Friday, January 20, 2017

Articles In the Pipeline

I have no control over what gets into the Tracy Press. I write the articles in sequence with when I get the cars. I take the pictures and send it all of to the editor. He decides when and what to run. I have no complaints; he does a great job of cleaning up my sometimes sloppy text and writing headlines for my articles.

I decided to post what I've tested with a picture here. Not the whole article, just a short, and I do mean short, synopsis. Here are the cars that are in the pipeline right now:

 2017 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription

A few years ago when Volvo introduced the first XC (cross-country), Volvo’s AWD SUVs, I asked a Swedish Volvo exec, “Volvo has been known for decades as a winter vehicle. Does that make the XC a snow, snow vehicle?” The question, as inelegantly as I asked it, still stands. Why does Volvo, an auto maker from a Nordic country, need AWD? I owned a ’73 Volvo 140 for a couple of years when I lived in Toronto. It was a darn good car in the snow. The answer I suspect lies more in marketing than real need. But the times have changed and a large segment of the driving population believes they need AWD even if they never see snow. Make it a SUV and you’re golden. So Volvo entered the SUV market.

2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD

The Sportage today is a compact, front-wheel-drive (AWD) or all-wheel-drive (AWD) crossover/SUV similar to the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. (It seems to me that the terms SUV and crossover are becoming synonymous although SUV seems to apply more to truck-based vehicles.) The test Sportage was a FWD version and unless you live in a snow area or go to ski country often I really don’t see the need for AWD.

2017 Toyota Corolla iM

I’ll jump right in with two things I absolutely loved about the iM – the paint and the front seats. Toyota calls the paint color Electric Storm Blue; I call it gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a blue like this. The front seats are just about the most comfortable seats I’ve sat in. They’re nothing special; no zillion electric adjustments. But they fit my body perfectly. I thought about stealing them for my Ranchero but figured Toyota might notice them missing when I returned the iM.
2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

2017 VW Tiguan 2.0T S

Cars are getting so good that the worst thing I can say about the Tiguan, a small(ish) SUV, is I didn’t like the color. VW calls it Pacific Blue Metallic; I just thought it was kind of blah.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

My first thought on getting into the ’17 Fusion was, “Wow, this is a nice interior.” Ford has definitely been sweating the details. I remember a time (admittedly almost 30 years ago) when some of Ford’s interiors look lower than bargain basement. The Fusion Platinum Energi is not an inexpensive car but the interior is on par cars more expensive.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mazda Motorsports

I had lunch at the Silicon Valley Auto Show a couple of weeks ago with some folks from Mazda Motorsports and Mazda Raceway. Well not just me but a few other writers as well.

Mazda is huge in racing. As they say, on any given weekend more Mazdas are being road raced than any other brand. Mazda is the single biggest name in grass roots racing - you know the racing nobody goes to watch. And it's a pity that so few actually see some of the best, closest racing ever. Have you ever been to an SCCA race weekend? If not go. You will probably see as many Mazdas as are on the lot at your local dealer - and most of them will be MX-5s (Miatas). And if you look in the engine bay of other race cars you just might see a Mazda engine. In fact Mazda has a 55% share of all SCCA club racing entries.

One of the reasons you see so many Mazdas and Mazda powered racers is that Mazda provides a lot of contingency money; over $1,000,000 in 2016. That's a ton of green. Another reason, especially for the MX-5, is that it is a great race car whether in the Global MX-5 Cup (Spec Miata) or in specific SCCA and NASA classes.

Mark Drennan's Mazda Global MX-5 Cup, sponsored by Winding Road Racing

A Global MX-5 Cup car costs just $58,900. That is a an incredibly low price for a ready to race car. I've been a fan of spec car racing since I worked for Honda Canada back in 1989. In spec racing all the cars are as equal as can be. I asked a MX-5 Cup driver about cheating and he said it was virtually impossible, that Mazda Motorsports makes sure of that. If you want to watch some close, and great racing, take in a Global MX-5 Cup race. And if you think you're a hot shoe plunk down some bucks and buy your own race car. Mazda Motorsports has sold over 3,000 Spec Miata kits to date.

The Global MX-5 Cup is not the only spec series Mazda participates in, there is also the Formula Car Challenge presented by Goodyear. These are spec formula cars (open wheel) powered by Mazda engines. This is a stepping stone for racers who may graduate to endurance racing, IMSA, etc.

Formula Speed 2.0 (FS2.0), Mazda powered by World Speed Inc.

Being from Northern California I can't talk about Mazda without mentioning Mazda Raceway (formerly Laguna Seca). I've been going to the track since 1990. Many of the improvements you see today are a direct result of Mazda's involvement. Despite all the controversy that has been swirling around the track over the past year or so Mazda Raceway lives on. I believe that no matter who ends up in the driver's seat Mazda Raceway is too important, not only to Monterey County but to the world to fade away. I was heartened to hear that Mazda Raceway is on track for another great year.

So a couple thoughts. Get out and watch some of the greatest racing you'll ever see - Go see some spec races. I'm sure Mazda would love you to buy one of their cars but they'll welcome you regardless of what you drive. And patronize one of the world's most renowned race tracks, Mazda Raceway.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Is There A Checker In Your Future?

Checker Motor Cars has announced that they will begin production next year (2018) on new Checkers. They cite the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015 (H.R. 2675) that would allow a low volume manufacturer to build up to 500 replicas per year.

There will be two new Checkers, a Sport-Pickup Crossover (being a Ford guy I'll say it's like a Ranchero), and a 12-passenger sedan.

