As a mom who knows a thing or two about cars, I can only shake my head when I see yet another growing family squeezing into a three-row crossover SUV. There’s a better solution out there, folks, and it’s called the minivan. Whereas those crossovers have conventional rear doors and cumbersome seat-sliding mechanisms for third-row access, minivans have dual sliding doors that make ingress and egress a cinch. Plus, they don’t ride as high, which makes them easier to load — and when you do load them up, you’ll find they can hold nearly twice as much stuff as many crossovers.
I’m telling you, moms across the country need to band together and get a minivan movement going. When it comes to family vehicles, function should be more important than form, am I right ladies? Moms know best, and minivans are undoubtedly the best vehicle type for families who need more than two rows.
Let me tell you about the three best minivans on the market today.
If you read car reviews, you’ll hear a lot about how the Odyssey has “sporty handling” or something like that. Let’s be honest: no one buys a minivan for the way it handles, whatever that even means. But the Odyssey does have a carlike feel from the driver seat, at least, and that’s no mean feat considering how large it is — the maximum cargo capacity is 148 cubic feet, dwarfing the Ford Explorer’s 80 cubes. The 2014 Honda Odyssey also comes standard with an 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth streaming audio for your phone, and even a rearview camera. And its 248-horsepower V6 is rated at 28 mpg on the highway, making it considerably more fuel-efficient than most V6-powered crossovers.
The Sienna is similar to the Odyssey in many ways, but it’s got a trump card that sets it apart: optional all-wheel drive. That’s a pretty big deal, because all-weather capability is something that clinches a lot of sales for crossover SUVs. With the Sienna, you can enjoy a minivan’s superior versatility along with the security of AWD. It’s also got the best engine in the business, a 3.5-liter V6 that can really whisk this van along. If you’re looking for entertainment options, the 2014 Toyota Sienna offers a nifty split-screen monitor that flips down from the ceiling and allows two different inputs (a video game and a DVD, say) to display at the same time.
Here’s a dark horse candidate for moms who think the Odyssey and Sienna are just too darn big. With three rows and six genuinely usable seats, the 2014 Mazda5 is a real-deal minivan, yet it’s barely larger than a compact crossover SUV. That makes it super simple to park and maneuver around town. On the fuel-economy front, it gets the same 28 mpg as the Odyssey on the highway, but it trounces the bigger van with up to 22 mpg in the city. You can even get a six-speed manual transmission if you ask nicely. If a full-size minivan just doesn’t fit your lifestyle, the Mazda5 is a great alternative.
What Do You Drive?
Do you all drive any of these minivans? Got a different family vehicle that you really swear by? Let’s hear it in the comments!
Editor’s note: Got a minivan in your driveway? You’ll find the best in parts and accessories at Advance Auto Parts. Get back to the garage fast—buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
We recount one of the year’s most colorful car shows.
For three days each April, the picturesque town of Celebration, Florida (a master-planned community developed by Disney in 1994) is taken over by melodious exhaust notes produced by some of the finest and most expensive exotic cars sold today.
This exotic car show begins with two track days at Daytona International Speedway, where owners can drive their exotic cars around the 31 degree banks of the world famous Tri-Oval. Several race-prepped cars were on display at the show, which was a treat to see, and hear.
Celebration resident Allen Wong brought his amazing Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 out for the day, which is always a treat for locals and visitors alike.
Allen’s wasn’t the only 0-60-in-less-than-3-seconds Aventador in attendance. We counted three total with one of the two Verde Fannus/Ithaca (Lamborghini’s way of saying green) Aventadors spitting flames and splitting eardrums down Celebration’s otherwise quiet Front St.
Movie cars and more
One of the ways that Celebration Exotic Car Festival sets itself apart from similar exotic car shows is via the inclusion of rare and one-of-a-kind movie cars.
Participants this year included the Lamborghini Countach from The Cannonball Run, the Lamborghini Diablo from Dumb and Dumber (both Lambos are owned by event organizer Jeff Ippoliti), a Back to the Future DeLorean and, new this year, a shredder drone from the Battleship.
