Atlanta, Its Cars, And Why You Should Totally Go There

 

For anyone who is obsessed with cars, or just has a passing interest in them, attending a major car convention is a must. The sheer scope of them is amazing; everything from supercars to brand new econoboxes can be in the same space, just waiting to be gawked at. So when the Atlanta International Auto Show came around, along with free tickets from a real automotive journalist friend of ours, with lodgings provided by relatives, It was shaping up to be a pretty fantastic spring vacation.

We began our day by meeting an old family friend, Nick Palermo. Nick is IMG_20140329_131249_999a freelance automotive journalist, and regularly writes for Autotrader.com and other important publications. He even had a piece in the show’s brochure.

When we first arrived at the building, we were slightly confused. The mere bigness of the place boggled my mind. We were in a massive hallway, with beautiful old and new cars lining each wall. I would have spent an hour staring at each and every shiny masterpiece, if Nick had not informed us of the importance of the tickets. “This is just the entrance hall,” he said. “In there is the showroom, where all the cars really are.” Considering that the entrance hall show was just as big as anything we have on Main Street, I could not imagine what kind of glorious space the showroom was.

Immediately after I walked through the gate onto the showroom floor, I had to stop to catch my breath. This place was truly the acme of my automotive fantasies. Tons of manufacturers had stands strewn about the floor, with concepts, supercars, and new IMG_20140329_142208_297vehicles vying to draw more salivating spectators to themselves. Every manufacturer had at least one particularly interesting car. Mazda brought its Skyactive race car, Nissan showed off the GTR Nismo, Lexus had a LFA (which I never liked in pictures, but in person it’s actually pretty awesome), Ford had the new F-150 and Mustang, and so on.

In addition to the standard slew of new cars, special exhibits showed off certain aspects of automotive culture as well. There was a “Then And Now” exhibit showcasing the same or similar models across several generations, and supercar exhibit that had a half-dozen supercars ranging from a Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 to a Lotus Evora. IMG_20140329_135455_575Camp Jeep used its large outdoor obstacle course to show off various Jeep models’ offroading abilities.

If you have never been to a large car show before, I highly recommend bringing somebody who actually knows where everything is and what the highlights are. Nick Palermo had attended the show on Wednesday with the Journalist-Only crowd, and thereby knew where to go, what to skip, and all the little details that make each car especially cool. Because of him, we were able to whip around and see everything worth seeing before our families got too hungry.

Year after year these shows come around, and up to this point I had never reallyIMG_20140329_140315_425 realized      what I was missing. But no more; now I can use this experience as an excuse to visit as many shows as possible, whenever I can. Now I can scratch Auto Show off my automotive bucket list, and do so again and again every year for the forseeable future.

 

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Formula E: Like Formula 1, But Quieter

The FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) has a new racing series in the works. In order to envision it, imagine a bunch of golf carts racing in circles. Formula E will be absolutely nothing like that. In fact the only thing that these high-tech, high price racecars have in common with that image is their power source. Formula E is exclusively electric. The cars appear very similar to those of F1, but will be about 158 kg heavier due to the batteries.

The biggest hurdle most gearheads have to jump is the noise. Electric cars just hum, right? Where’s the fun in that? Thankfully, Formula E isn’t as noisless as one may think. The cars make an eerie, whining/howling noise that sounds like a cross between a golf cart and a formula one car, with a little jet engine and star wars speeder thrown in.

Formula E has a lot of things going for it. The races are set in famous cities around recognisable landmarks, some great racing teams are participating, and most importantly, it has the greatest chance of making electric cars look cool. If you have read this blog, you probably know that I favor other forms of renewable energy above electric propulsion. But electric cars racing in urban environments is the most exciting use for them yet. Since the batteries can’t last an entire race, Each team will have two cars that the driver can switch between, making pit stops more of a factor than in normal racing.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this series is that it is new. It seems like motorsport has been fairly stagnant recently, with most series sticking to a formula established long ago. But innovative new races have been working to change that, like Robby Gordon’s truck races, and now Formula E. It may crash and burn, but who knows? this is the most exciting thing to happen to electric cars since the early 1900’s. Let’s just hope it’s loud enough.

C7 Corvette spotted! (Finally)

As we were driving home from school today, I finally saw a C7 Corvette in person. And even better, there were two of them, one white and one black, driving along together in the rain. I found it staggering how wide and low they were. The rear looked way better in person than in pictures, especially on the white car. The only place the styling fell apart was the front grill, which looked liked it was grinning with braces. Unfortunately, they weren’t doing anything particularly sporty at the time. Looks like I will have to wait a little longer to hear that new V8 roar.