Checker Sport Pickup Crossover

12-Passenger rendition

Possible engines could be buyers choice. The Act has specific requirements for engines:

“(5) (A) A motor vehicle engine (including all engine emission controls) from a motor vehicle that has been granted a certificate of conformity by the Administrator for the model year in which the motor vehicle is assembled, or an engine that has been granted an Executive order for the model year in which the motor vehicle is assembled subject to regulations promulgated by the California Air Resources Board, may be installed in an exempted specially produced motor vehicle, if—
“(i) the manufacturer of the engine supplies written instructions explaining how to install the engine and maintain functionality of the engine’s emission control system and the on-board diagnostic system (commonly known as ‘OBD II’), except with respect to evaporative emissions diagnostics;
“(ii) the producer of the exempted specially produced motor vehicle installs the engine in accordance with such instructions; and

“(iii) the installation instructions include emission control warranty information from the engine manufacturer in compliance with section 207, including where warranty repairs can be made, emission control labels to be affixed to the vehicle, and the certificate of conformity number for the applicable vehicle in which the engine was originally intended or the applicable Executive order number for the engine.
My understanding of this is that you can use any engine as long as it has been granted a certificate of conformity and it is installed exactly as the suppliers says it should be installed.

Selling 500 units per year should not be a problem; there are many Checker aficionados out there. No cost has been give for the new Checkers but seeing as they are essentially hand-built in the U.S.A. I would expect them to be pricier than a used one. 

Checker Motor Cars provided a list of features besides the engines. A few are composite body panels, rack and pinion steering, 4-wheel disc brakes, heavy duty climate control, all-wheel-drive option, and many others.

Checker Motor Cars will retrofit your old Checker with any of these features.

If you're interested you can check them out at

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Get your McCall's Motorworks Revival Holiday Tickets NOW!

3 Days 'til Christmas!
Wishing you all a Merry and Bright 

Get your McCalls Motorworks Revival Holiday Tickets NOW! 
Enjoy our once a year HOLIDAY DISCOUNT
** Offer good until midnight on December 31, 2016
Give the ULTIMATE car enthusiast gift...
Kick off the Monterey Car Week 2017
at Gordon McCall's Motoworks Revival
at the Monterey Jet Center

Click on the link for more information and tickets.

If you can afford the price it is a real experience. I've been a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Saw some wonderful vehicles, met some great people, ate some fantastic food and drank first-class wine and liquor. I would suggest that if you go either have a designated driver or take a cab/Uber/Lyft.

Ordinarily I wouldn't post an ad but after I mentioned Mr. McCall in another piece he reached out to me. I take that as the mark of a gentleman. I will get nothing and I ask nothing for posting this. McCalls Motorworks Revival is truly a fun event.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Where have all the pickups gone?

I write new vehicle reviews. I live in a town that is full of pickup trucks. Pickup trucks are big business for auto makers, so much so that companies like Honda, Nissan and Toyota have entered the full-size pickup market.

Pickups are a huge profit center for an auto maker. The top best selling three vehicles in the US are the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram Pickup according to

So it is kind of surprising that pickups are a rarity in the Northern California press fleet.

Last year I tested one pickup, a Nissan Titan XD, a truck I liked but it came to me too late for an article in the Tracy Press. (In fact while I was driving a 2016 Titan XD other writers were off getting a preview of the 2017 version.)

This year I've been lucky, I got into a 2017 Toyota Tacoma about a week ago. I enjoyed the truck and submitted an article to the Tracy Press. I'm scheduled for a 2017 Honda Ridgeline soon. But still nothing from the "Big 3".

I've been told that the reason there are no trucks in the Norcal fleet is that writers up here don't want pickups. That may be true, especially in the immediate San Francisco Bay Area. But the SF press fleet supplies vehicles to many more writers than just those on the Peninsula. I try to write for my market and my market is pretty heavy with trucks.

I'm not that choosy about what model trucks I test. Sure I'd love to try a variety but most auto companies send what they want to highlight to the press fleets. Ford has a new Raptor with a 450-hp, EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6. Chevy is always trying to knock the F-150 off the top of the hill, and Ram has some pretty bad pickups. So why not put something in the fleet? Please, I'm begging you.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Celebrates 66 Years of Charitable Giving

It isn't often that I simply copy and paste a press release. This is one of those times. Pebble Beach, and I use the name for all the automotive themed events that go on during Monterey Car Week, is something special. The Monterey Peninsula would be much poorer in so many ways without Pebble Beach. Thank you Pebble.

Charitable Donations for 2016 Total Over $1.7 Million

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (November 30, 2016) — The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance gathered with its charitable partners today to celebrate an impressive 66 years of charitable giving. With a long history of supporting local organizations in need across Monterey County, the Concours has reached remarkable levels of proceeds in recent years, surpassing the $23 million mark for total giving since its inception in 1950.

Pebble Beach Company CEO Bill Perocchi distributed more than $1.7 million in donations from the 2016 Concours to local charitable organizations at the charity luncheon today. Since 2006 alone, annual donations from the Concours have averaged $1.4 million annually—and have neared the $2 million mark in recent years.

“Throughout this past decade we have consistently given over $1 million to charity each year, and we are very proud of that,” said Concours Chairman Sandra Button. “We are grateful for the efforts of all those who have allowed us to sustain these levels of giving, because these dollars make a significant impact in our community, which is to the benefit of everyone in our region.”