Members of the Rebel Alliance were also in attendance, presumably reviewing plans for Project: Orange Harvest, the code name for the Star Wars-themed land coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
As you can see, they didn’t show up empty handed. Luke’s Landspeeder easily qualifies as exotic!
Making a difference with Make-a-Wish
The Celebration Exotic Car show is organized by brothers Jeff and Jim Ippoliti and is run by volunteers with 100% of net proceeds benefiting children’s charities.
Since 2004, the Celebration Exotic Car Festival has donated over $1,000,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Special Olympics, Champions for Children, Give Kids the World, Forty Carrots Family Center and the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital.
The festival also contributes to Parkinson’s research via contributions made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
What are your favorite exotic or movie cars? Let us know in the comments below.
Editor’s note: Even if your ride is not as pretty as some of the exotic beauties here, you’ll still find all the best in parts, tools and accessories at Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.
This really isn’t that hard.
It’s true. For the uninitiated, Suspension work is mostly just bolting and unbolting. I know it’s intimidating to think about taking your suspension apart, but when you get right down to it, it’s probably less complicated than assembling an Ikea bookcase.
And here’s the thing: doing your own suspension work can save you many hundreds of dollars. My rule of thumb is that however much the parts cost, you need to multiply by two or three to get the total cost including labor. If you take those labor charges out, it’s a much more palatable bill. Plus, there’s the satisfaction of knowing that you did it yourself, likely with more caution and care than a typical mechanic would take.
So let’s take a bird’s-eye view of how to replace your own struts or shocks. I hope it’ll inspire you to take it on next time your suspension needs a shot in in the arm.
1. Check Whether You Need a Spring Compressor
Let me be very clear about this: when I did my front struts, I knew ahead of time that I would not need a spring compressor. That’s because the front suspension design on my car is such that the springs are separate (and inboard) from the struts, so you can remove the latter without ever touching the former. But on many cars, the struts/shocks and springs are interrelated or integrated, which means you may need a spring compressor to remove the springs. This is serious business: if you don’t remove the springs properly, they can pop off and damage anything in their path, including yourself! You can rent a spring compressor pretty easily, but make sure you understand how to use it before you do. If there’s one part of the job that could come back to bite you, this is it.
2. Securely Raise One Side of the Car
If you’ve got access to an actual lift, great — I’m envious, and so are most driveway DIYers! But if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll want to jack up one side of the car at a time, just high enough to get a jackstand under the jack point behind the front wheel.
3. Remove the Wheel and Extract the Old Shock/Strut
The wheel is easy, of course, but getting the absorber out of there may take some elbow grease. If a spring compressor is required for your job, this is where you’d use it. On my car, there were three bolts holding the bottom of the strut in place, and fortunately they weren’t too hard to break loose with a socket wrench. Up top, the strut extended inside a strut tower with a serious bolt inside the engine compartment; I had to use an impact wrench with a socket extension to get it loose, so if you don’t have one of those handy and you end up needing one, hopefully you’ve got a friend who does.
Note that you may have to hold up the lower control arm if it starts to drop once you undo those lower bolts — so keep an eye on it as you go, and be ready to slide your jack underneath for support.
4. Install the New Shock/Strut
With any luck, this will be as simple as reversing what you’ve done so far. I always recommend using a torque wrench and tightening all bolts to OEM specifications, but I do have friends who swear by the “Good and tight” method, so I’ll leave this to your judgment. Once the new absorber is mounted and tightened, put the wheel back on, lower the car, and simply repeat steps 2-4 for the other side.
5. Don’t Forget The Test Drive!
When you do work on a vital suspension system, you’ll definitely want to take the car for a slow diagnostic drive afterward, just to make sure nothing feels or sounds off. Don’t go careening along a winding road just yet; I’m talking about a nice slow spin through the neighborhood, perhaps wiggling the steering wheel now and then to test transient response. If everything seems good to go, consider the procedure a provisional success!
As you can probably tell, it wasn’t that hard. Just remember that this article is intended as a very broad overview, so you should do specific research on your vehicle before undertaking the job. If there’s anything you’d add from your own experience, I’m sure we’d all like to hear about it in the comments.
