2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring: The Mulholland Highway Test

©2014 Ron Avery

©2014 Ron Avery

What is a canyon carver exactly? Well, for car people it simply means a car that can tear through a canyon with no issues, a small nimble car built for tight twisties. Not all cars can be canyon carvers while others are built for just that. Is the current gen MX-5 Miata worthy of the title? Read on to find out.

Starting at the bottom of the Topanga Canyon Blvd., I took the Miata top down in a brisk 49° towards the famed Mulholland Highway. You’d think heading out at sunrise would avoid all kinds of traffic, but this time of year the sun comes up around 7am and that’s when parents are driving their kids off to school. So after a few stragglers I got to the fun part.

©2014 Ron Avery

©2014 Ron Avery

There are parts of Mulholland Highway with large sweeping turns where the gas pedal is constantly pressed and there are others where 2nd is the only gear you’ll need. Starting out, the Miata sprinted at around a comfortable 60mph on most of the larger, less twisty corners. I was beyond comfortable and confident in the cars abilities. These larger and more straightforward corners allowed the car to stay in a comfortable 4th gear while some of the straight sections asked for 5th.

The further I drove, the more twisty the corners got. These required 2nd and on occasion, 3rd gear for short stretches heading into another sharp corner. While I’ve driven practically every racetrack on the West Coast, none have had corners this tight. But I used my years of training to talk myself through each corner. “Look where you want the car to go;” it’s one of the most spoken rules of thumb in any racing school you’ll take and it sure helps on tight canyon roads like this.

©2014 Ron Avery

©2014 Ron Avery

As I looked where I wanted to go, the car followed. That’s one of the hardest parts, not looking at the ground in front of you, rather, around the corner where you want the car to go. As much as I coached myself, the car just followed. Every corner the car responded wonderfully. Even if I left my braking to the last minute the car reacted without complaints or tire squealing. I had total confidence in the car, even in the tightest of corners. The optional Bilstein shocks really come into play in this part of the drive. I was pushing the car, but it wasn’t pushing back, it was just happy to be driven like it’s meant to be.

Meanwhile, I made a commitment to have the top down the whole time even through the chilly temperatures. Those seat heaters! Everything but my face felt warm. If you’re looking to purchase a 2015 and can’t decide, look at what’s important to you. I chose the Club for it’s sporty edge, but if I lived in a colder climate than sunny Southern California, I’d go for the Grand Touring and opt for the Bilstein shocks. That way you get the great suspension and the heated seats. And I can’t forget to mention the great exhaust. It’s got a nice note, but it’s not obnoxious. While I swapped my Club’s out for a Magnaflow and gained some horsepower and torque in the process, I still liked the stock exhaust note. I just missed the nice crackles and pops that emanate from mine.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

I only turned around after about an hour and a half of driving and came across another Miata. We had a bit of fun through the remainder of the canyon before big pickup trucks and morning traffic kicked in.

So is the 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring a canyon carver? Does it pass the Mulholland Highway test? YES and YES! The Miata will always be a canyon carver in my eyes. I own a 2013 Club and haven’t driven it the way I tested out the Grand Touring. I’ll be taking my Club out for a few morning sprints very soon.

Petersen Museum Hollywood Cars Move to the Reagan Library

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Petersen Automotive Museum is closing its doors for the next year or so for a complete and total makeover of the existing building. Of course, while construction is under way, the museums cars can’t be exposed to the harsh conditions renovations will bring.

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Finding a home for all the wonderful cars that live at the Petersen isn’t easy, but finding a home for the Hollywood exhibit cars is. The Reagan Presidential Library opened its doors to the Hollywood cars of the Petersen Museum. This seems like a perfect pairing considering the two-term President and Governor of California was once an actor before making the jump into politics.

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Cars were transported to the Library then airlifted via crane into their temporary home.

Leslie Kendall, Museum Curator for the Petersen, was there to observe the cars. I asked him what the Petersen will do while the doors are closed, would there be any presence during that time? Leslie said that they plan to make appearances at many events and shows during the time of the renovations.