The Concours has generated substantial funds for charity since its earliest years, but donations in recent years have greatly accelerated. Annual donations first exceeded the $100,000 mark in the mid-1990s and the $500,000 mark in 2000 before surpassing the $1 million mark in 2006.

“The funds we distributed today will help address many issues we are battling in our region,” said Perocchi. “We are all in a unique position to make a noticeable difference in Monterey County, and without the generosity of our Concours donors, and the teamwork and leadership of our charitable partners, this would not be possible.”

The event generates funds from many sources, both near and far, to help the local community. Generous Concours participants, including entrants and judges, regularly send in direct donations. Event partners such as BMW, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex and Bulgari donate valuable goods for opportunity drawings. Additionally, volunteers donate time and effort to make the event a success.

That success translates directly into donations for Concours charities. Pebble Beach Company Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Pebble Beach Company, serves as the event’s primary charitable partner, directing funds to 85 local nonprofit educational programs and overseeing the Phil Hill Scholarships. Charitable partners benefiting directly from the Concours include Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County, Kinship Center, Montage Health (formerly Community Hospital Foundation), Natividad Medical Foundation, Animal Friends Rescue Project and United Way Monterey County. Additional charities volunteer time and effort in exchange for donations, while other nonprofits benefit from the use of Concours infrastructure, such as tents, to host fundraisers.   

For more information on the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and for tickets to the 2017 event that will be held on August 20, go to

Bill Perocchi, CEO of Pebble Beach Company, and Sandra Button, Chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, distributed more than $1.7 million to charitable partners of the Concours today. Among those in attendance were (from left to right) Susan Merfeld, President of Pebble Beach Company Foundation; Dr. Gary Gray, CEO of Natividad Medical Center; Toby Marcus, Board Chair of United Way Monterey County; Katy Castagna, President & CEO of United Way Monterey County; Dr. Michael Jackson, President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County; Tom Gray, Board Chair of Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County; Carol Bishop, Executive Director of Kinship Center; Martin Button, Selection Committee Member of Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance; Sandra Button, Chairman of Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance; Linda Ford, Executive Director of Natividad Medical Foundation; Albert Alvarez, Chief Development Officer of Montage Health (formerly Community Hospital Foundation); Kelly Lehrian, Executive Director of Animal Friends Rescue Project; Jeff Davi, Board Chair of Kinship Center; and Lisa Mc Elmoyl, Board Chair of Animal Friends Rescue Project.

Monday, November 21, 2016

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

Thirty-five years ago the Maxima was created. It had rather humble beginnings being based on the Datsun (Nissan’s former name in North America) 810, a car that almost no one loved. The Maxima essentially used the Z-car’s inline six-cylinder. If memory serves me correctly the Maxima was sold as a 4-door Z. In many ways the Maxima was one of, if not the, first luxury sport sedans to come from Japan.

The Maxima has grown up in actual size and in stature since then. Back then it was a mid-size car and it is now considered a full-size. It has many competitors but it is still revered as a very competent luxury sports sedan.

The newest Maxima is a very good looking car although to my eye it looks best in the darker colors. Some of the sharp edges seem highlighted in the lighter colors and I find them jarring. The test Maxima was painted Coulis Red (coulis is a thick sauce made from pureed and strained fruits or vegetables). The color got a lot of good comments.

The test Maxima was a top of the line Platinum version; there are six different versions available ranging from the base Maxima up. The Platinum is the luxury version. There is a SR version that is more sports oriented.

Under the hood is the great Nissan 3.5-liter, DOHC, all-aluminum V6. It is the same basic engine that powers so many Nissan models including the 370Z where the engine size is increased to 3.7-liters. In the Maxima this sweetheart of an engine produces a smooth 300 hp and 261 lb-ft of torque. Like so many Nissans the Maxima uses a Continuously-Variable-Transmission that is programmed to shift; can be shifted manually and can be changed from Normal to Sport modes by the driver.

The ’16 Maxima gets to 60 mph in just under 6.0 seconds (various sources show times from 5.7-5.9 seconds) and this is pretty quick for a 3,500 pound full-size luxury car. It has a top speed of 135 mph. On the other end it has a fuel economy rating of 30-highway and 22-city mpg. Drive it sensibly and you’re just sipping gas.

The Platinum has all the bells and whistles, in fact probably more than I’d ever use. I did use the adaptive cruise control and for the first time I actually didn’t chicken out and let it do its job. On a drive back to Tracy from Pleasanton in stop and go traffic (normal) I set the cruise at 70. The computer kept adjusting the speed so that the Maxima maintained a safe distance from the vehicle in front no matter what speed traffic was going. When traffic actually came to a stop the Maxima stopped without my assistance. It then started up again. The acceleration by the computer was a little slow but I was impressed.

I am not a big fan of sun- or moon-roofs. They usually make too much noise for my tastes. But if you’re a fan the Maxima has a really large one. And for the rear seat passengers there is a glass panel (non-opening) so they can gaze at the stars.

Being relatively new to the world of smart phones I like a car with a really good stereo so I can listen to my own tunes. The Maxima Platinum has a sweet Bose® Sound System with 11 speakers. A guy has to know what’s important.

If you’ve been reading my columns you know I’m no fan of ultra low profile tires. The tires on the Platinum are 245/45R18s and they are harsh over sharp bumps. Thankfully Nissan has done a decent job of tuning the suspension so that they are not super annoying. (The SR has 245/40R19 tires that I did not test.)

