Porsche was somewhat affordable, that is if you squinted tightly and gulped really hard. Now? They have joined the ranks of exotics with prices frequently approaching $200,000, or more. Porsche has long prided itself as “the most profitable car company in the world” in statements to the media, but it has now taken its place in the rarefied club of the greediest car companies extant. But they’re not alone. 

Manufacturers will bore you with their studies about demographics and wealth, that this explosion in wealth pretty much has removed traditional limits when it comes to luxury vehicle prices, but I wonder when this “greed circus” will all come crashing down upon their collective bottom lines? It’s not just the German and Italian manufacturers, either. The wave of brand-new Broncos on BaT that approach six-figures – and more – is eye-popping. This goes far beyond the classic first-on-the-block syndrome that has been part of this business almost since its inception. No, this is something else altogether. I have no doubt that a lot of the pricing shenanigans going on right now in this business are simply unsustainable. But then again, I’ve never seen the Swinging Dick-ism Meter being pegged as it is right now. It seems that people have an insatiable desire to flaunt their – ahem – wares through their four-wheel conveyances, more so than at any other time in history. Who would have thought that being “The Biggest Tool in the Shed” would carry such appeal? 

But I digress. Men and women can’t – and shouldn’t – live by the car business alone, in case you haven’t noticed. Yes, I know, in this company town that notion is hard to fathom, but it’s the High-Octane Truth. After all, when you travel to other parts of the country, where anything related to automotive news doesn’t even merit mention in the local newspaper or website business sections and media outlets, you’re quickly reminded that people in the rest of the world really don’t care all that much. I like to remind people buried in this business that this is the case, because I think it’s helpful to at least retain a shred of perspective.

I once counseled an executive friend of mine who was having a terrible time with the then-current leadership at his company. I could see it in his face that it was weighing on him dramatically, and it was getting dangerously close to the point of affecting his health. I pointed out to him that one distinct advantage he had was that he could avail himself of the more fun aspects of this business without “interference” from above. In other words, to go do the things that would make him happy, and I encouraged him to do so whenever he had the chance. I had a conversation with him several months later and he said it was the best advice he ever received. 

Getting back to this idea of stepping back and giving things a little time before jumping on a position or lashing out seems like a strong course of action at this juncture. Living in a state of having a constant short fuse is dangerous for any number of reasons. As Chris Rock once famously said: “They say life is short. No, it ain’t. Life is looong if you’re unhappy.” Truer words were never spoken. 

No, this isn’t a mind-numbing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” sermon. Not by a long shot. Are you kidding? In these too often grim times we’re living in worrying is part and parcel of our existence. And that won’t go away by wishing it to be so. But you can step back and step away, even if it’s for a moment. And do something that makes you happy. If that means going for a long ride or drive to nowhere, then by all means, do it. If it means immersing yourself in a good book or some kick-ass music, why not? 

One thing you can’t do is to stew and percolate in your own juices. If you do that long enough you will start seriously impacting your health. Step back and step away for a while. As Sheryl says:

If it makes you happy
It can’t be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG


WE?RE GOING TO MISS IT.
by Editor
2 May 2022 at 11:31am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. After experiencing two of the three best vehicles GM has ever built, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Cadillac CT5 V-Series Blackwing, and with the third coming next week – the Cadillac CT4 V-Series Blackwing – I can safely say that these milestone machines are a testament to the True Believers, the men and women responsible for every inch of them, GM’s “Best and Brightest” in every respect.

As I said last week, as much as I loved the exceptional Corvette Stingray, the Cadillac CT5 V-Series Blackwing broke my personal meter for cars I have experienced. But confining praise to the straight-line ferocity of the CT5-V Series Blackwing doesn't do it justice. The combination of that supercharged V8 – the throttle response is fantastic – the slick-shifting gearbox, the big-ass ceramic brakes and a chassis precisely fine-tuned to the last responsive detail makes the CT5 V-Series Blackwing one of the most compelling high-performance machines I have ever driven. In fact, I have to say that this Cadillac is the one machine I would want, more than any other, to ride out the end of the ICE Age with, and it is simply the finest car I have ever driven. I understand the ramifications of that statement, that it translates to high praise indeed considering all of the fantastic machines I have had the opportunity to drive over the years, but it is the High-Octane Truth.

But there is something more than a little melancholy about experiencing these peak ICE Age machines, because we are fast approaching the end of the road for them. And I find that to be distressing and decidedly depressing. Yes, I understand where everything is going, the inexorable march to this “Grand Transition” to a BEV industry and infrastructure is picking up momentum by the day. Where that eventually takes us remains to be seen, but everyone in this business is hell bent on getting there. There will be advantages to be sure, especially in urban areas, but there will be disadvantages, too, some of which we can’t foresee, no matter how accurate the predictions seem to be.

One clear disadvantage for me that is glaringly apparent is the sound – or lack thereof – associated with BEVs. The “soulless appliance” aspect of these machines is exacerbated by the mindless whir associated with them. And after having the CT5 V-Series Blackwing for a week, I can safely say that there is no electric vehicle – or electric vehicle with synthesized sound – that can compare to the visceral sound of a high-performance V8. Or will compare, for that matter. 

It’s funny (but not really) that recently, some “concerned” citizens around here have expressed their sour displeasure about the “noise” emanating from Woodward Avenue, especially at night. What they’re complaining about is the rumble from the high-performance machines being – ahem – “exercised” on the most famous strip of asphalt in America. Now, admittedly, some nights it sounds like echoes from the old Detroit Dragway (or even the high banks at Daytona), with big cubic inch monster V8s barking their sweet soul music, but I fail to see – or hear – the problem. After all this is the soundtrack of the Motor City. We’re not known for sewing machines around here, thank goodness. We’re known for hot-rodded V8s (and even V6s), it’s part of the fabric of this area, and to pretend otherwise is just, well, I don’t know, disingenuous? Stupid? Disheartening?

Yes, I know, the times are a changin’, but this march to BEV Nirvana is going to have some negative consequences. And pressing the “mute” button on the mechanical sounds of the ICE Age is the biggest one for me. Yes, of course, I grew up immersed in the glory days of this business, but this is one aspect of the burgeoning BEV Age that will never sit well with me.

After all, I’ll never forget the sounds from the open pipes on the ’59 corvette Sting Ray racer.

Or the 289 Cobra and the Shelby GT350 Mustang and that distinctive mechanical rasp of those hopped-up Ford V8s. (And the time I was invited by its owner to wheel a freshly-restored 427 Cobra on Telegraph Road in the early 70s. He said “go ahead and punch it” then begged me to slow down as I shifted into fourth gear with my foot still well and truly in it.)

Or the unmistakable guttural roar from a Chevy 427 L88 big-block in an “A” Production Corvette, a sound you could hear around racetracks all over America in the 60s and 70s (or on the street, if you were lucky enough).

And even better, the glorious noise from a 500-cu. in. fuel-injected V8 in the back of a Can-Am McLaren, flat-out at Road America. To this day, there is nothing like it, and never will be, frankly.

Or the fantastic sounds emanating from the turbo V8s ricocheting off of the walls and grandstands at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A truly singular experience.

And even now, with the Dodge Hellcat Challengers and Chargers, the clear favorite machine of choice on Woodward these days (and nights).

