Thursday, July 4, 2019

Portland, Oregon Calendar of Automotive Events for Summer 2019

A scene from a previous Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance

Portland, Oregon Calendar of Automotive Events for Summer 2019
By Marrs

*All titles are clickable links to the event homepage.

Cars & Coffee
Saturdays, 8am 2019
Weekly gathering of elite and unique vehicles at the World of Speed Museum just south of Portland in Wilsonville, OR. Some weeks have a featured marque or particular theme. Event runs rain or shine. No pre-registration or cost to attend or display your car, just show up!

Beaches Cruise-In
Wednesdays, June-September, 2019
Weekly event held on Wednesday nights June through September at Portland International Raceway (PIR), features up to 1,000 (!!!) cars on show, live music on stage. food, family fun, and drag races later in the day.

Rose Cup Races
July 12-14, 2019
This is the 59th running of the oldest race event West of the Mississippi, and one of the very first major track events at PIR. Part of the city's Rose Festival events, and held at a public park (yup, PIR is a city park!), this always signals the start of the hardcore summer racing season. Rose Cup Races on Facebook.

Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance
July 21, 2019
The top-shelf experience for anyone with a passion for automobiles in the Pacific Northwest. The featured classes for 2019 are, 120 Years of Packard, Over 70 Years of Porsche 356, and 100 Years of Bentley. Whether your interest is purely mechanical, or lies in the appreciation of the slender lines of a bygone era, families can enjoy a day spent among the cool shaded lawn of Pacific University while communing with old and new friends alike, all who share your passion for elegant motorcars. A vineyard tour is available to previous day, Saturday, July 20th.

Portland Vintage Racing Festival (formerly: Portland Historic Races)
July 25-28, 2019
One of the finest motoring events in the Oregon, this show has hundreds of show cars on display, over 200 vintage race cars competing on the track in various classes, and many more automotive gems to be spotted in the parking lot. The event features a weekend full of vintage racing, Car Corrals from various area clubs, an art contest, food, kids area, vendors, parade of show cars, Land-Rover off road experience, and a slalom course that anyone may participate in.

Monte Shelton Northwest Classic Motorcar Rally
(Formerly the Monte Shelton NW Classic Rally)
August 1-4, 2019
An extended weekend rally/road tour for pre-1981 vehicles roaming the beautiful Oregon countryside in this beloved regional event, sponsored by the Alfa Romeo club. The rally website says, "Each year the Northwest Classic Rally visits a wonderful resort where we end Friday’s and Saturday’s rallying and touring with social activities including optional car washing, general tire-kicking and banquet dinners, and we conclude the event on Sunday morning with the Awards Brunch."
See a tribute to Monte Shelton here: Remembering Monte Shelton

Adult Soapbox Derby
August 17, 2019
An annual event that features homebuilt, and incredibly creative, soapbox racers of all types and themes that compete in a series of heats to crown one team the Adult Soapbox Champions of Portland! Mt. Tabor is the setting for this event that feels like the city's biggest neighborhood BBQ with camaraderie and good times for attendees, food, beer and some souvenirs available for purchase. Event runs from 10a-4ish pm.

Lake Oswego 18th annual Collector Car & Classic Boat Show
August 25th, 2019
"Every year, the Oswego Heritage Council proudly presents the Annual Collector Car & Classic Boat Show. What started out as a handful of local classic cars on display in Millennium Plaza has expanded to a huge show with cars and boats from all over the area. The show now draws thousands of people and has takes place in two of beautiful Lake Oswego's parks.
As always, there is no cost for admission to any of the event’s locations. This is the only show in the tri-county area that combines collector cars and classic boats." -Lake Oswego Heritage Council

All British Field Meet (ABFM) and SOVREN Races
September 6-8, 2019
If you like a Triumph Stag as much as a dark ale, or if a Bentley 3.5 litre gets your knickers in a tizzy, then this is the show for you. 800+ British cars gather at PIR for what has to be the most laid-back and utterly enjoyable show of the season. Wind down the summer with racing, cars on display, food and all around good times. The event celebrates a featured marque every year. Be sure to check the Event Schedule here to ensure you see what you want. The car show is Saturday only, and the swap meet is Sunday only for example.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Hispano Suiza Readies a Comeback from Two Different Builders

Hispano Suiza Carmen concept.
Hispano Suiza Readies a Comeback from Two Different Builders

Hispano Suiza is one of those companies that not many are familiar with today outside of the Concours d'Elegance crowd. The long, powerful lines of the hand-built Spanish automobiles were never common things owing to their high price and low production numbers, but nonetheless could be found prowling the fashionable avenues of Paris, the damp and narrow streets of London, or the dusty roads of early Hollywood. You had to BE somebody or KNOW somebody to be on the Hispano Suiza client list.

