The Ghost

Rolls Royce, Rolls Royce Ghost, Ghost 2014, Virginia, distinction magazine, phantom, V12, Virginia Magazine, Distinctiohr

by LARRY PRINTZ
photography by ERIC LUSHER

Leaner and more nimble than the flagship Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Ghost retains the classic Rolls character and lavish luxury.

Since its inception more than a century ago, Rolls-Royce has strived to build the finest cars in the world – and it has, an accomplishment easily seen in the company’s current flagship, the Phantom. It was designed from scratch like a bespoke suit, stretching more than 19 feet and starting at a lofty $407,540. But it’s like eating a five-course meal every night: a bit much.

So it’s understandable that you might want your Rolls-Royce just a bit smaller. That’s when it’s time to consider the Rolls-Royce Ghost, 17.1 inches shorter than the Phantom and starting at a much more reasonable $256,650. Calling it an entry-level Rolls-Royce would surely be gauche – if ultimately correct. Unlike the Phantom, the Ghost shares some of its underpinnings with the BMW 760Li. This arguably besmirches Rolls’ pedigree. Even though Rolls-Royce is a subsidiary of German BMW, who wants an Anglicized 7 Series? But in the end, BMW’s ownership doesn’t alter this car’s British character. After all, the House of Windsor, too, is descended from German DNA.

All of the classic Rolls-Royce styling cues are in place. There’s a blunt front end anchored by a gleaming chrome grille, topped by the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, a fixture since 1911. From there, the sculpted hood flows out to the slab sides, then back to the tapered rear. This design is a modern, soft interpretation of the classic Rolls-Royce look without the mass of the Phantom.

But underneath the robes you’ll find a BMW 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V12 producing a very healthy 563 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. That’s enough to effortlessly whisk you and this 5,445-pound sedan to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. (Of course, the fact that Rolls-Royce quotes figures at all tells you that times have changed. For decades, the automaker described its horsepower merely as “adequate” and torque as “sufficient.”)

As you tap that power, you’ll find that the Ghost doesn’t have a traditional tachometer. Instead, there’s a power reserve gauge. At standstill, you have 100 percent. As you accelerate, your available power declines. It’s quirky, but the Brits are like that. It merely reaffirms what you find once you look further; there’s little doubt that the Ghost possesses the classic Rolls character.

The ride is soft and comfortable yet composed. Credit the air suspension, which is sensitive enough to sense and adjust if a rear-seat passenger moves from one side of the car to the other. This ensures that the outside world will be seen but not felt. In fact, when we traversed the worst stretches of interstate highways here, the road felt as if it had been repaved. Despite its magic carpet ride, the Ghost is surprisingly agile, able to tackle the twisties with more athleticism and quiet than you might expect.

And you’ll want to spend time in its lavish cabin, for few automobile interiors can touch the Ghost’s. The rear doors are hinged at the back and can be closed electrically at the touch of a button. Step over the polished steel sill plates and take a seat on the soft, sumptuous leather seats, sourced only from bulls – so there will be no stretch marks – bulls that were raised in pastures free from barbed wire to ensure there are no imperfections. Eight hides are used in each car. Better yet, the seats recline and can be heated or cooled or offer a massage. A rear theater option includes a six-DVD changer to keep you amused. Tray tables can hold your lunch or laptop. You can also get an 18-speaker audio system and rear window curtains. And the whole cabin is accented in wood veneer from a single tree – to ensure that the grain matches throughout.

As for me, I would recommend the squishy soft lamb’s wool floor mats. They’re heavenly.

Of course, all of this comes at a rarefied price, but this is a rarefied car, truly one of the best in the world.

Good Sport

 

Leaner than its brother, this Range Rover is far more agile – and still luxurious.

by LARRY PRINTZ

Range Rover. The very name evokes traditional English images of musty stone manor houses, hunting and the House of Windsor. It’s a grand SUV for a grand lifestyle.

But the Range Rover Sport? Well, what a difference an extra word makes.

This is an SUV built for prowling the paved, privileged enclaves of wealth rather than beating the brush in search of grouse. Not that the 2014 Sport can’t do that; it is, after all, still a Range Rover. Think of it as a refined, sophisticated Burberry cashmere chesterfield, as opposed to an ancient, mud-splattered, frayed Barbour hunting coat.

You could be excused for thinking that the Range Rover Sport is little more than a lifestyle accessory, one that shouts of the life a Range Rover buyer would like to have rather than the one he actually does. But the Sport is more than a prop. It’s a real SUV, a wood- and leather-lined livery that can shuttle the kids to school or get you to work on time, come hail or high water.

All models have a single-speed transfer case and locking differential to get you through the worst muck and mire. When the weather gets biblical, a two-speed transfer case and electronic differential ensure an extra measure of traction.

If you do venture into the forest primeval, you’ll find this vehicle easily trades its sneakers for hiking boots, thanks to the Terrain Response 2 system, which automatically optimizes the engine, transmission, differentials and chassis to match the terrain through one of five settings: General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Rock Crawl. And it’s once you’ve engaged these different modes that you can feel this vehicle’s best asset: its weight loss.

Thanks to its new all-new aluminum body, which is derived from that of the larger Range Rover, the Sport has shed almost 800 pounds, so it doesn’t feel as if you’re driving around in a vehicle with the agility of a garden shed. It feels sportier than its brother, despite their shared DNA. On the road, you’re not aware of how much suspension travel is available once off-road, thanks to an air suspension that keeps the vehicle flat in corners. Bumps elicit little side-to-side rocking. Steering is ideally weighted and the ratio is perfect. In fact, it performs like a car.

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How can such a capable SUV be so sporty?

