Fast & Furious, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

An automotive affair gets complicated.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive, a Time Inc. publication.


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The relationship between car fans and the Fast & Furious franchise is odd. Very odd. The promises forged in a modded Toyota Supra’s tire smoke have turned acrid, and the flame of our 14-year fling has begun to flicker. But if a Facebook post by actor/producer Vin Diesel is anything to go by, we’ve barely entered the franchise’s twilight.

Diesel posted recently that an additional trilogy would end the film series. Could we renew our vows? We’re not feeling very giving at the moment.

Our love started simple enough in 2001, with a soundtrack populated by the likes of Limp Bizkit and Ja Rule. A bottle-blond Paul Walker trotted into Vin Diesel’s grocery store and sat in the adjacent diner. A young Jordana Brewster looked up before asking, “Tuna on white, no crust?” The repartee that followed represented the coy flirting stage that would lead audiences into a deeper love affair containing various criminal investigations, contrived romances and explosions. Lots of explosions.

Gaggles of car obsessives gathered in theaters to watch their street-racer fantasies play out on the big screen. But as more Fast & Furious films were produced, the relationship began to turn. The order of events changed. Characters passed away and returned from the dead. Our relationship was growing complicated. We thought it was over, owing in no small part to the seventh installment’s tagline: “One last ride.” Paul Walker passed away tragically in 2013—halfway through the filming of Furious 7—and a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Walker’s daughter on Sept. 29 has turned attention to the franchise that its producers would probably like to deflect.

Since James Wan backed out after directing Furious 7, the series is left without a director, despite a reported April 2017 release date.

We groan as an audience with the announcement of three more movies. “Why does our partner keep doing this to us? They swore they would change!” It’s like Universal keeps manipulating this relationship. They know we’ll always come running back to see them, hoping to recapture the glimmer of our torrid romance in the early 2000s.

And they’re right. We will.

So what if the announcement cements the Fast & Furious franchise as the dad joke of car cinema? Who cares if the series is hell-bent on surpassing the sevenPolice Academy movies? That must be how these relationships mature. At a certain point, we must trade in our hot pants for sweatpants. It’s complex. It’s a roller coaster. It’s emotionally draining and expensive.

How expensive? More than you can afford, pal.

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Eight Great Racing Games That Will Make You Feel Old

Forza who? Grand Theft what? Bow down to the pioneers that made driving simulators such effective time-suckers.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


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POLE POSITION (1982) — The bread-and-butter racing game, and one that now demands, but rarely gets, respect. Graphics were primitive and opponents spaced awkwardly throughout the track, but the game did teach you the importance of holding a race line and the dark art of dodging puddles at Fuji. An oscillating engine hum and low burble of the rumble strips was the only soundtrack needed. No distractions, no gangsters sticking you up in the pits. Pole Position was pure, 8-bit bliss.

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IVAN “IRONMAN” STEWART’S SUPER OFF ROAD (1989) — Few games could stand up the stadium-style truck racing in Ivan Stewart’s Super Off Road. The upright arcade version featured three-abreast steering wheels and pedals that placed competitors side-by-side. Even for the era, the game was surprisingly accurate with its depiction of off-roading articulation. Throwing and elbow or two at your opponent mid-corner was fair play. After all, rubbin’ is racin’.

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F355 CHALLENGE (1999) — Although Sega’s one-make Ferrari racing game was available on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, the real thrills were found in the arcade. Not only did gamers find headrest-mounted speakers and three adjacent screens for optimal driver vision, they also were treated to F1-style paddle shifters or a gated manual transmission with a clutch, the better to tease goosebump-inducing mechanical howls from an F355. The steering wheel even communicated feedback while cornering. Some arcades still carry the game—a testament to the quality of the gameplay as well as the hardware.

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COLIN MCRAE RALLY (1998) — Named for the Scottish rally kingpin, this one gave players a taste of the most iconic World Rally Championship cars of the 1998 season, including McRae’s own Subaru Impreza WRC (and a few scrappy Ford Escorts). The graphics were sophisticated for the era, although the eight stages were not accurate to their real-life equivalents. An in-game navigator provided authentic rally guidance for the course ahead: “5 right into 4 hairpin left, square right.” Even by today’s standards, Colin McRae Rally remains one of the more entertaining—and technical—racing games developed.

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AUTO MODELLISTA (2002) — Here was a different sort of racing simulator, combining comic-book visual elements with cult tuner cars. The Capcom-produced game was proudly Japanese, boasting several mountainous sections, called touge, Tokyo road courses and the famed Suzuka Circuit. Players also got a plethora of tuning and styling upgrades. Despite the game’s embrace of the unconventional, it was also faulted for its cars’ handling characteristics. For gamers who appreciated the reprieve from the seriousness of other driving simulators, however, Auto Modellista hit a sweet spot.

