Category Archives: Fun Stuff

Here contributing editor Paul Daniel blogs about just anything that’s on his mind about cars or maybe something else. Fun Stuff.

MAMA 2019 Spring Rally: Car heaven for auto journalist

So many cars to choose from

Mark and I love this event. We get to hang out at our favorite race track, Road America, that’s practically in our backyards. For two days, May 22-23, we attended The Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) annual Spring Rally.

We joined about 100 other automotive journalists from all over the country driving the latests from the automotive manufacturers on the track, on the streets of Elkhart Lake, off-road and even some autocross. The manufacturers tell us they love this event because of the quality time they get to spend with all of us and receive lots of feedback on their vehicles. So, what to hop in first? Hop in and go for a ride.

There were some other fun cars that we took for a spin that we did not capture on tape like the Ford Mustang GT 350 that had the best growl of any of the cars. The color kind of reminds me of the Mustang that Parnelli Jones drove in the Trans-Am series during the late 60’s.

Dodge had two of their Challengers, the Redeye and this Hellcat Scat Pack. The Redeye was pulled from the track because of the slick conditions that morning so we hopped in the Scat Pack. I’ve driven one before but not at Road America. The 485 hp Hemi did not disappoint and even though they did their best to keep our speeds down at Kettle Bottoms I was able to get the Challenger up to 127 mph.

We closed out the afternoon both with an opportunity to drive this brand new Acura NSX. If the other cars we drove were cuts of meat, this was the prime rib. So smooth to drive. We both decided to start saving up to buy one but at $199,000, it’s going to be a while.

By far the best paint job of any vehicle at Road America. It takes the factory 5 days to paint this Acura TLX PMC edition. It was almost like you could put your hand in, it was so deep.

Time to do some off-roading

Mark and I split up in Thursday morning with him going to do so auto cross on Road America’s go kart track while I headed for some good muddy fun at the off road course. There, I got my second chance to drive the new Jeep Gladiator.

Related: Read about my first drive of the Gladiator.

This Rubicon edition was the most capable of the test vehicles in its class, which included the Chevy Bison and Ford Ranger. While the course wasn’t as large as the one I drove on in California, it had a good mix of mud ruts and hills. It’s not just me that has this love fest going on with the Gladiator, my fellow automotive journalists liked it as well as it was one of three nominated for MAMA’s Family Vehicle of the Year. There was also a Gladiator Overland Edition (MSRP* Starting at $40,395) went for a spin in enjoying the twisty roads around Elkhart Lake along with the sunny day topless. Good windy fun especially remembering how Wednesday morning was so damp and cold.

Next I grabbed the Gladiator’s little brother, the Renegade, to get dirty. I have been really sceptical of this Jeep since it’s based on the Fiat 500 L which has a choppy ride and interior that looks like it assembled with a bunch of cheap plastics found in a dumpster. Not so with the Renegade. This Trailhawk edition came with the 177 hp, 1.3L turbo mated to a nine-speed automatic. Other features included, all-speed traction control, electronic stability control, Select-Terrain System with rock mode, and 17 inch wheels among other goodies. With the Trailhawk package, a running ground clearance of 8.7 inches, approach angle of 30.5 degrees, break over angle of 25.7 degrees, and departure angle of 34.3 degrees, it’s clearly the most off-road capable against its competitive set which includes the Mazda CX3, Chevy Tracy, its cousin the 500L, Honda HRV, and Kia Soul. It’s optional My Sky Power Retractable/Removable Panels added $1,595 to the $27,290 base.

The beast of the group, and by far muddiest, at the event was the Ram Power Wagon. There was no mud hole or hill that challenged this bad boy. I even had a couple off opportunities to goose it and heard its 6.4L, 410 hp Hemi growl.

