Thursday, January 28, 2016

Coolest Cars (IMHO) at '16 Barrett Jackson Auction

Some have already been sold, some not.  Not going to provide a lot of details here as there are so many.  Just the basic vehicle info and if it has been sold already, how much it went for.  Lots of Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros, etc. all quite boring and also lots of old Toyota FJs with Chevy heart transplants...Zzzzzz...All in all, not a lot of good stuff given the # of vehicles available.  Not a single Nissan, only a single Datsun...maybe another year...

'71 Beetle Dune Buggy.  Sold for $9,570

'69 International Harvester Scout.  Sold for $17,600

'70 Chevrolet Blazer.  Sold for $35,200

'78 Toyota Landcruiser FJ-40. Sold for $37,400

'64 Austin Mini Cooper S Historic Rally car.  Sold for $20,900

'82 Toyota Pickup.  Sold for $24,200

'65 Datsun 1500 Roadster.  Sold for $22,000

'71 Ford Bronco.  Sold for $27,500

'75 Ford Bronco.  Sold for $31,900

'13 Local Motors Rally Fighter.  Not Sold Yet.

'90 BMY HASCO M923A2.  Not Sold Yet.

'86 Land Rover Defender Pickup.  Not Sold Yet.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Nissan Entry at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

Yup...not exactly a common thing these days but there is a Nissan powered entry at the 24 Hours of Daytona this coming weekend.

The #37 of SMP Racing running in the top "Prototype" class against the Panoz Deltawing and the new Ford GTs is running a naturally aspirated Nissan VK45DE V8.  While it finished third in the speed tests at Daytona in early January, no result of that nature should be expected.  The SMP team will have to play a cautious game of wait and see, hoping for breakdowns of the "virgin" Ford GTs and experimental Deltawing to have any shot at a podium.  Truth is that while this team and exact car have run exceptionally well in Europe (also known as Russian Bears Motorsport) in the LMP2 class there, it is not designed for the unique characteristics of Daytona like the Daytona Prototype cars are.

Still, it will be good to have someone to root for other than your typical NASCAR drivers slumming it up in endurance racing.

Facebook page:  SMP Racing
Twitter page:  SMP Twitter
SMP HomePage (though not working for me at moment): SMP HomePage

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Finishing Nissans of the 2016 Dakar

Not that there were that many of them...and the best performing Nissan wasn't wrapped in Nissan clothing at all as it wore a Renault badge.  The best Nissan Frontier of the event suffered a bad crash on the second to last stage of the event and DNF'd...As we've seen in recent years...the Nissan marque has dwindled at the Dakar.  Our last best hope is from the Redline Motorsports guys in South Africa who continue to build great Rally Raid vehicles designed around a V8 Nissan engine at a price appropriate for serious privateers while providing event support as well.  So here they are...the Nissan finishers of the 2016 Dakar.

17th Place, #317, Renault Sport Argentina, Renault Duster (Nissan VK50 V8), Emiliano Spataro

18th Place, #308, Renault Sport Argentina, Renault Duster (Nissan VK50 V8), Christian Lavieille

36th Place, #375, Red Line Racing Team, Nissan Navara (Nissan VK50 V8), Sean Reitz

40th Place, #363, Revival Aventures RS 13 Nissan (4L Nissan), Jean Philippe Theuriot

Three other Nissan Navaras, one Nissan powered Renault Duster and one Nissan powered buggie were DNFs in the '16 Dakar.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

National Motocross Returns to Southwick!

I hadn't realized this until now (about three months behind the news) but its great news for offroad racing of any kind here in the Northeast.

After two years away, a change in promoters, a reacquiring of town permits and a rebuilding of its AMA relationship, the sand of Southwick, MA will see a national level motocross event in '16.  Last held in '13 with the 450 class won by Ryan Dungey and the 250 class won by Broc Tickle, the Southwick event is likely the largest pure offroad event in New England and its not likely that anything is even a close second.

Scheduled for Saturday 7/9/16 tickets are already on sale and available here:

I can tell you from having attended the event before, if you are going to attend, be prepared for a hot day and TONS of people with little room if you are holding a "general admission" ticket.  This was about as or more crowded an event as any concert I've been to with long lines for bathrooms and food/drink.  The action is great and you can be right on top of the track, the grounds are beautiful with the greenest of grass and pine trees and the most wonderfully tan sand/dirt track manicured as if it were Augusta National...but its not an event for those looking for cushy conditions on the cheap...If you have the ability to buy a VIP ticket that includes an all day pit pass, private bathroom and viewing areas, they are highly recommended.

Regardless, it will be great to has such a prestigeous and nationally known offroad event return to New England.  Website here:

Monday, January 18, 2016

New England International Auto Show 2016

I think I've gone to this auto show about four times in the last six years.  Often I come away, having spent my $20+ on myself and my son and wonder if it was really worth it.  After all, I'm not really seeing anything I haven't before.  These aren't primarily custom vehicles and are overwhelmingly your run of the mill family sedans and haulers.

This year at least there was the new 2016 Nissan Titan to look at for the first time as it has only gone into production in the last month.  The '16 NEIAS had two of these new Titans.  Given I had not one but two ten year olds with me, my time with the Titans was a bit limited but did get a few impressions on it and the other vehicles in attendance this year.

Greeting you right when you come in is the new Ford Focus RS...Unfortunately Ford did not allow anyone to open the vehicle up, look at the engine, feel the interior, sit in it, etc.  This was quite odd as the only other vehicles like this on site were those up on rotating platforms or the high-end luxury marques that I can understand the brand worrying that some 12 year old is going to spill his Coke on the inside of a $250,000 Maserati.  Missed opportunity here, particularly as right next to the Focus RS is an identically black Ford Fiesta ST looking like a near identical vehicle.  I'm betting 1/2 the audience thought they WERE the same vehicle just on display twice and just shrugged their shoulders, "Eh, a Fiesta..." not knowing just what the RS is...

Uhhh, yeah...I guess (?) I have to be happy that there was one motorsports related display vehicle present (?)

No, this wasn't an actual GRC race vehicle.  It was just your standard beetle with a faux wing and a GRC/Andretti Motorsports related wrap on it...and not a very good one.  Heck, the little flip up (for the rearview camera), chrome, VW logo on the rear truck was COVERED with the wrap so it wouldn't open or flip up...VW should demand a refund.

Perhaps the most interesting stand to me, maybe because I'm just not familiar with them, was the Alpha Romeo display.  First was the Alpha 4C Spyder.  A beautiful car though I'm still not sure how I feel about the nose...It is also strikingly similar in size and design cues to the Lotus Elise--not that this is a bad thing.  With more power, more weight, more cost, fast 0-60, higher top speed than the Elise, this is seems like a Lotus on HGH.
Then you have the Alpha Giulia which is the exact opposite of the 4C.  The Giulia is so unassuming and small you might think it a simple econobox commuter.  Its dimensions are about the same as my Altima, it has 4 doors and if it weren't for the bright yellow calipers (and the four-leaf clover Quadrifoglio logo) the vehicle would have zero visual performance pretensions.  That puts the 4C (and most other vehicles this side of a supercar) to shame in terms of raw numbers.  Under the hood is a Ferrari derived twin turbo V6 with over 500 HP, a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 190 mph...all in a four door "family" saloon...

Oh, and Alpha also had the most stunning collection of "booth babes" I've seen in any number of auto shows I've they just picked them up off the runways of Milan and flew them in on a company charter... gullwings...moving on...

Ugliest R8 ever??  Yup...ugliest R8 ever...

Awesome Porsche 911 GT3 RS...Mean and purposeful as the best Porsches are.  No faux wheel vents and louvers here.

A Nissan GT-R that all those in attendance think looks cool and fast but wold be flinging fiberglass and plastic parts all over the track in the first five minutes you start thrashing it.  Not too many custom vehicles present...but this was one.  Built by out of Marlborough and Norwood, MA.

Also "built" by Toy Companies, Inc. was the saddest custom vehicle I've ever seen.  A Toyota Camry with a "custom" grey paint job, blacked out logos, and stanced wheels...Some soccer mom must be feeling hella fly cruising Metro-West in this machine...

The new '16 Toyota Prius.  I've never hated the Prius design in the past.  It was always smooth and very neutral in a "must be as aerodynamic as possible" sort of way.  This new edition has exchanged the feminine, swooping "curves" of the old model to more masculine angles both front and rear and also has given the vehicle a more extended rump rather than just cropping the vehicle off right at the rear wheel.  It is not a becoming look for the Prius.  With numerous hybrids and fully electric vehicles flooding the market now Toyota felt the pressure to renew the grandmother of all hybrids and "green" vehicles for it not to get lost in the shuffle.  This look does not benefit it and it will have to get by on its long reputation for fuel sipping and general Toyota reliability.

The Subaru BRZ...oh, the poor BRZ and its sibling the Scion FRS...poor forgotten children of the cheap sportscar family...Only looked at by pimply faced teen boy sad...They deserve better.

 No exterior shots of the Titan.  If you want those there are plenty around to be found.  Instead you have here the in bed the gooseneck attachment for heavy-duty towing.  Won't see one of these in your Toyota Tundra.  You can also see the bed mounted cargo boxes as well.

Rear diff.  No sharing of the rear diff between the Titan and the Frontier or Xterra or other Nissan models this time.  It is an American Axle designed and built, 9.84" differential with 3.5" axle tubes.  There is some serious beef here.

Lastly the Cummins engine.  Do we have enough Cummins logos yet?  One on each front fender and here a big honkin chrome logo on the engine block.  Well, if you're going to partner with Cummins, you might as well promote it right?

One final note...the leather in the Titan XD--supplest leather I've ever felt--in a car or out.  I wouldn't get my work truck with leather but goodness...its like they skinned baby golden calfs for this could sleep for days on that stuff...

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Book Review: The Caine Mutiny

Maudlin, melodramatic, simple, cliche...all of these MIGHT be used to describe parts of The Caine Mutiny...they'd all be partly right and all be significantly wrong.

Some 500+ pages in length this Pulitzer Prize winning work is easy to read.  There are no verbal flourishes or complex structures--yet it fleshes out its characters in ways most novels only aspire to without leaving the reader wishing for plot progress.

Its supposed "main" character is Willie Keith, a young sailor who is an upperclass, spoiled, WASP from NY.  Wouk doesn't shy away from showing all the prejudices of the times (WWII era), blacks, jews, gays, Catholics, women in general, etc. are all viewed as lower than ideal--yet, this is where the book is most progressive.  It is the Jew who rescues Willie Keith and his friend, Maryk during their court martial hearings.  It is May Wynn, the poor Catholic girl, who Willie turns to and away from his WASP mother at the end of the novel.  It is the blacks who stand by and hold their positions on the ship while the white captain jumps overboard to save his precious novel.

At the time the novel was written and following very popular movie made (which I have not seen to date) WWII was only six years behind the audience in 1951.  Likely they were more thrilled with the prospect of reading about the actions on board a minesweeper in the midst of the Pacific War than they were in hearing of the social inequities and conflicts to come foreshadowed here (JFK's election as the first Catholic president, Civil Rights and Women's Rights battles to come) and if someone wants to point out instances of where these parts of the novel were brought up at the time of its publishing you can certainly do so.  To me it seems a book about 15 years ahead of its time.

That said, The Caine Mutiny is also a supremely entertaining novel.  Largely without battles or military conflict one might think of in a book occurring during WWII, the Caine (a decrepit WWI era destroyer) is relegated to menial duties--towing targets, escorting other, more important ships, etc. It is the personal conflict between the crew of the Caine (and particularly the primary protagonist, Willie Keith and his close crewmates) and its Captain Queeg, that move the story forward.  Herman Wouk's portrayal of a nit-picking, paranoid, under-educated, over-promoted captain is one so famous that the term "Captain Queeg" has become synonymous with virtually any overbearing boss, and rightly so.  I would encourage any business person to read this novel and see if they don't recognize a few Captain Queegs in their own organizations.  In fact, the novel may be an excellent educational tool for businesses in teaching management that any rigid adherence to regulation, focus on the minutia of process vs. the evidence of result can be a significant detriment to a staff and its efficiency.

Lastly, the book is a great, if brief, love story.  Largely "book-ending" the novel as it were, the romance between Willie Keith and May Wynn is far from ornamental.  As Willie grows from spoiled, ignorant, prejudiced boy to a man who can see the "grey" areas that exist in relationships and life in general, so does his relationship with May grow from careless dalliance between an immature sailor departing for war to one of respect and true love for the whole person that May represents.

Couldn't recommend this novel more highly.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Aldi's Failed Experiment in the Northeast US

For those of you who don't have one near you (you might soon), Aldi is discount grocery chain from Germany and is one of the world's largest private companies with 10,000 stores in 18 countries.  In the US Aldi has over 1400 stores in 32 states.  In the UK and Germany and elsewhere in Europe Aldi is a near institution.

Aldi has recently begun pushing into the Northeastern US.  I see no reason why this won't be an unmitigated disaster with their stores shuttered within a handful of years at best.  Now perhaps I am too affluent and am not the target audience.  Their stores do appear to be urban and poor rural centered.  That said... I am hardly one to drive out of my way to try and go to a Wegman's or Whole Foods.  Hell, I don't even shop at a Stop&Shop or a Shaw's or a Hanford's...I'm a big time discount grocery store shopper--Market Basket to be specific...

But I do have to draw the line somewhere and Aldi is where I draw that line.  Since they opened a couple stores near me recentlyI decided to drag my family to it this weekend to see if it represented a cheaper alternative to where I usually shop.  It was an unmitigated disaster.

I had hopes for the trip given some of the innovative ideas they use (I'm all for trying something different and innovation).  Charging a quarter that is returned to you if you return your cart to the storefront is a great idea as it eliminates the wasteful need to pay someone(s) $8+ an hour to go collect carts that shoppers are too lazy to bring back.  CHARGING you for shopping bags or having you use your own is a great idea.  Having you bag your own groceries is a good idea.  Not offering the ability to pay for your groceries on a credit card and instead having you use a debit card, cash or check and thereby saving the company several percentages of profit on every purchase is a cool idea. Limiting the variety of products you offer so that you don't have to pay so many suppliers, track skus, maintain relationships with brands, etc. is interesting.  No trashy magazines inviting your generally obese housewife to find out about the love life of their favorite transexual (no, not that transexual, the other one...) is great...

But what do all these "innovations" add up to?  A miserable and if I might say, wholly un-American grocery store experience.  This is the land of the plenty is it not?  Well, instead of America, being in an Aldi store feels being in a Russian produktovyy magazin circa 1984.  There are few shelves...aisles are made up of stacking goods head high one after another.  The walls and floor are an undecorated grey concrete.  There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the placement or organization of products.  There are no signs of store staff to ask questions of...

And that's before we GET to the actual product...There is no bakery, no butcher, no deli...everything is prepackaged and flash frozen from timezones away. As the father of a four year old who will scarf down cheese sliced off the block like there is no end but won't sniff the same cheese purchased pre-sliced earlier that day as it "tastes yucky" this is a problem.  There are no personal sized frozen pizza...hell, there isn't a plain cheese pizza to be found--other than the huge size that puts BJ's and CostCo pizza to shame and won't fit inside anything less than a walkin.  There are no black olives, no cottage cheese besides plain and low fat (sorry my wife likes cottage cheese with chives), no white cheddar popcorn, no popcorn of any kind in the kid friendly lunchbag size.  The bananas?  Hey, I get it...bananas go bad quick so you tend to buy them a little on the green side but your ENTIRE STOCK BEING LIME GREEN?!?!?!  What am I supposed to do if I want to eat a banana??  Take a week long nap?  No sliced turkey at all. No cat litter other than the clumping kind.

The products that they do have?? All "generic". OK, not ALL but as even their website 80%+ generic. You won't find Coke and Pepsi and Kraft here...Its Millville, Millville, Millville...Aldi presses upon you that all these generic brands are made in the same factories, with the same ingredients and to the same standards as the well known brands, and I'm sure they are...but they don't taste the same...not even close. Maybe its the American pallet of mine. Maybe my kids are picky. Maybe we're be it. Plop my kids down with a bowl of Kraft Mac&Cheese and its smiles all a bowl of Millville Mac&Cheese and it will get spit out faster than you can say "cost savings!" But don't worry...due to the limited number of products, you won't have to spend time making a choice between brands because typically there is only a single brand. You want pasta sauce?? Great! We have some. You can have it in any flavor you want as long as its plain...and its Millville...

I can't do this. Neither can my wife. Neither can my kids or my cats. We're Americans...not Danes.
We're Americans...not Swiss. We're Americans...not English. We demand choice. We want variety, flavors, sizes. We want brands that our parents introduced us to and theirs to them. I want to see fish on ice. I want my cheese and meats cut off the block in front of me. I want to see the butcher grinding up the beef into hamburg. I want free coffee offered to me at the bakery, freshly baked bread. I want 1,000 different beers to pick from.

I don't think my feelings and preferences are that different than most Americans, or at least those not on foodstamps. I wasn't raised on a commune. I'm not insane, poor or Bernie Sanders...and you aren't either. From the completely empty store aisles and tumbleweed blowing parking lot, neither is New Hampshire and I suspect New England in general. If you value in even the smallest way the ability to make flavorful food, choose ingredients, not eat the same gulag worthy gruel day after day after day, make Aldi grocery stores your enemy. In five years these Aldi stores will be empty husks, likely replaced by Amazon delivery centers or drone warehouses...the sooner the better.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Guo Meiling Not Wholly Responsible for Dakar Accident...

I'd like to place all the blame for the crash on the friggin prologue stage of the '16 Dakar solely on Guo Meiling but I can't.

Guo made it a whopping four miles into the two week long race before she wadded up her X-Raid Mini.  Various reports reflect different numbers of injured but most place it around ten individuals with four being serious.

Holding primary responsibility is Guo herself.  On a picture perfect weather day and a brief prologue of only about 7 miles in which no one should have been running at full race speeds (the usual, you can't win the race here but you sure as hell can lose it here cliche comes to mind) Guo has no excuses for careening out of control.  She simply lacked the skill, brains, experience or all three to be playing at the pointy end of the field.

She is not a professional racer as the rest of the X-Raid Mini team is.  Look at the other names on the team--Al-Attiyah, Roma, Hirvonen, Van Loon, Hunt, Garafulic, Malysz, etc.  They are ALL world class racers behind the wheel of a world class vehicle capable of running speeds virtually unimaginable to mere mortals.  Meiling??  She's a "businesswoman", a vice chairman of a Chinese healthcare company who dabbles in offroad racing in her spare time.  Her claim to fame to date?  1st place in the Taklimakan rally...on an the women's class...five years ago.  She has no results to speak of outside of China and has no place behind the wheel of an X-Raid Mini...except for one  I take a look at the photo of Guo crying behind the wheel seemingly uninjured (at least not seriously) while helicopters, ambulances and medical staff swirl around assisting the injured and I see someone completely out of her end of the pool.

Which I'm sure is what she and her company paid X-Raid in spades for this seat.  Maybe X-Raid was blinded by the ash and the fact that there was an experienced codriver beside her.  But Sven Quandt's team doesn't need the money really does it?  So was it the shiny ribbon of putting the first female Chinese competitor behind the wheel of a Mini that sold it?  I dunno...but Sven shares the blame here as well.  Testing for Meiling behind the wheel of the Mini (which can be seen in numerous videos to have a squirrely temperment with a rear end that tends to buck violently in the bumps) was likely minimal to non-existent and evidently never under full race conditions.  Video of the crash shows exactly what you would expect--a small bump raising the rearend of the vehicle followed by a massive overcorrection by the driver, through a fence and into the crowd.  The road was completely flat, no rocks, no trees, no turns, nothing....just a complete clusterfuck by a driver who had no idea what she was doing.

Maybe such instances of "gentleman" drivers have happened in the past at the likely has...I'm just not cognizant enough about the Dakar's history to point out another one.  This one however just stinks of the same problem that another dangerous sport has seen in recent years.

Climbing Everest and other world class peaks in the past 20 years or so has largely become a bucket list item for the rich.  We all remember the Into Thin Air disaster on Everest and there have been a number of other, similar and larger disasters resulting in numerous deaths in recent years.  Many times these involve problems caused by the "client" climbers.  Climbers who have a minimal amount of big mountain experience ponying up large sums of money in order to latch on to those who are more capable and experienced in hopes of bagging that peak which will give them bragging rights back home.  Sound familiar?  Its the same disease--paying clients who want a shortcut to the top and experts only too willing to take the cash in exchange for equipment or support.

No one will ask Sven about the money that changed hands or the vast gulf of experience and talent between his other drivers and Meiling.  Meiling will likely never return to the Dakar and will likely be lost to history.  If no one ends up passing on from her and X-Raid's misadventure in the 2016 Dakar it will be a lucky thing.  Here's a toast to needing less luck in avoiding fatalities at the Dakar in the future...