Editor’s note: Head on over to Advance Auto Parts first for the best selection of quality shocks and struts, at even better values. We’ll get you back to the garage fast—buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
With winter in the rearview, it’s time to get behind the wheel and just drive! So, put June 14-15 on your calendar and “Dearborn, Michigan” in your GPS, and head for the Motor Muster event at Greenfield Village:
“Gearheads, diehard car lovers, auto geeks—this is your weekend at Greenfield Village.
Make your way to a vintage auto enthusiast’s dream destination: From glamorous classics of the 1930s to brawny muscle cars of the 1970s, Greenfield Village hosts more than 500 gleaming examples.
Motor Muster celebrates one of the grandest and most innovative eras of American automotive history—1933-1976. For the entire weekend, the streets and lawns of Greenfield Village will be filled with hundreds of classic cars, vintage trucks, motorcycles, military vehicles, bicycles—even a fire engine or two. They’ll all be here, from brawny muscle cars to the straight-out-of-the-showroom cars you and your parents grew up with. Stroll the grounds and meet the owners who lavish attention on these wonders of rolling history. There’s the Saturday night cruise, too, and a live early 1960s dance show with dancing in the streets ’til 9pm. A one-of-a-kind event for cars and the people who love them.”
Don’t leave Greenfield Village without visiting Thomas Edison’s laboratory or the bicycle shop where the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. Both of these buildings were taken apart and brought to Greenfield Village where they were reconstructed.
While you’re there
Adjacent to Greenfield Village is the Henry Ford Museum, which is the home of Driving America: the World’s Premier Automotive Exhibition. Historic vehicles in this exhibition range from Henry Ford’s first vehicle (the 1896 Quadricycle) to the limousine that President John F. Kennedy rode when he was assassinated. The museum contains touchscreens throughout so you can discover more about the vehicles, a smart card so you can “compile and transfer your own digital collection for online viewing later” and a test that determines the best car for your personality.
From May 17-August 17, you can see a special exhibit on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, titled “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power.” The Henry Ford Museum is also planning a $15 million exhibit, called Racing in America, and you can discover more about this grassroots effort. The museum is also the departure point for the Ford Rouge Factory tour, a 1917 factory that at one time employed 100,000 workers.
Located next door to the Henry Ford Museum is the Automotive Hall of Fame, where people who have contributed to the industry are honored. You’ll also see a 65-long mural of historic auto-related people and moments, a full-sized replica of the first gasoline-powered car and more.
Drive a dozen more miles
And you’ll find yourself in Detroit, at the original Ford assembly plant, now known as the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant National Historic Landmark. You can tour this 1904 factory where Henry Ford designed the Model T and built the first 12,000 of the Tin Lizzies before the advent of Ford’s moving assembly line. You can see early Ford vehicles, as well.
When this plant first opened, it took workers 12 hours to build one car, which sold for $850. By the time this plant closed (replaced by the much larger and more well-known Highland Park Model T plant, where 12 million Tin Lizzies were built), assembly time plunged to 12 minutes and, the cost, to $260. Work days dropped at Ford from ten hours to eight hours and wages skyrocketed from 30 cents an hour to $5 a day.
If you find yourself on I-94 while in Detroit, near the Metro Airport, you’ll probably notice the Uniroyal Giant Tire that was originally created as a Ferris wheel attraction for the World Fair, held in New York in 1964 and 1965. Ninety-six people could fit into the wheel at the fair and it needed a 100-horsepower motor to operate. Altogether, more than one million people rode in this tire before it became a stationary landmark. In 1994, neon lighting was added to the tire, along with a new hubcap. In 2003, Uniroyal invested an incredible $1 million to renovate its well-known landmark.
What would you recommend for a Dearborn/Detroit road trip? Leave your recommendations in the comments below.
Editor’s note: Dad, if you’re reading this, it’s time to drop some serious hints! Advance Auto Parts can help with great deals on premium parts, tools, accessories and more. Buy online, pick up in store–in 30 minutes!
