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Inside Motorcycles, Size Doesn’t Matter, by Greg Williams

As the owner of a 1946 350cc Velocette MAC I understand the charms of touring aboard a lightweight machine. The MAC is lithe, and very responsive. Also understanding the charms of small-bore motorcycles is Nick Jordan of B.C. Read on to learn what he’s doing to foster appreciation for pint-sized machines, as published in the June 2008 issue of Inside Motorcycles.

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Here to Here World Tour aboard Buell Ulysses XB12X Motorcycles: Update, by Greg Williams

On May 10 Calgary brothers C.J. and Dylan Wilkins left on their Here To Here world tour aboard a pair of 2007 Buell Ulysses XB12X motorcycles, raising funds for the Canadian-based, non-profit Street Kids International (
They expected to travel 32,000 km in just 124 days, riding east from Calgary to Halifax before flying to England and riding on to points such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Mongolia before entering Russia.
Unfortunately, the trip had to be cut short due to illness. C.J. developed a serious cough — so serious he would have to stop riding to catch his breath. They used up most of their sickness/mechanical break down days, and would have had only two left if they continued.
The pair made it as far as Kharkiv, Ukraine, or 13,376 km. In order to arrange shipment of the bikes and get flights home themselves they had to turn around and ride back to Germany. They flew from Frankfurt and arrived home in Calgary on June 26. More details in the blog at
Click here to read the full story, written just prior to their departure.

Calgary Herald, Diablos Car Club all about the hotrods, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy Monika Dool: Dwayne ‘Dooley’ Dool’s 1935 Ford truck — chopped and channeled to the max.

This story first published in the Calgary Herald June 13. While the Greaseball Bash is over, the Diablos Car Club in Calgary are still “pounding the rods,” to quote Jack Kerouac.

Welding torches. Cutoff saws. Grinders. Wrenches.
All tools of the trade for the hotrodders in Calgary’s Diablos Car Club.
And if you’re in the closed membership club, you better know how to use them.
“If you’re going to call it yours and drive it to a car show you should be able to say you built it,” says 35-year old Dwayne Dool, a Diablos founding member who is better known by his nickname Dooley.
The club is proof that hotrodding is not dead, especially amongst a younger generation — many of whom were born in the 1970s and 1980s. Taking the best of the hotrod and custom era of the 1950s and 1960s and adding their own twist to the mix, the Diablos are all about living a lifestyle and driving the cars they’ve created.
A group of 10 dedicated hardcore builders, the Diablos formed in 2001.
Members have their own cars that they’re customizing and modifying, and they’ll help each other out with tasks like chopping a roof or dropping in a motor.
“This is traditional hotrodding,” Dool says of the club.
While Calgary might be the central location of a few members, other Diablos live in Red Deer, Carstairs, Crossfield — and even Los Angeles.
A welder and mechanic, Dool works at Hot Rods Inc. in Airdrie. He sees firsthand the amount of money some are willing to pay for a cool car — anywhere between $80,000 and $500,000.
But Dool’s theory is if you do it yourself, you’re much better off, saving thousands of dollars. And the satisfaction of creating a ride with your own hands is incredible. In an age when many custom car parts are available from a catalog, the Diablos work hard to use only era-correct pieces and make as much of their own one-off items as possible.
To say their cars are unique is an understatement.
Dool’s own hotrod is a fenderless 1935 Ford truck. The project started when he dragged home a neglected 2 1 / 2 ton truck from the farm where it had sat for years. All he kept was the truck cab and the first 10 feet of the frame. He proceeded to chop the roof seven inches, and then lowered the cab over the chassis by channeling it eight inches. Dool created his own custom box at the back and dropped in a 455 cubic inch Oldsmobile engine. It’s got the coveted 1963 finned aluminum Buick front drums on 1940 Ford hubs.
“My truck, with all of the parts, comes in at about $32,000,” Dool says. And, of course, that’s not including his labour. But that’s kind of his point. Do it yourself — and save.
The Diablos will be showing off their cars, and those of others, on June14 when they host their fourth annual Greaseball Bash at the Bowness Sportsplex at 7904 43 Ave. N.W. According to the poster, the event is for pre-1964 rods, customs and bobber motorcycles. There is no entry fee and no registration fee.
Says Dool’s wife, Monika, of the show, “We’re trying to get away from the ‘old man’ car show where all of the cars are roped off and there are only men looking at them.
“The car show is purely for (our) love of old rods and the lifestyle that goes with it. You won’t see signs on any of these cars asking you not to touch or lean on them. There aren’t any of those creepy baby dolls leaning on the cars pretending to cry. The only dolls at this show are the ones walking around in heels!”
Vendors such as Plan B, Zombie Hut Design and Atomic Blonde will be there, together with Calgary bands including Big Foot Rocket Ship, Hurricane Felix and the Scorched Banditos.
“We’re trying to bring (the car culture) all together in one place,” Monika says. “And it’s also a kid friendly environment.”
The show runs tomorrow from 10 a.m. to dusk. Food is available on site. Check for more information about the club and the Greaseball Bash.