Well, it doesn’t hurt that the Sport sprints to 60 mph in a mere five seconds when equipped with the 510-horsepower, 5.0-liter supercharged V8. Opting for the more fuel-efficient 340-horse-power supercharged 3.0-liter V6 requires a bit more patience – two seconds’ more. Both engines are married to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

While the V6 doesn’t have the bottomless well of torque expected in a luxury vehicle, it’s perfectly adequate – especially considering its EPA fuel economy rating of 17 mpg city, 23 highway. Of course the V8 is thirstier, with ratings of 14 mpg city, 19 highway, but with good reason. It’s significantly more powerful than the V6, with the effortless, domineering feel of power expected from a luxury vehicle.

Reinforcing the difference in personalities is the exhaust note. While the V6 sounds like a rarefied European sports sedan, the V8 burbles and rumbles like an American muscle car.

That contrasts nicely with the opulent interior, which is not only beautiful but also masterfully crafted, with an air of refined, elegant simplicity. Better yet, the 2014 model is 2½ inches longer than the outgoing model, allowing for a more accommodating second-row seat. An optional third-row seat is offered – and is perfect for relatives or friends whom you don’t particularly like. A better choice would be to opt for the Meridian sound system, which transforms this SUV into a  four-wheel concert hall.

Such pampering is typical of Range Rovers, even the 2014 Range Rover Sport.

Think of it as the middle child in the Range Rover line, splitting the difference between the small, city-dwelling Evoque and its lavish, estate-dwelling brother. It’s an athletic lifestyle prop, one that can make anyone feel like royalty, whether on the road or in the rough.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: Supercharged 5.0-liter V8
Wheelbase: 115.1 inches
Length: 191 inches
Cargo volume: 17.3-62.2 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 7,716 pounds
Wading depth: 33.5 inches
Curb weight: 5,093 pounds
EPA rating (city/highway): 14/19
Fuel type: Premium
Base price, base model: $63,495
Base price: $79,100
As tested: $85,490
Where to find it: Land Rover Virginia Beach

Car Made For Driving

Martha Glasser, Ferrari, Larry Printz, Distinction Magazine, Car Owner, Nancy Sinatra, Distinction

by LARRY PRINTZ
photography by ROBERTO WESTBROOK

At one time she considered it just one of her husband’s cars. Today, Martha Glasser has become a passionate overseer and the sole driver of this Italian beauty, once owned by Nancy Sinatra.

Martha Glasser was not happy.

For the third day in a row her husband, Norfolk attorney Richard Glasser, had fallen asleep after a big lunch rather than help her navigate the rally they had signed up to run. She pulled the car over and woke him up.

“You can’t go to sleep; you’re my navigator.”

“You know, I’ve been navigating for three days. You haven’t asked me one time if I want to drive.”

You could understand his request; she was driving an unrestored 1969 Ferrari 365 GT 2+2. Who wouldn’t want to trade places?

She acquiesced.

Richard climbed behind the wheel and took off. As he tackled the twisting mountain roads of western Virginia with gusto, Martha could smell the car giving off odors the way athletes do when pushed to their limits. She had always admired his skill as a driver. But this time, she became alarmed. “Oh my gosh,” she thought. “This poor car!”

Later that day, while they relaxed over cocktails in the bar, Martha delivered her ultimatum: Buy his own sports car. “Get whatever car you want,” she said. “Start looking.”

Richard knew the score. She loved him, but she didn’t love the way he drove her car.

The Ferrari hadn’t always been hers. It had been his. He had bought it before they were married in 2000.

He had spotted it in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1996 while visiting Tom Barrett, whose auction house, Barrett-Jackson, attracts classic car collectors from around the world. While Richard had owned a number of collector cars, he didn’t know much about Ferraris. But he liked the car, one of 801 built between 1967 and 1971. He especially liked that its original owner was singer Nancy Sinatra, who owned it through 1987.

There was only one problem. The car had just been sold for $65,000.

“I said to Barrett, ‘If it falls through, I’ll pay you that,’ ” Richard says.
“And it fell through.”

Martha Glasser, Ferrari, Larry Printz, Distinction Magazine, Car Owner, Nancy Sinatra, Distinction

Martha had first seen the Ferrari in Richard’s garage when they began dating. It didn’t interest her until 2003 when they attended the Cavallino Classic, a Ferrari car show held every January at The Breakers in Palm Beach. In the rarefied air of this storied hotel, walking on an impeccably manicured lawn that could be mistaken for deep-pile carpet, she could picture their car. Upon arriving home, and without telling Richard, she called the show’s organizers and applied to show their Ferrari the following year. The car was accepted, but there was a catch.

“Because I had filled the application out, I had to show the car,” she says. “I knew nothing about the car.”

So Richard gave her a crash course. After the show, at the awards banquet, she walked away with a second place prize. “We were elated,” she recalls. “And that was the beginning of this beautiful journey of learning more about the car and driving it.”

And, gradually, his car became hers.

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It’s a love affair that has taken her around the world.

After driving the car in that pivotal rally at Virginia International Raceway in 2007, the Glassers attended Ferrari’s driving school in Maranello, Italy, in 2009. Once there, they were surprised to discover that a number of wives came not to drive but to buy balsamic vinegar. When asked if she wanted to go shopping, Martha said, “I’m driving” – and other women switched to the driver’s tour. “I am not sure that they ever had a class that had four women in it,” Richard says.

Once on the track, Martha told the instructor she wanted to take it easy.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s about making a beautiful line on the track,’ ”
Martha says. “So when he said that, I could get that. And after a couple of days, I got more speed, but I got more confidence. It was like drawing.”

But what is it about this Ferrari that she likes so much?

“Driving it is almost like you’re one with the car,” she says. “It’s not a racecar. It’s a touring car, so it doesn’t have that same sort of speed or have the agility, but it has a lot of power when it moves at speed. It’s comfortable when you put the windows down. And you can take a couple behind you because it has the two-plus-two seats.”

But there’s more to it than that.