Myths – they’re everywhere, and particularly online. Plenty of those myths focus on cars, like the one about it being better to fill your tank in the morning because the fuel is colder and denser (it isn’t) and you’ll get more for your money (you won’t.) Or there’s the one about increasing your pickup truck’s fuel mileage by driving with the tailgate down to reduce wind resistant (false, as pickups are designed to be aerodynamic with the tailgate up).
I’d like to investigate two myths that always seem to crop up when summer rolls around, the temperature climbs higher, and the long road trip becomes commonplace. It’s this myth: a vehicle’s air conditioner causes the engine to work harder. Therefore, electing not to use the air conditioner and instead rolling down the windows when driving will significantly increase fuel mileage. And in a similar vein there’s this myth – driving with your windows down will significantly decrease your fuel mileage because of the increased aerodynamic drag the open windows create.
One myth probably has some truth to it and one is most likely false. Here’s why.
In a test conducted by Consumer Reports, they drove a Honda Accord at 65 mph and found that using the air conditioner reduced fuel mileage by three percent. In another test they drove at 65 mph but this time with the windows down and found no measurable effect on fuel mileage. In a similar test performed by Edmunds using a Toyota Tundra, they saw a decrease in fuel mileage of almost 10 percent when using the air conditioner as opposed to driving with the windows down and the air conditioner off.
There are many similar tests and results online, but here’s what I think is the bottom line. It’s a conclusion similar to that reached by many of the testers:
- Using a vehicle’s air conditioner may result in a small decrease in fuel mileage. However, that decrease is negligible compared to the discomfort of not having air conditioning on a hot summer day.
- Driving with a vehicle’s windows rolled down doesn’t produce any measurable impact on fuel mileage as a result of aerodynamic drag (but your dog will love it if he’s along for the ride!)
If you really want to improve gas mileage during an epic road trip this summer, pay attention to these fuel-saving strategies instead:
- Slow down and avoid aggressive driving, such as hard accelerations and hard braking and increase fuel mileage by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds, according to the official U.S. government source for fuel economy.
- Remove excess weight from the vehicle and avoid hauling bulky items on the roof because it increases aerodynamic drag.
- Keep your engine in tune and tires inflated to the recommended air pressure for a three to four percent improvement in fuel mileage.
- Consolidate trips or share rides with someone else.
- Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.
- Get more fuel-saving tips.
It’s not a bad idea to brush up on your A/C-testing skills either because cold A/C makes for a comfortable car temperature. If you think your air conditioning might be malfunctioning, measure the temperature accurately by sticking this A/C thermometer in the vent with the A/C turned on. It might be working fine or you might need a simple fix. Either way, you’ll have an accurate temperature reading to help you decide.
For me, even on a hot summer day, if I’m driving on back country roads or on the highway, I prefer having the windows down and the A/C off. There’s just something about fresh air that I love. But driving around town, having the A/C on wins hands down every time. What do you think?
Check it out:
According to CJ Pony Parts, who created the video:
The average American driver spends 600 hours per year behind the wheel. That’s a significant chunk of our lives – in total, we’ll spend 5 years driving in our lifetimes – and it has caused many of us to grow emotionally attached to these vehicles. Cars do more than just get us from point A to point B; they get us there safely, sometimes in style, and we get to know all of their little quirks and features.
Because of this, a quarter of us name our cars, and even if we don’t actually attach a name to the vehicle we drive, 40% of us attach a personality to it. We even assign our cars a gender – 32% of the cars on the road are “female,” while 16% are “male.”
Maybe this affection towards the vehicles we drive explains why we spend so much money on them. We spend, on average, 14.5% of our income on car parts and service, and that doesn’t include the $1560 we spend per year on fuel. Still, for a means of transportation that will take us 798,000 miles over the course of a lifetime.
Given my loyalty to old-fashioned muscle cars, you might think that “Hybrid” is a dirty word in these parts. But you’d be wrong. Tell you what, I love the idea of an extra electric motor that helps the gas engine do its job. If you design it right, that electric motor will really kick in at low speeds to give you more torque, and it’ll help you when you’re merging and passing, too. Kind of like a modern turbocharged engine without the lag.