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CRUIS’N WORLD (1996) — Anyone who loves Cruis’n World for its realism should get their brains scanned. The game represented a day off from the forward development of racing graphics. Yet by literally making a day’s play out of driving, the heir to Cruis’n USA ruled by not taking itself seriously. It was a riot. Jumps sprouted from the ground at random, car crashes sent competitors skyward and all cars had four-speed transmissions, regardless of their real-life specifications. Few things mimicked the panic of a dwindling clock and a safety point that’s too far ahead. But there was no mistaking the euphoria of making it through and continuing gameplay. “Checkpoint!”

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NEED FOR SPEED: HIGH STAKES (1999) — With its heady waft of wealth and indifference to the law, High Stakes was the driving simulator that pitted sports cars against both the police and other racers simultaneously. The car list was visual ecstasy for fans of supercars from the Nineties. Especially skilled drivers were even able to unlock virtual editions of the McLaren F1 GTR and Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. High Stakes provided the adrenaline rush with a hi-NRG soundtrack and groundbreaking damage modeling. If players sought good karma, it even allowed them to play as police and pursue the no-goodniks. Righteous.

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DRIVER (1999) — Who could forget John Tanner, the undercover cop committed to busting organized crime in his sweet muscle cars? Driver had the grit of early Seventies New York crime cinema and the flair of a James Bond flick. Although the graphics and handling characteristics felt a bit laggy, the game was satisfying for players who wanted to add a crime-solving element to their virtual driving experience. Powerslides were paramount, and the console controller had a trick throttle option that guaranteed burnouts under hard acceleration.

Eight ways video games make driving more fun

A symbiosis has formed among road, track and game console—and it’s making us all happier behind the wheel.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


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1. Touristenfahrten at the Nürburgring Nordschleife— Why content yourself with ripping through the Nordschleife on Gran Turismo when you can do it for real? Touristenfahrten is the very real opportunity for the public to try their hand at the circuit known as the Green Hell. While the Nürburgring has always been a mythical destination for race fans, its popularity boomed after the track’s debut in driving simulators (not that heightened interest has staved off bankruptcy. Sigh.). Touristenfahrten days are some of the track’s most popular attractions. Devotees can even rent specific track-prepped machines for their 20.8-kilometer adventure.

098575100_12251931212. Extreme Track Cars — Ask an eight-year-old gamer to style a track toy, and you’d get a hyper-minimalist, sinister machine with digital everything. Remove any semblance of creature comforts, push wheels hard to the corners and you’ve created this generation’s Caterham or Lotus 7. Cars like the KTM X-Bow even incorporate gaming-style lap timers. The only thing separating these cars from virtual reality is an Oculus Rift.

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3. The Lap of Manhattan— In 2013, a driver initially known only as “Afroduck” shared a visual cocktail of blurry boulevards, reckless endangerment and a BMW Z4 on YouTube. In just over 24 minutes, Adam Tang whirred around Manhattan’s perimeter at an average speed of 66 mph, shattering a very much unofficial, and equally illegal, record time of 26:03. The video circled through the automotive community and Tang gained a reputation as a real-life Midnight Club racer. Although he was convicted of reckless driving, fined and sentenced to a year in jail, the Canada native fled northward, where he remains.

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4. The Survival of Boutique Automakers— Sustaining a tiny, performance-oriented brand was once a near impossibility. Who would take a risk on an unproven artisan when names like Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren existed? The video game generation, however, proved a tremendous asset for niche manufacturers. British carmaker TVR saw success when they made the original Gran Turismo roster—if not enough to avoid falling into receivership. But today, names like Pagani, Koenigsegg, Wiesmann, GTA (pictured) and others survive and thrive, due in part to gamers and developers keeping these niche pleasure craft on wealthy enthusiasts’ short lists.

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5. Driving as Escapism— Anyone who has fiddled with the Forza Horizon series understands that the exotic vistas, weirdly appealing music festivals and rare cars scratch a voyeuristic itch. Throw in barn finds, social online gameplay and a sandbox environment, and Turn 10 Studios has a heady brew in hand. It’s no coincidence that ads for cars like the Scion FR-S and Mazda MX-5 Miata have pitched driving as a meaningful endeavor. These machines, known somewhat paradoxically as driver’s cars, appeal directly to gamers who seek low-priced, non-virtual chariots.

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6. Aftermarket Insanity— When the Need for Speed franchise took on street racing culture in the wake of the original Fast and the Furious film, the popularity of modding exploded. Bright neon underglow, vertical doors and spinning wheels were basic facets of Need for Speed: Underground. After the game’s debut and sequel, car culture went even more rabid for bodykits and spoilers. Functionality be damned, you could buy kits and aero parts for anything from the Mitsubishi Eclipse to the Dodge Caravan. Depending on whom you ask, this is the automotive yearbook page you skip. It’s just too embarrassing.

