During the development of this website, my web designer Denver Minnich asked me a number of questions regarding my background, career and interests. I realized how these queries would expand upon what was covered elsewhere in the site, so we turned his curiosity into a formal interview. I hope you enjoy it!
You cover and test both new and collector cars. Is that the norm for the industry?
Typically journalists specialize in one or the other. But almost from Day One, I split my workload fairly evenly between the two, which gives me a unique perspective.
Whenever I test anything new, I take into account the car’s predecessors so I can see where it came from. This provides insight into a car and company’s DNA, allowing me to ask if the car is authentic or faithful to the company’s history. When you have a large enough knowledge base, you can expand it to the industry, and segments of the industry. You examine and judge things from an entirely different, and I think, deeper angle.
This was not something I planned. It happened serendipitously, and that approach has allowed me to test a good number of the world’s fastest, most valuable and rare cars, new and old. Just as rewarding is, after interviewing the cars’ creators numerous times, many of them have become friends. Which is just another reason why I feel like I am one of the luckiest people in the world.
Is it rare for an author/journalist to write and take pictures?
Normally a person does one or the other, but very rarely does someone do both. So yes, it is unusual.
What do you do in the automotive world beyond testing and photographing cars?
I have been incredibly fortunate to be involved in various facets of the industry, especially on the collector/classic car side. I have been a judge, chief class judge and worked on numerous committees at the greatest car shows such as Pebble Beach and Villa d’Este.
From this experience I had a stint on the Louis Vuitton Classic Concours Award Committee, where a group of knowledgeable individuals and designers picks the best of the Best of Shows from the world’s greatest concours. I served on the Meguiars Collector Car Person of the Year Selection Committee for a number of years, and was chosen by the Smithsonian Institution to organize their first automotive trip, and be that journey’s Study/Seminar Leader.
I have also researched, located, bought and sold numerous cars for collectors, and advised them on the direction of their collections and purchases.
So you must travel a fair amount.
Not as much as the old days, but yes. I used to go to Europe several times a year, so much so that Modena in central Italy basically became a “home away from home.” Modena is where Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani and numerous other companies with names ending in a vowel have produced sports and exotic cars for decades. The cars, the factory, the people that make them, the cuisine and lifestyle; there is no other place like it.
England is another regular haunt. I have been to several of Aston Martin’s factories over the years, and can say the same about Jaguar. Bentley in Crewe is pretty special, too. Then there are events like the Goodwood Revival that draw you back, year after year.
Of course, when one thinks of the great marques they tend to focus on the cars. The people who make them almost become an afterthought, when in many ways the creators and what motivates them are the most interesting part of the story. I thus often traveled to meet the people as much as I did to drive and photograph the cars.
Do you have a favorite interview?
There are so many I could mention, but one in particular stands out for the lesson it taught me: Don’t rely on other people’s research.
In the early 1990s I went to interview Gianpaolo Dallara. He’s long been regarded as one of Italy’s greatest engineers, and back then no one had talked to him in years. Even though his chassis have dominated Indycar racing for the past decade-plus, I think his greatest creation is the Lamborghini Miura. This is a car that if you took the most beautiful piece of sculpture you could imagine and combine it with the most innovative device you had ever seen, and then inject the genes and personality of a thoroughbred racehorse, the Miura would be the result.
Every Lamborghini book and history article I had read up to that interview had said in 1965 Dallara and his right-hand engineer Paolo Stanzani and test driver Bob Wallace had built the radical Miura chassis after hours, without company owner Ferruccio Lamborghini knowing about it. When they completed the chassis they presented it to Mr. Lamborghini to try and get him to go racing.
To hear that story in Dallara’s own words, I asked him, “What was your inspiration for the Miura?” He paused for only a moment, and then said, “The Mini,” and proceeded to tell me how and why. I was stunned. There was not one word about racing, nothing mentioned about doing it without Mr. Lamborghini knowing about it. Instead, the inspiration came from an innovative compact car made in England in which he admired the engine and transmission layout. I later confirmed this with Stanzani and Wallace.
Until that interview no one knew that; the “after hours” story had been gospel for decades. That is why I prefer to do my own research, for you never know what you will uncover in the process.
Earlier you mentioned Pebble Beach, which is widely regarded as the best show in the world. How long were you involved with that event?