Trouble is, most hybrids are all about fuel economy, which means they pretty much hate fun. But I’ve finally found one that’s a little different, and I’m smitten. Let me tell you a few things about my new crush — it’s called the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid.
1. It’s Fast
And I mean fast. With its 3.5-liter V6 hybrid system, this thing cranks out 360 horsepower! That’s even more than the regular non-hybrid Q50, which stops at 328. It’s not just about the power, either, because this hybrid makes boatloads of low-end torque. It’s like an old big-block V8 the way it rears back and puts down the hammer from a stop. Like I said, when you add an electric motor to the mix, it can give you a real wallop during acceleration. Infiniti gets that. For the record, the Q50 Hybrid will do 0-60 in 4.9 seconds, or almost half a second quicker than the non-hybrid car.
2. It Drives Like a Champ
One thing about hybrids is that they’ve got big old battery packs to run those electric motors, and you’ve got to put that heavy thing somewhere. If you’re not careful, the extra weight can mess up the balance of the car. But Infiniti has positioned the Q50 Hybrid’s battery pack such that it adds a little rearward weight bias without going crazy. The result, if you ask me, is even better balance than the regular Q50. Going around corners in the Q50 Hybrid, I felt like I was driving an honest-to-goodness sport sedan. It just hunkers down and goes, with no understeer and not much body roll, either. Who ever heard of a hybrid that’s this fun to drive?
3. Its Fuel Economy is Amazing
Quick, name a midsize, five-passenger sedan that hits 60 mph in under 5 seconds and gets 31 mpg combined. Let me emphasize the “combined” part, because that’s what the EPA says you can expect for each tank as a weighted average of city (29 mpg) and highway (36 mpg) driving. Most cars with this much speed don’t even break 30 mpg on the highway cycle, and they’re way down in the 20s or even teens for city driving. That’s the other thing about a hybrid car’s electric motor — it takes a load off the gas engine in normal driving, and that means you need less gas to get around.
My test car came in at a shade over $46,000. That’s actually pretty reasonable when you consider that the Q50 Hybrid is a full-on luxury car with leather, navigation, Bose audio, dual electronics displays, you name it. You could easily pay more than twice as much for a Porsche Panamera hybrid that goes 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and only gets 25 mpg combined. I never thought I’d be saying this about a hybrid, but I would really and truly like to own this 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid sedan.
Am I crazy? Have you ever driven a hybrid that made you fall in love? Tell us your story in the comments.
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a hot new hybrid or a weathered old gas-guzzler, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in parts—and even better values.
Did I ever tell you about the time my husband brought home an old Toyota Tercel? I didn’t ask for it, believe me, but there he was, puttering into the driveway in that gold 1985 hatchback. I don’t know about you, but while my husband is smart, educated and ultra-handy, he can still be pretty darn clueless sometimes.
Anyway, I don’t want to cast any aspersions on the Tercel itself. Properly maintained, it was one of the most reliable cars ever built. But my husband just trusted that it would keep running fine, so he didn’t take these three simple post-purchase steps that could have saved us some headaches down the road.
Change the Oil
When you’re buying a used car, I don’t care how convincing the previous owner is when he or she tells you, “I changed that oil religiously every 3,000 miles!” I like to assume the best of people, but in this case, I always assume the worst. It takes time, energy and money to keep up with car maintenance, and folks don’t necessarily have all three at once.
So here’s my advice: pretend like that oil hasn’t been changed since the car rolled off the assembly line, and change it immediately, whether you do it yourself (my preference, of course!) or pay for the service. My husband dragged his feet on this for a while with the Tercel, since the oil level looked fine on the dipstick, and we had some strange engine issues that cropped up down the line. I don’t know for sure that old oil was the culprit, but I wish we’d just handled it and changed the oil right away. Today, tens of thousands of miles later, the Tercel’s running great with regular DIY oil changes, thank you very much!
