The culture that bred a Hellcat

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.



Raw, powerful and even a bit vulgar, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is anything but a vapid flexing of Chrysler muscle.

Derived from a cult of speed, the 707-horsepower hellion is a proper homage to one of the most peculiar eras of US car culture.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, drag racing was front and centre, and names like Mustang, Camaro and Charger created a motoring nomenclature all their own. The Dodge Challenger began to exhibit typical drag-racing attributes not long after its introduction: high-horsepower engines, staggered-width tires and a lust for the quarter mile. As boutique manufacturers began to spring up to supplement the carmakers’ go-fast efforts, the culture boomed.

Matthew Macomber’s video, filmed in New England in 2010, is a slowed-down homage to life at the drag strip, an existence measured in fewer than 11 ticks of a stopwatch. Muscle cars and dragsters convene at the start. The flick of a green light whips the machines into a froth of noise and fire. Some launch cleanly while others lunge forward in dazzling wheel-stands, their tires alight.

Muscle-car culture was sharpened at the drag strip, but born at stoplights. Once bit by the drag-racing bug, owners of street cars could fall hostage to their machines, obsessing over the minutiae that would make their cars a little bit faster. Cornering? A foreign concept. Macomber’s video is a close study of the only thing that mattered: straight-line speed.

The lineage to the 2015 Hellcat is clear. With a supercharged 707hp V8 engine, dubious handling and a profligate appetite for tires and petrol, the Hellcat is a fascinating piece of hardware. The culture that birthed this modern muscle car seems well served.

Advertisements

Infographic: The true price of Dodge’s SRT Hellcat

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.

With its supercharged 707-horsepower V8 engine, tire-smoking torque and retrofuturist styling, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is an unambiguous, unabashed throwback. But it distinguishes itself from its nostalgia-tinged peers – saying nothing of high-horsepower European sports cars – on its value case.

Granted, consumers do not cross-shop bawdy Detroit muscle against bespoke European land-missiles, yet  some true-to-life comparisons underline just how stellar a value Chrysler’s fire-breathing feline is –  and the financial chasms that must be bridged to otherwise touch its tremendous output.

Rendez-vous: The illegal Tour de France

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.



Calm under pressure, audacious skill and a bit of lunacy: all traits of a prepared racer. Coupled with purpose-built equipment shaped by the wind, and you have a recipe for a properly exciting race through Paris.

The month-long Tour de France stormed through the streets of Paris on 27 July, with scores of cyclists swarming towards the finish through a crush of hardcore fans. It’s an evocative scene, one repeated throughout the ages every year. But in 1976, there was an exceptional, extra-legal sprint that was filmed, discussed and ultimately passed around in video-cassette form like contraband.

Nearly four decades ago, French director Claude Lelouch releasedC’était un rendez-vous, a short film depicting a Ferrari 275 GTB illegally blasting through the dormant avenues of a Paris dawn, coming to rest at the Montmarte overlook adjacent to Sacré Coeur. The speed and reckless maneuvers in the picture caused a tiny stir in the City of Light and among car enthusiasts worldwide, as copies of the short film slowly made their way across oceans.

Translating to It Was a Date, the production is regarded as one of the earliest – and still one of the best – street-racing films. Though many a driver has felt the impulse to speed away from a red light or dash through a commute as if it were the last lap at Le Mans, it would be folly to follow through. Lelouch couldn’t help himself. The director weaves through a makeshift 6.5-mile circuit in less than eight minutes while maintaining remarkable pace. But all is not what it seems.

A keen viewer will note that the speed and movement on screen does not always correspond with the sound of a Ferrari at full chatter. In fact, Lelouch used his massive Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 sedan for filming. To make the movie more exhilarating, the director later dubbed over the soundtrack with that of his Italian sports car. Forget suction-mounting a GoPro camera; Lelouch affixed a full-size film rig to the front of his German land-barge.

And while there was no yellow jersey or flowered garlands awaiting Lelouch at the finish of his “tour”, there was something more permanent: immortality.

The photo with a $35,000 secret

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.


