The Truth About Cars » jeff jablansky The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:00:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » jeff jablansky Capsule Review: Aston Martin DB9 Wed, 08 May 2013 13:00:35 +0000  


A quiet and unnoticed getaway is hardly a fait accompli in the auto-centric city of Los Angeles, where street-parked Italian exotics are a given, and even the peons seem to manage to procure a Mercedes-Benz C-class.

The task is made especially difficult when your getaway car is an Aston Martin DB9.  But not for any of the obvious reasons.

On Friday morning, the generous folks at Aston Martin tossed me the key — erm, crystallized emotion control unit — to a vermilion example of its refreshed-for-2013 DB9 coupe.  Twelve minutes later, I was already on the road, to see if James Bond’s personal transportation would pass muster against the vapidity of style-conscious Angelenos.  That’s when I hit my first traffic jam.  And then a spot of late-winter drizzle descended from no place in particular, exacerbating the whole mess.  The traffic trudged for miles.  By the time I reached the outskirts of Santa Monica, my thoughts turned to a parking space and a cold drink, lest a valet attempt to wrest the DB9 from my hands.

That evening, following several rides given to friends, and glamour poses taken in front of homes worth half as much as the car in front of them, I decided to rest the DB9 in the aegis of my girlfriend’s apartment.  After an afternoon’s worth of driving, I hadn’t seen as much as fourth gear, or had the opportunity to truly answer the question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind: “So, how fast is it?”

The coupe from Britain with the six-figure price tag sat outside as dusk turned to nightfall.  Much to my girlfriend’s disenchantment, I vowed to check on the DB9 every hour until morning.  At midnight, I could hear stumbling barflies audibly ogling the carbon-ceramic brakes.  An hour later, I swore that I woke up not to the alarm from my phone, but to a pigeon defiling the DB9’s roof from the overhead power lines.  My overprotective instincts were working overtime.

Upon realizing that there were no power lines remotely near the DB9, I grabbed my overnight bag and headed for the door.  I was entirely sure that this was the same feeling of a nervous parent the first night that a newborn sleeps at home.  To my sleeping girlfriend, I texted, “I’ve left you for the DB9.  See you in the morning.”

I tiptoed down the staircase and slipped quietly into the cockpit to reacquaint myself with the driver’s seat.  For the first time, light shone on all of the gauges and switchgear.  The wanton aroma of buttery leather was all-consuming.  With tired eyes, I gazed ahead at the suggestive, 220-mph speedometer.  It’ll never happen on these streets.

At five minutes to three, the DB9 roared to life with typical, unrestrained aggressiveness from the engine bay that could wake the entire neighborhood.  I selected D from the push-button transmission, and slunk as respectfully as possible toward the highway.  A gentleman, standing on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard, turned his head up from his cell phone and smiled when he saw the DB9 approaching.  Two quick turns later, I approached the entrance to the freeway and depressed the aluminum shift paddle to slow the DB9.

It was a warm night on the west side of Los Angeles, and my night-owl routine from my time spent in Manhattan seemed about ready to pay off.  The roads were never this empty.

I couldn’t have been giddier as I stepped hard on the gas pedal to enter the highway.  The intuitive feedback gleaned from the DB9’s chassis, in perfect concert with its hellacious powerplant, made quick work of the on-ramp, and the subsequent transition to Interstate 10, which required the negotiation of four lanes of a banked overpass.  A rented Corolla sped by in the leftmost lane, doing about 25 over the speed limit, perhaps to the white-knuckled dissatisfaction of its driver.  A quick downshift and a blip of throttle caught me up to him.  I relished the routine.  Smile.  Quick turn of the head.  Approving but disbelieving faces from the backseat passengers.  Smile again.

All this, even as the DB9 nears a decade of production, with few major changes prior to the ‘13’s mostly mechanical refresh.

As I neared downtown, I took pleasure in the fact that I was not confined to the cemented cesspool of interlocking byways, on the daily commute.  The Garmin-sourced navigation system was suddenly of no use.  The V-12 seemed to have endless power, with no real effort required to access it.  I ran my hand along the soft, leather stitching that covered the center console, as well as every surface not bedecked in aluminum or suede.  Although the interior design is similarly old, it benefited from the careful restraint that Concours judges might one day commend.

When I finally reached home — following several quick exits, for the pleasure of obtaining screaming on-ramp performances every time — I was wide-awake, and somehow disappointed that the drive felt shorter than usual.  My personal car spent the remainder of the pre-dawn hours outside the garage, as the DB9 commanded deference, respect; payment of tribute would later arrive in the form of multiple trips for fuel, to the adoring eyes of passers-by.

I spent the remainder of my time with the DB9 flogging it every which way, making friends titter as the crimson beast sped breathlessly down on-ramps. (You never really know who your friends are until you offer to show up at their homes and places of business with a $207,000 conversation piece.)  I marveled at the crispness of Dionne Warwick’s alto inflection, as conveyed through 1000 Bang & Olufsen watts. I loaded its shallow trunk with a weekend’s worth of groceries, and prayed that the baba ghannouj would stay upright.  One expeditious adult passenger climbed into the rear seats, but not for long.

