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September 2008

Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

September 30, 2008

Man and Machine

There was a chance of rain and speed in my forecast. This past Sunday morning I got up early for the drive out to Stowe Mountain Resort for the Sports Car Club of Vermont’s last Autocross of the year.

I was driving a good-looking and capable Audi A4 sedan from Lewis Motors in South Burlington, Vermont. The 40 miles between Burlington and Stowe ticked by quickly and quite comfortably.

As I passed the enormous new Spruce Peak Mountain Lodge on my right a gap opened in the trees to my left and there in a large parking lot I spotted the orange traffic cone course that meant I had found my destination.

Rows of cars were lined up with their hoods open for tech inspection. There were some Mini Coopers, a few Volkswagen GTIs, Subaru Imprezas and at least half a dozen Mazda Miatas. My Audi A4 found good company with an Audi TT and an Audi S4. At two ends of the spectrum were a beautifully restored Olds 442 muscle car and a small, but very fast go-kart.

After determining that my battery was indeed bolted down and that my helmet met their requirements I was invited over to the drivers meeting.

We were divided into 3 groups. Each group would take turns driving, working the course and having some free time to get a bite or just enjoy the beautiful foliage view. The fall colors were beautiful. They should be peaking up that high this weekend. I encourage you to get out there for a foliage tour of your own.

My first run through the course was a ride-along with veteran SCCV member Jason Ross in his Mini Cooper. I don’t know what I was expecting, but he sure didn’t hesitate. We were soon hurtling through the course. He handled the Mini well and with much tire squealing we quickly passed the exit timer.

Finally it was my turn. The Audi’s 3.2 liter V6 powered it through the cones nicely. A light sprinkling of rain had wet the pavement, but the Quattro four-wheel drive kept me locked on course. I didn’t post a competitive time, but I did have a lot of fun and look forward to pushing my limits further in future events.

The SCCV members I met, women and men, both young and old, were all very nice and made all of us new-comers feel welcome. They should be commended for putting together such a great event. Thanks and see you all at Mt. Philo for the Hillclimb October 24-26

Learn more about Autocross and the SCCV.

September 29, 2008

Thunder Road Milk Bowl 2008

This weekend was the 45th running of the Thunder Road Milk Bowl. Brian Hoar, driving the #45 Goss Dodge Charger, invited me to put a video camera in his car for the race. Brian, a former ACT Late Model stock car champion is just returning to racing after a break since the end of the 2007 season. He won the Milk Bowl consecutively in 1998 and 1999.

This video features some highlights of the third segment of the Milk Bowl from inside Brian Hoar's car. Shots from the grandstands during segments one and two are interspersed to give you a better sense of the track for a more complete perspective.

Canadian Patrick Laperle won the Milk Bowl, Eric Williams was second, Ryan Nolin was third. Congratulations to all the racers for an exciting day at the track!

Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights

Editor's Note: Bob Sr. is my dad. He has been racing cars for almost 50 years. If he's not racing on the weekend you'll find him watching auto racing on TV. Every Monday he'll post an update with highlights and the inside scoop on the previous weekend’s big races.

Neither my Dad or I caught the NASCAR action at Kansas Speedway yesterday. Jimmie Johnson won and took the points lead in the chase, followed by Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle in second and third.

I spent the afternoon at the 45th Thunder Road Milk Bowl. Check out my post with video from inside Brian Hoar's #45 Goss Dodge Charger.

Here's Bob Sr.'s report...


Formula 1 World Championship -15th Round in Marina Bay, Singapore

The Course

This was the first Formula One race in Singapore and the first Night
Race ever in F1. Singapore really out-did itself. Not only is this far
east metropolis a model of  modern architechure but the track was
built right in the middle of this wonderous city, parts of it going
over and under local streets and highways.

An Italian lighting firm was brought in to handle the lighting, and
what a job they did. Drivers remarked that the visibility was better
than some previous races in daylight. The colors of the cars, the
glitterati of crews and celebrities on the grid prior to the race was
truly striking.

Flavio Briatore, Renault racing Honcho, Fernando Alonso's boss, and
International playboy (he dates Naomi Campbell among others) was asked
how it compared to Silverstone, England's famous race venue. He
AN COWS". Some would disagree but you get his point.

Racing Action

Ferrari's Filipe Massa takes pole by almost a full second over arch
rival Lewis Hamilton of McClaren.