Hispano Suiza were always rare, elegant, and expensive.
The company went down a long and convoluted path of ownership and manufacture of various products besides automobiles at certain points in it's history to include aircraft engines and weapons during the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The details of which are perhaps best left to the magicians at Wikipedia who can unravel the company's lineage better than we could.

Jay Leno's custom-bodied Hispano-Suiza built around an aircraft engine.

Step through your time-portal into the year 2019 and the world is yet again presented with a pair of vehicle models bearing the name Hispano Suiza, but no different than a century prior, these brands are run completely independently of one another with each claiming rights to the name. While we let the lawyers sort that all out, let's have a look at the two cars and see if we can determine which is most likely to become a viable automotive product in the near future.

Hispano Suiza Maguari HS1 GTC

This concept is presented by a Swiss manufacturer headed up by Austrian Erwin Leo Himmel. His version is based on an Audi R8 and was originally presented and panned for production in 2009-11 but this stork never got off the ground. 

Himmel states that he would like to build 300 production examples of the vehicle. We are curious, since its based on the previous R8, will the new incarnation still use the older R8 architecture or switch to the newest one? Most likely it will retain the underpinnings of the earlier car because the styling has been completed for over a decade and to refit to the newer chassis would be akin to starting from scratch.

The Maguari HS1 GTC uses the Lamborghini/Audi V-10 to power it's wheels and is planned to be a super car competitor in an already crowded field.

Hispano Suiza Carmen

The Carmen comes to us from Miguel Suque Mateu, grandson of the company founder, and is styled loosely after the 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6C Dubonnet Xenia. The back half seems to reflect this design language the most, and the rear view is something to behold.

This car is not based on any existing chassis and will be built from the ground up and is intended more as a grand tourer than a pure sports car.

The Carmen uses duel electric motors to propel itself silently down the roadway, surely a bit more modern in concept if not by appearances. The plan is to build 19 examples at a price of $2.2-million each.

Spun wheel cover on the Dubonnet Xenia.
Modern interpretation of the wheel cover on the Carmen.

So what do you think, which would you rather be seen pulling up to a fancy Basque restaurant in? 

Friday, December 21, 2018

King Size Bows Make a King Size Impression on Lexus Buyers

King Size Bows Make a King Size Impression on Lexus Buyers

Some of the most memorable car commercials in popular culture are the “December to Remember” series of Holiday TV ads from Lexus, now in their 19th year, but not necessarily for the vehicles themselves but rather for the giant red bow that has become synonymous with the brand at this celebratory time of year. 

You know the commercials, but do you know the story about how the huge folded ribbons came to be THE symbol of automotive Holiday gift-giving?

“Once you put a bow on it its a present!” 

The original concept began in 2000 when Lynda King of Southern California couldn’t find a bow big enough to adorn the VW she was planning to gift her son for his 16th birthday, so she started a business that did just that, creating King Size Bows who’s name, rather conveniently, tells you everything you need to know about what the company produces. When it came time for Lynda to retire in 2015, the mother-daughter duo of Jan Kingaard and Amber Kingaard-Hughes purchased King Size Bows and updated the company and its offerings by way of their combined skills, in Jan’s case as a former marketing consultant, and in Amber’s case as a talented designer of some of her own clothing and accessories since childhood. It was an especially meaningful collaboration for the pair after Amber had to seek out new work opportunities when a serious car accident left her without the ability to speak for a period of time.  

Lexus came knocking on King Size Bow’s door in 2003 and used the product in their commercials that year. I personally remember the response was immediate and massive. Everyone was talking about the ads for one reason or another. I can recall comments ranging from admonitions from one spouse to another for not having the forethought to put a big bow on top of their own new car purchase, to derision among others for giving such an extravagant gift as a brand new Lexus. Whatever the case, it got people talking about the brand, and for Lexus, who was still a relative newcomer to the US market and struggling with brand recognition on the roadways among the car-buying public, this was an exciting reaction. The value of those bows may run in the several hundreds of dollars each, but the goodwill and brand recognition they brought to the Lexus brand is likely worth many tens of millions at this point. Simply put, Lexus couldn’t have come up with a more effective strategy to get buyers onto dealer lots. 