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The exhibit officially opens October 28, 2014 and closes May 1, 2015. Be sure to make the trip out to Simi Valley, CA not only to see the Hollywood cars but also some awesome artifacts and history of President Ronald Reagan. The Airforce One and Marine One exhibit, and the replica of the Oval Office used during his presidency are must-sees plus they have a nice café, it wouldn’t be hard to spend the whole day there.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

AutoDesigno Cars of Character

Designer Derek Jenkins and the  Miata©2014 Toni Avery

Designer Derek Jenkins and the Miata©2014 Toni Avery

It’s not everyday that a Cadillac El Miraj concept, 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, BMW i8 and a Hyundai Genesis concept meet together for one occasion. Lucky enough for me, I was invited to see just that.

Earlier this week, AutoDesigno, a special organization dedicated to all design professionals in the automotive design industry, held a panel featuring designers from Cadillac, Mazda, BMW and Hyundai. Prior to the actual panel discussion I was asked to take some photos of the cars. Below are slide shows featuring my favorite images of each of the featured cars at the event.

Each manufacturer also brought out a more mainstream production car to sit beside the concept or in Mazda and BMWs case the production car. The only featured car out of the four that is actually in production is the BMW i8, while the Mazda MX-5 Miata is expected to land in showrooms late 2015. Cadillac and Hyundai’s featured cars were concepts, showcasing the most interesting and far-out design elements. The car that really made the biggest impact on me was the El Miraj concept, and you’ll see why below.

During the panel, the designers were asked a variety of design related questions including “What makes a car cute” “What makes a car mean” and a little into their history at their current positions. Of course owning a Miata, I took special interest in meeting Derek Jenkins. I told him about my Miata Club and he mentioned that he had a hand in the car, specifically the black roof and mirrors.

Anyways enough talk, now for the best part of the event, the photos:

2016 Mazda Miata MX-5

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BMW i8

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Hyundai Genesis concept

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Cadillac El Miraj concept

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Cars & Coffee Malibu

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

Car shows offer some of the best drooling material for free anywhere. Now I’m not talking Pebble Beach stuff, just good old Cars & Coffee gatherings where car guys and girls bring their prized possessions and look at others.

The biggest Cars & Coffee event near me is all the way in Irvine, CA, which is over an hours drive even without traffic. I found out about a new Cars & Coffee that just got its start this month in Malibu, CA. Most people think Malibu and picture the uber rich with beach front homes, I do, but this new Cars & Coffee might be one of the most humble shows I’ve been to in quite some time.

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The ride over to the show is also one of the best I’ve been on. From the 101 freeway to Malibu Canyon for a fun run. Leaving at 6:30 AM on a Sunday ensures no traffic, except for the occasional Volvo trundling along. The show’s right across from the beautiful Pepperdine college campus. I was one of the first cars there, behind my dad, so I got a Hot Wheels toy! Coffee, Orange Juice, Hot Cocoa and some morning pastries awaited show goers.

Standing around talking to fellow car guys/gals a nice orange 911 pulls in and someone says “That’s Chad McQueen.” My grandfather photographed Steve (Chad’s dad) and I’ve got the famous shot of Steve driving his XKSS from the perspective of my grandpa in the passenger seat, hanging on my wall.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

I got a shot of Chad with his car and before I knew it my dad and him were talking about my grandpa and Steve and old stories they’d shared. I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes of his attention for some questions.

Tell me a little about your dad. Chad leaned back a little and replied, “Well, that’s such a broad thing. He was a wise man, very informative with cars. That’s one thing we got to enjoy together was a lot of car stuff. He had a huge collection of cars and motorcycles. I was the guy that got to wash and wax them,” he laughed. I asked if he still has any of his dads cars and Chad commented, “Yes, I’ve got the first car he ever bought new, which was a ’58 Speedster and his two-liter 911 S. It’s getting to the point where I can’t enjoy them like I used to because of the value, but I still drive them maybe 1,000-2,000 miles a year.”

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After being pulled away by other car people and McQueen fans, Chad came back for one last question. What’s one car you still lust after? “Race car or street car? I’m actually pretty satisfied, very satisfied with the Porsche’s I have. I’m a Porsche guy obviously. I just spent 1,400 miles in a 997 GT3 RS, I like that a lot. I drove the 918,” I interrupted to ask how he liked it and Chad replied, “It’s unreal.”