Or the fantastic sound from the supercharged V8 in the Cadillac CT5 V-Series Blackwing, something I’m absolutely sure I will never get tired of.

And I have many, many more ICE highlights in my memory bank, to be sure.

I intend on immersing myself in the experience of a high-performance ICE V8 for as long as I possibly can. Because despite the eye-popping performance numbers generated by EVs, they will never compare to the thrilling aural appeal of a high-performance ICE machine. It's just not possible.

When the streets and byways of America go silent with the perceived – both real and imagined – bliss of BEVs, and the sounds of ICE Age machines slowly fade away except for special car events and at racetracks, I am quite sure about one thing:

We’re going to miss it.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.


THE CORVETTE ELECTRIFIED.
by Editor
25 Apr 2022 at 12:45pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. GM President, Mark Reuss made a special announcement on LinkedIn on Monday (4/25): "Some time ago we moved the Corvette team into the EV space in Warren, Michigan, and when we revealed the new mid-engine Corvette, I said there would be 'more to come.' This morning I sat down with Phil LeBeau of CNBC and finally answered the question I’ve been asked countless times. Yes, in addition to the amazing new Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and other gas-powered variants coming, we will offer an electrified and a fully electric, Ultium-based Corvette in the future. In fact, we will offer an electrified Corvette as early as next year. Details and names to come at a later date. In addition, we also announced today Ultium Platform’s energy recovery system, a patented onboard system that takes the heat generated by EV batteries and uses it to warm the cabin, create more efficient charging conditions, and even increase vehicle acceleration. And it can boost the vehicle’s range by about 10%. It’s a perfect example of how developing a ground-up EV platform like Ultium enables unique features not easily done with a retrofit."  Watch the teaser video in On The Table.

An electrified Corvette? Yes, and it was inevitable. Those in the know around this town knew that GM’s Best and Brightest, the True Believers responsible for the three greatest ICE cars in the company’s history – the mid-engine Corvette, the Cadillac CT5-V Series Blackwing, and the Cadillac CT4-V Series Blackwing – had been moved to GM’s EV development programs two years ago. The significance of this move did not go unnoticed, and it underscored GM’s all-hands-on-deck commitment to electrification.

The Mark Reuss announcement confirmed what was already known around GM, and that was the fact that a Hybrid C8 was already nearing the final production development phase, and that the ninth-generation Corvette would be fully electric. Now, before anyone starts wailing about the “end of the ICE Age for Corvette!” let me be clear: I can safely say that the ICE Corvette – in all of its upcoming iterations, including the Z06 and more – will be around for a long, long time. The Corvette will be available in an ICE version, a hybrid and eventually a fully-electric machine. And they will all be built in the same Corvette manufacturing facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

To me, this pragmatic approach for the future of the Corvette makes excellent sense. Rather than turn off the core Corvette buyers, you give them propulsion options of their choosing going forward. Having experienced a 2022 Corvette over the past week (see On The Table – WG), I called it “one of the most seductive combinations of power and overall performance that money can buy.” The sound of that high-performance V8 in the Corvette is mesmerizing and addictive. Longtime readers know my predilection for V8 power, and I must say that the new Corvette offers everything I want and more. The sound alone is worth the price of admission, and the scintillating overall performance is just icing on that V8-powered cake.

But that’s what I prefer. For many others – and especially for the buyers new to the Corvette brand – a hybrid version makes perfect sense. You only have to consider the spectacular new Ferrari 296 GTB to understand where all of this is going. This new Ferrari offers a combined 819HP from its mid-mounted V6 and 6.0-kWh electric motor. You can assume that a Corvette competitor to this machine is a given, especially given the talents and capabilities of GM’s True Believers.

But they aren’t stopping there, because a fully-electric Corvette is “what’s next” down the road. The biggest challenge by far for GM engineers will be to deal with the one thing about EVs that puts a damper on overall performance, and that is the huge weight penalty that comes with the mass of the batteries. GM’s proprietary Ultium platform bristles with many design breakthroughs and technological advances, but it’s also burdened by the one thing that plagues all EVs, and that is its crushing weight.

But I wouldn’t bet against GM’s “best and brightest” when it comes to solving these challenges for the next-gen Corvette. After all, the pundits “out there” said that designing, engineering and manufacturing a mid-engine high-performance sports car that adhered to the Corvette’s cost-effective mission couldn’t be done. “They” were proved wrong of course, as the new Corvette delivers on its mission and then some. 

And with lighter-weight batteries and other BEV-related technology progressing at a furious rate, I have no doubt that by the time a ninth-generation Corvette makes its debut, it will deliver on its high-performance mission as well.

The Mark Reuss announcement today confirmed a lot of known facts and rumors about Corvette’s future plans. And for current and future Corvette enthusiasts, the news has to be encouragingly optimistic.

I share that enthusiasm and optimism, because after experiencing the 2022 Corvette, I have no doubt that GM’s True Believers are up to the task at hand.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG


CORVETTES I HAVE KNOWN.
by Editor
19 Apr 2022 at 10:42am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As longtime readers well know, the Chevrolet Corvette has played an inexorable role in my ongoing car addiction. I’ve been honored to have experienced some of the most famous and spectacular Corvettes ever built in period and in real time. Those experiences are forever etched in my mind, and for reasons I’ll explain later, I think it’s high time I give you a glimpse into Corvette history, because for me, it never gets old.

(GM)
The 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer photographed at the GM Styling viewing courtyard in 1960. 

The 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer. As I’ve stated many, many times in these pages, this machine is my all-time favorite car. I first saw it one blistering summer afternoon in our neighborhood in 1962, and I will never forget that day. I was still in my bike-riding days back then, but I remember resting with my buddies on a corner in our neighborhood after a long, hot day of riding around aimlessly – we did that often back then – when we heard a rumble and roar coming from off in the distance. I knew right away that it wasn't motorcycles and that it was more than one of whatever it was – and just then a pack of the most stunning cars we'd ever seen burst around the corner and came rumbling right past us – the sun glinting off the barking pipes and the canopy of trees shimmering off the perfect mirror finishes of the paint jobs. This "horsepower train" was led by the 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer in Silver, followed by the XP700 Corvette (a "bubble-top" show car with side pipes also in Silver – it was Mitchell's favorite color), the first Mako Shark Corvette and a concept called the Corvair Super Spyder (also in Silver), a wild, racing-inspired show car with dual cut-down racing windscreens and three pipes curling out and around each side in the back. 

(GM)
A rare photo of the Corvette Sting Ray racer in its original red livery, taken at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, in 1959.

(GM)
The Corvette Sting Ray racer as it appears today.

(conceptcarz.com)
The Corvette Sting Ray racer "live" at a car show.

(GM)
The 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer and the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray production car photographed at the GM Styling viewing courtyard in the fall of 1962.

(GM)
Bill Mitchell photographed with the 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer and the 1961 Corvette Mako Shark at the test track, GM Technical Center, 1961.