If you have a keen eye, you may have even noticed that the design of the bow has changed over the years. Amber explains, “We started with a very large, smooth, multi-loop bow and evolved the design into the distinctive twisted loop edition you’ve seen in the Christmas commercials and showrooms for the last few years.” Materials are largely dependent upon the eventual use and location, indoor bows will generally last longer and can be made from more delicate materials while outdoor bows may be weatherized and feature stronger structural components.

King Size Bows may be known primarily for their association with Lexus but you’ve probably seen the company’s unique products in many other places including Mardi Gras parade floats, christening of new jet aircraft, the expansion of the Golden Gate Bridge ceremony, and even atop a giant gift box that Channing Tatum popped out of for Ellen’s televised 60th birthday celebration. Magic Mike approved… now that’s some street cred! More mundane uses include use at hotels, casinos and Main Street USA’s all over the country for fundraisers, honoring the various branches of the military, and so on. They make bows in a variety of sizes and materials, that according to Amber include “creating 18-inch to 15-feet WOW bows that universally bring joy to the giver as well as the receiver.”

Amber tells me that, “nearly all (car) brands use bows in their showrooms, to decorate their dealerships, and as gifts to car buyers.” She explained that dealers often buy their Signature bows by the dozen to offer to new car buyers. 

King Size Bow’s customers can order directly from them online, or by appointment at their Costa Mesa, California studio. The ready-made 30” x 40” Signature bows are $49.99 and stocked for immediate shipment in case you’re giving away cars this year like the neighborhood Oprah. Those wishing to order a Lexus-dealer style bow, or to take advantage of KSB’s design services for a custom product, will need to call them directly to discuss specific use, materials, and deadlines. 

Will you ever look at the classic Lexus Holiday ads the same way after learning the names and faces of the creatives behind this uniquely identifiable product? Just another example (remember CocoMats?) of industrious Americans finding a niche in the automotive market and filling it, all while keeping production right here in the USA. 

This is not a sponsored post and no products were requested or received in exchange for this article. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

MotoArigato Top 25 Articles of All Time

With the year winding down we take a look back over our illustrious past to dig up some of the articles that are favorites among our writers and readers. The list below is presented in no particular order but reveals some of the more informative, funny and engaging articles we have published since our inception 9-years ago. We'd also like to offer a massive "thank you" to all of our readers, sponsors and contributors and we are very excited to bring you a wider variety of stories for the new year with the addition of new staff writers that you will be introduced to in the coming weeks and months, as well as contributions from readers covering everything from their own personal restoration projects to cross-country road trips. All in all, this site works because you enjoy what we post here, so we want to include more of our readers as active participants and content creators.

  1. Director Guillermo del Toro Builds Himself Replica of "The Car"
  2. Bathurst 1000 Live Commentary: Drunk and Drunkerer
  3. JC Unit One; On the Road In Johnny Cash's Custom Tour Bus
  4. Forest Grove Concours d'Elegance Follow Up
  5. All Ages Love Kidd's Toy Museum
  6. The True Story behind Cocomats, an Iconic American Company  
  7. Big Ass Engine Sounds Like a Rave DJ  
  8. Space Shuttle Cockpit 3D View in HD Makes Us All Giggly Inside  
  9. When You Think of Offroading in a Benz, Is This What Comes to Mind
  10. The Worst Car I Ever Owned Was A Series II Jaguar XJ6  
  11. Ever Wondered Why You Can't Pump Your Own Gas In Oregon?  
  12. Need a Bright Red G-class In a Hurry? 
  13. Iron Chef Battle Secret Ingredient: Moonshine! 
  14. What Became of Gaddafi's Rocket Car?   
  15. All British Field Meet Makes Us Want to do Something Dirty with an E-Type  
  16. Steve Jobs Magical Barcode License Plate Mystery Revealed 
  17. "Black Beauty" Artwork Featured on io9 
  18. The Mystery of the Ducati In the Living Room 
  19. Portland's Adult Soapbox Derby Is Giant Beer Garden of Fun  
  20. Toto, I Don't Think We're In 1950 Anymore
  21. Cars In The Park; Mercedes-Benz and BMW Edition  
  22. The Last 100 hours of Aryton Senna's Life  
  23. Ever Wonder How They Ship F1 Cars? 
  24. CLK55 P.O.S. Edition -or- Enter the Lion Vagina Car   
  25. Oldies but Goodies; A Guide to Buying and Driving a Used W202 Mercedes

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van News; New Plant & Amazon Fleet

Mercedes-Benz Van News: New Sprinter plant in North Charleston SC & Amazon Becomes Sprinter's Biggest Customer