I thought it was unreal to meet Steve’s son. He was such a cool dude, genuinely nice and just a big car guy. This won’t be my last time at Malibu Cars & Coffee. I love the feel of the small gathering, but I have a feeling with the way LA car people are it wont be small for too much longer.

Petersen Museum Gala

©2014 Toni Avery

Beach Boys ©2014 Toni Avery

One of the most well-known and beloved automotive museums in the US is closing its doors for the next year or so. As many of you have heard, the Petersen Museum is going under a complete inside and out transformation bringing it into the 21st Century.

The museum houses an incredible collection of Hollywood cars, alternative energy cars, Sport Coupes, Hot Wheels and so much more. There’s even a vault below the museum that’s open to the public select times of the year.

It’s time for a makeover, and to help kick that off, the Petersen held a special Gala honoring some industry greats while also raising money for the transformation. James Farley Jr. of the Ford Motor Company (Entrepreneur award), Keith Crain (Journalism award) of Crain Communications and Michael Love (Spirit award) of the Beach Boys were honored with awards in excellence.

Several influential members of the automotive community spoke about the honored guests including someone more in the Political side of the media; Bill O’Reilly. Bill, being a huge Beach Boys fan, made a nice video piece congratulating Michael Love on his award.

I was asked quite last minute to help out with some red carpet shooting for the event. Below in the slideshow are some automotive industry greats and celebrities that showed for the event.

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For me, two of the coolest things that happened at the Gala was the live show from the Beach Boys and seeing Ian Callum again. If you’d read my blog before you’ve probably seen a few photos of Ian and I. Every time we met he always remembers me and couldn’t be nicer! That’s one of the great things about being in this industry; you meet some of the most interesting people and for the most part they’re really nice.

Ian Callum and I

Ian Callum and I

I’m so excited to see the new Petersen December 2015 (estimated completion date). If you haven’t been or even if you have more times than you can count, trust me, this transformation is going to make the Petersen one of the best museums in the Country.

#MPGtrackdays Track Driving: Viper TA vs. Jaguar V6 S Coupe – Competing for the top spot

Toni w Viper TA

Viper TA (Time Attack)

Have you ever driven something and the only thing that comes out of your mouth is “Wow?” That was me when I drove the new Viper TA at MPG Track Days. I’m a pretty die-hard European Sports Car girl but the Viper helped me to experience the awesomeness that is American Muscle.

The first thing the instructor sitting in the passenger seat said to me was something to the effect of: “Whatever you ask it to do, it does. If you think about turning the wheel it does. Get a feel for it and have fun.” And that’s just what I did.

The seating position was perfect. The seats felt like something you’d find in a luxury sedan. The quality of the interior was nice but not flashy. The outside was already a screaming in your face orange, which made for a nice contrast to the black interior.

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*Images in slide show credited to Andrew Yeadon for SRT. Due to the limited amount of time with the cars on track I was unable to get detail/overall shots

I felt so completely comfortable pushing it in the Viper. The steering was ridiculously light, to the point where I forgot I was driving a car of the Viper’s 3,000+ pound weight. The car’s 640 bhp didn’t scare me like I thought it would. The gearbox was really smooth, it’s probably one of the best I’ve driven in a long time. Turning through the large sweeping bend at the back of Big Willow was more fun than I’d had all day and I just kept telling myself, “You’re driving a Viper! On the track!”

I thought I was going at a pretty good pace till the instructor offered to take me around in the car. That’s when I officially felt like and old lady. On every lap he hit the rev limiter BA-BABBRRAAAAA before he shifted up to the next highest gear. He was probably driving at eight-tenths his limit while that would have been fifteen-tenths for me.

For the Viper to completely change my perception of American cars, it has to be good. I’m hoping to take to the track in the Viper again very soon.

Toni w F-Type Coupe V6S

Jaguar V6 S Coupe

After making my way to Streets of Willow to drive the Alfa Romeo 4C, I discovered an F-Type V6 S Coupe just begging to be driven.