Admitting that no car is really cheap today (the average transaction price for light vehicles this year is around $34,000) I still choke when I see prices. The Maxima Platinum has a starting price of $39,960 according to Nissan’s website (; the test Maxima was $40,905 including a 6-piece floor mat set and destination charges. A base Maxima is $32,510 so there’s a lot of room depending on which Maxima you’d like.

2016 Subaru BRZ

Subaru. What does Subaru conjure up for you? For me it’s the WRX STI; for others it might be the Forester or Outback.  And for others it is the BRZ.

What is the BRZ? It is Subaru’s sports car. Those in the know also know it as Scion’s FRS. “They” say it was jointly developed but both cars seem more Subaru to me.

Nominally the BRZ is a 2+2, two seats up front and two in the rear. If you want to give a ride to someone you truly despise the back seat of a BRZ is the place to stuff them. Think of it more as a parcel shelf with seat belts than an actual seat. You might be able to get two kids back there but they better not be claustrophobic.

The front seats, both racing style bucket seats, were pretty comfortable. I’m not as limber as I used to be so getting in and out (the seats are way down there) was not a dignified procedure for me. My wife on the other hand had no problem.

This is a sports car, make no mistake about it. It’s meant to be driven. The main gauge in the instrument cluster is the tachometer. The speedometer is much smaller. So small in fact that Subaru has a digital speedo in the tach’s face. I learned to rely on the digital speedo because my old eyes had trouble reading the analog one.

 Unlike every other Subaru the BRZ is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle. Subaru has made their name synonymous with All-Wheel-Drive so it seems like a huge leap to go to just driving the rear wheels. But this is a sports car so live with it.

The engine is Subaru’s 2.0-liter, DOHC, 200 hp, 4-cylinder boxer engine. Considering the STI’s engine makes 105 hp more you might ask why this engine wasn’t used. I know there are some folks out there that have converted their BRZ to STI status and they are fast. I don’t know why Subaru decided to stick with a non-turbo engine but I can guess. Price would be one reason. Insurance might be another. Car magazines put the BRZ’s 0-60 mph times in the mid-to-high six seconds.

The BRZ is quick. Part of that is gearing – the final drive is 4.100 and only 6th gear is an overdrive. But the engine is plenty of oomph. At lower rpms, say under 4,000, the engine feels and sounds like a typical Subie engine – harsh. But once you get into that sweet spot right on up to redline (7,000 rpm) it is singing.

The test car had a 6-speed manual transmission. I’d call it a close ratio tranny because when you wind out the engine in a gear the engine speed doesn’t drop drastically in the next gear. The transmission lets you keep the engine “on the cam” as we used to say. There is a 6-speed automatic transmission available as well.

The transmission was a little notchy, especially on the first to second shift, when it was cold, and it was never that cold when I had the BRZ. And the stiff final drive made the BRZ a little buzzy at highway speeds. In fact the car was noisy. But it is a sports car not a Grand Touring car. It didn’t bother me. I’m sure there is less noise insulation in the BRZ to save weight.

Speaking of weight the BRZ hits the scales at no more than 2,874 lbs. That’s a lightweight.

For once I didn’t mind the harsh ride of low profile tires. A car like the BRZ is what tires like the 215/45R17s are meant for. No all-season b.s. here; these are summer performance tires.

The BRZ is all about the driving. It doesn’t have a ton of trunk room, just enough for a weekend. It isn’t the most economical car out there. It’s rated at 30 mpg on the highway and 22 in the city but I doubt most owners will see that, it’s just too tempting to press down on the accelerator just a little more.

I’m not a race driver and I didn’t drive the BRZ like I was on a track. But in my so-so hands it felt balanced, not like your traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive under steering behemoth. In NASCAR speak it didn’t push. There were a couple of times when cornering it felt like I could have nudged the rear out a bit but I was on public roads with traffic so I restrained myself.

The BRZ is decently priced. The base BRZ lists at $25,395. The test car, a BRZ Series.HyperBlue/GZS goes for $27,690. Destination and delivery is $795. Yes the test car had extras but you get the same engine with any BRZ.

I like the BRZ. For me it couldn’t be an only car, I often need a car that comfortably holds more than two people. But if I had a fleet of cars, or I was younger, I’d seriously consider a BRZ. Especially in light of Subaru’s reputation for reliability and longevity.

2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

The Nissan Altima is one of those cars that nobody notices but they are everywhere. It is the kind of car many auto writers scoff at and call an appliance, as if that is a bad thing. What I think these writers mean is that it isn’t a pseudo sports car. Aw gee.  One definition of an appliance is a device or piece of equipment designed to perform a specific task. The Altima, especially in its 4-cylinder models, is a very nice, all-round, 4-door sedan. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Obviously many people agree with me because I see a ton of Altimas on the road.

I have absolutely no idea what the SV stands for but the 2.5 denotes a 2.5-liter, DOHC, 4-cylinder engine that in the Altima makes 182 hp. It is connected to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) and drives the front wheels. Pretty basic stuff. I used to hate CVTs (not for any good reason except they are different) but I am to the point now where I don’t really even notice them.

The Altima with the 2.5 is no barn burner but it isn’t a slouch either. Buff books put the 0-60 mph times at a tad over 8 seconds. That is more than adequate for most people. (Yeah I know everyone thinks they are a dragster driver but you’re not.)

When the first Altima was introduced it was a smaller car. It had a wheelbase of 103.1”; it is now 109” and the total length has been stretched about ten inches. What was once a tight five passenger car is now roomy.

