Saturday, March 10, 2018

“Franchise Cars” and the mistakes we have made …

I am not sure if we have made a mistake or not, but after owning almost nothing but black cars it seems red is now the color. The occasion that triggered the lineup above, right outside our new Windsor home, was basic – the Corvette was off to the local Chevrolet service facility to have it’s serpentine (OK, fan) belt replaced after fifteen years, a clogged air filter swapped out for a new one and yes, for the second time in its history, a fresh replacement battery. Against the cobalt blue sky we saw this morning after a number of really cold days, it was in stark contrast to the cars – as for the color of the house, well it kind of blended in with the scenery. As for the BMW i8, being a color other than red, it simply didn’t make the cut this time around when the photo was taken – but it wasn’t our fault. No mistakes were made at the time of purchase as there wasn’t an option to purchase a red i8. 

Car and Driver columnist John Phillips wrote in the January 2018 issue of the magazine, “Car enthusiasts are defined by their vivid mistakes.” For several years now, at this time of year, when it looks like winter has left us and it is the time for flowers to push up past the winter debris, I have posted about the four or five cars we should consider having in the garage. These posts now are a walk down memory lane for Margo and me but at the time, living out of two homes well, a home and a condo, meant we did have five cars and for a brief period, six. And there were always two and for another brief period, three, motorcycles.

Today, however, we have fewer cars and motorcycles than we once had but we continue to maintain a big RV – our company command center – along with a Featherlite aluminum car trailer. This seems to meet our needs very well as across the portfolio we have the RV, the SUV, the track car, the supercar and yes, the Mini Roadster which is our round-about-town car particularly loved when springtime truly arrives and the ragtop can be lowered. Far removed from either our Corvette or Viper ragtop roadsters, the Mini is still a six-speed stick shift and for the opportunity to row-your-own gears, it is a delight to drive. And "very torquey" at that, with its turbo inline four cylinder engine meeting the tarmac via tires that really grip and there isn’t a traffic light derby we can recall ever losing – at least for the first hundred feet or so. But the real purpose of the trailer is to give us a means of transporting our red cars either to the track, or as more often is the case, to business meetings and corporate events as finding parking for the RV rig often leaves us far from where we need to be. And it won't be long before another track season begins for the 'Vette.

NFL football teams along with other professional sports programs I seem to recall have an opportunity to tag a good player and call them “franchise players!” The concept is that, baring exception circumstances, the team elects to keep this player no matter what state of affairs exist concerning his playing status – he simply is too good to lose to free agency or anything else. Like a whole lot more money. At this time of year, when all you can hear on television sports programs is the upcoming NFL player draft, and with the thoughts of the cars we have garaged at the house (and offsite now at our new heated storage facility) still very much on our mind, I have asked myself, why haven’t I declared some of the cars we have owned through the years, franchise cars! Never to be traded or sold, but rather, kept until their replacement parts supply dwindles to where you have to know a person who knows another person who is good friends with yet another person who just might be able to find that part you desperately need.

Back when we did have a majority of black cars, the local exotic car showroom unloaded a selection of them on our driveway as part of the initial sales effort working to sell our home in Niwot. We sure were surprised when the eighteen-wheeler showed up on our doorsteps early one morning and unloaded a nice selection of cars – all white. So it seemed like a good idea at the time to insert our own black vehicles in with the group, alternating black and white. I would like to say that the F-Type Jaguar was ours, but it wasn’t. On the other hand, the Nissan GT-R and the Dodge Viper ragtop roadster didn’t look out of place behind the Maserati and the Lamborghini Gallardo. Of all of the cars, on that day of hijinks, my drive was the Gallardo, as our architect had taken it to show to a nearby client and couldn’t engage first gear – so he called me. Of course, I jumped and engaged first and drove it back to our home much to the surprise of those attending the event. “Who are you?” came the refrain from those who watched me step out of car. On my own driveway …

There have been numerous posts to this blog written around this time of year that takes stock of the cars that are either lining our driveway or are sitting curbside in front of our home or even parked in the garage. And on occasion that has led me to ponder that great question of what cars we need to own and yes, how many. More often than not the answer came to five and while this may seem extreme, at the time it has made sense. That is, until we hit a rough patch when all five cars need new tires, but that’s another story for another time. Whether you think it’s important to have a get-around-town car, something that is better suited to winter mountain driving or that it is really important to know the difference between a track car, a sports car, a grand tourer and an exotic may not be the real question, but then again, it is completely un-American not to have as many cars as you have garages. Sometimes, more!

If you missed any of them, perhaps the ones that really stood out were those of 2011, 2014 and 2017. Some of them only make oblique references to the collection but if you scroll through them, sure enough you will come across the references to what really is required when living in a state that has such extremes of weather. If you want to follow these links, you will get the picture, so as to speak:

March 13, 2017

February 15, 2014

Sunday, December 25, 2011

But here is the thing. If we could declare some cars as franchise cars, after all these years which ones would Margo and I choose? Well, to start with, we don’t have pictures of some of them, but the second Mazda RX7 I ever owned, the 1994 model that we called “the glove”, as it was a car that surrounded its occupants in a manner that was more akin to being swaddled than anything else. This was a car we should have kept and even today, as we turn up at road courses around the west, there are still a lot of these cars in the hands of bona-fide racers! But another car of the same vintage also is one that I know Margo will always cherish – her BMW 540i. Remember it? Before there was an M5, BMW responded to the inroads that Lexus and later Infiniti were making into the German Lux business by releasing “the Tiger!” Slamming a quad cam 32 valve 4 liter engine into the much lighter 5 series body while not having quite the impact that was made by Mercedes Benz when then independent AMG released “the Hammer” a hot-rod E-Class variant, but all the same, the Tiger was a whole lot of fun to drive and we kept it for more than a decade.