It looked like Filipe was back in form after the rain race debacle in
Italy a few weeks ago. He had won the two races prior to that in
Valencia, Spain and Spa in Belgium quite handily which brought
Hamilton and him within just a couple of points for the Championship
lead. 79 to 77 entering Singapore.

There seemed to be no stopping Filipe for he drove away from the field
from pole leaving even Hamilton in his wake from the very start. This
track, of over four miles and over a dozen turns, did not allow much
in the way of passing opportunities and not much changed until a crash
by Nelson Piquet around lap 30. This brought out the safety car which
forced the cars to bunch together under the yellow flag. Several of
the cars on different fuel strategies were caught out  because the
pits are closed during Safety Car conditions and they HAD to come in
for fuel or risk running out on course and thus were assessed
Drive-Thru penalties.

Pit Lane Snafu
Massa and most of the rest came in several laps later when the yellow
was gone and that was the beginning of the end for poor Filipe. After
refueling, his flag man gave him the GO signal but the refueling hose
was still attached.The refueler was thrown several feet and the rest
of the crew chased him to the end of pit lane before he stopped
finally realizing what happened.The time lost trying to release the
hose and the subsequent penalty put and end to his race. He finished

Continue reading "Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights" »

September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, Actor, Philanthropist, Race Car Driver, Dead at 83

Paul_newman_tvguide A spokesperson announced the sad news today that Paul Newman had succumbed to lung cancer at age 83 on Friday. He died at his home near Westport CT surrounded by family including his wife of fifty years, Joanne Woodward. Many know Mr. Newman from his long career in films and for his Newman’s Own line of foods that have generated over $250,000,000 for charities including the Hole in the Wall Camps for children with life threatening illnesses.

Many people also know that Paul Newman was an extremely successful race car driver. During filming of the 1969 racing movie “Winning” he and his co-star Robert Wagner attended the Bob Bondurant racing school. Three years later he got his racing license and drove in his first Sports Car Club of America race in a Lotus Elan at Lime Rock Park in CT.

His interest in cars went back years before that though. My dad, Bob Sr., has been driving at Lime Rock since the early sixties and had the pleasure of meeting and socializing with Paul Newman many times before he became a super star. I called him today and asked him about that connection.

The first time he met Paul Newman was at Bruno Engl’s shop. Bob Sr. had driven his Morgan at Lime Rock the previous weekend and Bruno asked Paul “Remember that Morgan last week? Here’s the crazy Morgan driver!”

The Morgan was maintained at a shop in Wilton CT where Bob Sharp’s Lotus 7 was also prepared and Paul Newman would come by the shop and bring beers to share with the guys, hang out and talk cars.

In the sixties fans weren’t allowed in the paddock area. Paul complained that he always had to sit up on the hill where he got harassed by women who wanted him to take off his sunglasses so they could see his famous blue eyes. After that the guys made sure Paul always got a pit pass.

The one time my Dad raced against Paul Newman was a surprise opportunity. Dad didn’t have the cash for the driver’s fee that week. Kim Graff’s daughter blew her engine in driver’s school. Dad loaned her his car to finish and so Kim payed for my Dad’s late entry. Dad started 28th and moved as far as sixth overall, though never quite catching Paul Newman. He said it was one of his greatest starts ever though and remembers some classic passes taking the inside line around bigger cars and throwing up dirt on the hair pin and esses.

Paul Newman tried to keep a low profile at the track, both to avoid rabid fans and to keep the movie companies he worked for from worrying that he would be injured. He would always sign in as PL Newman or just PLN, never Paul.

Newman_daytona_2006In 1976 Paul Newman went on to win the national amateur championship in a Triumph TR-6. From there he moved to racing Bob Sharp prepared Datsun (now Nissan) Z cars winning four SCCA professional national championships. In 1979 he finished second with his teammates in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a grueling and prestigious endurance race. Almost twenty years later and at age 70 he won his class and finished third in the 24-hour Daytona endurance race.

Newman_corvetteFor about the last twenty five years he has owned, with Carl Haas, one of the most successful IndyCar/ChampCar teams going.

Just last month my dad sent me a link to a blog post about Lime Rock Park being shut down so Paul Newman could take a few final laps in his GT1 Corvette. He remembers him as “a real down to earth guy, nice as could be.”

May he rest in peace.

September 25, 2008

Meet George Jetson - New Car Technology

George Jetson, Knight Rider and Dr. Emmett L. Brown from Back to the Future would probably all like to have some of this new car technology installed in their vehicles. Now it's available to all of us.

I recently drove  a Subaru Impreza WRX from Burlington Subaru and it had the coolest big screen GPS system in the dash. You could spin the map around north or south, zoom in and out and call up icons for the nearest restaurants and gas stations, not to mention getting accurate directions for wherever you wanted to go. The car was great to drive, but the cool technology made it even better. Here’s what is new for vehicle GPS systems and a variety of other even newer auto tech innovations.

Removable Navigation Systems
Many people have portable GPS devices and activities like geo-caching are making them even more popular. Auto manufacturers are now providing systems that mate with popular GPS units so you can take them with you when you leave your vehicle. Hyundai, Toyota and Volvo are now offering this option in some models.

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
I’ve always loved cruise control, especially for long trips on the highway. The problem is that when traffic in front of you slows down, often temporarily, you have to tap your brake, turning off the cruise control, wait for the traffic to get back to speed and then reset. Well not anymore. With ACC a radar beam monitors the distance between you and the car or truck in front of you. If they start slowing down it adjusts your speed down too, until they take off again and then you speed up automatically. You might worry that this takes the responsibility for driving the car away from the driver. In reality they work really well and will most likely be proven to make you even safer. That’s why so many vehicles are providing it as an option including Toyota, Subaru, Lexus, Jaguar, Infiniti, Honda, Ford, Chrysler, Audi and Acura.

Night Vision
Ever hit a deer? Knock on wood, I haven’t yet. New night vision technology uses infrared or thermal imaging sensors to detect animals, humans, vehicles, really anything in your path that has a heat signature. The reach of these systems alerts you to hazards (like deer) in the road before your headlights are close enough to illuminate them. The objects detected are displayed on your windshield in their actual position which is really like being able to see in the dark. If you fail to notice the hazard you’ll get an audible warning (“wake up bozo, your going to cream that moose”.) Well it will at least beep.
This is pretty advanced stuff, Acura offers a system and BMW and Mercedes-Benz are leading the way.

Adaptive Headlamps
When you turn your car, you aren’t looking dead ahead, you are looking in to the turn to see what is coming around the corner.  Adaptive Headlights actually turn with you to better light the road ahead. I bet Knight Rider didn’t have that, but these vehicles do, the latest Audi A6, BMW 1, 3 & 7-Series, Cadillac Escalade and CTS-V, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti FX, Lincoln MKS, and the Mercedes-Benz CLS.

Which of these new technologies do you think is the coolest? I want them all!

September 24, 2008

Video Test Drive: 2008 Volvo C30

I was interested to see what Volvo had cooked up with the new Volvo C30. They have such a strong brand known for high quality and very safe vehicles, but fun? The C30 has been compared with Volvo’s original sports car the P1800 made famous in the sixties TV series The Saint. Thrilling spy-guy Simon Templar (Roger Moore) was never far from his sporty P1800. Would the C30 serve me as well?

The C30 is considered an upscale small car. It seats 4 and sports a turbocharged straight-5/5-cylinder, 2.5 liter engine. Performance ratings with the short-throw six-speed manual transmission are 227 hp, 0-60 in 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 146 mph. Plenty of power for my jaunt around Shelburne, VT.

The C30 is priced at a level that should encourage first time Volvo drivers to give it a try with an MSRP starting at $23,800. This price puts it in competition with the Volkswagen GTI and possibly the Mini Cooper. These are all fun and enjoyable cars to drive. They start at about the same price and have similar attributes. The Volvo expresses a little more class and neither of the competitors are quite as fast.

Volvo is known for their passion for safety and the C30 continues that tradition. Besides your regular contingent of front, side and side-curtain air bags, it also has seat belt pre-tensioners, a whiplash protection system, a side-impact protection system and an anti-skid system. It's even got anti-submarining protection. I’m glad I looked that one up before taking it in the lake as it turns out to be no more than seats designed to keep you from sliding out of your seat belt ;-)

I left Almartin Volvo and pointed the C30 back to my office to pick up some gear. This was a frustrating choice as I was feeling a need to let this fun little car go fast and traffic on Route 7 had me backed up. I would get my way soon enough on the interstate and on some back roads around Chittenden county.