While the Ford Raptor is built for speed, the Power Wagon is built for rock crawling. Its approach, departure, and breakover angles are big, 33.6, 26.2, and 23.5 degrees. It has 14.3 inches of ground clearance and can ford up to 30 inches of water. Oh, in case you were to get stuck, it comes with a Warn winch that can pull 12,000 lbs, almost a third more than the truck weighs. If you’re into rock crawling, at $53,015, it’s a good deal.

Mark and I both had a chance to take the Kia Telluride out for a spin. I was impressed with Kia’s biggest SUV yet. It reminded me of my 2017 Dodge Durango but I think the interior in the Telluride is nicer. Its 291 hp V6 was very responsive, it had a really quiet ride, and the latest tech. Pricing ranges from $31,690 all the way up to $43,490. If you’re in the market for an SUV, the Telluride is for sure a consideration.

It’s hard to say goodby

So Mark and I were done for the day but took one last look at some of the cars that were in the paddock area taking a break from the racing event going on Thursday. We saw this Corvette that looked as if someone had lobbed paintballs at it. I kind of liked it. Then there was this cherry Mustang, and finally the official car of Road America, the Corvette in Elkhart Lake blue.

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Missing my car guy on Father’s Day

My dad made me the car freak I am today

This coming Father’s Day will be my first without my dad as he passed away February 14th. At his funeral, I did the eulogy, and after rewriting it a couple of times, decided to go with a car theme comparing his qualities to the window sticker on a car, one produced by American Motors where he worked for 27 years.

While going through pictures to display at his funeral, I found a bunch with the cars that were part of growing up. It also jogged my memory of things we did, or places we went over the years that I will fondly remember like the following.

Traveling to Kenosha for the American Motors Owners Association homecoming event where there were hundreds of Nash, Rambler, and AMC cars that were built there over the years. We never did buy a car but did purchase rare promotional model cars we were missing from our collections.

Photo: Kenosha News

When I was in high school nearby the AMC National Parts Distribution Center, I would come and meet dad for my ride home. Many times he was tied up in some meeting so I would head down to the Tech Center and see what cars they had in torn apart, many times seeing AMC cars that were a year or so from production. It was the tech service guys that gave me a manual to help me figure out how to install an engine in my 1970 AMX after blowing up the 390 that came with it. Those tech guys were great!

Dad was also there when i decided to hop up my 1972 Gremlin by replacing the exhaust manifold with high performance headers. How’d that work out? Not so good.

Photo: FCA archives

When AMC sponsored Mark Donahue’s Trans-Am Javelin and raced at Road America in the early 70’s, the Chicago Zone Office chartered busses for employees and set up a tent by turn 14. We always made the trip. It was so much fun. We’d get a ride on the track in a Javelin and Roger Penske and Donahue would swing by the tent to sign autographs. I grabbed this flag from the event one year and today display it on my slot car track which is a replica of Road America.

Related: Read about my blogging partner, Mark Savage, and our recent trip to Road America.

Until dad had problems getting around, we would spend a day up in Oshkosh at the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture event. He loved seeing the WWII vintage aircraft he was familiar with having served in the army during that time.

Fond memories. Happy Father’s Day dad. I be thinking about you.

Lights at night

How good are you at car spotting?

I grew up with a kid in my neighborhood who could tell you what kind of car had just driven by listening to the engine. Yup, he was good. I love doing this, especially when the new cars come out. But when I was driving during the evening rush here in Milwaukee I tried identifying cars by just their tail lights. Relax, we were stopped most of the time. I grabbed ten images of 2018-19 vehicles’ tail lights. See how good you are. To make it tougher, I photoshopped out any logos if they were in the shot. If you choose the wrong answer it will appear red while the right one turns green. Good Luck. BTW, using Google Image Search is cheating and participants will be flogged. Also, right-clicking on the image will not give you the correct answer. I couldn’t make it that easy.

Continue reading Lights at night

Electrifying Summer Trip

A shiny bright object

My friends would tell you that I’m easily distracted by new shiny bright objects. Don’t know why, I’m a guy and love seeing things out of the ordinary. Especially on four wheels.