A photo with a backstory. (Courtesy RM Auctions)

Every significant collection needs a crown jewel, that marquee item that slackens jaws and raises eyebrows. And at the coming Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance, held amid championship golf greens in northern California, there will be no shortage of multimillion-dollar Ferraris crowding the auction block. But there are significantly less expensive ways to secure a one-of-a-kind piece of Ferrari mystique, worthy of sitting atop any collection – and it may even come with a valuable secret.

The photograph above, taken in 1964 at the 12 Hours of Reims endurance race in France, depicts the Parkes/Scarfiotti Ferrari 250 GTO passing the pits while in the foreground, Jacques Swaters, Belgian manager of the Ophem/”Beurlys” outfit, signals the team’s Ferrari 250 LM. The moment, captured in a seemingly nonchalant blink of a camera’s shutter, provides a brief but comprehensive glimpse at what made this era of motorsport so special – to competitors and collectors alike.

But look closer.

A discreet stash of signatures on the print, barely legible at a glance, brings this image into the upper stratosphere of automotive collectibles.

(Courtesy RM Auctions)

The photo is signed by many of the famous individuals within the frame – a murderer’s row of Formula 1 world champions and Le Mans winners. Signatures from, among others, Phil Hill, Derek Bell, Luigi Chinetti and Maurice Trintignant all adorn the image. Couple this with an exemplary shot of two famous Ferraris – one of which, the 250 GTO, being considered the most coveted car in the collecting hobby – and you’ve got a centrepiece that is certain to draw double-takes.

(Courtesy RM Auctions)

Although the print’s signatures are subtle, its size is hardly so – it measures over 11 feet long and 7 feet high. Were it not for the barely-there autographs, the image likely would not have sold in 2008 for 23,000 euros (roughly $35,772 at time of sale).

Though few would call the image affordable, it is quite a bargain compared to the Pebble Beach-bound relations of the aforementioned 250 GTO and LM: a 250 GT California expected to bring $12m to $15m, and a 275 GTB/C Speciale that could very well top $40m, making it the most expensive car ever sold at public auction.

All of which serves to make an archival automotive photograph even more attractive. Bonus: you wouldn’t have to worry about crashing it.

Blues Brothers mayhem, distilled for the small screen

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.



The Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, BBC Autos’ most recent Icons & Innovators subject, was the childhood equivalent of the Volkswagen Beetle: simple, cheap and effective.

Children found the red and yellow plastic hardtop an easy vehicle for driveway exploration, and parents found it a surefire way to keep a child engaged. The Cozy Coupe was tough, too, able to withstand the occasionally destructive force that is a child’s imagination.

But the appeal of an automotive “smash ‘em up” does not wane just because a child grows older. When the US comedy The Blues Brothers hit theatres in 1980, it did so with a smash-and-crash storyline heavy on gratuitous automotive carnage. Cozy Coupes may be a tight squeeze nowadays, but even the most severe cases of Peter Pan syndrome can be soothed with this piece of escapism.

YouTube user Bricktease employed stop-motion video and Lego in a shot-for-shot recreation of the mall chase in the movie. Audiences everywhere could view the pursuit through an Illinois shopping centre as a celluloid facsimile of their childhood fantasies. Filming the sequence brought about the destruction of 103 cars in total, a record for films at the time.

This colourful Lego tribute matches the calamities of the chase all the way down to the scattering patrons. The cars slide and tumble through the mall with awful handling as the film’s main characters casually take in all the newest retail additions.

Not quite the same as a Cozy Coupe demolition derby, but it scratches an itch.

Five ways to bring summer on the road

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.



 

Winter has retreated from the northern hemisphere and warmth reigns supreme, setting many readers to dream of escapes. Not just any escapes, but the kind of adventures where the vehicle is as much a protagonist as the destination. Few things are better than a car filled with friends en route to a beach or campsite, and the fun factor only grows when a car can adjust for prolonged absences. These are some of our favourite ways to stay away a little bit longer this summer. (Photo: AT Overland Equipment; Cover photo: Kylie McLaughlin/Lonely Planet Images/Getty)

