We’re all used to it, more or less, when things in life just don’t measure up. Earlier today, I spent an hour trying to convince a bank that the credit card they issued me really wasn’t expired, before I got disconnected. You get the picture. We deal with disappointments and frustrations like this every day. That makes us very appreciative when somebody, or something, actually delivers the goods they promise. One case involves drag racing itself, the most riotous, ear-splitting consciousness overload that most of us will ever experience during our lifetimes. Drag racing is deafening, blindingly fast and prone to the outbreak of calamity with next to no warning. Literally, anything is possible in this noisy, sudden variety of motorsport. My pal Steve Reyes, one of the best photojournalists that the quarter-mile sport has ever spawned, now has a volume out that clearly documents the outrages that drag racing can abruptly toss out to both competitors and onlookers.
Here’s what you need to know: Steve’s new title from CarTech, Quarter-Mile Chaos: Images of Drag Racing Mayhem is something like this: Take all the Mad Max movies and combine them. Then multiply them by a factor of 20. That’s the level of disaster and spectacle that this 180-page softcover work dishes up. It’s a razor-sharp, high-resolution recounting of fire, flying metal, tumbling cars, errant tow rigs, wheelstands, disintegrating fiberglass and the creative natural display of grenaded engine components. Imagine a Night of Fire or Night of Destruction at your local dragstrip that you can keep in your bookcase, magnified by a dozen or so. The action spans the whole heritage of drag racing from the 1960s forward. It’s sensational, unforgettable stuff, and you can enjoy it without stuffing plugs into your ear canals. This look at motorsport historic run amok lists for $36.95.
To millions of people, there’s only one Detroit introduction that really matters: The attention that focuses on the Ford Motor Company every time it reinvents the F-series pickup, which has been the biggest-selling motor vehicle of any sort in North America for an astonishing 43 consecutive years. How big a deal is this: Consider that Ford sold 896,526 copies of the F-series in the United States just last year, and that as recently as 2018, the F-series accounted for $41 billion in Dearborn’s annual bottom line. These are staggering numbers, which demonstrate that no single model weighs more heavily on the domestic auto industry’s overall health than this one. Yesterday, Ford rolled out the 14th generation of its light-truck line, assuring that it will represent advances in durability, connectivity and powertrain output in this hugely competitive market segment.
Built across four Ford assembly facilities, the new F-series continues its present architecture of using aluminum-alloy body panels atop a steel ladder frame. In terms of workplace utility, the F-series will offer an available Tailgate Work Surface, optional Interior Work Surface with available lockable interior storage, and seats that recline up to 180 degrees, just the ticket for taking a siesta at the job site. The new-generation rig will include an all-new 3.5-liter PowerBoost full hybrid, which accomplishes two things: It will make the 2021 F-150 the most powerful light truck in its class, and makes it the first light full-size pickup with hybrid power. Specifically, that means mating the EcoBoost turbocharged V-6 with a 35kw electric motor, linked to a 10-speed automatic transmission. That will give the F-150 a towing capacity of 12,000 pounds, and is said to deliver range of up to 700 miles on a single tank of fuel. Connectivity features will include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SYNC 4 with over-the-air software updates, and a new 12-inch touchscreen that’s standard on the XLT trim level and up. Personalization? You can pick from 11 different factory grille options. This is huge news – the F-series has been with us since 1948 – and there’s more to follow, because the 14th-generation F-series lineup is widely expected to expand with a new, all-electric pickup for 2022.
You knew this was coming. In case you missed it given everything else that’s going on, we recently passed the weekend when the 24 Hours of Le Mans would have been contested under ordinary circumstances. You probably know that it wasn’t. But as with other varieties of motorsport, Le Mans did indeed take place in a virtual manner. Yes, the world’s most famous sports car race was run, if you will, featuring drivers using simulators. And it ended, as Le Mans events so often have, with victory by Porsche, in the form of a digitally created 911 RSR, with Nick Tandy leading its four-driver lineup. Perhaps more significantly, the digital Sarthe running came 50 years to the day after Porsche scored its initial overall Le Mans victory, when Richard Attwood and Hans Hermann won the 1970 grind aboard a Porsche 917K, the greatest factory-built racing car ever produced.
Whether you accept this as real automobile racing or not, this will go down in Porsche annals, at least, as the Stuttgart legend’s 19th overall victory at Le Mans, more than any other manufacturer. The digital race featured a four-car Porsche effort, with two professional sim drivers participating. The winning 911 RSR tallied 339 laps. Bully to the winners. If this whets your appetite for the real thing, take heart: The French tricolor is set to wave the real Le Mans off on its twice-around-the-clock classic on September 19.
They called him The Rat, or the Computer. Some onlookers claimed he was something beyond human. He defied death, won world championships, and late in his life, saw his career immortalized by cinema. Whether you liked him or not, Niki Lauda will always stand as a case study in superhuman determination. Nothing, anywhere, blunted his relentless quest for excellence. When he died last year at age 70, few obituaries in the mass media attempted to address his unshakable focus, if the authors were cognizant of it at all. This author is. Niki Lauda: His Competition History is a biography that the subject himself would have likely appreciated: It’s precise, direct, and much more firmly rooted in facts and analytics than in hero-worship hyperbole. This, despite the fact that its author, Jon Saltinstall, is a lifelong Lauda fan of unswerving devotion.
