Autos on your mind? Let’s roll!

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Hi, Jeff Yip here. Welcome to The Spin, a new collaboration of AsianWeek and yours truly aimed at helping you get more value — and fun — from your automotive investment, whether it’s financial or emotional.

Beyond a means to get from point A to point B, a car can be our ticket to affordable adventure or, in today’s distraction-packed world, the only way to grab our daily-recommended dose of solitude. And while many regard a car as an appliance, for others, a vehicle is a personal statement, a work of art, a labor of love or an object of desire.

There are pleasures and perils to reporting on cars. Family, friends and the person next to you on a plane will invariably a) want your take on what’s the best vehicle for them; b) press you to name your favorite car or truck, and/or c) tell you that you have the perfect job.

My responses usually go something like, “That depends,” “How much time do you have?” and, “Sure, driving them is a blast, but if I could just offload the writing part of the deal … ”

Though auto reporters are usually happy to help consumers get past their confusion or naiveté (not to mention hype and myths), I’ve found that when the rubber hits the road — meaning it’s time to pull out the checkbook — rationality often takes a back seat to emotion.

A recent example: A young Asian couple asked me for some guidance. They’re both healthcare professionals and are about to start a family. The Infiniti QX and Cadillac Escalade were on their radars because, they reasoned, those upscale sport utility vehicles offered plenty of room to accommodate a child or two and visiting grandparents. But after a closer look, especially at the price of admission and the fuel costs, they balked. Putting the brakes on their hunt, they decided to keep building their down-payment nest egg and revisit the issue in December.

But then they totaled their car and had to replace it under pressure. They wound up paying $26,000 for a pre-owned 2007 Lexus ES350, either oblivious to or ignoring the fact that they paid a premium. Why? Because many Americans have been putting off buying new vehicles, so desirable trade-ins have become hot commodities, with values often climbing five to 10 percent a month.

The heart often overrules the brain, and that’s fine. We’re free to use our money any way we want and “bling” often trumps sensibility, even when it comes to the grocery-getter/baby transporter segment.

Pontiac's swan-song sedan Of course, no one ever said practical necessarily meant boring. The Pontiac G8 GT is a classy, wickedly fast, 361-horsepower four-door that will outrun many full-size BMW, Mercedes or Audi sedans. Based on the Commodore, made by Holden, General Motors’ Australian arm, the rub is that the reinvented General Motors is killing off Pontiac. The bitter irony: the well-mannered, dual-personality G8 is the first Pontiac in years to live up to the brand’s performance heritage. Savvy shoppers have already snapped up the ultimate G8, the 415-horsepower GXP.  In a brief flash of brilliance, Pontiac brought just under 1,900 GXPs to the states, making the GXP a shoo-in as a collectible in 25 years or so.

Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe

Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe shatters auction record

Speaking of valuable cars, Saturday brought stunning news from the madness that is the Monterey auctions.  CSX2601, one of six Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupes made, hammered at $7.25 million, the highest amount an American car has brought in public auction.

Quite a coming out party for Mecum Auctions, which was holding its first-ever auction during the high-octane week many collectors and spectators look forward to all year.

The first Cobra coupe — CSX2287 — was an experiment in 1964 by the famous chicken farmer and his crew to gain an edge against Enzo Ferrari in the F.I.A. (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) World Manufacturers Championship’s GT class. Designed by Peter Brock and built on an existing Cobra chassis, the slippery sheet metal and abruptly sliced off tail (inspired by decades-old aerodynamic research by German Wunibald Kamm and others) raised the Cobra’s top speed by 25 mph.

The Daytona moniker was bestowed after it won its first race, the 1964 Daytona Continental. Five more coupes were built, including CSX2601. According to the auction company, after competing at Daytona, Monza, Spa and Nurburgring, CSX2601 — with Bob Bondurant at the wheel — made history when it clinched the 1965 World Manufacturers Championship for the United States and Shelby American in Reims, France — on July 4, no less. (For a new look at the behind-the-scenes drama of the Carroll Shelby-led campaign by Ford Motor Co. to defeat the Ferrari juggernaut in the Sixties, read Go Like Hell, Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at LeMans by A.J. Baime. Or see the New York Times article.)

Fittingly, it was Bondurant who drove 2601 across the auction block Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Resort and Spa.

Dana Mecum, president of Mecum Auction, said, “Truly the best part about auctioning the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe has been sharing the stories of its amazing history with millions of people across the country.  “This race car’s greatest moments and its legacy as America’s world champion will be cherished for generations to come.”

Like any historic 1-of-6 race car with a distinguished track record, CSX2601 deserves to bask in the media glare — even if it weren’t for its stratospheric price tag.

But if it’s not just dollar signs, but True Love — for the Cobra, the era and the talented men who accomplished so much — that revs your automotive passion, permit me to introduce CSX2887.

1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe

This rolling time capsule resides at the Simone Foundation Museum in Philadelphia, where we snapped this pic. Fred Simone, like his father, loves sports cars, and this Daytona Coupe is the only one in original condition. Believe us when we say that being just a couple of feet from CSX2287, with its battle scars and worn tires, is a thousand times more spiritual than watching buffed-and-puffed over-restored Cobras fawned over by the champagne-and-caviar set. We’ll have more on the Simone collection, but in the meantime, visit www.simonemuseum.org to get a taste of racing history and venues.

Blogs, of course, aren’t one-way streets. You have valuable insights and experiences, so share them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in more than 20 years of reporting and editing for publications like the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News and New York Times, it’s that power is in the people; perhaps even more so in the Information Age.

Next time we’ll take a look at Asian American car-buying trends.

Care to comment? Reach me at newswiz@gmail.com

About the Author

Look under the hood and you'd discover that Jeff’s lifelong interest and passion in all things automotive was practically genetically encoded. An award-winning journalist, he served on the staff of the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times. Today he contributes to many news outlets. Jeff is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach and earned his master's degree at Ohio State University, where he was a Kiplinger fellow.