V&R Fiction: Plum Crazy (Part 2)

Photo by Randy Stern

Photo by Randy Stern

So…you read Part One. Good for you! Here is Part 2…remember, “Reading is Fundemental!”

After two days of coworkers complimenting his Plum Crazy 1970 Dodge Challenger SE, it was Rick’s time to shine. He found a tire shop open on Sunday to see about new boots for his baby. He was not ready to take it on the road just yet. Rick wanted to make sure it was good as new.

On Sunday, he stopped by a few tire places. He settled on a set of radial Goodyears for the Challenger. They were black walls, which gave it a contemporary look. The days of whitewall tires were practically done. Yet, these Goodyears provided better tread and a long warranty – according to the Goodyear shop where his mother shopped for for years. The shop owner reminded him of the days when Rick was younger and sat quietly next to his mother at the shop. He could not believe how grown up Rick had become – and the car he now owns. “Your dad never took this in for tires,” the Goodyear store owner said, “I’m so glad to finally see this. How does she run?” Rick smiled and with some enthusiasm said “it runs better than ever.”

With everything complete on the Challenger, Rick decided to take it for its first run. The gas tank was full, the temperature gauge was reading normal, yet it was about 75 degrees outside – with a layer of smog shrouding the Santa Susanna Mountains. Where would Rick go?

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#MAMA15: A “Professional Obligation” at Road America – Pt. 2

Setting up[ for the Autocross - All Photos by Randy Stern

Setting up for the Autocross – All Photos by Randy Stern

Professional obligations have a way to yield some surprises. At the 2015 Midwest Automobile Media Association Spring Rally, it was cold mornings and cold tracks.

Yet, it was also about reconnecting with industry people and fellow journalists. The networking opportunities are awesome, but the follow-up could be challenging. It was a chance to solidify friendships – with fellow writers Thomas Bey, Chad Kirchner, Harvey Briggs, and Jimmy Dinsmore – and reconnect with people I see on rarer occasions.

Granted, I came in real stressed out and not so friendly. I apologize to those that I was not my usual positive self to. I realize that an event like this will help relieve the stress of the daily grind and that some tensions would be eased through the experience of being in and around Road America. It is a great venue – along with our host hotel, the Osthoff Resort – that was designed for maximum relaxation while working away at my tasks.

What loosened the grip on my stress on Day One translated into a better, but abbreviated Day Two.
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#MAMA15: A “Professional Obligation” at Road America – Pt. 1

A cliche by now. All Photos by Randy Stern

A cliche by now. All Photos by Randy Stern

There is a thing called “professional obligation.” It is born from being a part of a group of professionals that are joined by a common purpose and passion for the work we do.

For the third year in a row, I made the trek to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for the annual Midwest Automotive Media Association Spring Rally. This time away is focused on a day-and-a-half program that engages journalists with manufacturer representatives to try vehicles that we have not been exposed to – or to re-acquaint with for more impressions. It centers on one of the best road courses in American motorsport, Road America.

To explain this event the best way possible – consider there will be 100 journalist members of MAMA at Road America given the license to drive an equal amount of automobiles. Day one consists of track education, time on Road America’s challenging track or to drive out in the countryside near the venue. Certain vehicles are designated for track use, while others will be used on the countryside. The next half-day adds off-roading and autocrossing to the menu, along with judging for MAMA’s Family Car of The Year.

In-between are social opportunities and presentation by specific manufacturers on their latest products. Continue reading

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Historiography: Turbo!

All Photos by Randy Stern

All Photos by Randy Stern

It is a small wonder that delivers a huge boost. It creates power – both on the high and low end – when mere cylinders could do the same job. Yet, it has become the fastest growing piece of engine equipment to be installed on vehicles across the board – from tiny city cars to huge pickups.

