Thursday, June 28, 2012




My latest car review is at

It’s on the 2012 Fiat 500, which is not really the kind of car I would buy but is a pretty nice subcompact, a much better alternative than say the Smart Fortwo (which is less expensive) and the Scion iQ (which is about the same price).

What I liked about it: Styling and the way you can push to get some fun in your driving with the five-speed manual transmission. (The Abarth trim, which is more expensive, delivers a lot of punch.) It also has pretty good stowage room for its class.

What I didn’t like about it: I don’t particularly the subcompact segment as a whole. The version with an automatic tranny is a real drag.

Go to for my full review.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


One of the great things about Netflix is the wide range of classic movies the service offers.

By “classic” I mean “old.”

Sure, the special effects usually are not as slick and there aren’t as many explosions, but I find them a nice, comfortable way to spend an hour or two in the evening. Most of the film noir classics are under 90 minutes long.

It’s easy to watch one and then catch the last few innings of a ballgame on TV.

What makes these movies even more interesting is to see the differences in the way people lived their lives back then and the way we do today.

For instance, men nearly always are wearing ties in the movies. Even the bad guys.

The men also wear hats when they are outside, always, it seems, felt fedoras. Especially the bad guys.

Men wear pajamas in bed and when they get up, they always put on a robe. Same with women who are wearing nightgowns that cover more than girls wear to proms these days. They always put on a robe.

And nearly everybody smokes and drinks, just about everywhere. I saw a John Wayne movie where he was in the hospital and they were smoking not just in the hallways but in his room!

Offering somebody a cigarette was a way of breaking the ice.

And drinking?

William Powell in The Thin Man series doesn’t go ten minutes without asking for a martini -- and getting it.

Another little quirk I have picked up concerns cars.

In those days, all the cars had bench-style front seats and in the movies you’ll often see the driver get in on the right side of the car and then slide over to the left to get behind the wheel.

I don’t know why they do that, because it’s not the way we did things when I was growing up. If we were driving, we got in on the left side, just like you do today. Our girlfriends would get in on the right side but then slide across to the middle to sit next to us.

Can’t do that in bucket seats!

Those are just a few of the things I’ve picked up watching some of the black-and-white oldies. It’s also kind of neat to see the buildings and such in the background and how different they are today.

Of course, since most of the movies were shot in California when they were on location they were in the LA area and not where I grew up, I don’t have a lot to compare the scenes to. But I still enjoy them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012



I mentioned in a recent blog that my future car reviews, such as the one I have done on the Mercedes-Benz SLK350 above, would be on another site.

So you’ll find my full comments on the SLK, which has become a more powerful player in the segment, at

There’s a lot of other stuff on the website as well, just to let you know.

But I wanted to add something here because it doesn’t apply just to the SLK.

I have noticed for quite some time now that when you go to set the fan on your auto’s A/C (assuming you have a recent model), that although there seem to be four or five settings for fan speed, you either wind up with is a stream of cold air that that will chill a bottle of white wine in about five seconds or barely any perceptible air movement at all.

There doesn’t seem to be anything in between these days.

I was told the other day by a manufacturer’s rep that the reason for this is that the A/C (or, to be fancy, climate control system) blower settings are now controlled electronically instead of by elves yanking on pulleys.

Apparently, this works fine when you set your A/C on automatic and set a specific temperature, but I like to set my blower speed manually.

And all I get is blizzard or calm from the vents.

Such is progress.

Not an earthshaking issue, but something I thought I’d mention it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Part of the lineup for the 2011 Topless in Miami.



It’s Topless time in Miami!

I figured that would get your attention.

Actually, except for a few off days in winter, it’s pretty much always topless time at the beaches of Miami Beach, most notably South Beach.

What I’m writing about here though is Topless in Miami, which is a competition our media organization, the Southern Automotive Media Association, conducts to recognize the most outstanding convertibles of the year.

You can read about last year’s event, which was our first, at either the association’s website,, or the website our webmaster created just for the event,

Don’t worry. It may not look good in your computer directory history when you go there, but it is a Safe for Work site.

Topless in Miami came about when we were searching for an event in the first half of the year to complement our fall and winter activities, which are Rides-N-Smiles (where we give kids from Baptist Children’s and Miami Children’s hospitals who have cancer or other life-threatening problems rides in luxury performance cars around the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course), our auto show judging at the South Florida International Auto Show, and our Christmas party.

We thought that something along the lines of the Texas Truck Rodeo, which is sponsored by the Texas auto writers, would be ideal. Whatever manufacturer wins Texas Truck of the Year is a big deal. We wanted to do the same.

But pickups and SUVs, popular as they are, don’t fit Miami’s image. We gave some consideration to luxury cars (better), and then to green cars (ugh).

Finally, we hit on convertibles.

I’m not sure who came up with the name Topless in Miami, though I am often given credit (blame?) for it. Whatever, most everyone agrees it is an attention-getter.

Our first event was a hit, and we named the Audi R8 Spyder our Convertible of the Year.

Now it’s time for our second. Manufacturers will have 17 models at the Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne for our members to judge, beginning in the morning Thursday and continuing through the afternoon.

Convertibles have made a comeback in recent years. Back in the  1970s Cadillac actually billed its Eldorado as the “last convertible in America.”

But a revival of the style came about in the next decade, and now there are several choices available ranging from $20,000 or so on up well into six figures.

I owned a couple of convertibles in my distant past, a 1963 Ford Falcon Sprint with four on the floor and a ’65 Chevy Impala. I especially liked the Falcon, which I left on Guam, my first duty station. Knowing what I know now, I could have kept it for sure.

But I digress.

If you are interested in how things go in this year’s competition, we will have results with pictures and video up on our websites later.