“It doesn’t have a restoration on it. It shows its life on the interior and on the paint. It has a story to tell and once you start a restoration, you erase that. It’s like an antique.”

To ensure its provenance, the Glassers had the car shipped to Ferrari’s restoration shop in Italy as part of the company’s Classique program, which certifies that a particular Ferrari is authentic. The car passed muster.

So has Martha.

“I’ve met women who are driving, who are real drivers. I earned my stripes with them,” she says. “You don’t see a lot of women driving, but you’re seeing more and more starting to appreciate and love the cars.”

Martha Glasser, Ferrari, Larry Printz, Distinction Magazine, Car Owner, Nancy Sinatra, Distinction

Despite all of their adventures – too many to print – and their new friends – too many to mention – there’s one thing they haven’t done: reunite the car with Sinatra. For now, Martha continues to maintain the car and drive it as weather permits.

“I think if you asked what I do as a passion or my hobby, it’s really the Ferrari.”

The same for Richard. After that fateful night in the bar, he bought a 2005 Ferrari Superamerica.

It’s still his.

Martha Glasser, Ferrari, Larry Printz, Distinction Magazine, Car Owner, Nancy Sinatra, Distinction

Lot Envy

Distinction Magazine, Distinction, Luxury Camper, Tailgating, John Davis, Adam Ewing, The Woody Tailgater, Silver Tears Campers, Viking Grill, Tailgating Trailer,

photography by Adam Ewing

A trailer for team spirit – or any kind of spirits. The Woody Tailgater, made in Roanoke by Silver Tears Campers,
is completely customizable, down to the leather and wood choices. The one pictured includes a pull-out bar in the front, Viking grill in the back and custom leather seating. About $40,000 to $60,000. The customization takes time; owner John Davis estimates a build time of 90 to 120 days. SilverTearsCampers.com.

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Jaguar XJL

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by Larry Printz
photography by Todd Wright

 

Line up the 2013 Jaguar XJL Portfolio AWD alongside its European competitors – the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 740Li and Audi A8L – and you’ll notice that the German trio share a certain industrial austerity in their look and feel. They’re four-wheeled incarnations of the Bauhaus aesthetic. By contrast, the Jaguar is a beautifully sculpted bit of sporting extravagance, springing forth from the British soul that gave the world the royal family, Carnaby Street and various musical invasions. Driving the British car instead of a German one is like wearing a suit from Savile Row as opposed to one by Hugo Boss, or listening to the Sex Pistols as opposed to the music of Arnold Schoenberg.

And maybe that’s why the Jaguar XJL isn’t as common as the large Bavarian sedans. The XJL’s avant-garde style is positively outrageous in this stuffy part of the market. Its long, arched greenhouse masterfully plays the heritage card, recalling the XK and XK-E coupes, but with two extra doors. It gives the car a fast look despite its massive size. The visual delights are capped up front by a grille that pays homage to the first XJ, the 1968 XJ-6, while the vertical tail lamps have strokes in them, not unlike the scratches of a cat’s claw. It makes for an intoxicatingly sexy feline.

The alluring design isn’t limited to the exterior. Climb inside and you’ll find a cabin that wouldn’t look out of place in the finest supper club, with its generous amounts of elm wood veneer, leather and Alcantara, punctuated by old-school chrome air vents on the instrument panel.

Once seated in the second row, you’ll find that it’s really a first-class cabin. The optional rear-seat comfort package ensures that, pampering you with heated seats, reclining seatbacks and power back massagers. There are footrests, fold-down tray tables, two video screens with wireless headphones, and even dual vanity mirrors. It’s almost a mobile spa.

Meanwhile, the Meridian surround-sound system transforms the XJ into a concert hall with seating for five. The London Philharmonic has never sounded so good.

In another time, when there was a thriving British auto industry, this model would have been called the Vanden Plas, the coachbuilder that traditionally outfitted British cars with such extravagant touches. But that was a different century, and this is a distinctly modern sedan.

If you need proof, push the starter button. The screen in the center of the dashboard comes to life, as does the 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster. Meanwhile, the rotary knob that controls the transmission rises from the center console as the car comes alive. The knob retracts when the ignition shuts off.

It’s more amusing than the changing of the guard.

But the real fun starts once you drive the car.  [Read more...]

Chrome and Cola

distinction magazine, distinctionhr, hampton roads magazine, Lewis Little, Smithfield VA, Car Collector

by LARRY PRINTZ
photography by KEITH LANPHER

A Smithfield native embraced retirement by fulfilling his dream of owning
a ’60 Corvette. That turned into a passion for antique car collecting –
and years later, other memorabilia have come along for the ride.
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Have a Coke and a smile – with Lewis Little and his 20th century beauts: a ’55 Imperial, ’48 Chevy
Fleetline, ’34 Buick Victoria,’38 Buick Roadmaster, ’37 Buick convertible, ’48 Ford “woody” wagon,
a ’51 Ford, and a ’54 Mercury wagon.

 

Lewis Little had always pined for one car: the 1960 Corvette.

He had grown up modestly in Smithfield, the son of a rural mail carrier and a homemaker. “We didn’t have Corvettes and new cars in our life. We just didn’t,” he says. “It wasn’t that type of lifestyle.”

It didn’t change when his father got him a job at Smithfield Packing Company. “Entry-level would be an overstatement,” Little says; he was a shipping clerk. “Every time something came up that would pay 5 cents more an hour, I’d raise my hand.”

That hand-raising paid off. By 1998, Lew Little was president of Smithfield Packing.

“Along with success comes toys,” he notes. And he knew where he was going to start.

“I told my wife, ‘I always wanted a Corvette. I can remember when I was young, and all of these kids were riding around in all of these fancy cars. I want a ’60 Corvette.’ ”

Now in a position to afford one, they flew to Ohio to meet with a dealer specializing in antique Corvettes. But the dealer surprised him:

“Mr. Little, when you’re tired of this, you call us and we’ll buy it back from you,” Little recalls him saying.