  • New part-by-part production facility with body shop, paint shop and final assembly opens in time for the U.S. market launch of the new Mercedes- Benz Sprinter
  • First Sprinter out of new production delivered to Amazon:
  • New Partnership with Amazon includes the delivery of 20,000 vans for small businesses across the U.S., making the online retailer the world's largest Sprinter customer
  • Investment of approximately 500 million U.S. Dollars in new plant
  • State-of-the-art intelligent production – with driverless transport systems, paperless documentation and exceptional digital training tools
  • More than 900 employees at start of production; up to 1,300 team members planned by the end of 2020
Mercedes-Benz Vans has opened its new Sprinter plant for the North American market. After considering the high market potential for the new Sprinter in North America, the decision to build a new production facility in time for the launch of the new Sprinter model in the USA was announced in March 2015. The facility in North Charleston, South Carolina, is now up and running following a two year construction period. The total investment adds up to approx. 500 million dollars with more than 900 people working at the expanded North Charleston site, that number is set to grow up to 1,300 by the end of 2020. According to estimations, suppliers will create an additional 600 new jobs in and around North Charleston.
"The USA is already the second largest market for our Sprinter today. With the new, state-of-the-art production site in South Carolina, we will be able to supply our customers in North America even faster and with more flexibility in the future. This makes better use of the dynamic market potential, placing our new plant in North Charleston as a central component of our growth strategy
`Mercedes-Benz Vans goes global'," said Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.
"The new plant in North Charleston combines our global expertise and experience resulting in a state-of-the-art facility in every respect. It is a valuable asset that completes our global production network. Our priority at Mercedes-Benz Vans during the planning process for this facility was maximum flexibility. This enables us to react in an agile and anticipatory manner to current developments and customer desires. Additionally, it guarantees excellent quality within our proven, standardized production system," said Frank Klein, Head of Operations Mercedes-Benz Vans.
To coincide with the opening, Mercedes-Benz Vans also announced it will be producing Amazon branded Sprinter vans for the retail company's new Delivery Service Partner program at the new plant. Small business owners will work with third-party fleet management companies to procure their customized vans and get special leases in order to keep their startup costs low.

"We're proud to partner with Mercedes-Benz Vans to contribute to local economies through the order of Amazon branded Sprinter vans produced at their new plant in North Charleston," said Dave Clark, Amazon's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations. "Thanks to the tremendous response to Amazon's new Delivery Service Partner program, we are excited to increase our original order of branded Sprinter vans to 20,000 vehicles so new small businesses will have access to a customized fleet to power deliveries of Amazon packages."
U.S. market launch for the new Sprinter
The opening could not come at a better time – 2018 marks the U.S. market launch of the new generation of the highly acclaimed van.
The third generation of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter defines the top class of large vans in all sub-disciplines. Its classic strengths have been improved upon and are complemented by new intelligent products and services.
Among the outstanding innovations in the North American market are the new multimedia systems MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), the control and display concept in the cockpit, as well as ergonomically shaped seats and modern assistance systems - some of them were taken over by the car sector and, for the first time, found their way into a Mercedes-Benz van.
New standards are being set in the field of digitization and connectivity, which is why the new Sprinter can be described as the first van in a new category with a holistic overall system solution. The previously available version of the proven Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was in high demand among customers in the USA, the second largest market in the world for Sprinter vans.
Since 2006, Semi-Knocked-Down kits have been assembled in North Charleston for imported Sprinter vans and since 2015 also for imported Metris Midsize Vans (known in other markets as "Vito"). With the new plant and the "made in USA" vehicles, the business area will be able to serve the growing demand of North American customers more economically and significantly reduce delivery times in this market.
The new Sprinter will be made under the brands Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner.

