What’s YOUR Magic Number? Tales and Test Drives at the Motor Trend International Auto Show – Las Vegas, NV

5, 15, 25?  How many autos have you owned in your lifetime?  It depends how long you’ve been living the life of “driver” on your resume’.  I’m calling that the “Magic Number” in this post.

Thinking that I was attending the Motor Trend International Auto Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center to get the latest scoop on brand releases and updates, you can imagine my surprise when the magic number 80 was voiced by none other than the faithful security guard Chuck before I ever set foot in the show or laid a finger on a test drive.

Chuck Himber closeup
Chuck Himber, car enthusiast photo by Jules Stayton

The cordial atmosphere that exists in a show-type atmosphere naturally lends itself to idle chit-chat, this is how we meet interesting people and make connections in the industry.  Well, the conversation bloomed when I gave my card to Chuck.  It seemed like the floodgates opened and memories of a bygone era flowed for him.  Having owned over 80 cars in his seventy-something years dotted the pages of his life’s story.  Some only had  six weeks with him, some six months and others six years.  Everything from Maseratis to Mazdas to Mercedes.  Lambos to Lincolns. You name it, Chuck drove it and could tell you intimate details about the acquisition, tenure and exit of each car from his colorful past.  Finding a car lover “working the show” as a security guard was a treasure trove of enthusiasm that matched very few I had interviewed before. His love of autos was heart-warming and his tales entertaining.  Chuck was an added bonus and the day hadn’t even started yet!

It was 10 a.m. and the sun was already warming the desert.  Thinking that test drives would be the most popular, I made my way to Toyota first.  Three manufacturers, Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet, brought their wares for consumer review.  Eager hosts banded and signed off on each guest as the event began.

 

Venturing out to the valet/drop-off lane equipped with camera in hand I chose to drive the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry.  The “sexy” Camry had been on my list and checking it off in Las Vegas at the Motor Trend International Auto Show might as well be the venue.  Rich from Toyota rode shotgun and detailed many of the features that make Camry one of the best-selling cars in the Toyota line-up for decades.

 

360° camera, panoramic sunroof, etc. were just a few of the features that stand out on the 2018 Camry.  Rich took me on a drive through the streets of Las Vegas making sure we had a straightaway that was long enough for me to put the pedal-to-the-metal and test its zero-to-sixty capability.  I was not disappointed.  Handling was smooth, controls at the fingertips, body contoured seats and a trunk big enough to tote enough luggage for a fortnight in Napa. Longevity being in the DNA of the Toyota Camry, any red-blooded consumer would enjoy their tenure for 10+ years in this 2018.

Not to be undone, Ford reps were chomping-at-the-bit to get me in the seat of a 2018 F-150 Lariat specimen that was curbside and gleaming in the sunshine.  4 X 4s aren’t the fare for most tourists in Las Vegas but I was not deterred as I entered the spacious, comfortable cab of the F-150 Lariat.  Having been an owner of an F-150 in the past, comparing the new technology and features of the 2018 version intrigued me.  Sitting high in the cockpit, we motored through the same pathway as the Camry had in a very different mode.  The comparison of this model with the past one I owned and having just driven the Camry, the Ford F-150 stood on its own merits nicely.  JC from Ford was well versed in the kudos given to the F-150 and just a few days later Kelly Blue Book awarded it the Best Truck Value for 2018.

 

Happy that I had chosen it over the Mustang was a phrase I never thought I’d laud but it worked out beautifully.  JC gave us a detailed explanation of how the trailer camera worked with the hitch to maneuver the truck easily into position for the hook-up.  The soft-close tailgate that included a fold-out step up was the kicker.  Tie downs incorporated into the wheel wells of the bed and electronic control for the center back window made me feel as if Ford had left nothing to chance in the 2018.  Thumbs-up!

Make no mistake, Chevy did not come unprepared.  Long lines for the Camaro steered me in the direction of the all new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse.  Chevy’s entry in the mid-sized crossover SUV brought a well-planned interior and easy handling.  With third row seating, the Traverse competes nicely with the VW Atlas, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander.

