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.

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.

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.

Wringing out the minimalist’s Porsche 911

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.

They say you shouldn’t mess with success. That is the philosophy that has guided Porsche in its treatment of the 911 since its birth in 1963.

Some of the most coveted editions of Porsche’s venerable sports car are the earliest examples.

Much like Florida’s Collier Collection, the rare museum that actually exercises its stock of classic metal, the owner in this video puts his original 911 through its paces without any reservation. Though it may seem like brutal punishment for such a beautiful classic, this Porsche has a secret: it’s not an early 911.

It’s a 1981 911 SC, modified to resemble one of the earlier models in the 911 lineage – and it’s the finely tuned creation of Bugatti’s head of design, Achim Anscheidt.

Videographer Christopher Kippenberger lavishes Anscheidt’s Porsche with lingering, languorous shots befitting an original early model 911.

Why, though, would anyone tamper with even an otherwise original ’81, no slouch in the desirability department? Anscheidt told multiple sources that he wanted his 911 to be the ideal minimalist sports car. That’s why he completely disassembled and rebuilt it with lighter body panels, a stripped interior and plastic windows. The result of this weight-saving regimen is a claimed 820kg (1,808lbs) curb weight, lighter than a Mazda Miata. Coupling this lightness with a 310-horsepower 3.2-litre flat six-cylinder engine translates to proper swiftness.

With all this in mind, the radical surgery seems less cruel. Anscheidt’s 911 becomes a perfect tool for a high-rpm sprint. And as your headphones will communicate, without the weight and muffled noise from the sound-deadening components of an unmodified 911, this Porsche is loud.

A Ford Mustang with wanderlust

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.

Ford used the 2014 New York auto show to commemorate the Mustang’s 50th birthday.

Since its launch at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, the Mustang has rarely wanted for attention. The philosophy was simple: house massive engines in sleek bodies riding on relatively prehistoric suspension systems. With variations that appealed to the casual top-down Sunday driver as well as the speed-obsessed drag kingpin, the Mustang struck a chord. That charm, however, was not contained to the US.

The chiseled lines of the Mustang fastback body style attracted the attention of Norwegian videographer Arnfinn Hushovd. His 1969 Mustang Mach 1 was imported from Florida in 2007 sporting an eye-catching Calypso Coral paintjob. Such a purchase would have been rare in the extreme at the time of the car’s manufacture, an era when European automakers favoured well-handling sports cars with modest power. Their US counterparts were partial to brute force. As a result – and as any viewing of Top Gear will underscore – American sports cars continue to be perceived as a bit vulgar on the Continent.

Though Hushovd’s Mach 1 may stick out in Scandinavia like a hammer in a drawer of scalpels, the owner celebrates the car’s qualities with the above tribute. Granted, the nouveau-disco soundtrack may make Abba blush, but the visuals handily make up for it. Check out 1:30 when the Mustang purrs under the contrasting lights of a Norwegian tunnel.

JDM gems shine – in Utah

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.

BBC Autos’ recent visit to the quasi-museum lurking beneath Mazda’s Irvine, California, headquarters stirred a hankering for some classic Japanese metal.

At a time when muscle cars reigned in America, the Japanese domestic market – also known as JDM – was busy fabricating what would become some of the most coveted designs on the road. Models like the Nissan Skyline, bearing a nameplate traceable to the late 1950s, established themselves as some of the most respected and tunable sporting cars on the market.

The above video, by Utah-based videographer Josh Clason, showcases several flawless examples of rare and sought-after Japanese vehicles, including a first-generation Toyota Celica, a Nissan Skyline in the four-door 2000GT and two-door GT-R trims, and even a modified Toyota Starlet hatchback. These cars aren’t garage queens, however. Check out the shots at 2:47, when three of these classics take to the streets in a cruise that would please many a JDM fan.

Clason’s video artfully highlights the aspects that made these cars famous: the furrowed brow of the earlier Skylines, the narrow stance of the Celica and the low-slung body of the 2000GT. JDM Legends, a garage based in Murray, Utah, has restorations ranging from the faithful to the subtly modified – the white Skyline GT-R coming with a twin-turbocharged RB26 engine swap from a late ‘80s Skyline. With the right parts, this power plant can be tuned to over 1,000 horsepower. Love them or hate them, era-specific fender mirrors adorn each of the cars.

For North American fans who might fancy these gems from the land of the rising sun, JDM Legends maintains a selection of clean examples for sale. Meantime, savour the sight of these vehicles in high definition.