The formula for literary success here is straightforward: This 376-page hardcover is not the usual litany of statistics and recycled quotes, but instead consists of individual accounts that recall each of the 316 pro-level races that Lauda contested during his career, from saloon cars to Formula Ford to Grand Prix glory. Not only that, but the author also examines each of the documented press events, manufacturer’s introductions, and celebrity events at which Lauda drove once his competitive years ended. There’s also an appendix of races where Lauda was entered but didn’t actually drive. Observations on the subject come from Lauda’s former teammate at Brabham, John Watson, and from the esteemed historian Doug Nye. We especially appreciate the fact that this book is in original English, unlike some of the Lauda autobiographies, which were unevenly translated from German. This title is the work of Evro Publishing in the United Kingdom, whose catalog contains a slew of intriguing motoring titles. At current exchange rates, it retails for $74.09.
As its historic lashup with Volkswagen demonstrated last week, the Ford Motor Company is all-in on electric vehicles in a very large and capital-intensive way. The fact that it applied the priceless Mustang nameplate to an electron-fueled four-door crossover is proof positive how serious Ford is about this new kind of everyday vehicle. It has an enormous stake in the Mustang Mach-E’s forthcoming launch (and you’ve still got to reserve one if your ready to buy. If you want to get in the queue, click here), and understandably is trying to anticipate consumer uncertainties about embracing this new definition of juiced driving. One potential worry, you would think, is how drivers might react when the charge or distance-to-empty function on the trip computer grabs their attention while they’re driving across Nevada on U.S. 50. Bad timing.
Ford, happily, has anticipated this possibility. The Mustang Mach-E will be delivered with something that can remedy it. The vehicle’s instrumentation package will include Intelligent Range, an onboard program that can recall past driver behavior, balance it against current weather conditions, and immediately calculate a miles-to-dead assessment via cloud-based computing. Intelligent Range works by gathering a real-time reading from the onboard battery system of how much energy is left, and balances it against data from the powertrain module about how much of it is being used. Since warmer or colder temperatures can significantly affect battery life, this is also monitored and updated in real time. Intelligent Range will also be capable of collecting crowdsourced energy-use data from other connected Ford vehicles. So, what happens if the battery runs out anyway? The Ford Roadside Assistance program will tow a disabled vehicle up to 35 miles for electricity at home, a public charging station or an EV-certified Ford dealership. Stay tuned, folks.
It’s always big news, and good news, whenever BMW rolls out a new model with “M” badging that designates a very serious performance car aimed squarely at the most demanding drivers around. That just happened yesterday, as BMW announced both the M5 and M5 Competition sedans, which joyfully combine four doors and honest midsize passenger space with truly awesome driving manners. The M5 – that’s the road-legal variant – has some absolutely electrifying numbers. The S63 engine that’s its standard powerplant displaces 4.4 liters but thanks to twin water-intercooled turbochargers and direct injection, produces a stunning 600hp at 6,000 RPM and an extraordinarily muscular 553-lbs.ft. of torque between 1,800 and 5,960 RPM. Those. cousins, are world-class numbers. In street trim, the M5 will reach 60 MPH in 3.2 seconds, and maxes out at an electrically governed top end of 155 MPH. In short, this car’s enough for even the most determined driver to probably scare himself a time or two.
All that punch is parceled out via an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission and standard xDrive all-wheel drive, with three available driving modes, including rear-drive only. All the goodies are now accessible via a single M Mode pushbutton, which combines functions that the previous M5 needed five individual controls to manage. New electronics include active cruise control, cloud-based navigation maps, a voice-activated personal assistant and new Android Auto connectivity, joining Apple CarPlay. The Competition model boosts engine output to 617hp and adds 20-inch wheels with run-flat tires. Want some? Can’t blame you. Prices will start at $103,500 when the new M5 hits the showrooms in August.
Amid the auto anniversaries this year, the one we’re about to note is very significant. The Z-car was never Nissan’s biggest-selling vehicle, and was never intended to be, but its reception by eager buyers was strong enough to vindicate Nissan’s decision to build it. The origin’s of the Z-car date to 1961, when Nissan – then Datsun – undertook a redesign of the sporting Fairlady, which the Z-car was always dubbed in its home market. The unshakable hero of this story is Yutaka Katayama, known in the Nissan world simply as Mr. K, the first president of Nissan’s operations in the United States. He was determined to create a halo car that would allow onlookers to overlook its Japanese origins, which were viewed less than charitably in those years. The original Datsun 240Z of 1970 completely transformed the public’s understanding of what an affordable sports car could be, and also what the Japanese auto industry was capable of creating. In that sense, it absolutely qualifies as a landmark car. It fully deserves the 50th anniversary review of its history that’s just been published.