Additional facilities including body shop, paint shop and final assembly
Mercedes-Benz has put the full weight of its technical expertise into the North Charleston location. The new factory expands upon the existing Mercedes-Benz Vans assembly plant with additional facilities, including body shop, paint shop and final assembly. The company is implementing its most innovative production technologies and concepts at the location, making it one of the most modern of its kind in North America and an integral part of Mercedes-Benz Vans' global production network.
The expansion of the production facility has tripled its footprint, now covering 222 acres or nearly 10 million square ft. The production and office building area comes now to around 41 acres or 1.8 million square ft., supplemented by free and logistics space. Central to the innovations are connectivity and digital communication in manufacturing due to continuously growing demands for flexibility and efficiency in production and to the increasing diversity of vehicle variants and sales figures continuing to rise.
Employees are also benefitting from increased digitalization as it minimizes routine and repetitive tasks, giving them more time for higher-value work. The outstanding innovations include self-driving transport systems, the shift to paperless, digital communication and new opportunities provided by virtual employee training.
Autonomous transport systems deliver free-flowing traffic
Like other locations within the Mercedes-Benz Vans production network, the plant in North Charleston is equipped with driverless transport systems – which can travel more than 40 miles in one shift. They are controlled through networking with the plant's IT system and via RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. The associated transponders, incorporated into the factory floors, receive the necessary driving commands. The vehicles can also use Bluetooth to communicate with one another and coordinate automatically, thus guaranteeing smooth traffic flow at all times.
Paperless documentation with RFID technology
Among the biggest transformations is the paperless, digital production documentation, based on RFID technology. It means the position of a specific component can be pinpointed precisely at any given time with contactless, automatic identification and localization. This information allows employees in logistics and production to feasibly adjust to process changes. Moreover, quality assurance personnel can ascertain that the correct part has been installed in the correct vehicle. Relative to conventional processes, RFID technology has made it possible to eliminate several steps of documentation, with one example being the manual scanning of barcodes. This not only saves time and money but also reduces the number of potential sources of error.
Effective training with digital tools
At every Mercedes-Benz plant, personnel remains the most important factor when it comes to quality. At the North Charleston plant, conventional methods are amplified by digital training tools to help prepare them for their jobs. Due to the diversity of body types, powertrain concepts, body lengths, tonnages, cargo-space heights and equipment options, the new Sprinter is available in more than 1,700 variants. Each and every employee has to learn around 900 individual process steps in a specific order to enable them to build the new Sprinter. With the utilization of digital tools, this process is now efficient and sustainable. In assembly, employees can use an on-screen approach similar to that of a computer game to familiarize themselves with procedures and components. Previously, training for assembly work was conducted purely on pre-production vehicles. Training of paint-shop personnel is likewise aided by digital techniques. For example, they are able to use Virtual Reality (VR) spectacles and VR paint guns for realistic simulation of the painting process.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Lexus Goes to a Dark Place with Special Edition LX

Lexus Goes to a Dark Place with Special Edition LX

PLANO, Texas (October 31, 2018) – The LX is more than just a luxury SUV. It’s an inspiration for those who desire a higher-level driving experience. Already equipped for the road with high quality materials and exhilarating performance, this luxury SUV takes all the worry out of decision-making.    
In November, Lexus will introduce the next exclusive designed model in the Inspiration Series. The LX features a stealth Black Onyx exterior that rides high on 21-inch black alloy wheels and center caps. This new beauty also leads with a black front grille and dark chrome surround.
The LX is also enhanced with black trim for the headlamps, foglights and windows along with smoked headlamp lenses.  The rear of this flagship SUV continues the black theme with black chrome accents for the taillamps, license plate and back door.
An exclusive Moonlight White Semi-Aniline Leather Trim with a black headliner complement the black exterior. To help complete the thoughtfully crafted luxury SUV, the carpet, cargo mats and key gloves all provide unique finish to the interior.

All LX Inspiration Series come with heated and ventilated front and second-row outboard seats. The Climate Concierge feature automatically monitors the temperature of the four separate climate zones and adjusts not only the fans, but also the temperature of the seats and steering wheel. In addition, the “LX” projector door lamps round out this Luxury package.
Every LX Inspiration Series also includes the following features: Rear Seat Entertainment System, 19-speaker, 450-watt Mark Levinson®1 Reference Surround Sound audio system and Color Head-Up Display (HUD).
In addition, a Cool box, wireless charger and heated wood & leather-trimmed steering wheel complete the package.
Available just in time for the winter holidays, only 500 luxury owners will be able to drive the exclusive LX Inspiration Series home. It will go on sale with a starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $100,420.
Like all LX 570s, the LX Inspiration Series is powered by a 5.7-liter V8 engine with 383 horsepower and 403 lb.-ft. of torque available at 3,600 rpm. Equipped with an 8-speed automatic transmission, the LX is capable of towing up to 7,000-lbs.

Adapts to Any Terrain
The LX’s sturdy body-on-frame structure is combined with a multi-terrain system to enhance the driver’s control over challenging, varied landscapes. The system adapts to five different types of terrain — Rock, Rock and Dirt, Mogul, Loose Rock and Mud and Sand.
Low-range gearing provides slow-speed crawling capability for handling steep off-road hills and uneven terrain.  Driver’s also get additional support from the LX’s innovative Crawl Control system that is fortified with Turn Assist, Hill-Start Assist Control and Variable Gear Ratio Steering.

