Cannonball Run Founder Dies, New “Cannonball Run” Spits on His Grave

23 Oct

Cannonball Run

It takes a lot of nerve to spit on a dead man’s grave, especially when his body is still warm. When that man is Cannonball Run founder Brock Yatesthe most important person in American automotive history who never ran a car company — it takes someone lacking in basic decency, with no respect for the man or his monumental contribution to car culture.

As I write this, several dozen sports cars are on their way from Lenox, Massachusetts to Key West, Florida, where they will abandon their cars, have a party, then fly to Havana for another party.

Their achievement? A celebration of exploitation, ignorance and commoditized gravitas. Their transgression? Calling their event the Cannonball Run.

Theirs may not be a legal crime — lawyers are allegedly exchanging letters — but it is without any doubt a cultural one, for which they should be held accountable. If you see a car manufactured after 1979 with “Cannonball Run” stickers, it is on an event that is the enemy of everything Brock Yates stood for, and of American car culture itself.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Autonomous Cars Don’t Have a ‘Trolley Problem’ Problem

19 Oct

Trolley Problem

There is an old thought experiment called the Trolley Problem that’s become central to the development of autonomous cars. In the context of self-driving cars, it sets up a scenario where an autonomously-operated vehicle approaches, say, a nun herding a group of orphans from a burning hospital. There is no time to stop or room to maneuver around the group. The car must therefore choose whether to run over the nuns and orphans, likely killing them, or swerve into the burning building, likely killing the passengers.

What should the car do?

On October 7th, Christoph von Hugo, manager of driver assistance safety systems at Mercedes-Benz, inadvertently became the first significant player at a car manufacturer to take a position on the Trolley Problem. According to von Hugo, the Self-Driving Car should run over the nun and the children.

Here’s his statement from the Paris Auto Show, as quoted in Car and Driver:

“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car. If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”

To be clear, this is not Mercedes’s official position on the Trolley Problem.

Read the rest over at The Drive

C’Etait un Rendevous: Alex Roy Reviews the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR

17 Oct

Jaguar F-Type SVR

Like the Russian submarine in The Hunt For Red October, the 2017 JaguarF-Type SVR is a car built for one purpose. I’m not talking about tunnel sprints, which is how Jaguar launched it earlier this year. I’m talking about the penultimate road test. Have you seen Rendezvous? If you have to ask, stop andwatch it now.

Everyone else knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Now that we’re on the same page, what is the F-Type SVR? It’s the top of the line F-Type in a range starting at just over $60K, and topping out with the nearly $150,000 example generously (and unbelievably) lent to me, no questions asked. There was one stipulation: that I wouldn’t put more than 500 miles on it.

Translation: Alex Roy, you are forbidden to drive our car cross-country.

Cross-country — nonstop except for gas — is the ultimate road test. Trust me, from the moment I laid eyes on it, cross-country was not my plan. A 200mph Jaguar with 567 horsepower, all-wheel drive, two seats and minimal interior storage space? How about that twin-supercharged 5-liter V-8? The EPA highway rating is 23 mpg? I got 12. A Cannonball record-breaking cruiser this is not. Throw in the loudest exhaust ever installed on an English car — and that’s even on its standard, “quieter” setting — and you won’t want to take long rides in this one. Nine hours round-trip to Watkins Glen and back, with a few hours on-track? That’s better than 29 hours cross-country, but I wasn’t really interested in the trackday Jaguar offered with the car.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What Automotive Must Learn From Aviation: What is an Autopilot?

7 Oct


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Guess what? Words can hurt us, when life or death decisions are made on false assumptions. I’m talking, of course, about the language of Self-Driving Cars, that seemingly inevitable panacea into which Silicon Valley and the car industry are pouring billions to save us from ourselves. If technology is only as good as our understanding of it, then the automotive industry has a long way go.

The problem isn’t limited to Tesla’s branding of the word “autopilot”, but it certainly starts there, especially now that the California DMV has threatened to stop Tesla from using Autopilot as a brand name. Add the recurring debate over whether Tesla Autopilot was defective in the Joshua Brown crash, and obvious questions emerged:

What is an autopilot? Is Tesla Autopilot actually an autopilot? What does “autopilot” imply? Where does Tesla’s system fall short of real or perceived autopilots? Is the problem the “auto” prefix? The “pilot” suffix? For those who object to Tesla’s choice of branding, I bring you Audi’s Piloted Driving, the yin of implication to Autopilot’s yang. What does “Piloted Driving” imply? What about Volvo’s Pilot Assist?

In the spirit of unpacking this mess, I signed up for flying lessons and began a deep dive into the history of autopilots and automation. I also decided to reach out to a wide variety of pilots — from private owners of single-engined turboprops to professionals flying Boeing 757’s and Airbus A380’s — and take them out in a variety of cars, starting with Teslas.

This is Part 1 of what I learned. Read the rest over at The Drive…

Brock Yates, Cannonball Run Legend, Dies At 82

6 Oct

Brock Yates

Brock Yates — automotive legend, former editor of Car and Driver, race car driver, founder of the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea-Memorial Trophy Dash (a.k.a. The Cannonball Run) and One Lap of America, writer of The Cannonball Run and Smokey and The Bandit II, best-selling author of 20 books including Cannonball!, Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine, Sunday Driver and Against Death & Time, godfather of speeding andgirls in supercars wearing purple zip-up pantsuits, patron saint of non-violent & unprofitable crimes, enemy of sloth, cowardice, taxes, and the 55mph speed limit, ambassador of internal combustion both foreign and domestic, human icepick in the face of convention, beloved outlaw, the man who changed Cannonball from noun to verb, launched a thousand radar detector sales and was solely responsible for 100% of Lamborghini Countach sales between 1981 and 1990 — died yesterday at the age of 82 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

It is too soon to write at length about Yates’ almost incalculable contributions to car culture. I would argue that he was the most important person in American automotive history who never ran a car company.