After 72 short hours of random acts of automotive kindness performed for friends, family, and total strangers, it became terribly clear that living with an automobile as special as the DB9 was an indulgence unto itself that ought to be shared with as many people as possible.  As your senses beckon you out for a joyride, and you simply cannot resist letting all 12 cylinders howl into the night, forget about trying not to wake the neighbors.

Luxury is about tasteful sharing of the wealth.  And the DB9 is a top-tier expression of luxury, beauty, and desire, without peer.

Who’s ever tried to make a quiet getaway, anyway?

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Driving Indian Cars On Their Home Soil: My Adventure With The Tata Indigo Thu, 07 Feb 2013 17:22:00 +0000

I believe that it was over text message, three years ago, that my then-girlfriend proposed we take a month-long trip to India together.  To a Westerner, life on the Indian subcontinent is a feast for the senses, rife with sights, smells, sounds, and tastes that bear no comparison prior to visiting.  For her, the trip would be something of an opportunity to clear our heads and devote attention to a relationship that was based on spontaneity and excitement, as well as to take in the redolence and beauty of Indian culture.

For me, however, it was much simpler.  Fresh into my career as an automotive journalist, it would, naturally, be all about the cars.

That’s how, some weeks later, I found myself standing groggily in the lobby of Hotel Perfect, a derelict travelers’ outpost in the New Delhi neighborhood of Karol Bagh, with nothing more than a backpacker’s rucksack and a marsupial-style pouch for my passport and wallet.  My travel companion and I had neither an itinerary nor a clue, so I consulted the front desk manager, who stood at the counter reading a newspaper and sipping chai, as to where to hire a car for the journey.  With nary a reciprocal glance, he pointed to the travel agency catercorner to the motel entrance.  Our options limited, we walked over.

By the travel protocol to which I had become accustomed, the mountebanks who staffed these travel agencies were nothing but swindlers who would take my money and leave me stranded on the side of the road.  But, perhaps swayed by my bright-eyed travel companion, within a matter of minutes and a depleting swipe of a credit card, we had booked a 19-night tour of India – complete with a car and driver.

I was salivating at the possibilities of cars.  Driving in India is a task best left to the local talent, a harrowing game for which the only rule is that there are no rules.  I was prepared to budge on the issue of being a passenger, and not a driver, for a journey of approximately 3,000 miles, but there was no way I was going to be seen in India’s equivalent of the Chevrolet Captiva Sport rental car special.  Would it be a Hindustan Ambassador, India’s ubiquitous and virtually indestructible equivalent to the Ford Crown Victoria?  A locally produced Maruti (Suzuki) Swift DZire, or one of its cheap and cheerful ilk?

After signing the papers, we stepped outside and the driver pulled around in a white, late-model Tata Indigo.  About 10 inches shorter than a Honda Civic, the Indigo is a sibling of the bestselling Indica hatchback, and resembles the first-generation Dacia Logan.  This particular Indigo was powered by a turbodiesel four-cylinder, mated to a five-speed manual transmission, and outfitted with manual door locks, crank windows, and seatbelts.  Its odometer read at least six digits (in kilometers).  The travel agent and driver assured us that the air conditioning blew ice-cold, but that we would hardly need it during the dry winter months in the north of India.  With a model designation more befitting an exotic dancer than basic transportation, my hopes were high for an enjoyable ride.

As my girlfriend looked worryingly at our mode of transportation for the next three weeks, I was grinning from ear to ear.  Finally, I had found a way to experience life in India as Indians do, along a trek that would humble Jack Kerouac and inspire a generation of my peers who lack the most basic of driving privileges.  I knew no expressions to describe the controlled chaos on the city streets, where local apartment-dwellers associate with vagabond tourists in a Dickensian portrayal of life in the 21st century. Pedestrians walk in the streets due to crumbling sidewalks, children scamper across the road without signal or warning, and the elderly move slowly, if at all, toward their destination.

The sweltering competition of cars, motorcycles, and rickshaws was but one aspect of a culture that is constantly on the move. And by the time we set off for the overnight drive to Varanasi, a pilgrimage city 500 miles due southeast, I knew I had to have a turn behind the wheel in India.

The thousands of miles that followed proved a cautionary guide to life on the local roads, replete with the hindsight knowledge that would intimidate even some adventurous travelers.  Honk when passing, each and every time, to let fellow drivers know of your presence.  Pass on whichever side affords the most space.  A strong horn is as important as strong brakes.  The bigger vehicle always has the right of way.  Driving long distances at night is highly ill-advised.  There are no cupholders in the Tata Indigo.  Roadside chai does not sit well in one’s lap along unpaved roads in the wilds of Utter Pradesh. Even if a rickshaw honks and its driver screams and flails his arms, the truck has the right of way.  And an overturned truck facing the wrong direction at the beginning of a rocky, mountainous pass signals trouble ahead.