The interior is what you’d expect from a Jaguar. Beautiful leather, high-end touches throughout and an incredibly comfortable seating position. Getting in, I headed towards the track not knowing what to expect from the British Racing Green cat.

What a car! Practically every corner where I carried even a decent amount of speed the back-end just wanted to snap out, and I loved every minute of it. It’s intentional oversteer and not the scary kind. I really believe it made my drive even more fun.

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*Images in slide show credited to Jaguar. Due to the limited amount of time with the cars on track I was unable to get detail/overall shots

The paddles offer quick up and down shifts. And the noise that emanates from the car is just to die for. A lot of SNAP CRACKLE and POP. The F-Type might have been the best sounding car of the day. The steering was insanely responsive, so much so that I caught myself laughing out loud.

At one point I got stuck behind someone just crawling in an Evo. I mean crawling. On my last lap, of course. I pull in and turn the car off only to find everyone waiting for the car smiling into the window. “We all saw that. We feel bad. You want to go out for another lap?” My eyes widened as I blurted out “Yes” and “Thank You.” Off I went for another lap in the gorgeous cat.

I’d love to get my hands on another F-Type Coupe. To me, if I had the money it’s hard to beat as a track car. But hey, I’ll take one as my grocery getter.

#MPGtrackdays Track Driving: Alfa Romeo 4C

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

You know the feeling. The one you get when something you love stops being made. Like your favorite flavor of ice cream. I feel that way when Eggnog latte’s go out of season at Starbucks. But nothing can be as heartbreaking as when your favorite automaker stops producing cars for your country. That’s what happened to me when Alfa Romeo left the USA for a “break.”

I grew up around Alfa’s. My dad time trial raced a pristine GTV6 and a 1971 1750 GTV with the Alfa Club. I watched my mom learn how to drive stick in my dads GTV6 from my baby seat, so I’ve been told. And I experienced my first broken heart when my dad sold our perfect 1972 Montreal. All 60 pounds of me running after it in the street.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

When Alfa announced their comeback to the USA I could finally stop holding my breath. After many failed attempts to make a comeback in the US, the major tease Alfa dubbed the 8C, and again more delay, Alfa returned. The Alfa Romeo 4C is a stunning piece of metal finished in the finest materials with the heart of an Italian.

When we all realized at the street drives during MPG Track Days that the Alfa wouldn’t be available till we got to Willow Springs we signed our names away on the wait list in hopes of piloting the Italian masterpiece. I was about to be reunited with Alfa again.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

After what felt likes decades my name was next on the list and I carefully stepped into the 4C. The car is much easier to get in than my Lotus Elise and the seats are much more comfortable, holding the driver in place. The cockpit felt more roomy with plenty of space for the driver and passenger without feeling like sardines. Even the flat bottom steering wheel was perfectly placed. Everything was just so beautifully crafted with every detail thought out perfectly. From the carbon fiber door sills to the intricate red stitching applied throughout. I went into this expecting an Italian version of my Elise, because that’s the rumor I had heard. But sometimes expectations can cloud your judgment.

Accelerating into the first turn the car felt heavier than I expected. The blip up and down shifts sounded very cool with an abrupt, short deep tone. It was harder to turn than I expected, with no power steering and feeling like it weighed more than my flyweight Elise at 1,960 pounds. I felt like it needed some sort of assistance. But again that’s because I was comparing it to my Lotus with no power steering and incredibly easy to turn.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

One of the biggest downfalls to driving such a popular car is that once you get in it, it’s been run hard and not always right. An example of this were the brakes. I felt there was a slight delay between my pressure on them and the actual braking taking place. I’ll blame that on a whole mess of journalists ringing the crap out of the car.

The biggest letdown wasn’t the car at all, it was when I saw the checkered flag entering the straight on the beginning of my second lap. When the track closes down for lunch it really closes down, no matter how long you’ve been waiting to get into the thing.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

They might have felt bad that I didn’t get my three laps in because when I got out of the car they asked if I’d like to take it and get a couple of shots. I said yes before they could finish their question. That’s when they handed me the keys and told me to bring it back when I was finished. You want to know what Christmas in October feels like. There you have it kids.

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Toni w Alfa 4C