Sunday, October 4, 2015

A tale of two cars and of paths not taken


I am running around town these days in Margo’s Mini Cooper S Roadster and having a blast and I am reminded of just how much fun driving can be once you strip away much of the technology. Yes, it’s a stick shift with six forward gears and yes, it’s really light and yes, I know, it’s tiny. But that’s what is providing the almost instantaneous feedback in any road conditions I encounter – and yes, the continuous feedback through the seat of the pants is unmistakable. Put a tire off the pavement and you know immediately you have been a little too aggressive. As for the shifter, the third to fourth gear plane is the natural plane and it’s pretty strongly sprung and engaging first gear can be hit-or-miss affair. On the other hand, I am now mastering the quickly-to-accelerate third gear launch. Then again, as the picture above notes, it was Margo who received the instructions on how best to operate the Mini. 

It was back on Thanksgiving 2007 when Margo and I had made it to Singapore, once again, for the short holiday break. Without laboring the point, for a couple of years we flew to Singapore for Thanksgiving dinner on Singapore’s south-east shore where we dined on a mixture of chili and pepper crabs. One of the true culinary wonders of the world! That a family would simply walk onto a plane and fly all the way to Singapore for a meal and then be back in time to pick up work the very next day is a story for another time. However, back in 2007 our hotel, the Marriott on the corner of Scott and Orchard Streets, was the temporary HQ for Audi when Singapore was one of a couple of locations around the world from which the then-new Audi R8 was launched – a story I used to great effect in a post to my business blog, Legends!

To say I was enamored by the R8 would be an understatement. No one was more surprised when the host of the launch offered a signed edition of the first promotional book on the launch of the Audi R8 that I beat off a group of children to correctly answer a question about the Audi grand prix cars of the 1930s and so score the book. And I still have it. But alas, I do not have an Audi R8. As fate would have it, our taste in sports cars took a decidedly Asian twist following the launch of the Nissan GT-R at the Los Angeles motor show held late in the year 2008. My initial enthusiasm and belief the GT-R would shake up the industry was reflected in the post of October 7, 2008, Almost ...


As history now records, and has been covered here in this blog more than once, Margo and I proceeded to purchase not one, but eventually two GT-Rs (a 2010 and a 2013), but as technically brilliant as they both proved to be and as exciting as they were to drive, after all the money we spent on them they proved to be rather boring. So predictable in their capabilities and so much better than we were prepared to push them – no, we never once took them onto their home turf, a road course – they are no longer a part of our lives. Gone in essentially 60 seconds. Driven to the wholesaler as the lease was about to expire to score a handful of dollars.

Nothing at all remains to remind us both of six years of ownership of the pair of GT-Rs – and the garage doesn’t look quite the same without them! As for the Maserati GT-S well, having witnessed the departure of both the Viper and the GT-R, Margo reiterates frequently of how the Maser appears to be anxious as it awaits it’s long term outcome; to paraphrase a popular song, “will it stay or should it go, could we ever really stand to let the Maser go,” comes to mind! Who knows, the picture above may be the only keepsake we have of GT-R and GT-S come 2016.

All of which is to raise the point – what about the Audi R8. Whatever happened? Turns out that the path we took led us in a different direction altogether. Recent conversations between Margo and me have frequently lamented on what was possibly one of the worst car-buying decisions that we ever took and that brings me full circle and back to the Cooper S Roadster. Perhaps the least expensive car we have ever purchased, and with little to no research being done, we have scored one of the more exciting cars we have ever had the pleasure to drive. And where has it been since we bought it? 