My favorite driving moment was exiting I89 and pulling some G’s on the off ramp. The seventeen inch alloy wheels and McPherson spring strut front suspension did a fine job of keeping me locked on the road. It didn’t hurt at all that Sublime was cranking on the Dynaudio 650 watt, 10 speaker premium audio system.

Overall the car drove very well. There was plenty of power and the steering was crisp and genuinely felt “sporty”. The car has an upscale personality yet is quite a bit of fun to drive, a nice combination. The interior feels well put together and the “floating” dash-to-console display has a unique and beautiful design.

My Advice
If you’re looking to inject a little fun into your life, at a reasonable price, this could well be the car for you. I would recommend this car to anyone in the market for a fun-to-drive sporty model who also has an appreciation for the finer things in life. The C30 manages to pull both of them together quite nicely.

Is there a car you'd like to know more about? Let me know and I'll schedule a test drive.

Thanks to Almartin Volvo in Shelburne, Vermont for their loan of the Volvo C30 for this test drive.

September 23, 2008

Save gas, consider driving a hybrid vehicle

Picture_34 When you think of gas saving vehicles you automatically think of hybrids, though there are a large number of vehicles that get good gas mileage without a hybrid system. Hybrids combine a gas engine with an electric battery and both help move the vehicle and energize it’s components. The battery is most commonly charged by a combination of a generator driven by the gas engine (when it has surplus power) and by recovering power used in braking. There are Full hybrids and Mild hybrids and each have different benefits.

The average gas mileage of a vehicle in the U.S. is 17 miles per gallon. This figure includes light trucks. Hybrid vehicles typically get better than 30 miles per gallon and several get up into the 40 mpg range.

The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid were some of the first popular models. Now many vehicles are outfitted with a hybrid system including the Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Malibu, Chevy Silverado, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Sierra, GMC Yukon, Saturn Vue, Saturn Aura, Toyota Camry, Toyota Highlander, Honda Insight, Ford Escape, Nissan Altima, Mazda tribute and the Mercury Mariner.

I recently drove the Chevy Malibu Hybrid at Shearer Chevrolet in South Burlington, VT and you can check out the video test drive here.

To help you research the best hybrid vehicle here’s a comparison chart for hybrids at fueleconomy.gov

September 22, 2008

Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights

Editor's Note: Bob Sr. is my dad. He has been racing cars for almost 50 years. If he's not racing on the weekend you'll find him watching auto racing on TV. Every Monday he'll post an update with highlights and the inside scoop on the previous weekend’s big races.


We start with the final 2008 Rolex Grand-Am Sportscar Series Race of the year that took place at Miller Motorsports Park, Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday.

This series uses Daytona Prototype race cars, which are arguably the most sophisticated sports cars racing today, along with their close brethren the LeMans Prototypes.

Here’s some background on these cars. They have a specific chassis developed by LOLA, Fabcar, Dallara, Riley, Doran, and Chase. These guys are all chassis builders for many series such as Champcar, Indycar and many other series.

The engines must be based on road-legal production units from major manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, Infinity, Lexus, Porsche and Pontiac. They're 4.5 to 5.0 Liters, limited to 500 H.P., weigh between 2225-2275 lbs. (depending on horse power), have 24-gallon fuel capacity and operate on 100-octane gas, max.

Drivers are some of the very best from around the world. Some ex-Formula One, Champcar, NASCAR and IRL champions, such as Ricardo Zonta, Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier, Jimmy Vassar, Dario Franchitti, Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Max Papis, Scott Pruett, Boris Said, Buddy Rice and Christian Fittapaldi among many other notables. You will definitely see all of these guys and many more at the first race of the year, the 2009 24 Hours of Daytona in January.

So back to Saturdays race...

Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty (Gurney, son of legendary Formula One racer Dan Gurney captured last year's Championship) were still in the running this year, but heavy favorite Scott Pruett and Mexican co-driver Memo Rojas in the TELMEX Lexus Riley needed only a few points to clinch the title. Pruett got his needed points midway through the race, leaving the battle for 2nd to Max Angelelli in the SunTrust #10 vs. Dallara and Gurney in the Gainsco Pontiac Riley. Rain caused some turmoil, with most drivers on slicks sliding off everywhere. Angelelli got by Gurney to take second place away at the end, but Gurney — in finishing third, after holding off the Brumos Porsche of Barbos — took a hard-fought second in the series championship.