I only work part-time so my commute isn’t every day. But I do drive to Pleasanton and back during rush hour. During my drive in stop-and-go traffic I really appreciate a comfortable car. I don’t want to shift gears. The Altima fits the bill. With one exception. And I don’t know if that’s Nissan’s fault.

The Altima gets traffic alerts. This would be really handy except they were short on info. The alerts are oral and a message like “Exit ahead is closed.” Really doesn’t help. Which exit? Or how about “Traffic accident on I205”? Really? It’s a fairly long stretch of highway. And just what am I supposed to do? I drove another car that when traffic on 580 was stalled rerouted me. Now that’s helpful. So I learned to just ignore the Altima’s warnings.

Nissan has done a nice job of keeping the Altima fresh. It has the same basic shape for some years but it looks almost entirely different. The Altima was redesigned three (almost four) years ago and freshened this year. And it looks like a Nissan (some cars look so generic even I have a hard time knowing what make they are at first glance).

There are four Altima versions; The Altima 2.5 ($22,500), Altima 2.5 S ($22,900), Altima 2.5 SR ($24,470), Altima 2.5 SV ($25,460) and Altima 2.5 SL ($28,570). Each model is progressively better equipped. Then of course there are the 3.5-liter V6 versions. The V6 ups the horsepower by eighty-eight, a significant number. It also decreases the fuel economy by up to 7 mpg, also a significant number. And it ups the price. Frankly, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, I’d opt for the 2.5.

The fuel economy of the 2.5 varies a bit depending on model but highway numbers are 37-39 mpg. That is darn good for a 4-door sedan you can comfortably fit five people into. The fuel tank holds 18 gallons so figuring a fill up of around 15 gallons (so you don’t run on fumes) you’ll be stopping for bio-breaks long before the Altima needs gas.

Even though the Altima had overly large tires in my opinion (215/55R17) it didn’t have the slam-bang ride of many cars with low profile tires. The ride was relatively smooth especially considering how terrible some of California’s roads are.

The trunk holds 15.4 cubic feet of stuff. For calculation an average carry-on bag is about 1.6 cubic feet so about 9+ carry-ons. The liftover height into the trunk is just under 27”. If you need extra storage the rear seat is a 60/40 split that opens up into the trunk.

Given the number of older Altimas I see on the road (a totally unscientific survey) they seem to last. You know, like an appliance that you don’t need, or want, to replace every year. An appliance doesn’t have to be boring. But if boring gets you back and forth to work, takes you and the family on vacation and is reliable I’d take it. And I’m not saying the Altima is boring.

2016 Chrysler 200S AWD

The Chrysler 200 has been bashed and lampooned almost from its beginning. Intended to be the little brother of the 300, a name tag with a long history, the 200 originally shared its platform with the Dodge Stratus. Although this is not uncommon among auto makers the 200 just didn’t measure up in the eyes of many. I am one of the few who liked the styling of the first 200 even if the execution wasn’t up to par.

Enter the new Chrysler 200 in 2015. It is the first Chrysler designed under the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) era. It is a much better car. The question remains if it will be tarnished by the previous version.

The Chrysler 200 is a mid-size, four-door sedan intended to compete against vehicles such as the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry. It has styling cues to tie it to the other Chrysler models. Chrysler is FCA’s upscale division so I see the 200 as competing against Buick, Lincoln or Lexus.

I was impressed with the test 200’s fit and finish. Now you’d expect a press car to be perfect but in reality they are just cars that will eventually end up on some dealer’s lot.

The test car was a 200S with All-Wheel-Drive (AWD). It was a well-equipped and well-optioned car. There were two options I could have done without though; the 19 inch wheels and the Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection system. The wheels, well who really needs 19” wheels? I mean the standard wheels on the 200S are 18 inches. And the warning system? I really do not need or want something that is constantly screaming “WATCH OUT, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!” whenever anything is even remotely close. All these systems seem to do is make my passengers more nervous.

Two engines are available in the 200, a 2.4-liter, SOHC 4-cylinder that makes a respectable 184 hp and a 3.6-liter, DOHC V6 that has 295 hp. Both engines use a 9-speed automatic transmission. As expected the 4-cylinder is more fuel efficient at 23-mpg city and 36-mpg city, while the V6 is rated at 19-mpg and 32-mpg (for 2WD). The test car had AWD and this brings the mileage down to 18/29.

A 9-speed transmission is kind of new to most people but Chrysler has done an excellent job with theirs. You might expect it to be busy – upshifting and downshifting all the time – but in fact I was hardly aware of most shifts. The only thing that bothered me about the transmission, and this isn’t specific to Chrysler, was the shifter itself. I simply do not like a dial for a shifter. Let’s face it most people are so used to a traditional shift lever that they do not need to look when the shift. I had to constantly look at the dial to make sure I had it in the proper gear. Maybe it’s just me but I doubt it.

I could also do without AWD. I happen to believe that AWD and 4WD are over-hyped. They are not needed in most driving conditions and they tend to give drivers a false sense of security. I have not driven a 2WD 200 so I do not have a direct comparison but the 200S with AWD felt heavy. In fact it is about 325 pounds heavier than a 2WD version. So unless you go skiing almost every weekend I see no reason to go for the AWD.

One option that I absolutely would have to order would be the leather trimmed seats. OMG! They were just gorgeous.  The color combination – black and what Chrysler calls Ambassador Blue (kind of a slate blue-gray) was perfect. I cannot remember another Chrysler interior that wowed me as much.