Calgary Herald, Interview with Tim Falconer, Author of Drive: A Road Trip Through Our Complicated Affair With the Automobile, by Greg Williams

Photo by Margot Hartford: Author Tim Falconer behind the wheel of a Mustang.

Author Tim Falconer went from being a car hater to a car lover.
Well, sort of.
Falconer was in town last week to promote his latest book, Drive: A Road Trip Through Our Complicated Affair With the Automobile. In Drive, Falconer chronicles his trip from Toronto to L.A. and back in his old 1991 Nissan Maxima, a journey of some 14,992 km through 17 states and five provinces. Along the way he stops to talk to many folks — gear heads, urban planners, traffic controllers, and stakeholders in the auto industry — as he attempts to uncover just how cars have shaped modern society.
In the first chapter Falconer lays out the details: he wasn’t much of a fan of automobiles, and he didn’t get his license to drive until later in life. So why the book?
“The idea was originally my publisher’s,” Falconer says during a telephone interview. “And the editor I was working for suggested I’d be good for it.”
Ironically, for almost a year and a half Falconer had been keeping a file on traffic stories.
Turns out Falconer became interested in traffic and its patterns after he’d been stuck in a jam while commuting to Montreal to attend a conference. He started clipping stories about traffic and how it flows — or doesn’t flow.
“For example, a huge truck accident would close the 401,” he says. “And I’d clip a story about how much money was lost (because traffic was tied up), and how important the free flow of movement was to our economy.”
Falconer says he didn’t want to write a book that was completely negative about cars. He wanted to figure out why the car was so important, and then take a look at some of the downsides such as urban sprawl, air pollution and traffic congestion.
And to research the book Falconer knew a road trip was in order. Initially, he suggested a road trip from Toronto to Vancouver, and his publisher thought an American road trip would be better. Another idea was for Falconer to fly to L.A., and then drive different iconic cars across America. He would have, for example, driven a Toyota Prius in San Francisco, a pick up truck in Texas, and a Cadillac in Detroit. But he says that plan would have been too difficult to arrange.
“So I just drove my own car to L.A.” he says. “The centre of car culture.”
Whenever possible Falconer slowed down and drove roads less traveled, cruising the so-called ‘Blue Highways’ or secondary roads that connect small town-America that interstates have bypassed.
Speaking of driving a good portion of old Route 66, a famous highway that originates in Chicago and terminates in L.A., Falconer says; “It was so much fun to drive it and it was really interesting to see the mentality behind building that kind of road versus an interstate — roads like Route 66 were built to be a part of the journey, and not just a conveyor belt to get you somewhere. We’re always in such a rush, and we should make the journey part of the fun.”
Falconer discusses ways to lessen our dependence on vehicles; including increasing taxes to help fund mass transit systems and building communities and streets that encourage pedestrian traffic. He also looks at London’s congestion taxes, and takes an in-depth look at parking problems.
He says, “If you live in a walkable community you have the option to walk or bike, and when you need to, you drive.”
When Falconer got back home he was told his old Maxima had traveled its last journey. He prefers to walk whenever practicable, and doesn’t drive often. Falconer says he might put 2,500 km on a vehicle in nine months. But rather than join an auto-sharing club or just give up vehicle ownership, Falconer bought a brand new Mazda3.
“I went into the project ambivalent and torn (about cars), and I came out sort of torn, but even deeper,” he says. “I might like cars more, but I’m also more aware of the problems.”

Drive: A Road Trip Through Our Complicated Affair With the Automobile by Tim Falconer, ISBN-13: 978-0-670-06569-1, 340 pages, $35, a Viking Hardcover from Penguin Group (Canada).

