Archive for October, 2007


Bentleys, Top Gear, and the magazine machine

So I work at Elements Magazine now.

It just kind of happened, really. I wrote a couple articles for them, which they enjoyed, and they needed some help around the office, and after a casual conversation with the brothers Neher (Scott & Eric, EM editors) decided to have me on board. All of this, I’d be remiss not to mention, is due to Melissa for thinking of me when assigning those two articles and for mentioning my illuminating greatness to E&S when they mumbled about needing extra help. I love you, Melsh.

It’s been a full week and I can say this with absolute certainty: I love my job.

As stressful as its been, being thrust into the exposed gears of a hectic magazine machine, I’ve found myself fitting well as another cog instead of grinding it to a halt like an errant monkey wrench. I like the people, I like the work, and when I get something done, I feel good about it because it’s not easy, so I feel satisfied that I accomplished it. Most importantly, however, is that it’s fun.

All this was necessary preamble for what I really wanted to write about, and that is my first test drive.
Cars have alot of real estate in my heart. They are predominant land owners, up there in status with the “Melissas” and the “Indiana Joneses”….and “Star Warses”.. anyway.

I spend a very large part of my day watching or talking about Top Gear, my favorite show which mostly consists of three guys driving cars, talking more about how they make a person feel than inane technical specifications. they talk about the mysterious “X-factor” that cars have, that hard to define quality that makes them so endearing, something I can relate to a great deal. I have longed fantasized about being a host of this show, driving supercars around an airport runway, making snide comments about the french, and arguing why this or that car is awesome or terrible. I’d be a happy man if I could, in small way, break into this life of writing about cars, which is great, because then this happened…

I get a message from Scott that basically says his buddy Michael Todd (owner, Champion motorgroup) told him that they were revealing the new Bentley Continental GT Speed, a 600bhp version of their coupe, and asked if I wanted to shoot over there the next morning to check it out. Hmm, what to say.

The next morning I drive out to Republic airport in Farmingdale. I’m supposed to be at Hangar 6, and I’m not exactly sure where I’m going, but I’m following this red Bentley with a confused man in it, presumably lost as well. I arrive, Valet, and I’m greeted with the spectacular sight of a gleaming white hangar filled with private planes and Bentleys on display, and sitting in front, like a supercar tribunal, is a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, a Gallardo Superleggra, and a Mercedes SLR McLaren.

“Welcome to automotive journalism,” they seem to say.

I registered and was told that they are trucking groups of 6 or 7 out to the airstrip (fun fact: in what I’m told is the old “G-unit” van). I hung out in this plane hangar, admiring how it was all painted white and was incredibly clean, then immediately purchased one for my fantasy house in my head.

I hung out with this guy, whose name I forgot, for a while who looked a bit out of place. I don’t think he was even signed up for a test drive. I’m not sure where he was from, but he said he “got an email” and decided to attend. he was a slightly large black guy, bit sweaty, and he stood out to me because, while the rest of the people there were sharp dressed moneymakers (as in “yeah I just flew my family down to Bermuda”, “my neighbor just got a ridiculous Ferrari”, etc.-type people) who looked bored while waiting to test drive so they can go back to the office, this character was standing in the middle of the hangar staring at “the tribunal” with a smile from ear to ear. I liked him immediately.

So “G-unit” finally shows up, and I’m called to join the next group ( mysterious black guy came. just jumped in, taking someones spot, confusing the women attempting to organize the event) and we headed out to the airfield. we step out and two Bentley Speeds are lined up on the runway in an oval track made up of traffic cones. These things are gunmetal, with orange-y type leather, and it looks like a socialite who wants people to think he’s tough, but he’s too fancy to pull it off. no one’s buying the hard act, even though he’s got holes drilled into the pedals.

Two guys introduce themselves as instructors from Skip Barber racing school and tell us that they’ll take each of us around on the course, and then switch seats, and we give it a go. I every much enjoyed standing around on the runway watching these Bentleys taking runs through this track, so I hung back until I was last. I sat in the passenger seat and Travis, one of the instructors, explains the test drive they’ve set up. the first thing is to floor it off the line, then half-brake at the next set of cones and glide through the top of the oval. after that, weave through the slalom that they set up, gun it again, then at the end of the straightaway, break hard.

Travis takes me through it and we switch. I’m nervous as I keep thinking that this is my first time doing something like this, and I don’t want to go too fast and f-it up, nor do I want to go too slow. so nervous am I that the first thing I do after I buckle in is I begin to adjust the mirror, so, y’know, I can see all the nothing and no cars behind me on the test track.

The Shift is placed into “sport” and I’m off the line in a yacht with wheels. the Bentley is so plush and the torque is so immense, its as if an invisible force is thrusting you into a luxury hotel suite. as soon as I’m off the line, my nervousness vanishes, and after lightly breaking at the start of the oval, I throttle through the rest of it, much to the displeasure of Travis. We speed through the slalom at about 40 or so, then after which, I floor it again to the breaking line. now, I’ve watched this thing stop at high speeds 12 or so times already, and it all seemed so gentle. I really want to see what this can really pull off so at 90mph I slam the breaks as hard as I can, resulting in a low baseline of break pads doing their thing and this hiss of air, as if the suspension is made primarily of marshmallows. and that was it. if I tried to do that in, say, a Mustang, my lunch and head would be laying next to each other on the dash. In this, I wasn’t even thrown forward really, it all felt really…polite.

And that was it: this polite, leather, marshmallow affair. Not a bad morning’s worth of work.

Thunder Horse

I’d like you to meet someone…

This is Bucephalus.

(more pics to follow)