 

Available captain’s chairs in the second row makes for easy access to the third row, a feature I enjoyed.  Driving more like a car than an SUV also impressed me about the Traverse.  Multiple drive modes that include AWD construct great selling points to soccer-Moms/Dads and off-roaders alike.  Eager to hit the highlights of the all-new 2018 Traverse was Chevy’s representative Manny.  Full of useful information, Manny detailed the Traverse in a way that only one that truly loves what he does, does. Check out my Facebook post to hear Manny’s account of the AWD mode as well as others from Ford and Toyota on JulesOnWheelz.

Tales and test-drives under my belt, I ventured into the show.

Still thinking and calculating your “magic number”?  Stop playing Freebird and reminiscing about your VW van days and keep counting…

Fingerprints and smudges had not yet covered the belles-of-the-ball under the bright lights as I waltzed into the Motor Trend International Auto Show.  Many in the show circuit were on their way to Los Angeles to the LA Auto Show the next week and this was a good time to hone their skills in a small venue before being bombarded by the masses on the coast.

Honda drew my attention capitalizing on its recent wins with KBB and Motor Trend.  A deluge of memories flowed as I passed the Civic as it is one of my magic numbers.  Efficient and sleek it’s still regarded as one of the best cars on the road for style, reliability and MPG.

 

Stopping at each display, their aces were prominently placed.  The Volkswagen Atlas shining in all its Fortana Red Metallic glory caught my eye and didn’t go unnoticed by VW rep Randi.  She proceeded to inform me of all the great things Volkswagen had to offer and detailed how the CC model would no longer be in production for 2018 and be replaced by the new 2019 Arteon.  Artist’s renderings and possible release dates were foggy but summer 2018 was mentioned as a contender for the time frame.

 

Making the rounds, Lexus, Infinity, and Acura were happy to tout their newest darlings.  Having driven two of the Lexus models in the fall, I was happy to see and sit in my new friends the LC500 and RC F.  SUV was the first-born spoken of at Infiniti and TLX and RLX for bragging rights at Acura.  The most interesting feature was in the RLX that combined the safety of brake assist with semi-autonomous genes that make stop and go traffic a breeze as it adjusts to its surroundings.  Chelsea made me feel at home and I absolutely love the tail lights on the Acura brand.  An Acura was in the running for magic number 2 on my list…the Integra to be exact.

 

 

Subaru, FCA, Lincoln, Buick and Hyundai rounded out my stroll with their show stunners beaming with pride.  The standouts were Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet though as they gave the actual driving experience that most guests strive for.

Now…back to my original question…what is your magic number???

Well, after pondering my own history with autos, I’ve arrived at eleven.  Each with its own story (some told on my previous blog posts) just like Chuck’s, but junior to his 80. My story will evolve with every passing purchase for years to come and I can’t wait to see what tales unfold.

Looking forward to number twelve already…

Post YOUR magic number in the comments below…I can’t wait to hear YOUR stories.

Jules

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my Facebook page JulesOnWheelz to hear representatives from Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet detail the features of their autos during my test drives at the Motor Trend International Auto Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Loving the Lag…Racing the Day Away @ Autobahn CC

Time. It’s precious.  We never seem to have enough.  Can’t seem to see where it goes.  Its ability to fly especially when “having fun”, miraculous.

The thought of driving finely tuned machines around a closed track seems like a great way to spend a few hours on a Saturday right?  Well…wow…just wow.  What an understatement!

My time at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL turned from a desire to fulfillment the last day of September 2017.  The “Autobahn Experience” was one of the many events available for non-members to attend at the 1 1/2 mile track just southwest of Chicago.  Enthusiasm for sport isn’t limited to just golf for many.  Corporate events, member race clubs, instruction and race certification are all benefits of the Autobahn CC for auto enthusiasts.  Feeding their love of autos drives members to construct “garagemahals” to store their beauties and  may include a luxury condo.  Can you say infinity pool?  Yes…it’s coming.

Join Autobahn CC
Photo by Jules Stayton
On-site garages can design and build your race car for less than a set of Maserati ceramic brakes.  Mazda Miatas are the most popular.  Give them a call and they will have your car ready for racing when you arrive.

I’m amazed at the hum as I sit in the pre-driving instructional session with Brad Beall.  A Vietnam Veteran, Brad joined the Autobahn CC at its inception 13 years ago.   He started instructing that very first weekend and has ever since.  A Porsche 911 SC was his car of choice as he started racing at Autobahn CC.  Fellow drivers saw opportunity with SCCA spec Miatas which grew to over 30 in his tenure on track.

Brad Beall
Brad Beall, photo by Jules Stayton
Drawn by an opportunity to assist his son at Tailwinds Distilling he retired his Miata after six years.  Having driven just about everything, the Porsche 918 is boss of the money list and for driving pleasure the McLaren 650S soars to the top of the chart.  His instruction wasn’t brief, but a top-notch simplified set of tips and physical illustrations on how to be successful on track:

1.  SLOW DOWN.

2.  Turn at the right spot.

3.  Hit the apex.

4.  Stay off the gas.

5.  Stay off the grass.

Going fast has its own set of rules and when abided by, delightful things happen.  Brad blended physics with fun and cautions with comedy.  The stage was set.

Audi TT
Audi TT Turbo,  photo by Jules Stayton
First up…the Audi TT Turbo.

The testosterone was flowing in the all male group, save yours truly, as Brad asked for a volunteer to go on the first run.  Cement shoes seemed to be the fashion trend for all, save moi, who quickly raised her hand and stepped forward with confidence.  “I came here to drive, let’s go!”  Blazing my own trail–that’s my style and one brave soul broke free of the concrete to be my driving partner.  Thank God for Lloyd.

Slipping into the cockpit of the red wonder spurred excitement.  I thanked Lloyd for being brave enough to ride shotgun and we were off.

Audi Q5

The cone-laden path drawn on the lot beckoned come and we did.  Swerving side to side on our practice run with Brad in the Audi Q5 was replaced with speed in the TT Turbo.  The lag was acknowledged and modified for.  Our run was clean and decent time-wise.  Now for the real thing.  Each driver had two tries and then switched.  This happened three times through the nine drivers present in our group.  The other nine had started on the track.  Winning times were in the mid-20s and I ended with a respectable 26.73 seconds…I kept up with the boys nicely.

Helmet in hand, the next leg of the journey began on the track.  Autobahn sported a winning lineup of rockets ready and able to entertain us for the next couple hours.

Waving me towards him, my newly minted driving partner Lloyd chose our first beauty…the Lexus LC 500.  I had seen this car in the lineup and it was one of the first I’d hoped to drive.  Lloyd and I, drawing from the same karma, claimed it for our own. Its sleek black lines and massive hood drew us in like a moth to the light…buckled in, our adventure began.

Handling like a dream I snaked along with the pace car and four others.  Brad’s tips fresh in my mind, I managed to hit the apex of most every turn and stay off the grass.  Staying off the GAS proved to be a bit more challenging as the Lexus was so responsive to my requests.  Its cockpit-like feel hugged my body and allowed my focus to be on operating the tight track rather than managing the speedometer.  The Lexus LC 500 fulfilled my mind’s-eye vision of balance and form…what a wonderful start.  What’s next?

Lexus LS500
Lexus LC 500, Photo by Jules Stayton
The BMW M6 made its presence known now.  A bit tighter feel and staccato in response in comparison to the LC 500, but still a contender in its own right.  Being a sedan, it was higher and the sway more distinct in the turns.  Adjusting for this variation after a few tire squeals made for a rewarding entry into my M6 playbook.

Rounding out the third rocket on the race track was another Lexus.  The RC F wormed its blue hue into my heart immediately.  Both coupes from Lexus were a pleasure but this one was heaven.  Sport seating enveloped me with a firm but comfortable position that allowed for ultimate control.  Having driven the LC 500, it gave me a preview of what the capabilities of this roadster might hold.

I was pleased with the best being last.  Appreciation abounded for the RC F’s balance, responsiveness and eager to please symphony of technology at my fingertips.  Never was a motorcar more adored on a day filled with curves than the Lexus RC F in my driving diary.  It’s secrets revealed, the Lexus brand scurried up the ladder to being one of my favorite all-time drives thus far.  What a great buggy it was!

