The Best Corvette Yet?

The Chevrolet Corvette has long stood as a performance and luxury icon for GM.  In recent years, the luxury part of the Corvette has slipped.  A lot.  But, Chevrolet decided to fix that with the C7 Corvette Stingray.  Unfortunately, Corvette redesigns don’t come around that often.  There have only been seven generations of Corvette in 61 years.  The performance part was, is, and always is, a part of one of the most iconic cars in American history.  The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a car that redefines the word “Americana.”

The engine of the Corvette is all-new.  Aluminum and other lightweight metals are abundant in the engine.  It’s also a lot more powerful and efficient.  It makes 455 horsepower at a thundering 5900 RPM, and 460 lb-ft of torque at a lower 4600 RPM.  Power is amped up to 460 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque at the same revs if you opt for the $1,195 Dual-Mode Performance Exhaust.  The aforementioned exhaust system essentially bypasses the rear mufflers with a pair of exhaust butterflies.  Think of them as flaps that open when Sport Mode is engaged.  The rest of the time, they remain closed.  The efficiency part isn’t just restricted to the exhaust butterflies.  While cruising, it can operate as a 3.1-liter V4, and produce 126 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque.  That, according to the chief engineer of the Corvette Stingray, is 10 times the power needed to maintain 50 mph, and get the Corvette Stingray up to 90 mph.

Another thing to brag about:  Preliminary EPA reports are 17 city/29 highway for the seven-speed manual.  The EPA has not released figures for the automatic transmission.  These figures rank the Stingray as the least thirsty 450-plus horsepower car currently on the market.

The eDiff in the Corvette Stingray is also noteworthy.  When it is open at 60 mph, and the wheel is cranked in either direction, the car will immediately go into a dramatic, smoky drift that would make Ken Block proud.  This differential can be programmed in many different ways, and make any driver proud of how well this car performs.

Many people have previously complained about how bad the seats were/are in the Corvette C6.  Chevrolet completely redesigned the seats.  The base bucket seats are perfectly fine for blasting along a country road at high speeds, but owners who plan to take their C7 to the track should wait it out for the expensive $1,995 Recaro seats.

The Corvette Stingray Z51 (package) is a hoot and a half to drive, but those who are on a budget are probably wondering about the base car.  The vinyl interior almost perfectly matches the look of the cowhide interior, but the smells are different.  The design team took no chances, and completely redesigned or changed every single part in the interior of the Corvette.  All Corvette Stingrays come standard with the big touchscreen.  But, it doesn’t do as much as the one in the Z51 model.  Because there is no eDiff or fully adjustable magnetic shocks, there isn’t nearly as much to change.  The base 9-speaker Bose audio system has a hard time being louder than the raspy thrum of the V4.  The 12-speaker system with the big bass box does.

Overall, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a vast improvement over the C6.  It’s more powerful, it uses lighter materials (yet a model that Motor Trend tested weighed 69 pounds more – options), it’s more fuel-efficient, and it looks better.  You can’t go wrong with this car.  I need one.  Plus, Callaway, a tuning firm based out of Ohio is building an FIA GT3-legal C7 as we speak.  Expect private teams to be competing against Chevy at Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Nurburgring.

James Bond’s Next Rides!

Since Zagato, an Italian design firm that has been design partners with Aston Martin for over 50 years, it seems fitting that Zagato coachbuilt a couple of centennial-edition Aston Martins.

Sources from inside Aston Martin and Zagato have confirmed that two examples of an Aston Martin centennial special will be built.  One is based off of a 2013 Aston Martin DB9 Volante Convertible (no, Starbucks didn’t come up with the name!) and will be delivered to Peter Read; an Aston Martin enthusiast and collector in the U.S.  The other is based off of a 2013 Aston Martin DBS Coupe, destined for an unnamed entrepreneur in Japan.

The designs of the cars were inspired by the 2002 DB7 Zagato, a car so popular that all 99 examples were spoken for before it even debuted at the 2002 Paris Auto Show!  The same team that developed the 2002 Aston Martin DB7 Zagato helped Andrea and Marella Zagato, Peter Read, and Aston Martin develop the car.