First published in the Calgary Herald section, June 6, 2008.

Photo courtesy Tim Falconer: The infamous Cadillac Ranch in Texas.

Calgary Herald, Interview with Jesse James of West Coast Choppers, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy Jesse James

The outlaw Jesse James did things his own way.
And so, too, does his namesake, Jesse James of West Coast Choppers. And yes, they’re related.
Present day James, from Long Beach, Calif., has worked hard to build his custom motorcycle company into one of the biggest names in the industry ( They build a small number of machines for a select clientele. West Coast Choppers, besides building bikes, manufactures a large range of motorcycle parts including fenders and exhaust systems.
Both backyard custom builders and professionals alike use these parts to create their own unique rides.
Now that the shop is a success, James has branched out with his own production company and films the stories he wants to tell. He is also a restaurateur. James recently opened his Cisco Burger joint just a few doors down from West Coast Choppers in Long Beach.
While James came across as gruff and tough on his Discovery Channel television show Monster Garage, he really is down to earth and humble about his abilities.
James was in Calgary last weekend as part of the King of Customs Motorcycle Show ( at the Roundup Centre. We caught up with him there.

Q: When did you first realize you were a gearhead?
A: I used to go out to Riverside and ride a minibike — I think I was eight years old. My chain came off out in the middle of nowhere once, and I got the chain back on the rear sprocket using a rock as I slowly turned the wheel; after that, I said, okay, I’m a mechanic.

Q: When did you become a horsepower junkie?
A: All through high school I worked as a Volkswagen mechanic. One day I bought a Chevelle at a lien sale and it had a 396ci motor. After driving that, I thought I’ve spent all this time and money trying to make VWs go fast and I could have been doing this the whole time? I got my first big Harley, a 1970s FLH, when I was 16. I was riding that down the freeway and looked down and watched the grooves in the highway fly past underneath me — the pipes were so loud and I felt like I was riding a bomb; after that, I was addicted.

Q: How did you learn to weld?
A: I was 13 years old and a freshman in high school. I was in metal shop, and my teacher showed me how to gas weld steel. I was instantly good. The welds had good penetration, and the beads looked great. I used to take everybody else’s welding tests for $10 each; everybody else in the class was a stoner making bongs or something and I was the only one taking it seriously. There were maybe 40 kids in the class and my teacher would come and sit right in front of my desk and he’d talk to me as if I was the only one in the class. I still have the first thing I made of metal, it was a dustpan.
Soon after that California enacted a proposition that cancelled trades education in schools. I’d just found a reason to go to school and then the class was cancelled. That’s when I got a job at the VW place.
Next door to the VW shop was Roger’s Radiator Repair, and he also taught me how to braze and do other things.

Q: I’ve heard you say there are two types of people in the world — those who can weld and those who can’t. What do you mean by that?
A: If you’re a welder, you get it. If you’re not, you’re like what’s he on about. I can’t talk when I’m welding, and I’ll stop breathing sometimes when I weld so I can stay steady. You’re harnessing 1,800-degree heat and you’re melting metal together; I find the act of welding is almost soulful. I’ve taught a few people how to weld, and it’s life changing for some of them.

Q: Your first customizing job was a bicycle when you were in grade seven — what can you tell me about that?
A: My dad was an antiques dealer, trading mostly American oak furniture. But he had a contract with TGI Friday’s, and he’d travel around buying antiques for display in the restaurant chain. I bought a 1930s straight-bar Schwinn bicycle, and did a lot of work to it with paint and chrome. I had about $100 into it, and I took it to an antique show with my dad and sold it for $900.
If you think about it, I’m still doing the same thing. I take a stack of $300 steel, and turn it into a $100,000 product.

Q: You must have several cars and motorcycles to choose from — but what’s your favourite ride?
A: That’s my 1954 Chev. It’s kind of beat up and it’s got a junkyard 307ci motor in it; I have no idea how many miles are on that. But my son and I just went on a road trip, and we put 800 miles on the ’54. We killed a battery and blew a freeze plug that we fixed at the side of the road — it was the best father and son bonding experience.
There’s just something about that car, it’s like an old La-Z-Boy recliner. It’s not the nicest piece of furniture in the house but it’s the most comfortable. You could spill a Coke on the paint and not freak out.