“I’ve been waiting for this car all of my life,” he replied.

“I meet people like you all the time,” the dealer said. “You started out at one place, you’ve ended up in another, and you think you want this car. You don’t know anything about mechanics; you don’t know anything about the car. You’re an A-type personality; you don’t have any patience. Call me if you want to sell it.”

A year later, Little made the call.

“Every time I went to start it, the battery is dead or the car overheated. I didn’t know what to do with it; I was scared of it.”

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In 2003, Lew Little retired and found himself with time – and energy. “I didn’t retire to relax,” he says. “I retired to do something else.”

That “something else” turned out to be collecting – starting with cars.

 “I liked cars when I was young, and my wife’s family had always liked cars. So we said, ‘Let’s buy something and we’ll put it in the garage with the rakes and hoses and the spider webs, and we’ll drive it on Friday nights to dinner.’ ”

So he and Sandra bought a two-door, 1951 Ford Country Squire station wagon that, like many wagons of that era, used wood on part of its body. He modified the Ford, replacing the original driveline with a 1994 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 engine and transmission, plus power steering, air conditioning and other amenities. Except for its lower stance, the car looks original.

Not long afterward, Little was approached by a longtime friend who, it turned out, had a 52-car collection. Once Little saw it, he was hooked. But his friend gave him some advice. “He told me, ‘Lewis, get a mechanic who will come to you when you need him, particularly if you’re thinking of getting other cars, because you won’t stay in it. You don’t have the patience for it. If it breaks down, you’re ready to throw it in the trash can.’ ”

Little listened. He found a mechanic, and became a regular at car shows and auctions. More “woody” wagons followed: a 1954 Mercury Monterey with its third-row seat still in the original dealer’s plastic bag, a 1948 Ford modified with a Chevrolet 350-cubic-inch V8. Other cars won his heart, including a modified 1937 Buick Special convertible, a 1934 Buick Series 60 coupe with a modern Buick 455-cubic-inch V8, and an all-original 1938 Buick Series 80 Roadmaster sedan.

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In 2005, Little went to the Barrett-Jackson auction in Palm Beach with the intention of buying the pale blue 1953 Buick Roadmaster sedan once owned by Howard Hughes. Arriving at the auction preview, he found the automobile surrounded by curious buyers. He wasn’t sure he would be able to buy it reasonably.

Come auction day, he looked at where the Buick fell during the sale. “If I miss this Buick, if it goes too high, and I don’t get it, then I don’t get anything,” he recalls thinking. “So I said to my wife, ‘I really would like to take something else home with me besides just you.’ ”

When the price of a 1963 one-owner Corvette stalled out at a reasonable level, he bid. He was glad he did; the Howard Hughes sedan sold for $1.6 million. The announcer called it a world record for a ’53 Buick. “It was crazy,” Little says.

But the hype over Hughes’ Buick let him nab the Corvette. It was an unrestored time capsule, with 19,000 miles and a manual transmission.

It now sits beside Corvettes from 1965, 1967 and 1969. Like the 1963 coupe, the 1967 and 1969 models are brawny and masculine, their engine bays stuffed with powerful V8s mated to manual transmissions. By contrast, the 1965 is a cruiser, not a bruiser, with a smaller V8 engine and an automatic transmission. “I did it on purpose,” Little explains. “I told my wife, ‘I want one that we can just put into gear and cruise around and don’t have to worry about rpms and shifting.”

Every car in the collection has a story and a quirk. The 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline Aero Sedan, ordered by a wealthy individual to have every option, including an external valve that lets you put air in the spare tire without opening the trunk lid. There’s the 1955 Imperial that, despite its massive size, marked a sporty, youthful turn for the conservative brand. There’s also the 1950 Willys Jeepster, the company’s failed attempt at civilizing the Jeep.

But the Littles didn’t buy all the vehicles for his pleasure. They bought the 1961 Volkswagen Transporter, more commonly known as a Microbus, because Sandra had always wanted one. It sits beside her father’s 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle with 296,000 miles on the odometer.

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As Little’s collection of cars grew, so did the need for space to house them. It led Little to his current building, an old supermarket across from Smithfield Station. He renovated and expanded it, designing the building around his 15 cars. Sandra was skeptical. “My wife said, ‘What in the world are you going to do with all of this space?’ ”

She soon had her answer.

“I went into several collections, and you go and you pick up ideas,” Little said. He decided to recreate a ’50s diner in one corner of his new garage. He obtained a reproduction diner counter, chairs and tables. He decorated his diner with vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia and old tabletop jukeboxes, one of which plays 78s, not 45s.

“Then I really got into Coca-Cola,” he says. “I just went crazy over that for a long time.” No doubt, since he has 425 different Coke items on display, from menu and cashier signs to advertising signs and spinning lights. Everything predates the ’60s.

That led to other collections that now line the perimeter of the building. There are display cases of old tobacco products, general store merchandise, scales, shirt collars. There’s even a hand-carved sailboat from Argentina, built in 1938 for an executive from Standard Oil. As with his cars, new items will suddenly catch his eye. Even the showcases that house the collections are collectible. His latest passion: ice cream parlor and soda fountain items.

“I was at an advertising convention and they had a half-day delay and somebody said that there was an ice cream convention going on in the same town. So I went to it and this is what happened.”

What’s happened is 49 ice cream scoops and items as such as a Multimixer, the milkshake machine that helped launch McDonald’s.

Little likes giving tours of his collection, which attracts car hobbyists as well as their wives, who don’t have to stand around gazing at cars.

“As an accent to the cars, it works. It makes me feel good because people say that there are so many things to look at in addition to the cars.”

