Pebble Beach: In Case You Missed It

Used by permission of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. All rights reserved

Photo courtesy Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. All rights reserved.

This weekend, the 58th Pebble Councours d’Elegance gave car lovers more than 200 reasons to lust after what they cannot have. The annual car show attracted competitors from 27 states and 12 countries, once again making it one of the most elite and well-attended shows in the world.

Although there was plenty of eye candy to keep onlookers oohing and ahhing at the 18th hole on the Monterey Peninsula’s Pebble Beach golf course, at the end of the day, only one car can be named “Best in Show.” And this time around, that honor went to John and Mary Shirley from Medina, Washington.

The Shirleys bought their 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta four years ago. It had already enjoyed a rich history – throughout the 1930s, the 8C 2900B was Alfa’s most prestigious touring car. Less than three dozen of the cars were ever completed and put on the road.

This particular car is even more unique, however. While most of the 8C 2900B models were bodied by Carrozzeria Touring, this is one of six that was privately commissioned to be built by Berlinetta, and its good looks landed it in several ads run by Alfa.

As if that’s not enough, John Shirley says the car’s attributes go beyond its obvious beauty.

“This car has an intriguing history,” he says. “It won the first race at Watkins Glen in 1948, and though the car’s been driven quite a bit, it’s never been wrecked.”

Even with its exquisite lines and perfect body, the Shirleys knew their Alfa faced some stiff competition. But at the end of the day, the 8C 2900B simply proved unbeatable.

“It takes an amazing level of elegance for a closed car like this Alfa to win here,” acknowledged Sandra Kasky Button, Concours chairman. “It requires the ultimate in style, grace and proportion. This car has all of that.”

Just look at this car. Who can argue with her?!

Mercedes, Gimme an “A,” A-Class That Is

mercedes-a-class-2008.jpgA few months ago while in Vancouver, I climbed inside a small, sporty crossover that had all the comfort and markings of a Mercedes, but lacked the familiar interior I’m accustomed to.

Feeling a lot like an upgraded Honda CRV, the compact MPV (or multi-purpose vehicle) boasted a deceptively roomy interior and, the driver told me, was perfect for taking her large Portugese Water Dog on adventures. It was my first introduction to Mercedes’ B-Class, and upon returning home I set out to learn more about it.

The B-Class Tourer is best described as a cross between the R-Class, which is sold in the U.S., and the subcompact A-Class, which is not. Yet.

After finding success in Germany, the A-Class, which was first rolled out in 1997, was slated for American production. Plans to bring the small family car to the U.S. were scrapped because of weak dollar, but the A-Class and its spinoff, the B-Class, which was introduced in 2005, both enjoyed healthy sales in Europe and Canada.

Now it seems that we might be able to get in on the subcompact luxury. Automotive News is reporting that Mercedes-Benz chairman Dieter Zetsche has announced plans to bring the A-Class and B-Class to American soil. The reason? High fuel costs are making even luxury drivers re-think the merits of their gas-guzzling daily drivers. Suddenly, those subcompacts are looking rather attractive – and let’s face it, when you slap a Mercedes emblem on the front of it, it’s just bound to look good!

With sales taking a nosedive, Mercedes apparently thought it seemed like a good time to re-think their previous plan – and they’ve also announced plans for an electric version.

Current plans call for the new models to arrive in the U.S. in 2011, and we’ll get both a coupe and a small crossover. All of a sudden, downsizing looks a whole lot better…

Honda Rolls Out Fuel Cell Vehicles

honda-clarity.JPGMost women would agree that they would like a little more clarity in their lives – and now Honda is delivering that.

Honda will put about 200 of its FCX Clarity vehicles on the road over the next three years, although – much like GM’s electric EV1 introduced back in 1996, the cars will not be sold. They’ll only be available for lease, and let’s hope they don’t meet the same fate! (For more on that, check out the documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?)

Adding a little celebrity appeal to the FCX Clarity’s profile is actress Jamie Lee Curtis (pictured above), who became only the second customer to take ownership of the new vehicle. Curtis and her husband, mockumentary filmmaker Christopher Guest, have been vocal advocates about green living and have owned other alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles. As a veteran driver of fuel-saving vehicles, Curtis said the appointments of the new FCX Clarity caught her off guard.