My first year was 1989. I was a chief class judge from Day One, and was probably the youngest judge of any type in the judges’ room by a good number of years. I was incredibly enthusiastic, literally surprised and honored to be there; in a way I felt like a rookie pitching Game 7 of the World Series. I was so thrilled to be involved that I kept hitting the co-chairs, two great men, with new ideas. Based on one of my suggestions, an engineer named Giotto Bizzarrini was one of Pebble’s headliners the following year.
That was the first of many headliners and classes I worked on for Pebble, and I wore numerous hats there until 2010. Then I retired, for I realized I didn’t have the fire like I did in my earlier years. I considered staying on, but felt twenty plus years was long enough. Especially when I learned over 100 other individuals were waiting to get into the judges’ room.
You must have many special memories of Pebble.
That’s an understatement! So rather than turning this question into an essay, I’ll focus on the one that was the most touching for me.
In 1998, we brought Sergio Scaglietti over from Italy. His life was a true Horacio Algers poverty-to-fame-and-fortune tale as he designed and built the bodies for some of the greatest and most beautiful Ferraris ever. Despite having a Ferrari model named after him and making cars in the 1950s and ‘60s that sell for millions of dollars today, through everything he remained incredibly humble. Towards the end of the Concours he was interviewed on the awards ramp, and when the interview concluded the crowd gave him a spontaneous standing ovation. He was so startled by that reaction that he didn’t know what to do, so he scurried off the ramp.
When I saw him in Modena two months later, he asked me how much I was paid to get him to California and take care of him while there. “Remember when you were on the ramp,” I replied, “and the crowd went nuts and you didn’t know what to do so you ran off it? That was my payment.”
He looked at me and said, “For the rest of my life I will be indebted to you for what you did.” That was one of the nicest things someone has said to me, and we remained great friends up to his death at the age of 91 in November 2011. He was a prince of a man.
What shows are you working with today?
My favorite event is Villa d’Este. It is the world’s most exclusive concours d’elegance with incredible history, and is held at the famed Italian resort every year. I also work with The Quail, another superb event that is held in California during the Monterey Historic Car week. I’ve shot the event’s posters since its inception.
Having been around so many different types of cars, do you have a favorite?
One machine pushes all those buttons for me, and is the greatest car I have driven: a 1957 Ferrri 250 Testa Rossa. Even the name sounds exotic. “Testa Rossa” means “red head” in Italian, and describes the color of the engine’s heads, or valve covers. Just 21 “pontoon fender” Testa Rossas were made from 1957 to 1958, and they won numerous races and a world championship.
The “TR” doesn’t look like anything else, and is a four wheeled adrenalin pump like you can’t believe; my body buzzed for days after driving it, it was that invigorating. The last one that sold at auction went for $16.4 million, and TR’s have brought more than that in private transactions.
If I could have anything sitting in the garage, it would be that.
Since you picked a collector car, what is the best new car you have driven?
Without hesitation it remains a Pagani, especially the Zonda F. The F was handcrafted in Italy between 2005 and 2009, during which time Pagani made less than 30 Zonda F coupes. It weighed 2,650 pounds (1200 kb.) and had a 605 horsepower AMG-built V12. The way the Zonda F talked to you, how your entire body felt during the experience, the way it sounded when you were hard on the throttle, was utterly addictive. Yet, when you drove it around town, it was a pussycat, incredibly docile.
With this much fun going on in your life, what is prompting you to write a novel?
It’s a theme we briefly touched on in the first question of this interview, and that is “the Big Picture.” A novel lets me tackle Big Picture subjects in a way a non-fiction book or a magazine article cannot touch.
PlaquePrompting me to do this is a plaque on my desk that reads, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” My answer is “write a best selling novel.” So I am taking what I know, the exotic car industry, and using that as the backdrop for a high concept thriller to highlight a potentially worrisome trend I see in the world of energy.
Topics about energy aren’t normal cocktail party fare, but if you put an intriguing character at the center of a very interesting story, and her life is turned upside down with huge consequences at stake, now you can tackle the subject in a very engaging way. The novel will take the reader places they don’t get to go, and introduce them to people and things they don’t know exist that will hopefully broaden their horizons and get them thinking. And talking! (To read an excerpt, click here.)
It is not the only thriller percolating in my head. There are a number of others, but this will be the first.