Do we need EVs?

Golf Cart. The derogatory term aimed at many an electric car. This summer I went on vacation to a beach where the transportation vehicle of choice was a golf cart. The streets were filled with them,  which was a real annoyance to anyone who drove a car as most golf carts couldn’t go above 15 mph. During our week-and-a-half stay there, we motored all over the island in a little two-seat British Racing Green-ish E-Z Go with tan upholstery. This particular model didn’t have too many options besides the clamp on side view mirror, but hey, golf carts are only ridiculously expensive for what they are, so I understand the frugality. I got plenty of seat time, as I am the newest driver in my family and there were errands to be run. Which I didn’t mind. I loved the quick acceleration provided by the electric motor and its relatively silent operation. It was always disappointing when the golf cart hit its maximum speed so quickly, though. 15 mph never feels fast or exciting. It was hard not to draw comparisons between our little golf cart and electric cars. We had range anxiety, and we had to plan our day around what we thought the golf cart could accomplish.

Eventually, I began to wonder; could our entire society scoot around in little electric vehicles? If not, to what extent should our cars have electric powertrains? EV’s, Hybrids, or somewhere in between?  As a future car buyer, only a few electric ideas appeal to me.

First off, I can’t see myself driving an EV. My time with the golf cart taught me that. Yes, I realize that electric cars are way more sophisticated, faster, and have a longer range than golf carts, but the problems are still there. They are just scaled up or down accordingly. An EV’s range is far larger than a golf cart’s, but so are the areas that it travels. I have to imagine that after a busy day of running errands on the other side of town and coming back home a few times, the car wouldn’t have enough juice to do much else. Range is also affected by temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors more than other cars. And no matter what flash charging system the manufacturer comes up with, it will probably never be faster than filling up at the pump (which also happens every couple hundred miles or so, rather than 80 for most EVs). Cars like the BMW i3 and the Nissan Leaf also seem too expensive for me to consider as a second car, and for their price one could easily buy a used Porsche or a new Subaru BRZ, along with many other interesting and exciting cars.

Plug in hybrids seek to eliminate most of the problems of EVs by using a small engine to power the wheels or recharge the batteries when they run out. The Chevy Volt was hailed as the future of the electric car when it was released, even though it could drive its wheels with its tiny engine if need be. The plug in hybrid segment also has some very cool cars, namely the McLaren P1 and the (Ferrari) LaFerrari. But still, you have to plug it in at night if you want maximum fuel efficiency or performance. And that really brings me to the biggest problem I have with hybrids: They still have batteries.

Batteries as a means of storing energy for propulsion just seems like a silly idea to me. They weigh a whole lot more than a conventional fuel tank (or a fuel tank for CNG or Hydrogen). They also can’t store as much energy as densely as gasoline, hence the huge battery packs. They have to be charged more often than you would refuel a conventional car. There really should be a better way to get maximum efficiency.

That is why Volvo’s KERS (Kinetic Energy Retrieval System) makes so much sense. According to Volvo, it can increase fuel consumption by 25%, and it doesn’t use batteries. It stores energy from braking in a 6 pound flywheel that spins ridiculously fast. When the car begins accelerating again, the energy from the flywheel is used to power the rear wheels through a tiny CVT. This whole system is not much bigger than a manual transmission and is significantly lighter than any battery pack. If something like this becomes standard equipment in the future, would we need electric cars? Maybe the best form of electrification is no electrification.

Checking out the Corvette Auto Show

One would think that a small town in western North Carolina like mine would have very little in the way of car shows. Fortunately for me, Hendersonville seems to be full of people who have interesting cars and stories to go along with them. During the summer, a classic car show pops up every few weeks, and when there is a car show, there is also live music and refreshment stands. Main street becomes an incredible time capsule full of people and objects that make me nostalgic for a time before most of my family was even born.

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Indy 500 Pace Car Edition

Corvette Stingray Convertible

Corvette Stingray Convertible

Soon after arriving at the show, I began searching hopefully for a ’63 split window coupe. I didn’t find one, but I did come across a beautiful Stingray Convertible. The owner had lovingly restored it in the nineties, and from the looks of the car, he had used it fairly often since then. The Corvette also had the venerable 427 small block, capable of producing 425 hp (according to the engine cover). The Stingray is one of my favorite body styles of all time, so this car definitely ranked in my top 5 at the show.

Despite what I think I know about cars, there is always something else to learn. For instance, I came across a C6 Corvette with a Z51 badge on the side. When the owner was asked what this meant, he gave a very in-depth explanation that both my Dad and I found interesting. Apparently, a Z51 has all of the go fast upgrades as the Z06, but retains its steel chassis, allowing the owner to have a removable roof. You learn something new every day.

