An Open Letter to SRT Regarding the Hellcat

8/14/2014 9:48 PM
That's no Instagram filter. That's a pair of sunglasses held over the camera lens. #2006

 

Yesterday, Dodge came clean regarding the badly-kept secret that is the Charger SRT Hellcat. The details have been covered heavily by just about every media outlet at this point, but a vehicle this extraordinary deserves one more recap: 707 horsepower. 11-second quarter mile on street tires. $60,000 price of admission. To top it all off, it's gorgeous in menacing, psychopathic sort of way. Seriously, have a look at the media gallery. I think all performance cars henceforth need a white paint/bronze wheel option. There is literally nothing on the market that even comes close, at any price point, and there never has been before, either.

 

Do I want one? Oh yes, I do. Very badly. I need to start there, lest I sound like one more internet troll in the paragraphs that follow.

 

I've mentioned before that when it comes to my automotive loyalties, the company that Walter P. Chrysler built stands highest. My grandfather drove Dodges almost exclusively. My father is a dyed-in-the-wool Pontiac man, but every car he's owned that wasn't a Pontiac has been from the Chrysler stable, save one brief lapse of judgment forever known in our family as the "Stinkin' Lincoln". Ten years ago, I was in college, flush with cash from my 12-dollar-an-hour internship, and looking to replace my venerable Oldsmobile, which had developed a disturbing habit of suddenly turning off while driving down the highway. I test-drove a few (not gently) used BMWs and an Acura RSX before I read an article in the back of Car and Driver about a little turbo Dodge that could shame a Nissan 350Z for under $20,000: the SRT-4.

 

Back then, SRT only made three vehicles: the Viper, the SRT-4 and the Ram SRT-10. The LX platform was just starting to make the auto show circuit in the form of the Dodge Magnum and Chrysler 300. If a HEMI© was available at all, it was only in a truck. The Ford Mustang wouldn't go "retro" for another year. GM had killed the F-body twins a few years earlier, and was doing its best to make sure the new GTO snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. 

 

The SRT-4 was a factory hot rod in the purest sense, an economy car shell with the best bits the company skunkworks could find in the corporate parts bin. It had a turbocharged, intercooled engine making 230 horsepower mated to a transmission from Chrysler's Mexican small trucks. The exhaust was a factory installed straight pipe. The turbo meant torque came on low in the rpm range like an old big-block. Driving it didn't feel so much like operating a machine as being saddled to a wild animal. It was still an economy car by birth, though, and the cost cutting verged on comical. The interior was mostly hard, black plastic. It had power windows, but only in the front - the rears were crank. Best of all, only the driver's sun visor had a cover over the mirror. There were exactly three options: side airbags, a sunroof, and an upgraded stereo with an amp and subwoofer, because it was the early 2000s.

 

I could barely drive my SRT-4 when I bought it - it was my first car with a stick - but I learned quickly, and put 1,000 miles on it in the first weekend. It soon became obvious that I had something out of the ordinary. Other owners would talk to me in parking lots. A couple of classmates invited me to join a car club, which mostly involved hanging out in basements and talking about what we would do to our cars if any of us had money. When I visited my girlfriend's sorority house, I heard other girls' boyfriends talking in hushed tones about the SRT in the parking lot. No joke.

 

Despite my affluence relative to most college students, the SRT-4 was my only car for many years, and in that it excelled. Despite its performance, and the temptation to abuse said, I regularly saw 30+ MPG. I swapped on a set of snow tires after the first winter, but thanks to light weight and a limited-slip diff it's never, ever gotten stuck. It even got me to work through a low-grade hurricane, once. Being a four-door sedan, it can carry five people with ease. Unlike the poor dads in so many car commercials, forced to trade in their sports cars to accommodate a family lifestyle, the SRT-4 works as a family car just as well. Alternately, the fold-down back seat has allowed me to move an apartment's worth of junk across the country more than once. That much-maligned black plastic interior? Wears like iron. Smear a little Armor-All and it looks like new, which is admittedly more than I can say for the paint, which scratches if you give it a sharp look. I never thrashed it especially hard, but the notorious Neon reliability has proven a myth: in ten years I've probably spent less than $500 on actual repairs, and its simple enough I've done most of the work myself.

 

What I'm saying is, SRT made a lifelong customer of me by reaching me when I was young. They gave me a roughshod, over-boosted economy car in my budget that could humiliate many more sophisticated machines, while still providing enough day-to-day practicality to make for viable transportation.

 

Jack White once wrote:

 

You're working on something good

Standing in your little room.

But if it's really good

You're gonna need a bigger room.