The biggest surprise of the race... During the pit stops for rain tires, an unheralded Rafael Matos, driving for Shank Racing, suddenly appeared in the lead from fifth place after a brilliant pit stop by his team. He was just inserted as the 3rd driver for Shank, had never driven a DP car before, never saw the track before and simply walked away from the field setting fast lap of the race again and again in the #6 Ford Riley. He won by a huge margin.

We will certainly hear a lot more from this 20 year old.

Winning the race within the race in the GT class were Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards, in the Banner Racing Pontiac GXP-R. They also cinched the Manufacturers Championship for Pontiac with the win. Porsche and Mazda took second and third.

Ganassi's team of Pruett and Rojas look like the team to beat in '09. After his 3rd  Championship Pruett says he'll be back hungry as ever next year.

Too bad guys...

Nascar action at Dover Delaware - The Monster Mile

Biffle Does it Again!!! Roush cars 1,2,3!


The three Roush Ford drivers battled as hard as they could without wrecking each other after passing Jimmy Johnson, who had been leading late in the race. Fans at the Monster Mile were on their feet throughout the last laps as the intensity was terrific.

Team owner Jack Roush didn’t want to look, as all three of his cars were all over each other, but they somehow managed to keep it clean. The top 5 drivers agreed they were all happy to be part of such a terrific race, win or lose.

Not the case with Kyle Busch, the points leader all season. He lost an engine finishing 43rd and dropped to 12th in the Chase.

Edwards still holds the Chase lead with Biffle and Johnson now tied for 2nd.
Veteran Mark Martin took a solid 4th in the race with Johnson eventually coming in 5th.
6th Kevin  Harvick
7th Jeff Gordon
8th Clint Bowyer
9th Jeff Burton
10th Michael Waltrip

The Chase goes on…

September 21, 2008

British Invasion in Stowe Vermont

Bc_shed After checking out the hot rods and muscle cars at the NSRA Eastern Nationals Christine and I headed over the mountain to the British Invasion in Stowe. We took a short cut out Pleasant Valley Rd. in Underhill and then up and over Smugglers Notch which was a really nice drive, especially on so beautiful a day. Next was a stop at The Shed Restaurant and Brewery in Stowe for a nice lunch and a little Shed Mountain Ale. Finally we arrived at the show just in time to see the category winners being paraded through the grounds. There were some beautiful Jaguars, MGs, Triumphs and Austin Healeys among other British sports and luxury cars on display. Enjoy the pics!

September 20, 2008

Hot Rods and Muscle Cars at the Fairgrounds

Up until two years ago your vintage car or truck needed to have been made before 1944 to be shown at the NSRA Eastern Nationals. It was essentially limited to what are called hot rods. Now they let in any car or truck more than about 30 years old. This is great because many people (me included) love the muscle cars of the sixties and seventies. It's a no-brainer.

Check out my pics below.
If you missed it catch my Q&A with Hot Rodder Jan Hemsted.
In my next post I'll be showing pics from the British Invasion, a show in Stowe featuring collectible British sports cars and other vehicles.

September 19, 2008

Amusing Twenty Questions style game online

I just played a game similar to Twenty Questions on the Honda CR-V site. They call their amusing little game Crave and I can attest to the fact that it does determine pretty quickly what you are craving. It got my first craving pretty quickly, but hey I'm a guy. That's probably already enough info for you to guess what it was. My second craving took three guesses. I really had it stumped, but it got in the end. It was a late night at Nectar's and I crave a nap.Crave_2

Try it for yourself, it's kinda fun.
Honda CR-V Crave Game

Or find a Honda for yourself on the Seven Days Auto Finder ;-)

And thanks to Suzanne Podhaizer for sending this auto-appropriate distraction my way.

What's Good and Auto Finder

Seven Days threw a great party last night with 10 bands and a great crowd that occupied both Nectar's and Club Metronome.
I was there for Seven Days Auto Finder showing a bright red WRX from Burlington Subaru and a sexy silver Eclipse from Burlington Mitsubushi. Nice cars, great looking and fun to drive.


September 18, 2008

What car are you?

I was speaking at the How Design Conference in New Orleans, LA several years ago and  a fellow presenter there posed this question to the audience: If you have a personal brand, what is that brand? If you were a car, what type of car would you be?

