Journalism is my life. I've been at it since the 1970s, starting in news and developing specialties in covering automobiles and motorsport. I hold more than 50 journalism awards for work in both newspapers and magazines. I have developed a global audience during my career.
While schlubs like you and me were worrying about more mundane stuff, like the second half of my dental bill, the people who breathe the rarified air of really big money have been doing their thing this weekend in rarified air indeed, the kind that envelops Lake Como in the reaches of the Italian Alps. That’s the backdrop selected by Rolls-Royce – specifically, this weekend’s Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este on Lake Como, one of the Continent’s most exclusive automotive salons – to introduce the Boat Tail, the hyper-personalized custom coachbuilt open tourer, to a small group of meticulously selected – meaning very rich – potential buyers admiring the elegant display.
As the dual side-opening deck lids clearly imply, this is an automobile where nautical styling themes exist in abundance. The invitation-only rollout was administered by none other than Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös, and held on the Mosaic Lawn at the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este overlooking Lake Como, where the concours, which dates to 1929, concluded today. The Boat Tail was exhibited four years after the first edition in Rolls-Royce’s current coachbuilding history, the Sweptail, was introduced at the same location in 2017. What a Boat Tail cost? Are you kidding?
In a little bit of shameless self-promotion, we’ve recently been the topic of an extensive video interview by fellow Floridian Jeff Sterns, who is the founder and host of Jeff Sterns Connected Through Cars, a globally connected podcast with streaming capability that’s updated every Wednesday with in-depth conversations involving interesting personages from worlds of cars and racing. Among the guests Jeff has introduced to the wider world are Malcolm Bricklin, who not only created his eponymous safety sports car but also gets credit for introducing the United States to Subaru; publishing and public relations icon Marty Schorr, and Derek Bell, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times. Pretty good company.
You can visit Jeff’s website to stream the long-form interview, which is also posted in an abbreviated, introductory form on YouTube, and can be found by clicking here. Jeff’s also ordered the conversation into YouTube snippets that discuss the wild competition years at departed Flemington Fair Speedway and a great PR outing that Marty organized to commemorate one of the great modern American performance engines, the turbocharged Buick V-6. We also touch on recent doings at Hemmings Motor News, Speed Sport and Crankshaft. Tune in and crank it up.
Gasoline has been Jeep’s blood since the American Bantam days back in Butler, Pennsylvania, a historical fixed point that’s just shifted a bit. That’s because the fifth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee, a hugely important profit center for the North America operations of Stellantis, is being offered with the first plug-in hybrid powertrain in the model’s history. The 2022 Grand Cherokee 4xe, as it’s being called, combines two electric motors and a 400-watt plug-in battery pack with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four that’s part of the Global Medium Engine family from Stellantis.
This is a significantly big vehicle, yet the hybrid powertrain is reported to deliver the equivalent of 52 MPG while allowing for up to 25 continuous miles of all-electric operation. The powertrain produces a combined 375 horsepower. The Grand Cherokee 4xe encompasses the Quadra Trac II all-wheel drive system, with a two-speed transfer case. With an eye toward fuel efficiency and emissions, electronic power steering and an electrically powered climate control compressor help reduce parasitic loads on the engine. Three driveline modes, including full electric and full ICE, will be offered.
Henry Ford started building cars on his own, and eventually became so good at it that he was able to achieve what your Production Management 102 textbook might have called vertical integration, which essentially means controlling the entire manufacturing process from raw materials to finished product. The Old Man controlled iron mines in Minnesota, forests for his auto body components in upper Michigan and rubber plantations in South America. He pioneered the widespread use of vanadium steel in auto manufacturing and was making a serious stab at developing car components from vegetable products when he slid into dementia. Before then, he envisioned and erected the sprawling Rouge Complex in Dearborn, where ore and coal were loaded into one end of the plant and completed Model Ts drove out the other. It’s still hammering out new Fords today.
Capital investment on a scale massive enough to build something like the Rouge from scratch seldom happens anymore, because the risk is too daunting for most investors to easily handle, but a century later, Ford intends to remake the business of building cars on a level unseen in our lifetimes. Ford and its technology partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, will invest up to $11.8 billion to build a Rouge-proportion assembly center dedicated to electric vehicles in Stanton, Tennessee, not far from Memphis, and two new factories in Kentucky where SK Innovation energy-storage hardware for use in Ford vehicles will be produced. The Blue Oval City complex in Tennessee, and the Kentucky operations, are expected to employ 11,000, including 6,000 entirely new jobs, and to roll out its first vehicle – the electric F-150 – by 2025. The artist’s rendering shows the scope of Blue Oval City, which will rise on six square miles and represent the largest and most efficient factory Ford has opened in its 118 years. It’s tough not to be impressed.
If you’re of a certain vintage, as vintners like to put it, you may recall that back in the 1970s, Chevrolet offered an option package that turned its newly introduced hatchback version of the Nova coupe into a rolling campsite, with a tent that folded out from the open hatch. It was a revival of a periodic concept that likely dates back to the Kaiser Traveler of the 1940s, if not earlier. With the help of its aftermarket accessory partner NISMO, Nissan just debuted a raft of off-road components for its midsize Frontier pickup at the 2021 Overland Expo West, which just took place in Flagstaff, Arizona. In addition to auxiliary lighting and a rack for the cargo bed, NISMO has come up with an accommodation offering that nicely recalls the camping packages of yore.
The NISMO Off Road Rooftop Tent package shown here provides reasonable room for two travelers with a fold-out tent that mounts above the aforementioned NISMO bed rack. Made of polyester canvas, the tent is adaptable to other rack system, includes a wall-to-wall mattress and access extension ladder, and has a weight capacity of 600 pounds. Availability is projected for early calendar year 2022.