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7. A Preponderance of Paddles— In the mid-Nineties, around the same time Ferrari was introducing them on the F355 sports car, the original Gran Turismo on Sony PlayStation was absolutely nailing paddle shifters. Before they were available on most mainstream cars, advanced gamers could enjoy the perfect blend of manual and sequential gearboxes from the comfort of their couch. As paddle shifters trickled down from sports cars to hot hatches, some games introduced handheld clutches to greatly enhance the gaming experience.

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8. Ed Bolian’s Cross-Country Record— It’s a question ripped from the thoughts of any open-road gamer: How fast could I drive across the U.S.? In October 2013, the team of Ed Bolian, Dave Black and Dan Huang set this record on public roads, crossing the United States in 28 hours, 50 minutes and 26 seconds. Although the average speed of the trek was 98 mph, the trio’s Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG topped 130 mph for over 90 minutes total, and 158 mph on several occasions. It’s a record that probably won’t—and shouldn’t—be broken any time soon.

Have we reached peak Shelby?

The legendary company’s new tuned Mustang EcoBoost costs $50,000 and adds 25 horsepower. Has Shelby American finally jumped the shark?

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


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Modifying cars isn’t a hobby, it’s an exercise in fiscal irresponsibility. It’s easy for the speed-obsessed to open up their wallets before taking a step back and asking, “Should I?” No one understood the dichotomy, and the resulting business case, better than Carroll Shelby, the venerated Texas chicken farmer turned racing entrepreneur.

Mr. Shelby, who died in 2012, is the celebrated architect behind the original Mustang GT350, Daytona Coupe and AC Cobra. He spent a half-century ensuring that his company, Shelby American, was synonymous with big horsepower and brash add-on styling. Speed was paramount. The cars dripped character.

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Now, Shelby American has introduced its Shelby GT EcoBoost, based on the new four-cylinder Mustang, testing just how heart-driven brand loyalists are. For the pleasure, buyers must fork over $23,995 (not including the original $26,295 cost of the standard Ford Mustang EcoBoost). So how much Shelby does one get for Audi S4 money?

Not much. Carbon-fiber paneling, 20-inch wheels and a whole lot of badging. Also, a short-shift kit, a few suspension bits and an exhaust, all lifted directly from the Ford Performance catalog. Meaning you could buy all those parts at the dealership. For less than $4,000. Total horsepower gain is a paltry 25 hp, bringing the standard Mustang’s 2.3-liter four-cylinder up to 335 ponies.

There are optional extras, too, and they don’t exactly bolster the value case: Upgraded Wilwood brakes, some additional carbon fiber and, uh, even more Shelby badging. Rounding out this reality check is a roll cage, racing seats and five-point racing harnesses.

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Even for the most ardent fans, the $50,290 Shelby GT EcoBoost is a confused personality. It’s dressed to excite, but has four cylinders fewer than most Shelbyians probably want from their Mustang. It’s better on gas, but the health of Siberian permafrost has never been top of mind for Shelby customers. Perhaps most damning, though, is that it looks quick, but isn’t all that much quicker than its root material.

So, has Shelby jumped the shark? Customers will ultimately make that determination. But being 100 hp down on—almost $17,000 pricier than—the archetypical Mustang GT V-8 (saying nothing of Ford’s own $50,000 GT350, approved by The Drive’s own A.J. Baime at Laguna Seca) this Shelby leaves us cold. And who wants a Shelby without the Carroll’s trademarked combination of speed and personality? Now that’s irrational.

Up Close & Personal at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

Despite living in Oakland for four years, I had never attended the PVGP. I had been told that droves of the car-obsessed flocked annually to the greens of the Schenley Park Golf Course to view some of the most legendary automobiles. For whatever reason, I always thought the event would be another overhyped, American-only car show with middle aged men stuffed into canvas lawn chairs beside their pride and joy (insert generic muscle cars here).

But no. Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix isn’t a weekly doo-wop nostalgia trip in a Sam’s Club parking lot. It isn’t even close to that.

When I entered the grounds in my humble Volkswagen, I immediately realized how foolish I was to pre-judge this show. My jaw hit the ground so hard, I thought Bill Peduto would call to remind me that fracking is illegal within city limits. The visual juxtaposition of million-dollar classics and common people-movers was staggering. Look away at the wrong time and you might miss some of the finest sculpted metal in automotive history. Wow.

With many an egg on my face, I’ll step aside and let my imagery show you what I’m on about.

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Camping in the Pennsylvania Appalachians

The Laurel Highlands is one of my favorite places in the keystone state. It’s home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater,” multiple state parks, and one of the most colorful autumns in the northeast. So when Emily suggested we go camping for the weekend, I jumped at the chance. After a long day of bicycling, we crashed pretty hard. With good weather and a vibrant golden hour, it was impossible to resist shooting some candids. I love this lens (Nikkor AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8) . All the photo specifics are available on my flickr.


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Emily even tried her hand at portraits. The D5000 is a really great camera to teach on. Here’s me. Please excuse the expression.DSC_0033