My wife and I were getting our daughter Meg settled in school at
Western Michigan University where she is in their College of Aviation.  With the parking lot, jammed with cars, I spotted my shiny bright object. It had four wheels, it was yellow, and low to the ground. Like a dog with a bone, I was a man on a mission to find out more about this vehicle. Continue reading Electrifying Summer Trip

Wrangler/Corvette Mashup

He wanted to build what?

jeep wrangler, chevy corvette

The Jeep Wrangler and Chevy Corvette couldn’t be farther apart in automotive categories yet Chris DeSpears from Milwaukee had the idea to bring them together in a really fun build.

He picked up a 2003 Z06 C5  Vette a couple of years ago as a donor car that somebody had wacked and was originally looking for a Factory 5 wide body Shelby Cobra kit to mate it with only to find out that they are no longer made so he went to his Plan B.

Continue reading Wrangler/Corvette Mashup

Cool School, Cool Tool

Most fun I ever had at school

2019 dodge challenger, challenger widebody, challenger hellcatThat’s because the topic was one of my favs, cars, and in this instance I would learn how to drive one on racetrack. The car was the 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody and the racetrack, GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan. It was hosted by an organization that I belong to, Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), and sponsored by Dodge and Jeep who also provided the 2019 vehicles myself and the other automotive journalists would drive. They included several Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebodys, a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Dodge Durango SRT and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. My ride for the day would be this cool blue Challenger. “The MAMA Track School was started as an effort to ensure MAMA members are properly skilled and comfortable when driving on a racetrack, especially since we host two popular track events each year,” said MAMA President Jill Ciminillo.

More zoom, less dollars

With the debut of the R/T Scat Pack Widebody, not only do buyers get the Hellcat Widebody’s aggressive looks, it also costs them about 40% less. Sure you could sell buying this car to your wife because it can carry a couple of kids in the back but don’t tell her that this is probably the best Challenger suited for the track. Shhhh!

2019 dodge hellcat widebody, dodge hellcat, challenger widebody, hellcat, 392 v8, hemi

The Scat Pack is an option you would add to the R/T-level trim, and it’ll set you back around 42 grand but that includes the destination fee and a gas-guzzler tax of $1,000 on manual-transmission equipped models. You can avoid the tax by getting the automatic transmission but in the end it becomes a wash. The optional automatic transmission avoids the gas-guzzler tax, but its extra cost dodge challenger, 2019 challenger widebody, widebody hellcatnegates any advantage there. The Widebody package adds another $6,000, throw in leather interior, technology packages and other fun stuff will continue to bump the price well into the high $50,000 challenger hellcat, dodge hellcat super beerange. However, take notes, it’s  nearly $20,000 less than a fully loaded Hellcat and provides about as much fun even though the Hellcat has 232 more horsepower.

On the track

R/T Scat Pack plus Widebody equals FUN! Under the hood is the 6.4-liter Hemi V8, putting out 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque. Add the 305mm Pirelli P Zero rubber that comes as part dodge challenger, 2019 challenger widebody, widebody hellcatof the Widebody package and it’s good for zero-to-60-mph in roughly four seconds when equipped with the eight-speed automatic in the car I drove.

Scat Pack models get a specially tuned version of the three-mode adaptive suspension system that uses stiffer front springs, special shocks, larger sway bars at both the front and back, and big six-piston Brembo front brakes and makes this a fun drive. I experienced this first-hand on the two-mile track with driving instructor Elvis Komskis  from CGI Motorsports.  Our track training session covered everything from braking techniques, vehicle weight management, vision instructions and appropriate driving position. First Elvis drives showing me the course, then I drive.  Then we head back and he shows me way to improve in the sessions that followed.

While I can drive Road America blind folded, at least in the beginning, I drove at GingerMan Raceway like I had one on. But I eventually got the hang of it and managed not to harm Elvis in the process.  The layout simulates the full spectrum of driving situations: high-speed straights and short sprints, long sweeping corners and tight apexes, heavy and light braking, and elevation change. It’s a fun course!