Total Visibility
Drivers are armed with the standard Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA). To help keep the driver’s eyes on the road, the LX puts more information directly in line of sight with a Color Head-Up Display (HUD) on the windshield. This system shows the vehicle speed, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control information icons and Intuitive Park Assist.
Peace of Mind
The LX Inspiration gets the standard Lexus Safety System+ that includes Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert (LDA), Intelligent High-Beam headlamps and All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
Staying Connected
A 12.3-inch navigation display with Remote Touch Interface (RTI) heads a list of multimedia and connectivity features that keep the LX on the cutting edge of user tech. The multimedia display screen can be split into three sections to show different functions, such as navigation, audio and climate control information.
“It’s always our goal to exceed our guests’ expectations,” said David Christ, group vice president and general manager, Lexus division. “We expect the LX Inspiration Series to continue that tradition with its customized features.  We look forward to this new addition to the lineup and are excited for our guests to Experience Amazing.”  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Dear Hugh Hefner, I’m Sorry I Snuck Into Your House

Dear Hugh Hefner, I’m Sorry I Snuck Into Your House
by Marrs

It was the spring of 2002 and I was entertaining visitors from Canada who were guests in my home in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles. While coming back from a late lunch, our mutual attention was grabbed by a new Bentley Arnage outfitted with “Gumball 3000” decals and emblazoned with sponsors, followed closely by a likewise-liveried Ferrari, then another exotic and another followed until this less-than-subtle convoy passed by completely. My guests had no idea what was going on as I whipped my supercharged Mercedes W202 around right there in the middle of Hollywood Blvd., and gave chase. We didn't travel far, stopping at a hotel near the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall at that same storied intersection. We parked and approached a large group of douchily-dressed Eurotrash and new-monied young Americans, who began surrounding a table helmed by a serious-looking woman with a clipboard. Clipboards are never good people. 

One of my friends snagged a pamphlet from the table and we soon realized we were at the very last stop of that year’s Gumball 3000 cross-country rally, this one from NYC to LA, and here we observed preparations for the teams to receive their invites to the closing event to be held at the Playboy Mansion. The pamphlet turned out to be the official route book, issued to every team, and each contained a page for every stop along the way where the route book would receive an official stamp indicating the successful completion of that stage. Without ALL of these stamps, there was no entry to the party.

At the time, I was working with a Director friend on various types of documentaries, ranging from band expose´s to following around crime scene cleanup crews, so the concept of making our way past those infamous Playboy Mansion gates to record the debauchery within, even in a less-than-authorized manner, was an overwhelming urge. I called my Director buddy, (I’ll use initials only for the sake of their privacy) “V”, and another friend, “R”, who I knew as a McGuyver-like entity from my younger days who could sham, scam, or scheme his way into anywhere. While V worked to assemble the necessary camera and sound equipment, R arrived at the hotel and we begun to plot out entry into this party.

In short order, we had a plan. I walked up to the table lady and asked for my credentials, with R standing just behind her and peeking over her shoulder. As she searched the list for my name, he scanned the pages for a name he could make out and remember. After a few minutes she apologized but dismissed me as unwelcome without being on the sacred list. I sulked but walked away, knowing we already had a path forward. I reconvened with R on the sidelines and he gave me the name of some reporter he noticed on the “Press” list, which was perfect since we would be carrying around cameras and a boom mic. One major problem still stood in our way, we didn't have the stamps. R said, “I’ve got this” and disappeared for about an hour while I waited for V to arrive with our equipment.

Our Canadian guests were taken back to my place where they would be less bored, and more importantly, where they could act as our “get out of jail” card should things go totally sideways. Would the Hollywood police station even accept Monopoly money? 

By this time, shuttle buses were arriving to take guests the 20-minute drive to the far end of Beverly Hills where the Mansion sits, bordering Bel Air, and just as we began to wonder if this was going to even work at all, R showed up with a smile as big as the Hollywood Hills themselves. He proudly opened the route book to show that it was now completely stamped from beginning to end. I asked how the Hell did he manage this trick and he producer a large art eraser that he had meticulously carved into the shape of the official seal, broke open several various colored ink pens, and then used their contents to stamp each page with the correct color. Damn, was he ever the man for this job! 
This time V approached and used the booklet to obtain passes for us, acting as the camera and sound guys, and even managed to grab a coveted third invite for our “field producer.”

