This link is currently down
thanks to the legal types at NBC,
who apparently think we're
trying to get away with something.
We're trying to figure out what?

OK, so the hard truth is that I'm an analog guy trapped in a digital age. And I bet I'm not alone in feeling that way. Have to admit that what's closest to my octane-fueled, upper-lubed heart (not to mention my so-called writing career) orbits around machinery an ordinary person with a bit of mechanical savvy could usually sort out with a hammer, a pair of vise grips, a channel-lock, assorted flat-blade and Phillips screwdrivers, a test light for those maddening, mysterious & occasionally malevolent electrical problems and sets of proper combination wrenches & socket sets in metric, SAE and British Standard flavors...
(Although not necessarily in that order)

Heartwarming examples below:

I take great comfort in the straightforward simplicity, cleverness, charm, character and seat-of-the-pants, "I can figger this out" personal interface that go with those kinds of machines and that era of motoring and mechanic-ing.
And, again, I know I'm not alone.

But life goes on and progress is like a skin rash you can't get rid of. And so, as a matter of professional pride (and also so I don't look like a complete doofus when I'm talking with high-school-age budding enthusiasts who have been kind enough to read and like my books), I try to stay somewhat abreast of what's going on in the modern automotive world. Not to mention the modern world at large, although it's hard not to be consumed and subsequently disheartened by the maelstrom of shock, disbelief and bewilderment that comes as a by-product of our daily news briefings.

Hey, smaller topics are easier to understand!
So back to cars.
Modern cars.
The ones that continually seem to be doing more and more of our thinking (not to mention our driving) for us. On the one hand, it's hard to be opposed to a device that tries to pull you (or, at the very least, slap you alert and warn you) back into your proper lane when you're about to become the hemoglobin-coated hood ornament on an oncoming Mack or Peterbilt 18-wheeler. But, on the other, what's also happening is that modern technology is subliminally absolving the human driver from the need to PAY F**KING ATTENTION to what the hell is going on out there. And by "out there," I'm referring to the roadway and centerline up ahead through the windshield rather than the Sirius station or SATNAV address you're trying to locate or the damn cell phone call (or, worse yet, text message) you're trying to place or answer.

Bottom line is that the biggest highway safety problem we have is that there's too damn much distraction and too many people are no longer fascinated, interested or emotionally involved in the craft, skills and multi-leveled activity we call "driving." Don't think me whining about it is going to make much difference, but it's both sad and terribly dangerous. I keep thinking of those chilling lines from the epic "2001: A Space Odyssey":
"Open the pod door, Hal."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, David..."

And don't even get me started on what's happened to the diagnostic aspect of car repair. Sure, today's cars are superior in every respect to those I so fondly remember from ze olt dayz. Performance. Quality. Reliability. Value, even. But something in my gut twists just a little when, instead of listening for a metallic "tic-tic-tic" under a valve cover through a long screwdriver's handle or chasing a miss with a test light, I see somebody plug in a futuristic diagnostic thingamajig that looks like the goodwill gift mistaken for an intergalactic weapon that Michael Rennie [as Klaatu] whips out in the brilliant 1951 classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

But the point is that the "tech" (they don't have mechanics at car shops and dealerships anymore) reads out the codes and knows exactly what gizmo or component to replace.
Not repair.
Think I'm turning into a grumpy old man.
You kids get off my lawn!!!

But, like I said, I have to at least try to keep up with it all, and that's why I'm so damn thankful for MAMA. No, not that one (although I'm sure as heck thankful for her, too!). No, this one is the Midwest Automotive Media Association (whom I've mentioned many times before), an august, hardworking organization that does it's very best to serve as a live-wire conduit between the greater automotive world (and particularly  car manufacturers) and the enormous, amorphous, look-what-washed-up-on-the-beach morass we currently refer to as The Automotive Media. Mind you, in this day and age, the traditional, few-and-familiar magazine and newspapers titles and major-market TV and radio outlets have been essentially overrun and consumed by a plethora of web-based Fact & Opinion Vendors of greatly varying impact and import.
Welcome to the Brave New World of News.
Don't like these facts? Just keep changing the web address (or channel) until you land on something more to your liking.