Lexus RC F
Lloyd and the Lexus RC F, photo by Jules Stayton
For the average Joe, or Josephine in my case, spinning around the same track over and over again might seem monotonous.  But tripping the light-fantastic in those finely tuned machines rates right up there with some of the most exciting, seat-of-the pants experiences I’ve had this side of Heaven.  It was definitely worth the helmet head…

Keep drivin’…

Autobahn Jules at sunset

Re-designed 2018 Crosstrek Contributes to Record Sales Month for Subaru

Subaru is LOVE-ing its best sales month in history as August 2017 charted a 4.6% increase over August 2016. Sixty-nine consecutive months of yearly month-over-month growth rewards Subaru for its innovative advertising campaigns and commitment to community.

One such program is geared toward pets.  66% of Subaru owners have pets with 71% of those being dog owners.  You may have seen Subaru’s pet commercials with a golden retriever family driving a Subaru and experiencing situations much like any red-blooded American family might. Click here to read more about the details of how the promotion came to life.  It has been one of its most successful campaigns to date and spurred on a whole new marketing emphasis. Even the Center for Pet Safety partnered with Subaru in a study to find the best pet restraint.

Subaru pet safety poster

Making room for pets in the re-designed 2018 Crosstrek is a genius move by Subaru based on that data.  The 2.0i Premium model that I was able to test included all-weather mats and a large tray for the cargo area (standard on Premium and Limited trims) perfect for those muddy paws.  4+ inches of girth are added making it a breeze for the BIG DOGS to jump in.  A rear seat- back protector and bumper cover complete the available equipment from Subaru and after market barriers are available to create the crate-like travel space.  Roof rails are standard on all trim levels to assist in the storage of gear and other fun-loving items like kayaks and tents. Exploring is part of the Subaru brand.

Having pets myself, two large dogs to be specific, I would consider the Crosstrek a great option for taking the little darlings along on trips anytime.  My buddies are always ready for their next escapade and Subaru has made that standard fare in many of their models.  Thank you Subaru for making it just a little easier to include the WHOLE family in travel plans.

Photos by Jules Stayton

Three trim levels rule the 2018 Crosstrek.  Noted for its off-road capabilities and standard AWD,  the entry-level and Premium Crosstrek includes a 6-speed manual transmission with Incline Start Assist for even more control on those rock crawls and gravel roads.  Ground clearance clocks in at 8.7″ when equipped with X-MODE® with Hill Descent Control.  Optional Lineartronic® Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with Incline Start Assist and 7-speed manual-mode with paddle shifters happened to be on my ride and explored often by this Subaru owner.

Photos by Jules Stayton

Passengers, even those over six-feet, will enjoy the head clearance and leg room in the  spacious 100.9 cubic-foot interior.  The 152 hp 2.0 liter 4-cylinder Subaru Boxer® engine with direct injection is not sluggish but peppy and ready for the on-ramp or back road Sunday drive.  New to the 2018 re-design is high-strength steel on an all-new structure providing 70% more rigidity making it ride quieter and smoother.  I was impressed with a tranquil cabin atmosphere that had the space of an SUV but sporty in its handling capabilities.

Photos by Jules Stayton

Starlink™ is Subaru’s flagship for safety and security.  Available also are Steering Responsive Headlights shown in this video which are new for 2018 that work in tandem with EyeSight® technology that uses two cameras facing forward where the map-lights are located at the top of the windshield.  EyeSight® is the sensor for Pre-Collision Braking and Adaptive Cruise Control.  Pre-Collision Throttle Management cuts power to the engine when objects are detected or if the car is put into drive instead of reverse. Lane Keep Assist, when engaged, helps prevent drowsy driver drift and lane departure by sounding an alert whose volume can be set by the driver.  Blind-Spot Detection flashes a light on the rear view mirror of both the passenger and driver side to inform the driver of potential hazards in the respective blind spots.  Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and  Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB) round out Subaru’s bevy of features that make safety a priority.

full wide gas station 2018 Crosstrek

back only barn 2018 Crosstrek

Photos by Jules Stayton

Whether your goals are to get from point A to B or embark on a true adventure the 27/33 mpg 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is a contender.  Apple Car Play™,  Android™ Auto, Pandora® and the all-new voice activated navigation system powered by TomTom® will take you where you need to go.