When you look at the renderings of the cars, it takes a trained eye to find the Aston Martin underpinnings, but it’s almost impossible to miss the signature elements of Zagato and Aston Martin.  The double-bubble roof, squared-off tail, and clean, sharp lines tell you that you’re looking at an Aston seconds before the winged badge comes howling into view.

When you look at the front of the cars, one cannot help but notice the design cues from the 1980’s Aston Martin V8 Zagato.

Peter Read, the owner of the 2013 Aston Martin DB9 Volante Convertible summed up the design team’s vision best.  “The DB9 Spyder Zagato Centennial perfectly merges Aston Martin and Zagato’s DNA by combining the elegance of design, typical of Zagato, with the soul, power and prestige of Aston Martin, all developed over the last 100 years.”

As with all Zagato specials, no mechanical changes were made.  This means that both cars will come with Aston Martin’s wonderful 5.9-liter, 510 horsepower V12.

I want both of these cars to be mine.  My readers might have to start an auction of their cars to afford my rides…Unfortunately, all Zagato Aston Martins are highly collectible, rare vehicles that stay in collections for many years.  Then, they sell at auctions for prices close to $1 Million.

Recall Alert!

This is a very important recall.  I also know that I missed publishing a post Friday.  Sorry about that.  But, this will grab your attention.  It’s very important.  I hope that you are not affected by the recall, and my wishes go out to those who are affected by the recall.  Michelin, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of tires for cars, trucks, SUVs, and just about anything with wheels.

Today, Michelin announced that they are recalling over 100,000 Latitude Tour, X Radial, and LTX M/S2 tire families in a massive effort to track down just 2500 tires that are at risk of suffering a blowout that could possibly lead to a crash, severe injuries, and possibly death.

Here’s the reason behind the recall:  Three different families of Michelin tires could possibly have a small perforation in the sidewall.  This small perforation could lead to the loss of pressure while driving.  In some cases, it could lead to rapid tire failure, which could result in a crash, injury, damage to the vehicle, or death.

Michelin will contact owners of the tires and certified Michelin dealers by the end of the month.  The tires will be affected and replaced, free of charge.  Owners of the affected tires can contact Michelin at 855-851-4951.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 tires are affected by the recall, but Michelin says that only 2500 of these tires may actually suffer from the sidewall perforation issue.  The affected tires (which were manufactured in late 2012-early 2013) are:

Michelin LTX MS/2 in 275/55R/20

Michelin LTX MS/2 in 265/65R/18

Michelin LTX MS/2 in 265/60R/18

Michelin X Radial LT2 in 265/65R/18

Michelin X Radial LT2 in 275/55R/20

Michelin Latitude Tour in 255/60R/19

Michelin Latitude Tour in 255/70R/18

Please cooperate with Michelin, as they are only trying to help you.  Remember, if you are concerned, you can always contact Michelin about your concern about the tires.

Out And About In Sonoma County!

So, I’d promised you some more drool-worthy hunks of Motown iron, right?  Well, here they are!!!!!

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Photo0205I’m quite sure that all of you know what this lovely car is, right?  It’s a pristine 1967 Pontiac GTO with the 400 cubic-inch engine (6.6 liters!) and an automatic transmission.  Not the ideal choice for me, but I’m sure it gets the job done.  While it looks like it had a restoration about 5-7 years ago, it likely hasn’t put that many miles on in its lifetime.  The odometer reads a mere 80,145.  This is a sure sign that the car has been driven about 1,500 miles a year.  That’s pretty gentle, but I don’t think that the car cares that much!

Below, a pristine 1960-ish Chrysler 300 Windsor Sedan was parked just a few parking spots away.  It has a nice white-and-blue color scheme.  Inside, a satellite radio/iPod connector has been fitted (BOO!!!!!).  Enjoy this land barge!

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I like the skinny whitewall tires.  They contrast nicely with the gigantic chrome wheel covers.  More nice photos of nice cars next time!

A (Hopefully) Victorious Return to Le Mans!

After almost 16 of being noticeably absent from the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, Porsche is developing a prototype.  The last Porsche-backed effort at Le Mans was in 1998, when a Porsche 911 GT1 won 1st place overall.