If you think a Corvette show would be a magnet for guys in a mid-life crisis, then you would be about half right. The newer corvettes had mostly middle-aged owners, but the classic cars had more varied owner ages. Everyone at the show was flaunting as much of their car knowledge as possible, and it seemed every group of people appeared to have at least one person who would show off every fact they knew at very chance they got. As a result, every car had repetitive string of facts echoing around it at all times. For instance, Dad had just finished explaining how later C3 bodywork was more sculpted than earlier models, and I went off to look at another Corvette of the same vintage. When I arrived, I heard a woman saying, “See how the body is more sculpted around the wheels? That’s a characteristic of later models.” But that’s part of the fun of car shows; showing what you know and learning about what you don’t. I can’t think of a much better way to spend my time.

Eventually, the rain arrived and sent everyone scrambling for their cars. But that was a treat in itself. The Corvettes would start with a V8 growl, then the owners would rev them a few times for good measure. I love going to auto shows for the cars, the people, and the music, and you can bet I’ll be there at the next one.

A '57 Convertible owner rushes to weatherproof his car

A ’57 Convertible owner rushes to weatherproof his car

Driver’s ED: Serving our country one bad driver at a time

When people hear of a life threatening job, they think of the military. And they would be right. But there is another person in every community whose days are fraught with peril and danger; a driver’s ED instructor. These people have the monumental task of teaching us teens, who are already so good at everything, about the art of personal locomotion. Every day, the students test what these men and women are made of. And this goes beyond the usual “No, that is the gas pedal, not the brake” scenario. In order to break the ice on our first day of Driver’s ED, the instructor told us some truly terrifying stories of students who had spun, sped, and performed almost every conceivable vehicular offense. “So,” he concluded, “don’t feel bad. It’s all been done before.” Very reassuring. It turns out he was full of good stories. He recounted how he once got into the passenger’s seat for a girl’s first drive to see tears of fear streaming down her face. If she was that nervous, I can’t imagine how he felt.

When I started learning how to drive, I imagined that I would get in the car for the first time, pull out into traffic, and dazzle the streets full of ho-hum drivers with the amazing expertise and grace of my maneuvers. Boy was I wrong. It’s not that I wrecked or anything, but somehow I wound up driving at illegal speeds. Later, the instructor had to keep me from pulling out in front of an oncoming semi. In my defense, I could have made it. It would have been tight, and probably given everyone else in the car a heart attack, but I could have made it.

However, compared to the incompetence some of my peers behind the wheel, I looked like Mario Andretti. One girl I was riding with was fine, when she was driving down a straight five lane road with no other cars on it. When we got to the twisties, however, it was all I could do to not scream and jump out the window at 45 mph. That probably would have been safer than riding in a car with her as a driver. Luckily, the Driver’s ED instructor was on his game. By grabbing the wheel every five seconds, whether to keep us from colliding with oncoming traffic or from careening off the road, he was able to get us all back to the school alive, albeit having aged several years since we’d left.

Another one of my friends was driving for the first time in the pouring rain (cue ominous music). After finishing his first stint on the highway, the instructor told him to get onto the next exit ramp. He did, only he was going 30 mph too fast. I guess he too was daydreaming about his future driving glory when they explained the part about the brake pedal. He spun and went backwards through a row of trees without hitting any of them. He calls it skill; I say beginner’s luck. The car was stuck, but with three teenagers on board, they were able to push it out of the mud and onto the road.

One day I asked the instructor if he was ever scared when his students do something stupid. His answer was a simple “Not really.” All I can say is this guy is either brave or foolish. Or both. So next time you pull up next to a driver’s ED instructor, roll down the window and thank them for their service to our country.

Thank you for visiting my very first blog.

Aside

Thank you for visiting my very first blog. I can’t imagine how lost you got on the internet to find it, but now that you are here you might as well look around. Some of the stuff on this webpage might be worth reading. My name is Reece, and this blog is the first step of fulfilling my dream of becoming an automotive journalist. Seeing as how the majority of my generation seems more concerned with videogames and Facebook and less about camshafts and 0-60 times, I decided to shake things up a little. In this blog I hope to express my love and passion for cars from the perspective of a teenager. My knowledge of cars, their history, and how they work is obviously limited, but I want to learn as much as I can. This blog may allow me to discover more about cars past, present, and future. Feedback is much appreciated. If you have anything to say, comment or shoot me an email. So enjoy, random internet wanderer.