We boarded the shuttle van without incident, and thankfully the rally participants were already too far down the path of intoxication to note our presence, busy boasting, catcalling other attendees, and generally speaking far louder than they realized as rich, drunk assholes are wont to do. 

As we passed through the heavily secured gates of the Playboy Mansion the air of infamy set upon us as the main house came into view, elegantly lighted on a warm spring evening. We disembarked up front where a semi-circle of exotics bordered a massive fountain, and walked through a patio area towards the famous Grotto where the sound of music and cast of multi-colored lights lured us. On the way, Steve-O, still riding high at the time as a star of MTV’s Jackass show, saw our cameras and couldn’t resist talking to us. R, V, and I all looked at one-another and we powered up our equipment and started to film. “This is it, we’re doing this” I thought to myself. Steve-O was pretty trashed already and proceeded to explain to us that “the only thing better then being invited to the Playboy Mansion was getting kicked out of the Playboy Mansion.” I don’t know how all that worked out for him. 

We moved ahead, spotting big stars and unknowns alike who perfectly captured the popular cultural tone of the era (Matthew McConaughey, Rachael Hunter, Donna Karen who made the cross-continental trek in a specially prepped Checker Cab in full NYC livery), while large-tittied women bounced around as participating men covered their awkward boners. Clothing was piled up outside the hidden Grotto pool area, who’s main access door was now shut so that the den of decadence was only accessible by swimming under a concrete span. We opted against this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a fear of getting stranger’s semen in our equipment and faces. 
As V filmed and I ran sound, R wandered the property. We would bump into each other throughout the evening and R explained how he happened across the private zoo that Hef maintained and we wandered around as much as we could get away with, just making it into the house to ummm, look for the bathroom, before being politely ushered back out with a stern but helpful, “the party is this way sir.”

We ate some food, filmed some fools, and surprisingly started to become rather bored. The Playboy Mansion, from what we encountered, was much like Hugh Hefner himself; old, tired, outdated, with only just enough maintenance to keep it from ceasing to exist altogether. We were fairly unimpressed and decided we had the footage and experience we had hoped for and so grabbed the next shuttle ride back to the hotel.

The footage? Well we never really got enough to do anything with it, let alone the fact that we didn't have releases signed by the attendees, so it made it’s way to V’s Director’s Reel and that’s about it. The story has lived on however, famously so among my friends and acquaintances, and the one you’re reading now was inspired by one of those visiting Canadians at that time, who texted me the day after Hef died and said, “sorry about your good friend Mr. Hefner.” 

So, if you’re seeing this Hef, I am sorry for sneaking into your home, but I feel like you would have appreciated the effort it took to do so.

All Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Mystery Files: The Case of the Speed Champ’s Missing Head

Mystery Files: The Case of the Speed Champ’s Missing Head
by Marrs

“Full nose up… Pitching a bit down here… coming through our own wash… and we're tramping like mad… I can't see much and the water's very bad indeed… I’m galloping over the top… I can't see anything… I've got the bows out… I'm going…”


These were the last words transmitted over the radio by world speed record holder Donald Campbell, just moments before his untimely, and tragically violent, death 50-years ago in a specially built speedboat named “Bluebird K7.” If the surname “Campbell” sounds familiar to you as it pertains to motorsport, that’s very likely because Donald’s father, Sir Malcolm Campbell, is regarded as one of the innovators of speed record attempts, himself holding the title for multiple early and famous runs in the original Bluebird series of similarly-liveried vehicles.

On the early morning of January 4th, 1967, Campbell was suited up in his familiar blue coveralls, ready to complete his latest water speed record attempt at a 5-1/2 mile long lake in Cumbria, England, named Coniston Water. This would not be the first time either Campbell, father or son, had made use of the long and still waters Coniston offered. Both had made multiple runs over many previous years setting records and testing vehicles on the predictably mirror-like surface.

At 8:45am Campbell started up the powerful Bristol Orpheus jet engine, one repurposed from a Folland Gnat fighter aircraft, that produced an astounding 4,500 lb/ft of thrust. He completed his first run with no problems, apparently having resolved issues with the fuel pump on previous attempts. He achieved 285 mph by the time he reached the first marker buoy, and then leaving the measured kilometer 7-1/2 seconds later at a speed in excess of 310 mph, reaching an average top speed of 297.6 mph. Normally, Campbell would then throttle down and turn around, drifting slowly or even refueling while waiting for the lake’s surface to calm once again before starting off on a return run, but for some reason, this time, he simply spun K7 about and smashed the throttle after only a few moments pause. Witnesses described the scene as one of sheer power, with camera crews were set up along the route to record the day’s events for posterity, unaware that that they were but seconds away from capturing one of motorsports greatest tragedies.