A few days ago, Porsche teased some pictures and a video of the LMP1 prototype running laps around the Nurburgring.  The car will be entered in the World Endurance Championship 2014 Season, as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The 2014 Porsche LMP1 was developed in-house by Porsche Motorsports.  Factory driver Timo Berhnard was involved with the development of the car from Day 1.  He recently took the car out for initial testing at Porsche’s massive R&D center in Germany.  Berhnard said of the car, “I’m very proud that I was the one to take our baby through its first paces today. Already now the car feels great. I look forward to testing the vehicle in the coming weeks and months with my friend and colleague Romain Dumas.” Both Bernhard and Dumas will conduct testing for the final development of the LMP1 car at various international tracks between now and the start of the 2014 race season.

While the LMP1 may still be clad in camouflage, one can see that the car will be very distinctive.  It has eight bug-eyed headlamps, a gigantic front spoiler, and a surprisingly small rear wing for a car that will be going down the back straights of many tracks in speeds exceeding 200 mph.  Be prepared.

The Best Cars of the 20th Century On Display – in South Africa!

Don’t ask me about the location – I don’t know why!  I guess South Africa is full of  car buffs.  The Franschhoek Motor Museum is located about an hour away from Cape Town, South Africa.  It contains a horde of classic cars that will make ANYBODY’s mouth start drooling!

About 100 cars out of a collection of 300 are displayed at one time.  According to the knowledgeable staff, about 200 of the cars run.  Five full-time mechanics take painstaking care of them, while restoring selected cars that don’t run.  Each of the running cars is driven at least once a month, on days when the museum is closed to the public.  The cars don’t sit there doing nothing, either!

One nice feature of the museum is that the museum offers rides in one or two cars to visitors.  It can be educational for children of all ages to be crammed next to the driver in a 1930’s Austin.  Visitors can also be chauffeured around in an early-1950’s BMW 502 Sedan, or lounge in the backseat of a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and a Cadillac Fleetwood (both cars are rare to South Africans).

From Formula 1 race cars to humble two-stroke DKW sedans from post-war Germany, the collection marries idiosyncrasy with a deep appreciation for the significant cars of the past century.

There is a wide variety of cars that range from the crowd-pleasing Ferrari 250 GT SWB and the McLaren F1, but also more obscure, rare cars like the 1911 Lorraine Dietric luxury tourer with a brass horn in the shape of a snake curling along its fender, or a 1910 Wolseley town car from the Edwardian period.

For truck lovers, they can stare at the 1923 Ford Model T pickup with wooden sides and the Chesterfield Cigarettes logo.

You can mooch around on the website at http://www.fmm.co.za/home/

Does the New 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 Have What it Takes to Rule It’s Class?

Let me know in the comments section if you think that the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 can become the car that can rule the uber-luxury class.  I think it can, but then again, Mercedes usually does!

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class can sometimes go seven or eight years beforeinstituing a major refresh, redesign, or mechanical overhaul.  But, it usually leads in terms of sales and looks.  The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class upholds that tradition, and it will likely be sold in droves – for a while.  Then, all of the competing automakers will make newer, nicer, and possibly better cars.  This segment is competitive.  Currently, the S-Class, Lexus LS460, and Cadillac XTS are the segment sales leaders.  The S-Class is likely to blow all of it’s competitors out of the water.  It is just that good.

It is loaded with features that will make your jaw drop.  This car isn’t yet another ordinary businessperson special with a cave-like interior.  It will drive itself.  Really, it will!  It won’t drive itself completely, but it is semi-autonomous!  It uses stereo cameras to guide it along the road.  The name is awesome, as well:  Traffic Jam Assist.  No, it won’t send all of the rubberneckers to the grave.  Only their own stupidity will do that.   To activate this marvelous system, simply hold the brake pedal down while stationary, flick the Distronic (MBZ speak for cruise control) lever down, and give it gas.  It will take you up to 37 mph.  The cruise control is then set for up to 37 mph.  It will follow the car ahead of you simply, smartly, and efficiently.  It will do that until your speed increases or you take control of the steering wheel and pedals.  Above 37 mph, it will still guide itself.  Kind of.  It will handle itself up to 125 mph, and it can bring itself to a complete stop at any speed if need be.  Those stereo cameras are also able to read the lines in the road, and keep the plump S-Class in between those lines without any driver input.  Above 37 mph, if you keep your hands off of the steering wheel for more than 10 seconds, then a loud BEEEEEP will sound, along with a flashing graphic instruction, until you place your hands on the wheel.  But, that’s just Mercedes-Benz’s lawyers telling you to be a good driver.  As long as you don’t take the S550 on any places where there aren’t any lines in the road (i.e. tracks and gravel roads), this car will take a person places where he/she has never gone before, all by itself.