If you have to ask why, then, like jazz… You’ll never know.

But you should know, starting with this excerpt from his August 1971 Car & Driver column, in which Yates explains why he organized the first Cannonball Run:

Read the rest over at The Drive

Tesla, Michigan, and How To Save The American Car Industry

3 Oct

Keith Crain

I shall now explain how to save the American car industry.

We begin with Keith Crain — Editor-In-Chief of Automotive News and Autoweek — who is simply wrong.

So wrong that I’ve written 2000+ words in response to his 419.

I don’t normally read The Onion for political commentary, nor do I read anything published by Crain’s for comedy, but it’s an election year. Traditional roles, expectations, acceptable language and even the definitions of words have been wildly subverted, and all of this is on display in the latest op-ed by Crain, whose latest “column” highlights everything that is contemptible about journalism and politics in this country, and why “wisdom” such as his spells doom for the American car industry.

Crain’s latest piece “Elon Musk is Simply Wrong” is so hilariously transparent and inept in its shilling for friends and neighbors who own car dealerships and sit in state government, it is actually unworthy of The Onion. Crain is writing at a Mad Magazine level here. Lower, in fact, for his ultra-protectionist, fill-in-the-blanks “column” more closely resembles Mad Libs: The Car Dealer Association Party Edition.

Crain’s bias is so obvious, and his arguments so lazy, that the FTC should probably check whether it should be labeled “sponsored content.” That’s just my opinion, of course. Don‘t take my word for it. I’m going to let him speak for himself, with line-by-line commentary.

Read the rest over at The Drive


The Thomas Crown of Internal Combustion: How to Steal $10M of Cars During Monterey Car Week, Part 2

30 Sep

Thomas Crown

This is Part 2 of my investigation into how one could steal $10M of cars during Monterey Car Week. I strongly recommend reading Part 1.

Friday, August 19th: Concorso D’Italiano, Monterey

There she was. My stunning Ferrari 328 GTS, sitting at the end of a row of her sisters at the Concorso D’Italiano, just one of numerous events at Monterey Car Week where I had cars on display. I stood by her for hours, answering questions and accepting compliments on her behalf, desperate to take her home.

That might be an issue, because she wasn’t actually mine.

My name wasn’t actually on her title. She legally belonged to someone else—probably the guy in the Tommy Bahama shorts, many-pocketed safari shirt, and Ferrari-branded red jacket and baseball cap, his legs splayed out in a $19.95 K-Mart folding lawn chair—but she was mine in every way that counted.

She was mine in my heart.

I’d dreamed of her since putting the poster on my wall in 11th grade. I didn’t care if that guy paid for her; he didn’t deserve her. Cash payment isn’t ownership. If he truly loved her, he would have dressed up before taking her out for her big day. Everyone who saw me next to her knew she mine, or they wouldn’t have ignored the legal owner and walked up to me instead to praise my good taste in salmon corduroy jackets from Italian outlet malls. Also, my taste in cars.

It wouldn’t be long before she’d know a better life.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Alex Roy + Volvo S90 = Midnight Sun Record Run

27 Sep

Cannonball Run

Is there a Swedish Cannonball Run-style endurance driving record? I don’t know. But now there’s this. A 17 hour, 9 minute run from the top of Sweden to the bottom, using the new Volvo S90 and Pilot Assist.

I don’t always use internal combustion vehicles to set records.
But when I do—

Drive safely, my friends.

And read the full story over at The Drive

Watch This Time-Lapse Footage of the Tesla Cannonball Run Finish in Manhattan

26 Sep

Cannonball Run

Only two kinds of dashcam videos are any fun: 1) an expert lap of the Nurburgring and 2) the end of a Cannonball Run-type drive cross country. The biggest difference between them? The best Nurburgring videos are all under eight minutes, but the last eight minutes of any record run always depict two breathless men stopped at a series of red lights, looking for a bathroom.

Those days are over.

In a world where people claim such records without video, I present to you the final leg of our latest (ahem) achievement: the new Electric & Autonomous Cannonball Run records, as depicted in a gorgeous high resolution time lapse, compressed into less than 60 seconds.
This clip depicts the end of our journey, from Eastern Pennsylvania across New Jersey, through the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan, then our battle through downtown traffic to reach the Red Ball Garage.

Watch the video over at The Drive

How We Broke The Electric & Semi-Autonomous Cannonball Run Records

23 Sep

Cannonball Run

Two days ago, Franz Aliquo, Warren “Mr. X” Ahner, and I announced that we broke both the electric and autonomous vehicle Cannonball Run records, covering 2,877 miles from Redondo Beach, California to the Red Ball Garage in 55 hours—97.7 percent of that time with Tesla’s Autopilot in operation. A lot of people asked about how we did it.

This is the first part of that story.

Why do this?

Who doesn’t want to? California is the finish line of the Western world. It’s part of the American mythos, going back to the settlers. “Go west” is both exhortation and rallying cry, and I’ve done it dozens of times. After breaking the old Cannonball record in 2006 in 31 hours and 4 minutes, I thought “Cannonballing” was over; I was wrong. Regular gas cars don’t have a lot of room for improvement, but with electric and self-driving cars, the sky’s the limit. The next 20 years are going to see a lot more of this—done more safely—than ever before.

Read the rest over at The Drive