What exactly is a turbocharger? All of the sites where definitions are valid agree that it is a “turbine-driven forced induction device that increases an engine’s efficiency and power by forcing air into the combustion chamber.” The term used for this action is simply called “boost.” If an engine could only put out a certain amount of power and torque without a forced induction device, a turbocharger would increase by an additional percentage adding more to both top and bottom end. In the past, there was a lag before air could spin the turbocharger to gain that extra horsepower. Nowadays, turbocharger boost happens sooner than you think – as soon as your foot hits the accelerator. There has been more technology and an extensive use of intercooling for the turbocharger to enable better management of boost.

Turbochargers are not a recent phenomenon. Continue reading

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My Favorite Entries for Car Club Membership

All it needs is a MNNI sticker... All Photos by Randy Stern

All it needs is a MNNI sticker… All Photos by Randy Stern

Lately, I have been hanging out at car meets and clubs.

It has been an almost nightly thing for me. Somewhere in the Twin Cities, something is happening car-wise. It could be as big as hundreds of cars cramped in a undersized location, or a few hearty people just hanging in the back row of a shopping center to talk about cars and such.

It felt odd, at first. I always had something I was working on for my outlets, while surrounded by custom cars and trucks that took skill and love to out together.

Something will catch my eye at these meets. A classic from my past that yielded stories shared by its owner and I. It could be something that is unique that passers by would not notice how special it truly is. Or, it could be a car just put together by any means possible to get to this meet to be with his or her friends.

You know, it’s been a while since I did a “My Favorites” entry in V&R. It prompted me to do one based on this question: If I were to be more active in any of the clubs that have welcomed me over the past year or so, what vehicle would I own to be able to participate even more?

To compile this list, I identified several clubs I have connected with. For each club, I chose a specific vehicle that would fit my membership. There is one thing to note with each entry – they are stock. No modifications…OK, a few.

Let the games begin…

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Commentary: Changing the Gender Paradigm in the Carmmunity

Photo by Randy Stern

Photo by Randy Stern

If this past weekend of carmmunity events in the Twin Cities offers one lesson, it is that we must embrace diversity.

While waiting for a friend to carpool to Modern Automotive Performance’s annual Boost for The Cause (AKA Boost for Boobies), I missed out on a huge MN C&C (the local Cars and Coffee event in Chanhassen, MN). Not upset, but it signals how much this carmmunity has grown over the past several years in breadth, importance and vehicular diversity. I’m also glad an out-of-town colleague got to see this first hand.

Going to my first Boost event, I was reminded on how much the cause of breast cancer can bring out every enthusiast possible in the Upper Midwest. From what I saw was diversity in vehicles – not just boosted ones. I also saw a mix of the cause and enthusiasm. But, there was some mixed messages being that a mostly young crowd was just there for the cars, not the cause. They were there for the drama at the dyno. They were there for the rare opportunity to see a few classic Japanese cars that were imported with right-hand drive and told the story of how that country’s industry dared to elevate the automobile.

Yet, the sales of t-shirts and the money raised for breast cancer would still rump the day in Cottage Grove. I was finally glad to witness that. And, be with friends that share the common passion of the automobile.

The next day yielded a different task. Continue reading

Posted in Automobile Lifestyle, Carmmunity, Commentary | 3 Comments

Commentary: The State of The Truck Business

At the top of the charts.... All Photos by Randy Stern

At the top of the charts…. All Photos by Randy Stern

For the bane of repeating myself, I need to quote statistic again: In 2014, 60% of all new vehicle sales in the state of Minnesota were of trucks, crossovers and SUV – the highest percentage of any state in the Union.

Higher than Texas? Yes. Greater than North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska…Iowa? I’m afraid so. Even Alabama, Mississippi…Arkansas…Alaska…California? Yes, yes…and yes.