Get Fresh Tires and an Alignment
Unless the existing tires are fairly new and a high-quality type that’s properly fitted to the car, I always advise starting from scratch with a new set. Hey, you’ll have to buy tires at some point, right? Why not do it right away? It’s the same idea as the immediate oil change: you want the car to be yours from the get-go, and that means buying a set of top-notch tires yourself. As a fringe benefit, the tire shop will balance the wheels, which should minimize any vibrations you’re feeling on the road.
Also, make sure you have a four-wheel alignment done, because a misaligned car will eat those nice new tires for breakfast. Finally, don’t forget to rotate the tires and balance the wheels at the prescribed intervals; ideally, try to find a tire shop that will perform this service gratis for the life of the tires. My husband decided to keep the tires that came with that old Tercel, since the car itself cost so little to acquire, and the result was that we lived with a jittery ride until the tires were so far gone that he had to get new ones. The difference with the new rubber was night and day. Don’t make the same mistake!
Take a Road Trip
With summer here, this one’s a no-brainer. This is the most fun DIY tip I’ll ever give you: after buying a used car, just hop in and drive! Most trips we take in cars are short, and that’s the worst thing for the engine and other drivetrain components, because they need plenty of time and heat to get properly warmed up. That’s why I think of long highway drives as spa treatments for my cars. Engines are happiest when they’re humming along contentedly for sustained stretches.
With the gold Tercel, we noticed that the more we drove it on trips like this, the smoother it felt (well, once we resolved those engine issues and put on new tires!). There’s nothing like a getting-to-know-you road trip in your “new” used car to knock out the car’s cobwebs and help the two of you get on the same page.
What Works For You?
I’m always eager to hear how you folks tackle real-world problems like “breaking in” a used car. Let me know in the comments! Are there any additional procedures you’d recommend?
Editor’s note: count on Advance Auto Parts to help keep your used car looking good and running right. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.
The Lotus Exige S Roadster is an exceedingly sweet looking performance car, going from 0-100 in just 8.5 seconds–comparable to a Porsche 911 GT3. So, it’s easy to imagine how amazing you’d look as you slip into the car and take off, leaving mere mortals in the dust…or, how you’d come to a halt and smoothly exit the car in front of adoring fans.
Then, there’s the reality, as in this video we recently unearthed.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the New York Auto Show, you have to take a look at this slideshow of 10 incredible cars. They range from an ordinary Ford Gran Torino transformed into a 3-D metal piece of art to the new Corvette, and from a 2015 Dodge Challenger with a 1971-throwback design to a Jaguar F Type sports car with 550 hp and 0-60 in just four seconds.
Here, C-Net editors pick their favorites from the show:
AutoNews.com reports that one of the hottest collectible cars for 2015 is likely to be the 50 Year Limited Edition Mustang. That’s because only 1,964 cars will be manufactured, in honor of the year (1964) that the car debuted. Because there are 3,200 Ford dealers, not every dealership will get even one of these beauties. The price has not yet been announced, although CarAndDriver.com has revealed info about the option pricing.
Meanwhile, AutoBlog.com highlights the classic Ferrari 250 GTO. Only 36 of these cars were ever built and it may be the most expensive vehicle ever sold (allegedly at $52 million in 2013). This particular car was raced multiple times by Phil Hill and won races at Daytona and Nassau, in large part because of its 300 hp, 3.0-liter V-12 engine.
Now, the update
And, when we say all over the Internet, that’s just what we mean. For more info on the topic, here are just a percentage of the articles now available:
- 5 Things to Know About Google’s Self-Driving Cars by ABC News: Worried about safety? Google reports 700,000 accident-free highway miles in a car in “autonomous mode” with a driver sitting behind the wheel. ABC News compares that to about 120 round trips from San Francisco to Manhattan.
- Google Says Its Self-Driving Cars Can Tackle City Streets Now by the Wall Street Journal: About a year ago, Google began autonomous driving down city streets. To maintain safety, software was added to allow the cars to “understand” the presence of pedestrians and cyclists and to “read” when a crossing guard holds up a stop sign.
- Google says self-driving cars are mastering city streets by Fox News: Google hopes to deliver their autonomous driving technology to the public by 2017, although a senior analyst who specializes in self driving cars predicts a date of 2025.