For more than half of its life with us, this Mini has been on battery trickle charges as we proceeded to cover most of the continental US from coast to coast. From Santa Barbara’s shoreline and the road course in Sonoma to the sands of the dunes on Cape Hatteras. It has been the necessity of our business pursuits that has seen us spend so much time in the company command center and as we pulled into the drive after the most recent trip, the odometer ticked off 40,000 miles. And it’s been just four summers! The map of the U.S. where the roads we take are highlighted in yellow and keep as a record of where we have been is both tatty and torn with earlier highlights already fading. But as I just read this morning, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

“Off the coast of Carolina
After one or two (martinis)
I believe we found our stride …”


Before joining Tandem Computers in 1987, I spent the previous year in Raleigh N.C. While Raleigh was a pretty place the humidity in summer proved too much even for a lad from Sydney, so when the opportunity arose, I drove my beat up jalopy to the coast. After arriving in Raleigh I had purchased a high mileage, rather tired looking, powder blue Pontiac Grand Prix with the baby V8 engine, of course. It never ran right and tended to overheat on a whim but I was able to make it all the way out to the Pamlico Sound.  This time around, listening to the radio, we heard the words of a Jimmy Buffett song, Coast of Carolina and it seemed more than appropriate for both of us even if I did mess with a word or two.

Wandering the streets, checking out the shops and in general, spending a lazy day by the sound proved to be a cool way to just chill-out! But as I looked towards the horizon, and to the outer banks, I wondered whether one day I would make it out to those sandy islands and with fortune smiling kindly on us, as part of this business trip to the East Coast, Margo and I made the drive down from Reston, Virginia, to Cape Hatteras where we spent the weekend camped at the KOA facility at Rodanthe.


The past is most definitely a foreign country as sections of the cape look a lot like they did when I first journeyed out this way thirty years ago. Very little appears to have changed, especially the beachside communities south of Nags Head. With summer vacationers long gone, it was easy to get around and bars and restaurants were only lightly filled. The campsites were quiet as well and there was ample room to sit down and relax each afternoon even as we shook Martinis each day at 5:00pm and only after a lengthy stroll along the shoreline.   

Initially, we had planned on putting the Mini on our trailer and taking it with us, but as this was the first time we would be driving our company command center east of the Mississippi, and given that our route would take us through the back roads of West Virginia and Maryland before we passed through the township of Leesburg, Virginia, it wasn’t something we were happy about doing. So, yes, discretion overcame any enthusiasm we may have had to take the Mini and as it turned out, this proved to be the right decision. Maybe next time!

As for our last road trip to these parts, back in 2013, we covered roads a little further to the south.  We had taken the Nissan GT-R and to this day, it’s been Margo that made the drive from just outside Knoxville, Tennessee, to Ashville, North Carolina, via the Tail of the Dragon – the notorious and technically challenging, Highway 129. Margo’s charge up and over the mountain was captured in a photo or two and can be seen in the post of August 29, 2013, Tails of Dragons, Plates of Gumbo and Streets of Bourbon.

The only other time spent on this road was when we first encountered it a couple of years earlier and I was behind the wheel of our Cadillac Escalade. My experience in driving the Tail of the Dragon in the opposite direction and in a 3 ton SUV was covered in the post of October 28, 2011,Taming the Dragon? As we took in the vista of the shores of Rodanthe, there are still times when I miss the GT-R. Godzilla, as the press aptly named the GT-R, originated in the sea after all, and I could only imagine seeing it appearing out of the pre-dawn gloom that greeted us each day.


The route out of Boulder that we chose took us north to I80 before cutting back down through West Virginia (which we passed through three times, a little of Pennsylvania and Maryland before entering Virginia and with each state line we crossed, the road surface became even worse. With so many cones on the road, it was almost as if we had entered the RV in an autocross event. However, the signs of real activity were rarely sighted such that eventually we couldn’t distinguish stretches of interstate under repair from what looked to be abandoned. And the RV paid a price for these deteriorating highway surfaces.

The lengthwise twisting the RV chassis proved too much for the bathroom mirror and it came crashing down, surprising us both. It didn’t shatter as it’s not made of glass, fortunately. Then the end panel of a long drawer underneath the dining table seats broke free as books and magazines moved sideways with such a force the light nails used to retain the end piece didn’t hold, spilling the contents out across the floor. And oh yes, once again, the doors on cupboards alongside the main living room slide-out eventually became loose and tore out another decorative section of the main slide’s frame. All maintenance items, yes, but a constant reminder that combining a home with a chassis has its downside. Overall though, it’s still a great place to prepare meals. Strawberries and cream, anyone?