“I really wasn’t expecting it to be so luxurious,” she said. “It’s luxurious, luxurious, luxurious!”

All that luxury includes a satellite-linked navigation system with a rearview camera; voice-recognition controls and heated and cooled seats … made of bio-friendly fabric, of course. And if you believe the surveys that say most women make their automobile selection based on cupholders – well, you’re in luck. The Clarity has a bunch of ’em.

More significant, of course, is the mileage of this car, which runs on hydrogen-powered fuel cells. It gets the equivalent of 74 miles to the gallon and has a driving range of about 280 miles. The electric motor runs on electricity generated in the fuel cell, and the only by-products from this zero-emission car are heat and water.

Most of the cars will be leased in Southern California, according to Honda. Here’s hoping they can hit the rest of the country fairly quickly.

Resurrected Chevy Heads to Pebble Beach

Posted in: Chevy, General

biscayne1.JPGIn just over two weeks, car lovers will flock to the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where they’ll ooooh and aaaaah over some of the finest creations ever to roll across the ground. And this year, it’s possible that no other car will have quite the allure as the reconstructed 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne.

The Biscayne was a concept car built by GM back in 1955 as part of the General Motors Motorama tour. This engine-revving caravan of concept cars traveled the U.S., inviting the public to get a glimpse of their automotive future. The problem was, most of these cars were never road-tested, and when the Motorama tour ended, GM ordered most of the cars destroyed to avoid legal problems.

Three years later, Chevrolet produced a different Biscayne, loosely modeled after the sleek dream car – but worlds away. The Biscayne that hit the road from 1958 until 1972 was designed specifically for low-cost, no-frills transportation, and was the least expensive car in Chevy’s lineup of full-size cars.

The original Biscayne might have been completely forgotten, were it not for Joe Bortz, who was a young boy when he spied the GM dream cars at the 1955 Chicago Auto Show. Unable to shake their memory, Bortz tracked down the remains of the Biscayne and the LaSalle Roadster at a Detroit-area junkyard, and has worked tirelessly to restore these concepts to their original greatness.

On August 17, the Biscayne makes its first public appearance since 1955 as part of the showings at Pebble Beach. Bortz, a self-proclaimed automotive archeologist, will have a few other pieces of history that he’s pieced together as well. Those cars join an exhibit of about a dozen dream cars that GM saved, and they’ll be part of a display celebrating GM’s centennial.

It seems fitting that the Biscayne, which was unceremoniously put out to pasture in the late ’50s, resurfaces now: In the Motorama tour, it was nicknamed the ‘Miracle Car’ because it drew the largest crowds of any of the concept cars. And with soaring gas prices, slowed sales and concerns over fuel efficiency, I can’t think of a time when the auto industry has needed a miracle any more than it does today.

Downsize Your Footprint While You Drive

Posted in: General

paula-hair-blowing-in-porsche-low-res-4982.jpgFor many drivers, the pain at the pump has translated into less time behind the wheel. But for women who really love their cars and find driving a pleasure, not a chore, the rising price of gas becomes just one more aggravation to endure. It’s kind of like wearing high heels – it hurts a little, but the end results are worth it.

Of course, it’s not just the cost of gas that we’re conscious of; it’s also the impact our emissions have on the environment. So the best compromise is to find ways to cut back on that carbon footprint while enjoying time behind the wheel.

Traffic.com, which provides consumers with a variety of driving tips and real-time traffic solutions, reports that there are five simple steps you can take to reduce gas consumption this summer:

1. Check your tire pressure. Under-inflated tires can reduce your gas mileage by 3 percent – and they look tacky, too!

2. Lighten up! Removing 100 pounds of unnecessary weight can boost gas mileage by 2 percent. (If that means kicking your husband out of the front seat while you go out – so be it. Just tell him you’re helping save the planet, and he’ll understand.)

3. Avoid sitting in traffic. This one seems rather obvious – after all, none of us really want to spend our time sitting in traffic, do we? Avoid bottlenecked traffic by using car navigation systems that give you real-time traffic updates. (My recommendation is Dash, the first Internet-connected navigation system. But that’s just me.)