I have to go now and get over to the Ritz to prepare for the event and welcome arriving guests.

I know. It’s a tough, tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Interesting that just two days after saying I wouldn’t be doing many car reviews on my blog that my next contribution would be about -- ta da! -- cars, of course.
Didn’t intend it that way, but I attended a brief preview featuring the 2013 Nissan Altima yesterday, and I wanted to write about it while it was still relatively fresh.
Nissan had hosted auto writers late last month near the company headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., but I don’t get to many out-of-town events any more unless they are within driving distance. This one being held at a hotel in downtown Miami, this one was within driving distance for me.
One of the more interesting items that came out of the session was the news (to me anyway) that Nissan had passed Honda as the No. 2 Asian brand in the U.S at the end of the company’s fiscal year in March.
Nissan’s share of the market was 8.2 percent, thanks to a quick recover from last year’s tsunami that wrecked Japan’s auto production.
“That’s our all-time high,” Scott Shirley, who is the company’s Chief Marketing Director for North America, told us. “Not only that, it’s our sixth straight year of growth, so it’s by no means a fluke.”
A big reason for that surge is the Altima, which has accounted for 4.4 million vehicles in sales since it was introduced as a 1993 model. For 2013 it is moving into its fifth generation and represents the first of five new or updated models the company has planned for the next 15 months.
For 2011 it was Nissan’s best-selling model and the second-best seller in America, Shirley said. (The Toyota Camry remains No. 1, but Altima beat out the traditional contender Honda’s Accord.)
I’m not going to go into a full review here on the Altima, which will start arriving in most showrooms this month if it hasn’t already gotten to one near year. I hope to have it for a week to give it a full review sometime soon.
Also, I had only a couple of hours in the car for the ride-and-drive with less than an hour behind the wheel, and that time mostly on a cruise down I-95 back to the hotel.
I did find the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine pretty much up to the task of handling highway speeds. It’s not turbocharged, but for anyone interested in more power than the 182 hp it pumps out, there is also a 3.5-liter V6 version available. It is rated at 270 hp.
Fuel economy goes from 27 mpg city, 38 highway (best in its class) for the four-banger to 22/30 for the V6.
The engine is mated to the company’s latest version of its CVT (continuously variable transmission), which I’m not a big fan of, but it does account for 40 percent of the improved fuel mileage. The V6 comes with paddle shifters which provides a kind of simulation of shifting gears, allowing you to take the tachometer all the way up to redline if you want to.
The four-cylinder doesn’t have paddle shifters but does have a D/S mode that mades the CVT operate essentially like a seven-speed automatic. With all but a mile or so of my drive on the interstate, I really didn’t have the opportunity to get a feel for how that went.
Nissan has come up with two innovations in particular I find appealing.
One is what it calls the “Easy Fill Tire Alert.” When the tire monitoring system alerts you that you have a low tire (and, yes, it designates which one), all you have to do is pull into a filling station and grab the air hose to fill it up.
You don’t have to rely on an indicator on the hose -- usually inaccurate -- to let you know what the pressure is or stop and check it with your own tire gauge. The car will let you know!
Yes, as the air is going into the tire, the car’s flashers will flash to confirm the tire is being inflated. When the tire is full, the horn will beep letting you know to stop. If you continue and overfill the tire, the flasher will flash more rapidly and the horn will beep three times.
If you don’t stop then to let out air, the attendant will come out and rap you up aside the head to get your attention.
Just kidding, of course. Attendants don’t come out at all these days. They’re too busy collecting money for coffee and candy bars.
The other innovation is what Nissan calls “Active Understeer Control.”
The system kicks in when you have gone into a turn a little too fast.
“Instead of kind of plowing through the turn, it will brake the inside wheels and pivot the car in your intended direction,” according to Jay Sizemore, product planner for the Altima. “It’s so subtle that a lot of people will never really notice it.”
It essentially makes you seem to be a better driver than you probably are.
That’s about all I’m going to get into for now until I have the car for a week.
Oh. I should mention pricing.
There are four trim levels for the four-cylinder model, three for the V6.
The base 2.5 starts at $21,500 followed by the 2.5 S at $22,500, the 2.5 SV at $24,100 and the 2.5 SL at $28,050.
The 3.5 S starts at $25,360, the 3.5 SV at $27,780, and the 3.5 SL at $30,080.
More to come later, I hope.

Steve Parrett, Nissan PR, left, and my friend Tony Serrato from Prestige Auto, the company that gets me cars. No, that's not my boat behind them.

Monday, June 4, 2012


I haven’t posted in a few days because I was filing some compilations on Atlantic Coast Conference and Sun Belt Conference football that will appear in Sports Weekly’s college football edition.
Sports Weekly is published by USA Today and has several special sections during the year.
The deadline for the files was Sunday.
The reason I am blogging today, however, is to let however many of you who care about such things that, with an exception from time to time, my auto reviews will be appearing on another site.
I started writing for last month and some of my reviews have already appeared. It took me a while to get the hang of getting pictures to go with them, but it appears I have solved that technological problem.
But a couple on the Examiner site were either rewrites or verbatim copies of what I had posted on this blog earlier, and the people who run the site don’t particularly like that duplication.
So rather than do two completely different reviews, something nobody really likes to do, I’ll just do the one on the Examiner site and run a short item here to link you to it, like now.
My latest review is on the Audi A8L (pictured above), and the link to it is below.
You may also find other auto reviews and other items of interest on the site.
I mentioned an exception. There may be a time or two when I will write a review that will appear only here, just as usual.
I hope this is not a cause of consternation for you. I will continue to regale you with items about movies, beer, mysteries, and beer on an irregular basis.
Thanks for reading!