Looking around his garage, it’s hard to imagine there’s room for more items. But he would like to find vintage ice cream parlor furniture and a 1958 Corvette. But these days, he’s just as likely to be driving his wife to dinner in one of their vintage rides.

And while he never predicted that collecting would become his occupation, he could never have expected the biggest benefit of his decade-long hobby.

“My wife has been in antiques all of her life and I would never even go with her to any of the things,” he says. “And now, we go to auctions; we have something to share.”

Bent On Speed

by Larry Printz
photography courtesy of Bentley

On its way to a top speed of 205 mph, the 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed hits 60 at four seconds. It’s got 616 horses working on it. By contrast, the 2013 Bentley Continental GT V8 gets there in 4.6 seconds – with 500 horsepower and a top speed of 185 mph.

 How’s that for some fast company?

 To drive the revised 2013 GT Speed alongside its new V8 sibling is to witness the changing nature of performance, the old guard enjoying one last sprint before bowing to its more efficient younger brother. Yet both cars retain the very essence of a Bentley: elegance, exclusivity and – of course – speed.

Piloting either of these cars at legal speeds in the United States leaves almost two-thirds or more of its speed untapped. That’s how I ended up in Germany, on the Autobahn, heading toward Berchtesgaden behind the wheel of the 2013 GT Speed.

 With twin turbochargers and higher compression, the GT Speed’s 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine boasts an extra 49 horsepower over the Continental GT’s standard 567-horsepower 12-cylinder. It’s mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually by paddles mounted on the steering column. This adds an extra bit of entertainment to the proceedings but, given the engine’s massive amount of horsepower, proves unnecessary.

 The GT Speed gets a few tweaks besides horsepower. Bentley lowered the car’s ride height and stiffened the electronically controlled damping and steering systems. Optional carbon ceramic disc brakes are offered in place of the standard iron discs. A new engine management system is capable of processing 180 million calculations per second. This sort of processing power helps when the driver hits the sport button on the center console, which gives this already quick car an extra shot of responsiveness. It also enlivens the eight-speed transmission, which is capable of downshifting up to five gears in a single step.

Visually, the GT Speed receives unique 21-inch wheels, a darkened front grille and diamond-pattern quilted leather seat trim. The GT Speed is fierce and spoiling for a fight, but there on the Autobahn, I have to wait. Contrary to popular belief, there are speed limits in spots, and they are strictly enforced. So I am mindful of the 75 mph speed limit as I first enter the highway.

 I make my way over to the left lane, which is empty, save for a very slow-moving BMW 5 Series in front of me. I flash the Bentley’s headlights. The BMW doesn’t move aside. I wait patiently before flashing again. No response. The Bentley can barely contain itself; its driveline rumbles and vibrates with menace, waiting to be unleashed like a hunting dog straining to be let loose.

Finally, a police car rolls up alongside us. I flash my lights at the BMW once more. This time, the BMW pulls over, just as the traffic diminishes and the speed limit is removed. The vacant left lane unfurls before me. I bury the throttle. The Bentley sets its sights on the gray ribbon reaching skyward to the Bavarian Alps. The car lets loose with a brutal intensity, all four wheels pouring out the power with ease.

 The car is used to this. I am not.

 I grin helplessly as the scenery blurs and the speed climbs. I glance at the speedometer: 160 mph and climbing. My heart races as I listen to the engine at full throttle, singing its mechanical symphony with an intensity that would make Richard Wagner jealous. This is driving with the volume set to 11. I am in heaven.

 Almost, as it turns out.

 As I am reaching the crescendo, gunning for 205 mph, an Audi A2, in a fit of passive-aggressive driving, pops in front of me to slow me down. Once more, my heart leaps into my throat. Not from the thrill of speed but from the fear of obliteration. I jump on the brake pedal and massive ceramic brakes go to work, slowing the car to a mere 95 mph.

This exercise in acceleration revealed the GT Speed’s true personality.

The mechanical fiddling by engineers has had a big impact on the car, lending it an aggressive edginess that seems out of place in a car where everything else has been buffed to a relentless sheen. This begs the question: Does the GT Speed have too much power? Is it overkill? The answer lies in driving the new Continental GT V8. The GT V8 was introduced in mid-2012 and is the Speed’s mirror opposite. Instead of adding power to the standard Continental GT, the GT V8 subtracts it.

Not that you’d notice. After all, this car’s twin-turbocharged V8 is still a member of the under-five-second, zero-to-60 club and is more than capable of getting you in trouble with the constable. Most drivers will never notice the extra half-second while driving to 60 mph, nor the 20 mph on the top end. Instead, you’ll appreciate the refinement with which the new GT V8 dishes out its speed.  Its exhaust note is perfect, mellow and deep, without the aggressive quality of the GT Speed. The V8’s driveline seems much more appropriate for this car’s station: that of the opulent grand touring car.

Some may object to a Bentley that lacks 12 cylinders. For these buyers, the “grand” in “grand touring car” seems to imply 12 cylinders, as it has for decades. But it’s hard to ignore the V8’s superior efficiency, especially at the pump: It returns an extra 2 mpg in city driving, 4 mpg on the highway. Given the price of the car, fuel economy may seem a minor concern. But one suspects that tightening government fuel economy standards may make the choice for you in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks to the Continental GT’s all-wheel-drive system, which funnels 60 percent of the car’s power to the rear wheels, grip is very strong, particularly in corners. At the same time its 2½-ton curb weight makes hustling through corners a bit of a challenge. In that regard, the Continental GT is no different from other cars. After all, there are plenty of less-expensive cars that can scorch blacktop. Where the Bentley differs, and what few cars offer, is that it can transport you this quickly in such opulent surroundings.

I n a Bentley, most of your surroundings are crafted by hand.