All in all I like the 200S. It’s hard to say how a car will age in just a week’s worth of driving. The 200 seemed well put together. Somehow FCA has to convince the buying public that the 200 really is a valid little brother to the 300. It has the looks. The engines seem up to the task and it had a nice growl when accelerating. The build quality was good.

There is a base 200 LX, 200 Touring, 200 Limited, 200 Limited Platinum, 200S, 200C and 200C Platinum. Then add in AWD to the mix. The base prices range from $21,995 to $31,785. The test 200S AWD had a base price of $29,545 that went to $35,315 with options and destination charge.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

I like the Volt. It’s a good looking car, maybe one of the best looking Chevrolets. But let’s get one thing straight right off – no matter what Chevrolet calls it the Volt is not an “electric” car. It is a hybrid in my book. Chevrolet calls it an extended range electric car. What this means is that you can drive 53 miles on the battery before it has to switch over to the gas engine. Overall the Volt has a 420 mile range. So for the first 50 miles it is an electric car but after that it is a gas fueled car.

According to a calculation I found that used figures from the EPA the Volt gets 2.7 miles per kilo watt hour. PG&E charges approximately 0.12 cents per kilo watt hour so the cost to recharge the battery pack after 50 miles would be $2.22. Chevy doesn’t give fuel economy figures for highway with just the gas engine but says the combined city/highway rating is 42 mpg. As this is being written gas prices in Tracy hover between $2.10 and $2.30 per gallon.

Charging the Volt is relatively easy. It comes with a charging cord that can be plugged into any household 120-V outlet. If the battery is completely depleted it may take up to 13 hours to recharge. For faster recharging, around 4.5 hours, you have to get an electrician to install a 240-V outlet.

None of this should take away from the appeal of the Volt. Whether you consider it a hybrid or an extended range electric it is still a nice car.

For a compact car (EPA’s rating) the Volt is pretty roomy inside; that is as long as you don’t consider the Volt a five person vehicle. I have no idea how Chevrolet figures three people will fit in the rear seat – the center of the seat doesn’t even look like a seat and there’s a console in the way! So let’s call the Volt a four person vehicle.

The first thing you have to get used to in an electric vehicle is the noise, or rather lack of noise. If you’ve never driven an electric vehicle it is rather eerie. You just glide along. The next surprise is the acceleration – it is astounding. An electric motor has 100% torque as soon as you hit the accelerator. Chevrolet says the Volt will hit 60 mph from a standstill in 8.4 seconds. That’s not bad especially considering that the Volt weighs 3,543 pounds. That’s about 500 lbs. more than the similar size Chevrolet Cruze.

Powering the Volt are two electric motors and a 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 101-hp gas engine. Power is transmitted to the front wheels through what Chevrolet calls the 5ET40 Electrified Transaxle. Seamless is what I’d call it. Even when I’d depleted the battery it was smooth. To confuse the matter the Volt will operate on electric power even if the battery is completely depleted. One of the electric motors provides power for the battery (an electric motor can be a generator). The technology behind the Volt’s propulsion system is slick; you have to give Chevrolet that.

Given that I only have a vehicle for a week sometimes I can’t quite figure out how everything works. I like to listen to my own music; I have about 250 songs on my phone. On the cars that have Blue Tooth it’s been fairly simple to listen to my music. But for some reason (my own ineptitude?) with the Volt whenever I tried to sync with my phone the system went straight to my Pandora. I never did figure it out. Not the end of the world but annoying.

The Volt has many of the sensors so common now – backup camera, blind spot warning systems, lane departure, etc. The backup camera is handy especially as there are so many huge SUVs in parking lots. The camera doesn’t just look to the rear but to the sides some too. That’s a good thing. But sometimes I thought they were overly sensitive, sounding the alarm because someone or something was “too” close when they weren’t. In a busy parking lot the alarm sounds almost non-stop as you try to back out. Makes me think of the autonomous car that stops at a four-way stop and won’t proceed because the human driven vehicles never come to complete a stop.

On one occasion an alarm sounded and a red light flashed (only once) and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. I was driving on a residential street, actually driving under the limit, with absolutely no one or nothing around. Did the car see a bird or a squirrel? I still have no idea.

There are two Volts, a LT and the Premier I drove. According to the Chevrolet site the LT is $33,995 and the Premier is $38,345. Frankly I think both are too pricey. (A plug-in Prius is only a little lower.)

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to test a full electric in the near future for comparison.

A look back at car longevity

A friend recently posted a picture of his early '50s car odometer turning over 100,000 miles. Not really a big deal in this day and age right? Au contraire mon ami.

It may not be a big deal for any car built in the past 20 years or so but for a car built through the '60s or '70s it is quite a feat.

I contend that there is not a car built in the past 20 years that won't last indefinitely given a minimum amount of maintenance. Change the oil and filter every 5,000 miles or so and you're golden. Tune ups? Most cars are scheduled for tune ups every 100,000 miles (and a tune up means replacing the spark plugs). It wasn't always that easy.

Cars used to call for a tune up every 12,000 miles. Many shops recommended both a "winter" and a "summer" tune up. These usually included not just changing the plugs, ignition points and condenser but the thermostat and coolant. Twice a year.

Lubrication and oil changes were almost a monthly chore. And it wasn't done by some know-nothing kid. The average car had about a zillion grease (Zerk) fittings. There were lubrication guides so that you knew where to look and how often each spot should be greased. There were fittings on rear suspension springs, generators, water pumps, u-joints, front suspension, steering - all over. Then there were oiling cups on the distributor. You had to check the oil level in the manual transmission and differential. An oil and lube job might take an hour to perform correctly.