Audi Q3 Camping Tent

The Q3 stuffs Audi’s core tenets of sport and luxury into an appealing soft-roader package. But for weekenders who’d rather not be fodder for mosquitos, Audi has devised a solution. The Q3 camping tent can withstand winds of up to 43mph, making it a formidable shelter in an impromptu storm. Audi estimates that the inflatable fortress and attached exoskeleton will be ready for occupants in just seven minutes. Don’t want to get wet walking from the car to the tent? Fear not, for Ingolstadt’s engineers have thought of it all: the tent attaches seamlessly to the Q3’s open rear hatch, enabling crawl-throughs. How very civilised. (Photo: Audi of America)

Volkswagen California

Grandchild of the recently deceased Kombi, the California is Volkswagen’s response to adventurers seeking a self-contained holiday. The California comes standard with an accordion-like expandable roof, cooking facilities, a sink and a refrigerator. Add the optional camping pack, and a retractable awning turns this Swiss Army van from an overnight shelter to a second home on wheels. At the end of a long summer day, there’s a double bed for a restful night’s sleep. This latest pop-top VW truly has everything you’d need on a camping holiday, save for a fire pit for roasting weenies and preparing late-night s’mores. (We assume Volkswagen will issue a recall to mend this minor design flaw.) (Photo: Volkswagen Group)

Airstream Autobahn

Fancy having your business associates over for a meeting before a daytrip to the countryside? The Airstream Autobahn is the summer solution for the terrestrial jet set. Airstream takes a standard Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van and adds all the humble road-trip necessities: leather-lined captain’s chairs, power window shades, a beverage cooler and, of course, a flat-screen LCD television. Though a journey in the Autobahn would never be construed as “rouging it”, this modified cargo-mover is a choice shelter for those with high-tag adventuring in mind – a tag starting at $133,000 in the US, to be exact. (Photo: Airstream)

Nissan Titan Bed Tent

Notwithstanding nomadic tribes of surfers and snowboarders, most owners of pickup trucks overlook their vehicles’ ability to double as makeshift campgrounds. This bed tent for Nissan’s full-size Titan comes directly from the Japanese brand, and is ideal for providing a dry night’s sleep. But while the shelter part of the camping equation is covered, it’s still in adventurers’ best interest to throw in a mattress. The steel bed of a full-size truck may be a bit on the firm side. (Photo: Nissan North America)

AT Overland JK Habitat

This solution is built for the daytrips that turn into weekend-long trailblazing expeditions. Jeep Wrangler owners end up in the darnedest situations as it is. They might park for the evening in fender-deep mud, simply because they could. For just such occasions, the JK Habitat lofts its residents above the vehicle. This origami nest bolts directly to the body of a Wrangler Unlimited (the Jeep’s four-door configuration) and unfolds to reveal a 15ft-long canvas penthouse. Setup takes just 60 seconds, according to the manufacturer, and the unit can sleep four comfortably. An opening at the rear of the cabin makes a clever entry point, allowing occupants to move upstairs without exiting the vehicle – a smart idea considering the tricky footing in typical Wrangler habitat. (Photo: AT Overland Equipment)

AEV Jeeps make Icelandic landfall

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.



Who said fun had to be good and clean? Sometimes the best adventures are those that leave calloused hands and scuffed boots.

Ever since BBC Autos’ recent muddy mingle with Land Rover in Kentucky, a palpable craving for off-road adventure has coursed through our ranks. Vicarious thrills have had to do, but as this video from American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) demonstrates, the thrills can still be quite visceral.

This production comes from Iceland, a place that is – as we’ve learned – tailor-made for off-tarmac adventuring. With a population of less than 300,000 and a bounty of craggy landscapes and slippery surfaces, Iceland is prime country for an off-road tuning company like AEV. The Michigan-based modifiers of all things Jeep Wrangler took a pair of their JK350 Wranglers on the expedition through Iceland’s deep ravines, vast rivers and gritty sands.

This isn’t your average slushy drive to the grocery. AEV’s purpose-built rigs have lifted suspensions and knobby off-road tires designed specifically to handle this type of pockmarked landscape without hesitation.

Slipping and sliding in the colder months is a skill worth acquiring, even outside the confines of a nearly indestructible 4×4. Meantime, spend some good, clean fun inside AEV’s cinematic road trip.