The care with which the car is assembled can be seen at the factory in Crewe, England. It seems less like an outpost of a giant multinational corporation than an oversized craftsman’s workshop. It takes 37 hours to cross-stitch a single Continental GT seat, 15 to hand-stitch the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 10 bull hides required to fully line a Continental GT interior are closely inspected for flaws. (Cowhides are not used; they typically have stretch marks.)

Sixteen hours are required to assemble the GT’s 12-cylinder engine.

And it can take Bentley’s woodworkers weeks to source and select the proper premium wood veneer. Nineteen leaves of veneer are used to create the 17 wood-trim panels in a Continental GT. The veneers are book matched and given five coats of lacquer by robots, one of the only places in the factory where robots are used. After three days of curing, the wood is polished by hand. Bentley workers check the finished instrument panels to ensure the book-matched veneer doesn’t inadvertently form an unsuitable image. (Don’t ask about the skull incident.)

Once the approximately 620 components are ready, it will take 150 hours to build the Continental GT, using 5,800 spot welds and 669 self-piercing rivets. Then the Continental’s body spends 22 hours in metal finishing to ensure a flawless finish once painted.

Bentley builds in a day what most automakers build in less than an hour.

The relaxed tempo and hand-built construction easily allows for customer customization. You can make your bespoke Bentley painted to match your favorite nail polish or have your cabin fitted with a humidor. The company will accommodate you to a point. Don’t bother asking for your new Continental GT’s interior to be trimmed in alligator skin or have a lap-dance pole installed. When requested, the company refused.

Then again, you may not want something bespoke.

The Mulliner Driving Specification, standard on GT Speed, optional on others, features seats, door trim and rear quarter panels of diamond-quilted perforated leather. The cabin headliner is also finished in leather. Bentley emblems can be embroidered on the headrests at extra cost. It’s aromatherapy at its finest.

And let’s not forget its agelessly stunning sleek shape. It’s what attracts most buyers in the first place. Then, once a prospect is behind the wheel, the automobile’s effortless speed closes the sale. With its new powertrains, the Continental GT is very fast, able to handle the high speed of the Autobahn. But it is no sports car; it’s too large and too heavy.

Instead, consider it one of the world’s fastest, most exclusive and most comfortable grand touring machines, regardless of which engine you choose.

Cadillac 2013 ATS

 by Larry Printz
photography provided by Cadillac 

Cadillac spent decades convincing Americans that a Nimitz-sized, gas-gulping car with nautical handling was – as the ads proclaimed – “The Standard of the World.” And it was, until the world intervened – in the form of two oil embargoes.

Since then, the famed luxury brand has been trying to convince consumers that a “small Cadillac” isn’t an oxymoron. At first, success. When the midsize Cadillac Seville was introduced in 1976, it proved wildly popular. But oh, the audacity! It was smallest Cadillac – and the priciest.

The company itself didn’t seem convinced, let alone the public. As downsizing swept across the brand, it seemed as if the company’s heart wasn’t in it.  There was that dreadful poser, the 1981 Cimarron; then the ridiculously Lilliputian 1986 Eldorado; and finally that odd import, the 1997 Catera.

These cars might have been smaller in size, but they were smaller in spirit as well. Where was that Cadillac swagger?

Two vehicles helped Cadillac regain its product mojo: the 1999 Escalade SUV, which reinterpreted big Cadillacs for the new millennium, and the 2003 CTS sedan, a midsize sedan that showed Cadillac living up to its marketing and truly challenging cars from Europe.

A decade later, Cadillac’s growing confidence can be seen in the all-new 2013 ATS, the smallest Cadillac in 32 years. This is a rear-wheel-drive sedan meant to take on the BMW 3 Series – not to mention the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Oh, the audacity!

Skeptical? Cadillac feels your doubt. The company knows that customer
acceptance might be slow in coming.

“BMW has been in this space for 28 years,” said Kurt Ghering, ATS marketing manager, referring to the six-cylinder 3 Series. “We know it’s not going to change overnight, but we really wanted to build a car that gives this huge segment another option. No excuses.”

This is more than mere marketing Kool-Aid served up in a martini glass. GM ignored its time-honored tradition of tarting up a front-drive Chevrolet or German Opel. It resisted the urge to cut down the CTS architecture to ATS size. Instead, it did something unusual for GM: It created a new rear-wheel-drive platform that’s 500 pounds lighter and 8 inches shorter than the CTS.

The styling is softer than that of its sibling, yet it possesses an unapologetic mix of rock ’n’ roll, glamour, sophistication and a bit of flash. Cadillac no longer slathers on the chrome with a trowel,  but it’s still generous where it counts: under the hood.

The ATS’ top-of-the-line engine, a 321-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6, has the
effortless, refined feel you’d expect of a luxury ride. The same can be said of the smooth, powerful turbo-charged 272-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which is almost as fast as the V6. It reaches 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, while returning fuel economy estimated by GM at 22 mpg city, 32 highway. So why did Cadillac bother to
offer the unrefined base engine, a 202-hp 2.5-liter four?

Regardless of engine, the six-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly, dropping several gears if necessary to unleash performance. A six-speed manual is optional on the turbo; all-wheel-drive is available with the 2.0-liter and 3.6-
liter engines.

You’ll put that power to good use; the ATS’ handling is impressive. On the road it’s comfortable and confident. On the track it performs predictably,
precisely and securely, communicating its intentions. Cadillac’s efforts to keep most ATS models below 3,500 pounds contribute to the car’s nimble feel in
corners, aided by the precise power steering. All ATS models have four-wheel disc brakes. Brembo performance brakes are optional, as is automatic braking, which automatically stops the car if a collision is imminent.

However, before that happens, you might feel the “safety alert seat” activate. This option notifies the driver if the car wanders out of its lane. Unlike other
systems, which ring a chime that alerts passengers to your lousy driving,
Cadillac’s system discreetly vibrates the driver’s seat on the side of the car that’s wandering out of the lane.

