The Price of Fandom

Sean McFarland

The Union Square Barnes & Noble has long been the main stage for the larger names in New York City book signings. Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, and Stephen Colbert have all headlined at the four-story reading/Nook/knick-knack/Starbucks mecca to autograph their texts before eager fans who’ve waited hours for a fifteen second interaction with their favorite celebrity. Even the upcoming set list of book authors is noteworthy, highlighting acts like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Nye, and James Franco.

This isn’t at all similar to the midtown location of B&N, which is less like the main stage at a music festival and more like the one closest to the parking lot with the bands that you forgot about. Far be it to call Mick Fleetwood a B-tier act, but his bookstore audience of less than 100 was hardly smashing through the entrance for an autograph.

“This is just another day at the office,” said Mike Knight as he reached down and inched forward his two green bags brimmed with Fleetwood’s autobiography, Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography. “I’ve got 15. There aren’t many people here, so I’d be pretty happy if I could get $85 a piece for them.” Mike, who makes his living off of such signings, was poised to earn a handsome profit from the $25.50 copies. Several of Mike’s neighbors in line exhaled disapprovingly at the thought of such exploitation.

A hardcore, but muted handful arrived at 5 a.m. to ensure their spot in line. Mike, 33rd in line, arrived 45 minutes before 1 p.m. event.

“I’m getting these signed for my family,” said #34 as he smiled upward at Mike who was busy playing with his phone. Once he notices the eager grin, Mike smirks in return upon the shorter, older man. Bill is his name. “My son couldn’t be here and we’re all big fans. I’m just happy to be here.” Bill eagerly clutched three books at chest level, front covers folded open for signing, ready for the strokes of Fleetwood’s Sharpie.

“Bill Clinton I met a few times,” said Mike as he thumbed through photo albums of book signings on his silver HTC. The middle aged man poked at his silver hair and picked at his orange oxford shirt. Mike’s voice was deep and, like his appearance, was eerily similar to that of Anthony Bourdain—who he’s also met. “These signings never get crazy, but some are busier than others. The Clintons, KISS, Muhammad Ali were all nuts.”

The sleepy line barely wrapped around the corner onto 46th street. Swap Fleetwood Mac’s formerly explosive fan base for one with aching knees, a bedtime south of 9 p.m., and a fancy for Reader’s Digest, and you’ve nailed 80% of the attendees. Most of the patrons under 40 sought autographs for their parents. A man named William sat first in line and was the lone fan that brought a folding canvas chair for the event. The second man in line stood awkwardly close to the seated William. Perhaps an appearance by Lindsey Buckingham would have gathered more lawn furniture.

Half asleep and embittered ushers in cheap, black suits herded the line into the store and up the escalator, and instructed them to wrap around the fiction section in a cramped, but orderly line. The Michael Buble store soundtrack was abruptly stopped and “Go Your Own Way” began to play. The three men behind Mike yawned in unison.

At 1:14 p.m., an employee announced that Fleetwood wouldn’t be personalizing his signatures. The lone woman in line, #31, humphed and muttered something about her father’s name in Mick’s handwriting. A few others rolled their eyes.

“If he’s not doing that, I wonder how he’ll feel about signing fifteen books for one person,” Mike whispered as he flipped his investments to their cover pages. “It said this was an unlimited book signing, but you never really know what these guys will do or how high maintenance they’re going to be.”

The line lurched forward and Mike began to crane over the line to catch a glimpse of the Fleetwood Mac drummer. He fidgeted with a point and shoot camera and hurriedly ushered his books forward, hitting the heels of the ponytailed man in front of him.


Mick Fleetwood’s appearance is exactly what you’d expect from a rocker now past his heyday. His black jeans, white button down, and plaid red vest were hardly indicative of a rock star. Even though Fleetwood was balding, his remaining white hair was tied into a short ponytail. Couple this with a paper white beard and Fleetwood looked less like a rock star and more like Santa Claus before the Christmas rush—although Santa never had a polite British accent and flirted with readers about his home in Maui.

Mike snapped rapid-fire pictures on his small camera and almost completely missed his turn. Fleetwood’s publicist cheered and nodded at the sight of Mike deadlifting his bags of books toward the drummer. He pointed from across the small space and smiled, “Now that’s what we’re talking about.” Mike breathed a sigh of relief as he was ushered in front of Mick.

Fleetwood, sharpie in hand, mouthed, “wow” and began tackling the first book.

Mike glanced at Fleetwood’s matching red sport coat on the back of the chair. “That’s one hell of a jacket.” Fleetwood looked back, temporarily pausing his signatures. The three metal wristbands on his signing hand jingled loudly.

“Oh thank you,” said Mick, “It’s a hand-me-down from Rod Stewart.”

A long awkward pause ensued. Mick puckered his lips and moved swiftly through the pile. Mike fiddled nervously with his jean pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. Eye contact wasn’t necessary. Mike and Mick both understood what was happening. This was a business transaction. Nothing more. Nothing less. Mike did his best to distract Mick.

“Is there anyone else from the era that you’d like to play with anytime soon?”

Fleetwood finished signing the fourteenth copy. “Hmm, I think it would be pretty cool to get Rod and Ronnie Wood together to play a show.”

“That would be cool!” said Mike as he grinned uncomfortably.

Fleetwood signed the fifteenth copy. “It’s all about getting the guys together to do something pure. It’s not always about the money.”

*Some names in this story have been altered to protect their interests.

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.

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)