They were so loud we couldn't even hear ourselves screaming whatever it was we were screaming, but after a split second to think about it we took off, pedaling our guts out after them. It was apparent that these machines were heading for our part of the neighborhood – and as we tried to keep them in sight, I realized they were turning on to my cross street…

We came around the corner and saw them pull into a driveway, exactly one block from my house. We stopped right at the end of the driveway with our mouths gaping down to the asphalt, as the drivers of the other cars handed the keys to the driver of the Sting Ray and he took them up to the front door where a woman collected them. Then, an Impala pulled up and the four men got in it and were gone, leaving the cars sitting in the driveway all lined up ticking and spitting as their pipes started to cool. This became the Friday afternoon ritual in the summer, because that’s the way Bill Mitchell wanted it. GM’s legendary design chief liked having a selection of his toys to play with on the weekends, and I was lucky enough to live just a block away from him.

All of those cars were special, but the ’59 Sting Ray racer was by far my favorite the moment I laid eyes on it. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing the original Sting Ray racer in person, it is a stunning machine. (Although for those who haven’t, you might not be prepared for how compact it is.) 

Its taut, beautifully rendered lines absolutely glow in Mitchell’s favorite color – German racing “silver arrow” metallic – and as I said, to this day it remains my all-time favorite car. A favorite story? When Ed Welburn took over the reins of GM Design many years ago, the first thing he did was order the restoration of the ’59 Sting Racer, which had fallen into neglect and in desperate need of rejuvenation. And the GM artisans did a phenomenal job bringing it back to its previous glory. But the one area they didn’t touch? The seats, because Ed wanted them to remain in their original condition, in honor of all of the famous people who sat in them. An exquisite touch, and it remains the jewel of GM’s collection of historic vehicles.

No, I don’t count myself as one of those famous people, but I did have the honor of riding shotgun in the ’59 Sting Ray racer several times with Bill Mitchell at the wheel. The memory remains as technicolor vibrant as if it happened yesterday.

(GM)
The wild 1958 Corvette XP-700 concept from GM Styling.

(GM)
Another angle of the Corvette XP-700. 

1958 Corvette XP-700 concept. This wild Corvette concept was the first car I rode in with Bill Mitchell at the wheel. Some may not like the looks of this beast, but it was surprisingly alluring in person. The one thing I can report is that its “bubble” top – which was an infatuation of Mitchell’s at the time – redefined the concept of “solar gain” as it baked your brains out in the summer sun. And that was fine with me, because to ride around in that cool, futuristic machine was a treat beyond words. The XP-700 eventually disappeared. Why? It became the underpinnings of the next car…

(GM)
The 1961 Corvette Mako Shark I. 

1961 Corvette Mako Shark. The Mako Shark concept (XP-755) was another thing altogether. This machine bristled with remarkable details, like the “gills” that doubled as sequential turn signals, the glorious side pipes and, of course its bubble top. But the most remarkable characteristic was its fantastic paint job, which mimicked the gradations of a Mako Shark. That paint job was mesmerizing back then and amazing in every sense of that overused word. Today, this machine is in desperate need of a full restoration, but that paint job remains its signature. How did this all come about? One of the countless anecdotes from the Mitchell era was that he caught a Mako shark on a fishing trip in Florida and had it mounted on a wall in his office. He kept telling the designers that he wanted the paint job on the Mako Shark concept to look exactly like the shark on his wall, with the same color gradations. After Mitchell rejected several attempts at painting the XP-755 and amid growing frustration, a few designers sneaked into his office late one night while Mitchell was out of town and removed the shark from his office wall. They then had the paint shop paint Mitchell's prized catch exactly like the latest version of the paint job on the Mako Shark concept. They then put the shark back up on his wall and presented the new paint job on the Corvette Mako Shark concept to Mitchell, who pronounced it "perfect." 

(GM)
The paint job is truly wild - and stunning - on the Mako Shark I.

(GM)
The 1961 Corvette Mako Shark I as it appears today.

(GM)
The 1961 Corvette Mako Shark 1 and 1965 Corvette Mako Shark II, photographed at the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, in 1965. 

1962 Corvette Convertible. Going by the specs, this GM PR car was nothing special. It was white with a black top and black interior, and it had the 300HP 327 V8 with a four-speed gearbox. Standard fare for a Corvette back then. But it was the Corvette that we “borrowed” almost every weekend, and it was the machine that burnished “Corvette” in our collective consciousness forever.

(GM)
The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray remains one of the most iconic automobiles ever built. 

Ed Cole’s 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. We got to know Ed (and Mitchell, of course) through our father, who was in charge of GM PR from 1957-1979. Ed took note that my brother Tony and I were totally into cars, so he often would send over cars for my brother to drive. One year he sent over his personal driver, which was a 409-powered Impala with a 4-speed. The only other 409 in existence was in “Dyno” Don Nicholson’s hands at the NHRA finals. Needless to say, we had a blast mopping up everything in sight on Woodward Avenue that weekend. But the most memorable car that Ed sent over was his personal 1963 fuel-injected Corvette Sting Ray coupe in Sebring Silver (with a 4-speed gearbox, of course). The new Sting Ray had been announced, but there were none on the street yet, except for Ed’s company car. To this day, the Sting Ray was one of the most dramatic and memorable auto introductions of all-time, and driving it that weekend was like piloting a rolling space ship. No other car said “The Future” like the first Corvette Sting Ray. It was simply spectacular.


(The DeLorenzo Archives)

Watkins Glen, 1964. The "Zora-ized" Corvette Sting Ray coupe as it appeared for the SCCA Driver's school that summer. Note the straight pipes out the back.

The 1964 “Zora-ized” Corvette Sting Ray. By early summer of 1964, my brother Tony’s automotive bug started to seriously turn toward sports car racing. He innocently asked "big" Tony if we could order a Corvette company car for the summer, and little did he know that the adventure was just beginning. As my brother said: "He made two errors: 1.) He agreed to do it and 2.) He let us order it!" And order it we did: A Black/Black 1964 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe with Heavy Duty finned drum brakes; Heavy Duty gearbox; knock-off aluminum wheels and radio delete. Little did our father know that Tony planned to take it to SCCA Driver's School in Watkins Glen, New York. So, the moment we got it we took the interior carpeting out, took the bumpers off, removed the spare tire carrier, and then we had a roll bar put in and we were good to go. Or so we thought. While Tony was sitting at his desk at Chevrolet Sales Promotion (his summer job) a few days later the phone rang. This is how he remembers it:  

"Hello?" 

"Tony, this is Zora Duntov." Yikes, it was the God of the Corvette calling. "Your father has ordered a heavy-duty Corvette. Who is going to drive it?"  

"Um… He is?!!"  

Silence.  

"Who is going to drive it?"  

"Um, I am." 

“What are you going to do with it?”  

"Uhhh… I'm going to go to SCCA driver’s school at Watkins Glen." 

“Ok.” 

And “God” hung up. But not before requesting that we drop the car off at Chevrolet Engineering in Warren so he could "take care of a few things." Two weeks later we went back to get the car, and Zora took Tony out to the little test track that sits inside the Tech Center. And there it was, it was the same Corvette but it sat lower and it was wearing the biggest Goodyear Blue Streak racing tires that could fit inside the fenders on the knock-off wheels. Zora also pointed out that the stock exhaust system underneath now had flanges just in front of the mufflers. Those flanges had been put on by Bill Mitchell's famous Styling Garage mechanic, Ken Eschebech, so that once we got to Watkins Glen, we could attach 4' long straight pipes designed to hang on special hangers, so that they would shoot straight out the back. Because, well, you can't run a Driver's School at Watkins Glen with standard mufflers, right? Zora was a genius.