The seats are comfortable and well-bolstered, with decent leg room. Surprisingly, Cadillac has done what few manufacturers at any price have done: padded the vertical edge of the center console, the glovebox door and the door panel. This way, taller passengers have a comfortable spot to rest their legs. Another nice touch: The center console lid is low enough to allow your arm to rest on it while shifting.

Like an increasing number of new cars, there’s a large center touch screen to activate the phone, climate and infotainment items. Below it are redundant touch-sensitive switches. The switches have a bit of feedback when you touch them, so you can sense that they’re working – a thoughtful feature. Also nice: The navigation system uses a small drawing of a car when pointing the way to your destination, rather than using an arrow.

The fact that Cadillac can build both the CTS and ATS, cars that can truly challenge the best in the world, is remarkable given that 26 years ago, it was still building land yachts with soggy handling.

But Cadillac’s attention to detail in the ATS, whether it’s convenience
features, fuel economy, size, power, design or handling, will go far to banish the sins of the past.

Like the CTS before it, the ATS unapologetically meets its competition head on. It’s that good.

Oh, the audacity!

Aston Martin 2012 Virage

by Larry Printz
photography by Aston Martin

The 2012 Aston Virage is easy on the eyes.

Don’t hate the Virage because it’s beautiful. Or because it’s seductive. Or because it’s sumptuous.

It is all those things naturally; that’s been a part of Aston Martin’s DNA since the venerable British firm was founded in 1913. The beauty of the Virage is everywhere, from the leather-lined cabin to the exquisite electronic key fob, topped in crystal.

But the 2012 Virage is more than just a pretty face. Proof can be found once you ignite its lusty 6.0-liter V12 engine, which it shares, along with its six-speed automatic transmission, with the less expensive DB9 and more expensive DBS. At 490 horsepower, this coupe has 20 more ponies under its bonnet than the DB9 but 20 fewer than the DBS.

Like any immortal sporting car, there’s an ample amount of effortless power routed to the rear wheels. Those 12 cylinders burble fiercely, drowning out gawking commoners on its way to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds. The Aston isn’t as fast as some of its German competition, but there’s more than enough power on tap. If it’s not enough, hit the Sport button to extract the most juice from this driveline. Also, the Virage’s six-speed automatic can be manually shifted through paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.

Despite its slower pace, the Aston is every bit as athletic as its Teutonic rivals, thanks to an adjustable suspension and firm structure. Steering is ideally weighted and returns great road feel. Making its back end dance is an absolute joy. Still, some might find the ride a bit harsh considering the car’s mission as a grand touring car. But if you’re more of a sports car aficionado, nothing will seem amiss.

Enhancing the drive is the car’s cabin, which takes 70 hours to assemble. It’s a delight to the senses. From the sublime softness and delicate aroma of the Bridge of Weir leather to the elegant simplicity of the instrument panel, the interior is first rate – with one exception. The audio display is lifted straight from a Volvo, a legacy of the company’s former owner, Ford Motor Company.

Still, the front seats provide good support, though the rear seats are best considered a leather-lined shelf for your purse or briefcase. Cargo volume is good for a quick weekend getaway; just be sure to ship any purchases that require a lot of space.

The Aston Martin Virage is very much the looker, with a sinfully drawn exterior, a voluptuous interior and ample muscle. It’s a luxurious sports car. It’s not the fastest, but it’s possibly the most beautiful, and beauty has its price.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Engine: 6.0-liter DOHC V12
Top speed:
183 mph
Wheelbase:
107.9 inches
Length:
185.8 inches
Weight:
3,935 pounds
Cargo volume:
6.5 cubic feet
EPA rating (city/highway):
13/18 mpg
Fuel consumption:
14 mpg
Fuel type:
Premium  
Base price:
$207,895
As tested:
$232,905
Available at:
Aston Martin of Washington, D.C., 8550 Leesburg Pike, Vienna

Driven

It’s loud, this Nissan 350Z coupe.

That’s to be expected. Every unnecessary item has been stripped from its interior: instrument panel, door trim, side windows, insulation. The heat and noise of the engine reverberate into the barren metal interior, and, in concert with wind noise, make for a deafening, visceral experience. It cuts through the earplugs and helmet.

The car is running at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, blitzing through the portion of the track known as the Climbing Esses, a series of uphill S-turns. The pace of the 350Z quickens as it climbs this section of track: 80 mph, then 90, 100, 110. The S-turns are merely a fun prelude to the Oak Tree, VIR’s most challenging corner. Anchored by an enormous, solitary tree, it’s a bucolic counterpoint to the extreme blind turn that wraps around it, leading into the back straight and even higher speed.

Behind the wheel is not a professional driver but Crawford Anderson, a Virginia Beach pathologist who spends at least one weekend a month navigating this raceway, one of the top racetracks in the country. He even teaches. And he knows the Oak Tree. He slows significantly as he circumvents it before nailing the throttle and twisting the race-style steering wheel. The back end of the 350Z obediently comes around as the track unfurls. The car reaches 137 mph.

Still, Crawford says, “I don’t have more ability than anyone else. I’ve just done it more often.”

This is the sort of modesty you’d expect from someone who isn’t a car guy. And by his own admission, he isn’t. So how did he end up here?

“It’s the usual thing, you know. You’re middle-age, the kids have grown up, so it’s time to buy a sports car,” says Crawford, who ended up buying a 2003 Track Edition of the 350Z. The car, whose name tells of its added capability, started at $34,619 for its 287-horsepower V6, six-speed manual transmission, high-performance Brembo brakes and aluminum rims.

Once he had the car, his son-in-law suggested he sign up for some track time at Alton. Crawford wasn’t so sure:  “I’ve been driving for 35 years,” he says, “and I thought I was an awesome driver.”