Sales records testify, Subaru has become America’s go to brand for safety, reliability and durability.  Canines and humans agree…the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is a winner.

The $21,795 base price tag is hard to beat.  Add options and the $915 destination and delivery fee to my Premium model for a grand total of $26,803.

 

*This car was provided for review by Marion Subaru Marion, Illinois.

Dave Kindig, Kevv Dogg and Dreams: an Adventure on Woodward Avenue

Never did I think in a million years that I’d have the pleasure of meeting Dave Kindig and Kevin Schiele aka “Kevv Dogg” of the Velocity Channel’s Bitchin’ Rides at the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Cruising down Woodward in a dream car or on foot is a treat for sure, but noticing Dave at the top of a tower laden with Kindig-it Designs logos was that chance in a million defined.

Dave pointing to Jules
Photo by Jules Stayton
He had arrived with his kit-and-kaboodle to experience the Dream Cruise himself and from the look on his face, even from afar, he was into it.  There was a no more appropriate place for Bitchin’ Rides to grace.  A treasure trove of auto enthusiasts all in one place, Dave is a genius.  It is no wonder, considering he started Kindig-it Designs in 1999 with his wife Charity and grew it into the multi-media empire it is today.  His artistry and design fulfill the dreams of car lovers everywhere as he is a “one stop, complete custom shop”.

Headquartered in Salt Lake City his move to meet-and-greet those of us strolling the streets of suburban Detroit made for an experience his fans, including me, won’t soon forget.

Mementos will come and go, but my memories meeting Dave and Kevv won’t be forgotten and will hang on my wall as an inspiration.

DK signatures and shirt
Photo by Jules Stayton
While meeting Dave and Kevv was the highlight of that sun-filled Saturday, the rest of the field didn’t disappoint.  If getting a closer look at all those beauties was your thing, ample opportunities were available.  Parking lots along the Avenue and local parks shut down to accommodate the metal beauties.  Observation towers normally used for play-by-play reports of little league baseball were chances to get that perfect photo from above.

Photos by Jules Stayton

Pocket-doors aren’t just for homes…check out this 1954 Kaiser Darrin, #039/435.

Photos by Jules Stayton

Corvette on Woodward

Photo by Jules Stayton

No Woodward Dream Cruise day would be complete without a visit to Vinsetta Garage for some food and a beverage. Being the oldest garage east of the Mississippi has its advantages.  Once a functioning repair shop, it continues to exist as a restaurant filled with stories of a bygone era as well as new tales for car-buffs from all walks of life.

Over 1 million people attend the Dream Cruise annually and over 40,000 cars of all kinds participate.

If you haven’t experienced the wonder of the Woodward Dream Cruise yourself, Dave and I would highly recommend it.

Cruise on my friends…cruise on.

 

Woodward Eve

The day had finally come.  Six months in the making.

As I lay in bed on the eve of what would be one of the greatest outdoor car shows I’ve ever seen, I marveled at how aware I had become of everything auto.  My long chestnut hair was perfumed with exhaust as I lay my head down on the pillow. The rumble that I heard wasn’t thunder or reindeer on the roof, it was engines on Woodward Ave. just two blocks away.

I was lucky enough to stay at a friend’s house just steps from the famed thoroughfare in Royal Oak, MI.   My best friend and her family welcomed us with open arms to the local event of the year.  We shared the excitement of seeing each other after a long hiatus and I was equally delirious about the Dream Cruise on the books for Saturday.

Crowd on Woodward Eve

Photo by Jules Stayton

Everything from babes in arms to seniors in wheelchairs were on hand as we strolled the Avenue on Woodward Eve.  The next day was the “actual” event, but don’t tell that to the thousands of spectators and hot rod drivers cruising on a beautiful August night.  The pre-game was a thrill.  Whether meandering through the crowd or riding in your well-loved roadster, the experience was exceptional and stirred anticipation of what was yet to come.

