The Fury and the Challenger!

1976 Plymouth Fury

1976 Plymouth Fury

It’s early Sunday morning. I can’t sleep and I’m bored. I live in an apartment building and soundproofing wasn’t part of the architect’s or the developer’s plan. I don’t want to turn on the TV and wake up half the building. Last thing I need is some irate neighbor banging on my door.

So, I’ve got to move, in more ways than one.

I decide to go for a ride and check out a 20 miles stretch of highway that has been repaved. I get in my two-tone blue, 1976 Plymouth Fury and slowly drive away. It has a 360cid motor with a 4-barrel carburetor, and a great transmission.

The highway is near my house and the drive is pleasant with nary a car on the road. When I reach the end of the new black top, I turn around to head back home. As I drive up the ramp to get on the highway, I see a bright orange Cuda or Challenger drive by. I could never tell those apart, but it has a black stripe with 440 on the side of the rear fender. I think to myself that I can take this 6-pack toting dude or dudette. When I was a teen, the older sister of one of my friends drove a Mustang Mach I and my aunt drove an AMX. I thought that they were the two coolest women on the face of the earth.

Sorry mom, but the old Pontiac Parisienne just didn’t make the cut.

Whoever is driving the 440 is wise to this wannabe. As I accelerate so does the driver of the orange car. Except for the two of us, the highway is clear.

The chase is on.

No time to enjoy the scenery now.

It’s all business.

1970 Plymouth 'Cuda 440

1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda 440

I grab the steering wheel a little tighter with both hands. I feel like inspector Frank Bullitt pursuing the ’68 Dodge Charger. It doesn’t take long for the trees on the side of the road to zoom by. The anticipation of catching the prey is exhilarating, except the R/T I’m after doesn’t stop in between takes to retrieve hubcaps that have popped off on the hilly streets of San Francisco. Unlike the City by the Bay, our playground is flat and freshly paved. I become tenser as we get past the speed limit.

What if a highway patrol car was hiding up ahead?

Nah! It’s too early in the morning, especially on a Sunday. I’m getting hot under the collar, and I don’t know if it’s because of the speed or my disappointment at not being able to get closer to the orange muscle car. The numbers on the speedometer of the Fury stop at 120. I have reached 100 miles per hour and I still can’t catch up to the 440. My car has over 125,000 miles on the odometer and the temperature needle is creeping up faster than the speedometer needle, which is now past 120mph.

But I’m young and foolish, so I press on.

There is a pin at about 125mph. The speedometer needle is pressed against the pin. The miles zip by and the temperature needle is as far as it will go in the “H” domain. I still can’t get any closer to my prey and we are already nearing town. I know when I’m beat and I decide to stop the chase. Besides, I will have to exit soon, I rationalize, as if I couldn’t keep going.

1976 Plymouth Fury

1976 Plymouth Fury

It takes a while for the speedometer needle to leave the pin and indicate deceleration. I reach my exit. I make it home and park the Fury. What was I thinking, taking on a car that displays 440 on its sides? Still, I’m happy in defeat because I gave it my all, and so did the car. Thank you, Mr. Chrysler for a not so boring Sunday morn. I get out of the car and for some reason look back as I walk away. My coming in second in a race of two quickly fades. I notice something odd about the front driver-side tire.

It’s shaped like an S.

I make my way around the car only to realize that all the tires are like that. It turns out the fiberglass belted tires I have on are not rated for anything, especially not for speed. Now, I have to buy four new tires. Regardless, it was worth it. But I never did get close enough to see who was driving the 440.

He or she must have had a good laugh at the pretender in the Fury.

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When your car is calling to be driven

Sure, just a picture, but I am really proud of it. Also, a bit depressing, as it turns out my phone takes better pictures than my actual camera.

Two Alpine A310, a sunset, what else are you waiting for?

Two Alpines in the sunset

Two Alpines in the sunset

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Companies that lie. Would you trust them with your life?

Clean Diesel. LOL

Clean Diesel. LOL

It’s been all over the news for the past year. It was so big, the company involved has had to massively reduce its expenses, innovation strategy and even some of its big marketing assets. No, I’m not talking about Samsung, but Volkswagen.