The task presented was to look to the people seated to your right and left and decide what type of car they were. Then we compared notes with each other and found out what type of car we “projected." I was deemed a Nissan Pathfinder. That’s cool.


My whole mantra is usability and function, so I’ve spent many years behind the wheel of people- and gear-movers like my old Chevy Suburban and Chrysler Town & Country Minivan. Not too exciting. Someone once actually called my minivan a “loser cruiser.” That hurt. Both vehicles served me well, though.

Now that my life is seemingly revolving around autos, I’m asking myself this question again. What kind of car do you think I am? How about yourself? your best friend? your significant other?

September 17, 2008

Free Wheelin' Q&A: Hot-Rodders Jan and Linda Hemsted

Author's note: This is the first Q&A in my new series Free Wheelin'. I'll be interviewing a wide variety of people whose lives intersect with our car culture, whether it's due to their job or their passion. Why am I writing about cars? Find out on the "Who's this Bob guy?" page. You can also find Free Wheelin' on page 31B of this week's Seven Days newspaper.

Bob Kilpatrick: How long have you been interested in Street Rods?

Jan Hemsted: Ever since I was a kid back in South Dakota. 12 Years old I used to watch ‘em. All the juvenile delinquents had ‘em then. So I always wanted one. They had Hot Rods, I thought they were just the coolest car around.

JH: They used to cruise 8th street all weekend long. 8th street was like Shelburne road. They’d just come and go all night long and at the end of 8th street they had a Mcdonalds so they’d all wind up there sooner or later. I was too young to be cruising with them. They didn’t want a kid hanging around.

BK: What kind of cars, were they similar to what you’ve got here?

JH: Yep there were a lot of ’32 Fords, roadsters, a lot of T-Buckets if I remember right back then. Some ’40 Fords, of course this is back in the early sixties. They weren’t to the level of technology we have today. They were pretty rough, but they were cool.

I’d always wanted one since I was a kid. Of course I got married and I had kids and that pretty much took all my money. This one came available at a fairly reasonable price. Went home one night and asked the wife if we had enough grocery money for a couple of weeks. She asked me why and I said I want to buy a car. 250 bucks. She said we can probably get by so I bought this and they dropped it off and she looked at it and she said “You bought that?” Because it didn’t have any fenders at all, it was just basically the body and no engine, no glass in it, I mean it was just, phhht.

BK: But you had a vision.

Continue reading "Free Wheelin' Q&A: Hot-Rodders Jan and Linda Hemsted" »

September 16, 2008

Video Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Tundra

American drivers love their pickup trucks. Sure, with gas prices topping $4 a gallon, trucks are less popular than they used to be. Back in May, the Ford F-150, the country’s best-selling vehicle, was replaced — for the first time in 23 years — by the Honda Civic.

But does that mean no one will ever buy another truck? No way. There are too many jobs and lifestyles that require a good pickup, especially in rural states like Vermont. After test driving the Toyota Tundra I can tell you that, if you’re one of those people who needs the size and capacity of a pickup, the Tundra is a very good choice.

Mike Hughes at Courtesy Toyota handed over the keys to a good-looking green Tundra for my romp around Barre and Berlin, VT.

The Toyota Tundra I tested had the largest engine available — a 5.7 liter V8 — and came with 4WD and a six-speed automatic transmission. Its double cab wasn’t as big as a full-on crew cab, but it still had four doors and a back seat with room for about three people.

For such a large vehicle it drove as comfortably as a car, and was just about as quiet as any vehicle I have ever driven. I enjoyed sitting up so high. It’s a commanding feeling. And there was plenty of power under my foot.

The turning radius is fantastic for a truck of this size. As I approached a T-intersection I was sure I was going to have to do a three-point turn to head back the way I had come. I was amazed when I pulled a U-turn in one shot.

All of the V8 Tundras come with a heavy-duty towing equipment package, including a tow hitch receiver, and are pre-wired for a trailer so you’re ready to tow if you want to. And they’re all built here in the USA, in San Antonio Texas, in a mile-long new facility that started rolling out Tundras in 2007.

Several years ago the Tundra had a reputation for not being as big and tough as its competitors. Well, Toyota took that criticism seriously and the Tundra is now built about as heavy duty as a full-size pickup can be — which might be why the Tundra won the Motor Trend 2008 Truck of the Year Award.

