Finding the elusive Pagani in a world of excess

Pagani (1 of 1)Standing on a platform, overlooking Carmel beach and the Pacific Ocean, at about 6 o’clock a week ago last Wednesday, I felt like the proud father of a kid that had just sung a solo at her third grade graduation. The temperature was in the low eighties and there was not a breath of air with the Pacific as placid as a millpond. Standing there, listening to the babble of voices and laughter from all over the world – mostly Chinese and French, it seemed – I felt, totally irrationally, that California was putting on a great show just for the out-of-town visitors and I was, somehow, partially responsible.

Later, driving away from the beach on Ocean Avenue, with the top down on Michele’s car, all the better to feel the soft air and see the supercars parked around town, like Toyotas at Costco, we both yelled, There’s a Pagani. It was our first sighting in the wild. We circled the block, found a place to park and walked back. Pagani (1 of 1)-2Pagani (1 of 1)-3Pagani (1 of 1)-4Looking at it parked in a standard parking place, the Pagani looks small. It is only a little longer than the Miata in front of it and not any taller. Somehow however, it has a presence that is way out of proportion to its actual size; it is  about as unobtrusive as Sofia Vergara at that third grader’s pool party.

I do read that the Huayra is easy and pleasant to drive which is not always a feature of a hypercar. Of course, I will never find out, and therein lies the paradox – to misquote the Bard – cars are meant to be driven and while the overwhelming majority of us are only able to ogle, how they drive – how fast they are –  is part of their allure. The Pagani has plenty of allure with a six liter, twin-Turbo, AMG V-12 Mercedes engine that puts out 730 horsepower giving it a 0 to 60 time of about 3.2 seconds and a top speed of about 230 mph.

As an aside, Horacio Pagani made his fortune making carbon fiber and the Pagani Huayra is a legacy of that. Carbon fiber is cloth woven from threads – thinner than a human hair – made from carbon atoms bonded together to form a long chain. These are then woven into a very thin cloth. According to, it’s five times as strong as steel, two times as stiff, yet weighs about two-thirds less. What they don’t say is that it is way, way, more expensive. The Pagani Huayra’s basic body is made from four layers of carbon fiber, each about one millimeter thick. Because the carbon fiber has a weave and it takes more to match the seams – like making the pocket weave match on a nice shirt – in the least expensive versions of the car, the carbon fiber covered by paint. End aside.I want to say that, in the Pagani’s case, the exquisite details are what give it the most kick, but that really isn’t the case. Everything just adds to its show stopping presence and I think that is because Pagani is the creation of one person. Most cars, most for-sale designed things, are compromises with what people supposedly want. When a designed object gets too far from the mainstream, it risks being ostracized. No matter how good it is (think Raymond Loewy’s Studebakers which, looking back, are much better looking than anyone gave them credit for). The result is that most car designs are watered down, but not the Pagani. Often, I will rave over a car and Michele will be lukewarm saying Yeah, it’s OK but it is too masculine for me. That is not the case with the Pagani, it is soft and luscious and very feminine.  Pagani (1 of 1)-5 Pagani (1 of 1)-6Even the mirrors are supposed to evoke a woman’s eyes (although who besides Sophia Loren, I have no idea).Pagani (1 of 1) Still, for me, the best part is the heavily chromed steampunk interior which contrasts with the chromeless exterior. Pagani (1 of 1)-2Of course Ferrari wants to remain the premier Italian car so, to take on Pagani, they have come out with the 1.5 million dollar Ferrari LaFerrari. It is drop dead gorgeous, in a very studied way, and the contrast to Pagani is striking. Michele described it as The Pagani is a young rich man’s car and the LaFerrai is an old rich man’s carPagani (1 of 1)-3Of course, the Huayra and the LaFerrari were not the only treats. Everywhere we turned, there were memorable cars. This year, there were lots of Cunninghams – an American supercar from the 50’s – a wonderful 1931 Alfa Grand Sport with a body by Touring, and one of my favorites, a Cadillac built for Rita Hayworth with a body by Ghia. Pagani (1 of 1)-4 Pagani (1 of 1)-5Pagani (1 of 1)-7Pagani (1 of 1)-8 Pagani (1 of 1)-6I can hardly wait for next year.

(Post updated 8/29/15 to reflect credit for Pagani mirror back photo by Michele.)


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Wilson (1 of 1)Last year at the Japanese Grand Prix, Jules Bianchi, crashed into a recovery vehicle while racing in a torrential rain storm. Last month, after being in a coma for nine months, he died.

Last weekend, Justin Wilson drove into the exploding debris field from another car in an IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. He was hit in the head, by part of the nose of another car, while going over 200 hundred miles per hour. He died on Sunday. Over the last ten years, while watching racing, I have seen probably an hundred cars go off the track. Maybe twenty of those resulted in accidents and probably about ten we serious accidents. In every case except Bianchi and Wilson, the driver walked away.

It made racing seem safe, but it isn’t, auto racing is a bloodsport. The Marquis of Portago, who was killed in a race in 1957, said that there are only three real sports, mountain climbing, bull fighting, and auto racing, all the others are just games. I’m not sure about that, but the possibility of injury or death is part of the sport and is part of what makes it exciting…until somebody actually dies. Then the sport seems stupid and, even, ghoulish; then it is tragedy and we want to look away.

Both Bianchi and Wilson were well liked guys and they will be missed.  But the drivers will still drive and the spectators will still watch. I guess that is good, but it doesn’t seem as good as it did two months ago.