News came around recently that Audi was going to withdraw its diesel-powered cars from Le Mans, to focus instead on Formula-E (the electric Formula 1). Wonder why? No, you probably know why. And to say it all started with a very simple device and some basic programming.
When revelations came out that Volkswagen was explicitly cheating on its diesel emission numbers, the world was in shock. How could this be? In North America, VW promised us that their diesel-powered cars were clean. They even went as far as calling them “Clean Diesels”! People trusted Volkswagen, believed in what they claimed, because there was a tacit agreement that they were not lying. Extrapolating facts and figures, sure, they did that. They would even twist reality a bit to highlight their vehicles.

Oh the lies....

Oh the lies….

But outright lie, and set up a device to change reality, that was new. And turns out, this had been going on for a while. When people bought a VW, they put their trust in the company. They trusted VW to provide a car that would not break down after 5 kilometres, that would always brake when needed and in a way, would not kill them. Turns out, it was all a lie. VW became the shady second-hand car dealer that people did not trust, their reputation now in tatters, and involved in billions in lawsuits. Even myself, having owned a classic VW and who used to worship the brand, I don’t see the company as before. I’m even beginning to doubt the Golf GTI Performance pack has an electronically controlled LSD. What if it’s just a cheap brake-activated torque vectoring system? I mean, if they lied on their emissions, what’s stopping them from lying about what their car has. Seriously, have you ever checked if your car has the advertised airbags? What if it is just a bag of popcorn, accidentally put in by a distracted worker?

Speaking of airbags, remember Takata? They had one of the biggest products recalls in history, affecting millions of cars worldwide, because their airbags would puncture your face when they detonated. You know, that thing that is supposed to act as a cushion in the event of a crash. Turns out, they too lied. They knew that the detonator they were using had a severe risk of creating metal shards upon exploding, but they went with it. Because it was cheaper. Corporate greed, leading to lies and danger, ultimately leading to death.

These recalls have been more and more present in the past few years, and worst of all, it seems more and more cars are affected. It is usually linked to one thing: reducing costs for better profitability. In the end, we need to seriously consider the issue of trust. If the company you bought a product from, cut its costs to make more money, inherently making your product more dangerous, or worse performing, how could you trust them? As a consumer, we put our lives in the hands of the manufacturers, hoping that they will make sure we are safe. But if they value their shareholders over their actual consumers, how can we be safe, and how can we trust them?
Which, conveniently, leads me on to autonomous cars.

Do you trust Uber?

Do you trust Uber?

Ford’s making some. The same company that had the explosion problem with the Pinto. Google is making them, the company that “accidently” steals people’s data on numerous occasions. Even the worst company in the world, Uber, is making autonomous cars its priority. See where I am going with this?

It seems nowadays (and probably for quite some time, maybe even forever), we have trouble entirely trusting companies, especially corporations who value their shareholders over their customers. VW proved to us the lengths they are willing to go to deceive us, just to get that extra marketing advantage. If you can’t trust a company, how could you trust them with blindly transporting you at great speeds on a public road? Sure, apparently, millennials and metropolis-dwellers are adamant that autonomous cars are the future, and companies are assuring us that once the regulations are in order, it will be a reality. Probably in 2 years, since the technology is ready, they claim. Though as with every survey, when you look in detail at the questions and answers, you see that the vision is not so clear-cut as what is reported. For one, yes, autonomous cars are perceived as advantageous by a majority of people, but only to remove the boring parts of driving. When people are asked if they want to hand over all the driving, the answer, as found in this Australian survey, is not so clear cut. People still like to drive, no matter what the New York Times claims. Hell, even some millennials even want to drive.

Then, we have manufacturers who like to claim that the technology is ready. Yet, even Tesla, who was so confident about its Autopilot, had to review their claims when one of their cars simply just drove into a truck and killed the driver. Seriously, if you honestly believe the technology is there, try the Autopilot system in heavy rain or snow, then get back to me. As with every Silicon Valley innovation, it works only when the parameters are perfect.