The Scat Pack Widebody is a fun car combining the Challenger’s retro styling and the road of a Hemi. It makes for a great track car and gives up very little in terms of everyday drivability to get there. OK, now go sell your wife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION
For those that admire the Challenger’s retro style and Hemi roar but have pined for a sharper instrument, look no further. While it’s still more GT than sports car, the Scat Pack Widebody proves that this big coupe can hold its own when given the right tools to work with. And, .

Cars your rarely see on the road

Another unusual car made in Wisconsin

The Excalibur Automobile Corporation was born by the idea Milwaukee native, and world-famous designer, Brook Stevens  who sketched a concept on a place mat while at a restaurant in 1964. He was asked by his then employee Studebaker to create buzz for their exhibit at the New York Auto Show. I love Studebaker, in many ways like AMC, in that they had to swing for the fence to get noticed by automotive buyers. It was at the auto show that Studebaker announced they were getting out of the auto business.

But that wasn’t the end of the Excalibur. The car received so much attention the Excalibur Automotive Corporation was formed to produce the cars. The engine and drive train came from General Motors while the bodies and interiors were hand-crafted in West Allis, suburb just west of Milwaukee. The car was pretty quick utilizing a Chevy 327 engine. With the same engine used in the Corvette and the standard 3.31:1 rear axle, acceleration from 0–60 mph took less than six seconds.

And it looks even better stretched

Which is why I stopped to take a picture of it. In an era where everything from Chrysler 300’s to Hummers are stretched into limos, this one would still attract a crowd. In fact, it has more value in the collector car market than the original car. You can find Excaliburs from the mid 1960’s all the way through the late 1980’s and very affordable ranging in prices from $37,000 for a Series 3, to a 1989 Roadster Convertible for $65,000.  Not bad considering there were just around 3,500 copies made.

The limo, much less, around 13, according to their website. These are the ones made in West Allis, not ones stretched by other companies. My best source for pricing came from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) where they listed the 1989 model with a low retail of $94,000, average of $177,700 and high of $280,300. You will find lots of the stretched versions around $50,000 or less. How much for this one? Good guess. Looks like it was just parked and forgotten with a group of unremarkable vehicles. Would make for an interesting restoration project and a fun ride. The body’s not in bad shape but will need some work as will the interior.

An electrifying sports coupe

My buddy and I had just finished lunch at a McDonalds in Lomira, WI and spotted two cool black cars parked next to each other near the back of the lot. One, a 1972 Chevy Monte Carlo, the other, this bad boy. I had to hop out and take a closer look, one because it was so cool looking, and two, I had no idea what it was. A Beemer? Nope. A Fisker Karma.

In case you have forgotten, and I did, here’s a little refresher.  Fisker produced the Karma and it was one of the world’s first production luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The Karma debuted in Detroit at the 2008 North American International Auto Show when Tesla was just getting going with its Model S. Deliveries began in 2011 but Production was suspended in November 2012 when its battery supplier, A123 Systems, declared bankruptcy. Just over 2,400 cars were built at its manufacturing plant in Delaware which used to be owned by General Motors.

In February 2014, Fisker Automotive’s Karma vehicle design, tooling and a manufacturing facility in Delaware were purchased by Chinese auto parts conglomerate Wanxiang Group who really wanted the battery side of the business. Founder Henrik Fisker, hung on to the Fisker trademarks and the Fisker brand and launched a separate company, Fisker Inc, in 2016. Wanxiang later renamed its new company Karma Automotive.

This car is over the top cool and even though a couple thousand were built, they are not expensive at all to buy now. Getting them serviced, well that’s another story. A quick search of the used car sites like TrueCar.com had several listings starting at just $32,950, all the way up to $52,500 and with low miles. Not sure I would ever purchase one but they are sure cool to look at.