The Tundra is rated for hauling half a ton and towing over 10,000 pounds. The load rating would be even higher if not for Toyota’s decision to use an independent front suspension, which adds greatly to the Tundra’s driveability. The torque range is just sick, providing steady power across a wide range of engine speed. The Tundra also has the largest front-brake rotor of any full-size pickup truck, and four pistons activating the brake pistons — twice as many as the industry standard.

What about safety? The Tundra’s got three separate handling systems that help ensure a safe ride. The Vehicle Stability Control system and Traction Control system adjust speed and braking to keep you on the road. The first checks to see that the vehicle is headed in the same direction you’re steering, and the latter monitors the wheels individually for slippage.

The Electric Brake-Force Distribution system optimizes brake force to each wheel to keep the vehicle balanced. An electronic sensor over the rear axle determines whether you’ve got a full load or are in the truck by yourself.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Tundra is about the safest full-size pickup ever tested. It received top scores across the board and is the first full-size pickup to be judged a “Top Safety Pick.”

My Advice
If you’re even thinking about buying a truck, you owe it to yourself to test drive the Tundra. I found no faults with this vehicle and was very impressed with it for a wide variety of very good reasons. If I needed a truck, or at least could convince my wife that I did, I’d buy one.

September 15, 2008

Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights

Editor's Note: Bob Sr. is my dad. He has been racing cars for almost 50 years. If he's not racing on the weekend you'll find him watching auto racing on TV. Every Monday he'll post an update with highlights and the inside scoop on the previous weekend’s big races.


The Italian Grand Prix at Monza...

The most famous Formula One track in the world — 3.6 miles long, steeped in automotive history, adored by fans and feared by many drivers for top speeds in excess of 220 mph while slipping by trees forming a canopy over the course in several places. It has taken the lives of too many drivers over the years.


Just as last week in Belgium, the rains came again... bringing more surprises. Up-and-coming 21-year-old German, Sebastian Vettel, the youngest driver in F1, absolutely dominated qualifying on a rain-drenched Monza on Saturday and handily took pole position becoming the youngest F1 driver to ever do so.

Top drivers Lewis Hamilton of McLaren and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen start back in 15th and 14th respectively... and more rain forecast for Sunday.

Pouring rain, all cars with maximum rain tires and setups, off they go with young Sebastian setting the early pace. (Author's note: Try to imagine hurtling along at 200mph plus, open cockpit, no windshield wipers and for all but the race leader little to NO visibility because of rooster tails in front. I've been there, it sucks.)

Continue reading "Bob Sr.'s Weekend Racing Highlights" »

September 14, 2008

The EPA is working to eliminate lead wheel weights

Did you know that 50 million lbs of lead is used annually to balance tires on automobiles? Of that an approximate 1.6 million lbs falls off and enters the environment every year. Most of it gets washed into the watershed or is swept up and land filled.

Lead causes brain, kidney and nervous system damage. Children are the most sensitive and likely results to lead exposure are reduced cognitive development and decreased growth.

The EPA is working on a program to reduce the use of these lead weights by 2011. Steel is an alternative, though it's more difficult to work with and will likely be resisted by the tire industry.

The next time you get new tires or when you switch to your winter snows ask the technician to use an alternative to lead. It can’t hurt.

September 12, 2008

Video Test Drive: 2009 Subaru Outback

I couldn’t have picked a nicer summer day to take the trek across the state from Burlington to St. Johnsbury. The temp was perfect, not too hot, not too humid. The kind of day that if you have to work, you just wish for a good excuse like I had to get out there and enjoy it.

As I drove down Interstate 89 I had to laugh at the number of Subarus I was seeing. It seemed like every other car was a Subaru and many of them had the Saint J Subaru sticker on the back. That’s actually where I was headed to test drive the newest 2009 Subaru Outback, Vermont’s “unofficial state car.”

Subaru started selling vehicles in the US in the late ‘60s and in the mid-‘70s the company pioneered the use of 4WD in vehicles that were not intentionally built for off-road use. Subarus became very popular in regions with hills and severe winters like we have here in Vermont. The Subaru wagon became the world’s top-selling 4WD vehicle. The Outback is the latest model of Subaru wagon.

A wagon is a nice option if you’ve got kids or dogs, or if you like to go camping or play sports. If that’s all you’re after, any wagon might do, but up here in Vermont, with our tough winters, the Outback’s extra inches of clearance and all wheel drive are nice options.