But those changes were just the tip of the iceberg. The car had been completely gone through, including the brakes, the suspension and sure enough, the engine. In retrospect, we were convinced that Zora had the engine yanked, gone through and tweaked, because the thing was a rocket. 

That trip to Watkins Glen was an adventure unto itself. We arrived very late one night at the rustic Glen Motor Inn, and the one and only Vic Franzese checked us in, but not before he could show us his beautiful Lotus 11. The school went exceptionally well for Tony; at one point the Chief Instructor went to ride a couple of laps with him and emerged muttering something like "he's doesn't need any more instruction" – and that was the beginning of his racing life. The return trip was eventful, too, as were so tired by the end of the weekend that we said, "screw it" and left the straight pipes on, rattling hearts and bones all the way back. 

There's more to this story. It was getting toward the end of that summer, when dad informed us that the car had to go back to Chevrolet to be put back into stock condition. It turns out that our oldest sister's boyfriend at the time, who lived in Chicago, had expressed interest in buying the car. We took the roll bar out, piled the stock components in it and voila! It returned two weeks later as if none of it happened, with dad saying: “When that car comes back to the house, don’t touch it!” We didn't. The sad end to this chapter? The guy in Chicago had it for two days. On the second night it was stolen, stripped – and totaled.

Dollie Cole's "Bluebird" 1965 Sting Ray convertible. Ed Cole was the brilliant engineering genius and true enthusiast who was one of the creators of the small block Chevrolet V8 and who led GM Product Development in its heyday. Ed is a true icon of the industry. Dollie was his radiant wife, a fierce defender of all things Ed and a fiery enthusiast in her own right. She roared around Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham - two northern suburbs of Detroit - in her '65 Nassau Blue Corvette roadster with a white interior, a removable hard top, a 4-speed and side pipes. Dollie also had a lead foot and drove the hell out of it. She famously dubbed it her "Bluebird." Ed stuffed a big-block 396 V8 in it months before the engines were released to the public. She let Tony borrow it on several occasions. It was quick and suitably loud. 

(GM)
The 1965 Corvette Mako Shark II, another stunning machine from GM Styling.

The 1965 Corvette Mako Shark II. What can be said about this machine other than the fact that Bill Mitchell and his handpicked designers turned the dial up past “11” to come up with one of the most iconic Corvette shapes of all time? The obvious successor to the Mako Shark I, the “II” bristled with spectacular details that even today – in its “Manta Ray” guise – resonate mightily. 

(GM)
The Mako Shark II transformed into the 1969 Corvette Manta Ray, which is how it appears today.

(GM)
The 1969 Corvette Manta Ray photographed at GM Styling in Warren, Michigan.

(The DeLorenzo Racing Archives)
Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin, May, 1967. Tony DeLorenzo's first race in a Corvette - and first win in "A" Production - came at an SCCA Regional in Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin, in this brand-new 1967 L88 Corvette Sting Ray roadster sponsored by Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit. It was also the first time a 427 Cobra encountered the new L88 in an "A" Production race. This well-traveled Sting Ray is one of the most valuable Corvettes in the world not named "Grand Sport."

The 1967 Corvette 427 L88 racing car. Tony began his racing career in something much more realistic and affordable than a Corvette, which turned out to be a '65 Corvair. We started out pounding around at our local track here in Michigan – Waterford Hills – and from there it was on to Nelson Ledges, Ohio, and Mid-Ohio; a one-time event at an airport in Grayling, Michigan; Lime Rock Park, Vineland (New Jersey); and on and on. Two years later Tony talked Hanley Dawson, who owned Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit at the time, into sponsoring a Corvette in SCCA Racing. And after he agreed to do that, we ordered one of 20 L88 Corvettes made in 1967, in Black, of course (it actually turned out to be the first one built that year). I’ll never forget going down to the dealership after it arrived and taking it around the block. The thing was a monster in every sense of the word, and the sound that L88 made was spiritual. The first weekend we had it we installed a roll bar, replaced the stock exhaust system with a set of "OK Kustom" headers (from Flint), added a set of “Torq-Thrust” American Racing wheels, a set of Firestone racing tires, and we removed the windshield, cut the windshield posts down and put a plexiglass windscreen on. The debut race – and win – for Tony and that famous L88 Corvette came six weeks later in an SCCA Regional race at an obscure road race track in Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin. He went on to qualify for the SCCA Runoffs with that car, and then it eventually disappeared. It surfaced again, and after Tony documented its authenticity, it was restored back to its street configuration; then it was returned to its racing configuration – with Tony driving it in the Monterey Historics – then back again to its street configuration. This has become one of the most valuable L88 Corvettes in existence, and I think the last time it changed hands was for just under $2 million.

The 1969 Corvette “Daytona GT” L88 convertible. After the Owens/Corning Fiberglas sponsorship came to fruition (read “The Glory Days” series here -WG), we had the idea of building a limited-run of street Corvettes that would be branded as “Corvette Daytona GTs.” We build a prototype, which was based on a Black/Black (of course) Corvette convertible powered by a 427 L88 and equipped with our competition headers and side pipes, our FIA-specific Plexiglas covered front headlights, American “Torq-Thrust” wheels and racing tires. We even displayed it at the Detroit Auto Show at Cobo Hall that year. From the “Best Laid Plans” File, the demands of our burgeoning – and successful – racing effort overwhelmed everything else, and the Daytona GT idea fell by the wayside. But that wasn’t exactly the end of the story. The car was stored at my parent’s house, and I was tasked with keeping it in running condition, which I performed with relish. Needless to say, a Black/Black L88 Corvette with open side pipes caused quite a stir on Woodward and the surrounding environs. It was the quintessential Bad Ass machine. What happened to it? A Lufthansa Airlines co-pilot befriended Tony at Daytona, and he eventually asked if he would consider selling him a OCF-prepared Corvette. A deal was reached, and the Daytona GT was converted to OCF Corvette Racing specs. But not before Randy Wittine, the brilliant GM designer who created all of our iconic racing team liveries back then, came up with a wild “psychedelic” paint job for it that was drop-dead gorgeous. (Pictures exist somewhere, but they haven’t turned up.) Tony and I dropped it off at Detroit’s Metro airport, and watched it being loaded on to a Lufthansa freighter. That pilot proceeded to terrorize the equivalent of German SCCA national racing with that monster, humbling the usual assortment of Porsche 911s in the process. The car ended up back in the states somehow and is now used for vintage racing. Another Corvette life well-lived.  

The 2022 Corvette Stingray Coupe. I am trying out a 2022 Corvette Stingray Coupe over the next few days, and I will have a report on it in our “On The Table” column next week. The well-optioned machine looks fantastic in its Hypersonic Gray Metallic and its “Morello Red Dipped” interior. And so, a new chapter begins…

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

(GM Styling)
Bill Mitchell pulling out of his driveway on Bradway Boulevard in Bloomfield Village, Michigan, in the 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer. He drove his favorite cars all the time.


THE AUTOEXTREMIST MANIFESTO RECHARGED.
by Editor
12 Apr 2022 at 8:08am

By Peter M DeLorenzo

Detroit. Yes, the inexorable automotive march continues. To where, no one really knows for sure. The EV thing is definitely coming, and it will be coming over the next fifteen years. Make no mistake, the developments in battery technology, weight reduction and charging speed are unfolding at a furious pace, and the seemingly insurmountable problems of today will give way to radical solutions in seven to ten years. 