But anything's good when you're benefiting from it, right? And that's why I love the folks at MAMA, because they give me all sorts of opportunities to hear from the manufacturers, their PR departments and distribution networks and other important automotive entities--in person, no less--and also sample the products themselves. And, even in this way-too-virtual day and age, there's nothing like a hands-on test drive...
Did I mention they feed us?
Good food, too.
So that's what I was doing on a beautifully sunny fall day at the excellent and accommodating Autobahn Motorsports Country Club near Joliet, Illinois, sampling a sumptuous buffet of not only breakfast and lunch, but of the latest and hottest offerings of many of our most important car companies.

And if you don't think an ageing automotive throwback like yrs. trly. deserves such favored treatment, let me remind you that it's hard for car companies to know who out there claiming to be legit media has a following and who might not. Especially with all the "niche" media out there (I'm one, smaller, alternate-language/alternate-lifestyle outlets are some, etc.) and the car companies surely eager to reach "through the clutter" to those audiences.
So I ate with impunity and drove the piss out of those cars in the pursuit of pure, journalistic integrity.
Did'ja try the BBQ ribs?
And now, to the driving:
I'm combining some of the impressions from the MAMA Spring Rallye at Road America with those from the recent Fall Rallye at Autobahn, but the bottom line is that, at both events, we were offered opportunities for track driving, road touring and off-roading in various vehicles selected by the manufacturers for those purposes. As you may well imagine, I devoted most of my personal time to the racetrack, but I did enjoy the road work and off-roading as well.

Didn't much want to like the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth "cover version" of Mazda's enduringly excellent Miata/MX-5 line, but have to admit it was stylish, well-built and fun to drive. It's a little "softer" than the MX-5, which many boulevardieres, secretaries and hairdressers may find to their liking (is that too insensitive/politically incorrect?), and the turbo motor is likewise a good match for real-world motoring.

As for the Fiat 500 Abarth, it remains one of those rare, Sprite-like cars that make you smile walking up to it and smile again and again while driving it. Not particularly fast and cul-de-sac rather than corner-apexingly nimble but, again, something that works well and yields a bit of joy in the real world.
Hey, they can't all be racecars...
A big jump up the performance ladder (but from the same, Frankenstein-monster/made-up-off-maybe-too-many-parts FCA brand conglomerate) are the 2019 Dodge Challenger RT Scat Pack Widebody (track-friendly suspension, 6-pot Brembo brakes, something like 500hp) and its "if-a-lot-is-good-more-must-be-better" Big Brother, the supercharged 2019 Challenger Hellcat Redeye with an additional 200hp! Give or take a few. 

Now the amazing thing about these monsters is that they're real cars that you could conceivably use every day (although snow and ice might be a bit dodgy with all that pavement-rippling power on tap) and have a solidity, balance, build quality and refinement that is massively transformed compared to their sixties ponycar ancestors.
Not to mention actual performance...WOW!
And the even more amazing thing is that FCA lets MAMA use a small squadron of these brutes (along with some other FCA offerings) as "Student Driver" vehicles for MAMA's track-day school at Gingerman Raceway in August. And the damn things just run and run and run...
Oh, they're still a little raw and rambunctious (what do you expect with that kind of muscle under the hood?) but Lord knows there are buyers who love that sort of thing.   
Think of them as King Kong and Mighty Joe Young in trim haircuts and Tommy Hilfiger casuals.

Speaking of fashion, this is the not-so-freshly-beamed-down-from-outer-space 2019 BMW i8 Hybrid. I hadn't really spent much time in one before, and I must say:
a) It's beautifully conceived, engineered and executed
b) Like Tesla's offerings, it's going to find a ready up-market of trend-conscious thought leaders
c) The quality of materials and attention to detail are exemplary
d) It drives really nice...even on a racetrack. Like all BMWs, it's competence personified.
e) It's odd. And kinda hard to get in and out of thanks to those wide sills and seagull-taking-flight, angle-hinged doors.
Taken as a whole, the i8 is hybrid future-think engineering and social consciousness as a haute couture fashion statement.
Hey, some people can wear Halston and some can't. And then you've got to take into account being able to afford it...

If there was a personal Star of the Day, subcategory Cars I Could Never Dream of Actually Owning, it's got to be the Mercedes-AMG GTR (presented below in a particularly ostentatious shade of bright lizard green). I've driven these things three different times now (twice at Road America and here again at Autobahn) and they are absolutely stunning in both sheer performance and also the uncaring, consummate, almost arrogant aplomb they achieve it with. Porsche doesn't come to the MAMA track functions any more (I'm assuming they think they don't have to, as whom among Porsche customers gets their car opinions from local media?) and, in their absence, this Mercedes reigns as king.
Wait, make that emperor.