As we reached the Taj Mahal at the end of the second week, I attempted a pitch letter to all of India’s public relations professionals that billowed with curiosity and likely gave away my position as a newly minted freelancer.  I pressed “send,” and the waiting game began, as I was traveling without regular access to a phone, e-mail, or a computer.

After three soul-crushing days of not receiving any correspondence, we were in Bikaner, on the edge of not far from India’s western border with Pakistan.  I sat down at the motel computer for a look.  I had a bite.  A major Indian automaker was ready to invite me to its factory near Mumbai – about 750 miles south of Agra – “for test drives of some of our cars in our Pune plant along with a plant visit” a week later.

I dropped everything and made the necessary arrangements.  We were going.  I was going to be the journalist who drove the cars of India and lived to tell the tale.

We bid farewell to the driver and caught a direct train that would bring us much closer to the destination.  The 27 hours by train from Bikaner to Mumbai were lost in heat, sweat and unnerved sense of self.  It wasn’t hot on the train at all – neither from the moment I boarded nor throughout the journey. As the train passed from the northwestern desert country through to India’s busiest metropolis, it was actually rather cool. Maybe it had something to do with the breeze that came in through the side windows. Perhaps it was the eight cups of chai that were purchased and consumed along the journey that settled the equilibrium and restored some sanity.  India’s railway network is a triumph that makes America’s accomplishments in the field look childish.

Somewhere along the way, at one of the train’s 20 stops, my girlfriend’s Blackberry gained service.  The sight of an email from the PR folks augured positive feelings – until I read it.  My visit to the factory, toward which I was inching closer every minute, would be stymied by other, visiting journalists.  As quickly as the buildup to my visit had occurred, the dream had swiftly ended.  We arrived in Mumbai, a city teeming with the movement of humans, animals, goods, and ideas, and quickly departed, once more, to conclude our trip in the southern beach area of Goa.

I never had the chance to drive the pride of India’s domestic auto manufacturers, or write the story that would boost my fledgling career.  But years later, the trip to India still stands out as the benchmark against which all subsequent trips were measured.  And none of them quite stacked up.

Perhaps it’s because they lacked a Tata Indigo.

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TTAC Christmas Special: A Visit To The Petersen Museum Vault Tue, 25 Dec 2012 14:00:14 +0000

The basement of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is the subterranean parking structure in the recurring dream of automotive enthusiasts young and old. You know—the one where you exit the department store head down, fumbling for car keys as the scenery shifts to a chiaroscuro of concrete and fluorescent lights, and out of thin air appears a collection of vehicles decadent enough to make a sheikh weep. This one, however, is quite real, and perhaps the best-kept secret known to gearheads worldwide, but experienced only by a select few. Until recently, that is.

After nearly two decades of operation, the Petersen museum—housed, ironically enough, in a former department store—has opened the doors to its basement vault to the public for a limited time. The vault comprises 80,000 square feet of automotive treasures ranging from ultrarare, one-off production models, to cars owned by local celebrities or used in film production. The automobiles and motorcycles in the basement share the local, California focus of the museum’s viewable upstairs collection.

The current vault denizens, too extensive to enumerate individually, include no fewer than nine Ferraris, a Jaguar XKSS owned and restored by Steve McQueen, and official transportation of heads of state. Its variety rivals that of the storehouses of megalomaniac dictocrat hoarders. Heck, there are three Muntz Jets down there. Never heard of a Muntz (the brainchild of Glendale, Calif.-based Earl “Madman” Muntz in the ‘40s and ‘50s) before, let alone seen one? Neither had we.

Executive director Terry Karges, who has led the museum since August 2012, wanted to activate the synapses of younger visitors perhaps unfamiliar with the museum’s current offerings. “I first visited the vault when I arrived,” Karges said. He saw the museum as a “total complex” for those with a yen for classic cars, but logistics prevented groups from touring the basement. “The obvious is always absurd,” he said. With the intention of accommodating 50 visitors per day, the Petersen staff designed a one-hour tour of the collection, trained its docents, and added guards specifically for the purpose.

By Karges’ reckoning, the work has paid off: during the holiday vacation season, as many as 100 visitors per day visited the vault, including young enthusiasts who were intrigued by the prospect of peeking into the hidden collection. According to former museum director Dick Messer, the museum is unique because “the entire collection is here,” and it has no need for satellite storage—or off-site sub-vaults. It’s currently unclear if the vault will reopen to visitors after its three-week trial run, but Karges is optimistic in the museum’s approach to exhibiting the automobile’s past, present, and future in light of the Chrysler Museum’s recent decision to temporarily close and retool. “We’re not trying to do only one brand,” he said. “The museum shows off the automobile’s influence in Los Angeles, and the history of the automobile.”

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