But when you're in your bigger room

You might not know what to do. 

You might have to think about

How you got started

Standing in you little room.

 

The Charger Hellcat is a devastating doomsday machine, for sure. Maybe I'll own one someday. That would be nice. But that's just the problem, "someday". It's a "someday" car. It's a car for the baby-boomers already among the devoted faithful. Sure, the college kids of today may lust after it, but they can't afford it. (Even if they can, I bet they can't insure it.) So, they'll find their way into a Subaru WRX, or a Ford Focus ST, or a Honda Civic Si, or a Volkswagen Golf GTI, and that's where loyalty will take root. The Hellcat is Barrett-Jackson, but we need more Craigslist.

 

I'm not suggesting the Hellcat shouldn't be built. It's ludicrous in much the same spirit as the original SRT models, and as an SRT fan, I love that it's "one of ours". I'm just saying that the SRT brand needs to grab the attention of the next generation if they want to thrive. Maybe then they'll finally put down their smartphones.

Merry Christmas 2013

12/23/2013 9:04 PM
Pontiac Grand Prix
Just tie a tree to the roof and suddenly, it's Christmas 1966 all over again.

 

2013 has been a busy year offline for Urban Gear Works. Consequently, some of my bigger plans for blogging this holiday season just didn't make it. A follow-up to last year's Twelve Days of Christmas list was planned, but never completed. This blog has always been about doing something I love, though, so I wanted to make sure I did something before the holidays passed.

 

I found this Pontiac Grand Prix in the most unlikely of places on a bitter, snowy night a few weeks back. It wasn't the kind of night when one would expect to find such a clean classic out in the open; temperatures were in the single digits and snow had been falling for days. In fact, given that the car itself was completely clean, it had to have recently come out of storage after the snow had already fallen, meaning whoever owns it brought it out deliberately. Most owners of a car this vintage have their pride in deep storage by the end of October, and more than a few collectors would view exposing a machine to salt and snow as reckless. 

 

This owner, though, has taken a different route, and that's the Urban Gear Works Christmas wish for 2013: do what you love, and enjoy what you have. Merry Christmas!

Holiday Gift Idea

12/15/2013 8:44 PM

 

Image How-To 2013

 

There's just a little more than a week left before Christmas, so here's a last minute gift idea from Urban Gear Works. With just an hour or two of work and about twenty dollars, you can create a stylish gift that will look great in most any home or office.

 

Chicago Gets Some Love From Porsche

10/31/2013 9:49 PM
Porsche Panamera Turbo S Executive
The new Panamera Turbo S with a Windy City backdrop

 

Porsche has just released information on the new range-topping Panamera Turbo S in anticipation of its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show next month. Boasting 50 more horsepower than the current Turbo model, for a total of 570, nearly 600 pound-feet of torque vectored to all four wheels, and carbon ceramic brakes to bring the executive super saloon to a halt, the new Turbo S just may be the most elite four-door on the planet.

 

Urban Gear Works has always been a fan of the Panamera. While the characteristic Porsche silhouette applied to a sedan has been polarizing, your editor has a special affinity for anything with a fastback roof line, ranking the Panamera's shape among other icons like the Hudson Hornet, Tatra 77, and first-generation Dodge Charger. Imagine the excitement, then, when the press photos for the new flagship featured not New York, Los Angeles or even Miami, but the great Second City, Chicago. It appears that Porsche chose Cityfront Plaza, between the University of Chicago's Gleacher Center and NBC's Chicago headquarters, as the backdrop. Curiously, however, the image appears to have been flipped, because there is simply no way the distinctive London Guarantee Building could appear on the northern side of the Gleacher Center. 

 


View Larger Map
Google Street View showing actual location of buildings

 

Whatever the reason for the image manipulation, it's great to see a few of our favorite things together, and it's nice to see Chicago getting the respect it deserves. The full press release on the Panamera Turbo S can be read here.

 

Image Credit: Porsche

 

Official Press Information

City Survivor - Into the West

10/19/2013 7:36 PM
VW T2 Westfalia VW T3 Westfalia
Second- and third-generation VW Westfalias.

 

Today is a sad day, in a way that's all too common in a big city like Chicago. People are always moving through big cities on their way to Somewhere Else. Sometimes those people become your friends, and inevitably the day comes when they tell you they're moving on to that other place. You hope it won't happen, that they'll come to love your city the way you do and decide to stay, but most of the time it's clear it won't work out that way. I get it. I lived away from Chicago for a time, but I always felt like I belonged here. For these friends, the Pacific Northwest is the same. They have different coats for every five degrees of weather, nice bicycles, a Subaru, and equipment for just about any outdoor activity for you can think of. This is for them.