4. Keep those GPS maps updated. Remember: Quickest route + updated map = less time in stop-and-go traffic.

5. Finally, use the tools provided by the fine folks at Traffic.com. You can find drive time calculators and also have them send traffic updates to your cell phone or Blackberry.

One last suggestion from Traffic.com is to take the highway, which is usually what we prefer anyway. After all, cruising down the open road beats puttering down a side street any day.

Help Fido Fight Carsickness!

Posted in: General

everyday-pets-stuff.JPGwillie-and-dixie-in-lambo.JPGAs an animal lover, few things compare to sharing the open road with my four-legged friends. And few things are worse than having those same four-legged friends lose their lunch in the car.

My friend Ron takes his King Charles Cavalier Spaniels, Willie and Dixie (pictured), with him almost everywhere he goes. It doesn’t matter if he’s driving his Lamborghini Gallardo or his Bentley Continental; those dogs can be found sitting proud in the front seat. While I don’t give my Boston Terriers quite the same globe-trotting experience, they still log plenty of miles in the car with me.

Fortunately, I’m blessed with a pair of pooches that are travel-friendly and don’t have problems with motion sickness. However, for those car-lovers whose hounds do have a hard time hitting the road, there’s a new, all-natural way to curb their carsickness.

Ease The Quease is part of a new line of organic products from dog expert Kathy Santo that helps fight motion sickness in dogs. The new line, called Everyday Pets, uses natural ingredients to soothe a variety of your canine’s woes. Made with certified organic herbs, Ease The Quease has such stomach-soothing ingredients as ginger root, St. Johns wort, anise seed, peppermint and spearmint. And unlike medications that can knock out your four-legged friend, these natural formulas won’t have any sedating side effects.

So if you want your little buddy to keep his cool (and his lunch) on those long drives, check out Kathy Santo’s products here. You’ll also find some great travel wipes, called Tidy Wipe-Ease, which provide quick clean-ups on the go. If you’ve got a doggie that goes wherever you go, these products belong in your travel box!

Dyson – The Next Big Name in Autos?

Posted in: Electric Cars, General

dyson-vacuum.jpgWhen Dyson came on the scene with its superb line of wind-tunnel vacuums a few years ago, I had to have one. The selling points were just too strong: As the first bagless vacuum on the market, it was also easy to maneuver and completely allergy-friendly. Sold. It’s not as good as having someone clean my house for me, but it makes the task – dare I say it – more enjoyable. (Or at least less dreadful.)

Inventor James Dyson hasn’t just been resting on the millions he’s made as the King of Suction; now the brilliant Brit has a new idea that’s gaining traction. Dyson has announced that, for his next trick, he’ll build an electric car. He plans on creating a lightweight solar-powered motor based on those found in his fabulous vacuums. The battery would get its charge from solar panel on the car’s roof or could also be charged from panels on the garage’s roof.

Rather than try designing the body, Dyson is focusing on the motor and, according to the U.K. Daily Mail, will team up with an automaker such as Honda to build the perfect shell for his electric car. Best of all, Dyson is determined to shake the notion that electric cars are only good for city driving.

“An electric motor can go to very high speeds,” he promises. Given what the man can do with a vacuum cleaner, I’m hoping he can do the same with a car.

Can’t wait to drive down the road with the bumper sticker that reads, “My Other Dyson is a Vacuum Cleaner.”

Online Shopping Continues to Grow – But Not For Luxury Cars

Posted in: Exotic Cars, General

Bentley in showroomMore and more wealthy Americans are turning to the web to get their shopping done, but when it comes to luxury cars, they’d rather hit the showroom floor.

That’s the final word from a study conducted by the Luxury Institute, which found that, while shopping online for luxury goods is way up, only about one-fourth of us are comfortable buying our cars that way. The study, which surveyed households with an average net worth of $2.9 million, provides some interesting insight into high-end shopping.

Luxury shoppers appear to be much more at ease buying real estate or big-ticket jewelry items online; nearly 40 percent are content to do so. And nearly two-thirds of people with annual incomes of $150,000 or more are OK with buying fashion apparel or finding wealth advisors online. But when it comes to cars – well, the showroom experience just can’t be beat. Maybe it’s that new car smell.