Then there were the motor jobs. Valve jobs were common, maybe every 30,000 miles or so. Rings and bearings might be needed before the 100,000 mile mark. And by 100,000 miles the cylinder bores were worn enough to require a rebore.

No one gets all excited now when the odometer rolls over 100,000 miles, and rightfully so. But be thankful and treat your car to the proper maintenance and it will last for a very long time.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Monterey Car Week - My Recap

Well I've kind of recovered from my week in Monterey. Even though I tried to pace myself (last year I was dead tired by Sunday) I still missed at least a couple of events and I really regret it. I'll tell you more further onn down.

My first day, Tuesday, was at the Concours on the Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I hadn't expected to be able to make it but my previous engagement was postponed so I drove down early, found a parking spot, and spent a few hours looking at some fabulous cars. Pictures are up in another article.

Concours on the Avenue is a free show so I always try to spend a little money in Carmel. Ocean Avenue is closed for the show - essentially the whole town is shut down - so it's only fitting that you patronize some of the shops.

Later Tuesday afternoon I went out to Folktale Winery (8940 Carmel Valley Rd) for a small but friendly car show and a glass of wine.

Somehow I forgot to get to the Embassy Suites for Automobilia Monterey. Maybe it was because I didn't have to go to the Embassy for credentials to the track.

Wednesday was light (pacing myself). Little Car Show on Lighthouse in Pacific Grove. It's a fun "little" show. I always have lunch at Goodies ( a very good and reasonably priced sandwich shop.

Then I went around to some of the auctions and to take my pictures. Two auctions were in a bit of a mess - literally. The Portola Hotel & Spa in downtown Monterey, the site of RM Sotheby's, was doing a major - MAJOR - renovation. The plaza out front, where many folks gather to watch the cars drive into the auction room, was a construction zone. Over at the Monterey Marriott the lobby was closed for renovations; I'm not sure if, or how much, this disrupted the Rick Cole Auctions.

Russo & Steele, with their new(ish) home near Fisherman's Wharf seemed fine though. Plenty of high quality cars and a nice mix of muscle and exotic.

Mecum, at Hyatt Regency Hotel & Spa (actually on the golf course) had more cars that any other auction - great to look at but a real pain for locals who often found the roads clogged with transporters.

Bonhams out at Quail Lodge always has interesting, quality vehicles. One car stood out for being the odd lot - a 1964 Pontiac Tempest station wagon. Don't get me wrong the car was in new condition but it did seem a little out of place with all the other cars.

Gooding & Company's Pebble Beach Auctions seems to always be the best of the best (no offense to the other auctions). It's always like "Wow!"

The competition between the auctions, especially in finding worthy cars, has to be fierce. There are only so many great collectible cars out there right? Yet somehow every auction comes up with at least one "OMG!" car every year. For me, as you can tell from my pictures, there are so many "OMG!" cars that if I had a billion dollars I'd still be broke.

The total sales figures for all the auctions combined hasn't been tallied yet. Evidently the sales are down some but there were still so many cars sold for over a million that it boggles the mind. Right now the total is estimated to be $344 million.

But enough about the auctions. On Thursday the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance presented by Rolex (got to get in the plug right?) is where some great, really expensive cars, get to be driven and shown off on the Peninsula. The route was shortened this year due to the terrible fires that have threatened and devastated the area. I, along with thousands of others, set up on Ocean Avenue, Carmel-by-the-Sea, to watch them drive in. A couple made like tea-kettles, but the majority were fine. It's really neat to see such great cars being driven.

I went out to dinner Thursday night with my pal and host Doug to the Crown and Anchor (, a spot we go to at least once during the week.

Friday was another light day. I had lunch at The Grill at Lovers Point, Pacific Grove - decent fish and chips - but the location, well you sit just above a little cove looking out at Monterey Bay. A word of caution though; the seagulls are crafty and will steal your food if you're not on your toes.

After lunch I went back to Lighthouse Ave. for another car show, 22nd Annual Pacific Grove Concours Auto Rally. It's mostly locals who drive around the countryside and end up on Lighthouse to show off their cars. You get some really interesting cars and some "I'm rich and I bought ..." cars. I'm sure you know which ones I prefer.

Friday night was special. Wine tasting, hors d'oeuvres, talking about some beautiful Infiniti cars, including the gorgeous 2017 Q60 coupe, with a great guy from Infiniti. And then a private concert with One Republic ( The concert was part of a fund raiser for firefighters. Bruce is not much of a concert goer; people often think I'm not having a good time because I'm kind of stoic but trust me, inside I'm rocking. One Republic put on a great show.

Saturday started early with breakfast at Concorso Italiano provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and then the introduction of the Fiat 124. On hand were Bob & Patricia Bondurant because the 124 is going to play a prominent role at the Bondurant Racing School ( and their new autocross classes.

Concorso Italiano is an almost an all Italian show (I say almost because a few non-Italian cars slip in). I swear you will see more Italian cars than have ever been built (okay so I'm over exaggerating). I always look for the unusual and there is always something.

After Concorso I visited the Concours d'LeMons a kind of tongue in cheek show. It's not really my cup of tea but it is interesting. And I give them credit for finding a niche. It seems that some people are actually taking the show seriously though because among all the junk and oddballs were actually some collectible cars.