Oh, it's about as subtle as a blitzkrieg (Still too soon? Bad choice of similes?) but, Jeez, is it ever superb. And, at least by the feel of it and the usual Mercedes reputation, likely to stay that way. 'Nuff said.
Next up was Lexus' hot-ticket LC500 and, right after that, I tried Nissan's awe-inspiring GTR. And this may be a holdover from the Anglophile/Europhile sportycar and motorcycle prejudices I harbored when the first decent cars and bikes started arriving on our shores by way of the Pacific rather than the Atlantic Ocean. Bottom line is that while both cars have incredible engineering and convenience features and Godzilla performance numbers, they left me kinda cold relative to actual, hands-on fit and feel. Might not be a fair comparison, but I kept thinking of those pinched-in audiophile types who go on at interminable length about tuners and decks and woofers and tweeters and bass resonance and clarity and...well, it's really about the damn MUSIC YOU'RE PLAYING, isn't it?
Whatever it was I loved about how the AMG above felt in my hands (and under my butt), I definitely didn't find it in the Lexus or the Nissan. That said, neither one was built to be a track car, and a lot of folks love what they offer and the price at which those attributes are offered. You can say the same about the Hyundai Genesis line, which is not to my personal taste but offers incredible value-for-money for people looking more for class and luxury than corner apexes and lap times.

Just so you don't think I have it in for the Japanese, my second choice track car of the entire day (behind the $165,000-plus Mercedes) was my perennial favorite, the Mazda MX-5 (nee Miata). Some people think it's a "girl's sports car" because it doesn't have 500 horsepower, but I'm here to tell you it's the best affordable "everyman's sports car" in recorded human history. Still.

And the Mazda 6 sedan behind it is pretty good, too. My wife has one, my daughter-in-law Tara has one and my son has one of their CX-5 crossovers. A lot of it is because I appreciate how Mazda supports motorsports on everything from the grand to the grassroots level. But it's also because they're good, sporty and responsive from behind the wheel and offer excellent value for money.
End of commercial.  

Got to do a little off-roading thanks to Jeep and some Baja-style trucking as well (see below) and although I tend to want to go faster through the woodsy stuff, it's really starting to grow on me. As is pounding down a bumpy rut-trail in a cloud of dust with something roughly the size of a light cruiser:

Best for Last Department:

Couldn't resist a try in the 2019 Ford Bullitt Mustang (above) and what a joy it is! It takes all those traditional, fun Mustang DNA traces and brings them up to date (and then some) without losing their essence. It's surefooted where the original Mustang could be a little skittish, the sound is phenomenal and the short-throw, Q-Ball-topped shifter is, quite simply, the best I've ever encountered in a street-legal production car.
And let me just tell you what you can do with your damn paddle shifters...

Last but hardly least and Heart-throb of the Entire Day was the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio shown

Now I've never been much of an SUV guy (if you want to carry a lot of stuff, get a blessed minivan) but this thing is just a delight. It's based on the same basic engine/chassis package as Alfa's much-praised Giulia sedan and, just like that car, it has more charm, character, performance, style and sensual feel through the seat of your pants and the controls than anything else I can think of. Don't know what it is about Alfas (hey, I'm Alfa queer...I admit it!) but there's unbelievable warmth and emotional content here. And all the magazine pundits are saying the same thing, so it's not just me.
So ends commercial #2
We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

famous guest speaker and another guy:

interested non-members welcome

Have you done your Holiday Shopping yet?
(if so, we HATE you!)
If not, please consider the fine items on
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like fr'instance:
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Finzio's Sinclair Holiday Greeting Cards

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Or howsabout a fine, comfy, cozy, unbelievably
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(just perfect for watching the once-hapless/now hopeful Chicago Bears lose a game they should have won. Like they just did. Dammit!)

  Or, if you really want to make a lasting impression, howsabout buying yourself or some other deserving soul a near-everlasting SPONSORSHIP in the very last book in "BS" Levy's celebrated The Last Open Road series.


Yeah, I know this is starting to sound like one of those annoying,
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But, hey, if you like the show*
fork over the dough, huh?
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