Q: What’s next for Jesse James? What’s the Green Scream?
A: I’m going to break the land speed record in the Green Scream, a hydrogen-fuel powered vehicle. This started out as a TV project, and it’s been stalled for a bit, but I’ve made up my mind to finish it and break the record. We’re running a big-blcok twin-turbo Chev (640ci) that’s designed to produce zero emissions. It’s powered by hydrogen gas converted from water. We blew up five motors trying to figure this out, because the stream of hydrogen gas wants to ignite all the way back into the intake. We had to design an ignition that sputters, and the motor makes 804 horsepower on the dyno — that’s triple what anybody else is making with hydrogen gas and in theory it should go 300 mph. I’d like to break the land speed record, and that’s what’s next for me.

Photo by Greg Williams — West Coast Choppers ‘Airstream’ style.

This story first published in the Calgary Herald, section May 23, 2008.

Calgary Herald, Paraplegic Rally Co-Driver Meets the Need for Speed, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy Carrie Carlson — Zedril Racing at the Lake Superior Rally in Northern Michigan for the 2007 Rally-America national championship, where they clinched the Production title.

Co-driver Jody Zedril is pretty humble about his achievements in the off-road sport of rallying.
The 33-year old Winnipeg man is a paraplegic, and he hasn’t let his disability interfere with his need for speed. But as far as he’s aware, he’s the first and currently the only paraplegic actively competing in North American rally events.
This weekend, Zedril and his brother/driver Jan will be in Calgary to compete with their specially equipped 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer in the 35 th Rocky Mountain Rally ( Presented by Subaru, the Rocky Mountain Rally is Round 2 of the Canadian Rally Championship. Running May 23 and 24, a special spectator stage is at Race City Speedway this evening. On Saturday, the action moves to the Porcupine Hills forestry area.
That it was a bit of a challenge for Zedril to get actively involved in rallying shouldn’t be a surprise.
“(Rally’s) not a sport to be taken lightly,” Zedril says during a telephone interview. “Extensive off-road experience is a definite asset, and should almost be a requirement. Even for an able-bodied individual, there are a lot of hoops one has to go through, including a first aid certificate, eye exam and approval from your physician, which was a hurdle in itself.”
Zedril crashed his dirt bike in July 1995. He was practicing prior to a motocross race and came up short on a double jump.
“I knew right away what I’d done was serious,” Zedril says. “I waited and hoped the feeling would come back — I was conscious the whole time.”
He was 21 years old, and the feeling never came back. He’d broken his spine at the T6-T7 vertebrae, and would never walk again.
Zedril’s life had been off road motorsport from a young age — he was riding his first dirt bike before he could even reach the footpegs, eventually competing in motocross action when he was nine. But he knew the risks associated with the sport, and says he kept telling himself something serious could happen.
“I was ready for it,” Zedril simply says of the accident. “If you’re not ready for it, that’s when your life could fall apart.”
Trained as a civil engineering technologist at the time of the crash, after his recovery Zedril attempted to go back to work in that field but found it difficult to do. In 1997 he opened a computer company, and now builds custom computer systems.

Right from the start, though, Zedril didn’t let his disability impede him. He figured out how to get aboard an ATV, and got involved in some ATV racing. It wasn’t long after, either, that he figured out how to get aboard watercraft and snow machines.

“My brother Jan and I have always been interested in the Dakar rally, for longer than we can remember,” Zedril says. ‘But our lives were centred on motorcross, and there wasn’t room for much else.
“After I got hurt, that opened up the doors for other things to do.”
The brothers talked about Dakar (similar to rally) racing, and started looking around for something a little closer to home. That’s when they discovered there were rally events taking place south of the border in Minnesota — about four hours drive form Winnipeg.
“As soon as we found out about that, everything snowballed from there,” Zedril says. From 2001 to 2005 the Zedril’s attended as many rallies as possible, volunteering at events and becoming familiar with rally rules, organizers and officials.
“I knew it was going to be extremely difficult to get into a rally car (and race) if officials and organizers didn’t see what we were made of, so to speak,’ he says.
In order for Zedril to participate, he had to prove he could get out of a car — and not just out the door, but out through a side window — within 12 to 15 seconds. While officials didn’t require the Zedril’s to upgrade or modify safety equipment in the car, they’ve gone ahead and done so regardless. They carry multiple fire extinguishers, glass breakers and harness cutters. They’ve installed an onboard electronic fire extinguishing system, ham radio outfit and a horn for the co-driver.
It wasn’t easy, but the Zedril’s were given clearance to race — and that’s a responsibility Zedril himself doesn’t take lightly. The brother’s are doing very well. Last year, they were Rally America Production Class National Champions, and were North American Production Class Champions.
For those wondering what living life in a wheelchair might be like, the Rick Hansen Wheels In Motion event on June 8 at Calgary’s Rotary Challenger Park would prove interesting. Several events are designed to help put into perspective daily living in a wheelchair — as Zedril does. Check for Rick Hansen information.
For general Rocky Mountain Rally information, call 277-6382.

Photo courtesy Zedril Racing — Co-driver Jody and brother/driver Jan Zedril.

Story first published in the Calgary Herald section May 23, 2008

Calgary Herald, Here To Here World Tour, by Greg Williams

Photos courtesy Here To Here — The Wilkins brothers, C.J. on left and Dylan to the right with their Buell motorcycles prior to launch.

Some journeys by motorcycle are a 20-minute commute to the office. Some are a weekend excursion out of town for a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun.
And some are ambitious, exotic and life-changing adventures.
Take the Here To Here World Tour, for example ( Organized by Calgary brothers C.J. and Dylan Wilkins, the pair plan to trek the globe aboard 2007 Buell Ulysses XB12X motorcycles in support of Street Kids International.
Leaving tomorrow, May 10, and heading east the brothers will travel eight hours a day for 124 days. They expect to cover close to 32,000 km in total, and visit more than 20 countries.
“About two and a half years ago Dylan turned to me and asked if I’d like to ride a motorcycle around the world,” C.J. Wilkins, 29, says.
A tough question, really, seeing that Wilkins had had zero experience with motorcycles. But he explains because brother Dylan, 33, was so passionate about biking — he’d been riding for close to a decade — C.J. figured he’d investigate what the sport was all about. Wilkins splashed out cash on safety gear, including an armoured jacket and full-face helmet, and then attended the Calgary Safety Council motorcycle program. On Easter Sunday in 2006 Wilkins passed his exam and got his Class 6 motorcycle permit.
“Motorcycling was a passion for Dylan,” Wilkins says. “But I hadn’t had much exposure to bikes — I was on the back of Dylan’s once and hated it. I thought it would be different if I was in control, though, and now I’m as passionate as Dylan.”
Preparations for the world tour began in January 2006; right after Dylan floated the idea. The pair spent four or five months meeting together to come up with a viable route and to work through the logistics of such an undertaking.
Essentially, the pair head east until they come back home. After leaving Calgary, they ride to Winnipeg, and then down to East Troy, Wisconsin, where they meet Erik Buell himself, and tour the Buell motorcycle factory. They ride to Halifax from there, where the bikes are crated and shipped via air cargo to London. In Britain, the pair will spend two days on the Isle of Man watching the TT races, and also tour Ireland and Scotland.
“We then head back down to the continent and zigzag our way across Europe,” Wilkins says, taking in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. Riding further north, they move through the Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Russia. Perhaps saving the hardest part for last, the brothers and their Buell motorcycles will be put to the test crossing Kazakhstan and Mongolia before crossing back into Russia — where in Vladivostok, the bikes will be crated and shipped to Vancouver for the ride home.
The Buell motorcycles were selected for a few reasons, Wilkins says: “They’ve got great suspension, lots of torque, and they look cool.”
They also looked at the Kawasaki KLR 650 and Suzuki V-Strom machines, but it was the compact strength of the Buell Ulysses that won out. “There’s actual very little to the bike. Dylan took one apart to see where we could save weight or add strength, and couldn’t really find anything.”
The bikes have been modified with high-intensity discharge headlights and a custom luggage rack system. Any extra fuel required will be carried in a gas can strapped to the bike with a bungee cord.
“We were looking at other (fuel carrying systems) but sometimes simple is best,” Wilkins maintains.
Traditional paper maps, in conjunction with GPS systems, will be used to help the brothers navigate their journey. They will also carry a digital camera, video camera, laptop computer, digital storage devices and a satellite phone for both data and voice communication. Their website will be updated regularly, and Wilkins says he’ll be providing compelling content that will make people want to support Street Kids International.
It’s not surprising that the motorcycle adventures of actors Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman — caught on film in the series Long Way Round — proved inspirational for both Wilkins boys.
“Dylan had just watched the series, and thought it would be something he’d like to do,” Wilkins says. “And then I watched it, and thought it was outstanding as well.”
Because the brothers bring an interesting set of skills to the mix Here To Here will likely be a success. C.J. is the communications and community team leader for AltaGas, and has spent plenty of time fundraising and working for various charities. Dylan is a pilot and a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer.
“My fundraising (and communication) skills combined with Dylan’s mechanical genius mean together, we have an unstoppable skill set,” Wilkins says. “I couldn’t do this without Dylan, and I don’t think he could do this without me.”
Wilkins continues: “I’d been looking for the next ‘big thing’ to do. This trip combines my skills to raise money and help others, plus (be able to) go on the adventure of a lifetime. I don’t know how you can top that.”
That the tour is not simply the whim of some wealthy riders is also interesting. According to Wilkins, the pair didn’t have the easiest start in life.
“We always had the basics covered,” Wilkins says. “But any opportunities we had are ones we created for ourselves.”
They were raised in a single-parent household in low-income housing in northwest Calgary.
“Dylan and I have worked hard to be as successful as possible to overcome our start in life. It is our first-hand knowledge of what it is like to face such challenges growing up that drives us to assist other kids in similar and worse circumstances,” Wilkins says of their partnership with Canadian-based, non-profit Street Kids International (
Wilkins says Street Kids International is in many different countries, and its mandate is to teach kids entrepreneurial skills that will help get them off the street. “It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” Wilkins says.
The fundraising goal of the world tour is $100,000, with 100 per cent of all donations going directly to the charity. On the Here To Here website there is a Donate Now button where those interested can donate as much or as little as they’d like. There is also a Penny Per Kilometre club — a $320 donation payable in a lump sum, or in payments spread over a year.
Calgary Harley-Davidson hosts a public send-off party tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., when the Wilkins brothers get a police escort to the city limits. From there, it’s the brothers, their motorcycles, and the adventure of a lifetime.