“These highly tactile, big-ticket luxury items are generally better experienced rather than simply presented on a website,” explains Milton Pedraza, Luxury Institute CEO. However, that doesn’t mean luxury players don’t need a presence on the web.

Nearly two-thirds of all high-end shoppers go directly to the web to get more information on their purchases before they buy. So while today’s consumers are reluctant to make online purchases beyond $10,000 (the average comfort threshold for online purchases was about $3,294), the overall shift toward more online activity is making its way to higher end purchases.

So does that mean it’s only a matter of time before you’ll buy that new Aston Martin online? Time will tell. As Pedraza noted, it’s hard to truly get the “wow” effect from a web site; nothing beats walking into the showroom and driving off with a brand new steering wheel in your hands. This could be one experience that even technology can’t replicate – or replace.

Inside Mercedes’ Final McLaren

Posted in: General, Mercedes

sp-in-mclaren-looking-over-shoulder-low-res-4825.jpgThere’s no doubt that the Mercedes SLR McLaren (pictured at top right of this page) is a stunning piece of machinery. With the fastest automatic transmission in the world and 5.4 litre supercharged V8, it has enjoyed a storied ride since production began in 2003.

Last year, Mercedes announced it would halt production of the SLR (which stands for Sport, Light, Racing) and now we’ve gotten a glimpse of the final Mercedes McLaren, which is slated to roll off the line early in ’09.

This weekend, the German publication Auto Motor und Sport offered a full report of the final venture between Mercedes and McLaren. Only 75 units will be produced for the final SLR run, and the photos show us that this new incarnation is a dramatic departure from the stylish gull-winged McLaren we’ve come to know and love.

03_mercedes_benz_slr_mclaren_speedster_1s.jpgInstead, the final SLR will borrow inspiration from Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s 1955 300 SLR, which had an open-air construction … that means no roof or even a windshield. (Yes, ladies, this car is going to be hell on the hairdo.) Instead of a windshield, a small wind deflector will help divert some of that airflow, which suddenly makes a helmet seem like a good idea. Especially given this car’s ability to go from zero to 186 mph in 26 seconds.

Adding to its Spartan appeal, this last SLR also is leaving out touches like air conditioning and power windows, and the carbon plastic body will further reduce the overall weight of the vehicle. Removing the extras have given the car an eight mile an hour advantage over the more luxurious 722 Edition; the final SLR will be able to hit a top speed of 217.5 mph, compared to the paltry 209 mph of the 722.

If you can read German and want to get more details, you can read the entire Auto Motor und Sport story here. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go back to looking for a car with air conditioning. And visors. With vanity mirrors. Call me picky, but for $450,000, I really expect a windshield!

Escalade Limo Escalates Luxury Ride

Posted in: Cadillac, General

becker_strut_escaladeesv.JPGWhen you absolutely, positively have to get there in style, a limo is usually the best way to go. But how do you stand out from all the other stretches in the crowd?

Becker Automotive Designs, Inc. has answered that question by teaming up with auto customizer STRUT to create the special-edition Cadillac Escalade ESV. And this one definitely goes all out to prove that it’s not where you’re going that’s important; it’s how you get there.

The amenities inside are pretty impressive, even by Cadillac standards. Completely customized from floor to ceiling, this lush leather interior is definitely made to ensure that you enjoy the ride. Spacious captain’s chairs let you lean back and put your feet up in rich, comfortable style.

esv-interior-3.JPGThe iPod-ready audio/video system offers satellite HDTV, DVD and digital surround sound that will likely remind you it’s time to upgrade your home theater system. And all things electronic are under your control with a custom Crestron touchscreen that Becker designed using its proprietary software.

If you’re one of those all work, no play types, you’re in luck, too – it’s just as ready for work as you are. The onboard computer system has a broadband Internet connection and full printer/scanner functions. Let’s just say it beats the heck out of lugging a laptop along.

Outside, the Escalade ESV is every bit as elegant as one would expect, with STRUT’s custom jewelry collection providing accents that include a woven diamond-mesh front grille and side vents, along with the STRUT shield and Icon Wheels.

If you want to add one to your fleet, that can be done for $125,000-$225,000. Talk about business class!