- Google claims big progress in self-driving cars’ street smarts by C-Net: “Google’s self-driving cars see the world as a collection of wireframe objects –pink cars, red cyclists, yellow pedestrians. They erect virtual fences around each one and won’t proceed until the obstacle has moved out of the way.”
- It’s Coming…Google’s Driverless Car – check it out right here on the Advance DIY Garage Blog!
Editor’s note: What car news have you stumbled upon? Let us know in the comments below. And while you’re checking things out, head on over to Advance Auto Parts, where there’s always a great savings deal to be had.
It’s tempting to give Roman Polanski all the credit for the utterly engrossing release of Weekend of a Champion, a new re-cut version of his 1972 film chronicling Formula One legend Jackie Stewart’s victory at the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix. But there’s more at work here than just a great director’s hand.
The dark, grainy picture quality — par for the course at the time — imbues every scene with the gravity of nostalgia, even when Stewart is simply explaining the art of high-speed cornering over breakfast in his hotel room, clad only in a pair of briefs. That’s an advantage Polanski’s film didn’t have when it debuted at the 1972 Berlin Film Festival. Incidentally, it’s also why we are all kicking ourselves for not having thought of Instagram.
Still, there are undoubtedly strokes of artistic genius in this Weekend of a Champion, out this week on DVD with its touching new epilogue in which the now-seventysomething director and subject, friends for most of their lives, offer their reflections.
One is the way in which Polanski, a motorsports enthusiast who lacks expert knowledge, inserts himself into the narrative. As Stewart talks about car control while clad only in his underwear, it’s Polanski himself who’s across the breakfast table, standing in for the audience as a sponge for Stewart’s vast insight. Earlier, the two men park themselves at a curbside location on the iconic Monaco circuit, watching other racers take practice laps while Stewart informs a rapt Polanski what they should be doing, and where they’re coming up short.
Polanski is the perfect foil for his chatty and endearingly at-ease friend, at once naive about the finer points of racing and immensely wise about what it takes to tell a good story. Had he shot the film as a traditional documentary, remaining behind the camera at all times, it would have been a considerably less engaging affair.
Another Polanski signature is his artist’s eye for detail. For instance, as Stewart sits in his car in pit lane, preparing to go out for a practice lap, the camera lingers on the driver’s feet while he works the three pedals like a surgeon with his tools — clutch in, clutch out, now right toe on the brake, heel on the gas, left foot clutching simultaneously. This is a technique known as “heel-and-toe downshifting,” and it’s a lost art today now that automatic transmissions rule the Formula One roost. But in the moment, Polanski knew enough to know that this little dress-rehearsal highlighted a crucial element of championship racing. Without it, one loses precious time in each corner; it was one of many highly refined skills that a racecar driver in 1971 had to master in order to stand a chance.
Most filmmakers would have focused on Stewart himself, or perhaps his pit crew as they prepared the car, but Polanski knew there was more taking place in front of him that mattered. And he found it. Beyond its instant credibility as the work of a legendary director, Weekend of a Champion makes for surprisingly modern entertainment. With its hand-held camerawork and ad hoc exchanges, the film comes across as a precursor of sorts to reality TV. But unlike that fundamentally contrived medium, Champion provides a fascinating window into a long-lost era of relative authenticity, one in which world-class athletes weren’t yet separated from us by layers of management and years of coddling.
Jackie Stewart was doubtless a global superstar, but in Polanski’s portrayal, at least, he is also eminently likeable and down-to-earth, a humble Scottish chap with the wry perspective of someone who knows how blessed he is to be here. We, too, are blessed for being exposed to this work more than 40 years after the fact.
The early ’70s may have been “very trendy,” as the two men agree in the epilogue, but here they also serve as an interesting counterpoint to the cynicism that dominates our age. There’s something to be said for approaching the world with a sense of wonderment and possibility; with Polanski and Stewart as messengers, one can’t help but watch and listen closely.
Weekend of a Champion is available on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of MPI Media.
Check out a clip: