Sunday, January 27, 2013

2013 New England International Auto Show

This is the sign that greets visitors to the auto show. This show used to be held at the Bayside Expo Center. They changed venues about 7 years ago as the Bayside Expo was too old and small for the auto show. It is now held at the Boston Convention Center in the Seaport District.

In an effort to compete with the high performance sedans of Europe, Cadillac decided to add a line of performance cars, the V-Series. They took the Corvette engine and manual transmission, dialed back the horsepower a bit, and shoved it into the engine bay. Cadillac gets major points for offering a 6-speed manual transmission which is the only choice for a sports car. They also offer a semi-automatic transmission for the dumb dumbs who don't know to properly drive a sports sedan. When the V-Series first came out the exclusive grill was made from metal. Unfortunately now it is made from plastic. Aaarrrgg! The V-Series is available in coupe, wagon, and sedan. The picture above is of the Coupe.

                                                          Cadillac V-Series Sedan

                                                          Cadillac V-Series Wagon

   Audi has been building high performance cars for many years. There are 3 levels of Audi, A, S (Sport), and RS (RennSport/Racing). The A level is your basic everyday Audi. Next up is the S level which gives the owner a little over 100 extra horsepower. When you pony up to the RS you are in a very small minority with another extra 100 horsepower over the S. Not all Audi models are available in RS form such as the 3,8, Q, and R. Not only are the Audis beautiful on the outside, they are gorgeous on the inside. The best interior for the price. Sorry for not supplementing with photos. You will have to take my word...or buy one!

Here is the R8, Audi's supercar. They took a Lamborghini Gallardo V10 engine, reflashed the CPU, and tossed in the back of this baby. It can be ordered in a coupe or spyder (convertible, shown) with either a 6-speed manual or semi-automatic transmission. It is deadly fast, capable of reaching speeds north of 315 kph (195 mph). From any angle this car is simply stunning.

The Subaru BRZ. This is a new model for the Japanese carmaker. It was developed in conjunction with Toyota. They got their own model, FR-S. BRZ is an acronym for B for Boxer, R for rear-wheel drive, and Z for the ultimate letter(?). This car is a bit of a departure for Subaru. Except for the STI and the BRZ, Subaru produces cars geared toward families. All their cars have all-wheel drive for better handling for all weather conditions. This is the only model in their lineup without this feature; it sends power to only the rear wheels. Also, this is their only example of a high output 2.0 liter engine with a rating of 200 horsepower. Combine this with a curb weight of 2700 pounds, 53/47 weight distribution, a Torsen LSD, and now you have a poor man's Porsche Cayman. Demand has been through the roof and there is already talk of a higher performance model, possibly with a turbo. I expect hi-po model within a year.

 I sat in the Satin White Pearl BRZ and paused. I am not used to a sports car interior. I am the proud owner of a 2007 Legacy 2.5 Limited GT and am used to something different. For example, there is no center console, the clock is too low and to the left, the switchgear for the windows is too far forward and obscured by the door handle, and the climate controls are not flush or extend out, but are set back into the dash(?). However, the steering wheel has a great feel and has no buttons or switches. Thank you Subaru! My Subaru does not have buttons or switches either and I love it. Manufacturers have gone completely overboard with the amount of buttons, switches, controls, and dials on the wheel.

Here is the McLaren MP4-12C. McLaren has been racing cars since the early 1960s and are only second to Ferrari in longevity in auto racing. This is only their second production car. The first car, the F1, was unleashed in 1992. It instantly became the benchmark for all super cars. There were several features that were avant-garde at the time. The driver's seat was in the middle and was flanked by passenger seats on either side, an engine bay insulated with pure gold, and a carbon fibre body. The 12 cylinder engine was designed by BMW and the 6-speed transmission was developed by Weismann. These components propelled the F1 to an unheard terminal velocity of 391 kph (243 mph). The cost for this level of performance was $1.000.000. Since a total of 106 units were produced from 1992 to 1998, the cost, if you can find one, has gone upwards of 300%. Only rare Ferraris from the 1960s can claim this level of appreciation. If one ever does make it to auction, bring the checkbook. Larry Ellison sold his for $3.250.000 in August of 2010 (I will never understand why he did this!). The F1 was so well designed that 20 years later, even with the all the advancements in the field, it ranks as the fifth fastest car of all time. Fast forward to 2011,  McLaren creates the MP4. Horsepower started at 592 then was raised to 616. The engine is a turbo 8 cylinder and employs a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The seats are typically arranged and the body is made of carbon fibre.

This is what the McLaren looks like naked.

The Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. I have a personal connection with this car. I have been fortunate enough to have ridden in one, not a Spyder but a hardtop. I was in San Diego for my cousin's wedding and I know someone who has one. I went over their home to visit and was offered a ride in it. I had to ask if I could drive it around the neighborhood but was denied. At least I asked! Even though the ride occurred more than 6 years ago, I remember every detail. We got to the main road, turned right, and the driver mashed the pedal. The car hunkered down on the asphalt and shot forward. Within 13 seconds we had hit 177 kph (110 mph) and the car never lost an ounce of traction. The only equivalent I can think of is a roller coaster. That is what more than 500 horsepower feels like!

The Fisker Karma. This car represents a high-end hybrid with the cost exceeding $100.000 and is produced in Finland. One interesting feature of this car is the solar panels in the roof. This assists with the climate control and extends the range by 6.4 km (4 miles) to 8 km (5 miles) with a few sunny days in a row. However the car is a corpulent 2.400 kg (5,300 pounds). The car has caught on fire on two occasions in 2012. Also 16 of Karmas were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

The Aston Martin Rapide. Aston Martin traditionally produces only two-door automobiles. This is only the second example of a four-door or saloon, as the Europeans call it. The first was the Aston Martin Lagonda in late 1980s. The Rapide features a 6.0 liter 12-cylinder engine.  There are two Rapide models, this one and the "S". The visual difference is, on this model the grille is split. On the S, the grille is not split. Of course my low-rent Nikon point-and-shoot does not even begin to capture the beauty of this machine.

The Chevrolet Volt. This is a view of the electric motor and the 1.4 litre engine. This is GM's hybrid answer to the Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius, Honda Fit EV, and such. The electric has received a lot of attention the last 3 years. All the major manufacturers have a version of a plug-in electric car. Some manufacturers only produce electric cars, such as the Fisker Karma and the Tesla. The technology is still in its infancy, but is making major strides every year. Some of the major issues are the lifespan of the batteries and how to dispose of them after their life-cycle, how to safely remove passengers from a crash, break even period, and the most important, range.

The only car at the BMW display worthy of memory was the M6.

Conclusion: This auto show is not for enthusiasts. This is mostly for people who wants to browse through a lot of cars in one shot. Notable no-shows include Jaguar, Porsche, and the Ferraris. I would surmise with all the disposable income in some of our towns, a more complete offering would be available. The just released Corvette was not here (no surprise). The major shows are LA, Detroit, Chicago, and NY, which I hope to be attending in 9 weeks. That is a show! I went last year and was blown away. That show takes me 2 hours to complete. Here I put 2 hours on the meter, but it only took me 50 minutes to whip through the show.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review - Michael Douglas: A Biography

Michael Douglas: A Biography
by Marc Eliot
Hardcover, 352 pages
Crown Archetype (Random House)
September 2012

This review originally appeared on Out of the Past - A Classic Film Blog

My wife knowing how much I admire Michael Douglas secured a copy of his biography and suggested I review it.

From the time I saw Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone (1984) he became one of my favorite actors. I have seen 22 of his movies, with Wall Street (1987) as my favorite movie for his acting and The Game (1997) as my favorite for the plot.

As I read the book, I came to realize how complicated Michael is as a person and how his life evolved. He was very much a product of his famous father, Kirk Douglas. Not only did he only did he follow his father’s footsteps in his profession but also in his relationships with women. They were both married twice, had numerous affairs and his mother’s name and first wife’s name are almost identical (Diana and Diandra respectively). They both have been awarded accolades for their vast bodies of work over many decades. Unlike his father Michael was involved in drugs and alcohol for a time.

Michael’s first acting break was the television series, The Streets of San Francisco, with Karl Malden. However it was not acting that made Michael famous, it was producing. Michael’s big producing break came courtesy of Kirk. Kirk was acting in a play called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for several years. Several attempts were made over the years to take play from the stage to the screen with no success. There was a growing interest in the book and he wanted to capitalize on it. Kirk was practically giving the movie away to anyone just as long he had the main part. No studio would touch it due to the depressing and sad story. Finally Michael interjected and convinced Kirk to let him take over the project. This is where Michael’s life would change forever. Now it had been several years and Kirk was looking for film work. Kirk assumed that since Michael was now producer that he would get the role of McMurphy as he did in the play. The only glitch in the project was that Kirk Douglas was deemed to old for that role. Michael agonized about this decision and the role ultimately went to Jack Nicholson which would win him his first Oscar.

After the monster success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the subsequent Oscar for Best Picture, the movie industry was at Michael’s feet. He now had the power to star and/or make any movie he wished. Then in 1986 he starred in his definitive role of Gordon Gecko, in director Oliver Stone’s Wall St. His command performance of the financier would win him his second Oscar, this time for Best Actor.

His life was marred by personal setbacks and tragedy. He suffered the incarceration of his son, Cameron, for drug possession and the death of his half-brother, Eric, to a drug overdose. His first marriage ended in a contemptuous divorce. He even had a brush with stage IV throat cancer. Although through all the tribulations he did manage to find love again with fellow actor, Catherine Zeta-Jones. They married in 2000 and have two children.

Michael Douglas: A Biography by Marc Eliot is an engrossing and intimate look into the life of one of the most popular contemporary actors. The biography details the childhood of Michael growing up with a famous father and how his fragmented upbringing shaped him. The biography moves chronologically through childhood, college, starting in movies, having a child, divorce, and remarrying. Mr. Eliot details the ups and downs of Michael's life with concise thoughts. This book is an informative read for any movie buff or anyone looking to learn more about the famous actor. I was also impressed with Mr. Eliot's biography of Steve McQueen.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Crown Archetype for sending a copy of the book for review.