In the meantime, the show pony EVs – the six-figure-plus vehicles of all stripes – will continue to dominate the headlines, but the tipping point will be when the more affordable mainstream EVs arrive. Even so, until the public charging infrastructure is dramatically improved – and steps are taken to anticipate and improve the supply of electricity – the EV “thing” is going to play out in fits and starts. As I’ve said many times before, when you can pull off the highway and get a 80 percent charge in five minutes or less, you will know that the EV “moment” has arrived. 

Some have suggested to me that the High-Octane Truth will not survive that “moment.” But rest assured, that will not be the case. This business remains a kaleidoscope of vision, projection and yes, even the day-to-day mundane. That has been the reality of this business since its inception. And that will not change anytime soon.

And where does that leave AE?

Every now and then I think it’s an excellent idea to take a step back and remind people what this publication is all about. It’s good for the mind, it clears the air and it provides a moment of clarity for the lost souls wandering around in the automotive wilderness, the ones who can’t seem to separate the real from the imagined, or the pipe dreams from what’s truly important.

I find most of the confusion lies with the unfortunates who have managed to create their own very special fantasies about their place in this motorized circus. Because some of you out there seem to get confused, or some of you let your self-appointed “insider” view – which is loosely based on a remarkable propensity for self-delusion when it comes to your place in the automotive world – get in the way. Which is inherently sad, because learning to live in world of disappointment must be a particularly tedious cross to bear, but I digress.

As I’ve said repeatedly, this business isn’t for the faint of heart. And though it seems that there are still legions of recalcitrant twerps, two-bit hacks and spineless weasels running around out there who add nothing of import to the discussion and who pump up their self-worth for reasons that remain a mystery, the real essence of the business remains unsullied.

When we first contemplated doing Autoextremist, I wrote a manifesto for what it was and what it was not. Today it seems like a good time to update it, because some of you out there, as I said, seem to be confused.

First things first, and this is something that too many still find out the hard way – I’m talking to you, Elon –that designing, engineering and building automobiles is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth. And to do it properly takes vision, creativity and an unwavering passion that makes other pursuits seem positively ordinary.

Note that there is nothing in there about doing it just good enough to get by, engineering to the lowest common denominator, covering your ass or any of the other pillars of “standard operating procedure” that once dominated certain quarters of this business and have been, for the most part, purged.

Except that isn’t really true, unfortunately. All the bad old habits are still present and accounted for and then some, and as much as reasoned, logical and eminently bright executives in charge at these auto companies protest otherwise and insist that “we don’t do that stuff anymore,” that kind of bad behavior is just one wrong product or marketing decision away from rearing its ugly head, and usually at the most inopportune time too.

That’s what we do here in this publication, in case you haven’t noticed. We expose the go-along-to-get-alongs and the kick-the-can-down-the-road hordes on a regular basis, because the damage they cause can bring these companies to their knees in a heartbeat. 

This is a key point in the Autoextremist Manifesto, because it resonates throughout this business. This just in: Mediocrity – in any way, shape or form – isn’t bliss. Instead, it’s an insidious disease that has not only decimated this industry, it has screwed up life as we used to know it too.

At some point this business – and American life – turned down the wrong path. Pushing the envelope, getting knocked down and picking yourself back up and going at it again, battling to the buzzer, and striving for achievement were part and parcel of the upward trajectory of the automobile business – and country – we used to live in. Achieving greatness wasn’t just a goal, it was an expectation to shoot for, because anything less would be, well, ordinary. And even worse, boring.

In the old days, this business often gave way to an unspoken attitude of just doing enough to get by because when it came right down to it, judging by the chorus of muttering I used to hear, doing more begged the question, “Does it really make all that much difference?” Back then, fundamental accountability was replaced by “It’s not my problem.” And “It’s okay, at least you tried” not only became more than just an acceptable phrase, but a mantra that too many people lived by. After all, when everyone got a group hug and a trophy just for showing up, why bother extending effort to do better, or achieve greatness, or strive to be the best?

Why bother, indeed.

The result? Abject mediocrity became a virulent disease in this business (and rampant throughout the country too). I recall some people saying to me (and with a straight face), “Get over it, it’s the world we live in today.” But I didn’t buy it then because it was simply unacceptable to me. And I’m not buying it now either, which is why I will continue to call people and companies out on it whenever and wherever I see it. It’s not a value-added path for this business, and it’s already proven not to be the answer for the country, either.

The stellar machines of our day – and we are living in the golden age of automotive greatness in case you haven’t noticed – aren’t the product of “it’s good enough.” Instead, these machines bristle with the passion, vision and commitment of the men and women who created them, those “True Believers” that I often write about. If it weren’t for them, this business would be riding on the Last Train to Nowhere, next stop, Oblivion.

Railing against mediocrity and mediocrity “creep” is an essential component of the Autoextremist Manifesto. And it’s not confined to the designing, engineering and building of automobiles, unfortunately.

The marketers at these car companies can be wildly suspect as well, too often taking the easy way out when the situation is just aching for a bold move. That they often end up taking the road frequently traveled rather than risk ruffling some feathers, even though their gut tells them the results will be well worth it, is a sad commentary. Because repackaged tedium stinks; it always has and it always will.

Are there exceptions and exceptional people involved in the marketing functions at these companies and their advertising agencies? Yes, absolutely. And thank goodness. The creative cream still rises to the top, and when it emerges in a bit of magic it is something to savor.

And let’s not forget the media, because mediocrity is prevalent there too. In fact, I maintain a reservoir of intense loathing for certain journalists on the auto beat who blithely sleepwalk through their coverage, performing rote regurgitations spoon-fed from the company PR staffs and calling it news (or even worse, writing) because after all, going-along-to-get-along is a lot easier than having their oftentimes clueless editors field a phone call from an irate PR minion who is upset about a story.

Ever wonder why there’s sameness to the coverage of the auto business? That you can plug and play stories from one publication to another and not see any difference? There’s a reason for it. It’s a lot easier to cover the auto companies the way they want you to, because going against the grain is difficult, because bad things happen to those who don't toe the line.

Thankfully, there’s no danger of that happening here. Going against the grain is our specialty. It’s what we do best and why you keep coming back. I don’t say what people want me to say; in fact, as much as the mediocrity-brandishing hordes (oh, you know who you are, the recalcitrant twerps, the self-important hacks clinging to their little piece of the pie – and their dubious titles – by their fingernails, hoping to get out before being exposed for the worthless parasites they truly are, and of course the spineless weasels who continue to wreak their particular brand of righteous intransigence and havoc to the detriment of companies everywhere. Yeah, you) who are so protective of their pathetic little fiefdoms want me to sit down and be quiet – for good – the likelihood of that happening is slim. And none.

As a matter of fact, I’ve got really bad news for those who so wish I would just go away, because the Autoextremist Manifesto has been recharged and powered up to a new level of intensity.

You won’t find restrictor-plates, aero matching or “spec” anything around here.

For many, the kind of unflinching commentary that we specialize in is like a tonic for the soul in this swirling maelstrom of shit masquerading as the world we live in today.

As for the rest of you?

Well, it’s quite simple: You can’t handle the High-Octane Truth.


THE LATEST FROM THE SWIRLING MAELSTROM FILE.
by Editor
3 Apr 2022 at 2:42pm

Editor's Note: If you've enjoyed Peter's recent columns about his High-Octane Life, I'm sure you will enjoy his special series - "The Glory Days" - the inside story of his brother Tony's racing career, which begins in this week's "Fumes." Tony is one of the most successful Corvette racers of all time and a member of the Corvette Hall of Fame (2009). And Peter's recounting of the exploits of the famous Owens/Corning Corvette Racing Team has been one of the most popular and widely read pieces ever to appear in these pages. I think you'll really enjoy it, because it perfectly captures a different time and a different era, one never to be repeated. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. This business has become a churning, burning hunk of love-hate. On the one hand, dealers are making ca$h-ola hand over fist (more on that later). On the other, automotive production is spiraling downward, as are automaker profits. And the list of ingredients churning the “new” auto business is growing more precarious by the day. 

The silicon chip shortage situation isn’t going away. In fact, it is being amplified by the war in Ukraine. It turns out that several key automotive components are sourced in Ukraine, and the shortage has already decimated European automakers in particular, and it threatens the rest of the global automakers as well. A specific example? Between 45% to 54% of the world’s semiconductor-grade neon, critical for the lasers used to make chips, comes from two Ukrainian companies, according to Reuters. Both firms have shuttered their operations, according to company representatives contacted by Reuters. The stoppage casts an ominous cloud over the worldwide output of chips, already in short supply after the coronavirus pandemic drove up demand for cellphones, laptops and eventually, automobiles. This situation will become even more critical as it plays out over the next few months.

But that’s just one part of this burgeoning Shit Show. As I said, auto dealers are very happy, at least for now, because the dealer business has been turned upside down overnight. The old days of floor-planning costly inventory to cater to the instant gratification whims of the traditional American car-buying consumer are over. This has been replaced by the European model of car shopping, where consumers are forced to plan ahead by ordering their vehicles, and then wait for them to come in to the dealer. The result? Discounting has gone right out the window; with vehicles in short supply, the gross profits on each vehicle are soaring. And “added market adjustments” to the sticker prices are gaining favor with some dealers as well, which isn’t sitting well with consumers. But it’s not the first time car dealers have gorged on short-term thinking. That’s why I mentioned that the dealers are exceedingly happy right now. Their profits have been jaw-dropping over the last eighteen months, and gloating could be seen and heard at the recent NADA convention.

But unfortunately for dealers who are incapable of seeing the big picture, this cannot and will not last. As this chip shortage situation grows more serious by the week, the already precariously short supply of vehicles will get worse. Production is already being severely impacted – again – and in turn, corporate profits are taking a huge hit. With sales sliding between 15-25 percent for the major automakers doing business in this country in the first quarter, the skies off to the horizon are growing even more ominous.

Added to all of this is the inexorable push to EVs that is dominating every waking moment at the automakers and eating every bit of their R&D budgets as well. Yes, this Big EV Push seems to be moving at a glacier pace in terms of waiting for these vehicles to actually materialize in showrooms, but that doesn’t alter the fact that vast amounts of money are being consumed at an alarming rate to design, develop, engineer, produce and market these vehicles. And when production is being slammed by material shortages, directly affecting profits and cash flow, it’s no wonder this business feels like a pressure cooker.

But there’s one more thing that’s about to wreak havoc in this business, and that is the ominous lack of affordability in the vehicles being made available for sale. I have been writing about this issue for several years now, and it seems to be reaching a critical point. It’s a fact that manufacturers are building more and more expensive vehicles, and while their dealers gleefully extract big-time grosses on every one they sell, I believe the point of diminishing returns is being reached.

But wait, it’s all good, right? From the manufacturer and dealer perspective it certainly is, but from the consumer perspective it is definitely a depressing development. Cars and trucks are just too damn expensive. Mainstream vehicles costing $65,000, $75,000, $85,000 or even much more have become the norm, and that’s just ridiculous. And it isn’t sustainable either. That’s why I applauded Ford for the Maverick pickup when it was first announced. It would behoove other manufacturers to follow Ford’s lead and start offering vehicles costing around $30,000. Real vehicles with enough real features to make them livable and serviceable for everyday driving by real consumers.

Now that would be a development worth celebrating in this business.

I’ve been taken to task by some of our readers for referring to this business as being a swirling maelstrom, that from their perspective things just aren’t that dire and things will work out, and that my-doom and-gloom bleating isn’t helpful. With all due respect, I have been immersed in this business one way or the other for more decades than I care to count. I’m not in the business of giving “head-in-sand” feel-good perspectives for the sake of putting a sunny slant on things, because that definitely isn’t helpful for anyone.

I try to give an insider’s perspective for those who are interested in this business from afar, but I also call ‘em like I see ‘em for the people immersed in this business up to their eyeballs too. The High-Octane Truth is what people in this business have grown to expect from me, and even if they may not agree with everything I have to say, they wouldn’t have it any other way.  

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.


THE SUMMER OF ?64.
by Editor
28 Mar 2022 at 12:31pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As longtime AE readers know, my formative years were a blur of fast cars (with my older brother Tony behind the wheel), plus experiencing the latest concepts from GM Styling in the flesh (with none other than Design Legend Bill Mitchell at the wheel). It was a different time and a different era to be sure. Everything was seemingly on an upward trajectory. More power. More Speed. More dynamic and exciting new cars arriving onto the scene on a daily basis. 

It was wild to be that close to the action, to get our hands on machines that wouldn’t hit the rest of the country for months to come. Even then, I started to appreciate the fact that this was far from normal, but as time went on it was easy to forget that. It just became a surreal reality.

One weekend, it was the 1964 Pontiac XP-400 concept from GM Styling. The very trick, Nassau Blue convertible based on a '64 Catalina was powered by a 421 cu.in. V8 with a 671 GMC Blower race-prepared by Mickey Thompson. When Ken Eschebech, Mitchell’s on-staff personal mechanic and expert car guru dropped it off, he warned us that the motor was set-up for drag racing and the oil must be checked every time we stopped for gas. Which, as you might imagine, was often. I will save this story for another time, but I distinctly remember the rear tires breaking loose as Tony shifted into 4th gear - with five guys in the car. That thing pulled like a runaway train. Oh, and we went through 21 quarts of oil in three days of flat-out running.

Then there was the brand-new 1964 Electric Blue Shelby 289-cu.in. Cobra that we borrowed from Ford PR for a weekend. (It was a beautiful swap system: We would get a Cobra, and Ford PR would get a Sting Ray from GM PR.) When I said it was brand new, I mean brand new, with less than 50 miles on the odometer. It had silver-painted wire wheels and thin white walls, which was de rigueur for street Cobras at the time. And, of course, it wasn’t our first go-around with the Cobra either, as we were fortunate to “borrow” an early ’63 260-cu.in. Cobra that belonged to Pontiac Engineering pretty much the entire summer before. Though we were well-versed in Corvettes, the Cobra was an entirely different animal. It smelled different – like an old English sports car with its leather hides covering the seats – and it was much more compact and dramatically lighter than the Corvettes of that era. Translation? It was blistering fast. 

We spent that late-spring weekend tearing around – especially on Woodward Avenue – humiliating mere mortal cars every chance we got. The Cobra would leap off the line and pull multiple car lengths ahead on just about anything, especially Corvettes. The best part? Riding in it at night, when the cool spring air was punctuated by the ferocious bark of that hopped-up 289, and the smell of burning rubber from our tennis shoes wafting in the cockpit. What? Yes, the floor got so hot in the Cobra that it caused the soles of our tennis shoes to actually melt. Just part of the memorable Cobra experience. I’ve read countless books and articles about the impact of the Cobra. It’s one thing to hear or read about the impact of the Cobra on the scene back then, but it was totally different to experience the Cobra in real time, in-period. It was truly fantastic.

There were many, many other cars and moments and stories that summer: The Black/Black ’64 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe that we drove to Watkins Glen so Tony could go through SCCA driver’s school. The ’63 Ferrari 250 GTE that belonged to GM Styling. More Cobras, and a machine that I’ve never talked about before: an early 1964 Porsche 904 GTS that Bill Mitchell brought home one afternoon.

I distinctly remember that day. Everything was vibrant green due to the stormy weather that had been rumbling around for days. Our neighborhood was blessed with hundreds of majestically tall elm trees, so much so that when we rode our bikes around it was like riding through a tunnel of trees that enveloped and shaded the streets. (Those same elms were decimated by Dutch Elm Disease over the next three years. It was really bad.) It was darkly overcast that afternoon, with threatening clouds off in the distance. I was on my bike (per usual), riding in the direction of Bill Mitchell’s “new” house. (After a period of relative quiet, I had learned that he moved from being one block north of our house to a home that was one block west. It seems that Mitchell had gotten divorced, as I had heard my parents comment about it, and he met and married a widow who lived a block away in the other direction. His new house was actually closer, which was fortuitous.)

As I was riding along, a small, low, all-black sports car rumbled by me. I knew it was Mitchell so I followed him into his driveway. Before he could emerge from it, I saw the writing on the back – “904 GTS” – and I recognized the Porsche logo on the front. Mitchell leapt out and greeted me with, “How do you like this? We just got it!” and I could barely mumble the word “Wow!” in response. I had never seen anything like it in person. As I said, it was all-black and unadorned with any bright work at all, set-off by its classic silver metallic Porsche wheels.

When Mitchell said, “We just got it” what he meant was that GM Styling just acquired it. As I’ve said in many of my writings before, Mitchell was akin to a potentate of a small country within the GM empire. He often acquired the sports cars of the moment for “research” purposes – it was “his” budget after all – and he’d have them parked in the GM Styling viewing courtyard next to the Design building for days at a time so that his designers could glean some inspiration from them. At least that was the idea anyway. The rest of the time? They’d end up being his personal toys on weekends. His favorite “inspirational” machines were Ferraris, but he even had GM Styling buy an ATS 1000 GT (look it up) and other machines of note. But this 904 was the very first Porsche he displayed in the Styling viewing courtyard, and it was the very first Porsche he had brought home.

Mitchell went inside and I immediately went home and informed Tony that Mitchell had something called a “Porsche 904 GTS.” And we were both right back down in Mitchell’s driveway inspecting every inch of that Porsche. The more I looked, the more I was entranced with this machine, which was basically a limited-production racing car for the street. Mitchell came out and asked Tony if he wanted a ride, and without hesitation he got in the passenger seat and off they went. They returned about fifteen minutes later, and Tony was wide-eyed and smiling broadly. Mitchell went back inside, and I asked Tony what it was like and he said, “Fantastic! Except…” and his voice trailed off. 

“Except what?” I asked. He said, well, it was really cool, but “I noticed the redline was 7,600 rpm, and he was shifting at 8,600 rpm. Every shift.” I didn’t quite understand the ramifications of that statement yet, but I would in a couple of months.

Sure enough, a couple of months later Mitchell offered the 904 to Tony to drive for a weekend. In typical Mitchell fashion the 904 had been transformed. Gone was the Black/Black livery, replaced by Mitchell’s favorite German racing silver metallic. The interior was re-worked too – with darkish-blue leather and retractable three-point seatbelts, the first we’d seen. That 904 absolutely glowed now. That weekend was memorable, with several high-speed runs up to Flint (where we used to live) and back, and generally just a total, blissful immersion into everything Porsche 904. And it was great, right up to the point on Sunday afternoon when we were almost back from another run up to Flint, when suddenly the engine started making an unmistakable clickety-clack racket behind us. We quickly determined that it was a giant bowl of Not Good situation, and Tony shut it off immediately. He had to hike to a payphone to get some friends to come and help. 

It gets worse. The idea of getting some sort of trailer or tow truck to come and pick up the car wasn’t on our consideration list back then, and the only thing our friends brought was a big heavy rope. Against all odds, we secured that rope to both vehicles, and they proceeded to tow us the ten miles back to our house. As I recall, it was one of the hairiest, white-knuckle experiences I can remember. One false move and that now-pristine Porsche could be wrecked in an instant. I think we were lucky enough to only have to deal with a couple of traffic lights and remarkably, we got it back to my parents’ garage in one piece. I still shake my head thinking about it.

The next morning, Tony put a call into Ken Eschebech, telling him that something was seriously wrong with the Porsche’s engine, and Ken was over in about an hour. We tilted up the back bodywork to gain access to the engine, and Ken had Tony start the Porsche, while he listened. The noise was coming from the right cylinder bank, so Ken took a broom handle and put it up against that part of the engine, and a few seconds later he had Tony shut it off.

“It threw a rod,” Ken said, matter-of-factly. Tony discussed with Ken that he observed Mitchell exceeding the redline on their little drive together, and Ken wasn’t surprised. “Yeah, I’m aware of that too.” Ken left and two hours later a truck and trailer from GM Styling arrived and the Porsche was loaded up for the return trip back to GM Styling. 

End of story? Not quite. Apparently, Mitchell had to pay for the rebuild out of his own pocket – which had to be considerable – and he was furious at Tony, blaming him for it. As a matter of fact, Mitchell didn’t speak to my brother again until January 1969, while they visited on the starting grid before the Daytona 24 Hour. After that, all was well again.

That summer of ’64 had everything. More speed. More horsepower. And even a white-knuckle experience that remains vivid to this day.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

(Getty Images)

A Porsche 904 GTS as it appears in show condition today.


IT WAS GOOD. AND HARD. AND FAST.
by Editor
21 Mar 2022 at 2:05pm

Editor's Note: Every now and then, it's good to hit the PAUSE button. This week is one of those times (as in, Stop the world - I want to get off). So here's a special, unvarnished missive from The Autoextremist, and a look inside his incomparable high-octane life. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. I am the passenger. I am a Technicolor Dream Cat riding this kaleidoscope of life. I’ve seen some things, indeed, more than most. Magic things. Loud things. Fast things. 

I once looked up at a ghostly tornado finger drifting overhead in Flint. It was ominous and beyond scary. A lot of people died that day too. But then, a few years later, I saw my first 707 hanging in the sky. It was majestic and powerful. And the Jet Age was on.

I got introduced to horsepower, side pipes and chrome, and I happily got sucked in. Corvettes and 409s, GTOs and Starfires. And Sting Rays. Forever Sting Rays. And in the midst of all that, I bought and rebuilt a Bug go-kart, had the Mac 6 engine rebuilt and hopped-up, painted it bright orange, and spent one summer terrorizing our neighborhood. I dubbed it the Orange Juicer Mk 1, and found out how fast 60 mph felt that low to the ground. It was everything, all the time. 