As K7 initiated it's return run, the familiar “comet tail” of water spray, forced up by the powerful jet engine, made for the clearest marker of Campbell’s progress as he reached a speed of 328 mph. Observers in a course boat at one end noticed the front of K7 begin to lift, revealing more and more air space between the hull and the water, and as the nose bounced and bobbed. The longest bounce saw a rapid deceleration from 328 mph to 296 mph while out of the water, pulling almost negative 2g’s in the process. The engine flamed out, with the resulting loss of thrust lifting the nose upwards, disturbing the flow of water around the sponsons and hull, and allowing for the boat to aerodynamically lift from the lake and begin to cartwheel through the air. The first full rotation ended with the K7 landing hard on her port sponson, ripping the boat in two as it continued flipping end-over-end across the water, destroying itself in the process. Campbell’s helmet, along with several larger, more buoyant, pieces of the K7 Bluebird, as well as Campbell’s good luck charm, a plush teddy bear named Mr. Whoppit, were all that could be recovered from the water that day. Nether the bulk of the hull, nor, more importantly, the remains of Donald Campbell himself, would be recovered for another 3-1/2 decades.

In 2001 a recovery effort was made to locate and raise the K7, with the hope of also finding Campbell’s remains, tho this was considered unlikely at the time, and in fact, even tho the majority of K7 would be identified and raised on this expedition, his body would not be found until the following year. Campbell’s own sister, Jean Wales, was said to be opposed to recovering his body as it is claimed he said to her, “skipper and boat stay together” should anything unfortunate ever happen to him. The K7 itself was donated by the Campbell family to the Ruskin Museum in Coniston in December 2006, where it is presently undergoing a full restoration back to running order for short jaunts of up to 65-mph or so for exhibitions. Just recently, in November 2016, it's engine was fired up again for the first time since the recovery that saw it's engine being fired up for the first time since it’s recovery from the dark lake bed.

Campbell’s remains were interred in Coniston Cemetery on September 12, 2001, but the event was overshadowed in the press by the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon the day prior. An inquest into Campbell’s death came about in 2002, for the stated purpose “to determine the identity of the deceased, where and when he died, and the cause of death.” As the answers to most of these questions were already known, it was really just a matter of “how” Campbell died.

One witness, Mr. Bill Smith, who acted as a dive team leader during the recovery process, narrated a video tape at the inquest showing several items strewn across the muddy lake bed. Among them were loose change, a St. Christopher’s pendant (ironically, these are worn to ward off dangers while traveling), a cigarette lighter inscribed with an image of the Bluebird, and a key fob, all grouped together. Nearby they found what was left of Campbell’s body, and after spending three and a half decades underwater, it was described as “skeletal.” The remains were still draped in pieces of blue cloth from his coveralls with the elastic waistband and belt buckle still intact. It was noted that, oddly, his skull was not found among the remains. Smith explained that these remains were respectfully placed inside a container and brought to the surface.

Dr. Wendy Blundell, the pathologist responsible for examining Campbell's remains, described the trauma of the event in harrowing detail. Multiple bones were broken by the ferocity of the boat’s high-speed impact with the water’s surface, but even those that appeared intact were found to be fractured internally upon being examined under an X-ray. The intact left femur gave evidence that the right side of his body took the brunt of the impact, where the shattered bones bore witness to the massive forces at work during the crash. Perhaps most shocking was the revelation that Campbell was fully decapitated by the jagged edges of the broken Perspex (ie: plexiglass) windscreen as his body was propelled forward into the bulkhead by the crushing force of the blow. His empty helmet was recovered the day of the crash but his skull has never been found, and is presumed to still lay at the bottom of the lake. Considering that not all the various smaller bits of K7 were, nor are they likely to ever be, recovered, it is fitting perhaps that some part of Donald Campbell also remain at the bottom of Water Coniston, “skipper and boat stay together” after all.


Visit the official restoration blog for K7 to stay up to date on the latest developments concerning the boat's restoration.

Images via Wikimedia creative commons license, courtesy "Sheppane" except memorial stone image by "Thruxton."

donald campbell, crash, accident, death, speed record, malcolm campbell, coniston, motoarigato, photos, video, film, decapitated, beheaded, k7, bluebird, water coniston

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