Nissan Z: 50 Years of Exhilarating Performance fully compiles the story of this legend from Japan in words and photographs. Authored by Pete Ewanow, a professor at Cal State-Fullerton who once worked in Nissan’s engine program for the then-Indy Racing League, has compiled a 176-page hardcover narrative on the gestation and evolution of the Z-car, from the days when it was simply known internally as the Nissan S30. The text covers the full story, including Nissan’s early years in the U.S. market, and follows it straight through to the current Z34, which we know here as the Nissan 370Z. It’s a comprehensive-but-readable story that incorporates all of the engineering and design changes in the Z-car’s lifespan. We especially liked that it intimately spotlights not only the career of Mr. K, but also three racers who were both instrumental in establishing the original Z’s bona fides as a true sports car, Bob Sharp, John Morton and the late P.L. Newman. If you respect this important sports car, you’ll want to read the book, which is published by Quarto.
If you haven’t spotted them, you’re forgiven, but be sure to take note that Nissan has been on a tear of late where a revived product lineup is concerned. A little quietly, the Japanese giant headquartered in Tennessee has fully redesigned five models for the coming model year, including the Altima, Versa, Sentra and Titan full-size pickup. To that list now comes the Rogue midsize SUV, riding on an all-new platform that incorporates an equally new Vehicle Motion Control system that’s going to be offered on Rogues with Intelligent All-Wheel Drive and Drive Mode Selector optioning. The system can singly brake individual wheels to optimize the Rogue’s cornering line, operating in one of five all-wheel drive modes. Underneath the (very appealing) new sheetmetal treatment are new electric power steering and a new independent rear suspension setup that incorporates multiple locating links.
The auto industry has swiftly come to understand that in 2020, technology sells cars, especially the kind that allows passengers to remain wired while in transit. To that end, the Rogue will incorporate no less than three interior digital displays, including a new heads-up display for the driver, which will pass along critical vehicle information. An intelligent Around View monitor will allow drivers to see the Rogue’s entire perimeter, with customizable displays. Google Maps and Waze are parts of the package, along with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity. Available extras will include Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist, incorporating steering assist and adaptive cruise control. Three trim levels will be offered, along with a new Platinum edition that incorporates quilted seating with leather accents. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter DOHC inline-four with direct injection, whose output has been boosted by 11hp for a total of 181 with an accompanying torque boost. The Rogues will be at your dealership this fall.
When some of think about BMW, we naturally envision its roots in the mountainous German state of Bavaria. Little mental pictures of Tyrolean hats, lederhosen, huge steins of lager and platters of wurst come to mind here. Today, it’s beneficial to understand that BMW is first an automaker, producing prized specialty cars for discriminating drivers, and they don’t always come from the Fatherland anymore. For the past quarter-century, a large part of BMW’s history has been written in the highlands of Spartanburg County, South Carolina, where it operates Plant Spartanburg, which is actually located in the city of Greer. Just this week, BMW achieved a milestone as the South Carolina assembly plant rolled out its 5 millionth vehicle, an amazing achievement when you consider that right or wrong, a lot of people still automatically associate the company with the mountains of Germany.
The benchmark Bimmer turned out to be a BMW X5 M Competition SUV in Toronto Red, powered by a 617hp twin-turbo V-8, outfitted with a Silverstone Full Merino leather interior. Given its significance, the X5 will remain on site at Spartanburg as part of BMW’s historic vehicle collection. The plant’s dedicated products include SUVs and BMW coupes, and now, more than half the vehicles BMW sells in the United States are South Carolina-produced. During its existence, Plant Spartanburg has turned out 411,620 new BMWs, firmly establishing it as BMW’s highest-volume assembly plant, with 11,000 workers on staff. One little-known statistic is that nearly 70 percent of the plant’s overall output is exported for sale in other world markets.
This is huge. We reported last year that Ford had made a major investment in Argo AI, which is developing self-driving systems for the coming generation of autonomous vehicles. Last week, Volkswagen independently bought its own stake in Argo AI last week, which was immediately followed by the announcement that Ford and Volkswagen have jointly formed a long-term alliance to develop new commercial vehicles, with an emphasis on electric and self-driving conveyances. It’s not a merger between the automotive titans, but instead an effort for a major sharing of expenses in acquiring these technologies, in an industry pounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing global economic crisis. The first goal of the partnership will be to produce a medium-duty pickup for Volkswagen, probably based on the new Ford Ranger – does anybody remember Ford and Mazda doing something similar that begat the B2000? – that Volkswagen will sell as the Amarok by 2022. The next will be creation of an electric city delivery van based on the current Caddy sold by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, as shown below.
Following those vehicles, Ford and Volkswagen will then unveil a 1-ton cargo van designed by Ford, and Ford will introduce an all-new electric vehicle for the European market by 2023, based on Volkswagen’s MEB platform for EVs, which is also shared by Audi, SEAT and Skoda. The partners expect to sell up to 8 million of the pickup and new vans, including about 600,000 of the MEB-platform vehicles. Ford has already announced its intentions to produce all-electric versions of its Transit van and the F-150 pickup, America’s biggest-selling vehicle of any kind, likely by 2022. Late in April, Ford pulled the plug on plans to produce an electric SUV with EV startup Rivian, but Lincoln is still pursuing a possible technical alliance with that company.