It was good. And hard. And fast.

Woodward wasn’t just a thing. It was Life. In 0 to 100 bursts. It all came alive at night. Open pipes, rumbles and roars, dares and boasts. The drive-ins smelled like burning rubber and French fries. Girls leaned and preened. Boys slouched and crouched. To get a better look. Riding shotgun with my brother, it was a world that called me. 

From there, it was riding with The Maestro, Bill Mitchell – our neighbor – in the original Sting Ray racer, thinking it was normal and knowing it was not. But I soaked it all in anyway, and it was just the beginning. There were Mako Sharks, Monza Super Spyders and GTs; and XP-700 Corvettes and XP-400 Pontiacs. And on and on. It was all stunning to look at. And be in. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer, and the sounds were intoxicating.

It was good. And hard. And fast.

And then came the Cobras. All lithe and tiny next to the Corvettes. And a new kind of fast. Blistering, neck-snapping fast. A two-car-length jump off the line fast. Open-top roadsters lurking for a fight. It was the smell of English leather and burning tennis shoes when running the Cobras in the cool of the night. And believe me, there was nothing else like it. 

And then road racing came calling. My brother Tony’s driver school at Watkins Glen in June of ’64. In a Tuxedo Black Sting Ray that had been personally massaged by Zora and his troops, complete with straight pipes to install when we got there. Riding on Goodyear Blue Streaks the whole way. The Glen Motor Court beckoned, but the track was the thing. That Sting Ray barked and blurted out speed, and Tony was the fastest man there. There was no turning back at that point.

It was good. And hard. And fast.

Next up was a “A” Sedan Corvair that we flat-towed all over hell and back. Starting out at our local Waterford Hills raceway, and then on to Nelson Ledges, Mid-Ohio, Lime Rock, Vineland, Grayling and even a 12-Hour endurance race at Marlboro, Maryland. But that was just the pre-game. 

The real stuff was coming in 1967. We ordered what turned out to be the first of just 20 427 L88 Corvette Sting Rays built that year. I remember when we went to Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit to see the bad-ass Sting Ray for the first time. It had just been unloaded off the truck and it was stunning. We hopped in it just to see, and suspicions were conformed: It was a wild, unruly beast. We dismantled it over a weekend and had a roll bar welded-in, installed a set of American Torq-Thrust racing wheels and bolted-on some OK Kustom headers. We added a few other tweaks and we were off to our first SCCA Regional race in Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin. In “A” Production. There was a 427 Cobra there, too, but it was no match for our Super Sting Ray. Tony won going away. And then it was off to the races, literally: Mid-Ohio, Road America, Blackhawk Farms, Nelson Ledges, Watkins Glen, Daytona.

It was good. And hard. And fast.

And then everything changed. Owens/Corning Fiberglas became our sponsor. And the races got bigger. Twenty-two straight wins in “A” Production, with twelve 1-2 finishes with teammate Jerry Thompson, who would go on to win the National Championship in ‘69. Then it was the major endurance races with GT class wins at Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen. And the Trans-Am series in 1970 with Camaros, and in 1971 with ex-Bud Moore factory Mustangs. And finally, the infamous Budd-sponsored Corvette in 1973, with Tony sitting on the pole at Sebring for the all-GT 12-hour race that year. 

They were fleeting moments in time, but they were unforgettable. Pouring a bucket of water over my head after gas spilled all over me during a pit stop at Marlboro. Waking up in the cab of our semi on the Ohio Turnpike in the middle of the night on the way to Lime Rock only to see that my brother was fast asleep as we were running diagonally off the left shoulder and headed for the median. I yelled. We made it. But that was just the way it was back then. No sleep for days on end getting the cars ready – to the point of exhaustion – only to then have to load up and drive to the next race. It was relentless. 

Then there was the infamous Pontiac street race in 1974. It was a dubious track at best, with haybales and guardrails offering little protection for the drivers, or the crowd. Tony was passing a slower car during the race and the driver moved over on him. The move forced Tony into some haybales, turned him sideways, causing his Corvette to barrel roll 20 feet in the air taking out a light pole. That impact with the light pole saved him from going into a spectator area of at least one hundred people. I was a fair distance away when I saw a flash of his car going end-over-end (after the light pole impact) down the straightway on Wide Track avenue. I sprinted to get there, only to see the car burst into a fireball. I arrived to see my brother laying on the ground. He had gotten out in time, barely a moment before the car burst into flames. It was only later that we found out that a guy who was keeping the car in Florida in-between Daytona races had removed the check-valve in the fuel cell “to save weight.” Idiot. 

Needless to say, that was a dark day, especially since a reporter at the event called one of my dad’s GM PR staffers – my mom and dad were at an outdoor party with his entire PR staff – and informed him that Tony had been killed in Pontiac. (He never saw Tony get out of the car.) My dad’s right-hand man informed my parents that they had to go to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac immediately. They feared the worse, of course. So that was me at the hospital seeing the ashen look on my parents’ faces when they arrived. I took them to see my brother on a gurney in the hallway; he was alert but battered and extremely sore. My parents were relieved, and so was I.

But that was only part of my ride on this kaleidoscope of life. There was the time we built a prototype ’69 L88 Corvette roadster (in black/black, of course) called the “Daytona GT” with the intention of selling customer versions. It was basically one of our racing cars equipped with a few more comfort options. We even got display space at Cobo Hall during the Auto Show to show it off. But the pressures of running the racing team meant that the project was shelved. The Corvette was eventually rebuilt to fully race-prepared OCF racing team specs, given a psychedelic paint job and sold to a German Lufthansa pilot who used it to terrorize local and national racing events over there. But before that all happened, I was tasked with keeping it in running order and exercised. Needless to say, I relished that assignment and I happily terrorized the area with open headers on my “exercise” jaunts.

It was good. And hard. And fast.

Then I veered off on my own and became enchanted with the Porsche 911. I bought a used ’75 911S and proceeded to drive that car all over hell and as fast as it would go. I spun-out once going 100 mph on a two-lane road because unbeknownst to me the shoulder had just been graded and there was dirt all over the road in a left-hand sweeper. I came to a stop with the rear wheels right on the edge of a 20-foot drop. And then there was the infamous late-afternoon run from East Lansing to Ann Arbor that I did flat-out, rarely going below 100 mph the entire distance. I made it to my destination in just under 30 minutes, door-to-door.  And it is just as vivid for me today as it was when I did it. Fleeting moments indeed.

And then there was the time during my ad career that I spent shooting commercials at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, for a full week. We were short performance drivers, so I spent the week assisting with the driving while tearing around the circuit for the filming. And if that wasn’t special enough, NATO jets were using the wide-open terrain to practice high-speed, low-level maneuvers. How low? We could see the helmet marking on the pilots as they banked over us at tree-top level. It was a week-long orgy of speed that I will never forget.

The point of all this? I’m still a Technicolor Dream Cat riding this kaleidoscope of life. This column gave you fleeting glimpses of some fleeting glimpses. There’s plenty more to tell and a long, long way to go. And I'm not close to being finished.

It was good. And hard. And fast. Indeed. 

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

The Autoextremist. March 1976, East Lansing, Michigan. (J. Geils called; he wants his look back.)



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