The Texas State Fair takes place right next to the site of the Cotton Bowl, the original home of the Dallas Cowboys, and can be counted on annually for offerings that include fried beer – honest – fried bubble gum and if I remember right, fried Coca-Cola. Right outside the fairground gate is the shop of a guy I met who does a very big business transplanting overheating-resistant small-block Chevrolet V-8s into nightmarishly unreliable V-12 Jaguars. So using the Texas State Fair as the backdrop for an automotive event isn’t unprecedented. Stellantis did more than the usual heavy lifting by using the fair to tease several special edition of its full-size Ram pickups, including one such truck that’s totally Texas.
Given the fact that one of those trucks pivots off an iconic Texas location, we couldn’t resist. The new 2020 Ram Longhorn SouthFork, as Stellantis puncutates the name, doesn’t direct evoke the home of the world’s most famed fictitious dysfunctional family but instead replaces the Limited Longhorn 10th Anniversary edition in the full-size Ram – we’d prefer it if the Dodge nameplate was still being used here – pickup lineup. It gets a standard specific Mountain Brown suede-trimmed interior package plus a multi-function tailgate, spray-in cargo bed liner plus Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires. As the maximum-luxury big truck from Stellantis, pricing will open at $61,620.
The 2022 Honda Passport won’t let you lose sight of the fact that it’s arrived in the marketplace, and we mean that literally. The ’22 version of Honda’s largest SUV is new from the A-pillars forward, with the practical result being that the Passport is all of a sudden a little less conservative and a little more RAV4-y, with pronounced, jutting metallic lines, the pronounced headlamp eyebrows leading the parade. The rear visuals have also received some attention in the form of a repopped rear bumper and more aggressive exhaust outlets.
The appearance upgrades, and considerably more, combine to create the new-for-’22 Passport TrailSport edition, as this image illustrates. Besides a bespoke logo, the TrailSport also receives a model-unique front grille, a semi-skidplate appearance treatment for both bumpers and unique 18-inch wheels. The TrailSport logo’s embroidered inside, along with orange contrast stitching for the interior surfaces. It’s not all show, either, given the standard Passport 3.5-liter V-6 that’s capable of delivering 280 horsepower while mated to a standard nine-speed automatic transmission. Among the range-wide niceties are a standard power-operated rear liftgate.
When you can find a copy of it, you can expect to pay a three-digit price for the long out-of-print autobiography of Sam Posey, the remarkably brave and erudite artist and designer turned world-class racing driver and Emmy-winning TV analyst. Now in semiretirement, Sam is famous for calling the closest Indianapolis 500 finish at the time for ABC Sports, a portfolio of architectural design that includes the buildings at his home circuit, Lime Rock Park, where the main straight is named in his honor, and for being an exceptionally skilled scale model railroader. Sam is also a complex, erudite individual, which makes this retrospective of his career in motorsport so compelling. There’s also another reason.
I’ve had the pleasant occasion to meet Sam’s co-author, his son John, who assisted Sam in sifting the extensive Posey family archives to develop a concise, heartfelt assessment of his father’s hall of fame career in motorsports. It’s a series of crucial vignettes rather than a narrative in the normal autobiographical sense, with cars, races and personalities standing as short individual chapters. Sam’s remarkably varied racing career has taken him everywhere from Le Mans to the Baja peninsula, Indianapolis, NASCAR (grenading a Cotton Owens engine in the process) to the charming, and challenging, Mount Equinox Hill Climb in the Green Mountains of rural Vermont. He’s one of the most appealingly approachable guys in all of international motorsport. You ought to read Sam’s Scrapbook, which you can order from Evro Publishing.
Technically, Toyota has already unveiled its fourth-generation Sienna minivan, a genuine champ in its segment, although the rollout earlier this year involved only the full-electric version. For the universe of petrolheads, Toyota is introducing the rest of the Sienna line, led by a new-for-2022 Woodland Special Edition that combines model-specific styling cues, electronic all-wheel-drive and, very unique for this class, an added measure of off-road ground clearance.
Its appearance crafted by CALTY’s Newport Beach, California, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, design studios, the electronic AWD is available on demand and joins other vehicle upgrades including an onboard 1,500-watt inverter with a 120V AC outlet that can feed just about any electrical goodie you pack for your trip, a towing capacity of up to 3,500 pounds with a manufacturer-installed hitch, and navigation via a JBL audio system with 12 speakers and 1,200 watts of power.
The route no longer goes from Paris through the Sahara, due in large part to ongoing terrorism, but the Dakar Rally remains one of the world’s most punishing automotive tests of any kind. In keeping with everything else it’s done recently from a product-development standpoint, Audi plans to contest the brutal contest’s 2022 running with a from-the-ground-up, fully rally-capable electric vehicle. Following ongoing evaluations in Germany and Spain, Audi Sport landed on the ground last week in Morocco for two weeks of uninterrupted desert trials for its Audi RS Q e-tron rally car. Record-holding Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel, plus rally immortal Carlos Sainz and team driver Mattias Ekström took part in the wringing.
Sandstorms and daytime temperatures that easily cleared 100 degrees Celsius caused several interruptions in the test schedule while the Audi Sort contingent regrouped. One issue that became immediately apparent was maintaining the e-tron’s onboard battery performance in the withering desert heat. The RS Q e-tron features an electric-based drivetrain with two motor-generator units borrowed from their original use in Formula E racing. The high-voltage battery, newly developed by Audi Sport, is charged while driving via an energy converter consisting of an Audi gasoline-fueled TFSI engine originally designed for the German Touring Car Championship wars, and from another, third motor-generator unit.