I screwed up Saturday evening. I was supposed to go to the Automotive Fine Arts Society's 31st Annual Exhibition party at Pebble. And I forgot. I was tired and hungry so Doug and I went out for dinner at Sushi By The Bay. I'm still kicking myself because this year's poster for the Concours d'Elegance is by Ken Ebert. My apologies Ken. Here's the poster:

(I'm a little ticked off to see that people are already selling signed copies of the poster on Ebay. I have given away duplicates of some posters but I wouldn't sell a signed poster for any amount.)

The last day is the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance day. That's it. One event. The event. The culmination of the week. The one event where the crowds never seem to get smaller regardless of how much the tickets are ($325 advance, $375 at the door).

Despite the cost it looked like the crowd was as big as ever. The Concours raises will over a million dollars for charity, in fact almost $2 million last year. The cars are some of the best in the world. There is a category for just about everyone. A look though my pictures will give you an idea of what I liked this year.

My day at Pebble started at a press conference for the Petersen Museum. The Petersen has some interesting exhibits coming up as well as its 22nd Annual Gala hosted by James Corden on October 22. I've never been to the Petersen and I cannot afford the Gala but hopefully I will visit when I'm in the area next.

I walked the field gawking and photographing like a real rube. I did go into the Automotive Fine Arts Society's display and the art was outstanding. Money! If I only had more money.

After tiring myself out ogling the cars and people watching I headed to the Meguiar's hospitality suite. I wasn't sure if I was on their guest list as I had forgotten to call them. But they had not forgotten. Having someplace to sit and rest is heaven. Add in some really wonderful food, cold drinks, interesting people and stimulating conversations and the day is complete. I'm sure many of the people who were at Meguiar's were much wealthier than I but we are all car people and that's all that matters.

Besides all the wonderful people who gave me passes, food, drink and events, I want to give a huge thank you to all the workers. Without the hundreds of anonymous servers, chefs, cooks, maintenance people, police, etc, Monterey Car Week couldn't happen. They must get up at ungodly hours to cater to so many yet I never met anyone who was less than gracious. 

And to my readers, you have to go to Monterey Car Week at least once in your life. Go to the free shows but if there is anyway you can make it happen go to Pebble. You will not regret it.

(You will note that I did not mention the historic races. The track did not feel I was worthy of credentials so I did not attend.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Meguiar's Car Care Products, Karen & Barry Mequiar

Every year for the past few years I have been lucky to be one of the recipients of the Meguiar's hospitality at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Meguiar's makes some of the finest car care products out there. And even though the company was sold to 3M in 2008, Barry Meguiar is still the face of the company. He and his wonderful wife Karen, are front and center at many events.

Photo illustration by Sara Hall ©

In 2010, Barry almost died. He contracted a rare virus and was placed in an induced coma. He was not expected to survive. Thankfully he did. Karen and he attribute his recovery to their faith in God.

Barry started Revival Outside the Walls (ROTW), a Christian, non-clergy, lay-lay ministry. ROTW's 60 second radio segments, "60 Second Recharge" is heard on hundreds of Christian radio stations around the country.

From my dealings with the Meguiars I can say that they truly embody Christian ideals. I am very thankful to have met them. And not just for their hospitality. They are good people.

Historic Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

According to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca they had record crowds this past weekend. I have to take their word because I wasn't there. My credentials were rescinded.

The track is in the midst of a nasty fight with the County Board of Supervisors. There has been a Grand Jury report on the track. You can read it here:
The part about the track begins on page 127.

My concern is for the track. The automotive writers' group I belong to has had our annual track day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I really appreciate that. But really if we had to go somewhere else we'd survive.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, or Laguna Seca, is an iconic race track. It was built in 1957 by SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula) in order to move sports car racing of the public roads of the Del Monte Forest, Pebble Beach due to safety concerns.

I don't care if my credentials have been lifted. I have been going to Laguna Seca since 1990, a year before I moved to California. I didn't receive media credentials until the early 2000s. My only concern is that the track survive and thrive. If SCRAMP can run it all the better. If they can't I hope someone who really cares about the track takes over the management. I hope the Board of Supes realizes what a treasure the track is and how important it is to Monterey County.

I'm sorry I can't share pictures of the race cars. Maybe next year.

2016 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

As usual I let my camera choose which cars to photograph. Someone asked me what my favorite car was and really I don't have a favorite. Some cars just speak to me. And tomorrow might be different.

The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance really is a special event. I haven't travelled the world or attended other "great" Concours but Pebble has to be right up there in contention for the best anywhere. The cars, all by invitation, are the best in the world. The setting is magnificent. People literally come from all over the globe.

Yes it's expensive - $375 on the day of the show. But that doesn't seem to diminish the attendance. Some people have been coming for decades. I spoke to a woman who said she and her husband have been coming for forty years. They come early for a good spot right in front of the viewing platform, bring a couple of low folding chairs and a picnic basket. It's a tradition.

I am extremely lucky to receive a media pass and sit in the hospitality suite of Meguiar's Car Care Products. (I'll write more of the Meguiars later.) If I did not get a pass this would be the one event I'd pay for out of my own pocket.

I'll post the Best of Show picture provided by Pebble at the end of this article. So with no further ado here are my pictures.

First the concept cars.

Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6

 Aston Martin Lagonda Vanquish Zagato

 Infiniti Q80 Inspirational Concept

And now the show cars.

 Sir Jackie Stewart

 Nick Mason, Pink Floyd drummer

Best of Show
1936 Lanci Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet owned by Richard Mattei