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2005 NAIAS: Motown Delivered

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Author in Ferrari F430
By Nicholas Frankl

As any red blooded petrol head will attest, this is a great time for auto enthusiasts the world over. Not since the hotrod wars of the 60’s muscle cars has there been such a plethora of incredible high performance vehicles available. Take Ford for instance. With the revitalization of design lead by J Mays and the recent introduction of the all-new Mustang and Ford GT, here is a brand revisiting its unique performance and racing heritage and bringing evocative and well-built machines to market.

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Ford Shelby GR-1
With the GR1 Shelby and the 500+ horsepower Mustang in the pipeline Ford is leading the way in the ultra-high performance ‘bang for the buck’ category. But performance isn’t just measured in horsepower. Green is the new ‘black’ and all the major players are spending big R&D dollars exploring battery, hybrid and hydrogen technology. Again Ford has taken the initiative introducing the Ford Escape as the first true multipurpose conventional family vehicle to deliver true green levels of performance.
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Ford Escape Hybrid
Its many accolades, including North American Truck of the Year are well deserved. Naturally Toyota is hot on the Hybrid’s heels, with the forthcoming Lexus 400h Hybrid. If the hugely successful Prius is anything to go by, then this vehicle will set new standards for green performance and popularity.

Not long ago, I arranged for a collection of a special group of vehicles that were members of a very special club. The 500 club. This was 1995 and 500 referred to the horsepower level of the vehicle. Apart from very limited production (do you remember the Lister Storm, Ascari, Cosworth Sierra special,) and expensive (Mclaren F1, Ferrari F50) models, no major manufacturer was featured.

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Mercedes AMG55 Wagon
Today, you can walk into any Mercedes-Benz dealer and select one of the supercharged AMG E, SL, CL, CLS classes for immediate delivery. The AMG 65 engine produces 607hp! And next year the AMG55 will be replaced by an even larger and more powerful 6.3 liter engine. BMW has the M5 with 505bhp, Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari are all at or above the 500 marks with numerous models and now we have the new 500 horses Corvette Z06 with a 7 liter small block 427 V8 to join the V10 Viper soft and new hardtop model.
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2006 Corvette Z06
One could make the case that instead of a cold war we have a car war with multiple ‘superpowers’ all hell bent on producing the most powerful production cars in the world. When the delayed Bugatti finally arrives it will be the first production car with 1000+bhp. Where will this end? Who cares, so long as you can find a stretch of road or racetrack to play on.

But therein lies a little bit of a problem. For as powerful as many of these vehicles are, they are also growing larger and heavier. GM spent big money in weight reduction for the Z06, and many other manufacturers are using a combination of carbon fiber, aluminum and magnesium to reduce weight. I recently drove a 560bhp CL V12 twin-turbo from LA to Miami.

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Lamborghini Murcielago
In a straight line it out-accelerated everything except the Muricelago. But on the track it was bad joke, with far too much body roll, steering that loaded up and brakes that barely lasted a lap. Why? Because it weights as much as a small house. Reducing weight doesn’t just improve the performance but also fuel economy too. Hopefully this use of advanced materials throughout the manufacturing process will catch on.
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Jaguar Light
Both Jaguar and Aston Martin have invested in aluminum technology and customers are reaping the rewards. Jaguar showcased the new XK which is long overdue. The concept car, pitched as the ‘Advanced Lightweight Coupe’ is clearly very close to the production model coming in 2006. As a current XKR convertible driver, I was impressed but not overwhelmed by the concept car. There are many overtures to Aston Martin in the look (no bad thing) but in an age of ever innovative design, it didn’t make the hairs on my neck stand on end. The good news is that the AJP V8 will be further enhanced and horsepower should rise from 400 to about 430bhp, which combined with an aluminum diet should produce quite an autobahn stormer.

Other cars that caught my eye: the new Mitsubishi Eclipse looks terrific, with some great lines encasing a very appealing package.

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2006 Eclipse
The V6 260bhp GT version will certainly look the business and will, I hope, also deliver for a manufacturer that needs all the sales it can muster. Of course the exotica were at the show. For sheer street presence and the ultimate statement nothing short of pulling up in the Queen Mary 2 will get you noticed like the Rolls Royce 100EX.
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Rolls Royce 100ex
It is extremely beautiful to behold and is simply vast. One hopes it doesn’t handle like a boat! The Ferrari 575 Super America is ingenious and will make a rich man very happy when it officially arrives on these shores at $300,000 or so. Personally I’d take the F430 which, without even driving it, is clearly the best modern Ferrari V8 ever made. The F430’s $200,000 asking price is a mere bargain when compared to the Maserati MC12, which would certainly be my drive-away-from-the-show car.
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Maserati MC12
It’s awesome to behold, but I suspect maneuvering a car this long and wide with no rearview mirror in town might be a little problematic. Not that we shall find out since if you are fortunate or wealthy enough to purchase one from Italy ($800,000 if you must know) you will have to jump all the import hurdles yourself as it hasn’t been homologated for the US.

I’m looking forward to driving these and more vehicles in 2005, and shall keep you up-to-date when I do.