Tesla Autopilot. It works, kinda

Tesla Autopilot. It works, kinda

Sure, autonomous vehicles exist. Planes and trains can drive and pilot themselves. The only issue here, is that planes and trains are not mass-produced to the scale of a regular car. For a plane, each one must go through specific tests to ensure it is safe. And even then, sometimes it does not work, as we saw with the 787. And as autonomous as they are, there is still a human back-up, just in case things go wrong (and they do, unfortunately). Cars are not the same story. Once the model is approved, usually, manufacturers will just check that the car works for 20 minutes, then send it off. If the airbag contains metal shards, well they will only find out when there is a crash. Do you really want to find out once you crash that your autonomous car’s radar had a screw loose and was an inch off? You may have the best quality control in the world, but when you produce millions of units per year, there will inevitably be defects. Autonomous trains work, but they only have to deal with sudden darkness and operate in a closed environment, so not really comparable.

In all honesty, I think autonomous vehicles can be cool. Using the Tesla Autopilot system on a congested road is fun, and makes driving less boring in some cases. However, total autonomous cars are still a long way off. And given the history of corporate greed and cutting corners, I’m glad that it won’t happen soon.

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The Hire is back! Or how to make a good advert

How do you make a good advertisement for a car? GM would make you beleive they can sell you a car by showing some “real” people being excited, because their pickup has a couple more horsepower than its rival, or its Impala has wifi, so everyone can use their tablet. If anything, these adverts show just how clueless some companies are on how they should showcase their car. People don’t care that your carefully selected focus group believes that steel is stronger than aluminum. That’s just being lazy, on the same level of an American political campaign, and will bite you back when you inevitably have to use the technology your competitors use.

To use the old marketing speak, an advertisement must sell the brand, promote its values. If people cannot identify with what your brand is about, they won’t consider your product in the future. I already talked about this with the Toyota GT86 advert, which promoted the love of driving, directly in line with what the car was about. And I’m repeating myself, because BMW has once again embraced the concept of the brand, and remade its legendary “The Hire” movie series.

For those who don’t know, BMW, back in 2001, made a series of short films with famous actors and directors, showcasing their range, and in the process, creating the ultimate brand promotions. These movies featured Clive Owen in a variety of BMWs, playing an anonymous driver, driving important people around, while often evading a plethora of bad guys. These were no simple adverts, each short film being directed by a famous director, with their own style. The best thing about these adverts (they are adverts after all), is that there was no overemphasis on the car. The focus was the content and the form, not the car. In this way, the car became part of the movie, and you rarely had the impression that the movie was made around the car. In fact, as opposed to some product placements (say Transformers), the cars would get scratched, broken and beaten. The car was the support cast to the driver, and in that way broke the typical advertisement format. It was genius, and ensured BMW remained a “cool” brand for people who love driving. After all, it’s slogan was “Ultimate driving machine”, or more recently, “Joy”. To people who ask whether it was worth it, these videos were seen millions of times, in 2001. Before Youtube. And to this day, people still remember them!

Now, in a time when BMWs are more and more distancing itself from the whole “man and machine” concept, with fake sound, and overall cumbersome sports cars, “The Hire” is back. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, as people are starting to question if BMWs are still about driving. Now we have Clive Owen again, helping a kid get away from bad guys, in a BMW 5 series. The formula is the same, as in the car is a support character, and the story has little to do with BMW. The tradition of having famous directors doing their thing is continued here, with Neil Blomkamp (of District 9, Elysium and Chappie fame) bringing his signature touch to this short marvel. It’s worth the watch, and makes you appreciate BMW, and understand it’s brand values. And that’s what a good advertisement should be about.

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Remembering Gilles Villeneuve

Salut Gilles!

Salut Gilles!

28 years ago, on a rainy and cold October day, I was in attendance when Gilles Villeneuve won his first F1 race. To the delight of the cheering crowd, he did it on his home course; the Circuit Île Notre-Dame, which would later be renamed in his honour. Thousands and thousands of spectators were jumping with joy in anticipation of the checkered flag coming down and the red Ferrari 312T3 number 12 to be first to cross the finish line. The miserable weather didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that counted was that Gilles had won.

I began following his career when he was racing snowmobiles, another product of Québec, if I can put it that way. He raced Skiroule snowmobiles. They had been designed in the province after Bombardier’s success with Skidoo, but Skiroule was eventually sold to the Coleman Company famous for its camping gear. Gilles was snowmobile champion of his province, country and continent. He became the Snowmobile World Derby champion in 1974.

He did some drag racing, but going in a straight line bored him. He attended the Jim Russell Racing School in Mont-Tremblant to obtain his racing license. Despite driving an older Formula Ford car he had purchased, he won seven out of the ten races he entered and won the Quebec championship. The following year, he moved to Formula Atlantic. It was raining heavily when he won his first race in 1975. In 1976, he was crowned champion, US and Canadian at that, by winning all but one race during that season. And the sole race he didn’t win, he came in second. He tried to jump to Formula 2 in Europe, but a contract didn’t materialize, so he returned to Formula Atlantic.

Gilles Villeneuve in 1979 at Imola

Gilles Villeneuve in 1979 at Imola

My brother and I used to go see him racing on weekends. The two-day spectacle included the preliminary races to Formula Atlantic showcased the Honda civic race, Formula Ford, TransAm and CanAm. Gilles also did some CanAm races for Wolf Racing. In 1976, there was a celebrity Formula Atlantic race that included F1 stars. Gilles won the race. In doing so, he impressed James Hunt who was one of the participants and would become the F1 champion that year. James Hunt recommended the Formula Atlantic champion to McLaren, for whom he was racing, and it was the beginning of Gilles Formula 1 career. He lied about his age for fear of being considered too old to be an F1 racer.

"With Villeneuve you win, even if you lose." Enzo Ferrari

“With Villeneuve you win, even if you lose.” Enzo Ferrari

Although promising at first, things didn’t pan out with McLaren nor with Wolf Racing; the Canadian team that was interested in Gilles for their F1 effort. An interesting thing to note is that Wolf Racing won the very first Formula 1 race they entered. Walter Wolf recommended Gilles Villeneuve to Enzo Ferrari. The Commendatore took an immediate liking to Gilles Villeneuve whose stature reminded him of Tazio Nuvolari. Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future. Mr. Ferrari decided to give Gilles a chance and eventually signed him to a contact. Despite poor showing in the beginning, problems with the Michelin radial tires and calls from the Italian press to get rid of him, the Commendatore kept him on Scuderia Ferrari, much to the delight of supporters like me. Mr. Ferrari grew to love Gilles like a son.

Gille Villeneuve's Ferrari 312T5

Gille Villeneuve’s Ferrari 312T5

My brother and I kept going to the local races after Gilles Villeneuve had made it to F1. The rest of the family also went to the races. One time, my parents were having lunch in a restaurant in Trois-Rivières Ouest when they spotted Paul Newman. When he saw that he was being recognized by more and more people, he left the restaurant. He was a team owner. I’ll never forget an accident during a race in Trois-Rivières when one of his cars plowed into a concrete barrier at full speed.  After what felt like an eternity, they extricated the driver from the wreckage. His legs were mangled. We later learned that he had eventually been flown to Switzerland for medical care, but his legs had to be amputated.

In addition to attending live events, we watched Gilles’ races on television. Gilles was called the wet weather master for a reason. One simply has to watch the start of the 1979 Watkins Glen race to see how he maneuvered on a wet racetrack. He started fourth on the grid and before the first turn he was in first position. He credited his snowmobile racing days for his ability to handle slippery surfaces and driving conditions where visibility was minimal.

Thanks to the web and people who post videos, you can see footage of his racing prowess. Gilles once said that he can’t hurt himself, but he can hurt the car. That’s how confident he was. Who can forget the duel between Arnoux in his Renault twin-turbo and Villeneuve in his Ferrari at the 1979 French Grand Prix? It was unbelievable racing. That same year, he was voted fastest F1 driver by his peers who included mechanics and team directors.

When that fatal day happened in 1982, a little piece of us also died. He was 32. Seeing the pictures of him by the fence as track officials try to revive him breaks your heart. But sadness gives way to rejoicing for all that he has accomplished. For one, he was voted best Ferrari driver, ever, by Motor Sport Magazine.

So, on this dreary October day, 28 years later, I remember you, Gilles Villeneuve. Thank you for all the excitement you have provided your fans. I’m glad that I was able to see you race in person and to be there when you won your first Grand Prix; the only Canadian to ever win an F1 race on his home track.

Your memory lives on, Gilles Villeneuve.

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