Surprise: He’s learned a few things in these four years.

On this sunny weekend, Crawford Anderson isn’t the only non-professional driver spending time lapping the track. There’s an event on, and several have signed up to run it. It’s held by TrackDaze, a for-profit organization that sponsors high-performance driving events and driving schools at tracks across the country. Local car clubs sponsor track days at VIR for its members, including the First Settlers Region chapter of the Porsche Club of America.

Although most participants at TrackDaze show up in sports cars, such as a Mazda Miata, Chevrolet Corvette or a 350Z, or sports sedans, such as a BMW M3, it’s not unusual to see more offbeat cars at TrackDaze, such as the Volkswagen Passat wagon that drove the track on this weekend.

Being a novice holds its share of challenges for any driver, including Crawford. “I just showed up here with no clue,” he says. “At first, the car was completely stock and you have to go through this tech inspection to see if it’s roadworthy.”

Which he did, driving his 350Z into the tech inspection area, where TrackDaze officials asked him to pop the hood. Trouble already. “I said, ‘Give me a second, I know I can find it.’ The whole thing was totally embarrassing. I was totally clueless.”

His initial laps on the track proved just as eventful. “The first thing I remember was being passed by a Subaru Outback,” he says. “It was kind of scary. Going around the corners I would hit the brakes because I felt I was going too fast.”

Being new to the track, Crawford drove with an instructor riding shotgun. After the initial laps, they had a chat about the dynamics of taking a corner in a rear-wheel-drive car.

“So my instructor pulls me aside and he says, ‘Why are you hitting the brakes in the corners?’ I’m like, ‘Because I’m going to spin off.’ So he says, ‘OK. When you hit the brakes, what happens? The weight all moves forward. So if the weight all moves forwards, what happens to the weight on the back wheels? There’s less. So what’s going to happen? Those back wheels are going to skid. So now you are going to spin off.’ I have this sports car and I am telling everybody how fast it is and that it goes through corners like it’s on rails, and then I discover that, oh my God, I don’t know anything.”

Crawford had a lot to learn, especially when it came to driving the track in the rain.

It’s something he no longer does, having once lost control under damp conditions at the raceway. His car bounced off a tire wall multiple times, damaging every body panel in the car. Even the roof was creased.  “The frame was OK. I was OK. But that was a $10,000 day right there,” he recalls.

His wife, Karen, a retired nurse, recalls when he called home with news that he had wrecked the car. “I was concerned about him physically, not the car,” she says. “I wasn’t concerned about the cost of the car.”

Such stories aren’t unusual; every driver was once a beginner.

“You always kind of think when you’re driving on the street, ‘You know, if it wasn’t for this speed limit, I’d drive really fast.’ When there’s no speed limit, and you can drive as fast as you want, all of a sudden, you’re not quite as brave as you thought you were. That is something absolutely everyone goes through.”

Four years after his first lap, Crawford has become more involved with the sport. Tidewater Z of Poquoson rebuilt his car after the accident, taking it further from its street car roots. He’s taken two Skip Barber Racing School courses; driven at Road Atlanta, Lime Rock and Carolina MotorSports Park; and become a certified instructor at TrackDaze.

“I always tell people, we all think we’re awesome drivers. Keep an open mind and you’ll learn so much. If you’re a really good driver, you get paid to drive these cars. If you’re like the rest of us, you pay to drive these cars.”

 Beyond driving, what makes a weekend at Virginia International Raceway enjoyable is its amenities. Think of VIR as the automotive equivalent of a golf club; instead of playing golf during the day, you drive your car.

At day’s end, drivers head to the Oak Tree Tavern, a grand old Southern home near the VIR lodge, which has overnight accommodations overlooking the track. Sitting on the tavern’s porch, having a drink and talking with fellow ersatz Earnhardts as the sun sets and the crickets start their evening song is the perfect nightcap to a day at the track.

“The camaraderie is awesome,” Crawford says. “You hang out together, help each other out, give each other advice.”

So it’s little surprise that talk turns to driving, which would bore all but the most ardent enthusiast. Certainly it has kept Karen from accompanying him on his weekends at Alton. “I don’t have anything to contribute,” she says. “I don’t want to hold Crawford back from the camaraderie and hanging out with the guys because he felt that he needs to be attentive to me.”

This may explain why there are few women around. Still, Karen did come along when he first started. “It’s good to support your spouse in trying new things,” she says. “It’s not healthy, choking that off. It helps them grow.”

“She was OK in the early days,” Crawford says. “But as I got faster and faster, and things started to happen more quickly, she said, ‘OK. I think I am done with

this.’ She gets nauseous in the passenger’s seat.”

But as his circle of friends grew, she felt less of a need to be there. Occasionally, she still makes the trip. She brings chairs, the dogs and a good novel or two, and reads beneath the awning on their trailer.

She’s used to this; he used to race Catamarans. “I remember going to Tampa for the weekend several times. Drive down Friday, race the boat Saturday and Sunday, come back Monday. It was exhausting.”

Once the driving has wrapped up, Crawford’s 350Z goes back into its trailer. The biggest challenge of the event lies ahead: leaving.

After traversing VIR at triple-digit speed, it’s tough driving home along Route 58 and observing the speed limit. It’s a heavy dose of reality. Even if you’re not a car guy but just happen to own a fast car, you’ll be yearning for your next lap.

“I think everyone should give it a try. The worst that’s going to happen is that you’re going to become a better driver. You’re going to be safer on the street,” Crawford says.

“What’s more likely to happen is that … you’re liable to fall in love with this sport and turn from someone who really saw the car as a way to get around to something that can really become a passion. It’s something that’s just so much fun.”

For Karen, that isn’t about to happen.

“It’s really not anything I wanted to do,” she says. “Besides, I need my testosterone for other things, I’m not going to spend it out there on the track.”

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