One of the many highlights of my expanding adventure at the Woodward Dream Cruise was riding in a 1967 Shelby Cobra kit-car with my friend Brian. He had been showing me pictures of his baby over the past year and the prospect of feeling that hot rod rumble under me was nearing its peak.

 

As I slid into the passenger seat I loved the fact that I had to clip into a four point harness.  Just the reality of that car requiring that amount of restraint up front, before ever rolling an inch, was exciting.

As soon as that engine fired up the neighborhood awoke, even though it was late afternoon.  Children and senior citizens stirred from their slumber to stumble onto the porch to see the spectacle and the source of their awakening.  So interesting to be in an area laden with “car culture”.  Suburbia had been infected with a need-for-speed around every corner.  A late-model Challenger lingered in the driveway next to us awaiting it’s release later that evening. Thank you Detroit.

With safety concerns put to rest, we motored through the Royal Oak neighborhood amongst tall trees and admiring eyes towards our destination.  The longed for rumble was reality.  My long hair was tethered and with a glint in our eyes we ventured onto Woodward Avenue with the rest of the pack.

Dusk on Woodward

Photo by Jules Stayton

Looking at the Dream Cruise from the driver’s perspective was enlightening.  Watching the crowd’s reaction as we motored by was priceless.  As I took the photo above,  we were met with a plethora of interested parties with cameras of their own.  We were now the subject of adoration from fans just like ourselves.  Some held paddles with a “thumbs-up” sign to show their silent approval.  We garnered a wave or two as well and smiles galore during our journey past the crowds.

The eve of any event is filled with anticipation of things to come and lots of hard work…somehow cruising Woodward Avenue didn’t seem like work at all.

After what seemed like a minute, we drifted towards home for some long awaited porch-sitting and planning for the next day.  We pulled in the driveway to be greeted by our adoring fans (i.e. the aforementioned children now awake thanks to us) and reached into the door pocket to find the wire release for the doors of the Cobra.  Having singed my skin on the pipes of a motorcycle before, I was careful to shed my harness and push up out of my seat and step over the heated cylinders before me.  That was one tattoo I was not willing to bring home to commemorate my maiden voyage at the Woodward Dream Cruise.

The eve was waning…slumber was calling…the official WDC impending.

More to come…stay tuned to JulesOnWheelz.net

 

 

Corvettes and Cousins

Car love runs in families and mine is no different.

Growing up in the same northern Illinois region, my cousin Dan and I were worlds apart.  He, quite a few years my senior, hung out with my older brothers.  Including the little sister happened on occasion.  Dan’s daughter was my playmate since our ages were more inline.  Play dates included dolls and swimming…definitely NOT cars, that was reserved for the boys.

The intermittent rides in the variety of offerings of six teenage boys was thrilling to me.  I wanted to be one of the boys. This is where I began to veer off the spectrum of dolls and dresses and into the world of speed and chrome.

Setting sail from my Kentucky home to the Woodward Dream Cruise in Michigan last week brought a long-awaited reuniting with my cousin Dan in Indiana.  Tri-state travel never looked so good as he “gave the tour” of his garage.  Much to my surprise there was eye candy galore to be had on that tour.  Glancing left and right, the Route 66 memorabilia caught my eye instantly.

Route 66 decor

Photo by Jules Stayton

Like many car aficionados his “garage” was spotless.  It was more like a showroom for his automobile treasures collected over the years.  Each one with unique meaning and significance.  The decor started with the Edelbrocks and went wild.  Each item a nod to Dan’s love of cars.  We were cut from the same cloth after all!  But the best was yet to come…

He marveled at my interest and joy in each piece and the story it told.  He had no idea that we shared a love of autos, but once aware, we savored levels of conversation we had never experienced before.  They years melted and we were friends sharing the excitement that only “car guys” understand.

Imagine my elation when he asked if I’d like to take his 93′ Corvette for a spin.  Well of course!  We made sure to beat the impending downpour as we cruised the curvy lanes of the Indiana highways.  A few clouds could not deter this duo who had waited all these years to discover a common thread flowing through our gene pool.

Photos by Jules Stayton

One thing I know…you can’t pick your family but I sure would pick Dan even if he wasn’t family.  Car guys have to stick together.

D and J with 93 standing