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Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

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Book Review: Restorations by Charles Strickler

by Jason Fogelson

A lot of car and motorcycle-related books cross my desk. Most are non-fiction, either historical accounts of significant events, biographies of major industry figures, memoirs of drivers, mechanics or restorers, detailed tributes to brands or models, or elogies to bygone marques. Occasionally, I’ll receive a novel set in and around the automotive world – and I eat those up.

The pitch for Restorations by Charles Strickler (March 20, 2019, Koehler Books) caught my interest. It was billed as “a fast-paced thriller that puts the pedal to the metal from page one,” centering around a 1928 Stutz Black Hawk Boattail Roadster. Okay – I’m in.

Stutz Blackhawk Boat Tail Speedster 071The story begins with a brief prologue detailing a failed 1930 bank robbery in Decatur, Illinois, and a criminal named Lefty Webber. Flash forward to Spring 2018 in Wachau, North Carolina to meet our main character, Miles West. He’s a man at the bottom of an emotional well. The recent death of his beloved wife, followed closely by the demise of his parents, has left him bereft. He’s left his high-powered Wall Street job and returned to the family farm in North Carolina to recover. A kind elderly neighbor coaxes Miles to attend a local estate auction, where he is stricken by two beauties: Auctioneer Bramley Ann Fairchild, and a 1928 Stutz barn find. He makes the winning $60,000 bid for the car, narrowly beating a phone bidder who claims to have had an equipment malfunction during the final call. Miles has the car transported to his farm to begin restoration, and Bramley volunteers to help research the car’s provenance.

That’s when the adventure begins. Turns out the phone bidder represented an aging New York City mob boss who has been searching for this specific Stutz for decades, because of secrets that it might conceal relating to the bank robber, Lefty Webber. Miles and Bramley become entangled in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse that leads across the Northeast and into New York City.

Stutz Blackhawk Boat Tail Speedster 103During the course of the chase, Miles proves to be incredibly brave and resourceful, and Bramley is a willing accomplice to his plans. Some of the plot machinations are difficult to swallow, as Miles takes incredible risks despite the involvement of the authorities. Certain late revelations and unlikely coincidences strain belief, but the fast pace of the action fit the genre.

Dialog is not Strickler’s strength, as the conversation between characters is a bit stilted and expositional. The main characters are reasonably well-drawn and likeable, if a little too pure and good to be believed, while the antagonists are suitably menacing, if somewhat two-dimensional.

As a car guy, I was a little disappointed that the Stutz is a MacGuffin in this shaggy dog story, just a plot device to set off the action. At least the car is accurately described, and suitably rare to serve its purpose.

The pitch I received said that Restorations would appeal to fans of Steve Berry, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and that may be true. I’d encourage Charles Strickler to shoot a little higher – those authors are all capable of churning out page-turners, for sure, but they all suffer from similar weaknesses in characterization, dialog and convenient plot twists. I’m looking for a little more literary merit in my thrillers, and a little more car involvement in my automotive-related stories. StricklerRestorationsBack_(1_of_1)

1928 Stutz Black Hawk Photos (c) Revs Institute

Book Cover (c) Köehlerbooks

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2017 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

by Jason Fogelson

What would you do if you had planned a big outdoor party for Sunday afternoon, and the weather report called for thunderstorms and four inches of rain? You’ve been planning your party for a year, and guests are coming from all over the world. If you’re Bill Warner, founder and chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, you make a quick decision – and move your party up one day to Saturday.

That’s what happened this year in Florida, and the shocking thing is how smoothly the switch was pulled off.

A Concours d’Elegance is a juried car show with multiple classes and awards. There are usually multiple winners, with the big prize being “Best in Show.” Think Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but for cars. There are currently dozens of Concours events held across the United States, often on a golf course or luxury estate. The exhibitors are often wealthy car collectors or car museums; they can also be ordinary individuals who own one or more special vehicles. The fancier Concours events attract a very upscale crowd. Luxury and sports car manufacturers love getting access to this demographic, so they show up as event sponsors, and host display booths that show off their current products alongside classic cars from their marques. Accessory and aftermarket parts makers and affiliated businesses join the party with booths and displays of their wares. Attendees and participants often dress up for a Concours, sometimes in period motoring garb that matches their cars or favorite era. The most famous event in the United States is the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey, California.

The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance (AIC) is a respected, significant event that’s starting its third decade of annual shows.

I attended the AIC this year for the first time, and really enjoyed the experience. I wrote about it for Forbes.com.

I took a ton of pictures, as I do at pretty much every car show that I attend. I’m posting a few here for your enjoyment.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

Superformance

by Jason Fogelson

A few weeks ago, I went down to Irvine, California to meet Lance Stander. He’s the CEO of Superformance, a company that builds “continuation vehicles” based on some classic race cars from the 1960s.

Lance turned out to be a real talker. A native of South Africa, he’s been in the US since the late 1980s, and he has been involved with Superformance almost as long. As CEO and owner, he has done some amazing things.

First of all, he builds truly amazing cars, including the Shelby Cobra and the Daytona Coupe, as well as the Corvette Grand Sport and Ford GT. He’s also the US importer for Caterham, a very cool low production vehicle that’s basically an engine, a frame, two seats and a dream.

SuperformanceFogelson-5Second, and maybe just as importantly, he had the foresight to negotiate licensing deals with Shelby, Ford, GM and others for the cars he builds. These are not copies or ripoffs in any way — they are officially licensed “continuation vehicles.” Superformance wants you to imagine that the original makers never stopped building these cars, and these are the results.

You can read my conversation with Lance Stander, CEO of Supeformance, at Forbes.com.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

 

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