h2h_buell_b-260x300Photo courtesy HereToHere — Erik Buell signs C.J.’s bike while the brothers visit the Buell factory.

This story first published in the Calgary Herald’s Driving section May 9, 2008

Calgary Herald, Architectural Digest Salutes Auto Design, by Greg Williams

Photo courtesy Architectural Digest: 1959 Cadillac Cyclone concept.

Some great motoring magazines include titles such as Automobile, Car and Driver, Hot Rod, Motor Trend and Road & Track.
How about Architectural Digest?
Probably not the number one selling auto enthusiast’s publication, but the iconic American magazine devoted to all aspects of important design does regularly feature motoring content.
And the May 2008 issue is no exception ( Dubbed the Great Design Issue, noted architects and designers were asked to select an item — in their own lives — that reflects the pinnacle of style. Selected items are all over the map, including jeans, jewelry, bicycles and furniture.
Not surprisingly, several autos and even a couple of motorcycles made the issue, including a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL, a Smart ForTwo, a 1968 Lincoln Mark III and a 1950s Vincent Series C Black Shadow motorcycle.
“Good design, wherever it is found, is what we are after in the magazine,” said an Architectural Digest spokeswoman.
In the pages of AD, American architect Antoine Predock said this of the Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle: “Some inanimate things transcend their materiality and break out the other side with ineffable spirit. It’s technically and culturally iconic and an amazing ride.”
And architect Bernard Wharton said this of the Lexus RX400h luxury hybrid SUV: “It’s a design that looks to the future through its styling and mechanical innovation.”
Also included in the AD Great Design Issue is a review penned by architecture critic Joseph Giovannini of The Great Age of American Automobiles, an exhibition at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The exhibit is in place to June 23.
“I’m an architecture critic, but I grew up in the car culture of southern California and a 1967 Jaguar 420 is one of the loves of my life,” Giovannini said on his cell phone from the hills of Los Angeles during an architectural house tour.
Giovannini is a principal of Giovannini Architecture, a firm with offices in New York and Los Angeles. He is an architecture critic for New York Magazine, an editor-at-large for Architecture Magazine and a frequent contributor to the pages of AD.
In the article, Giovannini refers to automobile design from the 1940s through the 1960s as the golden age for Detroit manufacturers.
“There was a quality of enthusiasm and a belief in progress that suffused the auto industry for 20 years after the Second World War,” Giovannini said. “In the 1920s cars still resembled horse-drawn carriages and included wood (in their construction) and were basically boxes on wheels. That changed in the 1930s with the arrival of Art Deco, but the real break out period was after the war.
“There was a notion of designing towards the future — and that included airplanes and rockets in (auto) design.”
At the Fort Lauderdale exhibit are artist’s renderings of futuristic autos together with actual concept cars (1959 Cadillac Cyclone, 1963 Chrysler Turbine) and production vehicles (1958 Chrysler 300D, 1965 Plymouth Barracuda). It is in the renderings of stylized hybrid helicopter-cars and airplane-cars that Giovannini says designers really pushed auto experimentation to the edge.
“Technology was around, and it was in the air. That became the inspiration and metaphor for car design,” Giovannini said.
In Giovannini’s opinion something happened to car design in the early 1970s that made the American automobile a bland product. As he said, all of the renderings in the exhibit were drawn by hand, and he’s not sure if the advent of computer designing programs coincided with the plethora of staid offerings.
“But, car designs have again become more enticing,” Giovannini said. “In fact, I’d say auto design is coming back full throttle.”