There’s other zany technology stuffed into this car.  Take the badly named Magic Body Control that is an optional active suspension feature.  If you choose to order this, then the four-wheel air suspension goes away, and is replaced by oil-over-coil shocks.  The “magic” part of that is that those same stereo cameras scan the road ahead to see if there is a pothole, a speed bump, or some roadkill.  Given the right situation, the Magic Body Control is effective in a way that is quite simply effective, in a spooky sort of way.  The result is one of the smoothest rides out there, this side of a Citroen or an old Buick Roadmaster.  When you put the car in “Sport” mode, Magic Body Control is switched off, so you can hurtle around curves and crash and bang over the smallest road imperfections.  But, that’s what makes the car so enjoyable to drive.

In the unlikely event that you will be in an accident, you will survive just about any crash.  For those of you riding in the backseat (the place to be), there are inflatable seat belts.   When the rear door is opened, the seat belt buckle receiver visibly rises.  This is probably because most customers (think China) don’t wear their seat belts in the back seat.  Once they buckle up for safety, the buckle will retract a few inches into the seat, therefore cinching the seat belt across their hips so they do not slide under the seat belt in a crash.  Speaking of accidents, there’s a feature that will make any safety-conscious parent happy.  It’s called Pre-Safe Plus.  It actively and automatically prepares the car for a rear-end collision.  What the car does when it’s about to be rear-ended (it has seven rear-facing cameras), it tightens all of the seatbelts (even if they’re not in use), applies the brakes completely, and, BAM.  Applying the brakes for a full-ABS stop seems counter-intuitive, but it’s safer to not be moving when you’re hit.  It can also “see” pedestrians and other cars.  It reacts differently to both.  When it sees a car cutting in front of it, the brakes are applied for a full-ABS stop.  When it sees a pedestrian, the brakes are applied much earlier and gentler.

Even though it’s got enough technology in it to make a computer scientist have a heart attack, one of the best advances is in the interior.  It’s truly the first German interior to really stand out from the British luxury brands (Bentley, Rolls Royce, Jaguar).  Leather and wood gracefully snake their way throughout the stellar cabin.  The interior designer said that these designs were influenced by swan wings.  Let’s call this new technique “swanning,” okay?  If You own the outgoing generation of the S-Class, you will know about those four rectangular vents on the dashboard.  Six neat, circular vents have replaced them.  Combine that with the clock, and the seven circles (vaguely) resemble the pearls on a woman’s necklace.  I don’t ask.  The head designer of MBZ’s interiors said that from now on, all vents in a Mercedes-Benz car will be round.  I find it odd that the car that will be starting the round vent trend still has rectangular vents in the back.  One other fun interior flourish are the speaker grilles for the Burmester audio system.  They are covered in an impossibly complex pattern of tiny holes of varying sizes.  If you have trypophobia, don’t look at it.  For me, it becomes ever more fascinating when I look at the pictures.

The mechanical parts of the car are relatively unchanged.  The seven-speed automatic is still their, as is the 5.5-liter, twin turbo V8.  Power, however is better.  It has been uprated from 429 horsepower to a more powerful 455 horsepower.  Torque is the same at 516 lb-ft of torque.

Overall, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 is the car to be measured against for full-size luxury.  It’s powerful, it’s loaded with technology that will take it’s competitors years to catch up with, it’s beautiful, and it’s got German engineering.  And German reliability.  I want one.  I won’t ask my readers.  I know the answer.  And it’s not yes.