 

If your friends don't ever teach you anything, you probably aren't listening. Along with many other, more important things, these friends taught me that people get excited about all different types of cars. We tend to have an idea in our head about what makes a car exciting: speed, power, sound, style, luxury, capability, and all the other tropes advertising firms love to trumpet. What if a car could be exciting not by virtue of itself at all, though, but because of what one could do with it? My friend showed me that it could. I don't recall the exact conversation, but I'm pretty sure I was rambling about some car or another, when she interjected, "You know, I've really found myself wanting a Westy lately." I was shocked. The only time I ever had anything resembling an emotional reaction to a VW Microbus, said bus was on fire. Now, here was my friend, who had never really expressed interest in anything automotive, voicing the kind of longing I reserve for vintage Mopars, and using a nickname. The more I thought about it, though, it made sense. This is a person who loves kayaking, biking and triathlons - a Volkswagen camper van is probably the perfect thing for an outdoor adventurer. I always wanted Urban Gear Works to be about all of car culture in Chicago, and because of my friend, I realized that means more than just including both domestic and foreign, cars and trucks. It means thinking about the fact that people have very different definitions of "interesting".

 

To my friends, Chicago will miss you, but I hope you find everything you're looking for in the Northwest, including your Westy. Just please, keep a fire extinguisher handy.

 

City Survivors are photographed in public places. Every attempt is made to respect the privacy of the owner. License plates, faces and other identifying information are intentionally obscured. If the owner does not want their car displayed, Urban Gear Works can be reached through the contact form. Alternately, Urban Gear Works welcomes any owner who wishes to share more about their vehicle.

City Survivor - The Chicago Job

10/7/2013 9:05 PM
Austin Mini
Minis, old and new.

 

Some countries have one car that is so ubiquitous as to be a national mascot. For the Germans, it's the VW Beetle. The French have the Citroen 2CV. America? As much as we'd like to claim something glamorous and sporty like the Corvette or Mustang, in reality our mascot is probably the Ford F-150. This post, though, is about Britain. If there is one car that symbolizes The Empire to the rest of the world, it's an original Mini. (Sorry, Jaguar, maybe you can form a support group with the Corvette, the Mustang, and the 911.) 

 

Austin Mini

I found this Austin Mini parked street side several months back. It looks to be of the Mk II variety, built from 1967 to 1970. Clearly visible in the pictures are many of the practical design elements that made the original Minis so successful, such as sliding windows to make room for storage in the doors, wheels pushed all the way to the corners to expand the passenger compartment, and the bottom-hinged trunk, designed to be left open for hauling large loads. If the badges are to be believed, this is the hot "S" version, but with half a million Mk II Minis built, "S" production percentage is only in the single digits. Horsepower figures for even the hottest Minis didn't crack triple digits, but their light weight and extremely low center of gravity made for a steady stream of racing victories in their time. Regardless of provenance, the upswept center exhaust, ground effects, and dropped stance swing this Mini away from the usual cute and well into aggressive. On start-up, this car snarled like a dirt bike, and any car with tires wider than they are tall deserves some respect.

 

City Survivors are photographed in public places. Every attempt is made to respect the privacy of the owner. License plates, faces and other identifying information are intentionally obscured. If the owner does not want their car displayed, Urban Gear Works can be reached through the contact form. Alternately, Urban Gear Works welcomes any owner who wishes to share more about their vehicle.

Cadillac Elmiraj - An Eldorado For The 21st Century

8/15/2013 9:15 PM
Cadillac Ciel © GM Corp
 
Tonight at Pebble Beach, Cadillac unveiled their latest concept, the Elmiraj Grand Coupe. In a word, it's stunning. The deep blue finish plays with light in a way that accentuates the razor-edged metal origami of the Art & Science design language. More interesting, though, is the way the Elmiraj perpetuates themes that debuted at Pebble Beach just a few years ago on the equally beautiful Ciel. Both have an upright, regal front, knife-blade lighting, long, flat sides, a sweeping lower character line, and a distinctive vent just behind the front wheel well. Both have a look that futuristic but not outlandish, and distinctly American, distinctly Cadillac. 
 
Where the Ciel was a four-door convertible, though, the Elmiraj is a long-hood, short-deck grand tourer in the style of the Eldorado, once the crown jewel of the Cadillac marque. In fact, Cadillac's Twitter account has been posting vintage Eldorado pictures all week, and Clay Dean, executive director of advanced design, specifically recognizes the 1967 Eldorado as a major influence. The Eldorado was the most Cadillac of Cadillacs - it was big, luxurious, glitzy, and powerful, holding the corporate record for both longest coupe and largest engine, at 500 cubic inches. The Elmiraj's twin-turbo V-8 displaces just over half of that monster's 8 liters, coming in at 4.4, but it replaces cubic inches with output, and is estimated to produce around 500 horsepower. Normally, the interior would be considered typical concept fare, but given the cockpit of Cadillac's most recent concept-to-production, the ELR, the envelope of possibility seems a bit wider than it used to.
 