Photo courtesy Architectural Digest: 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL.

Calgary Herald, Volvo City Safety Technology

Story first published April 4 in the Calgary Herald.

Volvo XC60 - City Safety System

It?s an era of intelligent automobiles ? some so smart they can see.
Automakers are increasingly using laser, radar and camera sensors to assist with vehicle safety. While seat belts, air bags and crumple zones are effective safety devices in the event of a collision, manufacturers would like to avoid a critical situation in the first place.

And Volvo just might be leading the revolution with City Safety, a technology that should help decrease the number of low-speed collisions in stop and go traffic.

When the new Volvo XC60 crossover hits the streets in early 2009 the vehicle will come equipped with the innovative City Safety technology as a standard feature.

?The future is already here,? says Thomas Broberg, Volvo Car Corporation?s senior safety technical advisor. He?s based in Goteborg, Sweden and works at Volvo?s Safety Centre. ?The XC60 actually has eyes; it monitors what?s going on around you.?

Volvo takes safety seriously, and has done since 1927 when the company?s founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson stated: ?Cars are driven by people. Therefore the guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo is ? and must remain ? safety.?

The Volvo Safety Centre studies real-life crash statistics, and according to their research 75 per cent of all reported collisions occur at speeds of up to 30 km/h. In 50 per cent of those cases the driver didn?t react because they were distracted.

?In some situations where a driver is not responding the car can help out,? Broberg says of City Safety.

Essentially, City Safety is in operation at speeds up to 30 km/h. Using a laser sensor integrated into the front windshield, City Safety can help prepare the Volvo to slow or down or stop if the vehicle in front brakes suddenly. The laser can detect vehicles and other objects up to 10 metres from the XC60?s front bumper.

City Safety makes 50 calculations a second based on the size of the gap and the speed of the XC60, to determine what braking force is needed to avoid a collision. If the XC60 driver fails to respond in a timely manner City Safety will engage the brakes, reduce the throttle opening and activate the brake lights.

Sounds sort of Orwellian. But Broberg maintains that the driver is always in control, and that no system will take that control away.

?The system is interacting with the driver, and it has to be intuitive,? Broberg says. ?City Safety will assist only if the driver isn?t doing something themselves ? with the right information and technology we can assist a driver out of a critical situation.?

In 2005 according to Transport Canada?s Motor Vehicle Traffic Statistics there were 210,629 total injuries due to collisions, and 2,578 of those were fatal. Those numbers are down since 1986, when there were 265,160 total injuries and 3,510 fatalities.

But for Broberg, who cites some rather high U.S. numbers, ?Safety is not a problem, it?s an epidemic.?

That?s why City Safety joins a long line of other historical Volvo safety innovations, including the first three-point seat belts in 1959, head restraints in 1968, anti-locking brakes in 1984, seat belt pre-tensioners in 1987, side impact air bags in 1991 and the Blind Spot Information System ? or BLIS ? in 2004.

?We look at it as a holistic approach to vehicle safety, where technology is the enabler,? Broberg says. ?We address driver (safety) needs based on what we see in the field, and then ask ourselves if there is technology that will help us target those needs.?