Why am I quoting this again? So far in 2015, I have received a slew of pickup trucks – four in total, an average of one per month. Normally, I would be lucky to get one – maybe two – per year. However, the importance of the pickup truck market still drives sales and profits for those who sell them in this country. It is important for an automotive writer based in a state where there is a higher propensity for truck ownership and enthusiasm to cover vehicles not only for a regional audience, but for a North American one, too. One look at the USA and Canadian sales charts will tell the entire story.

The Ford F-Series – the F-150 and Super Duty combined – own both sales charts. On the average, Ford would sell 60,000 pickup trucks per month in the USA and Canada alone. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota sell their pickup truck wares in the tens of thousands of each in the same countries.

This market is lucrative. Continue reading

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A Different View – 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch

Photo by Altamish Osman/Altamish Osman Photography

Photo by Altamish Osman/Altamish Osman Photography

People like visuals. So do I.

Photos are what attracts people on social media. No time to read…look! A photo is what engages more than a bunch of words.

But, when you see photos of mine…they’re good, but they’re from a different aspect. I do more “matter of fact” photos, letting the default capture is best from people, vehicles, locations and so forth.

I do admire photographers that capture the art, as well as the fact of an automobile. Some of them happen to be friends and colleagues – such as Chicago-based Ian Merritt and Twin Cities-based Alex Bellus. They can do things I either do not have the skill, equipment of patience to accomplish.

A couple of friends, Twin Cities-based photographers Altamish Osman and Eric Vilendrer, asked to photograph one of the vehicles I was reviewing for my outlets. It turned out to be the 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch SuperCrew pickup. Though conditions were less than ideal – a rainy, drizzly day – Osman, Vilendrer and I went for it. What you will see below is a series of images from these two photographers from rolling shots on dirt/gravel roads and a rig shot inside of a parking ramp (er, garage).

Enjoy these images!

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V&R Analysis: A Tale of Two F-150s

All Photos by Randy Stern

All Photos by Randy Stern

It is rare that a journalist with a specialty in vehicle review gets multiple stints in the same vehicle. That is, of course, said journalist specializes in a particular brand and/or model. Otherwise, we generalists try to bring in different models to evaluate and write about in our specific outlets.

However, I wound up with two 2015 Ford F-150 pickups to review in a span of three weeks. This is not a matter of luck, but of circumstance. It also gave me license to work harder to cover one of the most newsworthy vehicles of the past 15 months. It also fits with a strategy to review vehicles that are relevant to my main regional audience of the Upper Midwest. Pickup trucks are common vehicles in this home market, and the one that gets the most talk is the Ford F-150.

In my reviews, I point out that its 37 years of sales leadership is due to brand and product loyalty, reputation and innovation. Ford pulled out all of the stops in the new F-150 by introducing aluminum as the basis for cab and box construction, while maintaining a strong rolled steel frame and adding a new EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 to the engine lineup. These were done in the name of weight loss and higher fuel efficiency, while maintaining class-normal payload and towing capacity targets.

Driving two different Ford F-150s certainly added to the context of the basic story. There were of different specifications – trim levels, engines, equipment and so forth. They also provided additional questions not addressed in either forthcoming review.

Perhaps to understand the importance of the new F-150 is to put the two versions I drove for my upcoming reviews in a comparison. Continue reading

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Carmmunity: A Collaboration

All Photos by Randy Stern

All Photos by Randy Stern

Collaborations could go many ways.

It could be a charming idea, in the beginning. A meeting of the minds would come up with a brilliant plan for two groups to come together for a single event. It could be executed well with all stakeholders on board.

But, what if there were challenging interests? What if a disagreement came up that would threaten the event’s launch? What if the two parties stuck to their guns on fundamental ideals to never come up with compromises to make it work? What could possibly go wrong before the event starts?

There are always hopes and fears when two groups collaborate on anything. I certainly had mine when I was told about the Spring Kickoff Meet co-hosted by Lifted Trucks Minnesota and MN Nissan Infiniti at Running Acres in Columbus, Minnesota.

Did this collaborative effort work?

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