If the mighty 1994 RX7 was a glove then what could you call the 2008 Gen IV Viper SRT/10? It too quickly earned the glove tag as it was an even tighter fit when seated than the RX7. But when we consolidated homes and brought back to Colorado those cars we had in California, we faced the somewhat ridiculous situation of having more cars and motorcycles than we had room for – something just had to give. At the time we had two Corvettes, the Viper and a Nissan GT-R and the Cadillac Escalade. The Vettes were our track car but then it kind of got a little silly – the GT-R was our grand-tourer, the Viper our sports car and well yes, the Escalade was our around-town, all-season, SUV. But if the Viper was a candidate for being a keeper under the franchise banner then it was a car of a completely different color that really hit the mark.

From the time we first saw this Maserati it was controversial. It wasn’t immediately “love at first sight” – it was bright yellow, for crying out loud. As one Maserati enthusiastic suggested to us much later and after we brought it home, “you have to be very confident to drive yellow!” Over time it really grew on us and make no mistake about it, Maserati has the best exhaust note of any car we have ever owned and as best as we can tell it was a completely natural sound, not subject to synthesized augmentation as is often the case today with newer cars. We drove it everywhere – to Toronto and back, through the Canyon Lands and Natural Arches parks in Utah on down through Telluride. We drove it all over the west coast but as much as we were tempted, we never took it on track, although the only other yellow Maserati GT-S we ever saw was trackside, Sonoma, where a serious racer was indeed tracking it. 

So here we have it. Just the RX7, the BMW 540i, the Viper and the Maserati were cars we should have tacked on the franchise label. What of the Nissan GT-R? We had two GT-Rs, a 2010 and a 2013 and boy, were they fast. Wickedly quick under all conditions that gave us our first ever experience with a double-clutch automated manual gearbox. Diving into a turn and being able to pull back the levers and drop three gears in an instant – wow! But it wasn’t a car that you warmed to and after having had them in the garage for six or more years, we didn’t miss their absence even after a few days. And of course, the hole in the garage was soon plugged!  

It was on a weekend trip back from San Francisco, driving the Maserati, that we made the decision to buy the BMW i8. Well, to be truthful, not really. Margo and I faced a predicament. The day before we left for San Francisco we were shown a brand new Corvette Z06 in black, but with yellow double-stitching surrounding the plush leather interior along with yellow powder-coated brake calipers. The complete opposite color scheme to the Maserati. Why not buy the Z06 as a kind of complement to the GT-S, we thought? And then while on the road, our BMW salesman phoned us to inform us he had found the very i8 Margo had wanted and he was prepared to deal. Which car, we thought. As we pulled back up the driveway at the end of the trip, we had made the decision. We just liked Corvettes too much. But not everyone was convinced and on her way into the kitchen the following morning, Margo simply said, “we’re buying the i8!” 

Now that we have had the i8 for two years, does it earn the franchise tag? Well, no, actually. We love it and every time we drive it, we are impressed. But does it bring the same wide smile to our faces that the RX7 and Viper did all those years ago? And the answer is no, not quite! This may shock many car enthusiasts to hear, but what the i8 has kindled is an anxious wait for what’s next. This seems to us to be very much a case of work in progress and the fact that BMW didn’t want to sell the i8, just lease it, tells us that they want it back for some reason and we think we know why. The i8 is generating so much data about the car, and us, they want to run a whole bunch of analytics against its computers to see how it behaved under the stresses of daily life. However, it came oh so close to getting tagged with the franchise label. On the other hand, it was all pretty exciting the day we picked it up and it was left to Margo to make that all-important first drive home from our friendly BMW dealer.  

On the other hand, the i8 does represent the future but Margo and I aren’t really enthralled with all that we see. It may have looked right at home when we lined up all the black and white cars on the driveway as we had done only a short time before the i8 arrived. However, as one motoring journalist noted just this month, “We live in a time of unprecedented speed and power from even the most mundane new cars, but also a dwindling connection between driver and machine. New cars have grown heavier, more complex, and less engaging, their engineers seeking to eliminate the drawbacks of the average commute.” And we agree, wholeheartedly! “Performance has become less a metric for a company’s engineering skill than a solved-for-commodity, reliable and friendly.” Yuck; not a future for cars I am anticipating with anything close to the levels of enthusiasm I once enjoyed.   

Yes, car enthusiasts may very well be defined by their vivid mistakes and as we are car enthusiasts in every sense of the word, we have made many. We put on a lot of miles as we continue to cover a lot of territory ever since we elected to drive and not fly. And we love the journey a lot more than the destination and this has been true for us for decades. But even as we put a lot of miles on the cars and even as we adjust each time to the idiosyncrasies of the chosen car of the day, gloves or otherwise, we consider our mistakes and wonder. Could we ever live with just three vehicles? Or two, perhaps? At some point this is a conversation we have to have, but for as long as we are as young as we are today, that day is a long way off. And we are just itching to kick off our next trip and which car we take well, who knows. It just could be something entirely different, yet again!

1 comment:

Richard Buckle said...

I guess that the big question left unanswered is whether the current C5 Z06 Corvette deserves the franchise tag. It is still too early to say but it certainly is making an impact and by the time we are back on track, I think Margo and I will have a better ideas as to whether this Vette stays or goes ... stay tuned, for sure!