While we elected to camp at KOA campsites on the way over, the return trip was something we were going to be more spontaneous and it would depend on just how many miles we had to cover. Our initial plan was to stop by Raleigh, but we had to delay our departure from Cape Hatteras by five hours such that what we had thought would be a solid three day drive to cover 2,000 miles became two and a half days. Catching the late afternoon rays exiting Raleigh, we pulled into a rest area off Interstate 40 and made the decision to drive deep into the night and aim for a WalMart parking lot outside Knoxville, Tennessee.

Monday we rolled off 580 miles, followed Tuesday with 720 miles that took us to Kansas City, Missouri and another WalMart parking lot that then left us with a moderate 625 miles to traverse Wednesday. All quite manageable really – and yes, our experience from our many years of track experience really helped. Stay hydrated at all times; seriously. No carbs and especially, no sugar, and the miles rolled off rather effortlessly even though making our way over the Smokey Mountains in the dark meant we missed seeing the colors of fall as the trees were just beginning to turn with the change of the season.


Our haste to make it back to Boulder was a mix of needing to be back in the office and, following the  news that the grandson still in the intensive care ward was coming home Thursday, there was no way that grandma was going to miss such a home coming. To have lived through the many months that followed the arrival of Aiden and Evan delivered after only 28 weeks gestation and as sub one kilo infants with all sorts of troubling medical conditions, is as close to a miracle as Margo and I have ever experienced and there will be much more written about them in future posts. But for now, it’s just time to thank everyone for the prayers and support and to acknowledge that without the care of some supremely gifted medical staff, the outcome of the boys’ lengthy stay at the hospital could have been very different.

The difference in weight between the two boys has narrowed considerably over the past couple of weeks and now the smaller of the two boys, Evan, has closed in on his twin brother to the point where very soon, there will be little to tell the two apart – yes, they are identical twins. In a way, this takes me back to my opening remarks although it’s nothing quite like the dramatic life or death situation we have gone through daily, with respect to the twins. 

We made a mad-dash back to Boulder in the RV in April following their birth and we have made another mad-dash back to Boulder for their homecoming. But really, from Margo’s perspective, we didn’t have a choice and yet, looking into the garage, could we have made better choices over the past five years? Without dwelling too long on the topic, each time we open the door to the garage, we look at the cars parked inside the garage with emotions not too different from what we experience with our offspring. These cars in a way have become the surrogate children we never had and the emotions run every bit as deeply!

In Las Vegas there’s a company, Exotics Racing, which provides access to an array of exotic sports cars for a fee. Should you elect to take their cars out for a spin, then there’s a short road course set up in the car park of the Las Vegas Speedway. Over the years the portfolio of cars has been enhanced to where today, there’s something for everyone’s taste, Mini excluded. What caught my attention just recently was that the price for taking either the Nissan GT-R or the Audi R8 on track for five laps was the same - $249 for either car. 

Six years ago we elected to buy the Nissan over the Audi but now, we realize that either way, choosing one over the other really came down to personal choice as the differences between the two have narrowed over the year and no, there’s really no mistake in choosing either one. Nobody will ever say that these cars are twins, identical or otherwise, and yet they were both designed around the same time, with essentially the same goal in mind. And on reflection, we are just happy to have been fortunate enough to be able to count the GT-R as one of our most favored children!

Footnote:


Rather serendipitously, as I wrapped up this post Saturday evening, with the street lights just coming on, I walked out onto the main floor verandah to find a silver R8, identical to that we saw at the car’s launch, parked right outside the house. Who knew! Coincidence or not, all the memories from that trip to Singapore came flooding back – yes, the legends did come to Singapore all those years ago.  

1 comment:

Richard said...

Just updated the picture of the Mini with one that captured the time of year - fall colors are emerging at our home and red seems an appropriate fall color!