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Looking for the elusive Pagani in a world of excess

Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-6Last Wednesday and Thursday, Michele and I were stuck in – what seemed like – an endless traffic jam. It was great.

To back up, a couple of weeks ago, Michele suggested we go down to the Monterey Peninsula to see a small car show – small as in only 45 cars, not small as in tiny cars; that would be The Little Car Show +, an entirely different show  – The Mission Classic, in the middle of the week. Not just any week, The Monterey Car Extravaganza Week, the annual get together of cars and car people which has become the biggest car week in the automotive universe. The Week is intense and getting more so every year. There are art shows, tours, nine different car shows, nineteen different car auctions, four days of vintage car racing, and an entire week of lustful car watching much of it while sitting in a traffic jam with other car nuts. It is the only time I don’t mind being stuck in traffic because there is sure to be a couple of interesting cars stuck nearby.

Michele’s suggestion was prompted by her reading that a Pagani Huayra would be at the Mission Classic and, knowing that the Pagani Huayra has become my Holy Grail, she proposed we spend a couple of days on the Monterey Peninsula, looking for it. I have not spent a night during The Week, in years. I used to during the seventies and eighties, but now I will run down for one day, usually with Malcolm and usually at the races . Michele has gone down a couple of times for the races but she has never spent the night, so it was a shock to both of us just how immersed one gets just driving around.

The bigger shock, although not entirely unexpected, was just how much money is involved. When I asked Michele what her first impression was, she said How many rich people there are in one place. Sure, car people come in all wealth brackets – a kid driving a $8,000 1964 Corvair lives in a different world than the old man driving a $1, 500,000 Ferrari LaFerrari, but the Ferrari people – and even more so, the Lamborghini people – take up more psychic space.Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-3 We drive around, seeing cars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, just casually parked, with the people walking by on car overload, not even noticing. Monterey 15 (1 of 1) Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-2To increase their exposure Ferrari has even taken over a historic gas station/gift shop at Carmel Highlands, to make it a Ferrari dealership/gift shop/owner oasis. retreat. Inside Ferrari Owners could relax with great wines and food – including the best prosciutto I have ever had and an excellent cappuccino – safely gated off from the hoi polli.Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-5Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-4Outside the Owner Oasis, people – prequalified and almost all men type people – were lined up to take a test drive in one of several Ferrari models. It was hard not to think of the one percent and not in an entirely positive way. Them that’s got shall get, the great Billie Holiday sang, So the Bible said and it still is news. I get the feeling that it was not news here. Here, at the ad hoc Ferrari place, everybody gets the free lunch.

To be contin






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Goodby Jon Stewart, sob sob

Jon Stewart B (1 of 1)Yesterday, I almost went the whole day without thinking about Jon Stewart’s last couple of weeks. I will miss our – almost – daily ritual of watching The Daily Show (usually, except for last week, one day later). More than just funny and topical, Jon Stewart – the Jon Stewart in my imagination, at least – is easy to like, and even easier to admire.

What I most admire about him, even more than his humor and attention to his craft, is Stewart’s generosity. His generosity with the limelight, his generosity in helping people grow-up and move on, his generosity in having obscure – or almost obscure – guests that don’t thrill the crowd but need the exposure.

The person that first came to mind was Doris Kearns Goodwin who, I read, has been on the Daily Show show eight times – no wonder they hugged when she showed up – and who was saluted with an appearance on one of Stewart’s last shows.  But he also had people like Cass Sunstein – billed as an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law – and Elizabeth Kolbert who I never would have heard of if he hadn’t been on Stewart’s show. He had Malala Yousafzai on, twice!

A person who I have heard of and have been reading for a long time is Ta-Nehisi Coates and I was thrilled when I realized he would be honored by being one of Jon Stewart’s final guests. As an aside, a couple of months ago, a friend asked on facebook, This is powerful! My question for Blacks is, How do I show support/compassion/connectedness for/with you without you thinking I am being condescending, ignorant, or offensive? (I’ve edited that sentence twice. Did I do ok? Did I use the “right” words?) and that question has troubled me, off and on, ever since. For anybody asking that same question – or one of its cousins – one place to start, I would suggest, is to watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Coates and another is read Coates’ columns in the Atlantic and best of all, read his latest book, Between the World and Me. End aside.

On sort of the same subject, another one of the things that I admire about Jon Stewart is, a couple days after somebody at SNL said We don’t have any black women on because there are no funny black women – I’m paraphrasing here – Stewart had Jessica Williams on for the first time. I read somewhere that Williams had been working the comedy club circuit in Los Angeles doing OK but not great when Stewart asked her to come to New York where she became the youngest Daily Show correspondent and the Alpha correspondent shortly thereafter.
The last three guests on the Daily Show were all comedians, Amy Schumer, Denis Leary, and Louis CK. I was left with the impression that Denis Leary is a friend of Jon’s and that Amy and Louis were comics that he wanted to honor. i

Now all that is gone and I will miss it.

F1 and the European vacation

Maserati F1 (1 of 1)The last Formula One race was in Hungary over a week ago and there will not be another race, the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, for another twenty days. This is because there is a mandatory vacation, in the middle of the best part of the season, for everybody in F1.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article – in the New York Times, I think – written by a woman whose company had transferred her to Switzerland for several years. Her biggest surprise was the amount of vacation time she now had and that she was expected, even encouraged, to take it. The Europeans – and, as it turns out all industrialized nations, what ever that means – love their vacations. Germany and Spain have a mandated 34 vacation days a year.

In my old age, I am beginning to think that they might be on to something.

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