The Outback competes favorably against other wagons and at the time of my test drive was rated #1 in Affordable Full Size Wagons by U.S. News & World Report. The Dodge Magnum has since snagged the #1 spot, primarily thank to its V8 engine availability and retro styling. Car guys love to go fast, but your family might appreciate the Outback’s significantly better safety ratings.

The model I took out was the 2.5i Special Edition. Besides standard features like Symetrical All Wheel Drive, Vehicle Dynamics Control, 4-wheel independent heavy-duty raised suspension and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System the Special Edition adds an 8-way power heated driver seat, heated side mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer and a 440-watt, 9-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system. There was even a plug for my i-pod in the center console.

Road and Track says “The Outback combines the virtues of a small SUV with carlike ride and handling,” and I couldn’t agree more. I found the wagon rode very well on pavement and felt steady on bumpy dirt roads.

My Advice
The Outback is a quality ride, suited to our extreme weather. It’s safe and the added cargo space is a must if you’ve got an active lifestyle. But you don’t have to take my word for it. There are 1000s thousands of other Vermonters out there who — by their loyalty to Subaru — provide an even stronger recommendation. It’s Vermont’s “unofficial state car” for a reason.

September 11, 2008

Auto Finder Presentation at Dealer.com

Dealer_comOur Auto Finder web site launches this Monday, September 15th and we just presented our complete program to a great group of auto professionals at Dealer.com's Pine St. Burlington campus. In attendance were representatives from Almartin Volvo, Handy Toyota, Lewis Motors, Shearer Chevrolet, The Automaster, Burlington Subaru Mitsubushi, Goss Dodge, Greensboro Garage, Courtesy Toyota, E.J. Barrette and Sons (their daughters attended ;-) AutoSpoRT Imported Car Center and Willie Racine's Jeep. What a great bunch of people!

Colby Roberts and I presented from Seven Days and Mike DeCecco from Dealer.com. From the feedback I received our message was clear and resonated with the needs of all these local dealerships. Together with Dealer.com we have built a fantastic tool for everyone in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire to research and find the absolutely most ideal car or truck just for them.

Why bother searching a multitude of web sites looking for a car when you can use Auto Finder and locate all the best used and new cars and trucks in one easy to search web site? It’s a no-brainer and I can’t wait for our launch on Monday!

(Photo of Dealer.com's spokeperson Mike DeCecco overlooking Dealer.com's offices)

September 09, 2008

4 Top Tips for Saving Gas

You can't do much about the price of gas, but you can do a lot to reduce the amount of gas you use, which will result in significant savings.

#1) Keep it steady: You can save more than 30% of the fuel you regularly use by keeping your speed at a steady rate. That means avoiding fast starts and backing off the accelerator sooner as you approach a traffic light or stop sign. Let the car coast to a stop instead of braking hard at the last minute. The best possible situation is to avoid stopping at all. If you time it right and get a little lucky, the light will change to green before you get there. There is a huge difference in getting a car up to speed from a stop vs. one that is already moving. No kidding, right?

#2) Don't speed: My wife's 4-cylinder Scion XB, you know those rolling boxes, is rated at 30 MPG city, 34 MPG Highway. When I drive it on Interstate 89, usually at 75-80 mph, it sucks gas like a 1970 Cadillac. When we take it down Route 22A, traveling at a more comfortable speed of 55 mph, the gauge doesn't move. The difference is amazing. Each car has a sweet spot and it is going to be in the 45-60 mph range. At 70 mph it really starts dropping off. You can save 12-20% in fuel by not speeding.

#3) Stop idling: Rule-of-thumb, if you're going to be stopped for more than a minute, turn the car off. This is exactly what Hybrids do, and it's a significant part of what helps them achieve their low mpg ratings.

#4) Use your overdrive transmission: An Overdrive Transmission reduces rpms by switching to a higher gear, typically at speeds above 45 mph. Your engine is working less to achieve the same speed. Same speed, less gas. If you've got it, use it. It's a no-brainer.

Gas prices are going to stay high. As third world economies kick into gear (no pun intended ;-) their consumption of fuel will compete aggressively with our own. The sooner we start to drive smarter, the better off we we'll be. It's not going to be easy though. I enjoy driving. It's like a game for me. I guess I just need to try and change the rules a bit.

Safe travels,

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