Cadillac's press release points out quite clearly that Cadillac "approaches concept cars as a method for projecting design forward rather than ... future production models", which raises the specter that this is just another one-off, destined to be nothing more than an ornament for the foyer of Cadillac headquarters, like the Ciel and the Sixteen before it. Hopefully, this isn't the case, as Cadillac's Art & Science theme is producing some of the best looking, most distinctive cars on the market today. The Elmiraj would stand out parked next to an Aston Martin or Bentley Continental, which certainly achieves the mission of showcasing "the top of the brand's expanding range". Despite the Cadillac's emphasis on "design studies" and "vision", there is a light shining through. Buried within the press release, there is one very important detail: the Elmiraj rides on a rear-wheel-drive platform destined for future production models. Clearly, given the concept's size, this can only be the highly secretive flagship meant to slot above the XTS. Only time will tell, but if Cadillac's latest concepts genuinely do showcase the brand's vision, the best is yet to come.
 
Official Press Release
 
Elmiraj Image © General Motors

Photo Location - Under the 'L'

7/21/2013 7:00 PM

 

CTA VW

 

Almost everyone who loves cars also loves to take pictures of them. So, it's time for what will (hopefully) be a recurring segment on Urban Gear Works, highlighting great photo locations around the city.

 

Usually, people take pictures of their own cars, but when I came across this VW Beetle, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up. There's just something about the CTA's elevated lines that makes them a great spot for a photograph. Maybe it's the multiple faded coats or paint or the rows of rivets. It could be the distressed beauty of rusted supporting arches. I think the best feature, though, is the way the beams break up the sunlight, draping complicated patterns on whatever's underneath.

 

 

City Survivor - An All-American Icon

7/4/2013 2:22 PM

 

Corvette Stingray
Corvette, because America.

 

There are few cars as American as the Corvette. Designed in the triumphant years following World War Two by a Belgian-Russian immigrant for a car company founded by a Swiss-French immigrant, the Corvette proved this country could build a sports car to compete with the best of the Old World while retaining a distinctly American V-8 roar. If it weren't for a law prohibiting the Stars-and-Stripes from being used in product branding, the very logo of the Corvette would be an American flag. Today, 60 years after the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line, it is an icon that transcends economic, social, and racial barriers. From Texas to New York to Los Angeles, a Corvette is a status symbol, an aspiration, and a representation of what it means to make it in the land of dreams. Happy Fourth of July!

Free Movie! "The Big Wheel" on Internet Archive

5/21/2013 8:55 PM

The Big Wheel

 

The 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 is only a few days away, so this seems like a good time to take a cinematic look back at the early years of the world's most famous auto race. The Big Wheel is a  feature film from 1949, telling the story of young racer Billy Coy (Mickey Rooney) and his journey to The Brickyard.

 

I first saw this film on late-night PBS over a decade ago. I remembered only a few snippets of dialog, but that was enough to set me on the trail that led to the full-length, public domain download hosted here on the Internet Archive. The Big Wheel carries many of the tropes of the era, including a brassy soundtrack, dialog that feels more like Broadway than real life, a slick-haired villain, and one (blessedly short) stereotypical depiction of an ethnic minority. It seems the director, like almost all of his contemporaries, was also unable to resist the urge to include a musical number. The aforementioned are more zeitgeist than shortcomings, though, and the film tells a good story. It even pulls off a particularly heart-wrenching accident scene with limited special effects.

 

The real joy of watching The Big Wheel in 2013, and my reason for this post, is the great vintage racing footage. Most of the racing footage in the film is from actual period events, including the Indy 500. The film even opens with a ride-along view, which must have come from a suitcase-sized 1940s GoPro. There is no shortage of vintage racing machinery due to numerous garage scenes, and there's a fair bit of history, too. This film depicts an Indy 500 very different from the one running this weekend, when grassroots racers on razor-thin budgets were still experimenting with all manner of configurations to find the winning set up. Even though the cars of 1949 barely crack half the speed of current qualifiers, they look even more exciting as they slide around the turns with no safety equipment worth mentioning. The racing in this film is real, and for that, it's better than any modern CGI.

 

The Big Wheel can be downloaded in many popular formats here